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

Thursday, October 9, 2014

La Behobia Week 3 / 8

After the summer break it was time to go back to the podiatrist to take stock oh how my foot problems had evolved. The neuroma is still there but I only notice it if I squeeze in the right spot or if I happen to land right on top of a stone. I admitted that I had gone back to running in my Vibrams on roads and indoors but that I would go back to a more cushioned shoe at the first sign of any pain. He said that I had managed the situation very well and that it must have been quite difficult for me - he understands perfectly the symbiosis between a runner and his running shoes... The next step is to try some more supportive work shoes and to go back in a month: if there has been no improvement or indeed a regression, then he'll look at getting me some orthotics made - at this point only for walking around in. He said he preferred not to mess with how someone ran unless it was absolutely necessary, referring to the recent Marathon World Record being held by someone who (allegedly) heel strikes against the current popular wisdom. (I explained that I thought the angle of the shin to the ground was more significant than the angle of the foot.) So I bought some normal dress shoes for the first time in years but decided to size up (12 UK) to leave ample room for my bunion - it feels so great to have my toes free to move even if I have to put up with a heel counter (which tends to hurt my knees and contribute to my bad posture). They also happen to be Clarks (remember I live in Spain) - I think the last pair I wore were actually bought for me by my mum! I also felt more inclined to Clarks as the founder of Vivobarefoot shoes is none other than Galahad Clark, grandson of the original Clark (it sort of feels like there should be a "Sir" in their somewhere).

Anyway, after all these months I was at last able to do my intervals at the same intensity that I was doing them before my relative break: six lots of 1 mile (1.6 km) in 5:28. There are few things I find more satisfying in training than lying in bed after a session like this and feeling tiny popping sensations all over my legs as the muscles shake themselves down and prepare to rebuild themselves, only this time to be more resilient. I tend to sleep very well afterwards although I often wake up much earlier than usual.

Of course, I ran those intervals on the flat (1% incline) but I am training for a hilly race, so my second quality workout substituted speed for hills. Another of the advantages of the treadmill is that you can precisely control the length and grade of the hills you run up although, arguably, running downhill has it's own demands and should also be trained for. This week we took the kids to some new swimming classes at the work gym, which now opens at the weekend. While they were swimming (they actually enjoyed the class for the first time; they are always complaining about going) I did my workout which consisted of 6 sets of 200 and 400 meters at 15 kph and 12% and 10% respectively. I'd come up with this by using Jack Daniel's table to equate the effort to running at 20 and 19 kph on the level. I suppose that this depends quite a lot on how much the runner weighs - readers of this blog will know how much I complain about hills, something that is no doubt connected to my 85 kgs. In spite of managing this workout on my home treadmill, it was too much for me on the work one. My wife, who was running on the neighbouring treadmill, asked me if I was OK and the fact that it took me about a minute to even be able to answer her, so out of breath was I, did nothing to reassure her. I decided to do the rest of the workout at 8%. When I got home, I used my Kindle Fire to check the gradient of my treadmill and, in spite of having calibrated it, a 10% grade appeared to be more like 8.75%; I'm curious to see whether what my Kindle Fire has to say about the work treadmill.

That just leaves the long(ish) run on Sunday. I chose the same route that two weeks ago had proved challenging for just 60 minutes (I think I was coming down with something) and tacked on an extra 10 minutes each way. It felt much much better than last time and I kept a pretty constant speed (hills permitting). What was not very constant though, was my heart rate. I decided to wear a heart rate monitor - something I had got out of the habit of doing because I felt that I was gauging my efforts better by feel - as I wanted to see how my fitness was progressing. My heart rate started off nice and low (140-150 bpm) and held at 150 for quite a while, but then started to creep up to even Marathon levels. I think that this just reflects the need to keep on working on these long runs and extending the time for which I can comfortably maintain a reasonable pace. I'm clearly not in the same shape I was in this time last year but it's only been three weeks and things have been getting better quite quickly, so I am at least confident I will be able to feel pleased with my performance even if it is not on par with a personal best.

Monday: 30' @ 39 kph on tri bike
Tuesday: 6 x 1,600 @ 3:25 w/ 1' rest
Wednesday: 2 x 8 x 60% explosive + 20' @ 4:27
Thursday: 40' @ 4:27
Friday: -
Saturday: 6 x (200 - 400) @ 4:00 w/ 8%-10% gradient
Sunday: 80' w/ hills (18.12 km @ 4:24)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

La Behobia Week 2 / 8

At last I feel like I am returning to something similar to the form I was in earlier this year, before I started having problems with my foot (and before I went on holiday). The same workouts I found hard to complete last week were much more doable this week.

Now that I finally have my triathlon bike back (although I am still waiting to hear the verdict from Zipp on the disc wheel) I went for a slightly longer ride to try out the new position with the upwardly pointing J-aerobars which do indeed seem more comfortable and to allow me to apply more power.

Apart from the two quality workouts (one speed, one with hills) which were a more successful repeat of last week, I was in a conference in Barcelona during the second half of the week and in Ciudad Real at the weekend. Not really knowing where to go in Barcelona nor having the time to start from anywhere but the hotel, I did a kind of random run in the vague direction of the sea then in search of the Familia Sagrada (Gaudí's gothic cathedral) and ended up finding neither. It was so fraught with pedestrians, bikes and especially traffic lights that I had to stop almost every couple of minutes - really not a very exercise friendly city (my conclusion probably being somewhat biased by all the nonsense going on right now about an illegal referendum for the separation of Cataluña). All the stopping meant that I recovered enough to be able to run faster than I would have done normally, so - GPS error permitting - I actually ran 10K in just over 38 minutes. I thought of it more like interval training than as a "tempo run".

I enjoyed the longish run I did in Ciudad Real a lot more. The previous Sunday I had struggled to run an hour at a slower speed (admittedly on a hotter day with more hills) so I was relieved to be able to put that down to an anomaly. It was actually raining - very unusual in those parts - so I was the only one mad enough to be outside but it was a good deal more pleasant, I can tell you, than running in the sun: I still needed a cold shower to cool down afterwards. My run took me through the nearby village of Poblete which will be the venue of a Zombie Holocaust next weekend, that a friend of mine is taking part in. If it weren't for the date then I would be very tempted.

Monday: short ride on tri bike
Tuesday: 6 x 1,6000m @ 3:30 (5 sets) - 3:25 (one set)
Wednesday: weights 3 x 12 x 65%
Thursday: 10K in 38:10 (@ 3:49 stopping for traffic lights)
Friday: -
Saturday: 6 x (400-200), 400 @ 4:00 w/ 10%, 200 @ 4:00 w/ 12%
Sunday: 16.71 km in 70' (@ 4:11)

Monday, September 22, 2014

La Behobia Week 1 / 8

Now I have the first "proper" week of training under my belt I have a better idea of what shape I am in and what constitutes a realistic plan for the next 7 weeks.

I already posted about my experience on the AlterG. One of the good things about training for a hilly race is that you don't really need an anti-gravity treadmill to do an "overspeed" workout - anything with a flat gradient qualifies. I did my first intervals since May on Tuesday - 6 lots of 1 mile - and it showed. I managed to complete them allowing for some extra recovery in between the first 3 and the second 3 but, if I had been doing these at 17.5 kph (3:25 min/km) without too much difficulty back in May, it was quite a struggle to finish them at 17 kph (3:30 min/km).

I was able to step up my weights on Wednesday and I didn't suffer so long from the after effects. Thursday was an impromptu day off as I had to go to two funerals: one I already knew about (Emilio Botín) but the other was quite a shock - I discovered that day that a colleague of mine had died the night before.

Using Jack Daniels's calculator I worked out that running 15 kph (4:00 min/km) up a hill with 10% gradient was considered to be equivalent to running at 19 kph (3:10 min/km) on the flat. So I took one of my speed interval workouts from earlier in the year and adapted it for developing hill strength instead. I'm not sure if I agree with Jack Daniel's calculations because it was a real bastard.

This Saturday I ran the second half of the Behobia course on my treadmill, simulating all the ups and as much of the downs as possible (the limit is 12.9 kph with a -3% gradient). The second half seems a lot easier although there was quite a sharp climb just at the point where I'll be tired from the previous 16 km although it seemed to be downhill from there on in.


Finally, on Sunday I ran down to the Casa de Campo where there are enough hills without needing to simulate them. Encouraged by the favourable progression of my foot, I decided to wear my Vibram Spyridons which provide a little more protection than the Seeyas but less than the Merrill Trail Gloves (which, I have to say, I really do not enjoy running in as they give me blisters and they smell). It turned out not to be such a good idea as I stepped on a stone just in the spot where I have the neuroma on my right foot and, for good measure, I stepped on another stone with the other foot and started to get a similar pain which made me worry that I had two screwed feet. I don't know whether it was feeling depressed about this, the fact that I had not run continuously for longer than 40 minutes for the last 6 months or whether I was coming down with something. I felt pretty crap and washed out for the rest of the day and it's true that the rest of my family had had some kind of virus, leading me to believe that the latter was to blame.

I didn't manage to convince the family to go down to the bike show (la fería de la bicicleta) but I didn't try to hard as I didn't want to end up spending any money. I did finally get my triathlon bike back although the disc wheel is being investigated by ZIPP to see why it has a bit of play and makes that disconcerting creaking sound. I went for a quick spin on it and the initial conclusion is that the aero extensions with a J-bend are much more comfortable, allow me to get down low as well as being able to apply more power. They just don't look quite as cool as the S-bend bars that came with the bike.

Monday: 30' AlterG @ 4:27 - 3:10 w/ 80% - 100% bodyweight
Tuesday: 2 x 3 x 1,6000m @ 3:25 (one set) - 3:30 (5 sets)
Wednesday: weights 3 x 15 x 60%, 40' @ 4:27
Thursday: -
Friday: 6 x (400-200), 400 @ 4:00 w/ 10%, 200 @ 4:00 w/ 12%
Saturday: Behobia II (10.2 km @ 4:27 w/ 130m ascent)
Sunday: 13.3 km in 60'

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Walking on, walking on the moon...

I once read a book called "Blue Ocean Strategy" (which I unfortunately keep misremembering as "Blue Sky Strategy") which puts forward the idea that you should look for wide open oceans to compete in rather than densely populated jungles. The much cited Cirque de Soleil is an example of this - by combining aspects of theater and circus they created a show which appealed to a different audience and for which they could sell tickets at a premium.

So what would happen if the inventor of the bouncy castle were to join forces with the inventor of the treadmill? They would probably come up with something like the AlterG:


The AlterG is an "anti-gravity treadmill" which allows you to specify not only how fast you'd like to run but also how much you'd like to weigh (although it can't change how much you appear to weigh). You wear a pair of neoprene shorts which zip onto the machine, forming a sort of bubble in which you run: by increasing the pressure of the air in the bubble you can achieve weightlessness. There are several reasons why you might want to do this. The most obvious is if you are injured. Alistair Brownlee, the current Olympic Triathlon Champion, used one of these devices to run back to health after tearing his Achilles Tendon, by reducing the associated impact forces. Even for non-injured athletes, it is useful to be able to run at higher speeds without the corresponding muscle damage. In this way, you can train and ingrain the biomechanics of race pace and above.


There are only 12 of these machines in Spain of which only four can be found in Madrid. One of them happens to be owned by a friend and ex-colleague of mine, Antonio Ciardo. Antonio recently left the bank to concentrate on his osteopathy clinic which, judging by his clientele and his swanky new premises in the posh part of town, looks like it was a very good decision. He invited me to try out last night and warned me to bring a towel as I was likely to work up a sweat.

Love the decoration
At first it feels a little strange to be so constrained but I soon got used to it. Once you step on to the belt and get zipped in, the treadmill calibrates itself based on your weight. The first thing we tried was reducing my weight to just 20% - just a tad more than what it would be on the Moon - and, of course, my feet hardly touched the ground. It reminded me of a recurring dream I have where I can't quite fly but I can run really fast effortlessly by just occasionally tapping the ground with my foot. Then we started piling on the pounds until I weighed only 80% of my normal weight - about 17 kilos lighter. After Moonwalking, even a 20% discount seemed depressingly unnoticeable, although I was able to run at my Marathon pace of 15 km/h (4:00 min/km) while still keeping my pulse very low (less than 140). It did start to get quite hot in there after a while - Antonio explained to me that he still has to set up the ventilation - so my pulse gradually crept up. This model designed for rehabilitation has a maximum speed of 19.2 km/h which I tested out at 80% body weight. It was still hard to run at that speed - after all, you still have to move your legs quite fast - but the impact was noticeably lower and I was able to concentrate more on form. After the problems I have been having with my feet (Hallux Limitus, Morton's Neuroma) I was interested to see whether the pain was more likely to be provoked by a different running gait at high speed, or by higher impact forces - the AlterG allowed me to decouple these two effects and seemed to confirm my suspicion that the latter was more to blame.


One aspect that I found interesting was that the machine obliged you to run upright and to minimize hip movements laterally, transversely as well as vertically, especially when the skirt was inflated (that's to say, when running with less than 100% body weight). This strikes me as a good thing as far as running technique goes. For the second half of the workout I ran at 17 kph (3:30 min/km) or just over 10K pace and then gradually put the weight back on. It was so depressing!! I felt so much heavier and more sluggish than I had before I started and, as the cushion deflated, my hips started to move around much more - left, right, backwards, forwards, not to mention bouncing up and down more. Antonio had stressed that it was important to return to weightfulness before stepping off, otherwise the shock might make me lose balance. However, I wish I had left with the memory of lightness as it was so much more pleasant.

Luckily I don't have too much of a need for one of these things (my wife asked me if I would be buying one!) - apart from being extraordinarily expensive, I'm just glad that I am not injured at the moment (touch wood). But it would have come in very handy as a way to get back to weight bearing when I got a stress fracture in my foot.