Feeling the heat in a ‘lazy’ summer

Running and Summer. Two things that really should go together.

I did the hard miles in winter. I ran in snow, hard frost and torrential rain in January and February so the chance to run in a vest, with the sun on my shoulders should motivate me to get out there as much as I can.

But this summer is busy, busy, busy and making time for running has not been a priority. I have three children under 10 and straight after breaking up from school we headed for France.

We had three great days schlepping around the streets of Paris – climbing the Eiffel Tower, marvelling at the unique weirdness of the Pompidou Centre and Stravinsky Square and soaking up the classic beauty of Notre Dame Cathedral and the Sacre Couer. At the end of each day all I felt up to was collapsing with a well-earned beer at the our campsite in the Bois de Boulogne (that’s my wife and I, the children had Syrop).

Then we headed south to Monsegur near Bergerac for a week of sunshine. We had the most amazing, secluded gite and the weather constantly hovered between 28C and 33C.

I managed two runs – both in the blazing heat of midday. I know what they say about Mad Dogs and Englishmen but I was always required for morning pool fun with my boys or frog-spotting with my daughter and, to be honest, those activities were so much fun for all of us that I just didn’t want to stop.

So it was in blazing heat that I headed out and I loved it. The feel of raw, powerful sunshine beating down on my shoulders and arms was intoxicating and running past field after field of sunflowers a sight I will never forget.

Despite the heat (and the fact that we were in a hilly area), it wasn’t hard to keep up the speed. Perhaps hot weather on my aging joints and muscles helped or perhaps it was all psychological but I fair buzzed along for both one-hour runs.

We also spent a day at Pilat Dune – the largest sand dune in Europe. It was surprisingly stunning – a mountain of sand forcing its way between a forest and the ocean. I challenged my son to run up it and he managed a good effort of about half way before his six-year-old legs rebelled (for which I shall remain grateful because I too was suffering).

Running down the dune was something else. The freedom to take off the brakes and hurtle without real fear of injury was incredible.

When I got back I managed two of Oxford Triathlon Club’s regular Bike And Run Time Trials (Handicapped Duathlons) and competed in the Salty Sea Dog Triathlon in Boscombe while on a long weekend break with the family and friends. Plenty of speed in my running but not much substance.

And now I am in Stockholm. Not holiday this time but the World Water Week conference -  a global meeting of minds intent on addressing the water challenge in one way or another. If I’m lucky I’ll squeeze in a couple of early morning runs but doubt I’ll get about seven miles.

I have just eight weeks until Abingdon Marathon so I am starting to feel considerably undercooked. Good job I marked this up as a base for the main event of the London Marathon in 2016.

Here we go again: 2015 Marathon Training Take Two

The beautiful Besselsleigh Woods near my home
I’ve started training in earnest for Abingdon Marathon later this year.

My knee is now recovered from the injury that struck me down two weeks before London Marathon and it’s time to start cranking up those miles.

It’s a very different experience to January when it was all rosy and every run was a joy which brought poetry to my heart. Now everything feels a bit sore and my legs feel a heavy and it’s a real effort to drag myself out of bed in the morning.

I’ve had a sore hamstring for a couple of months now. It doesn’t prevent me from running and the pain eases soon after setting off but what it does do is puts doubt in my mind and takes the gloss off.
I saw a physio last week who said the pain in the hamstring was referred pain from seized and inactive glutes  (insert tightarse joke here).

The only treatment apparently was to treat my glute with some of the most brutal physio I have experienced. It was 30 minutes of excruciating pain and it is no exaggeration to say that at least once there were tears in my eyes and three times I emitted involuntary whimpers.

The glute problem is not really a running injury, it’s caused by sitting down too much (curse this office job). So now I’m trying to remember to work standing up for some intervals throughout the day. It feels good to work standing up every now and again but it’s nothing to compare to my friend Rose George who has taken to a treadmill desk in recent weeks.

Once I get out there and get running I am enjoying it. I’m loving the warmer weather after the beardcicles of January. The trails along the Thames have dried up and the ‘swamps’ of the woodland firm enough to skip across so I’m getting some scenic routes in – about 60km of them this week.

It’s harder (and not really advisable) to do explosive speed intervals with a tight hamstring/glute so the top end training is not there at the moment so I am not predicting a really quick time at Abingdon Marathon but having missed out on London it will be a positive to get to the finish line.

Top triathlon tips

No wetsuit in transition for me
I was asked for a few tips for a colleague who was about to do his first triathlon at Blenheim tomorrow so I thought I'd share wider for anyone who's interested. These are true for sprint triathlon and may need adjusting for others.

Get there early
The closer you can rack your bike to the ‘Bike Out’ out point of transition the better. This is because it is easier to run while not pushing a bike – especially in a busy transition.

Look for a transition landmark
It is incredibly easy to lose your bike.

Get your wetsuit comfy
Ruck it up around chest and thigh to give you maximum movement. When in the water, pull the neck out a bit to let a (very) small amount of water in.

Stay out of trouble in the swim 
Go to the far side or even the back unless you are likely to be leading. It's much easier to overtake a few folk than get hammered in the washing machine at the start. Look for a good sighting point as the buoys can be hard to spot.Tall trees are a godsend.

Take your wetsuit off immediately
Do it on the run to T1. It is much easier to get off when dripping wet and much easier to run without it on.

Get into your cycling quickly
It’s tempting to conserve energy but it’s only a sprint so go for it.

Ditch the water bottle
Don’t take a water bottle on the bike (or if you do, only put in 200ml or so). You won’t need it for a 35min cycle and you can get water on the run if desperate. Also you can laugh about the rich bankers who spend £4,000 on a bike and load it with 4 litres of water

‘Spin’ the last 1km of the bike
Go into a high gear and spin your legs quickly. This will get the muscles ready for the run.

High step for the first 30s of the run 
It helps get technique going when your legs are objecting after the bike.

Focus on breathing and rhythm 
Get that right in the first 1 or 2km and you'll be set. If you go too fast you’ll pay. Then smash the last 3km!

Above all - enjoy it. Triathlon is great.

A foray into barefoot running

Barefoot running was all the rage a few years back.

It had been ‘a thing’ before Chris McDougal’s Born To Run, that book brought a mass audience; an audience that was pretty evangelical at times (faddists made my list of Running Bugbears). It still attracts some pretty ardent supporters but is less ubiquitous across the sector now.

I used to do a bit of barefoot running myself - real barefoot running, with no shoes or socks. It was easy back then because my office was next to a well maintained grass field that was about an 800m loop. But I changed jobs in 2012 and it became less easy so fell by the wayside a bit. 

I started wanting to get back into it while I was training for the London Marathon and became aware that my technique was becoming increasingly ‘slouchy’ as I relied on the thick padding under my heel – especially when I got tired.

Then fate intervened. I saw an ebay advert for factory second Freets. Seconds always appeal because, although I would love to say I am a dedicated bargain-hunter, I am nearly always skint being the employee of an NGO with three young children.

Freet Tarsa 4+1
A bit of me had always wanted to try the Vibram Fivefingers. They looked so interesting and alien to someone used to shoving their feet into a padded box before even thinking about running. Freet Tarsas sort of look like ‘Fivefingers-lite’ in that they have a separate big toe and a box for the other four toes.

The Tarsa has just 3mm of rubber between my foot and the ground and no difference in padding from my heel to my toe. Most running shoes have about 15mm under the heel and drop by about 12mm from heel to toe (explained quite nicely in this blog).

I bought them some time ago but as I was in training for the London Marathon didn’t want to change anything which may bring on an injury. But then a knee injury struck and I had to pull out anyway.
So, as part of my rehab I am tentatively giving them a go. I think the following graphic helps to describe my first experience.

I did a 20 minute run at a steady pace and it mostly felt great. It felt less great when I ran on a farm track and it became harder to dodge the sharp stones but I started to get better at picking my lines.

No sign of the knee injury, which was excellent, but when I stopped I felt a familiar twitch of cramp in my calf/Achilles area. I suffer a lot from cramp but mainly in the swimming pool. This did not progress but my calves felt tender all evening and by the morning they were very stiff. I see this as a good thing – I’m working different muscles.

I’ve had no bad side effects (muscle soreness is a good side effect to my mind unless it continues every time I run for the foreseeable future) but I’ll introduce slowly. A friend who was training for Manchester Marathon dived in to minimal footwear and injured her ankle during a ParkRun so I have taken that as a cautionary tale I can learn from.

I’ll keep you updated.

The fall out from pre-marathon injury

So the fall-out has fallen out and the dust has settled. The sun has set and the clichés have clichéd on my London Marathon 2015 bid.

After 14+ weeks of solid training, during which I actually started to convince myself I was going to run really well, I suddenly suffered a knee injury. 

On the Saturday I ran a PB at Park Run Harcourt Hill and it hurt a small amount, on Sunday I attempted Eynsham Duathlon and it hurt a large amount. That afternoon it seized up and for two days I could barely walk on it.

I had some physio, I Rested, Iced, Compressed and Elevated but two days before the event I was still unable to run more than 500metres without pain.

The good news is that I have deferred my place to next year so need for the ballot.

At first it was hard to pinpoint exactly what caused the injury. Liz Soames, the excellent therapist I saw, has given me some exercises to do to provide extra stability and strength in the key areas as she pinpointed a weakness in those areas and I know that I ‘run crooked’ by dropping my right shoulder as I run (particularly when tired - see the picture to the right).

Those will help a lot and should help increase my speed – particularly over longer distances. But I think that the cause of the injury was far more elementary than that and identifies more stupidity on my part. 

I had two pairs of trainers on the go (same make and model); one new and one older. Without really taking notice I had used the older pair for all of my long runs and a good portion of the medium runs to work. The newer pair had been used for speed work.

When I sat down and worked it out, the older pair is now probably almost 18 months old. If I estimate an average of 20 miles per week in that time, those trainers had seen me through almost 1,500 miles.

When I examined the soles I could see that the instep side of the forefoot and heel were very badly worn which must have put considerable extra pressure on my knee.

What a basic mistake to make.

Still. No point crying about it. There are still events this year including Blenheim, Boscombe and Oxford triathlons and I have an entry for Abingdon Marathon in October.

And, while I didn’t make the final destination of my training, I have really enjoyed the journey. I am fitter than ever before, I have rekindled old friendships and made new connections. I have loved blogging and reading other’s blogs and two people have messaged me to say they had been inspired to start running and are really enjoying it.

Injury strikes

It was all going too well.

14 weeks of hard training. A few blips along the way – some mental, some fatigue-caused and the usual aches and pains that you’ll get from running 50 to 60 miles a week. 

But there had been no injury. Now, with less than two weeks to go, I have been struck down.
I have (I think) Runners’ Knee. 

I did Harcourt Hill Park Run on Saturday – in a personal best time – and felt a grumbling in my knee. Not pain, just grumbling. I forgot about it as you do and carried about my business playing football with my boys, making Lego spaceships and generally having fun.

Sunday was to be my last intensive workout. Eynsham Duathlon seemed perfect – it’s short, flat, informal and filled with friends from Oxford Triathlon Club. I was looking forward to showing that all this winter training had had an effect and challenging some of the better athletes in our club.

But, 50 metres into the 5km run that opens the event, my knee started grumbling again. 500 metres into the run is starting hurting and 1km later it was really hurting. I eased up and prepared to pull out – I wouldn’t normally but with the Big One just 14 days away why risk it?

But then it went from really hurting back to hurting and from hurting back to grumbling and I decided to carry on. I throttled back on the pace and decided to enjoy it.

My knee grumbled and creaked throughout the 20km bike section but then so did my mind as I cycled 8km into what was apparently 50-60mph winds.

As I set off on the second run, a shorter 2.2km, my knee once again stepped up to hurting, through really hurting and onto flaming painful. I finished the race (about five minutes slower than I should have done) and waited for the pain to stop. It usually stops straight after running if it’s just a niggle but it didn’t. It hurt sitting down, it hurt standing up and it hurt on the very slow cycle home.

Rest, Ice and Elevation were applied as my spirits soared watching Jonny Brownlee crush the opposition in the Gold Coast Triathlon. I posted a picture of my icepack on Facebook and it generated some sympathetic comments mixed with extreme banter at my Ugg-like slippers.

Apparently Runners’ Knee comes about from overuse, can strike at any time and has an indeterminate recover period. I woke up on Monday pretty sure I would be back to normal but a walking the kids to school showed otherwise and my climb up the stairs to my office this morning was borderline excruciating.

More ice and some gentle stretching is in order. I’ve even broken my personal rule and taken Ibruprofen (they were the root cause of an ulcer three years ago).

I’m trying to think positive and am staying off my bike for a few days but I have to say that this does not feel good.

I feel the need, the need for speed

Pace is on my mind.
Perhaps I can channel the great Haile Gebrselassie's speed?
Specifically, which pace should I run at the London Marathon in less than three weeks?
This is only my second marathon. My first, in 2011, was completed in 3.37 and my target this year was to knock more than 22 minutes off that so I could run under 3.15 and thereby qualify as good for age for the following two years.

That means running each of the 42 kilometres in 4.37. A stern challenge and one that seemed daunting when I started my training in January.

But then I threw a spanner in the works. I ran a 20km race in 1.21.16; far quicker than I was expecting, especially as the Great Northern course in Derbyshire had a rolling profile - not hilly but far from flat.

A few friends, who are pretty experienced at running, got in touch and said that my time was an indicator that I was ‘setting my sights too low’ and that my 20km time showed that I was capable of sneaking under the magical 3hr mark.

I checked on ‘The Bible’ (also known as the Runner’s Word Pace Predictor) and true enough my predicted time was shown as 02.59.07. And that is worked out by science - actual science of the kind that built the railways, put a man on the moon and made hair glossy and manageable.

Terrifying. To achieve that I would have to run each of the 42km at 4.14. It’s only just over a year ago that running 10km at 4.00 per km was beyond me so the thought of my new predicted pace seems out of reach.

And here I am. Stuck between naturally wanting to go as fast as I can to make the most of the hard training I have been putting in, and the fear of blowing up with 10km to go and ending the race in a world of misery and missing the original 3.15 to boot.

I could just man up and  blast through it. But, as written about previously, mental strength is not one of the arrows in my quiver.

It’s a pickle alright and any advice would be most gratefully received and considered even if I can’t promise to take it!

Highs and Lows of Marathon Training

Less than five weeks to go until the Big Day.

I’ve been training hard for the London Marathon for 11 weeks and it’s fair to say there have been some highs and some lows. Here are a few that have been rattling round:

The moment I realised that I no longer checked the weather every five minutes in the four hours before running home from work. I am going to run home in rain, snow, sun or anything in between.

Realising that no matter how fast I get, I have still to overcome my weak mental state. It won’t just fall in line with my stronger physical state.

Finishing 4th in the 20k Great Northern Run in Derby in 1.21.16. It was a rolling course in the countryside – everything I like – and I even led for a while in the third kilometre (although the winner eventually put more than four minutes on me)

Forgetting to rest after the 20k Great Northern Run and continuing training as if nothing had happened. 18 miles in the next two days and I was one broken Malc. Stoopid, stooped, stooped.

Joining the track sessions at Oxford Tri and realising why people work so hard at training. Because when you’re with a group of people pushing you, and encouraging you, and helping you, it is damn near impossible not to get faster.

Realising that my life has limits. Before this I could tell myself that the only reason I never become a professional athlete is that I never had the chance. It is now painfully clear that I would never have had the ability

I’ve had to stop at three each because I can’t think of any more Lows – this has generally been an awesome experience and I wouldn’t change it. I reckon I could smash out about 20 more Highs.


Kill or Cure - a runner’s mentality

I even managed a half decent pic! (c) Barry Cornelius
I had a 10km race this weekend and, as luck would have it, a cold.*

Not a horrific body-shuddering dose of 'flu but a nagging head cold and sore throat that plagued me from Wednesday and was still setting off alarms when I woke up on the morning of the race on Sunday.

I had eased up during the week to compensate on the basis that I had done a great base of six weeks training including a total of 65 miles the week before.

As expected, my mind started to play tricks on me and tell me that I was stuffing up all my training (you can read more about my warped mind here and here). The truth was that I still managed nearly 30 miles including two very good interval sets and two strong 12km runs.

But I still awoke on the day of Bourton 10km with a raw throat and blocked nose. But me and two running buddies headed off in good spirits and my motto for the day was ‘Kill or Cure’ - I was determined to come back with proof that my marathon training was still on track or keel over.

Of course, being an experienced 10k runner I listened to everything I had read and discovered for myself as the race began.

Or at least, that is what I was hoping to write, the reality was that I shot off like a rocket. I smashed out the first kilometre in 3.30 and felt the exhilaration of being in the leading pack before someone appeared to attached weights to my heels and strap on a 30kg pack to my back.

I managed to keep pushing out sub four minute kms but people flowed past me until the halfway point. I even slipped to a couple of 4.01 kms at 6 and 7 but then my marathon training kicked in and I started to claw back some of the people who had overtaken me earlier.

I could feel the cold take hold about 8kms but by then I knew I could hang on and have a good run. l couldn’t push on and really let rip but I managed to find a solid pace. 

I really noticed a difference due to the coaching I have had for three weeks at the Oxford Tri track session. I had a mental checklist of technique checks which made me straighten up and stretch out my stitch.

Someone caught me - another triathlete - with about 400m to go and I hung on for a while but my usual strength had gone I had to let him go. It was a dent to the pride as one of my few highlights is a finishing kick that rarely gets beaten.

I crossed the line in 39.28; a personal best by 13 seconds. Not as good as I had hoped but better than I had feared.

Bourton didn’t kill me but, as I write this and feel like my head is stuffed with cotton wool, it didn’t cure me either.

Now to get fully back on the marathon training and focus on the next race - the 20km Great Northern in Derby. It’s organised by Punishing Events who put on the excellent Ashbourne Duathlon so I am really looking forward to it.

Caution - this post contains traces of sarcasm.