Monday, February 28, 2011

The shape of things to come

If you have been following this blog then you'll know I am now entering week 8 / 20 - just to confuse you, it should really be week 6 / 18 because I started the countdown a little early (and 20 weeks of training is a nice round number). You can see that last week was the first peak of a total of 4 (not including the competition itself). As I mentioned in my last post, even though the load in the next peak is significantly higher, hopefully it will be the same from a subjective point of view. I certainly hope so because last week was quite tough, at least from a logistic and general discomfort point of view - although that peak looks quite innocent compared to the ones yet to come.

I've also been given a prescription of how much of my time I should be spending in each training zone, according to the program. Up until now I have been filling in the data straight from my watch which means that there will always be a bias towards time spent in the "dead zone" (zone II) because, when I am training in zone I, I am typically just a tiny bit above the cutoff and, when I am training in zone III, a certain amount of time gets recorded in zone II because of the inertia of my heart rate. I'm pretty sure I have been following the prescribed training zones quite well - at least much more closely than the graphs I have been posting are indicating - so this means that I am going to have to take more care in counting the time spent in each zone, using perception and common sense more than just copying and pasting the numbers my watch spits out.

Week 7 / 20

This was the first mini-peak of several before the Ironman itself - 23 hours of training. The physical toll of the training has not been the limiting factor, more the logistic challenge of how to squeeze in those hours in and around everything else. I ended up taking a day's holiday on Wednesday just to be able to accommodate the 5 hours of cycling and running I had programmed that day. Having said that, I started to get the first tinges of overtraining syndrome - on Friday I started to feel a bit demotivated and so, sensibly, opted to do my hour run with some work colleagues along a a new route. By Saturday, though, my demotivation had turned into a fully fledged foul mood. One thing I have learnt is that, if I am going to make my family suffer by being on my bike half of the time, the last thing I can afford is to be in a bad mood when I am not on my bike and am with them.

The long ride on Saturday was one coincidence after another. I overtook someone riding the same bike as me and said "hey, nice bike". He asked me if he knew me and I replied I was just commenting on the fact we had the same bike whereupon he said "I do know you!" - he turned out to be my boss' boss. Just as well my bad mood hasn't set in yet and I hadn't said anything to offend him! He was riding in a group of people with his boss (that's to say, my boss' boss' boss). One of them was riding a recumbent - the first time I've seen one of those in Spain. At some point I had to change up rhythm so I bade my farewell and shot off only to run into mechanical problems (something to do with a valve and the deep rims I have on my bike but its too annoying to describe here). At some point the bosses cycled past and I waved them on with a smile saying everything was OK but, the fact was, I'd I run out of CO2 canisters and spare inner tubes and that morning my CrapBerry had decided to stop working so I was well and truly f@*¿ed. I had no choice but to flag down a group of cyclists - something I am loathe to do because I think one should be self-sufficient. One of them said, "it's you!" and it turned out to be Juan, a friend of mine who is also training for the Half Ironman in Lisbon. He kindly gave me his spare inner tube and lent me his pump (I later bought a decent pocket pump that afternoon to avoid dependence on CO2) and I was soon on my way. He told me to go off and do my training so, feeling a bit bad for having robbed him of his inner tube and his company of cyclists, I went off again leaving him to cycle on his own. About an hour later, on the way back, I saw someone by the side of the road holding various bits of a bicycle. Believing in karma or simple fellow cyclist camaraderie, I asked if they were OK and they said, "oh, its you!". It was Juan again, and he had managed to get (at least) three separate punctures in his tyre. We struggled with it for a bit until he finally gave up and called the bike rescue service (a.k.a., his wife) while I went off, feeling even worse for having left Juan in a predicament. It should have been me to have had to call to be rescued. The good thing to come of all this is that it happened in training and it is something that could have seriously screwed up my Ironman - now it won't.

That afternoon I still had to do an hour run and, after a nice relaxed lunch with the family, it started to get dark and I started to get nervous: if I left the run too late then I would be too tired the following morning to do the five hour cycle ride I had planned. Suddenly I realised that the solution was simple: I asked my wife to stop the car and I got out and ran the 14 kilometers from where we were back home. As soon as I saw the car pull away I realized that I was taking a bit of a risk: I had no money, no CrapBerry, no water and only a vague idea of how to get home avoiding major roads. Luckily I had a useful landmark programmed into my Garmin watch so I was able to find my way without any problem. We arrived at almost the same time - they had to do a spot of shopping - and I finished my training in time for a quick dinner and bed.

On Sunday, I did my long ride with a group of friends which was a very good decision. The time went flying by and the training felt easy. We started off in a small group of myself, Carlos (who is also doing Ironman Brazil) and Alberto before joining the others. Carlos was trying out his Giant Trinity Advanced which is about the highest spec triathlon bike available off-the-shelf and Alberto was riding a Specialized Shiv (the same bike that Macca rode to victory in the Ironman in Hawaii last year) - both bikes kitted out with Shimano's top-of-the-range electronic gear shifters -  so it was an effort to ride along with them without letting my tongue hang out. And no, Alberto's second name was not Contador. Afterwards, Carlos prepared a fantastic barbecue lunch (in February!) for us and our coach, Jonathan, and the three families. We finally (after weeks of trying to find a slot in our jam packed schedules) managed to sit down and review the training program for the Ironman, ask lots of questions and make some adjustments. I'm happy to have got to the point of being able to handle such a volume of work without any physical strain and only the beginnnings of mental strain. There are a few more peaks like this week to come, all of them higher in terms of objective load, but the idea is that they will be subjectively perceived to be at the same level as this week, because we will have had time to adapt to them. Another question is whether the number of hours will be much higher - there is at least one week of 25 hours or more - but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it...

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bike porn

The top ten finishers in Kona (Ironman World Championships in Hawai) 2010

(By the way, if you got here by searching for "Ironman Porn" don't worry, you are not alone - last month 7 people were looking for the same thing as you.)

Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD)

Three people I know have died, suddenly, of a heart attack. They were all young and in reasonable health - one was even extremely fit and died during a training session with the Oxford rowing team back in 1991. When a fit, young person is struck down in the prime of their life it is just as much of a tragedy as any potentially preventable death but it has an even bigger impact because we tend to think that heart problems are the territory of obese heavy smokers. When Andrés Iniesta scored the World Cup winning goal for Spain, he took of his shirt to reveal his vest below, on which was written "Dani Jarque, siempre con nosotros" (Dani Jarque, always with us)

Dani Jarque was a professional footballer who died of a heart attack in 2009, aged just 26. Even I had heard of this tragic death when it happened and I have a positive disinterest in football. I have also read the case of a Spanish Marathon runner - whose name escapes me - who had run 13 Marathons in less than 3 hours; the 14th was literally the death of him.

It is getting to the point that people are starting to think that running Marathons or Ironmans is something bad for you or even lethal. According to one article I found on the internet, the mortality rate over the last 20 years of the London Marathon is 1 in 67,414. On the other hand, according to another (random) article I found, the incidence of Sudden Cardiac Death in the general population is about 582 / 249,146 or roughly 1 in 428! I know that I am not being very scientific here but that is just because I don't really have time to do a proper study. Nevertheless the point is that we are much more sensitive to cases of SCD amongst athletes because of the media, our preconceptions of the "typical" heart attack sufferer and the fact that - and this is the clincher, I think - they often die in the middle of a race or competition rather than quietly at home. Who can forget when Tommy Cooper died on stage and made it look like it was part of his act? I particularly remember it because it was the first (and last) time I ever saw him on TV.

Many people can have a dormant heart condition that only becomes significant when they are subjected to a particular stress, be it running a Marathon or getting upset with their boss. One good thing about running Marathons is that you are more likely to have had a ECG or Electro Cardiogram done while running to exhaustion on a treadmill. I last did this 3 and a half years ago when I abruptly stopped smoking and started running again. On Wednesday I will do another ECG as well as an Eco Cardiogram (where they can actually see your heart beating and check for deformities, some of which can escape an ECG). I'm lucky that I can do these tests at work for free - my workplace has a joint venture with Valentín Fuster, who is a famous Spanish heart surgeon, which gives us employees access to state-of-the-art tests and gives him access to thousands of willing guinea pigs. Even if the tests were not free, I would be prepared to pay to do them - its difficult to put a price on hopefully preventing something both utterly devastating and very improbable - but certainly I value it more highly than my ticket to run the Ironman in Brazil. I have not even thought how I might feel or what I might do if they discovered something - I'll cross that bridge when, and if, I ever get to it.

If I manage to achieve anything with this blog and the money I am trying to raise for the British Heart Foundation, it would be to break down this bipolar perception we have of Sudden Cardiac Death - of overeaters and overexercisers - when, in fact, this is a very serious issue that could effect each and every one of us. Sponsoring research can have very tangible results such as improving detection rates, prevention, surgical intervention. So please, if you have found this blog at all interesting or entertaining or even if you would like to pay me to shut up, please click on the Just Giving logo at the top right of this page. And also think about getting your own heart checked up even if you feel fit as a fiddle. The fact is we probably have less doubts about taking our car in for an MOT checkup than we do for getting our motor - the heart - a certificate of good health.

POSTDATA: I did the electro and eco cardiograms yesterday and got the results back - I am officially OK to do the Ironman. Now my chest is all itchy where they shaved me pie bald so that the electrodes could have a good connection. I did my five hours training just beforehand, so I got to exhaustion on the treadmill quite quickly. Its wonderful all this science and technology to measure all kinds of clever things to do with the heart but, what surprises me is, they only test you up to 85% of your "maximum heart rate" as given by the very unsophisticated formula of 220 less your age. In my case, I have the maximum heart rate of a 29 year old, hahaha. No, really, the formula is a load of crap and it means that we only did a cardiogram up to a pulse rate lower than I will be clocking at in the Marathon at the end of the Ironmaneco as I have a friend whose heart problem went undetected by the ECG but was spotted in an eco. This potentially saved his life (and he was still able to become an Ironman).

Week 6 / 20

Last week was quite "pesado" (heavy) - over 19 hours training and most of that on the bike. My bum is pretty sore but what made the week a pain in the butt more than saddle sores was the weather, which was like a typical week in London. After Monday, I gave up trying to commute to work off-road as my wheel got wedged in another mud bank and I went flying over the handlebars (again) and instead went the long way around on the back roads. I ended up doing my long rides at the weekend on my trusty mountain bike either because it was raining or because it was foggy and the roads were covered in debris. I'm beginning to think that I should have bought a triathlon specific bike instead of the road bike and opted to the bulk of my training on my mountain bike. It is much slower and heavier, of course, but I found it much easier to stick to my pulse rate targets with the much wider selection of gears. Also, my shoulder is much less painful and yet I think that it is getting strengthened in the right measures by riding the mountain bike. Lastly, you really don't care how fast you are going (although I have to say that I did enjoy overtaking "roadies" now and again).

I went for a short run outside near my work on Friday and was astonished to see how low my pulse rate was compared to my perceived effort (except when I was surprised to see a 3 foot snake in my path which was luckily already dead). It seems like Maffetone was right in that it now feels like fairly hard work to get my pulse up to 150. As the weather gets hotter I expect my pulse rate will rise again but, for now, it is a nice confirmation that I am doing something right.

This week is going to be quite a challenge - 22 hours, 5 of which are on Wednesday (plus, as it happens, I have my heart check up that day which involves running to exhaustion on a treadmill). I've decided to take the day as holiday because it is just too much to do on a work day. Although it probably won't mean much to you, here is the plan for this week:

I just got sent the full training programme from now until the Ironman. At a quick glance, there are only one or two weeks heavier than this week - the maximum number of hours is about 25. It is quite a sacrifice, and not just for me but for the whole family. On Saturday I got up early (as usual), put on my kit and went downstairs at which point Luca, my eldest son, started to sob. I asked him what was wrong and he said "I don't want you to go running I want to spend some time with you". This is one of the things I have to remember once I am an Ironman...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Imelda Marcos of Triathlon

I have never understood people's (let's face it, usually women's) fascination for shoes. In fact, if you have been following this blog at all, you'll know that I am quite anti-shoes in general and, if I were President for a day, would pass a law saying that it is socially acceptable to go around barefoot or in socks, especially in the office. I grew up with a minor complex about my feet, particularly because a gruff ex-Army teacher I had used to say that I walked pigeon-toed. I just accepted the fact that I was "flat-footed" in the same way that one might be short-sighted or colour-blind. Having strengthened my feet through running, my arches look much more like arches and - this is the weird bit - I now actually like my feet! I suppose it is a bit like how one feels about their children - to you they are the most beautiful in the world but other people might secretly think that they are ugly and even that they smell.

Along my path of "foot discovery" I have built up a fairly substantial collection of shoes that has certainly not gone unnoticed by my wife. I have very big feet (EUR 48 in running shoes / cycle shoes) which limits my options severely and, in many cases, means I have to buy them from mail order abroad. Apart from the general prejudice that big footed runners must be heavy and therefore need oodles of cushioning, it seems like there are the same protectionist rules governing the sale of shoes that there are for DVDs, CDs, eBooks and video games: I am in Zone 2 (Europe) and most of the shoes I like are only made for Zone 1 (USA) consumers. This is, of course, where ebay comes in.

Things to look for in minimal shoes:
1) Low profile. The sole should be thin so your foot can better feel and anticpate the ground and thus help you land with less impact force and adapt to any uneven terrain.
2) Zero heel to toe differential. Most trainers pitch you forward by raising the heel because you need more cushioning on the heel if you heel strike. Pitching you forward encourages you to heel strike so it is a chicken and egg situation. Better to land on the midfoot / forefoot and do away with the heel counter. By the way, if you are a so-called "over pronator" (what a great marketing invention) then you'll notice that this goes away if you change your landing. This is because the roll of the foot is designed to help absorb (and release) the impact forces with respect to a landing close to your centre of gravity - if you land any further forward the foot is caught in a different orientation. Pronating is not a disorder.
3) Flexibility. Most shoes are like mini-prisons for your feet. Your feet become weaker and more dependent on the support of shoes. A more flexible shoe allows your foot to move as it sees fit. If your foot is strong enough then - perhaps paradoxically for some - the more flexible the shoe, the less chance you have of spraining your ankle for example. Imagine you ran over uneven terrain in a pair of clogs - if you stepped badly then all the force of the torsion would be channeled through the few muscles that were not splinted, dramatically increasing the chance of a sprain.
4) No toe spring. Many shoes curl up at the front so that you can roll off the ground - this is called a "toe spring". If the shoe is rigid then this is necessary otherwise your toes would "nose dive" into the ground. However the euphemistically named "toe spring" actually disables the natural toe spring of your foot.
5) Light. Your foot acts like a pendulum as you run. This is one of the reasons why, the faster you run, the more you tuck your foot into your bum: you shorten the length of the pendulum and it swings more rapidly. However, if you add more weight to the end of the pendulum, it swings more slowly. The energetic cost of a small weight on your foot is much greater than carrying this weight (around your stomach for example). If the shoe meets all the other requirements, its going to be relatively light anyway.

WARNING: Changing your running gait or adapting to more minimal running shoes is something that should be done - if at all - very gradually over at least 6 months.

Feelmax Niesa

This Finnish company still has a real family business feel to it. What is special about the shoes they make is that they have about the thinnest sole you can get away with. The sole is made of Kevlar (the same stuff that bullet proof jackets are made from) and so is pretty resistant. They are extremely flexible and can even be rolled up into a little ball. For a while, I took to wearing them in the office as it was considered to be just too weird to go round in socks. I have also run a bit in them and they are surprisingly good at distributing the impact of a sharp object across the surface of the sole but they are only really suitable for hardcore "barefoot" runners who run on roads but have yet to develop Hobbit like hard skin on the bottom of their feet.

Misuno Wave Universe III (RIP)

I had the predecessor to these shoes which came in a fetching blue colour. They are probably the lightest shoes I have ever run in. As you can see, they are very low profile and have no heel-toe differential, toe spring or any other new fangled nonsense. They are pretty flexible - not to the same degree as the Vibrams or the Feelmax - but they actually look like normal running shoes which is good if you get fed up with comments and funny looks from other people. The problem is that they are priced like normal running shoes but they are not at all resistent to wear. Mine died after only a few months of use - although it is true that, had I not been running on knackered roads in India at the time, they probably would have held out a little longer. Still, the price - and the fact that they are impossible to find in any shops in Spain - means that I won't be restocking them.

Nike Lunar Racer (RIP)

What are these shoes doing here you ask? They look like hovercrafts compared to the other shoes. Even though Nike seems to pretty much lead the whole running shoe movement in the anti-natural direction (with the exception of their experiment in relatively chunky but flexible "Free" shoes), I have to hand it to them: these shoes are a technological marvel. They were the first really light shoes I ran with and they made quite a difference. They were my bridge to more minimal shoes although, in hindsight, being light was the only thing that was good about them. The cushioning was quite soft and felt like it was absorbing all the spring in your step. Also, the upper wore through quite quickly - one pair I bought was already torn when I took it out of the box! I ended up supergluing it back together to avoid the hassle of sending it back.

Terra Plana Evo

These guys are the ones to watch in 2011. Terra Plana are making some seriously stylish shoes which are very flexible, low profile and durable. I've managed to get the kids out of their rock solid shoes with orthotics and they are now wearing various different models of Terra Plana shoes. I picked up a pair of Evos which are virtually indestructable. The soles are so firm that my steps make a satisfying tapping sound, confirming that I am getting sprung back most of what I put in. They are a tad on the heavy side for being a minimal shoe but this is the price you pay for their ruggedness, although perhaps they have gone a bit overboard with the uppers. This one of the problems I have with the shoe: I end up getting blisters on the tops of my toes!! This is because the upper folds back on itself when my foot bends and rubs against my toes. There is a new model, developed in conjunction with POSE Running guru Lee Saxby, that I have yet to get my hands on. It has a more conventional upper. Hopefully it fixes the other problem I have with the shoe and that is that the back of the shoe comes up too far and causes some discomfort by pressing against my Achilles. I still use these shoes for running occassionally and they are my favourites for doing strength exercises in the gym.

Puma Street Kosmos

I have a sort of love-hate relationship with Puma. They have the best and most stylish running shoes in my opinion and they are not even very expensive - that is, IF you can actually find them. The POSE Method followers are very enthusiastic about a mythical shoe that Puma used to make called the "H Street". It was actually supposed to be a fashion shoe but it turned out to have exactly the minimalistic characteristics that the POSE crowd were looking for. I'm sure that a company as big and successful as Puma is not so thick as to not have noticed this little trend. I think that letting models suddenly drift off into obscurity or selling one type of shoe in one market and not in another are perfectly conscious strategies to make us shoe junkies so nervous everytime we see a Puma store that we just have to go in to see whether they just happen to have that elusive model in our size. Which, of course, they never do. When you do find it, then you end up buying fifty pairs just in case they are discontinued. Having said all that, I love the Kosmos. They are my ideal competition shoe because they are light, low profile, comfortable, reasonably durable and breathable. Also, they are not too minimalistic so you don't need to worry about treading on a stone. They have virtually no grip on the sole which is something I quite like actually, because if I find myself slipping or scuffing, it is usually because I am not running properly. Sure, grip is useful for quick accelerations but for running a Marathon - which I have done in these - you just want to get into a good groove. I did once slip over rather embarassingly in the gym, in a pool of my own sweat, just as I stepped off the running machine. Since then I am extra careful.... This is the shoe I will be wearing in the Ironman.

Saucony Kilkenny XC 3 Flat

These are my second favourite shoes (second to the Kosmos). They are very similar in most repects although they have a tiny bit of differential between the heel and toe. The main difference is that they are slightly harder wearing and have much more grippy soles, so they give much more confidence when running cross country like I do on my way to work. They are also a lot easier to get hold of - I still have to order them by mail from the States but its pretty straightforward and they are usually discounted something silly.

Vibram Five Fingers KSO (Keep Stuff Out)

So much has been written about these "monkey feet" that I'm not sure I can add much to the debate. They are a little pricey but they are also extremely good quality - mine still look (but don't smell) as good as new. They are a bugger to get on and I highly recommend that you wear toe socks underneath to avoid getting blisters (typically from the strap) but they are surprisingly comfortable once you've made the effort. Of course, they are the best you can get in terms of flexibility because each toe has the freedom to spread out and really grab the ground. As far as springiness goes, the soles are similar in feel to the Terra Plana shoes. If you like to attract attention then these are your bag - there are even more striking versions available. I have to admit I am slightly scared to use them still, because I managed to get a stress fracture in my foot from over enthusiastic adoption of these "shoes".

MBT (Masai Barefoot Technology)

 How I laughed when I first saw these. They market themselves as the "anti-shoe" and I thought that an anti-shoe, if anything, should be like the Feelmax - something with a waffer thin sole. These shoes are neither flexible, cheap or low profile and they are certainly not lightweight. What happened is that I got fed up of people asking me if I was injured when they saw me walking around in the Feelmax - when you walk barefoot or in socks, you walk on slightly bended knees and tip-toes. The idea behind the MBT shoes is to accept that we walk differently from how we run and that heel striking is OK as long as you are walking. If you start from this premise then, by making the sole of the shoe curved, you find that your centre of gravity moves much less as you walk than it would in normal heeled shoes (i.e., you bob up and down less). MBT market this as it being similar to walking in sand rather than on hard man made surfaces like concrete and it is true that it is a strangely soothing sensation walking in them. The other effect of the sole is that you have no heel counter to lean back on when you are standing - in fact you are constantly in a state of equilibrium like a weeble (until someone sees you are wearing them and pushes you from behind as a joke, as happens to me every so often). The end result is that you expend less energy walking than you would in normal shoes, and more energy standing - at least at first. But that isn't quite the end of the story, because, by being in constant balance, you naturally adopt - by evolutionary definition - the best possible posture. The problem with a bad posture is that some of your muscles become weaker while others become tighter, leading to muscle pain. So your calf muscles may get more tired than usual at first as you get used to them, but - and this is the surprising thing - it works wonders for posture related back pain and knee pain. The shoes are very expensive but they are extremely well made and I personally believe it is worth steering clear of the cheaper and perhaps slightly more fashionable but less effective imitations. You gets what you pays for. Some of them are ugly as sin but I have finally managed to find a pair of MBT work shoes that look like work shoes, at least from above. Prior to my MBT conversion, I was getting pains in my knee from walking even short distances (I have a torn meniscus) although I could happily run for tens of kilometers without problems. This problem has gone away and my posture has improved to boot. Oh yes, and they make me look about 5cm taller....

Monday, February 14, 2011

Week 5 / 20

Things are starting to get interesting now. This week was really focusing on the bike with about 10 of the 12 hours of training on two wheels. The objective and subjective loads tell a little story: the only time I could find to do my run on Sunday was straight after a late lunch of Chicken Tikka Masala, of which I was reminded every few kilometers.

Spot the difference
I am starting to have problems with my shoulder - the one in which I tore three tendons falling from my Mountain Bike about a year and a half ago. At the time I had thought that swimming would be a problem but neither swimming nor running give me any difficulties as far as the shoulder is concerned; and yet even after a few minutes on the bike, it feels like someone is pressing knitting needles into my upper back. I am going to see if I can find a physiotherapist who can recommend some strength exercises to do to help even out the muscle imbalance. I'm also tinkering with my bike position which, as you can see above, is about as good as I can get on my road bike frame. I have the handlebars dropped as far as they will go and the longest seat I could find but the question is whether I will be able to stand being in that position for 5 hours or more. I have to perch right on the end of the seat which isn't as uncomfortable as it looks just as long as there are no bumps in the road.

Talking of bumps in the road, my water bottle got launched from the holsters I have behind the seat no less than three times during my Saturday jaunt, the third time proved to be too much for the bottle to withstand. I also got the first puncture I've had on the road bike in almost a year (touch wood touch wood touch wood). Incredibly, along exactly the same stretch of road as last week, the same thing happened: I get overtaken by someone - this time it was someone else - who pulls just in front of me saying "keep it up" and of course my pulse rate plummets. It seems to be some kind of weird roadie etiquette. If we had been driving, it would have been considered that he had "cut me up", plain and simple; but perhaps it is considered to be doing a favour to a fellow cyclist by shielding him from the wind. If this keeps up I may have to get a t-shirt made with "Drafting is for wimps" on the back. As far as other car drivers go, it seems that Madrid has yet to go from fearing cyclists to hating them. For example, another car driver saw me approaching the roundabout he was going round and he actually stopped in the middle of the roundabout! Sometimes people overtake you leaving a margin of 3 meters and other times they brush past you but, in both cases, it is out of the unfamiliarity that has yet to breed contempt. But it is only a question of time: I get infuriated by chain gangs of cyclists riding two abreast while a snake of frustrated motorists stretches out behind them. I believe we have a right to use the roads but not a right to abuse them.

I just got sent the training plan for the next few weeks. It really is starting to hot up now. The week after next tots up to about 22 hours altogether - I will have to be very creative to fit all that in. How am I supposed to do an hour run followed by 4 hours on the bike on a wednesday? Maybe I'll have to consider taking a day's holiday here and there.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Barefoot running

I found this on youtube the other day and thought it was hillarious...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Gadgets, Gizmos and Goodies (part III)

Wheelbuilder Aero Disc covers

In terms of aerodynamic benefit per €, these guys are hard to beat, second only to clip-on aerobar extensions. For a less than a hundred bucks you get a set of plastic covers cut to fit your wheel and hub combination, thus converting your ordinary spoked wheel into a lethal disc wheel. Its a good idea to also buy the cassette removal tools they recommend - even a dummy like me was able to install the covers and figure out how to put the cassette back together in the right order. My only gripe is that the nifty little stickers that come with the covers, designed to perfectly cover the cut-out hole for pump access, are not available separately. Still, a roll of power tape does the trick, even if it is not so "cool".

Genuine Innovations Air chuck + Topeak valve extender

You're probably wondering what the big deal about these two accessories is. I went through a number of similar items before I discovered these two, and the difference is substantial. The Air chuck allows you to inflate your tyres with one of those compressed CO2 canisters but the difference is that it has a valve built-in, so none of that precious CO2 gas can escape unless you are actually pressing the chuck onto the valve of the tyre. I don't like using the canisters to inflate the tyres for environmental reasons but, in competition or even if you get a puncture they are much more effective than any hand held pump.

I need to use a valve extender because I have deep rim wheels and it seems silly to have all this supposed aerodynamic benefit only to wreck it by using inner tubes with long sticking-out valves. What sets this valve extender apart from all the others I have seen and tried, is that it very cleverly allows you to close the (concealed) tyre valve, thus avoiding air (or CO2) leaking out.

Casio Exilim EX-FH100

This camera is incredible - I have not seen any other compact (and reasonably priced) camera like it. It can shoot videos at up to 1,000 frames per second! You can also take funky pictures like this using its special shooting modes. Slow motion video (or, what is as far as I am concerned confusingly called "high speed video") can help you iron-out your running, biking and swimming technique no end. The camera never lies: you can see ever little unconscious movement, as well as the conscious ones. It doesn't tell you how to fix your technique but it helps you measure whether you are on the right track. And you can make your own "Chariots of Fire" style videos at long last.

DiNotte Lighting 400L

Without this, I would not be able to commute to work on my bike, simple as that. It pumps out 400 lumens of light which forces every treacherous nook and cranny on my path to reveal itself. In fact, it is often easier to navigate obstacles at night time because of the stark contrast thrown up by the shadows cast by the light. As you can see it is an extremely rugged design - in my case it has survived unscathed from half a dozen over-the-handlebars jobbies. What you can't see in the picture is the huge battery that feeds this mother - it attaches to the frame with a velcro wraparound and gives a couple of hours of autonomy on full blast. I ended up getting a spare double sized battery so I'd never get caught short.

Effeto Mariposa Giustaforza

When I first got my carbon bike and saw that all the bolts had torque ratings on them, I thought they were just covering their arses. I am now much wiser after having both cracked by seatpost (OK, its only a surface crack and I'm sure it will hold out) and having had a crank fall off on me while pedaling. The guys in one of my local bike shops claim to be "human torque wrenches" - you only have to do a quick search on the internet to see how often human torque wrenches wreck carbon frames. Its all to do with how much force (strictly speaking "torque" or force x distance) you apply: too much and you can screw (sorry) it up; too little and it could fall to pieces. This is where "Giustaforza" comes in - Giustaforza means "the right force". A brilliant bit of marketing by intimidation is to call their company "Effeto Mariposa" or "butterfly effect", the idea being that 1Nm too much or too little (the butterfly) could lead to a massive pile up of riders and their expensive bikes (the effect).

The tool is a beautiful thing. If you like well engineered marvels like mechanical watches, knives, fountain pens, etc., then the reassuring weight of this torque wrench in the palm of your hand banishes images like the aforementioned pile up of human flesh and carbon from your mind. It is a joy to use, but I only have so many bolts to tighten - now I have to wait until I have to reassemble my bike before I need to use it again - damn! Unlike most other torque wrenches, once you hit the dialed-in torque, it doesn't slip all the way round - it simply makes a loud click and gives about 3 degrees of free movement. This means, of course, that if you want to, you can continue to tighten until something gives but then, this would make you a moron. The reason for this is that they have been able to design it so that the bolt you are tightening is at right angles to the wrench and so there is no need for an extra piece to give you the leverage you need.

You should be warned that this kind of quality does not come cheap but, compared to even the insurance you'd probably take out on shipping your bike, it isn't as much of a luxury item as it might at first seem.

Rapid Racer Products NeoGuard

No-one likes mudguards. Even if they look whizzy or sexy the fact is that you are saying that you mind about getting a bit muddy. Seriously though, mud guards can sometimes be more like over zealous mud collection devices and do more harm than good. This "mudguard" was inspired by the age old tradition amongst downhill racers to tie a couple of inner tubes around the gap at the top of the suspension forks, in such a way that the mud kicked up from the front wheel doesn't make it as far as your (typically wide open) mouth. What is neat about the NeoGuard is that, every time the suspension fork compresses, any mud that has caked up gets shaken off. I still have a normal back mud guard, mainly to protect my suit as I make my way to the office from the gym.

I suggested to the guys who came up with this idea that they should make something similar to cover the swing arm of the front derailleur which always gets clogged up with mud and stops shifting properly. They claimed that they had already thought of it but had abandoned the idea. I'm hoping that they were lying because my gears get jammed every single time I ride in and I often have to struggle up a steep hill mashing the big chain ring.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Muscial interlude

Most of you probably are unaware that my "sporty" years have been a kind of parenthesis around a time when my hobby was deejaying. I built up a pretty impressive collection of vinyl records and deejayed in various clubs - some of them abroad - as well as doing a live radio show and a podcast in Madrid. My deejay friends seem to think that I have gone completely mad and that this blog is only further testament to that fact. Of course they are right, but they don't seem to see the connection which is, for me, "obsession" (or, to put it more fairly, "determination"). To dig out those rare gems, gathering dust in a back room of some struggling record store required a lot of commitment, not to mention knowledge and passion. Neil - my friend in whose honour and memory I am doing the Ironman - was a record digger par excellence. He was also a competitive cyclist in his time so its just possible that, had he still been alive, he might have been my only friend who could understand the draw of records and triathlon.

To some extent the two worlds operate on two different time zones but the real reason, as I lamented on my previous blog - Radio Madrid - is that I have been unable to summon up the passion to keep up my recording (as my wife calls it) since my energies have been diverted into sports. The one exception to that in the last 3 and a half years was a couple of months ago when I was inspired to go down to the basement and record a session that I could easily have recorded with Neil if things had been different. I thought I would post it here - if I can't convert my record friends to triathlon, perhaps I can convert my triathlon friends to records. Here's the tracklist and the link:

persuasive percussion - misirlou
moondog – bird’s lament
carla bley – sing sung lung
the chilites – inner city blues
sir richard – louie louie
george benson quartet – summertime
the third degree - mercy
enoch light and his light brigade – hijack
the jackson 5 – mirrors of my mind
babla and his orchestra – ramaia vatsavaiya
harry raboniwitz and the london festival orchestra- quiller
godiego – monkey magic
dee edwards – why can’t there be love
the deirdre wilson tabac – I can’t keep from crying sometimes
chaquito – special project
ramsey lewis – blue bongo
m + j - rejoyce

Monday, February 7, 2011

Week 4 / 20

Another really easy week - 8 hours + one weights session - this time to allow for full recovery after the Half Marathon. To be honest, I didn't feel as though I needed any recovery but I have learnt (finally) that it is better to be on the safe side. After all, a few extra hours would have had very little effect on my fitness in 4 months time and would only have made me more tired going into week 5, which, by the way, looks like it will be relatively tiring.

On Saturday, I had to do 35 minutes cycling at CEXT (easy pace, <123bpm), 60 minutes at CMED (medium intensity, >142) and another 35 minutes at CEXT. Its quite difficult to adhere to the pulse rates with all the hills that are on my route - this is where a power meter would come in handy because it gives you immediate feedback on how hard you are pushing the gears. So I was chugging along at CMED (which was about 34kp/h on average) and, at one point, I whooshed past a group of three cyclists who were slipstreaming each other. I must have pressed the big red button marked "testosterone" because, a few minutes later, one of them (who had probably been tailing me without me realizing) suddenly overtakes me and says, "I'll pull you along if you like". The problem is that then my pulse drops because it is much easier tailing behind someone else and yet if I overtake him back its going to look like I want a race. After another few minutes he slows right down and pulls to the side saying that he seems to have "lost" his friends and I just carry on as before.

On the Sunday, I had 3 hours at CEXT programmed. This time I got into a silly situation with another cyclist because I kept overtaking him and he kept overtaking me back. The thing is, on the climbs, I would go more slowly than him because of the throttle limit imposed by my restrictive heart rate while he would give it some welly; on the descents, he would coast and I would have to pedal frantically to get my heart rate up. At one point I took a different route through the village only to find that it joined up again with his later. He's probably writing in his blog about a testosterone fueled dick who kept on overtaking him right now.

Here you can see a kind of summary of the training so far. It goes back to just after the Marathon I did at the end of November. The "TRIMPS" are TRaining IMPulses and allow you to add up apples and oranges by assigning weights to each of the intensities and disciplines. So, swimming clocks up more points than running which clocks up more points than cycling and, obviously, the higher the heart rate intensity, the higher the points. Again, "N" is swimming (Natación), "B" is bike (Bicicleta) and "C", running (Carrera). You can see that the subjective load ("carga subjetiva" or, in other words, how hard I found each session) follows the TRIMPS much more closely than the number of hours of training ("horas totales").

Friday, February 4, 2011


This week I had another conference, this time in Budapest. I do actually do some work sometimes you know - in fact, this time I was speaking and chairing so I had to pay fairly close attention to all the talks and there was no skipping out to do some surreptitious shopping. I love Budapest: its a beautiful and impressive city (albeit in a slightly pre-Berlin wall kind of way). The people are very friendly and there is no shortage of smart places to go for food or shopping and it also has a fair amount of striking urban contrasts for the more "socially aware" traveler... I'd been looking forward to going as I remember very well a long run I did along the banks of the Danube a few years ago (yep, at another conference). This time it was about 5 degrees below zero and dark when I finally managed to extricate myself from the conference, so it wasn't quite as pleasant.

The view from my hotel window
I ran in my usual running shorts - when does it ever get cold enough for your legs to feel it while running? Some tourists from Hong Kong found it amusing and asked me for a "photo photo", probably under the impression that their photo would capture typical Hungarian behaviour to show to the folks back home. It turned out that they were quite wrong because even the Hungarians shouted out to me "Eh, Junge!" as I ran past.

The two 45 min runs I did
I find that its really good practice to run on ice. As long as you don't make any sudden changes of speed or direction, you can run perfectly well on even the most slippery surface. You are forced to run according to the Pose Method which discourages you from pushing of with your foot and instead focuses on forward movement by leaning from the ankles. Here you can see the man Dr Romanov himself, demonstrating the principle:

Hopefully I won't have to travel any more before the Ironman. It is very hard to eat properly. Its not that the food was bad, rather that a lot of what I could not resist eating wasn't good for me. I just cannot say no to crispy bacon when it is in one of those huge eat as much as you like breakfast spreads you get in some hotels. And the conference organizer, bless her, would bring me plates of sugary snacks to make up for the fact that I couldn't pop out and get them whenever I wanted. Just thinking about that smörgåsbord of French cheeses that the waiter wafted under my nose is making me hungry. Then, of course, there's all that plane food - why can't it just be plain food instead of this imitation fancy food in miniature they insist on warming up?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Week 3 / 20

Last week was a very light week because of the taper before the Half Marathon. Which is just as well, because I had to go to London for work and it is always harder to fit training in around the meetings. I've already written about how fantastically well the Half Marathon went, but I thought I would include some graphs showing how much below my theoretically optimum heart rate I ran most of the race. What is particularly striking is that there is no "heart rate drift," that is to say, once I hit about 170bpm, my heart rate rose no higher until the final sprint. I'm guessing that this is partly due to the cold conditions - around 5 degrees - but I am more and more convinced that this is a measure of my efficiency, both cardiovascularly and in running technique. Also, my pace was relatively even - or at least I didn't slow down much in the second half. The first half was run at an average pace of 3:57min/km while the second half was run at 3:58min/km. As far as aches and pains go, I'm feeling fine, just got a bit of a snuffly cold that I haven't been able to completely shake off for a couple of weeks now.