Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

This morning I ran my first of two San Silvestre 10k races in Las Rozas de Madrid. I was convinced it was going to be absolute chaos with 800 runners doubling back on narrow paths through the woods but there didn't seem to be any problems, in spite of the trail being quite steep and technical in parts. Considering I haven't really trained for the distance and it's been exactly a year since the last time I ran a 10k race, I was quite happy with my time of 37:54, especially as the course was really cross country. I finished in 21st place out of 800 which isn't bad. Nobody overtook me during the whole race with the exception of someone who pipped me on the line with an awesome sprint that I couldn't match. I still prefer the Half Marathon distance which isn't so stressful. I do feel as though I have earned my celebration tonight, though. As a friend said after completing the race this morning, we have to pull ourselves back down by eating and drinking otherwise we'd become too competitive and have to make a living from athletics...

This afternoon I have the second San Silvestre "race" - the Vallecana - with about 38,000 other runners including my wife. I'll be getting dressed up for the event so check back here tomorrow for the photos! In the meantime, happy new year to all of you!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Week 2 / 10 (and Happy Christmas!)

I'm in London this week, celebrating Christmas with my family. I'm sure to come back with a bit of excess baggage the way things are going. After being teetotal for 3 months prior to the Valencia Marathon and still not hitting my target, I might as well allow myself a few lapses.

I find that I run noticeably faster in London. Maybe it's the relative altitude, the fact that road running is faster than trail running or simply that I find a change of surroundings stimulating. For logistic reasons my hard training sessions ended up getting bunched up. I ran 14.3 km in an hour at a tad over aerobic pace on Thursday, 3 sets of progressively harder runs from 15 kph to 17 kph on Friday and 8 sets of 4 minutes at 17 kph with a 4 kg backpack on Saturday. Today just before a massive Christmas lunch I ran 2 hours at comfortably aerobic pace (148 beats per minute) and manages to cover just under 27 km running from South London to North London and back again. My legs are now aching for the first time since I can remember (from training). The 2 hour run was supposed to be a 2 hour cycle ride but I don't have access to a decent bike (other than a Boris bike).

Tomorrow is definitely going to be a day off to give my body time to adapt to the stresses of the last few days. The series I had scheduled for tomorrow will have to wait until Tuesday and, in any case, the gym where I plan to do them is closed tomorrow.

Hope you have all had a good Christmas!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Week 1 / 10

Here we go again... The first week of specific training for the Seville Marathon on the 19th of February is under my belt. I say "specific training" but I've been doing a fair bit of swimming and cycling too, in preparation for the Half Ironman in Marbella. Even though it is "just" a half, I'm finding the extra hours of training to be a bit of a problem already. To give you some idea, the second swim session since the Ironman was over 2,000 meters!

On the running front, I'm quite happy with my speed. I did a 40 minute session at CCM (medium intensity) on the treadmill at a speed of 15km/h (that's to say a 40 minute 10k on the treadmill - not bad). Thanks to my fans (of the ventilatory kind) I was able to complete the session without too much problems, although the temperature rose by a couple of degrees in the time I was running. I did another fast treadmill workout on Sunday: 3 lots of 15 minutes progressing from CCM to UAN (anaerobic threshold) which I did as 5 minutes at 15km/h, 5 at 16km/h and 5 at 17km/h. The good thing about it was that it made running at 15km/h seem like a doddle. I've definitely noticed an improvement here. I'm not sure whether it is due to my fitness, the temperature or my mental toughness.

I also took out my trusty road bike for a spin on Saturday although it turned out to be a very windy day. Nearly got pushed off the road by a car invading the bus lane I was riding in (without looking or signalling of course). I've also been trying to pedal at least half an hour a day on the triathlon bike on the indoor turbo trainer to get used to the position. I ended up having to buy a new turbo trainer because the old one got stuck in the highest resistance for which a triathlon bike is not at all appropriate. Instead I'll take the old turbo trainer to Asturias for use with my Mountain bike on rainy days (of which there are many).

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Soft Star RunAmoc update

After my original review, I thought I would post an update on how my RunAmocs were holding up to the punishment:

Interestingly asymmetric wear patterns...

As you can see, the upper has torn slightly - it was probably the result of stepping too close to a sharp rock - but it has been like that for over a month now and doesn't seem to be getting much worse. I'm just glad that it was the upper that ripped and not my foot! On the other hand, after what I estimate to be about 850 kilometers, the soles are starting to wear quite thin. I reckon they've got another few hundred kilometers in them before they wear completely through, so I've already placed my order for my second pair that should hopefully arrive this side of Christmas. The "elves" seem a lot more busy this time of year, though. Last time there was only a lead time of 4 days between placing the order and the shoes being handmade and shipped. This time I haven't yet received the email saying they have been shipped. Maybe my review has turned so many people on to them that they can't cope with the demand! It's a shame that the soles aren't a little more durable - at this rate I'll be getting through a pair every couple of months in Marathon season. In this regard, I think that the Vivobarefoot soles are more hard wearing but, in that case the uppers are the weak point. In any case, I can't imagine training in any other "shoe" than the RunAmocs now.

I've also ordered another model, the RunAmoc "Dash", with a different upper and a thinner "road" sole. I plan to use these for casual wear but I thought I could also try out these options for running at the same time.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Nada he nadado

I went swimming for the first time since I clambered out of the sea in Florianópolis, after the 3.8km swim of the Ironman I did back in May. Unsurprisingly, my swimming hasn't magically got any better since then but, equally, it doesn't seem to have got much worse, either. And it is still just a boring as it ever was.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Time Trialing

To be honest, for me Triathlon is all about the bike. The only reason I got into it in the first place is because I am a bit big framed to be a fast runner and I have disproportionately strong legs (compared to the rest of my body) so I figured I could be handy on a bike. I can still remember a couple of years ago, when I bought my first bike since the road accident I had ten year's before, asking if for a Mountain Bike that was also good for Triathlon. They didn't take advantage of my obvious naïvité and sold me a decent Mountain Bike, patiently explaining that I needed a road bike - or what I used to call a "racer" - to ride in Triathlons. (Of course, there are such things as off road Triathlons but that's another story).

When I was buying the road bike I discovered that there were two kinds of Triathlon: those that permitted drafting and those that didn't and that, potentially, you needed a different bike for each although you could make do with one. But I wasn't interested in swimming or seeing how fast I could run off a bike, for that matter; what I was really looking for was a Time Trial in Spain. I imagined there must be loads of them up and down the country, just as there are in the UK - bike races where you are not allowed to draft off anyone in front of you and it is just you against the clock. For some reason there don't appear to be any such competitions in Spain for non-professionals.

I recently asked a friend who organizes Triathlons whether he fancied organizing a Time Trial in Spain, which surelly should be at least three times easier and cheaper. He said that that the Federación Ciclista expressly disallowed Time Trials run for profit. I wonder if you could get around this absurd restriction by obliging all competitors to run 100m to mount their bikes and calling it a Duathlon. Or perhaps one could be organized for charity? It seems a shame to me and perhaps goes some way to explaining why Spain dominates in Road Racing but not in Time Trialing or Pursuit. It's also probably due to the fact that road racers are generally smaller and lighter than time trialers as the main resistance they have to overcome is not that of the air but that of gravity.

I've sent an email to the Federación Ciclista Madrileña asking whether there are any Time Trials open to amateur "age groupers" like myself, and what the entry requirements would be. Still, I miss the grass roots amateur racing that exists in the world of running. I've also been trying to find out whether there is a velodrome reasonably near me and so far, all I have found out is that the only one in Madrid is in a state of disrepair. What Spain needs is a Cristóbal Hoy...

Friday, December 9, 2011

'ello 'ello 'ello, what's goin' on 'ere then?

I finally got around to commuting in to wok on the bike yesterday, now that the new rules for going around the campus are in place. I did it more out of a sense of obligation for having campaigned for bikes to be allowed on campus and to show my gratitude, than for the sheer pleasure of it (we are in December for goodness sake and it is freezing cold). Still, it was enjoyable and I even managed to go for a run at lunchtime as well.

Just as I was walking to my bike, dressed up to the nines in winter cycling gear, a security guard approached me and asked me the dreaded question "Is that your bike?". I thought, "Here we go"... Oddly enough he asked me if I understood Spanish before I even uttered a word: in the dark and under all my cycling garb I doubt he could have discerned my nationality and we "foreigners" are in the very minority at work. I can only guess that he made a subconscious connection between people mad enough to commute to work on a bicycle in December and "people from the North". In the end he said, "I'm having this problem with my bike: the chain keeps jumping from one cog to another... Can you recommend what I should do to fix it?"...

Thursday, December 8, 2011

What a beauty...

A prize for working out what is wrong with this picture...
I've finally got all the bits and bobs for the bike - the last (or should say latest?) addition was the funky 4 spoke front wheel. Just the Darth Vader tie fighter whoosh whoosh sound of the back wheel combined with the helicopter chop chop chop of the front wheel makes you feel as though you are going faster, even if you are not.

I went for my first decent length ride this morning. The idea is to use the road bike with the "normal" wheels for training on the roads and to keep this one mainly on the turbo trainer to get used to the aero position (and for competitions, of course!). I had a few teething problems like the screw of the gear lever working itself loose and getting stuck in a high gear as a consequence. This was easy to fix but when the seat post nut came undone I didn't have the requisite tool to tighten it up again. I had to ride about 15 kilometers without sitting down - it felt like I was in a spinning class - before I found a gas station where I was able to fix it at least temporarily. But hiccoughs aside, it was great fun zooming along and it was nice to go back over the routes that I frequented when I was training for the Ironman (I was surprised to see that a whole bunch of new houses have popped up since then along the way). The Adamo seat is fantastic! Really comfortable - what a difference it makes being able to fully sit on the seat.

I did find it quite tiring on the arms being in the aero position. I think the position is good but it is very low down for this early in the season: normally you start higher up and work your way down. Also my pulse rate was on the high side the whole time but, for now, I don't care. Once I start training seriously for the Half Ironman in April, I'll have to hold back a little and be patient while the speed gradually comes back.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Race calendar 2012

I decided that I couldn't end the year without a full-on 10k race as is customary on San Silvestre (New Year's Eve). As I'll be running the San Silvestre Vallecana (the big one organized by Nike with 30,000 runners) with my wife at a modest pace and probably dressed as one of the guys from Abba, I thought I would sign up for another 10k race in the morning that I will race at full speed.

31st December 2011
San Silvestre Las Rozas 10k (fast)
San Silvestre Vallecana 10k (slow)

22th January 2012
Getafe Half Marathon

19th February 2012
Seville Marathon*

15th April 2012
Marbella Half Ironman* (ICAN Marbella)

16th/23rd September 2012 (approx)
Valladolid Half Marathon

4th November 2012New York Marathon

* "A" races - the important ones for which the other races are just preparation or "fun"

Monday, December 5, 2011

The dreaded cramps

The number of times I have seen an letter in a running magazine from someone who has suffered from muscle cramps in a race, being told that they should make sure they take in enough water and electrolytes and that eating bananas is a good idea. The truth seems to be an uncomfortable one: we get cramps when we try to perform at a level above that for which we are adequately trained. It is much easier to say that you would have got such and such a time had you not been smitten with a case of the cramps than to admit that possibly you went off too quickly or that you haven't been training long enough at those distances.

In my first Marathon I ran the first half in about 1:38 and the second half in about 2:22. I hit the wall big time and suffered terrible cramps for 15 kilometers, having to stop and stretch every 100 meters or so. I was joined by another runner who was suffering from a similar fate (although he did eventually get a second wind and went on to finish ahead of me). He told me that this happened to him every year, which disheartened me and put me off the idea of running Marathons altogether. I thought, "What's the point? I'd be better off running a three-legged race or an egg-and-spoon race".

I looked into the subject a lot and discovered that there was no scientific evidence to back up the electrolyte imbalance idea. Instead, the best theory that is currently being touted is that they caused by a faulty reflex control of the motor nerve as a result of fatigue. Here I use the word "theory" in the following sense:
1. a coherent group of tested general propositions, commonly regarded as correct, that can be used as principles of explanation and prediction for a class of phenomena: Einstein's theory of relativity. principle, law, doctrine.
rather than:
2. a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural and subject to experimentation, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact. idea, notion hypothesis, postulate. practice, verification, corroboration, substantiation.

Too often we hear the word "theory" and scoff, "Ah, so it's only the Theory of Evolution - it doesn't mean it's actually true." As a Mathematician, I am an admirer of the scientific method. A good theory is one that fits all available data and a really good theory is one that is able to (correctly) predict something you didn't know before. It is not necessary to like a theory for it to be a good one. And we don't like to be told that we set our sights too high or we didn't train enough.

In my experience, there are various forms of Grim Reaper that come for me when I have spent more than I have in my current account; muscle cramps are just one of these. The fact is that, over several years of consistent training for the distances at which I like to compete, I have been able to keep them more or less at bay. That doesn't mean to say I don't have my superstitious equivalents of a clove of garlic or a wooden stake to ward them off. I always take specially formulated salt tablets (SaltStick) in races longer than an hour and a half and I always compete with thigh and calf compression. I feel that these things help when, again, there is no scientific evidence to say so. On the other hand, there is no way I am going to risk it when there are few things more frustrating that can happen to you in a race.

Maratón de Sevilla 2012 (Seville Marathon)

If you remember, I have been wondering how to achieve two potentially conflicting goals next year: run New York Marathon and break the 3 hour barrier in the Marathon. Conflicting, because New York Marathon is a fairly tough one and would probably add something like 3-6 minutes to my time, making it that much harder to break three hours. Also, I want to enjoy the New York Marathon - you know, actually look around and enjoy having the road to myself (and 39,999 other people).

My trainer has given his blessing to the idea of squeezing in a Marathon in February, in spite of having the Half Ironman in Marbella (ICAN) in April. This also means that I'm not going to get much of a respite from structured training. A friend asked me the other day if I didn't feel like I needed a break, at least mentally. The fact that I was taken aback by his question makes me think that I don't need much of a break. In fact, given my condition last week (from chaffing), I told him I was actually missing being able to go for a run. I actually like running which is just as well as preparing for another Marathon means more long runs and series.

I've mentioned before the tendency I have noticed to lose respect for a difficult goal during the preparation. In order to be able to attack the goal (e.g., complete an Ironman or break 3 hours in the Marathon) you have to train, obviously, and as you become fitter you gain confidence in achieving that goal. Here comes the rub: if you are really well prepared then there is a point at which you feel so sure that you will achieve that goal that it almost doesn't seem like a BIG DEAL anymore. You start to feel as though you have already achieved it. Of course you have to expect to achieve it to have a real chance of achieving it but not to the point that you don't reap the rewards of actually achieving it. In other words, you should not fear your goal but you must respect it. One of the good things about my "failure" to achieve my goal of 3 hours in the Marathon last week is that it has made me respect it. Oh yes, I think this time, if I do actually manage to break it - which I think I deserve to do and I think I am definitely capable of doing - the victory will be so much sweeter!

Seville Marathon is on the 19th February which gives me just over two months to prepare for it. I expect I'll have to do some swimming and biking in parallel so that I don't arrive at the start line in Marbella having forgotten everything I know about Triathlon. The course is nice and flat and the temperature should be similar to that in Valencia. The advantage that I will have is that Seville is where I got married just over ten years ago. We chose the place simply because it is a very special place and not because we have any connection there. The course looks nice and is very unusual in that there are no loops or repeated sections.

Now I just need to discuss my goals with my wife. I've found that things are much smoother if they are agreed in advance: after all, these commitments have an impact on the whole family, not just on me.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Estoy como una cabra (Bike Fitting part II)

I went back to Ciclos Delicias on Saturday to have my new seat, pedals and Rotor crankset (this time with the correct rings: 53 and 39 teeth respectively). The first nice surprise was that Rafa had managed to get me the top of the range Look Carbon Blade pedals for the same price as the ones I had ordered: instead of having a little spring, they shave off a few extra grammes by using a lamina of carbon. I'm not sure whether the "TT" (Time Trial) cranks really have any noticeable aerodynamic benefit but they sure look sexy.

As the Spanish say, "What a cucumber"
While I was waiting for all the new bits and pieces to be fitted, I got chatting to a guy who came into the shop with a Ceepo Triathlon bike. He turned out to be Fran Vacas, the current holder of the 1,000km (!) road record, which he managed to complete in just over a minute over 31 hours in May this year. We talked about Ironman at which point he showed me a pretty cool tattoo which he has on his calf. It struck me that, for someone with a couple of World Records, he should only have a tattoo commemorating the Ironman. He told me that he did it a year after the event, so there is still a chance I might do one...

A friend of mine, John Warnock, who I used to row with back in the late 80s has since turned to cycling and, like Fran, competes in ultradistance. He has won the UK National 24 hour Time Trial and has also recorded the second furthest distance travelled in the UK in 24 hours. Perhaps I can try to hook him up with Fran. John recommended me the Adamo saddle and I figured that if someone knows about saddles, it has to be him (although it is true that every "bum" is different). Come to think of it, John was also the person who put me on to the Pose Method for running in the first place.

Let it all hang out...
As you can see, the Adamo saddle has a radically different design. As I find myself always sitting on the very end of my saddle, I thought it might be more comfortable to sit on the very end of two points of the Adamo saddle. More on this later...

Next I did a bike fitting - if you read it at the time, you'll remember that I wasn't terribly satisfied with the whole procedure. This time it was much better (it wasn't the same guy - in fact he is no longer working with the company). We spent a lot of time fiddling about moving the seat backwards and forwards and angling it up and down before we had to take the inevitable step of cutting the seat post. The design is such that the seat post has to rest on top of a stop inside the frame. You are provided with several different sized spacers that you can combine to be able to move the seat up and down by up to almost 3 cm, in increments of a quarter of a centimeter. We estimated that the seat needed to be lowered by one centimeter so we decided to cut 2 cm and add a 1 cm spacer. It was time to call in the "Bulgarian Butcher"...

This was harder for me to watch than the film "Saw"
A good tip is to keep the little piece that has been cut off because this serves as a spacer itself and, in the event of selling the bike to a taller person, it might be necessary. Once we had made all the adjustments, the end result was that the saddle was set quite far forward right over the bottom bracket, not quite at the maximum but too far forward to be compliant with the UCI rules! We also moved the armrests and the extensions back so it was absolutely clear to me that I got the right sized frame (an "M" as opposed to the much longer "L"). The main criticism of the Giant Trinity Advanced SL is that it is not very adjustable in the horizontal plane; in the vertical plane you can move the handle bars up and down by 12 cm using the different nose cones (which I don't yet have). For the time being, I'm keeping the handle bars where they are (because I don't have any choice) - this gives me quite an aggressive (i.e., aerodynamic) position but the question is whether I will be able to keep the position without getting too tired in a Triathlon, bearing in mind that you have to run after the bike. The second nice surprise of the day was that Rafa said that the bike fitting was free!

Camel toe

I promised I would say something about the Adamo saddle. In spite of the fact that I was still quite sore from the Marathon, I immediately took to the Adamo. My habit from having to perch on the previous seat (in order to avoid pressure on the perineal zone) meant that I tended to sit too far forward on the Adamo. To my surprise, once encouraged to sit further back,  I found that it was actually much more comfortable than I expected. We angled the seat in such a way that I wouldn't keep sliding forwards. So now, not only am I supported by two points rather than one, but I am much more supported than previously. It will take some time to get completely used to - in particular I have to overcome my habit of sitting to one side of the seat - but the initial indications are very good.

So far so good. Before even seeing any results in speed, the new bike, the seat and the bike fit have met my expectations in terms of being able to ride in a good aerodynamic position and in reasonable comfort. Now I have to put in the kilometers and get used to the position and we'll see how much better things are then. If needed, I can always raise the handlebars up slightly if I find that I still get unduly tired from being in the aero position.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Run & Race

I just picked up this month's Run & Race mainly for the narcissistic reason that they have included a photo of me from the training camp I went on in Morocco recently:

There were a couple of genuinely interesting articles on running shoes. Now, when people ask me for recommendations for running shoes, I often start off by saying that there are basically two paths that you can take. The easy one is to have your gait analyzed and be recommended shoes and possibly even orthotics based on whether you are a pronator or supinator. The harder path, and the one that very few people I know have chosen, is to retrain your gait and go for minimalist or "barefoot" running shoes, relying on your own natural cushioning from the arch of your foot, the pronation of the foot and the elasticity of the Achilles tendon. These two paths are pretty much orthogonal to each other so you can't really try one of them out before deciding which to follow. If you choose "minimal" then you have to make a big commitment to reconditioning your muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones to a completely different set of stresses and strains. This means building running up again from scratch, something that few people are prepared to do and that others do not have the patience to stick to. And there is nothing wrong with that. You can perfectly well go down the path of orthotics and motion control shoes with lots of cushioning but you should be aware that you are creating a dependency, rather like someone who needs to take sleeping pills to sleep at night.

 I mention all this because there were two articles back-to-back that appeared to be saying completely the opposite of each other. On closer reading, they both made a lot of sense only that one was for those traveling along the path of motion control shoes and the other was for those traveling along the path of minimalist shoes.

"The truth about running shoes"
The first article was actually written by the guy who recommended I should run with orthotics and who had some custom ones made for me to run in. With these orthotics I could then choose "neutral" running shoes because the orthotics would correct my tendency to overpronate. With hindsight I can see that this was just a patch to correct the fact that I was running with poor technique, with shoes that encouraged me to heel strike (and therefore overpronate) and with weakness in the supporting muscles of my feet and lower legs. On the other hand, just like taking a pill, it worked. The pain I was getting in my ITB (isquiotibial band) immediately subsided and it was only months later that knee pain forced me to choose the other path. Apart from the ostentatious title "The truth about running shoes", I can appreciate that what he says applies to the majority of runners who are not prepared to go down the same path as I did.

"Minimalist shoes - are we ready?"
I was excited to see an article in a running magazine about minimalist shoes that was not an attempt to pass off lightweight racing flats from major brands off as such (unlike the review sections in Runner's World, for example). It's a shame that it has taken two years since I first came across them for it to appear - one would expect the running magazines to be ahead of the curve - but it doesn't take to much imagination to understand why this might be. I wasn't too surprised to see that the author of the article was actually Jonathan, my trainer. In the first paragraph he mentions the impact that the book "Born to Run" (only recently translated into Spanish) has had. In fact, I was the one that gave him that book a couple of years ago! As I would expect from Jonathan, it's a very well balanced article that avoids the evangelical side typical of those of us who have chosen the path of minimalist shoes and instead emphasizes the point that the adaptation to the different style of running that this entails can take a long time. I remember him saying to me in Berlin where he was running the Marathon and I was not (due to my foot being in an airboot for precisely not allowing time for adaptation) something that he also closed the article with, that "perhaps 37 years of wearing shoes can undo millions of years of evolution". In other words, it may be that our feet are amazing works of engineering that have evolved to allow us to run for hundreds of kilometers unshod but that doesn't mean that we can ignore the adaptations our bodies have made in the short space of our lifetime to wearing shoes.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Valencia Marathon: Post Mortem and Photos

Post mortem

The last post on the Marathon, I promise, but I have to exorcize my demons...

Here are the official results from the Marathon webpage:

One thing that is quite interesting is that I finished only one place behind the position I was in at the 15k mark (and, incidentally, only six places behind my starting position)! That means that my fade was pretty much par for the course. Compared to my target pace for a sub 3 hour Marathon you can see I was pretty much on the money (only just) until kilometer 34 - I even managed to get slightly ahead of pace in the beginning of the second half which was ever so slightly downhill.

Kilometer Target Actual Difference
10 00:42:40 00:42:58 -00:00:18
15 01:03:59 01:04:13 -00:00:14
25 01:46:39 01:46:34 00:00:05
30 02:07:58 02:08:13 -00:00:15
35 02:29:18 02:29:59 -00:00:41
40 02:50:38 02:55:47 -00:05:09
42,2 03:00:00 03:06:40 -00:06:40

Just for info - because a Marathon is about crossing the line, not clocking up 42,195 meters on your GPS watch - my Garmin reckoned I ran the first half at an average pace of 4:12, some 5 seconds per kilometer (and two whole minutes) faster than my actual pace. Things seemed to even out somewhat over the second half because my average pace according to Garmin was 4:22 while my real pace was 4:25. This is why it is a good reason to ignore the GPS altogether and to press the good old fashioned "lap" button manually every time you pass a kilometer (or mile) marker. Here's the graph of my heart rate and pace during the Marathon - you can see exactly where things started to go pear shaped.

If I go by my Garmin GPS, I ran the first half 6 seconds per kilometer more slowly than I ran the Half Marathon in Miguelturra two weeks ago and at a "cost" of 3 heart beats per minute more on average. If I go by the distance according to the organizers, the difference was 11 seconds. Supposing that Valencia was measured properly and Miguelturra was a bit short, the difference comes to 10 seconds per kilometer which equals - lo and behold - 7 minutes over the course of the Marathon. So it required more effort to run 7 minutes in a Marathon more slowly than I was running only two weeks ago and at 600 meters higher altitude (although it was a couple of degrees cooler). So it wasn't just a feeling, there was definitely something wrong. And the cruel thing about the Marathon that almost everyone who has ever run one knows, is that if you run a few minutes ahead of pace in the first half, you pay it back with interests that would make even a loan shark blanche.

Things I have learned from this experience:

- Don't wear triathlon shorts unless they are liberally slathered in chamois cream.
- If your pulse is higher for a given pace or your pace lower for a given pulse it means something is up. Don't run to pace, run to pulse. In fact, I think I may not even press the lap button or look at the time next time I run a Marathon.
- If I need to dig deep, I can, and without cramping. So if I ever find myself on for a time of 2:55, say, and fading, I can still make it to the finish before the clock strikes 3. Be prepared to fight.
- I should put vaseline on TOP of my toes which is where I tend to get blisters with the Vivobarefoot Ultras.
- I can run a Marathon with extremely minimalist shoes without any problem, running on the balls of my feet the whole way.
- The kilometers from 1-34 went ticking by very quickly. I was surprised how little I had to wait before the next one popped into view.
- As long as it is no hotter than 20 degrees, I don't need to drink much more than the 9 High5 Isogels I took. I drank a little water every 5k at every station after the 10k mark just to be on the safe side.
- More important than beating an arbitrary time (like 3 hours) is beating your own best time.

What next?

Apart from running the 10k San Silvestre race with my wife on New Year's Eve, the next goal is the Half Ironman in Marbella in April next year. I'm looking forward to getting back on the bike even if it isn't really the best time of year for it. On Saturday I have a bike fitting and my priority is healing my undercarriage from the chaffing so that I can actually sit on a bike seat in relative comfort.

Then the question is how I can achieve two potentially conflicting goals: (1) run NY Marathon 2012 and (2) break the @#%€&! 3 hour barrier. Why conflicting? Because NY Marathon is not well known for its easy flat course so breaking 3 hours in NY is that much harder. If I am in as good a shape as it looked as though I was before Valencia, even that should be possible. I'm looking into various options like

1) Running NY at 3:30 pace, maybe pacing a friend, as a "long steady run" and then racing in San Sebastian 3 weeks later.
2) Squeezing in a Marathon in February in Seville before focusing on the Half Ironman.
3) Going for sub 3 in NY.

none of which seem too sensible. I have plenty of time to decide but I like to have my goals set well in advance.

Some photos...

Trying to spot my family in the crowd

I finally got to grit my teeth

A wish come true...

Remember how I was saying that I almost hoped that I'd get sick, at least that way I'd have an explanation for why it was harder for me to maintain that pace than I'd been accustomed to? It's not an "excuse" I want, it's an explanation so that I can confidently pace myself in my next Marathon. Well, it looks like my wish has come true. I think I'm going to go home this afternoon and hopefully I'll be better soon.

The question I have now is: do I do New York Marathon (for which I will get an automatic entry through the lottery system next year) or do I do a winter Marathon that is a bit easier? Alternatively, I could try to squeeze in a Marathon in February - in Seville, for example - before the Half Ironman in Marbella.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Race report

I got up about 3 hours before the 9am start and went down to have breakfast. To pass the time and to put me in the mood before the race, I read Kilian Jornet's book "Run or die" (I'll write a review on this when I finish it, but it hasn't been translated into English yet).

I managed to get a good slot up near the front of the 12,000 or so runners. It's a testament to the organization that I was not at all hindered at any point in the race in spite of there being a 10k race being run in parallel.

However, things didn't bode too well right from the start although, of course I knew there were plenty of kilometers left in which things could take a turn for the better. After only a kilometer I noticed the tendon on the top of my right foot was getting sore - probably related to the pre-race problems I had been having - and it didn't get better during the race. I don't think it had any material impact on my performance though. More seriously, I noticed that my pulse rate was higher than it had been only two weeks ago in Miguelturra, and at a slower pace. The kilometer markers came past at a depressing few seconds slower than the pace at which my Garmin GPS would have me believe I was running at.

I decided to take a slightly risky decision once it was clear that I was running below the necessary pace to beat the 3 hour mark. I allowed myself to run only 2 heart beats per minute faster than I had planned. I remembered that Jonathan had told me that I had some margin in the projected heart rate due to my relatively high anaerobic threshold. This was just enough to be able to cross the halfway mark at 30 seconds over my target of 1:30. I consoled myself by remembering how I had managed to run the second half much faster than the first last year.

The Marathon is a cruel and arrogant master. Just when I thought I was beginning to get it under control, it put me back in my place again, to remind me that anything can happen in a Marathon. I was still running well at the 32km mark where my family were waiting for me (and where the photo in the previous post was taken). But around the 35km mark where a guy was playing the drums next to a banner that said "Knock the wall down", I hit it. Not hard, but that kilometer took me 15 seconds off pace and the next, even more and so on. My pulse rate began to drop and my breathing became more laboured and my legs heavier and heavier. I started pumping my arms more. I ran for some stretches with my eyes closed. I started to get grumpy. A guy bumped into me at one of the water stops and told me not to stop: I angrily replied that I was not stopping. At least that much was true: I didn't stop, not once, and I didn't suffer any cramps. Only 4 or so kilometers before the end, a man rather unwisely decided to cross in front of me on his bike with his small children - who didn't know any better - in tow. I had to bark at them to avoid crashing into them.

As the finish line drew labouriosly closer, I realized that it was at least possible to beat my best time in the Marathon from last year. That was something. I also didn't want my kids to see me shuffling pathetically past. I administered myself an adrenalin injection by shouting obscenities at the Marathon in front of a cheering crowd and was able to surge forward if only for a couple of hundred meters. It was definitely worth it because, apart from being the boost I needed to get a personal best time, it made me feel some emotion even if it was mainly anger and frustration.

As I said in my previous post, I ended up doing the reverse of last year's Marathon: instead of a second half 7 minutes faster than the first, I did a second half 7 minutes slower. My wife asked me if I was disappointed with my time which, after all, was only 7 minutes slower than my target, and a best time at that. I said no, I wasn't, but I was very disappointed to have not been in control. I don't think a race in which you have to run through treacle randomly deposited somewhere along the course would catch on as much of a "fun" idea but this is what the Marathon is unless you can find a way to outsmart "el hombre del mazo" (the sledge hammer man). I wonder if this distance is for me. What I mean by this is - I wonder if I have to go through that frustrating torture of running ever more slowly in order to run to my best (which is a non-negotiable condition that I impose on myself). Or maybe I should just run Marathons well within my pace so as to enjoy them. The thing is, even then I am not sure I wouldn't hit the wall: you burn more or less the same calories per kilometer no matter what pace you run at (within reason). I'd almost be glad to come down with whatever my kids have got - at least then I'd have an explanation and a good reason to try again.

I tend to get a bit discouraged after a disappointment but I quickly bounce back. I'm thinking that you have good days and bad days and part of the art of training is to ensure that the day of the competition is one of those good days: maybe today it just wasn't so, as my slightly elevated pulse seemed to hint at. I think I will try running my next Marathon strictly below the prescribed pulse rate and see what result I get. Or I can avoid hitting the wall that is already an accomplishment; eventually I'll have a "good day" and get below that magic barrier of 3 hours.

Valencia is a wonderful city and it's a shame we didn't get a chance to enjoy it much between the Marathon and the kid's temperature. This afternoon has been a bit stressful with my wife having to rush off to Mali (where 7 people were kidnapped last week, by the way) while we have to wait several hours amongst screaming sickly children in the hospital. Still, the kids are being very good and claim to have enjoyed the weekend in spite of everything.

PS: You can watch my crossing the line (at 3:06:54) here. At least I looked in better shape than the guy being carried over the line in a stretcher.
PPS: I find that you can never put enough vaseline or there is always a bit you forget about. Remind me not to run in those shorts again for a Marathon (they were OK in the Ironman but then you expect to be saddle sore). I'm walking like John Wayne as a result.

Valencia Marathon results

I did the opposite of last year: instead of doing the first half in 1:37 and the second in 1:30, I did the first half in 1:30 and the second half in 1:37. It is a lot more enjoyable doing it the other way round, I can tell you: I hit the wall in kilometer 35 and it was clear that I wasn't going to make my target of sub 3 hours but at least I beat my best time - just, by about 30 seconds.

I'll do a full write up soon.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The expo

I've just been to pick up my race number from the expo. The usual stands were there but I was struck by two things. Firstly, the whole minimalist shoe thing was in full swing. In fact, I'd say that there were more minimalist offerings than there were "traditional". I overheard someone on the Merrel stand explaining their line of "barefoot" shoes to which the response was "it looks like you are going back to what we used to run in". There was Vibram, of course, but a stand showing off some "shoes" that looked to me more like brightly colored verruca socks caught my attention. They are made in Spain by a French company called one moment ( and are designed as a kind of post-Marathon shoe but have found uses in anything from boating to beach wear. At around 5 euros a go, they look like a great option for wandering down to the start of a Triathlon and, as they are cheap and biodegradable, you don't really care too much about getting them back. Shame they don't make them in my size.

The other trend that caught my attention was the proportion of stands dedicated to Triathlon. Ironman really does seem to be the new Marathon.

Anyway, the runner's goody bag was pretty decent with a nice technical t-shirt, a cap, gels and various back issues of running magazines that I no doubt have read already.

Hace un calor del carajo!

23 degrees! I can't help thinking I should have chosen San Sebastian which is some 7 degrees cooler. Hopefully it won't be too bad in the morning...

The kids have got a temperature so I'm crossing my fingers they don't pass it to me until after the race at least...

The other thing is that my foot is a bit sensitive after a light run of 30 minutes that I did the other day - I've no idea why, but some people have even noticed a slight limp and asked me if I'm ok... I guess that it's the sort I thing I wouldn't even notice normally but that I am hypersensitive this week. It must be nerves...

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Maratón de Valencia 2011 (Valencia Marathon 2011)

This will probably be my last post before the Marathon. Haha, how I would like to be able to just find out whether I have been able to break the magic 3 hour barrier just by subscribing to this blog and waiting for the email to arrive! But I have some serious work to do before I can claim the title of a sub 3 hour Marathon man.

The route looks really nice, starting and finishing near the "Arts and Science City" where there are some great museums and a life size "Gulliver", passing alongside the beach before making a scenic tour of the old town center. Our hotel is right by the start (and finish) and the 32 km mark is also very close by, which is a great point for my family to come and cheer me on because I will surely be suffering by then. They should have time to wave to me there before walking the kilometer or so to the finish, well before I get there. The other advantage Valencia Marathon has is that there is a super high speed train from Madrid which really is the best way to travel to and from a Marathon because you can get up and stretch your legs and you don't have all the waiting around you would do in an airport.

So, tune in or subscribe to find out whether I managed to break the 3 hour barrier. I'll post the result as soon as I get my iPhone from the cloakroom after crossing the line... (In the meantime,, you can wish me luck if you like!)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Lactate test

Last night was the last test before the Marathon, to confirm that the pace I want to go out at is realistic. In other words, that I am not going to accumulate lactic acid in my muscles. This isn't the only thing that can scupper a Marathon but at least it is something relatively easy to measure.

The test involved running a kilometer round the tartan track at a prescribed pace (I had to make sure I passed the little cones set apart every 100 meters every time my watch beeped) and then my pulse was read and a drop of blood was extracted from my ear to measure the amount of lactate that had accumulated.

I did the first two kilometers in 4:15 (just under sub 3 hour Marathon pace) and the last two in 4:00. My pulse rate for the first two was 155 at the end and, for the second two, was 166. I have to wait to hear the verdict from the lactate analysis, but it looked like it was very low (and constant, i.e., not accumulating) at the pace of 4:15. (I just got the results: 1.7 mmol at 4:15 per km and 2.9 mmol at 4:00 per km. As expected, my pace should be somewhere between the two but closer to 4:15. Here is a good article on the subject.)

My coach was there and said that the question wasn't whether to go at sub 3 hour pace but rather to risk going for an even faster time. Unless the results say otherwise I aim to stick to the plan I laid out recently: run to the pulse rate set out by Jonathan, at which I have never blown up (touch wood) and, at which, I have achieved several personal best times.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

An obsessive mind

I'm writing this post mainly for my own benefit, so that I remember what I am feeling right now. But it is also a symptom of the level of obsession that I have at the moment that I feel the need to write another blog post.

I've only just realized how relatively quiet my obsessive side has been now that it stands out in stark contrast the sort of repetitive thoughts that are going through my mind right now compared to how I perceive I have been lately. Is it because I am nervous about the impending Marathon? Is it because I have too much surplus energy as a result of tapering off my training load? Or is it because I have just bought a new bike to which I have to make lots of adjustments? Or is it because I have run out of cod liver oil? (Seriously, this last point is something I actually think!) Or maybe I have been like this all along but I am only just realizing it now...

I discovered last night that I have a screw missing (from my new bike). It's perfectly rideable but I should really make sure that I get that screw replaced. It would be impossible to find exactly the right screw in a hardware store and it would probably weigh more than the other screws, throwing off the handling of the bike (OK, this is a joke) and what if Giant refused or took ages to get me a replacement? I can't stop thinking about that damn screw. The bike is so perfect but IT IS MISSING A SCREW. Jesus... I think what I need to do is get the bike out on the road so it gets a bit dirty and maybe a tiny bit scratched and then it won't seem so perfect and fragile.

I don't like feeling like this. I know it doesn't make sense and that there are far more important things to worry about but I can't help it. It's like trying not to think of a pink elephant. Damn, I just did. I want to try to work out whether this is due to being in the final stages of the Marathon training or just something that all the fiddle faddle of Triathlon provokes in me, or something else entirely.

(Update: it turns out that the only screw missing was one of mine - the bike has all its screws, one of them was just obscured by a cable... I felt like deleting this post but I'll keep it to remind me of how I can get when I'm nervous.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Marathon plan

Less than a week to go... All that's left is

Monday: Rest.
Tuesday: Lactate test at Marathon pace.
Wednesday: 40 minute easy run
Thursday: 30 minute easy run. Massage. Start carboloading (850g of carbohydrates a day). Cut toenails!
Friday: Rest. Carboload.
Saturday: 20 minute easy run. Carboload.
Sunday: Marathon.

For the race itself, I have printed of this little cheat-sheet to stick on my watch:

In other words, I'll keep my pulse below 164 for the first half and then allow my pulse to drift up to 173 by the end. To check whether I am on pace for the magic sub 3 hours time, I've worked out the times I need to pass each 5km marker. I anticipate having to run the first half at a split of 4:13 per kilometer, allowing me to slow down to a 4:18 split for the second half. I think it is too much to hope for a "negative split" (second half faster than first half) at this kind of pace. This time I am going to go by the official markers and not what the Garmin says. After all, a Marathon aint over until you cross the finish line, even if your GPS reckons you've already covered the 42.2km.

Every 5 kilometers I'll take a salt tablet. I'll carry with me in my Fuel Belt two 8oz flasks full of High5 Isogel (which can be taken without water but I'll drink water at every station). I can carry about 9 of them which works out at a rate of 3 every hour, or about 264 calories per hour. Together with the 3 day carboloading, I hope to avoid hitting the dreaded wall like I managed to do last year.

And that's more or less it. I'll think about running technique as much as I can, focusing on good rhythm, good cadence, engaging the core, not overstriding etc. In particular, my running cues will be:

- to extend the hips (or "punching it forwards" as I call it)
- to get my legs up under me ("sitting down on the job")
- to lean from my ankles ("run tall")
- to pick up the ground quickly ("sharp catch") 

I'll also make sure I am in a good pack, protected from the wind. I'll let myself become hypnotized by the side to side bobbing of the head of the runner in front of me. I will not be scared of the Marathon but I will respect it.

The rain in Spain...

There are two major Marathons in Spain next Sunday: one in San Sebastian (which I did last year) and one in Valencia (which I am doing this year). Actually, the Valencia Marathon should have been yesterday but it would have coincided with the national elections and so they decided some time ago to postpone it by one week. This is the weather forecast one week out, so its probably not very reliable, but it looks like Valencia will be warmer but with less humidity and less wind. That sounds like the better deal to me even though, as far as I am concerned, the colder the better, even a bit of rain is welcome. In any case, I hope to be well past the finish line by 1pm as the Marathon starts at 9am.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Bike aero position

Here's my first attempt at an aero position on my new bike. So far I've done nothing more than just move the seat post height half a centimeter. There are all sorts of adjustments I can try form moving the handlebars down to the seat further forward. It is a big improvement on my best position on my road bike.


...and after
Second attempt after moving seat back a little
For reference, Timo Bracht in the 2010 IM in Hawaii

I had thought I might not need to sit so far forward on the seat, now that there was no real restriction in how far forward I could move it but it is simply uncomfortable to put my weight any further back on it while I am leaning forward. An alternative would by the Adamo seat which is a bit like a sawn off shotgun and is predicated on the idea that you sit on the edge - or, in this case, the two edges.

The other thing I notice is that my back tends to curve. This is partly to do with my lack of flexibility but it perhaps could do with straightening out a bit by extending the distance between the points of contact of my elbow and my bum. Still, the main thing is that it feels relatively comfortable (we'll see after several hours if I am still saying that) and I believe it is pretty aero in that i am presenting a compact surface area to the oncoming wind.

I've got my goat

In Spanish, a triathlon bike is referred to as a "cabra", or "goat", presumably for the resemblance of the handlebars to the horns of a goat.

Today is my eldest son's 9th birthday (I am writing this in the cinema during a particularly tedious film). I should be buying him a new bike, surely, not me!

After months of investigation, trying out different frames and seeing whether I could get a good "0 kilometer" deal (ex-exhibition), I finally settled on the Giant Trinity Advanced SL frame with Ultegra, Rotor cranks, Zipp 900 disc wheel and Xentis 4 spoke TT Mark I front wheel. All this for less than half the price of the Trinity Advanced SL model featured in the catalogue, with its electronic group set. After the Ironman I did back in May, the only thing that hurt was my back - and the discomfort lasted two weeks. I am hoping that this bike will help me tolerate much better the aero position (flat backed, low, stretched out riding position). It bloody had better do because my marriage let alone my bank account won't survive another bike purchase on this scale.

Buying the bike was like walking into a bar with Scarlet Johansen on my arm; the same mixture of embarrassment and pride having everybody staring longingly in my direction. The difference, of course, was that I let them caress my newly acquired beauty and even lift her up to feel her weight. A guy came in with a retro single speed - something unusual in hilly Madrid - and when we caught each other in mutual bike admiration he suggested a swap.

In the end the bike was missing a few of the bits and pieces I had ordered because they hadn't yet arrived. Nevertheless, Rafa, who runs the Ciclos Delicias shop, leant me a fetching purple saddle and some brand new pedals so that I could at least try out the bike while we waited for the parts to turn up.

It was also weird walking through Delicias - which is a slightly run down part in the suburbs of Madrid - with a space age bike. On the train home an elderly man started talking to me about the bike, reminiscing about how he used to ride 200 km and back in a day, or how he climbed puertos that even cars struggled to go up. Looking at him he had that impish air of a cyclist, small, lean and with a sparkle in his eye. He told me that he used to ride with wheels that had wooden rims.

Needless to say, the bike is amazing. Certainly much more amazing than my ability to move it. The image of me with Scarlett Johansen is probably an appropriate one: I've traded up. Every so often I read a letter or an article in a triathlon magazine or forum, in which someone is boasting about how many people on much more expensive bikes he (it is always a "he") has overtaken in a race or even in training. I suppose it is easy for me to say but I can't help feeling sad when I read these kind of comments, that somehow the author is making excuses and limiting themselves. What I like about the Ironman distances is that it is just you against the wind and the current (unless you are in contention for winning overall, of course). Doesn't stop you from coveting other peoples' bikes, though, much like eyeing up another guy's girlfriend.

Some sports have adopted stricter rules to keep the technological advantages at bay, thus reducing the barrier to entry. Long distance triathlon is not one of those sports. I am privileged to be able to ride a true marvel of human engineering.

The soft focus wasn't intentional...

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Thanks to a recommendation from Jaime Menendez de Luarca, I have just bought this industrial fan, the Euritesca DF 20P. The idea is to use it whenever I have to train indoors, either on the treadmill or the turbo trainer. The fan I have currently has only 50 Watts; this beast has 170 Watts. It can churn out 4,080 cubic meters of air per hour. Being a bit of a nerd, I have worked out how this compares to running outside.

Firstly, we need to know what surface area we present to the wind. Using a formula I nicked off the internet - 0.0204*height in meters^0.725*weight in kilos^0.425 - and dividing by two, I came up with a surface area of 1.07 square meters. (Obviously this is a good example of false accuracy - the real number will be less because the skin between your toes has no bearing on the amount of air you displace while running, for example.) So that means that 4,080 cubic meters per hour is equivalent to running in still air at 4,080 / 1.07 / 1,000 = 3.8 kph. Is that all?? There is another model which is much more powerful and generates a "breeze" equivalent to running at about 16 kph but I think this would be going too far. Just imagine it - if you were to turn this thing on, you would go from running upright on the treadmill, to having to lean into the wind as you do when you run outside (see my previous post on this topic). And that is supposing you can set things up in such a way that the air current hits your body uniformly. According to Jack Daniels' formula, running outside is equivalent to running on a treadmill with a gradient of 1% because there is no need to overcome air resistance. In fact I have always set the gradient to 1% on the treadmill for this reason but with my new mega-fan maybe I will have to take air resistance into account!

Here it is installed...

It's all downhill from here...

So I did the LHWBTM last night (the Last Hard Workout Before The Marathon): two lots of 8km at close to anaerobic pace (15.5-16.0kph) on the treadmill, with the fan on full blast and Saw II playing in the background to distract me from my own suffering. After each bout I went out into the garden to cool off - there was so much steam rising from my body it was like putting my face over a boiling kettle. About halfway through the second set, the brilliant idea of stopping occurred to me - usually when this happens, I enter into a conversation with myself rather like the one I described in this post - but this time I managed to shut myself up and struggle on to end. Even though I ended up both times with my heart rate around 177-181 (which is where my anaerobic threshold was last time I had it measured), it didn't feel too hard. Let me qualify that. I mean that my legs didn't feel tired and my breathing was not overly laboured. So why did I want to stop after only 15 minutes? The reason is that I get so hot that it becomes stifling.

I did a fairly heavy weights session on Tuesday (75% of maximum) - in fact, as I was cooling down on the spinning bike, the instructor came over to congratulate me on how much I was squatting (120kg + 15kg bar). I also have another weights session today (60%). A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine who is also running the Marathon in Valencia (somewhat faster than me) was surprised that I was still doing weights even back then, so close to the Marathon. On the other hand it makes a lot of sense to me, as long as you are careful not to lift above your ability. I followed a protocol set out by my trainer in order to determine my maximums - how much can I lift only once before failure. The idea is to estimate this without actually provoking failure, which can lead to injury. The point about the taper is to reduce the training load so as to allow your body to recover and adapt, and to restore your energy (glycogen) levels. On the other hand, doing weights is a very important aspect of Marathon training, and one that doesn't burn much energy. As you get tired in a Marathon, your muscle fibres fatigue and new fibres (and other muscle groups) start to get recruited. The only times that these "secondary" muscle fibres get put through their paces is when you do a long run, when you run on tired legs or when you do weights. Gadgets like vibrating platforms and electrostimulators promise to recruit 100% of your muscle fibres but I've yet to be convinced that they are as effective.

All that's left to do between now and the Marathon are a few short, easy runs, just to keep things ticking over and a lactate test (more on this soon) to help establish a pacing plan.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


I promised I would post a photo of the "Bike Parking" signs that have sprung up at my work. I love the design. Looks like it was done by a triathlete. (I just noticed that it looks like it says "Poo".)

I'm dying to get back on the bike and to make use of the new "facilities" at work. Just a couple of weeks to go until the Marathon and I'll go back to commuting a few days a week.

San Silvestre Vallecana 2011

It's coming up to that time of the year again when more than 30,000 people in Madrid take to the streets to run 10k on the last day of the year. Apparently, this tradition started in 1924 in Sao Paolo and spread from there to Spain. "Silvestre" is the name of the Pope from the 4th century who is the patron Saint of New Year's Eve. Up and down the country races are run but the most famous San Silvestre race in Spain is the "San Silvestre Vallecana", so called because it finishes in the stadium in Vallecas, in the south of Madrid. The first edition was celebrated in the year 1964.

Now it is something of a corporate event as it is run by Nike. There are those that refuse to run it for that reason, saying that it has lost the "feel" that it had previously. The advantage of it being run by Nike is that it is extremely well organized and the T-shirt you get for taking part is very good quality (and well worth the 20€ that the inscription ends up costing). Really the question is whether you like running in a huge crowd - I have discovered that this is one of the things I most enjoy about races, in spite of the fact that I usually can't stand crowds. It is not the best race in which to get a Personal Best time unless you manage to get a good qualifying time in one of the few "homologated" races during the year, allowing you to start at the front - in this case, as the course is predominantly downhill, you have a good chance of getting a PB. But really you would be missing the point of the San Silvestre, which is to have fun.

Last year I ran the race in a dressing gown, boxer shorts and bathroom slippers. I only regretted not having worn socks as the deceptive fluffy lining of the slippers gave me some serious blisterage: the last few kilometers were hell. I also had to do a hop and a skip every hundred meters or so, just to keep the slippers on my feet. This year I will be running with my wife - yes, she says she is going to take part, although she doesn't think she'll be able to finish it (but I'm sure she will). I may, however, dress up - perhaps as one of the guys from Abba or something. Whatever I choose, it had better be reasonably warm because I could get quite cold running at my wife's pace...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Media Maratón de Miguelturra (Half Marathon)

I think these graphs comparing the Half Marathon yesterday with the first half of the San Sebastian Marathon I did a year ago (in a time of 3:07) speak for themselves:

I couldn't help getting a little carried away for the last kilometer - it was just too exciting and, even though I consciously refrained from a finishing sprint, I ended up with a sub 4:00 last split. Around kilometer 13 was when we hit the headwind and I decided to sprint to catch up with my group again - it also corresponds to the little hump in my pulse rate.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Week 6 / 9

Hmmmm, I think I calculated the number of weeks to the Marathon incorrectly - either that, or I missed out a weekly update somewhere along the line - never mind. There are only two weeks of training left before the big day.

The most important training session this week other than the obligatory series on Wednesday was a Half Marathon at Marathon pace on Sunday. As anyone who has been following this blog for a while will know, I pace myself in races according to my pulse rate. I have been using a guide that my trainer, Jonathan Esteve, has prepared, empirically based on results from hundreds of runners. So far, it has not failed me yet. I can't know whether I could have run a race even faster by going over the prescribed pulse rate but I can say that I have never "blown up" by running to that guide and I have achieved personal best times on many an occasion. So I had to decide whether to run the race according to my pulse rate or at the pace for a sub 3 hour Marathon (minimum 4:15 per kilometer). This would have been a hard choice to make had my pulse rate at that pace been too high; as it turned out, I was able to run significantly faster and still be within my pulse rate limit.

It was a cold (12 degrees) but very humid (86%) and windy day. The conditions were very similar to what I can expect in Valencia in two week's time. I quickly found a group that was going along at a nice rhythm and would shield me from the wind. The pace was a bit too fast for a 1:30 Half Marathon but my pulse never went over 163 bpm (except when I lost contact with my group going into a headwind and decided to try sprinting to catch them up as an experiment) and my breathing was nice and steady. It felt really quite easy - so much easier than a training run at that pace would have been - and it was encouraging in a schadenfreude kind of way to hear people around me coughing and spluttering to keep up. I also really enjoyed the race and the crowd much more than I would have had I been suffering more. My family was in the stadium (I love stadium finishes, especially when you don't have to do a full circuit, as in this case) and I beamed a huge smile at them as I crossed the line in a time of 1:24 and something. The course was about half a kilometer short according to the Garmin - perhaps there should have been a full lap of the stadium after all - so the time is not as good as it looks (my best time in the Half Marathon is 1:22, only two minutes less). The average pace I ran at was about 4:05, some ten seconds per kilometer faster than the minimum pace required to break the magical 3 hour barrier in the Marathon. This was a great way to practice my pacing, get used to the feel and mechanics of running at this pace and all without the fatigue associated with a competition. The other advantage is that, during the so-called tapering period, when the workload is reduced in order to charge the batteries, it is easy to get nervous and think that you are "detraining" - having done a "race" so close to the Marathon means I can hang on to the confidence that it has given me.

The only problem I had was landing directly with the ball of my foot on top of a large stone. Rather than pain it is more a sensation of fear in my case, after getting a stress fracture 2 years ago from running on similar trails in similar shoes; I do believe, though, that my feet and bones have been conditioned sufficiently since then.

Friday, November 11, 2011

New York, New York

It's just as well that I've tried three times to get in to the New York Marathon via the lottery scheme and failed because the rules are changing and soon it will no longer be a case of  "three strikes and you are in". Also, the qualifying times are becoming much more demanding:

The 40-44 male age group, randomly chosen from the one I'll be in as of next year jumps from 3:10 to 2:50! On the other hand, the corresponding Half Marathon qualifying time is 1:23 which is a time I have already beaten myself (although, admittedly, at the spritely age of 39). According to Jack Daniels, the legendary running coach and author of "The Daniels Running Formula" (as opposed to the legendary Bourbon whiskey), a time of 1:23 equates to a Marathon time of 2:54. If anything I would expect the Half Marathon qualifying time to be even more stringent but I'm not complaining because it may well be my only ticket to guaranteed entry after 2012. The qualifiying times for the other age groups are very close to the predictions made by the formula which is interesting, given that they are supposedly based on a 75% percentile. Personally, I find it hard to believe that if I were to run the New York Marathon in 2 hours and 50 minutes I would only be in the top 25%. In fact, looking at the results from this year's New York Marathon, the guy who came in just under 2:50 finished in 61st place in his age group, out of 5,884 runners in the same age group who finished the race. Maybe the "75%" is based on the times that people hope to achieve, rather than the times they actually achieve.

So it looks like the New York Marathon is trying to knock the Boston Marathon off its pedestal, as the race that many amateur runners aspire to qualify for. People talk about getting a "BQ" - Boston Qualifier - more than they talk about getting a "PB" - Personal Best. Boston is to Marathons as Kona is to the Ironman (although I do think that it is a lot easier, relatively speaking, to qualify for Boston). The qualifying times for Boston are as follows, although it should be noted that they are not guaranteed: instead, slots are opened up first to those that have a qualifying time more than 20 minutes faster than the cutoff and then those who are 10 minutes faster, etc.

2013 Qualifying Times (effective September 24, 2011)

Age GroupMenWomen
18-34 3hrs 05min 00sec 3hrs 35min 00sec
35-39 3hrs 10min 00sec 3hrs 40min 00sec
40-44 3hrs 15min 00sec 3hrs 45min 00sec
45-49 3hrs 25min 00sec 3hrs 55min 00sec
50-54 3hrs 30min 00sec 4hrs 00min 00sec
55-59 3hrs 40min 00sec 4hrs 10min 00sec
60-64 3hrs 55min 00sec 4hrs 25min 00sec
65-69 4hrs 10min 00sec 4hrs 40min 00sec
70-74 4hrs 25min 00sec 4hrs 55min 00sec
75-79 4hrs 40min 00sec 5hrs 10min 00sec
80 and over 4hrs 55min 00sec 5hrs 25min 00sec
Unlike previous years, an additional 59 seconds will NOT be accepted for each age group time standard.

So, as you can see, in the 40-44 male age group, for example, the qualifying time for Boston is 25 minutes slower than the qualifying time for the New York Marathon. The difference is that there is no lottery system in Boston so, other than a limited number of people who gain access through specialized running travel agencies (paying lot's of money), the qualifying times apply to everyone. Ironically, a "BQ" time no longer guarantees entry to the Boston Marathon while the much more demanding "NYQ" time does at least guarantee entry to the New York Marathon.