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.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Journey is the Reward

If you search for this phrase you will hundreds of references to Steve Jobs, who was fond of quoting it, as well as a few that attribute it to an old Buddist proverb. It reminds me very much of the book by Paulo Cuelho, The Alchemist, which was the first book I managed to read in Spanish (although it was actually originally written in Portuguese). It is a also similar sentiment to the "Here and now, boys, here and now" that the mynah birds on Aldous Huxley's Island repeat endlessly the remind the inhabitants that we should live for the moment. By contrast, that the "journey is the reward" does not negate the need to have a goal towards which we are all working, but instead suggests that we should not focus on the goal to the point of not enjoying or benefitting from the struggle to get there.

Just yesterday I was explaining to a friend that the Ironman itself was not the hardest physical test I have done; a couple of the training sessions I did along the way I found much harder. If you focus on crossing the line of the Ironman - be it in a certain time or placing, or just to cross the line at all - then I believe you are missing the real reward. This is something I wrote about at the time, having been fortunate enough to have read a comment from another person who had already completed an Ironman: that we are privelaged to be able to dedicate so many hours to making our bodies so fit. The reward of crossing the line did not compare to the reward of the changes my body went through and what I learned from the prepartion for the Ironman.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

If at first you don't succeed... a pain in the arse until you get what you want. Finally, we will be able to go round the work campus on bikes as of the 10th of November!

All cyclists must come in to work via the "B" entrance which is a few kilometers away from the gym (the "P" at the far left of the map) from where I then have to make my way back (in my suit) to the "P" in the middle which is nearest my office. Where there is no path we are supposed to go on the pavement. It adds a bit of faff to the whole thing but it is better than nothing and, in any case, a few extra kilometers are welcome. The rules stipulate that the speed limit (40kph) must be respected at all times but I can't really see myself getting up to that speed on the pavement. There is also a rule which looks like it has been taken straight out of the Ironman regulations: overtaking must be performed within 15 seconds or 100m, leaving a margin of 1.5m. One good thing is that they enforce the use of a helmet (something I was lazy to wear with my suit).

There is a serious problem with parking on campus as we are 6,500 employees. I'm hoping that other people will start to either bring in foldable bikes in the boot of their car to get from their distant parking spot to the office or to leave a bike permanently in the racks to move from one place to another. The next step is to get a "critical mass" of cyclists so that - who knows? - we can look forward to having a shower installed in our office (avoiding the trip to the gym) as is the case in most workplaces in London.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Week 5 / 9

I'm quite happy with this week's training. I did my "long" series at 16kph (while people were also being tortured on screen in one of the "Saw" films) which, only a few months ago, I would have struggled to maintain even for series of just one kilometer. Then I had the big one - the long run of 35km - on Sunday, of which 16km I was to run at Marathon pace. The route going out was uphill most of the way and quite windy, so it was difficult to get to actual Marathon speed, but my heart rate was more or less where it should have been and, the way back was downhill so I got some seconds back. I went through the Half Marathon mark at around 1:35, which wasn't too bad considering 5 kilometers of those 21 were at my much slower aerobic pace. Then the final 14 kilometers felt really easy (OK, except for the last few where I was feeling quite tired and looking forward to getting home). All told I did the 35km at a pace of 4:40km which was alright and felt a lot easier than the 30km I had done a couple of weeks before. One difference, apart from hopefully being a bit fitter, is that I decided to take gels during this long run. No aches or pains afterwards, just a nice all over tiredness which did mean it was difficult to resist falling asleep after lunch (which wouldn't have impressed our lunch guests).

Friday, November 4, 2011

May contain nuts...

May contain traces of egg, fish, lactose, fructose, mustard, soy, peanuts, celery and sesame
Salads are good for you, right? This is the salad that I have virtually every time I go to the gym. As it comes in a packet I am naturally wary of its contents but, short of bringing a packed lunch (which isn't going to happen), this is the price I pay for spending my lunch hour running when I should be eating freshly prepared food. The other day my salad was nowhere to be seen because, apparently, someone had suffered a toxic shock from something that it contained but that was not listed on the label. The salad has now come back with a new, updated label which now states that it "may contain traces of egg, fish, lactose, fructose, mustard, soy, peanuts, celery and sesame". I think that pretty much covers their arses. I mean, why would a chicken pasta salad contain traces of fish for God's sake? Unfortunately, the (justified) complaint of the poor guy who suffered an allergic reaction has just lead to it not only being unsuitable for him to eat (which we already knew) but also for anyone else with any imaginable food allergy or intolerance. I think the bottom line is that salads are good for you if you mix them yourselves but, when they come in a packet, they are the equivalent of an urban concrete jungle: a perfect place to commit all kinds of food crime.

I'm quite aware of these issues because my youngest son is currently on a six food exclusion diet: no wheat, no soy, no egg, no milk, no nuts and no fish (nor any derivatives of the aforementioned). Oh, and we've added potatoes to that list so that's a seven food exclusion diet. So he certainly wouldn't be able to eat this salad on at least 6 counts (there is no requirement to state that it may contain traces of potato - if there were, I'm sure they would have included it). The reason we are putting the poor little blighter through this dietry hell is because he has reflux. The fact his food comes back up into his mouth is bad enough but it has been aggravating his asthma and, what is far worse, he has not been putting on any weight and lately he has been quite lethargic, even though he eats insatiably. I hadn't previously appreciated the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance: an allergy is when your anti-bodies attack a foreign body that they shouldn't whereas an intolerance could be due to lacking a particular enzyme needed to be able to digest a certain protein or break down a type of sugar. The skin patch test didn't show up any allergy but an endoscope did find that he has a fairly rare condition called Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE). The good news is that he has started to put on weight, has more energy and is not regurgitating his food. He even seems to be eating less - it's as if he wasn't able to get the nutrients he needed out of his food before. Every cloud has a silver lining and he is happy that he can at least eat tomatoes, which we previously didn't let him eat when we thought that he had Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). Apart from eating fresh fruit, meat, vegetables and rice, luckily there are lot's of (very expensive) food substitutes available which don't contain any of the banned list. I can't help feeling that this is all just a product of our heavily processed food culture and that it is the food industry that stands to gain from selling specialized foods for people with food allergies or intolerances when it is, most likely, of their doing in the first place. The funny thing is that his diet seems very similar to the Paleo diet, a diet based on how the Paleolithic Man ate - a period which determined to a great extent how our organism has evolved - and one followed by many triathletes.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Thanks for following!

No, this is not the profile of one of the stages of the Tour de France. It is a graph of the number of hits my blog has been getting a month since its inception almost exactly one year ago. (By the way, the sharp drop off in November just reflects the fact that we have only just started the month.) Another milestone is that the blog has received more than 20,000 hits. So, thank you to everyone who has been following this blog, either publicly or from the sidelines. I get a big kick out of knowing that people are interested to read what I have to say because my wife and most of my friends are not. This blog has been an outlet for my obsessions much like deejaying was (will be again?) for my passion for music.

I thought this might be a good moment to link to some of my best and most popular posts over the last year, especially for those of you who are new around these parts.

Race reports
Maratón de San Sebastián 2010 - 3:07
San Silvestre Vallecana 2010
Media Maratón de Getafe 2011 - 1:23
Lisbon International Triathlon (Half Ironman) 2011 - 4:44
Ironman Brazil (Florianópilis) 2011 - 10:45
Lake Merced (San Francisco) 2011
Media Maratón de Valladolid 2011 - 1:22

Usung heroes
Graeme Obree
Chrissie Wellington
Kilian Journet
Pertti Karpinnen
Andy Holmes
Marc Herremans

Soft Star Original Run Amoc LITE Review
The quest for the ultimate all-round minimalist running shoe
Kids and running
The Imelda Marcos of Triathlon

Running technique
Running Technique #1
Running Technique #2
Running up and down hills
Treadmill versus road: To lean or not to lean? 
Keep those knees up boy!
You gotta have rhythm
Compact arm swing


Epilogue (post Ironman Brazil)
I'm back with a vengeance
Tempting fate
Time management
A week during my Ironman preparation
Top triathlon iPhone apps
Home gym
Nutrition plan for Lisbon Half Ironman
Master class

Less than a month to go...

Now I have my training worked out until the Marathon itself on the 27th (assuming everything goes to plan, of course). It doesn't look like much of a taper but there is a slight increase in intensity in exchange for less volume. I estimate that the Marathon itself is worth about 450 "ECOs" (similar to TRIMPs, or TRaining IMPulses) which means that the overall load of the last week is similar to the load I have been under over the last few weeks.

Between now and then, I have a couple of key workouts which I really need to make sure I hit feeling good and raring to go. The first is this Sunday and consists of a 35 kilometer run (the longest run I will have ever done in training) 16 kilometers of which I am to run at Marathon pace. Given that the conditions will be different to the flat, sea level course in Valencia, I have to decide whether to run those 16 kilometers at my projected (hoped for) pace of 4:15 per kilometer and see what happens to my heart rate or to run according to the heart rate I expect to run those kilometers of the Marathon at, and see what kind of speed I am able to get out of my legs. The other key workout is the following Sunday and is a Half Marathon run at Marathon pace (which sounds positively easy compared to the 35 kilometer run). There are also mid week sessions of series run at my anaerobic threshold which also start to look relatively easy.