Monday, September 28, 2015

New York City Marathon 2015 Week 6/11

One of my work colleagues asked me the other day if I was ahorrando or cutting costs. And, of course, the whole weekend with my suegros (in-laws) I was pestered about not eating enough, being too thin etc! It's only a few more weeks but I'm definitely at a good Marathon weight: at this rate I might even get an outy bellybutton. It was a challenge to resist overeating and overdrinking at the annual migas festival in Cuidad Real, where crumbs or migas of bread are cooked over camp fires in lashings of olive oil and bacon fat. Very good comfort food.

I followed almost to the letter the same training plan I did two years ago, even doing the two hard sessions back-to-back even if this time it wasn't necessary (this week in 2013 I had a last minute business trip to London which scuppered my plans somewhat). As a result, by Thursday I was already feeling as physically tired as I usually feel at the weekend and the route I choose that day was a particularly hilly one (240 metres of climbing in an hour) as well as it being reasonably hot. It never fails to surprise me how it is possible to feel less tired after doing more exercise, but this was the case on Friday, and just as well because I had a tough weekend lined up.

The main event event was to do what I call a "split Marathon": an hour run late in the evening followed by a 30 km long run early in the morning - with dinner, a night's sleep and breakfast in between. The best thing about it was that I avoided the heat of the day - and in Ciudad Real it is hotter than Madrid at this time of year. The only problem was that it was very dark when I set out and there were a number of merry drivers returning from the migas festival along the same country lanes I was running along. Still, I found it very exhilarating running at night - there was a pleasant breeze and the moon lit up the way (just as well it was a full moon and not during the eclipse of the moon the following night!). I tend to expend a fair amount of mental energy in looking out for stones in the path, as they can be quite annoying to step on in minimalist footwear but, as it was very difficult to make anything out clearly, I just relaxed and ran like a Jedi. In particular, I remember running through a tunnel in which I literally could not see anything and just "using the force": it felt like the best of running on a treadmill and running outdoors. I ran it fairly quickly because it seemed easy, but I couldn't help wondering how well I would recover before part II.

I got up so early that my father in law - who is a very early riser - assumed that I'd slept in and was surprised to see me when I got back after the run all sweaty. I'd dreamed that night that I had already completed the run, so it was a bit disappointing to wake up with it still ahead of me. I had my usual breakfast plus a Clif Bar to be sure that I wouldn't run out of energy on the run. The jury is still out as far as I am concerned regarding running on empty or depleting glycogen stores. For the sake of my family (both immediate and political) I thought it was more prudent not to experiment this weekend, as being low on energy tends to put me in a very bad mood indeed. The route I had chosen was a surprisingly flat one - only 105 metres of altitude gain in 30 km! In spite of it still being dark, I set off with my sunglasses on my head at the ready. After about ten minutes I started to get those funny signs in my eyes - or scintillating scotoma - which I can only describe as being similar to staring at the sun. I think it is due to a lack of oxygenation which I put down to a combination of low bloodd pressure and not being warmed up. I've definitely noticed that one of the side effects of getting fitter is that I almost faint when I stand up too quickly. So you can imagine what it would be like if you could somehow stare at the sun and then run at night time. I had to stop for a minute with my head between my legs because I couldn't even see the path. But after that little pit stop I was fine and it felt very easy, too easy in fact. I started to doubt the reliability of my GPS watch - it has been known to draw a squiggly line and overstate my speed - but the little map it was sketching out looked pretty straight. In any case, I had plotted a 30 km course beforehand so it didn't really matter what the GPS had to say about it, what counted was just how long it took to complete, assuming I didn't get lost

The route was very similar to one I had done with a friend of my father-in-law on a mountain bike (not much more slowly than I was running it). About half way was a large reservoir with a damn where a few people were trying their luck at fishing. On the way back the sunglasses came in handy and I started to see the odd group of runners or cyclists coming in the opposite direction. The final 5 kilometres took me through the town and gave me the moral boost I needed as I was starting to feel a little tired by then. Even so, my heart rate was nice and low - an average of 151 bpm and never getting above 160 - and I felt that I could have carried on if I had to. I realized that, at this pace, I would have completed a Marathon in less than 3 hours - especially if I had rested the night before and taken some gels along. I ran it faster than the 30 km in London two weeks ago, which was supposed to be more intense with 22 km at Marathon pace + 20'. For reference, the equivalent long run from 2 years ago - admittedly with more hills (235 m versus 105 m) - I ran at a pace of 4:27 compared to 4:11 this time around. It's just a shame I wasn't wearing a heart rate monitor at the time to make a more detailed comparison.

Something else that was surprisingly easy and made me think that it must be broken, was using my PowerBreathe inspiratory trainer. I've been improving bit by bit and getting up to 5/10 lately, but I found myself able to use it on settings up to 7/10 on Saturday evening. Maybe I have mastered the technique or maybe it is broken after all.

That makes 3 weeks now of training that I am happy with. I am starting to get quietly confident about New York... This week I have another important test - a Half Marathon in Alcázar de San Juan (Ciudad Real province).

Monday: 3 x 8 x 70% weights + core
Tuesday: 4 x 2 km @ 3:25
Wednesday: 3 x 15' @ 3:45 w/ 3' active recovery
Thursday: 60' @ 4:18
Friday: 40' @ 4:00
Saturday (evening): 60' @ 4:09
Sunday (morning): 30 km @ 4:11

Total kilometres: 88

Monday, September 21, 2015

New York City Marathon 2015 Week 5/11

This week was all about the 10K race on Sunday, so with no long run there was a significant reduction in kilometres. I have to say that I was quite nervous about the race, getting more and more edgy as the week wore on, because I have allowed myself to fear that I am getting old or soft or both. This was going to be one of the key factors in deciding how I am to approach the Marathon in New York: push it or enjoy it?

My weight has been under 80 kilos consistently now for over two weeks, and I even ended up having to get another hole punched on my belt! As long as there is no corresponding drop in strength, the less I have to cart around the 26.2 mile course, the better.

I've also been improving my skills with the PowerBreathe device which I use to train my inspiratory muscles (i.e., those used for breathing in). I haven't been too consistent in using it - because, let's face it, in spite of only being 30 hard breaths, the sensation is unpleasant - but I have got up to 30 breaths at "5" (out of a maximum of 10). That may not sound too impressive, but you should try it! I genuinely believe that this helps my performance, especially in the last straight of a race when the sensation of gasping for breath is very similar. It's possibly just a placebo effect, but if placebos work then who cares?

To see how I was progressing, I did another of my 7K aerobic tests - the last one was only two weeks ago. This went a lot better although I started off way too fast and had to slow down progressively in order to respect the 172 bpm heart rate limit. I ran it about 5 seconds per kilometre faster. It may not have been one of my best times (26:11) but it was reasonably warm (17.2) degrees. For reference, the time I did at the same point in my training cycle for New York Marathon 2 years ago was 25:30.

With this in mind, I considered that I should aim to run the 10K a little slower than I had run it 2 years ago. It was a touch cooler but the last thing I wanted to do was "blow up" by going off too hard at the start, as I have done in the last couple of races I've run. I re-read my race report - which was just as well - and noted that the first half was significantly faster than the second half. In fact, I wrote down the kilometre splits from the previous time on my hand, but they rubbed off when I washed my hands...

That's me to the left with a green vest, black compression socks and sunglasses
In spite of being one of the bigger races in Madrid, I was treated as an "elite" athlete, being given access to the first corral. This year Chema Martínez was not running, nor, I suspect were a number of people who could give him a run for his money. We did have Arturo Casado - a 1500m European Champion - but he was running with the sub 40' balloon. What I found surprising was that there was a pacer for sub 35' - especially considering that the winning time was around 33 minutes and in fact only 10 people finished in under 35 minutes (and I'm, not sure the pacer was one of them). The fact that I had him in my sight for almost all of the race makes me think that he ran even splits to the tune of his GPS watch. Not to pick on him specifically - if only I was that fast! - but I think the point of a pacer is to run to an even effort (even if that effort is not the same for everyone) and should therefore take account of the hills.

They play a bit of a trick on you in the last metres of the race. As you run towards the arch, another one comes into view, and another one: the finish line is under the third arch. I just managed to squeak in under 37 minutes (36:57) finishing 20 seconds faster than two years ago, three places higher up in the overall rankings (35 / 8,326) and one higher up in my age group (6) just seconds behind the 5th placed age-grouper. It's easy to say now, but my memory of the race was one of being in control and of not suffering too much (my average heart rate was only 169, lower than it was during the 7K test). I just forced myself to concentrate on the task in hand and not allow my thoughts to wander onto such dangerous topics like "how nice it would be to just stop and lie down" or "what happens if I start to feel tired" etc. The 9th kilometre was a b*stard with a long drawn out climb, but the end was nigh so I just gritted my teeth and accepted the fact that it would take slightly longer than the others. Not a personal best but a return to form and a much needed confidence boost for what lies ahead. At the finish line I bumped into my friends Alessandro and Dani who both happen to be larger than average size  (and is probably why I bumped into them and not anyone else I knew!).

Monday: -
Tuesday: 6 x 1,600 @ 3:25
Wednesday: 60' @ 4:11
Thursday: 7 km test 26:11 (170 bpm average)
Friday: 40' @ 4:04
Saturday: 20' @ 4:17
Sunday: 10K race in 36:57 (169 bpm average)

Total kilometres: 55

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

New York City Marathon 2015 Week 4/11

I was in London for a variety of reasons this week: a meeting, a conference and a funeral, unfortunately. Sounds like the title of a film. From a training point of view it was an excellent week, just what I needed after my slightly disappointing previous week. I often say that I run better in London. It's a combination of a change of scenery, cooler temperatures, flat routes (not so much where my brother lives) and - I have begun to suspect - the cloud cover tends to confuse the GPS into thinking I have run further along a sort of wiggly fractal curve (how long is the coastline of Britain?).

After work on Wednesday I ran from my hotel near Russel Square past SOAS, where my dad used to work, through Regent's Park, up Primrose Hill and on to West Hampstead just where I used to live. On the way I bumped into a colleague just by the cinema in Swiss Cottage where I spent many a Saturday evening.

I had arranged to meet up with a friend for an early morning run before the conference the next day but I didn't think to reconfirm and was fast asleep by the time he sent an SMS to double check. I'm just so lazy about writing emails and texts as these new fangled technologies make me feel old and useless. So when I woke up the next day, I saw another message saying that, as he hadn't heard anything back, he presumed that it was off - logical really. We deferred the run to the following day and, instead, I brought forward the run I had planned for that day, which was a relatively hard one. I normally like to have rested a bit more before this kind of run, so I was slightly nervous I might not pull it off but I was very pleased in the end. Two laps of 15 minutes around Regent's Park with 3 minutes active recovery, both at a pace of 3:41 /km (16.5 kph), which was even a bit faster than I was aiming for. It wasn't such a different workout to the 7 km aerobic test I had done the week before - my heart rate was practically identical but at a 12s /km faster pace. It may have been due to being nearly 4 degrees cooler (13.9 C) but it was just the ego boost I needed.

I finally managed to meet up with Andy on the Friday morning and we set off for an easy hour or so run. (I should mention that he runs 10K in 32 minutes and does almost all his training at 3:45 - 4:00 /km pace, so "easy" is a relative term.) It was certainly easy in the sense that the conversation took my mind off running so much so that we overshot the turnaround time and had to step up the pace a little in order to avoid being too late for work (in his case) and the conference (in my case). We also ran through Regent's Park but then opted to follow Regent's Canal up to Little Venice - another place I used to frequent years ago (I particularly remember the Eggs Benedict in the cafe on the bridge).

I was back in my brother's house in Forest Hill for the weekend so I did one of my pre-planned routes ("Run Forest Run2") again. As usual, I got a bit lost, especially as having previously done it in both directions makes it a bit confusing. One of the small things I miss from my Garmin 310 XT is the "beep" when you go off course; by the time I notice it, the track has often scrolled off the watch completely, so I have to stop and reorient myself. On one occasion (not this time thankfully), I did this and ended up running away from my destination. I've since learned, that there is a little indication in the "bezel" of the Fenix 2 watch in map mode, which always points towards your destination.

After last week, I was particularly nervous about the long run, so I made sure that I ate reasonably well during the day (and had breakfast and a banana for good measure!). The plan was to run 3 kilometres "easy", 22 at 20 seconds per kilometre slower than Marathon Pace (i.e., 4:20 /km) topped off with 3 kilometres easy, giving a grand total of 28 km. The two times I have prepared for the New York Marathon (I only ran once, as a result of the cancellation in 2012 due to the Sandy Storm) I have done this run in Segovia, because it has always happened to coincide with the weekend when we get together with a bunch of friends and rent a rural house. This year was no exception in the sense that my family went, but I was of course in London. To design a route I basically went on to the Garmin Connect site and dropped a pin at various points around the circumference of a circle centered in Forest Hill, with a 14 km radius. The one that took my fancy was an out and back route that took me through Greenwich, past the Cutty Sark (yes, somewhere else I used to go when I was a kid), under the river by the Greenwich foot tunnel and along the Regent's Canal practically up to Victoria Park. I got lost in the docklands (on the way back I saw that the tiny turnoff I had missed was obscured by some hoardings for works being done) and added a kilometre to my journey. I decided to continue on to my original turning point because I was feeling pretty good. I reckoned that the GPS error was exaggerating my pace slightly but, even so, I was going along at a pretty good clip, certainly faster than 4:20 /km. The last few kilometres were all uphill (it's not called Forest Hill for nothing) but they were all the easier for being near home. The odd thing is that you would expect those kilometres to have been faster at the start on the way down, but I actually ran back uphill much faster (4:26 uphill versus 4:43 downhill). All told, I ran 30 kilometres at an average pace of 4:13 /km!! Even allowing for some GPS wiggle it was probably the fastest 30 km I've run outside of a Marathon. It was a shame that my heart rate band threw a wobbly and spat out garbage towards the end of the run, as I would have liked to know how I was going. Maybe it ran out of batteries.

What with getting lost, missing turnarounds and running to and from Regent's Park, I ended up covering a whopping 97 kilometres (not to mention all the walking I did in London). I'm starting to think that I might not be getting so old after all. This Sunday I have my first "tune up race": a 10K in Madrid. I must remember that I am training for a different distance so I shouldn't be upset if I don't get a cracking time, or even one as good as in the lead up to the last New York Marathon I ran, BUT I also need to remember that I will need to push hard.

This week I will leave you with a quote from my friend who sadly passed away. To start the work day he would say:

"What do we want to get out of today?"
Nathaniel Kevin Billington (1970-2015)

Monday: 4 x 12 x 60% weights + core
Tuesday: 8 x 5' @ 3:25
Wednesday: 60' @ 4:09
Thursday: 2 x 15' @ 3:41 w/ 3' active rest
Friday: 65' @ 4:32
Saturday: 60' @ 4:20
Sunday: 3 km easy + 22 km @ 4:05 + 5 km easy (average 4:13)
bit slack on the old PowerBreathe this week

Total kilometres: 97 km

Monday, September 7, 2015

New York City Marathon 2015 Week 3/11

I did a couple of tests this week, the results of which were not particularly positive. The point about a test is to give some useful information whether it is a success or a failure: there is still time to act on the results.

The first test was my usual 7 km run keeping my heart rate at 172 bpm (allowing for the time it takes to get up there). This was the 11th time that I've done this test and the results have been a bit variable; this was one of the slowest times (although I also did a slow time just before my 2:47:54 Seville Marathon in February 2013). The graph below shows something curious: there appears to be a positive correlation between pace and average heart rate. That is to say, the faster runs I have done have been at a lower average heart rate (except, notably, the one I did this week). It seems to indicate that my state of fitness positively (or negatively) affects both aspects.

This week I found myself struggling to keep up the pace (and my heart rate) at the end - something that is especially clear when you look at how much my running cadence drops - from about 182 to 176.

Another aspect which affects both my heart rate and my pace is the temperature. It wasn't especially hot but it was the (joint) hottest out of all the tests I had done. This graph shows a fairly strong correlation between temperature and pace...

So, the take home lesson from all of this is that this is something to be improved on. I'll do another of these in a couple of weeks and see how things are progressing.

The other test was to do my long run on Sunday in my Vibram SeeYas - the same model I used to run the New York Marathon last time. The question was whether my Morton's Neuroma(s) would flare up and interfere with my running. The answer: yes. It's a shame really, because I notice how much lighter they are and how much lighter I am on my feet but, towards the end of the run, I started to get some irritating pains (which did go away again). I'd designed a route that was basically a big circle around my house - all on roads - that would never take me much further than 5 km from by house, just in case I had to hobble home. The problem, as it turned out, was not really the shoes, but that I'd done a reasonably hard run the evening before, hardly had any dinner and set off without any breakfast. I basically hit the wall. Lately I have been doing two types of long run: one on an empty stomach and one after a hard run the day before: this ended up being the "worst" of both worlds. That morning I'd weighed myself before the run at about the lowest my homes scales have ever registered - 79.5 kg - but I was shocked to see that go down to an unbelievable 75.5 kg afterwards! 3 kilos more and I could compete as a lightweight rower!! Once I finally got home (thankfully a kilometer sooner than I had thought, thanks to somebody's house being built in the middle of the route I had designed forcing me to take a diversion) I made sure to eat and drink in order to avoid being in a bad mood due to calorie deficit.

Other than that, the only other run of note was on Friday, when I set out at lunchtime wearing a visor, sunglasses and sun cream only to find myself in the middle of a hail storm - in Madrid, in September! Crazy. At one point I thought I might get struck by lightening but, when I realized that if that were to happen, I wouldn't live long enough to feel stupid about it, I gave up worrying about it. The funny thing was that a colleague had set off for a run in the opposite direction and missed the storm, while I ran directly into it.

Monday: -
Tuesday: 7 km test 26:45 (167 bpm average)
Wednesday: 60' @ 4:11
Thursday: 8 x 4' @ 3:25
Friday: 60' @ 4:17 (hail storm!)
Saturday: 40' @ 4:00
Sunday: 24 km in 1:57 (4:53)

Total kilometres: 78