Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Peace of mind

Of course it goes without saying that my family comes first, then my work and then everything else. But an important part of "everything else" is having everything (including myself) in working order. Although I continue to have problems with my (now left) foot, running is again enjoyable as long as I don't step on a stone. Finally, I also have all my bikes in working order - including the ZIPP disc wheel which needed an overhaul and turned out not to be as expensive as I had feared - and my treadmill has also been fitted with a new belt and board. All my gadgets are also working - something which has an irrational capacity to stress me out when they are not - and I have got some new running shoes which seem to be comfortable to run in. I went for the Merrell Trail Glove 3 again, in spite of the last ones giving me blisters (which I have now built up resistance to) and them wearing out after a disappointingly low number of miles. I had the brainwave to look at the German Merrell website, where the shoes are offered at much bigger sizes and I then discovered that Amazon could source them from Germany. So instead of the usual size 48 - which was on the tight side for me in this model and gave me blood blisters at the end of my toes - I went crazy and bought size 50!! I think it was the right decision even though a size 49 would probably have been just fine. When my toes are bent, they come quite close to the end of the shoe but without touching; as long as I tie the shoelaces up nice and tight, my foot doesn't move around in the shoe. The only problem is that they look like skis! I was a little concerned that I would be increasing my risk of tripping over, as I did in my Soft Star RunAmocs which had an extremely generous toe box. The difference with these is that the sole is much firmer and curls up ever so slightly at the toes (but not to the extent of the typical running shoes with significant heel-toe differential). With any luck my foot will get back to normal and I can keep my Vibram 5 Fingers in reserve for races.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

La Behobia - San Sebastián Race Report

The other day I saw a clinic which was both a dentist and a podiatrist - I can't think of anywhere I'd rather less want to visit. To be fair, Raúl my podiatrist from Clinica Piqueras has been great and very sympathetic to my running needs but the dentist is another matter. The time came around for me to have my wisdom tooth out but now, of course, it wasn't hurting so I talked them out of going through with it. Probably just as well because quite apart from having the race at the weekend, I had a couple of extra stressful days of work to get through first.

The Behobia - San Sebastian was celebrating it's golden (50) anniversary with a pretty cool t-shirt. It was quite hard work getting hold of it, though. The Expo was huge and I hadn't read the instructions properly so I went to get my t-shirt first instead of picking up my race number as I was supposed to. In the end I felt like I had walked most of the 20 kilometer course already. When there are 30,000 people taking part, it's not surprising that some queuing and walking is going to be involved. I did buy an excellent "vintage" Ironman sweatshirt though. In spite of there being so many people, I bumped into people I knew in every restaurant we ate in and while we were paseando along the beach I heard someone say "mira ese tío con pinta de guiri" and it turned out to be Dani, who we had arranged to meet later. This gives you some idea about the scale of the running invasion of the city.

One of the things that I most like about San Sebastian was also one of the things that complicated matters: it is not a city for cars. People are very active - running, cycling and even rowing - and much of the old part of the city is pedestrianized. With the extra influx of people it was practically impossible to park. My wife spent an hour going round in circles (bless her) while I was tucking into my pasta dinner with Dani and his friends.

With this in mind, I think we made an excellent decision to stay in a flat a little out of town, near the train station and about 3 kilometers from the finish line. To be honest, it wasn't even very easy to park around there but it was perfect for catching the train to the start on the Sunday morning. Dani was injured from having recently completed his second Ironman, so in the end he wasn't taking part. He volunteered to take my bag to the finish line so that I could lie in a bit longer as the cutoff time for the cloakroom was 8:45, an hour and a quarter before my start.

The first thing I did when I arrived in Irún (Behobia) was to call Dani. No answer. This was very odd: Dani is one of the most reliable and punctual people I know. In fact, he is probably the most punctual Spanish person I know (whether that says something about Spain or just people I know, I leave to the discretion of the reader). I was actually worried that something bad had happened to him but I was also worried I would have to run with my bag all the way. Meanwhile, I had other business to attend to. The portaloos were a luxury edition which came with toilet paper and a flushing action! Next I made my way to the cloakroom lorries which were still very much "open" an hour after the supposed cutoff time. The only downside was that I had to wear the plastic shawl I had conserved from the finish of the New York Marathon to keep warm and thus would have to dispose of it. Just then I heard my name being called and turned to see a stressed looking Dani: we could only really shrug and make thumbs up signs to each other over the noise which, later, turned out to be the reason he hadn't heard me call in the first place. I should have thought to tell Dani to pick up my New York plastic shawl but I soon realized that the important thing was to empty my mind and focus on the race. It occurred to me that the little incident was a kind of payback for the time in Lisbon when I told Dani, who was participating in his first ever Half Ironman, that he need not worry about taking all his stuff to the bike check in even though I was going to anyway...

I was in the second wave which started 1 minute after the leaders. It was just as well that I didn't try to sneak into the first wave for whatever good that would have done me, because I subsequently noticed that the organization automatically disqualify anyone with a start time ahead of their corresponding wave. The start of the course is relatively narrow so the start times had to be staggered significantly: some people started an hour and a half after me!

I figured that the hills would be more or less cancelled out by the 1.1 kilometre "discount" on the half marathon distance, so I was aiming for a time of 1:20 or a pace of exactly 4:00 per kilometre. We covered the first kilometre (which was flat, of course) in less than 3:30 which would have been fast even for a half marathon on level ground. There was a pacemaker for sub 1:12(!) and he impressively managed to reattach his flag which had blown off, all the while maintaining that cracking pace.

Thanks to the Morton's Neuroma, I could feel a burning pain radiating out to my toes but I knew that it wasn't "real". That is to say, I don't suppose I was doing myself any favours but, having decided to run the race, the pain wasn't a true reflection of the damage I was doing to myself so I tried to ignore it. After a while it got better but it was nevertheless a drain on my concentration.

It was fairly easy to remember where the hills were: kilometres 3, 7, 13 and 17. They weren't as bad as I had feared and I realized that running around Madrid means having to tackle hills of similar difficulty on a daily basis. Having said that, I'm sure that the hill intervals and strength training I did helped. It's funny how the suffering is different: I notice more of a burning sensation in my lungs and a metallic taste in my mouth than on a flat course. As it had been raining in the early morning, the roads were slightly slippy which meant that my shoes had less purchase on the ground. I'm used to losing time relative to others on the climbs but I also tend to regain it on the descents: this time, my conservatism due to my foot pain meant that I didn't catch up as much as I might otherwise have done on the downhill sections.

I was wearing my spiderman t-shirt which was only recognized by disappointingly few children. It's true that there were a lot of people out supporting along the whole route but to compare it to New York Marathon would be to compare the polite clapping at a game of cricket to the raucous support of a football match. Even so, when you are gritting your teeth as you plod up a steep hill every little helps. People shouting "Aupa neska!" in Basque spurred me on; it was only towards the end that I realised that it meant "Go girl!" and that they were in fact supporting a girl that I happened to be running next to at the time.

I got to halfway in just under 39 minutes, well inside my target time. I always find it hard to pace myself when there are hills - the altitude map never seems to correspond to the actual experience. A half marathon (or nearly) is a long enough distance that you can't mess around with it: go off too quickly and you pay it back double. The last hill looked one of the most tame but it was actually the one which took most seconds off my time. It was also the one at the crest of which I knew my family were waiting: I gave them all a high five and then it was downhill all the way to the finish.

Normally I would buy a photo but there weren't any good ones of me..
At last I got to the finish line in 1:17:20 which wasn't a bad effort at all. My 5K splits were fairly even in spite of the hills: 3:45, 3:56, 3:54 and 3:54.

I was pretty happy with my result but I couldn't help wondering if I should have been more ambitious. My goal isn't to beat so and so, neither is it necessarily to beat my own best time, instead what is important to me is to know that I did my best, that I didn't "wimp out". Maybe I erred on the conservative side what with my foot problems and the added difficulty of the hills, but now I have a benchmark for next time.

After a shower back in the flat, we met up with Dani and his friends in a fantastic (if not a little pricey) restaurant where we righteously stuffed ourselves to the gills with fish, meat and alcohol. All in all, a great weekend with the bonus of a bank holiday the next day to recover (and the kids had school to boot!).

Monday, November 3, 2014

La Behobia Week 7 / 8

Not mine - I wish! - but a friend's
It was strange to think that the New York marathon was going ahead without me this year, as it has been something not far from my thoughts for many years, until I was finally able to take part last year. I am torn between the idea of participating again and not wanting to risk tarnishing the memory of last year by anything less than a perfect day. It helped motivate me while I was running on Sunday - at the same pace I ran the Marathon last year - to think that 5,000 kilometrers away the race was weaving its way through the streets of the city I love so much.

I needed a bit of motivation because my weekend did not get off to a particularly good start from a running point of view. Just the day before I had decided I wouldn't bother going back to see the podiatrist because my foot seemed a lot better so I was unpleasantly surprised to discover that my other foot had started to hurt in an all too familiar way. At least before I could blame the problems on my bunion but my left foot is pretty normal if not a bit flatfooted. Pressing hard between my toes while squeezing the bones together, I could reproduce that radiating pain that seems to be another Morton's Neuroma. This probably means I should retire my Vibrams for good and maybe consider something even more supportive and protective than my Merrill Trail Gloves, which I have only just got my feet used to (I'm still getting blisters!). On top of that my head cold seemed to be deciding whether or not to head down to my lungs. So, for my run on Sunday I thought I would drive down to Madrid Río which was flat with no stones or other obstacles and would be bustling with other joggers and cyclists to help pull me along. It was a good plan but I got a bit lost and ended up having to run the first half on hilly and stony paths. Still, it was a good run and my foot hurt less as it wore on - as long as I didn't tread on any stones.

Maybe one of the contributing factors to my foot problems has been continuing to run on my treadmill in spite of the crevasse in the middle of the running surface. The first of my two 5K sets with 3% gradient was OK - although I couldn't figure out whether the extra give in the surface was making it easier or harder - but, during the second, there was an ominous crack and the belt started to develop a line down the middle as it was getting forced into the crack. Best to stop before I break something else, I thought, so I finished the second 5K in the street (still "topless" which raised a few eyebrows in the neigbourhood, considering it was past dark in almost November). I'm still waiting to get it repaired and it looks as though it is unlikely to happen before the race next weekend. But my work is done here, so it doesn't make much difference now...

Monday: -
Tuesday: 2 x 5K @ 3:35 w/ 3% gradient
Wednesday: 40' @ 4:07
Thursday: 2 x 8 x 60% + 40' @ 4:27
Friday: -
Saturday: 3 x (200 - 600 - 1,000) @ 4:00 w/ 9%, 6%, 3% gradient, rest only between sets
Sunday: 10' + 60' @ 4:00 + 10'

Monday, October 27, 2014

La Behobia Week 6 / 8

My 2,000 € treadmill seems to be even less resistant than my minimalist running shoes: after less than 400 kilometres and 5 months, I have already broken the board. As a friend pointed out, maybe I should wear more cushiony shoes not to protect my feet, but to protect my treadmill! I didn't have high expectations of my previous treadmill that was a third of the price but this is a bit too much: at least it is still under guarantee...

I also had a case of toothache which turned out to be due to a wisdom tooth that had decided it was time to push the other teeth around a bit (typically during the night). The verdict is that I will have to have it pulled but I narrowly escaped having it done today as I had an important meeting right afterwards. In the end, I didn't manage to get a word in edgeways, so it probably wouldn't have mattered anyway... Something to look forward to next week.

Saturday was a good opportunity to get some more fun out of my octopus costume - the one I ran San Silvestre in last New Year's Eve. As it was Halloween in the local American School - where they take these things very seriously - I thought I should try to make it a little bit more scary.

It was my youngest son's 10th birthday on Sunday, so I went for my long run in the early evening (while he was doing his homework) so as not to miss any of it. I really enjoyed the run - even though we are practically in November, it has been quite hot during the day, so it was nice and cool in the Casa del Campo with breathtaking views of Madrid as I ran past the cable cars down the long hill which I would have to run back up on the way back.

Monday: 40' @ 4:27
Tuesday: 1K + 3K + 2K + 3K + 1K @ 3:25 w/ 1' rest
Wednesday: 3 x 12 x 65% + 40' @ 4:27
Thursday: 40' @ 4:27
Friday: La Behobia part I @ 4:27
Saturday: 3 x (800 - 400 - 200 - 1,000) @ 4:00 w/ 3%, 6%, 9%, 3% gradient, 1' rest
Sunday: 100' w/ bigger hills @ 4:33

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Survival Zombie Poblete

In the end I just couldn't resist the opportunity to see the faces of the local manchegos as more than 1,000 people (and zombies) descended on the otherwise sleepy little village of Poblete, possibly the very same village whose name Don Quixote could not recall. It was going to be at least a two Red Bull effort as it didn't start until 11 pm and went on (supposing you survived that long) until 7 am the next morning.

The "survivors" in our group (myself, my wife, Cristina, Josema, Angel, Patricia and Omar) gathered at the town hall while my sister-in-law and her husband were preparing to join the hoards of zombies from whom we would be trying to escape. We were told that a kind of vaccine had been found - it didn't stop you dying if you came into contact with a zombie, but at least you didn't become one of them - and that we had to help ensure its safe passage to Madrid, where it could be produced in large quantities. The vaccine was in a safe and it was our mission to discover the 8 numbers in the combination to the safe by talking to people at various locations around the village. But, just at that moment there was a scuffle and the spokesperson was thrown off the balcony. Then, a "Z" - the zombies who can run - jumped into the crowd and everyone scattered. In the ensuing chaos I managed to knock my wife's glasses off and give her a black eye (see video)!

The next hour or so we wandered pretty aimlessly around the village trying to find the first clue. I remember this bit being quite slow and boring at the time but it is also what I most remember looking back on it now. It was a strange and liberating experience to be wandering all around a village at night, finding obscure cross country paths and passing through gaps in fences in order to avoid being detected. It later turned out that the game didn't really start until some hours later, by which time everyone had had a chance to scout out the village. Having run through the village more times than I can remember (as it is only 5 km away from where my parents-in-law live) I knew how to get to the ancient church on the hill, which I was convinced would form part of the story. We got to the right place alright, but just not at the right moment: this would be the scene of the grand finale, once all the clues had been found and the safe unlocked. (Apparently it involved dipping your head in a bath of "blood" so as to be inoculated against the zombies, but most of us didn't get that far.)

All the bars were open all night long and played the role of being safe houses with one important caveat: if you entered one while being chased by a zombie, everyone was then at risk (I guess that this would make you very unpopular). The rules also said that anyone drunk or on drugs would be disqualified from the game and, while it was OK to have the odd drink, it was true that everyone behaved themselves pretty well. Of course it was also against the rules to attack zombies - if they touched you or you found yourself sealed off by a hoard of them, then you had to consider yourself undead. Perhaps partly due to the late opening of the bars but also out of curiosity I suppose, the whole of Poblete seemed to be out on the street to watch. We overheard one little girl say "The one time they organize an event in the village and we aren't taking part".

It wasn't too difficult to find out where to go to find the clues as there were either signs of activity or groups of people standing around trying to figure out how to get in. Frustration is definitely one of the elements the organizers deliberately play around with. It might be that you had to come back at a different time or after having obtained a piece of information first from somewhere else; or it might just be that there just wasn't room for more than one person in each group to enter. I got to go into one building with 3 people from our group, where we had to search a "dead" body lying on a table before he jumped up and "unkilled" us. Josema got such a start that he frantically grabbed something from his pocket - it turned out to be the bag with all the little pieces of paper with the clue on (which we duly handed back to give the others a chance). There was, of course, a secondary market in trading clues so it wasn't long before some people had all 8 numbers. Little did they know that you had to actually be in possession of all the corresponding bits of paper to have a chance of winning.

The modus operandi of the zombies was as follows: Z's would round up survivors like sheep and herd them into alleyways that were cut off by the hoards. This was the fate that befell Cristina, when she ran into - of all "people" - my brother-in-law. As he had never met Cristina but she had seen a photo of him with his zombie makeup, he was surprised when she exclaimed, "You're Rob's brother-in-law!". I think he had a great time puteando a la gente.

At about the same time as Cristina was being rounded up, another Z started chasing after me and my wife. I heard her shout out and yet the Z was still some way behind her. She was limping and said that she had felt as though something had hit her leg. It turned out that she had torn a muscle, so in the end, between the black eye and the limp, she looked more like a zombie than some of the zombies themselves.

It was clear that the evening was over for both of us, but in spite of the injuries sustained we both thoroughly enjoyed it (easy for me to say). Before calling it a night, we decided to gather by the town hall where we had been told that there would be an announcement at 3:30 am. We were ordered into lines by the military who arrived in a (real) tank. Then a Z came running towards us and was shot down several times by the soldier's machine guns, but each time he would get up again. Finally, he jumped to his feet and ran after an unsuspecting survivor (not for long). It was our cue to limp slowly back to the headquarters in the local sports hall where we had parked the car. We moved so slowly that a hoard of zombies heading back with their fresh kills to be made-up actually overtook us, but they were not very hungry so I managed to conserve my status as a survivor, evidenced by the green bandana I had wrapped around my arm. We caught up with my sister-in-law and her husband, who had had a thoroughly good time and were just getting ready to go out on the prowl again. They told us that several survivors had cheated either by concealing their bandana or by simply running off before the green bandana could be exchanged for the red one, signifying zombie status. They also told us of one guy who had got very angry when he was caught, as he had been very close to obtaining all the clues.

I would love to have been one of the Z's and I think that I have the speed and stamina necessary, as well as being able to roar at the top of my lungs as I have sometimes been known to do in the closing meters of a race. It also helps to be fairly tall and imposing. I emailed the organization offering my services and they said that all the Z's were members of the organization and had a lot of experience, but that I could always send in my CV. I'm not sure whether they would find anything particularly relevant on my CV or, indeed, what kind of thing they are expecting to find (avid Real Dungeons & Dragons player?). Who knows, if things don't work out in the bank maybe I have a calling there... The next event is a full 48 hour affair in Murcia...

I nearly forgot to mention: next time we must remember that eating fabada is not a good a good idea. We were even more rotten inside than the zombies.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

La Behobia Week 5 / 8

On the one hand it was a bit of a slack week between my parents being in town and having to escape from hoards of zombies at the weekend (more on this later). On the other hand, I was pleased with the result of my aerobic test - the usual 20 laps round the football pitch at a controlled heart rate of 172 bpm. It wasn't my best ever time but it was one of the best, and certainly the best this year. The original idea was that it was an indication of my Half Marathon pace although I believe this less and less and it is now just a good benchmark to gauge my fitness and training by. The race I am training for is anything but like running round a nice flat tartan track so the question will be whether the investment in hill and weight sessions pays off.

Monday: 40' easy
Tuesday: 7K aerobic test in 25:54 (3:40, 171 bpm average, 174 maximum)
Wednesday: 30' @ 4:27 + 10' stairs
Thursday: 40' @ 4:27
Friday: -
Saturday: Survival Zombie Poblete
Sunday: -

Monday, October 13, 2014

La Behobia Week 4 / 8

I went back to another of my classic workouts of recent times: the split 10K which is broken down into 1, 2 and 3 km sections with a short rest in between. I like this workout because it is psychologically tolerable but not that much less than running a 10K at race pace - in the end I cover 10K in 39 minutes including the 4 one minute rests. The fourth season of Homeland has just started, and not a moment too soon.

On Saturday we took the kids again to swimming classes at my work so I took advantage of the time to do my hill based interval workout on the treadmill in my work gym (as opposed to at home). I found that the gradient was indeed steeper than on my home treadmill (10% = 6 degrees versus 5 degrees at home versus correct value of 5.5 degrees). Taking this into account I adjusted the grades I ran the 800m, 400m, 200m and 1 km sections at to 3%, 6%, 9% and 3% respectively (instead of 4%, 7%, 10% and 4% as I would have set my home treadmill).

I was a bit off my food on Saturday afternoon - maybe I had a touch of what kept my eldest son away from School for the whole week - so I didn't have any dinner. The next morning I had to practically run straight of bed if I was going to get in my 90 minutes before the family commitments kicked in. After just 15 minutes I felt listless and without any energy and had to lie down. Also, if truth be told, I felt very unmotivated. Lately things at work have been pretty stressful and running usually helps unplug the brain for much needed self-maintenance, but sometimes the stress is too much and negative thoughts spill over into my runs. It's just like with any muscle - overtax it and it starts to fail, undertax it and it becomes soft. I knew that I would be in a stinking bad mood for the rest of the day if I didn't finish - whether I decided to bin the workout or had it hanging over me as a "to do" for the rest of the day. I wouldn't be fair to put my family through that, so I decided to push on. It felt slow and sluggish but - I suppose as I digested my breakfast - I got a second wind with about 30 minutes to go. In the end my average pace was 4:27 - my current "easy" pace - so it wasn't too shabby after all. I felt very tired afterwards though! I couldn't help thinking that, this time last year, I would have felt like that after a 35 km run, not a 20 km run.

Monday: -
Tuesday: 1K + 3K + 2K + 3K + 1K @ 3:30 w/ 1' rest
Wednesday: 4 x 10 x 70%
Thursday: 40' easy
Friday: 40' @ 4:15
Saturday: 2 x (800 - 400 - 200 - 1,00) @ 4:00 w/ 3%, 6%, 9%, 3% gradient
Sunday: 90' w/ hills @ 4:27