Monday, March 2, 2015

Bricking it

Another week, another lame pun on the word "brick".

I had a double headphone fail on Friday: not only did I manage to lose my wireless bluetooth Jaybird headphones, but the Sony wired headphones I bought in Malaysia (to replace the pair I accidentally left lying by the pool) decided to crap out on me. I know that it is completely irrational, but these kind of things really annoy me. The Jaybird headphones have had quite an eventful life. I bought them in New York as a bit of retail therapy to compensate for the cancelling of the Marathon in 2012. Only a few months later they stopped working but, as they were "guaranteed sweat-proof", I sent them back to Jaybird. I'd lost the receipt but, thanks to Best Buy where I bought them, I was able to phone up and get them to send me the till receipt by email! However, the headphones never made it back. Even so, they were good enough to take my word for it and they sent a brand new pair which I had  to pick up from a friend's house in New York, which has lasted until now. More recently, I lost one of the little ear-hooks for which replacements can only be sent to an address in the United States(!) but, as I was due to go to New York a week later, I again had them sent to my friend's house. So three trips to New York just for them to disappear without a trace. Anyway, I decided to try a new brand of wired headphones - the Yurbuds - which are "guaranteed not to fall out". So far the results are very positive, after sweating just under 4 kilos they had no problem staying in running at 16 kph. The sound quality is also much better than I experienced with the Sony ones.

Too aggressive? Maybe, but difficult / expensive to do much about it
Those 4 kilos of sweat were produced doing my "brick" on Sunday. My wife was away in Morocco so I had to do the whole thing indoors while "looking after" the kids who were playing GTA V on the Xbox (you can just about make it out in the photo). I kept myself entertained between watching the latest series of "House of Cards" and occasionally watching the kids antics on GTA: a few times I nearly fell of my bike as watching them doing backflips on their motorbike.

I found the brick a lot harder than the one I did the week before. I'd only added 10 minutes of Half Ironman intensity in the middle of the bike leg and tacked on 10 minutes running at 16 kph at the end. My ex-coach used to equate an hour on the turbo trainer to 75 minutes on the bike (outside) because you can't coast (free-wheel) and it is a lot more monotonous. I'm not sure that there is such a difference but, between this and the fact that I am suffering from the cold that my kids have kindly passed on to me, my heart rate was climbing to 175 on the run, 10 bpm more than in the previous brick. To be honest, I had to stop a number of times and I felt my legs tensing up. As I got tired, my running form became less elastic and more "brute-force" and - in spite of the compression I decided to wear for the first time in ages - I could feel the threat of cramps knocking at the door. I felt pretty wrecked for most of the day but, in my experience, there is usually at least one training session in the build up to a race which feels like a failure and yet, I reckon, that these are often the breakthrough sessions. The danger is that stopping even during a hard workout has a negative psychological price, so it is important to minimize this. In general, the key is to set workouts which are in that sweet spot between being too easy and too challenging.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Half term

Last week was half term for everyone in my family except me. To be fair, I chose not to go skiing and instead stayed at home (when I wasn't working, of course), watched more movies, played more video games and did a bit more training than I would usually do.

As I was meeting up with the family in Granada at the weekend and taking my bike there was out of the question, I decided to take the Thursday and Friday off work and get my 2 hour brick session in during the morning. It was quite a hectic day in the end, as shortly after my 50 km bike + 8 km run I had to shower, pop in to work for an unmissable meeting, catch a train into town to meet up with a friend visiting from the UK and then catch another (4 and a half hour) train down to Granada. I had to run (literally) from one appointment to the next but it was one of those days I enjoy, having a chance to do a bit of everything and feeling busy.
I went for a couple of runs around Granada. It was quite a challenge to avoid those "annoying hills" but I managed to invent a 50 minute flat course on the fly by following the river (slow moving rivers tend not to go up or down hill). It was drizzling slightly on the Saturday morning and the pavements were slick and slippery: it was a challenge in itself trying to keep upright while not running in to people. With a bit more planning I could have designed a much more picturesque (albeit hilly) route around the Alhambra. Instead, we explored the area with the kids (who are adverse to walking) on Segways which was a lot of fun and surprisingly challenging to navigate the twisty and narrow paths that were laid many years before Man came up with the idea of the Segway.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Brick by brick

It took a surprising amount of time for my tooth (or lack thereof) to stop hurting. Actually, the constant headaches were more annoying than the gum pain and, for over two weeks, were only punctuated by alternating doses of ibuprofen or paracetamol. By judicious timing of these doses, I was able to continue with my training although I have read that the benefits of training are compromised by taking anti-inflammatories.

Next up on the horizon is the non-drafting duathlon in Soria on the 28th of March. I've done a couple of "bricks" (bike + run) so far - one on the turbo trainer and treadmill as the weather was too grim to go outside, and the other one on my road bike, finishing off with a run on the treadmill. I don't have to build up to Ironman or even Half Ironman proportions as the distances involved in the duathlon are a 6 km run followed by a 60 km bike and a 12 km run. For example, the brick I did yesterday consisted of 80 minutes on the bike, (at least) 40 of which I did at medium or Half Ironman intensity (150-155 bpm), followed by a half hour run (10 minutes at 4:27 /km or 13.5 kph and 20 minutes at 3:45 /km or 16 kph). I definitely notice that I am training different muscles! This week my family is skiing in Granada and I said that I didn't want to go (I just find that the fun of skiing is outweighed by the hassle and frustration) but I will be joining them for the après ski on Thursday night (after a 4 and a half hour train journey...) so I will be taking Thursday off work (except for one meeting I can't miss) and try to get my brick of the week in during the morning.

The other thing I have been working on is being able to tolerate the aero position. Now I have ski bend aero extensions, I think it is a lot more tolerable than it used to be, but it is still a pain in the butt, the back, the backs of my legs and particularly my shoulders and forearms... Having said that, after just a few sessions it has become much easier to put up with. The most important thing is to concentrate on as smooth a pedal stroke as possible, so that my arms don't have to take up the slack. It also helps to have a relatively high cadence. I've found that the "2" setting on the turbo trainer seems to more or less lead to the same bike speed I would obtain for a given heart rate out on the road although this depends very much on wind and hills and so forth. On this setting it feels somehow heavier than battling against air resistance but then the "1" setting is too light: I can easily maintain speeds of 55 kph! I reckon that a turbo trainer with an air turbine would feel much more like cycling on the road but it would also make a racket (perhaps no more than the cooling fan I use already though).

Something pretty funny happened last week. I got contacted by someone over a video I uploaded to Youtube about a year ago, taken with my GoPro of me running around London on a spectacular day and taking in all the sights (Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, etc.). In hasn't exactly gone viral in that only 500 people have seen it in that time (of which several were me) but an advertising agency was looking to use a 15 second clip and they were proposing to pay me a nice chunk of cash for it (enough to cover the cost of the GoPro and the flight to London)! Just as well I didn't hand in my notice at work to start a new life of being paid to fly around the world making videos of my runs because they changed their mind at the last minute and went with another clip. They are keeping me "on file" but it sounds a bit too much like "don't call us, we'll call you".

Monday, January 26, 2015

It's out!

You may remember that I complained of toothache a few months ago, when I was tasked with surviving a Zombie Apocalypse. The culprit was one of my wisdom teeth, which was partially covered by my gum and therefore prone to infection. I was due to have the b*stard out after a course of antibiotics but then, of course, I felt fine so I wimped out of having it done. The dentist warned me that it would come back again in 3 month's time if it didn't get it seen to but, as I hadn't had any problems with it for years, I thought I would wait and see: in the worst case I'd have to endure a couple of days of toothache before having to pay another visit to the dentist.

Last Sunday, a little ahead of the dentist's prediction, it started to ache again so I made another appointment for Wednesday evening. It was probably a good thing that I was only expecting a checkup and a prescription for antibiotics because I didn't really have enough time to dread the operation: in my mind it was likely to happen the following week, to a completely different version of myself from the one sitting in the chair at that moment. But when the dentist cheerfully proposed to extract it there and then, I thought that it would be better to get it over and done with. It was quite a struggle but the only discomfort I felt - thanks to the local anesthetic - was from the muscles in my jaw resisting the downward pressure from whatever horrendous tool was being put to work. I left with my shirt completely soaked in sweat - which might have caused concern for those in the waiting room if I hadn't been the last patient of the day - clutching the huge piece of enamel to remind myself of the good deed done, while I waited for the pain to creep back over the anesthetic.

I've been on a mixture of light painkillers since then but I've managed to time it in such a way that it hasn't interfered too much with my training. But sleeping has been another matter, and I have tended to wake up in the night unable to sleep and have gone to the spare room to watch a film, read a book and play Candy Crush. It's not like the pain is so terrible, but the discomfort is enough to put me in a bad mood during the day or to make sleeping a distant prospect - rather like trying to sleep in a cramped airline seat. On a more positive note, I have made good use of the extra nocturnal hours and I have finally got to the end of Candy Crush (until they release more levels) by passing 26 levels over the weekend! Now I feel like I can finally relax and spend more time with my family...

I've gone back to doing my easy runs at 4:00 /min (15 kph) pace on the treadmill. We'll see if either the board of the treadmill breaks again, or if the nerves in my feet get inflamed again. I'm much more relaxed about the problems I was having with my feet. I read a post over on which reassured me to some extent. Some people had been running with Morton's Neuroma for decades without any further problems; others found that a wide toe-box or a small patch under the metatarsal heads did the trick; one poster even said that his doctor had said that "the pain wasn't hurting it, just you". I barely notice them these days - only if I step on a sharp stone in exactly the wrong place - so I suppose it's just a question of monitoring them.

On Sunday I went for a run around my neighbourhood for about 90 minutes at around 4:20 pace. It didn't feel great which I suppose is to be expected but it was a gorgeous day and it seemed a shame to run indoors. The problem with running outside is that you can't just press "stop" and instantly be back in your house, like you can if you are lucky enough to have a treadmill at home. With any luck, I'll be back to normal in the next few days.

Friday, January 16, 2015

I've gone and done it now...

Admittedly I have only invested the princely sum of $11 and I could cancel my credit card so that the remaining $347 that NYRR will charge me to take part in the New York City Marathon bounced, but instead I will leave it up to fate to decide. If it is true that those with a qualifying time (such as my Half Marathon last year in 1:20:05) are accepted on a first come, first served basis, then I think it is unlikely that many people got in before me. I was pressing "refresh" every 2 seconds just as the clock showed 6:00 pm (CET) on Thursday and, like magic, the application form appeared. Only those who are not only fast runners but quicker than me at entering their credit card details will have pipped me to the post. Having said that, it is not unheard of for major events like Marathons and Ironmans (Ironmen?) to sell out in a matter of minutes.

If I don't get in then it will just redouble my conviction to run in 2016; if I do, it feels like the decision has been made for me, so I don't feel so guilty about the cost (both economic and time) to the family...

Tune in for the next fascinating episode when I will find out whether I get accepted on the 15th February! Meanwhile I think I can relax a little about signing up for the long distance triathlon in March as only two people have done so so far. Last night I put my tri bike on the turbo trainer and was a bit shocked to see quite how much like hard work cycling seemed after months out of the saddle. All the more reason to get back in again I suppose...

Monday, January 12, 2015

2015, here I come ready or not!

Now it's time to poner las pilas ("put in the batteries") as they say in Spanish. I had a good rest, spent some "quality time" with the family and even added a protective cushion of fat which I will hopefully burn off over the next few weeks.

On New Year's Eve we ended up running 3 km of the San Silvestre course but as a whole family: even Luca (12) who is not used to running and was quite nervous he'd want to give up after just a few meters ran with us and, in the end, it was Adrian (10) who started to complain about a pain in his foot, so we decided it was best to call it a day. The kids very much enjoyed the atmosphere and Luca is talking about training to run the full distance next year so, if the experience manages to kick start a more active attitude to sport, then that will be fantastic. We'll see how much he remembers it when we are running round the park in November...

Then we spent a week in Asturias where the weather was nothing short of glorious. Perfect running conditions - sunny but fresh - and the reward for completing a run was a slap up seafood feast with cider. My Christmas present was a set of bathroom scales (not quite sure why they are plural) which are connected to the internet and automatically record my weight as well as percentage fat, resting heart rate, ambient room temperature and - get this - the amount of CO2 in the air, although it has to be said that the only reliable measurement seems to be my weight. As our heating was broken until just recently, we actually now have graphs showing just how cold it got in the night, for whatever use that might be... Anyway, these scales will hopefully help me spot any trends in my weight so that I can be at my fighting weight come competition time. I find my weight fluctuates so much from one day to the next that it is hard to see the signal for the noise: having a more systematic approach should help me be less obsessive about my weight or, at least, that was my auto-justification for buying (ahem, asking Santa for) the scales.

Talking of competitions, 2015 is starting to take shape already. After my slightly underwhelming 2014, I feel ready to toe the line again. As I said in my last post, the first decision I have taken is to try to get into New York Marathon this year, but I won't find out if I have been successful until the 15th of February. In the meantime I have signed myself up for the Rock & Roll Madrid 1/2 Marathon which runs in parallel to the Madrid Marathon. A couple of years ago I ran the Rock & Roll 10K; perhaps next year I'll run the full distance... Then, literally seconds after signing up, a received a message from Dani who suggested that I took part in a non-drafting long distance duathlon. As he well knows, this is the race I have been asking for. No swimming, tick. No drafting, tick. No anti-social long distances, tick (it's only a "Steelman"). No excessive travel, tick. In fact, the only downside seems to be that it is held at an altitude of over 1,000m: while this will possibly be detrimental to the run, it might well have a positive effect on the bike leg. The distances are 12K run - 60K bike - 6K run. It is the Saturday of Semana Santa, when we will almost certainly go up to Asturias, and it just happens to be (very nearly) on the way. If I can just manage to convince the family, it could be a great way to get some mileage out of my under utilized triathlon bike. Apparently there is an adventure park just where the event is taking place with zip lines and paintball as well as climbing and caving activities, so this could be the deciding factor...

So here is how the calendar is looking so far:

28th March II Duatlón Steelman (El Amogable, Soria)
29th April Rock & Roll Madrid 1/2 Marathon
1st November (ojalá) TCS New York City Marathon