Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Lesson 1: High elbow during the catch (Early Vertical Forearm)

I promised I would write some more about swimming, so here goes.

I had my first swimming lesson in a long while today. According to Luis, my swimming coach, I've improved a lot in the last couple of years which is always nice to hear. I keep my body in a nice straight line and don't scissor kick (so much) any more. So today we worked on some other aspects, namely the pull.

I normally pull myself through the water by reaching down to the bottom of the pool in a circular movement, much like a water turbine. What I should be doing is keeping my elbows up, anchoring my hand always in the same horizontal plane and lifting my body past my hand. The exercises we did were based on accentuating the "catch" by tilting the hand downwards at the wrist and then pulling directly backwards; hand paddles helped to make it even more explicit. I definitely noticed that I was more effective at transmitting my work into forward movement which is, I suppose, what it is all about. When I was doing it right, my forearms were vertical during the pull. This way, the forearm as well as the hand act together as a bigger paddle.

I always have troubles keeping my elbows up both in the water as well as during the recovery. I guess that it feels more natural or even efficient to be lazy about it. If one imagines being a soldier hauling himself through a tunnel just wide enough for his head and shoulders to fit through then it seems obvious why the position of the elbows is important (I expect this is why the style is called "crawl"... doh!). Swimming is all about making your profile as small as possible (with the added difficulty that you haven't got a floor to grab or to support you).

Of course, you should know by now that I have a gizmo to help me with keeping the elbows up. I actually bought it ages ago thinking that it would help keep my elbows up during the recovery, but I think the idea is actually to keep your elbows up during the pull. You wrap these weird looking things (mine are in Japanese to add to the weirdness factor) around your arms and find that, if you don't keep your elbows up, they fall off. Maybe I will dig them out again.
I remember this whole subject coming up in my Total Immersion class, just under two years ago. We were encouraged instead to put the arm in the water already pointing down at about 30 degrees so that it was already primed to "catch" the water and to help keep the hips up. We were told that keeping the elbow high during the catch (the Early Vertical Forearm or EVF) was something only elite swimmers could do effectively without getting injured... I found a whole discussion of the Total Immersion take on the Early Vertical Forearm here.

I get the feeling that there is no one single school of swimming technique that gets it all right: I think I am going to have to mix and match. If I can just get that feeling of working together with the water rather than against it, I might actually end up liking swimming...

Monday, February 27, 2012


As you can imagine, I was a little stiff for a few days after the Marathon, having to walk downstairs one step at a time, etc. Whenever I read articles in running magazines about what to do after a Marathon and how to "recover", I thought "I don't care about what happens after". But I've started to think of it more in terms of "adaptation" instead of "recovery": that is, your body has to rebuild itself after the damage inflicted and hopefully does so in a way that is better suited for future battles (the training effect). Thought of in those terms, you might as well try to reap as much of a reward for the hard work as possible.

The day after I decided to do a really light swim for 15 minutes, pedal easy for another 15 and walk on the treadmill with an incline for the last 15 minutes. Just enough to keep the legs moving but without any chance of inflicting further damage. On Tuesday I did 45 minutes on a spinning bike and 60 minutes on Wednesday. On Thursday I thought it might be a good idea to do some weights. When I am training normally, the pattern seems to be speed-weights-speed-long-weights. Even though you often feel stiff after weights (usually 48 hours after), it seems more of a recovery session - or should I say "adaptation session". I often feel tired going into the weights session but feel less so the next day. I like to think that the muscles are ready to rebuild themselves after a speed session and the weights remind them to build themselves strong. It's probably a load of crap but there may be some truth in there somewhere. Anyway, the weights session was good and I was able to run for an hour the next day without any problems. At the weekend I went for a 2 hour ride on the tri bike.

More than physical recovery, it has been mental recovery. I've enjoyed a week of making up my training as I go along and eating (and drinking) without worrying too much about my weight. Amazingly, the day after the Marathon I was several kilos heavier than I had been in the run up (must be all that pasta) so now, you can imagine... Anyway, I think it is good to start a new training cycle with a bit of excess weight: in the end, I'm sure it helps maintain energy levels and avoid injury. In any case, my body has to "reconfigure" itself for the triathlon. After all these months of focusing on the Marathon, the modest arm muscles I grew for the Ironman have fallen off.

Now I am just waiting for my training program to take me through to the Half Ironman in Marbella on the 15th of April.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What now?

I sort of feel as though another chapter has been closed: first there was the Ironman and then there was "breaking 3 hours in the Marathon". So much so, that I sent my second volume of blog posts off to Blog2Print to be converted into another book.

I was thinking about what I said the other day about tending to chip away at what I am worst at and I realized that it wasn't completely true. What I am worst at is swimming. There is a kind of barrier for me, below which I am just not even interested in trying to get better, I am so bad. You can only do so many things in life so you have to draw the line somewhere. I'd love to be able to play the drums, for example, but I've never got above that barrier to entry. In the Marathon I very nearly got stuck there, at one Marathon at just under 4 hours. It was the challenge of the Ironman that contextualized the Marathon and made it seem an attainable goal.

Swimming, on the other hand, is just above learning to ski on my scale of things to master. I can see that it must be great fun to be able to ski well, but I can't be bothered to go through the "being crap at it" bit, during which it really doesn't seem so much fun to me: I liked it more when I was completely out of control. I should be good at swimming because I have good aerobic fitness, I am tall and I have big hands and feet. I can even learn good technique if I put my mind to it (as I did in rowing). I just have to want to.

A friend of mine commented that I rarely, if ever, post anything about swimming. It is a third of a triathlon, after all. On the one hand, the benefit of swimming faster in the scheme of an Ironman or even a Half Ironman is marginal at best but, it has to be noted that almost all of the best triathletes started off as swimmers. Perhaps that answers to some extent the original question that prompted the creation of the Ironman event: who is fitter - the best runner, the best cyclist or the best swimmer?

So I'm thinking that I might try to make swimming faster my next goal. The next competition I have lined up is ICAN Marbella Half Ironman in April. I'd like to turn up in good enough shape to comfortably finish it and to put my new bike through its paces, but I don't care about beating my best Half Ironman time (which I did on a much flatter course). Rather than plough up and down the swimming pool on my own, doing exercises the point of which I don't appreciate and no doubt am doing incorrectly, I thought I would focus on technique and do all my swimming sessions with a swimming coach present. I'm lucky enough that my work has a gym with a swimming pool and good coaches available, so I should really take advantage. I've long been jealous of those people who seem to effortlessly glide up and down the pool so why not try to be one of those people?

I promise to post more on swimming as I find out more...

Some photos from Seville Marathon

Monday, February 20, 2012

Seville Marathon post mortem

As you can see I was 50th in my age group (I would have been 20th if I had been born just two months and a day earlier) and in the top 200 overall out of 5,500. Not bad!

Here you can see how my Marathon times have been improving. To make it a little bit more realistic, I've added in a dotted line to show what my expectations at the time were. The disappointments and surprises have got smaller and my overall time has got faster.

The dotted line is what I was aiming for; the solid line is what I achieved
I didn't go by GPS during the race but it is a reasonably good tool for post race analysis. I've plotted two graphs here: one is of my average heart rate per kilometer (against the theoretical optimum) and the other of my average pace per kilometer. To conserve brain power, I decided to follow a very simple strategy in the race. I ran the first half keeping my pulse as close to 163 bpm as I could and then I tried to maintain the same pace for the second half, knowing that my pulse rate would naturally climb as a result of fatigue. What is interesting to see is that my pace started to go a bit off the boil in the second half and in just the same places where my heart rate was a bit below the theoretical limit. Once I decided to grit my teeth for the final 7 kilometers, my pace started increasing every kilometer as did my heart rate over the theoretical limit.

Now this theoretical limit is based on my maximum pulse rate (191) and statistics gathered by my trainer from optimal (personal best) performances of hundreds of runners. Alternatively, you can base the same analysis relative to the anaerobic threshold which, in my case, is at 178 bpm. This paints a different picture as you can see below.

So I think there are two potential sources for a little improvement. The first is to go back to running to my heart rate in the second half of the Marathon, as it is a more reliable (and immediate) guide than pace. The second is that, while I don't know if I could realistically maintain 169 bpm for the first half of the Marathon without paying for it dearly in the second, given the way I finished the race yesterday, the graph above does make it look as though there is some margin to push a bit harder a bit earlier. I can't say that I could have run the last bit of the race much faster but the fact that I held it together and was able to work at that cardiovascular level without any muscular problems gives me the confidence to think about "starting the race" earlier than 7 kilometers before the end.

Article on Minimalist Running Shoes in SporTraining

The article I wrote on Minimalist Running Shoes will be out any day now, in the latest edition of SporTraining. What could be better than to have one of my heroes on the front cover.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Seville Marathon 2012 / Maratón de Sevilla 2012 - race report

The hotel was surprisingly quiet at 6:30 when I went down for breakfast. I had what I usually have for breakfast plus a couple of gels and a red bull for good measure... It doesn't make sense to me to eat something "special" on race day. I had time to go back to my room and watch an episode of The Wire before going down to meet my friends. I started to get slightly worried when I realized that they were still faffing about with their bags with only ten minutes to go before the start, so I took my last couple of pre-race gels and started running on the spot to warm up. It turned out that the Marathon was actually starting at half past nine, half an hour later than I had thought! Even so, I didn't really get much of a chance to warm up and we had to fight a little to squeeze in near the front of the start. In the end, the start was so chaotic that I lost all contact with the others so might just have well done my own thing!

The first couple of kilometers were a bit fraught but I figured that there were plenty left to be able to make up some lost time. I concentrated on keeping my heart rate at the magic 163 bpm level for the first half of the race. This got me to the halfway point in a time of 1:27. It was nice, for once, to know that the balloon marking the 3:00 Marathon pace was safely behind me. The first half went by almost without incident but, just as I passed the 14 km marker, I felt a worrying twinge in my right hamstring. It had been bothering me ever so slightly in the last few training sessions and I thought "OK, so you are going to be the f€&@er that bites me at 35 km". I decided not to waste precious mental energy thinking about it until then.

I felt pretty good at the Half Marathon point considering I had 21 km at about 4:05 per km in my legs. I thought to myself that this second half would only hurt as much as a stand-alone Half Marathon. Then something unexpected happened: I caught up with David Serrano. Serrano was debuting in the Marathon but there were high hopes for him to run a fast time (sub 2:50). He told me that he had already hit a bit of a wall and that he was going to play it safe. I wish I had been that sensible the first time I ran a Marathon: it is too much to ask to be able to run what you are capable of on the first attempt. I decided to press on at my own pace - when I slowed at the 35 km mark, perhaps David would be there to help pull me along. I took heed from what he said and decided to run the second half a little more conservatively, just in case. I never really found a group to run with and I am really picky about who I tail: not too slow, not too bouncy, not too heavy footed. I found one guy whose rhythm I liked but he seemed to find my presence behind him annoying as he started weaving from side to side, as if we were in contention for a place on the podium. Once my heart rate had steadied I made a push and left him behind (I would have been a good wind break for him, had he kept up).

Kilometer 35 was approaching and this time I was ready for whatever kind of obstacle it was going to serve me up. I thought that this was going to hurt as much as a flat out 7 km race and switched to my locomotive breathing style. I don't know how fast I was running because I had stopped pressing the lap button on my watch and I didn't even care to know what my pulse rate at this point was. I didn't even care too much what time I did, I just wanted to get it over with as soon as possible. I remembered a phrase the taxi driver the night before had said, "Para presumir, hay que sufrir" - "In order to boast, you have to suffer".

By this point in the race, it was showing 18 degrees on the thermometers. Even so, I had almost enough to drink with my two little bottles of isogels - I only took a small cup of Aquarius (pronounced here "Aquario") on two occasions. I didn't need any salt tablets or a mega carbo-load before as it turned out. Good to know for next time.

My pulse started to creep up an my breathing became more labored but muscularly I felt on top of the situation. I was passing a steady stream of people and working out in my head that all that was left was the equivalent of one series of 15 minutes at my anaerobic threshold and so on.

Finally, we entered the stadium and all that was left was half a victory lap an then my prize: a sub 3 hour finish time. As the clock came into view I realized that I could get just under 2:55 so I made a final effort and then it was over. Very chuffed with the result. More than the time, it was the satisfaction of a perfectly executed training plan and race strategy: in the end the second half was only a minute slower than the first.

Sitting outside on the grass, waiting for the others, I inspected the damage. My feet looked okay and the Compeed plaster - although it had stuck to the sock - had protected my foot from the beating. Practically no blisters, just a cut on a toe from a neighboring toenail was all.

Back in the hotel, I went for lunch in the restaurant with views of the finish line. I found it inspiring to watch all these people, each with their own story, their own suffering and their own supporters, struggling past. Now I feel I have tamed the Marathon (for now) I can see the beauty of it.

Limping with both legs

2:54 in Seville Marathon! Broken 3 hours at long bloody last! Race report to follow soon...

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Seville Marathon 2012 pre-race report

I've been continuing to get blisters on my foot this week, even after running only 30 minutes, so I decided to take action, risky action. The problem seemed to be coming from an island of hard skin that was causing the neighboring skin to ruck up. I decided to do something that is not usually advisable two days before a Marathon: I peeled it off. The skin underneath was too virgin to stand up to the rigors of a full Marathon, so I stuck a Compeed plaster on top and - touch wood - it seems to be holding up.

The logistics of this Marathon couldn't be easier. Seville is just a couple of hours away from Madrid by train - I took it as a good omen that the train departed from platform 7 and my seat was 7a in car 7. My hotel is actually in the Olympic stadium where the race finishes (although it would have been nice at the price I'm paying if they had reserved the room with a view of the track as I had asked for...). Just as I was checking in, a group of huge guys in sports kit came in - I thought, these guys don't look like Marathon runners. In fact, they weren't, they were a rowing crew from Czechoslovakia.

The expo, just around the corner (if the girl in reception hadn't sent me the opposite way round the outside of the stadium!), is noticeably more "cutre" (naff) than the one in Valencia. I bought some Wright socks which will hopefully put an end to this nonsense with the blisters (don't worry, I won't wear them for the first time in the Marathon!). Annoyingly, the t-shirts in my size had already gone - after 27 editions, you'd think they would have worked out the system of asking people to specify their size in the inscription form. In fact, as it is a vest rather than a t-shirt, medium may be a better size for me after all.

Anyways, it's all about the race tomorrow, these are just details but they are the sort of thing that make the difference between people choosing to run one Marathon or another. I hope the event itself is a little more professional.

So now I'm off to meet my recently acquired friends for the Last Supper of pasta (which I won't be eating again for a while). Then it's bed and... Well, you just have to log in again tomorrow to see how it went; I have to do this thing!

Friday, February 17, 2012

A day off

As the kids are off school for half term, I thought I would take a day off work to spend some time with them (and to tear them away from the telly). For most other kids in Spain, half term doesn't exist, so it was a good opportunity to hit the slopes just north of Madrid, which are normally so crowded at weekends it's a wonder why anyone bothers going there at all. We spent most of the afternoon sledging and I began to get quite tired from schlepping up the hill and from the thinner air at altitude (about 1,800 meters). Still, it was probably good training.

While I was driving home I remembered an episode from my training for a Half Ironman in 2010. It made me realize just how crazy I was, all the more so for not thinking much of it at the time. We had a long weekend break in las Palmas (in fact, it was while we were there that I learned of my friend Neil's death). Determined to stick to my training one morning while my wife was working, I hired a bike-rickshaw and set off with the kids on the back seat and me pedaling at CEXT (pulse rate of 123 bpm). You can imagine that we were going along quite a lot faster than those bikes are really designed to go. At first it was fun, I suppose, and we were all laughing. But at some point, the top corner of the rickshaw frame caught a low hanging tree and stopped us dead in our tracks - my eldest son banged himself on the saddle and got a nasty shock. If that wasn't enough, I got into a game of chicken with a hoodie on a BMX and ended up in a swearing match with him which he sensibly backed out of, pointing out that my behaviour wasn't appropriate in front of the kids.

Reading back over what I've just written makes me feel quite embarrassed about it and I very nearly deleted the whole post. I've come to realize that if you have to make that sort of effort or sacrifice to squeeze your training in, it isn't worth it. The problem I find is that it is easy to fall a little bit further into that trap each day without realizing it, rather like what happened to me some weeks ago when I got all stressed out about my training and decided to cut back. Now if I had some gadget which told me I was pushing it, I might actually listen.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Lactate test

What better way to spend the evening of Valentine's day than to do a lactate test? As last time, the protocol involved running 4 series of a kilometer around the track at a prescribed pace. Rather than relying on a GPS watch, the trick was to make sure I passed a cone every time the watch "beeped". The first two kilometers were run at 14 kph (conservative Marathon pace) and the second two were run at 15 kph (ambitious Marathon pace). Even if the numbers don't mean a lot to you (they don't to me), it is interesting to see the improvement since the test I did just prior to running Valencia Marathon:

Pre Valencia (November 2011)

Speed (kph) Lactate (mmol/L) Heart rate (bpm)

14 1.7 155

14 1.7 158

15 2.7 167

15 2.9 166

Pre Seville (February 2011)

Speed (kph) Lactate (mmol/L) Heart rate (bpm)

14 1.2 153

14 1.4 149

15 2.3 159

15 2.2 160

Pre Getafe (January 2011)

Speed (kph) Lactate (mmol/L) Heart rate (bpm)

15 3.2 158

15 2.2 159

16 3.9 166

16 4.4 170

 Just judging by my heart rate, there is a clear improvement: I ran the second set at 15 kph with virtually the same heart rate as the second set at 14 kph last time round. My lactate clearing abilities have also improved for what that's worth.

With all that, Jonathan reckons that I can aim for a pace somewhere between 4:05 and 4:10 per kilometer but that, in any case, I should keep a close eye on my heart rate.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Rest in Peace Sushi, you were a good dog. I tried to go running with you but you would pull me along for the first half and then I would have to pull you along for the second. You had a muscular physique that would put anyone but the fittest human being to shame and it was so sad to watch you waste away. You were so noble and never complained once for your suffering. This Marathon is for you.

Maratón de Sevilla 2012 / Seville Marathon 2012

Without wanting to sound like I'm blowing my own trumpet, I'd say that if I was asked in one of those typical job interview situations what my greatest strength was, I'd probably say that it is my determination. (Of course, they usually ask you what your greatest weakness is and there is always a way to make a weakness sound like a strength, like the classic "I'm a perfectionist". In the same way, being sheer bloody-minded has it's downsides too.)

The Marathon is not really my bag, my cup of tea, my "thing". You can see that just by looking at me. I've got the frame of a sprinter, not a long distance runner. I have more explosive power than endurance. I weigh too much. But I have a tendency to plug away at things I am (relatively) bad at, the idea being that it will help me be even better at the things I am much better at. In my Maths degree I found functional analysis baffling so I took the advanced course (which I struggled even more to understand) and, in the end, I got my best scores on the functional analysis paper.

After my first Marathon I said "Never again"; the second one was a complete surprise running the second half 7 minutes faster than the first; the third was again a disappointment (not counting the Ironman Marathon). There seems to be a oscillatory pattern developing here. I've come to realize that I needn't expect a complete meltdown (like in my first Marathon) nor is it realistic to expect that I will fly to the finish line without a hitch along the way. A friend summarized it in the best way I have seen:

"Running a Marathon is about enjoying X kilometers and suffering the last 42.195 - X kilometers as little as possible; training for a Marathon is about maximizing that X"

Unlike the last Marathon I ran (in Valencia), I am not going into this one expecting that I won't have to fight like a demon at some point (hopefully close to the end). I may lose a minute or two but, as my experience in Valencia showed me, once the finish line was psychologically in view, I was able to increase my speed again. They say the Marathon is 90% mental and this is what they mean by it. I didn't hit a wall - or at least not a hypoglycemic wall - but the central governor in my brain simply decided that enough was enough and that I had better have a good reason to say otherwise. That time I didn't, not until I realized that I was still able to get a personal best time even if it was no longer possible to break the three hour barrier. This time I want to make sure I have a damn good reason and be ready to state my case when the time comes to negotiate. I've come across several accounts of Marathons which don't appear to tell much of a story when you look at the splits - perhaps the second half was only a couple of minutes slower than the first half - but when you read the chronicle, you realize that most people have to struggle at some point. Arguably, if you don't then you simply didn't run it fast enough. The trick is to judge it exquisitely so that the struggle is one that you can win.

So I'm ready to fight! I'm also in the best shape I have been in for a while. My training has gone perfectly and I have surprised myself at how fast I have managed to run my series and some of my long runs. I have also learned that I will have to concentrate very hard to make sure my running technique is good for as long as possible and that I am keeping good pace. If I let my mind wander then I will become less efficient and I will start to run more slowly without even realizing. Where I am not going to invest my mental energy is in calculating how many gels I need to take in the carbo-loading phase (I am just going to eat lots of pasta) or how many salt tablets I am going to need (I'll just drink lots of Aquarius).

This Marathon is going to be mental.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Blistering barnacles!

Yup, another picture of my foot, I'm afraid. That's a "Finding Nemo" plaster, by the way, so you can pretty much work out that we don't use plasters of that size very often in our household. This blister is really proving to be a pain in the foot. I think that what is happening is that, as one blister dries out and becomes a patch of hard skin, it causes the neighbouring soft skin to bunch up while I run, causing another adjacent blister. It's been nearly two week's of lancing and draining the blister and then drying it out with talcom powder. I'm starting to get a bit worried now as the Marathon is just round the corner. The blister itself isn't a problem as such: I'm more worried about subtle changes to my running gait that can occur even subconsciously in an attempt to protect the sore spot - I've already noticed a slight strain in the tendons of my other foot, no doubt due to compensating.

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you'll know by now that I always get some silly little worry into my head in the days running up to a big event like a Marathon. Not wanting to tempt fate, I'd say I'm more relaxed about this one than any other I have run - for example, I just realized I have run out of salt tablets and it's probably not going to be possible to get any before the race. My reaction? Bah, they probably are just a placebo anyway - when was the last time I got cramps? In any case it won't be very hot in Seville. So you see, I'm quietly confident but it would be nice just to know that the skin on my foot will hold out for the 42 kilometers.


I found out at the weekend that my favourite restaurant is closing. Juan, the owner, is retiring and with him goes the restaurant. My only hope is that Antonio, his long serving second in command, will be able to come up with something that is even just close, in the new restaurant he is opening round the corner.

As its name indicates ("Gamboteca"), it's all about the prawns... Of course there are other things on the menu, but the typical thing to order is a starter of grilled prawns and prawns al ajillo (deep fried in oil with garlic and chilli) and then to have slices of tenderloin which you cook yourself on a sizzling hot plate. Very simple but very delicious... The key is in the freshness of the ingredients which, as they do an almost wholesale trade in prawns and beef, you can be sure that what you are eating has not been near a freezer.

This is something I often ask my English friends: you see two restaurants, side by side, one has a long, elaborate menu and the other has only three or four items. Which do you choose? Most of my friends go for the one with more variety. But if you choose prawns from that menu, say, then how likely is it that those prawns have had to be frozen? How can they possibly anticipate that you are going to choose prawns that day, out of all the things on the menu? It's either that, or throw the unordered prawns out every night, which makes them very expensive. Which brings me to one of my gripes about food in the UK: prawns are considered to be expensive for this reason - but the thing that gets me is that they are thought of as a kind of "elite food" like caviar and so are just simply expensive whether or not they are fresh. Far better, in my opinion, to go to a restaurant that does a few things and does them well. In fact, I think the whole idea of ordering is bizarre: much better to just let the chef decide, as would be the case if you went to dinner at a friend's house. When I order in a restaurant, I think about how they are able to offer the food on the menu - are we far from the sea? Do enough people order for them to cover their costs? Are those fruits in season? Are they using sauces to hide the freshness of the food?

Unfortunately, the whole organic food movement has had a counterproductive consequence in that, in order to obtain organic food, it may be necessary to have it shipped from far away. Having said that, things are getting better. I've noticed in my recent trips back to London that there is a trend towards locally produced food, in season. On the other hand, probably the best (and most expensive) restaurant that I have been to in New York (Milos) has to go to the lengths of writing an essay in the menu to explain that, just because the food is simply prepared, it doesn't mean it isn't worth the shedload of dollars you are dropping on it. At the end of the day, food gets better as people's understanding of it gets better. It's a cultural thing.

There are so many good places to eat in Spain but Gamboteca will be missed. Not only is the food so good, but the service is how it should be. Only the second time we went, Juan recognized us and welcomed us back. Considering he's been working there for 20 years, that's pretty impressive, not just as a feat of memory but because he cares. Being the owner, he could quite easily leave the mundane task of waiting the tables to someone else. There is a tendency to hold professionals (doctors, architects - probably not bankers any more) in higher esteem than waiters, taxi drivers or supermarket attendants. For me it is not so much a case of what someone does but whether he or she has pride in what they do. A number of years ago, shortly after having moved to Spain, I went to the supermarket to buy some cheese. I explained to the man on the cheese counter that I wanted it to make a fondue. He spent about twenty minutes adding a dash of cheese here, a sprinkling there, sifting the concoction, smelling it - like it was a work of art. I watched, transfixed by the spectacle of someone who so clearly enjoyed and took pride in his work. If you stop and think about it, it is actually something quite rare. They say we should follow our passions but most of us stumble somewhere along the way and make do with what we have. I admire those people, like Juan, who love what they do and transmit that to you by doing it.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Week 9 / 10

Hang on a minute, how can it be that time of the week already? Well, the fact is that my work is done now and there really are no more interesting (read "hard") workouts between now and the Seville Marathon a week on Sunday. It's a bit like organizing a wedding: on the day there is nothing you can do except cross your fingers, everything has already been set in motion. (As you may remember, I got married in Seville.)

I have to say that I rarely get DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) or "stiff muscles" these days but this week has been an exception. I think that the point of having the long run on Sunday following the hard series on Saturday was to make sure I ran on fatigued legs. In a Marathon, as your legs get tired, certain muscle fibers fatigue and you end up recruiting more and more muscle fibers to replace them. Normally we recruit only a fraction of all the available muscle fibers. So I think the idea is to make sure that I train these "fibers of last resort" before taking them out for a spin for the first time at the 35 km marker in the Marathon. It is also for this reason that it is important to do weights.

My weights sessions are carefully calculated not to make me bulk up but rather to increase my resistance. The number of sets, repetitions, the amount of weight and even the speed at which I lift and lower the weight are all meticulously prescribed. On Tuesday I did a session of 6 sets of 8 repetitions at 75% of my maximum - the maximum being what I could lift once and once only. To give you some idea, 75% is about as high as it goes (I seem to remember having done a session of 85% x 4 reps). In my case, this equates to a leg press of 260 kg, calf lifts of 87 kg, leg curl of 65 kg and leg extension of 98 kg. To work out these numbers it wasn't necessary to actually try to lift my maximum weight - instead a mathematical formula was used which relates weight to the maximum number of times it can be lifted to failure. It's only a formula, but my perception is that it is pretty spot on.

After my mega weights session I was even stiffer on Wednesday (particularly in the glutes which makes sitting down a bit of a pain, literally). Wednesday was The Last Hard Training Session Before The Marathon: two lots of 30 minutes at just below anaerobic threshold. As I had a work call at 9pm (a conference call with NY and Sydney!) I started the session quite late. When I train hard and late, I tend to go to sleep quite easily but then I wake up at around 2am with my mind buzzing with activity. Last night was no exception. I was very pleased with how the session went: Jonathan had said to "enjoy it" which might seem hard for anyone but a hardened runner to understand how anyone could "enjoy" running at 16 kph (16.5 kph according to the treadmill) for a total of an hour on the treadmill, but enjoy it I did. My pulse for the first half only got up to 165 bpm which is only a smidgeon above the pulse rate which I plan to maintain for the entire Marathon; in the second half, it crept up to 172 bpm by the end, still some way off my anaerobic threshold (178 bpm). It felt easy. Maybe it was helped by the fact that the heating is broken in the house so it was nice and cold. I've recently got hooked on The Wire so I watched an episode from the first series to take my mind off the discomfort. Although I am pleased to have found a solution to doing these series that, previously, I found very difficult to complete (too hot, too boring, too easy to stop), I have come to realize that there is an aspect I am not training by running them on the treadmill and that is the mental aspect. The treadmill forces you to keep up the pace and, as you get tired, you find yourself having to make a correspondingly greater effort. If you run outside, you have to concentrate on maintaining the same pace by being aware of how you are naturally slowing down over time. I noticed this last week in the third set of my three series of 20 minutes hard running: the sun had gone down and I was not aware that I was running significantly slower than the first two (and at too low a heart rate).

Without wanting to tempt fate, I have to say that the preparation for this Marathon has gone perfectly. The only "hiccough" (hiccup for American readers) was getting stressed out about having too much work work and too much training work. Here you can see how the training load has been over the last 9 weeks (bearing in mind that we are still halfway through the 9th week). The top bar chart represents the "objective load" or TRIMPs (TRaining IMPusles) equivalent, the middle bar chart is my "subjective load" based on my perception of each session and bottom chart shows how much time was spent in each zone (I = below aerobic threshold, III =  above anaerobic threshold and II = in between).

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

This is ridiculous...

I ran only 30 minutes today and, after getting showered and putting on my work shirt, I noticed spots of blood appearing... Runner's Nipple! After only 30 minutes!! Really, I thought I'd have grown out of this kind of thing by now...

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Week 8 / 10

I was in London for most of this week for a conference. It was really cold - to be honest, it is cold everywhere but, after getting used to the "dry" cold of Madrid, I find myself complaining about the cold getting into my bones, just as my (Spanish) wife used to when we lived in London.

I did my 3 lots of 20 minutes at just below my anaerobic threshold running round and round Regents park. The first two I did comfortably at over 16 kph but, by the last one, it was pitch black and very cold and I suppose it was harder to run as fast or know I was running as fast. When I got back to the hotel I noticed the red stripe - I think the last time I got "Runner's Nipple" must have been about three years ago. Maybe the cold was a contributing factor.

The next day I opted to run on the treadmill, the thought of braving the cold did not seem so appealing. Talk about going from the frying pan to the fire: it was stiflingly hot in the hotel gym and I had to lower my running speed again and again until I was only going along at 12 kph. This time I finished with new blisters on my foot - why is it always my left foot that suffers? Damn, it was a mistake to have peeled of the dead, hard skin the other day. How annoying to be having these kind of teething problems with only a couple of weeks to go until the Marathon! The only thing I could find in a pharmacy was something to soften hard skin when what I was looking for was something to harden soft skin.

On Friday I was supposed to do a medium long bike ride but I didn't think belting along on a Boris bike without a helmet would be a good idea, so I changed it for a 90 minute run. Again, I was struck by the prominence of cycling in the UK: the entire front page of The Times was dedicated to cycling safely (a reporter is still in a coma after a bike accident). After the sauna of the night before I headed out of the door and ran to Brent Cross and back, via Camden, Swiss Cottage and West Hampstead. There were patches of ice on the pavement which you had to look out for as well as the usual kids on scooters and people listening to music while texting on their Blackberries. I hadn't packed any gloves but I had the brilliant idea of wearing a pair of socks on my hands - why not?

Before leaving for the airport on Saturday I managed to squeeze in a session of 10 one kilometer runs at 17 kph at my brother's gym. It's the sort of gym where most people go to build muscles so my huffing and puffing tends to attract quite a bit of attention: it's not the first time that I've ended up talking to someone as a result.

Every time I go to London, even just for a few days, I feel bloated, as if I am piling on the pounds (kilos). It may be partly due to having my expenses paid, or just simply that it breaks my routine but I think that my body continues to crave for some missing nutrient that has been processed out of the food and I just end up feeling hungry all the time. This whole myth about eating low fat foods in order to lose fat just means that the food is less satiating when really the only thing that really matters is how many calories you take in, be they from carbs, proteins or fat. Fat gets its bad name because it provides more calories per gramme but if you feel less full after a low fat yoghurt (with added sugar) then you tend to have another one. Anyway, for this Marathon I'm not being so religious about what I eat (or drink for that matter).

It was so cold on Sunday (now back in Madrid) that I ran in leggings for the first time in over a year. We did more or less the same route as last week with more or less the same group, extending it to make up the distance to 35 km. This time, though, we ran the last third at about 10 seconds per km slower than Marathon pace (i.e., fairly fast). After what has been quite a tough week - in particular, the series the day before which had depleted my energy stores - I found it quite tough during the last few kilometers. Afterwards I was hobbling around as if I had just run a Marathon. I suppose that was exactly the point of the training but it has certainly reminded me to respect the Marathon once more, after perhaps getting too cocky with my spectacular Half Marathon result the other day.