Thursday, September 29, 2011

DEFCON 4 (5 is the lowest level)

My legs have been feeling a bit tight since the Half Marathon but nothing serious, or so it seemed. I went for a massage yesterday to "discharge" my legs and felt pretty good afterwards. I've been running for a long time without having any pain and certainly no injuries so I thought it prudent to try and nip it in the bud. When my legs do get overloaded, they tend to hurt in all the same places: left knee, left calf / soleus, right hamstring, right foot. I'm convinced that the accumulation of small injuries and defects throws the whole kinetic chain out of whack and that these asymmetric symptoms are actually all connected. Its probably all because I can't lift the big toe on my right foot as much as the big toe on my left foot!

Today it was "series day": 20 minutes hard, 5 minutes break, 25 minutes hard. I did the first 20 minutes at 16kp/h with no problem - if anything it was too easy and I should probably have run them a bit faster. But my left calf muscle started to seize up in the second set and I ended up doing it piecemeal and stopping 5 minutes before the end. I now have a limp while walking so I think I am one short step away from injury, if it isn't already the case. And to think I was boasting to the physiotherapist only last night that I never stretch. I don't know that stretching would have helped prevent this from happening, but it is certainly useful now. I may not believe in stretching but I do believe in warming up and - guess what - that is exactly what I neglected to do this time. I'm going back to see her shortly so I'll have to eat a little humble pie, I guess.

So I'm going to have another massage, do some electrostimulation therapy at home and apply some Kinesio tape (see photo above). I'll also swap my 40 minute run tomorrow for a commute to work and back on the bike (2 x 40 mins) and I have Saturday off anyway, to get ready for the two hour run on Sunday if the calf is better by then. I really hope so!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

If you don't ask, you don't get...

This photo may look like an ordinary bike rack to you but this represents a huge victory, requiring some serious string pulling at the highest echelons of my company (which has about 150,000 employees world wide). This is the solution I was promised to the sudden and inexplicable ban on cycling on campus at work. After much speculation as to what the cause might have been - was it an insurance problem? - it seems that the reason all along has been the lack of official parking spaces for bikes. Now I can go from the gym to my office on the bike without having to wait for the internal bus, commuting by bike once more makes logistic sense. Hopefully the initiative will attract more than the poultry 7 currently catered for cyclists (out of a possible 6,500), especially those who don't have a convenient parking space and could stick a fold-up bike in the boot of their car.

If you are wondering what is under the plastic bag, I can tell you. It is a custom made sign indicating parking for bikes... Once it is unveiled and we are allowed once more to ride around campus, I'll post it here.

Kids and running

I've got two little boys, aged (nearly) 7 and 9. They love running about as much as any other kids but what about running in the sense of running just for the sake of running? I don't think so - not yet, anyway. They seem to associate running with the absence of their father and have more of a memory of the times I have injured myself running or come back with bloody feet or nipples than of the times when they have come to support me in a race. For the eldest, my moment of glory was when I came home with a trophy for second place in a race at work! Better to come second in a provincial race than 10th in an international competition! Of course I would like them to discover the joys of running and of triathlon, for that matter, but I'm also conscious of the importance of it feeling like something that they have chosen rather than something an over-reaching parent has foisted upon them. We've started to run occasionally to the park and back - about a kilometer - but they start off very enthusiastically, running ahead and dropping back and then get quite tired. I've been running barefoot alongside them, the thinking being that my feet will get conditioned for running at about the same rate that the kids (and my wife) do.

As a parent I have a big dilemma about what to do about shoes for my kids. The eldest has my flat feet and the podiatrist has recommended shoes as stiff as a board with orthotics (special insoles). The fact that we bought these items from a shop that had probably been in the same place since the civil war didn't do much to allay my fears: how can I live by one philosophy and yet have my kids live by another? When people ask me about my minimalist running shoes I tell them why I think they are better than normal running shoes (while they look on with politely disguised boredom I suppose) but I also say that I wouldn't recommend them to anyone who was not willing to really commit to re-conditioning their feet. But the kids' feet have not yet been turned into squashed, mushy pulp by shoes yet and they always go barefoot in the house. They have strong looking feet with a nice separation between the toes. Even so, it takes some guts to go against the doctor's orders - the responsibility would be all mine if something happened to them. Then, last year we stumbled upon the Terra Plana Vivobarefoot shop in Brighton where I bought my first Evos, my wife bought some funky shoes and - to my delight - she also agreed to buy some "barefoot" shoes for the kids (thus sharing the responsibility). I'm now looking to replace them because they have been completely worn out. There are still very limited options for minimalist running shoes for kids. Merrel have launched some which I am currently unable to buy over the internet because of the shipping restrictions and Merrel's antiquated policy of dividing their internet shops into "zones". Instead, I am eagerly awaiting the launch of the Vivobarefoot Neos for kids, which should be out any day now.

Next time you see a small kid running, watch how he or she runs. Doesn't it look like the smoothest, most efficient way to run? Then watch how we run as adults. Something happens to us in that time and I'd like to help my kids avoid it happening to them. I don't claim that shoes are entirely to blame, some of the problem comes from our innate ability to imitate others and our false image of what it means to run correctly. (How many photos can you spot in an issue of Runner's World of people over-striding? Some of them are even elite runners.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Build up to the Marathon

There are now only 9 weeks to go before the Marathon in Valencia on the 27th of November. I've been sent my "homework" for the next 4 weeks as you can see in the graphs above. A nice build up to about 10 hours a week (which will work out at about 130 kilometers) plus the usual weights and plyometrics, etc. I expect the next 5 weeks will build to another peak over a couple of weeks before tapering down to the Marathon itself. But that will, of course, depend on how the next month goes.

The training looks a little daunting, I have to say, partly because I've been struggling to recover from the Half Marathon. It's amazing how quickly the warm glow wears off and you start to doubt your abilities once more. I remember a guy I used to row with back in the 80's used to say "You're only as good as your last race". Now, of course, I think that is a complete load of bollocks. If you live by that way of thinking then you are sure to burn out and never reach your potential. So, as usual, it is a question of faith in the program, faith in myself. If all goes well and I manage to adapt to the training load while arriving rested and full of energy to the start line of the Marathon, I should have a good chance to "surprise myself" as I have done on several occasions. It's hard to beat the feeling of performing better than you could ever have expected.

As far as recovery goes, it is going to be ever more important that I am able to bounce back from one session in time for the next one, especially as many days involve "doubling up" (running twice in one day). I may try taking those 2 gram anti-oxidant pills that I have left over from my Ironman days... and tomorrow I am going to treat myself to a massage.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Running up and down hills

Running down hills is much more preferable to running up hills. Or is it?

Until I attended a POSE Method running clinic with Dr Romanov in Odense (Denmark), I subscribed to the common misconception that one should take bigger strides when running down hill and shorter strides when running up hill. As we will see, this is in fact the opposite of what you should do.

The confusion centers around how we think of stride length. Our idea of stride length derives from our perception of how displaced our legs are from each other as this is the aspect we can sense and control. I'm going to call this relative stride length. However, what we are interested in is how this translates into running speed - in other words what is our absolute stride length as measured between footprints. It is clear that, as we tend to run much faster downhill than uphill, our absolute stride length is indeed longer when running down hills. Nevertheless, we tend to also increase our relative stride length and this, coupled with the increased speed and extra distance that we fall in each step, means that we land with incredible force. This is bad. All too many of us know how easy it is to injure yourself running downhill but I have yet to hear of someone who has injured themselves running uphill.

The theory behind the POSE Method can be just as easily applied to running up or down hills. As I have discussed in previous posts, the POSE Method hinges on the idea of running being a sequence of "poses" (being in balance on the ball of one foot), in between which you "fall" forward by leaning forward from your ankles and you "pull" your foot from the ground. Relative to your body you always pull your foot directly along the line directly between your foot and your butt (actively using your hamstrings as opposed to quadriceps or hip flexors). The idea is that this positions it optimally to fall back to the ground directly under your center of mass (in other words, you avoid over-striding). The only degree of freedom you have to control your absolute stride length is how much you lean and what Dr Romanov refers to as the Range of Movement (ROM), or how far you along the foot-butt line you pull your foot. If we are relaxed, then we tend to find an optimum ROM for a given speed automatically: too much ROM and we waste energy moving our legs excessively; too little ROM and we take too many little steps. I discussed this in a fair amount of detail in my post on rhythm in running. In practice, I never actively adjust my ROM but I sometimes make a mental note of how high I am pulling my feet as an indication of how fast I am running: the faster your run, the higher you pull your feet.

So, running down hill you are running faster and should have a greater ROM? NO! The ROM is the height you should pull your foot so that it falls back to the ground exactly in time to make ground contact. Why do we pull our foot at all? The reason is clear if you try to run with straight legs - apart from them getting in the way, it is also extremely tiring. By folding your leg up, you reduce its angular momentum, or the energetic cost of it rotating, rather like a shorter pendulum. (By the way, the POSE Method stresses the point that this rotation is performed by gravity and should not be achieved via an active use of the hip flexors.) The long and the short of it (excuse the pun) is that it rotates more quickly allowing you to lean further forward which, in turn, means that you get more benefit from gravity pulling you forward so you go faster! Now, if you are running downhill, the distance your foot falls to the ground is a bit greater than it would have been on the flat, therefore you don't need to pull your foot so high. This means that your ROM should be less running downhill. This idea doesn't exactly correspond to the relative stride length I described earlier, but it certainly feels like we are "shortening up" as we run down hill. Running uphill is just the opposite: we have to increase our ROM because our foot makes ground contact sooner than it would otherwise and we have to pull it higher as a result. It is actually much easier to run uphill than it is downhill from a technical point of view. Dr Romanov said that "Everyone runs POSE uphill, the trick is to be able to run POSE on the flat and downhill".

Another difference is that, relative to the ground, you lean less when running downhill and more when you run uphill; relative to the vertical, the amount of lean is more or less constant. This makes sense: uphill you need more "help" from gravity and downhill you are limited by your ability to turn over your legs quickly enough.

At the end of the POSE clinic, Dr Romanov had us run downhill blindfolded (guided by a non-blindfolded partner!). Interestingly enough, we all ran downhill naturally shortening our ROM. We then ran uphill, also blindfolded, and it didn't feel as though we were making any more effort than running on the flat.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Media Maraton de Valladolid

Today I got up nice and early and drove from the country house where my family and a group of friends were staying, to Valladolid. I easily found a parking spot just near the start (only later would I realize why it was so easy to park there). For a race with 1,500 or so participants it was impressive how few queues there were for picking up race numbers and so on - it felt like a very small affair until I was standing at the start line surveying the crowds building up behind me.

I always find it interesting and sometimes amusing watching how other people get ready for a race, their little routines. I was a bit nervous because I really had no idea how the race would go. As I was doing my warmup, I was vaguely aware of comments about my shoes like "joder que zapatillas" or something about "minimalist" but I was pretty much in my own world the rest of the time.

My plan was to run to the heart rate set by my trainer per kilometer and see where it got me - I honestly didn't know until the gun went off whether this would correspond to a 1 hour 30 pace or less.

I soon found the answer - the first kilometer I ran in 3:45 in spite of having to dodge slower runners who had started too far forward. I hit the 10k mark in what was I think my second fastest time ever - 38:18.

During the race, I thought a lot about rhythm and played "Hit the Road Jack" by Mo' Horizons in my head over and over again to ensure I was turning over my legs quickly enough. I found other people's footsteps very distracting and, before I knew it, I would be running to their rhythm if I wasn't careful. I also thought about "punching it forward" as I did in the Getafe Half Marathon to make sure I was marking the difference between contact time and flight. For the rest, I would allow myself to become hypnotized by the side to side movement of the person running in front of me.

The conditions were perfect - not too hot and not too cold - in fact, the temperature had dropped some five degrees with respect to the day before. It was, however, quite windy so it was important to "draft" as much as possible.

The bulk of the race felt very comfortable, it was only in the last 3 kilometers that I started my trademark "steam engine" breathing. I think it must psyche people out a bit hearing me approach but that isn't the (only) reason I do it... My Garmin beeped for the 21st time at exactly 1 hour and twenty minutes so it was now just a question of how much longer the course would turn out to be (580m)*. I crossed the finish line at 1:22:22, more than a minute faster than my best time - an average of 3:49 per kilometer according to my Garmin. Amazing to think that that was my average pace in the race I did in San Francisco, only that it was a third of the distance! I finished in 73rd place (one better than I started, with a race number of 74) and 12th in my category. My only complaint about the race - which was impeccably organized - would be that, in spite of wearing chips, our start times were not recorded. Apart from inflating your results it causes everyone to want to start as far forward as possible leading to bottlenecks.

After the race another of Jonathan's disciples, Alex Gómez, came up to me. We had also coincided in the San Sebastian Marathon. His best time in the Half Marathon is very similar to the time I had just knocked out and his best time in the Marathon is 2:59. He assured me that, if everything goes to plan, it's looking good for me to also break the 3 hour barrier. We'll see - in a Marathon, anything can happen.

I got to my car and realized why it had been so easy to park - I'd ended up parking along the course so I'd have to wait until the "coche escoba" that follows behind the last runners went by. A good excuse for a well deserved siesta.

(By the way, the anticipated free bottle of wine has a label written in Chinese so let's just say I don't think I am missing anything by being abstemious.)

* To be fair, looking at the route traced out by the GPS data, it's clear that there was some error which probably explains the extra meters. It's a bit annoying to have a faster race time dangled in front of your nose, only to have it snatched away again - especially when you have just run what you think is the course and find that you still have some way to go. In the Marathon, I think I will turn off the auto-lap-every-kilometer feature and press the lap button myself at every marker.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Treadmill versus road: to lean or not to lean?

One thing that all the new schools of running technique agree on is that you should lean forward while running. A definition of "leaning" could simply be that your center of gravity is out of line with your point of contact with the ground. If you take this as your definition then it is impossible to run without leaning because you need some horizontal force to overcome air resistance. We tend to think of pushing off when we run and that it is friction that drives us forward, but friction is just a reaction force that is always less than or equal to the force opposing it. Think about it: you can't push off without moving your center of gravity out of line with your point of contact. Instead, the horizontal force comes from the residual horizontal component of force that results when you cancel the force of gravity with the ground reaction force, the force that prevents you from falling through the floor. These two forces act through different points and cause a rotational torque, rather like gripping a pencil at each end with both hands and then moving your hands vertically closer together. Seen another way, your center of gravity moves forward as you "fall" by leaning forward, while you move your legs forward to regain balance momentarily (i.e., point of contact with the ground under your center of gravity). So not only should you lean forwards in order to run, but it is actually impossible to run unless you are leaning forwards. When the running schools talk of leaning, they mean leaning properly, that is to say, leaning from the ankles. The reason for this is that this ensures that all the relevant muscles in the body from the feet to the core are all engaged. The antithesis of this is the classic K-bend where the runner bends from the waist; in this case the core is not engaged and the other muscles are forced to make up for this causing overuse injuries in the hip flexors as well as potential back problems.

Very bad running posture
What about when you run on a treadmill? One would think that relativistic principles would mean that there is no difference between running on the road or running on the treadmill: in one case you are moving past the road; in the other the "road" is moving past you. The key difference is that there is air resistance when you are running on the road so you must produce a horizontal force to counter this in order to advance; in a vacuum, after an initial push, you could "run" on ice by hopping up and down vertically. The difference (as I understand it and think of it) is that, on the road you must lean forward to produce this force while on the treadmill the moving belt pulls you out of balance and you must try to keep upright. So you see, there is a very subtle difference based on cause and effect but the upshot is that you must actively lean while running on the road and must try to stay upright while running on the treadmill.

This post arose after I saw a video on youtube on so-called "Good Form Running". I agree with the principles but, unfortunately, even though it is most practical to demonstrate them on a treadmill, it is also not the place to be leaning forward.

Track advantage

I'm convinced that running on a tartan track has an advantage but this seems at odds to my belief in minimalist shoes. There was a time when I thought the cushioning on shoes actually returned energy making you run faster, rather than absorbing it to supposedly reduce impact on your knees. I guess the key thing is elasticity and rigidity - how much energy is returned and how quickly. If you look at World Record times on the track for 10,000 meters compared to a 10k road race, there is an improvement of around 1.5% - how much of this is due to the other variables in road running (wind, elevation changes) or the fact that the 10,000 meters track event is much more prestigious, is hard to gauge. What bothers me is having two apparently conflicting ideas in my head at the same time. If the tartan track surface is advantageous, surely I could cut out a foot shaped section of it and stick it to the bottom of my shoe and - voila! - gain an instantaneous 1.5% in speed.

Whatever the case, I went for a 20 minute aerobic run on the running track at work yesterday. The track is a kind of afterthought to the football pitch, being a square 350 meter circuit that is often interrupted by stray footballs or stretching footballers. Nevertheless, I ran an average of 4:02 kilometer splits (just shy of 15kph) with an average heart rate of 149 bpm (my aerobic threshold) and it wasn't even particularly cold - around 27 degrees. Admittedly my heart rate was creeping up by the end but it was very comfortable. Had I been programed to run 20 minutes at 15 kph, I would have spent some of the day fretting about the workout but a 20 minute aerobic run doesn't even register any points in terms of training load.

If anyone can point me to any scientific studies of the benefits of tartan track versus tarmac, I'd be very interested...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Racing weight

I thought I'd see how my efforts to get down to racing weight for the Marathon at the end of November were going. When I say "racing weight", the truth of the matter is that I don't have enough experience to say what my true, optimal racing weight should be; I have several references, like what I used to weigh when I was competing in rowing in my teens and early twenties (gulp) and - more realistically - what I weighed when I did my (even if I say so myself) spectacular time in the Half Marathon back at the end of January. I am convinced that the two principal predictors of my running race performance are (1) heat and (2) weight (and in that order).

The start of the graph marks when I first started taking seriously this business of counting calories. Then, as you can see, I focused on training for my Ironman which had a by product of making me heavier, especially in the upper body, but also in the legs. So I got back down to it again at the end of July starting from the impressive heights of over 90 kilos and have more or less steadily been whittling away the weight at the same rate as before. Except, that is, for that anomaly, which corresponds to the two weeks holiday in the US. To be fair, that was probably due to water retention, bloating and god-knows-what from the long journey and let lag and so on, as it came back down to where it should have been pretty quickly.

The red dot is where I am aiming to get to - 82 kilos (which will be the lightest I have been in well over ten years) by the end of November. I think it is feasible while at the same time getting in enough energy to fuel my training safely.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Media Maratón Ciudad de Valladolid

This Sunday I'm running in the Half Marathon in Valladolid. Valladolid is a city about 200 kilometers to the north of Madrid and is famous for its excellent wine (Ribera del Duero, Rueda) - hopefully there will be a good bottle in the runner's goody bag, although it will have to wait until after the Marathon for consumption. The event is so well organized, it seems, that they are especially laying on a high speed train (just over an hour long journey) from Madrid, just for the competitors and their supporters. It just so happens that we are spending the weekend in a "Casa Rural" (country house) not too far from there, so I will sneak out early in the morning and hopefully be back in time for lunch. Its a shame that my train tickets will go to waste.

If the weather forecast holds true, then the conditions should be just right - 17 degrees, dry and not too windy. These last days I have been suffering in the heat in Madrid, which has picked up again. Friday was one of those rare bank holidays you only seem to get in Spain: it applied only to Madrid city but not the Madrid region so I got the day off work but all the shops where I live were open and the kids still had to go to school. The perfect excuse to have a lazy, self-indulgent day with plenty of time to get my training done. Even so, I struggled a bit with my training at the weekend so it's still anyone's guess how things will go on Sunday.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Heart Rate Monitor blues

If you have been following my blog then you'll know that I was having a lot of problems with the so-called soft Heart Rate Monitor strap that comes as standard with the Garmin 310XT. Once I swapped it for the "classic" HRM that came with my now defunct Forerunner 305, the problems seemed to go away. It started playing up again last week so I decided to replace the batteries (although, to be honest, they shouldn't have worn out already). I couldn't find any shops stocking the little CR2023 battery that it was running on. It was only when one of the attendants gave me the sort of look that I expect she would have reserved for somebody looking for a Sega Megadrive that I thought I should do some further research on the internet. Well, I found out a couple of interesting things. First off, according to Garmin, you should wait for one minute after taking out the old battery and before putting in the new one, to give the HRM time to reset (in particularly its battery level). The other thing I learned is that the 2023 in the name of the battery actually means something: the 20 refers to a diameter of 2 centimeters while the 23 means that the thickness is 2.3 millimeters. In fact, there is no difference other than thickness (and corresponding battery life) between the CR2023, the CR2025 and the CR2032. What is more is that Garmin actually recommend the ubiquitous CR2032 as a replacement battery!

In the meantime I have been running quite a bit faster than I usually do. I suspect that it is because my heart rate was also correspondingly higher although I'm secretly hoping that having lost a few kilos since the Ironman is helping me run faster... We will see on the 18th, when I have a Half Marathon in Valladolid. I'm still recovering from the cold that knocked me out last week so I doubt that a PR is on the cards but I'm hoping to have a good solid race in preparation for the Marathon.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Music to run to

Nicked from
In my last post I mentioned that I had a playlist on my iPod that was of music with 180 bpm. On the off chance that someone reading this blog is interested, here's how I did it... I used a program on the Mac called BPMer, which goes through your iTunes library and automatically computes the bpm (beats per minute) of each song. It does a surprisingly good job. Then in iTunes, you set up a "smart playlist" with the criteria that the bpm should be between 175 and 180 bpm, for example. Many songs are actually strictly speaking 90 bpm but, for the purposes of running, they are just as good, if not better. Here's a top ten of songs from my playlist, aall at exactly 180 bpm:

1. Sweet Soca Music - Sugar Daddy
2. Thief's Hour - Raw Deal
3. Hit The Road Jack (Pena Estrada) - Mo' Horizons
4. Take Me Back To Piaui (Dubben mix) - Juca Chaves
5. Friendly Pressure - Jhelisa
6. Night Night Theme - The Infesticons
7. You Know My Steez - Gang Starr
8. Straight To Hell - The Clash
9. Nothing Else - Ben Westbeech
10. Move On Featuring Paul MacInnes - The Bamboos

Even better if you have a fairly recent generation iPod Touch or iPhone (with iOS 4.0) - there is an amazing little app called "djay" which makes a heroic attempt at the ancient art of beatmatching (speeding up or slowing down songs in order to synchronize the beats). I've tried several different similar apps and this is hands-down the best of the bunch.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

You gotta have rhythm

I was thinking about parallels between running and rowing on my short training outing today. In a rowing boat (a racing shell with a sliding seat) the strokeman or person who sets the rhythm is probably the most important member of the crew. In rowing we talk of stroke rate in much the same way as we talk about cadence in running, but what is far more important, at least in rowing technique, is rhythm. The key is to maximize the ratio of the time spent gliding up the slide (the recovery) to the time spent pulling the oars through the water (the work). I should say optimize instead of maximize because, taken to an extreme, the boat slows down too much in between strokes, indicating that the stroke rate should be higher. Having a good feel for the optimum rhythm is something that one gains with experience but it certainly requires a "sharp catch" (placing the oar in the water and taking the weight of the boat rapidly) and a quick acceleration of the oars through the water, followed by a relaxed recovery. A rowing boat has the advantage of being able to tweak certain aspects like the length of the oars, size of the blades (paddles) and the ratio of the inboard length of the oar to the outboard (gearing).

In running, a good rhythm is one which optimizes the ratio of the flight (recovery) to the ground contact time (work). The best runners seem to be paradoxically both stiff and fluid. We can also feel it ourselves when we are running at our best.

I recently read an interesting article on Steve Magness' blog saying that one should aim to have a certain stiffness in the muscles prior to a race, the shorter (and faster) the race, the stiffer. With this goal in mind, running series of sprints the days before the race can increase stiffness while having a massage can reduce it. It's an interesting idea. I also read in the Science of Sports blog, in an article discussing Oscar Pistorius' advantage, that runners tend to take the same time to swing their legs forward into the landing position independently of the speed they run at and that this time rather determines their maximum running speed. Cadence also tends to be relatively independent of running speed. This implies that, the faster you run, the shorter and more explosive the ground contact must be. This would seem to support Steve Magness' claim.

What does "stiffness" mean? I understand it as the time it takes for the muscle action to ripple through the kinetic chain, like a whip cracking or a spring uncoiling. This stiffness can be lost either through fatigue or, equally important, through lack of mental concentration. Just as in rowing, as soon as you lose your rhythm you enter into a vicious circle: you get softer, the ratio of recovery to work goes down, you increase your cadence to maintain the same speed and get more tired, etc. Put another way, every millisecond you shave off the work phase becomes an extra millisecond in which to recover from this increase in power. For this reason I believe you have to be feeling the rhythm the whole time while you are running: if it slips you make an effort to stiffen up during the work phase and to relax during the recovery rather than increasing the cadence (or overstriding).

Normally I don't run with music because I like to hear the sounds around me, my breathing and the tapping of my shoes. If you can't hear your footfalls they have a tendency to become louder and heavier. But sometimes I like to listen to music, especially when I need an extra motivational boost, like today after a few days of feeling ill. Being a bit of a nerd, I have a playlist on my iPod of music which has 180 beats per minute, which is around the "optimal" cadence. (I put this in quotation marks because I think we are better at finding our own optimum cadence than running to a metronome as some running schools would have us do (for example, Chi Running) but many people do overstride and consequently run with too low a cadence.) As long as I don't abuse it, I think it is a good way of keeping my rhythm in check: by running in time with the music, if I slow down, I must improve my rhythm and avoid getting sloppy. Now I think of it, we did almost all our rowing training at a prescribed cadence that was not necessarily that at which we would compete for precisely this reason.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A short break

If I had any doubts about whether I should train after Tuesday's experience, the run I did yesterday cleared things up nicely. I set off on a 90 minute round trip at a good, comfortable pace of around 13kp/h (3:47 per kilometer) but after about half an hour I was feeling much more tired than I would normally feel. By half way I was feeling decidedly crap and wondering whether I should just jog the remaining 15 minutes to my house and get a taxi back to work or whether to attempt the run back. The 45 minute run back turned into more of a 55 minute run back as each kilometer was harder than the one before it. By the end just walking at a snail's pace was elevating my heart rate to 150 bpm, the aerobic threshold at which I do most of my training runs. I felt as exhausted as I would have done after a 3 hour run or after "bonking". Today it is clear that the cold has gone south and the infection is now in my lungs so there's no more training for me until I am feeling a bit better.