Sunday, October 28, 2012

NY Marathon Week 8/9

Week 8. Objective ECOs 400, actual ECOs 459

Here you can see how my training intensity has been over the weeks
As usual, the tapering weeks I start to get nervous or to "eat my coconut" as they say in Spanish (comerse el coco). I dreamt last night (I won't call it a nightmare exactly) that I got lost somewhere in the middle of the Marathon and eventually just gave up and went home as everyone else had already finished. It's not the first time I have had this dream and I find it striking that, of all the things that can go wrong in a Marathon, I should be subconsciously worried about getting lost - something not even the first place runner has to think about as he just follows the motorbike nor something that the stragglers at the back have to worry about as they are being chased by the car that marks the cut off time.

I also have to be a bit more careful about what I eat, at least up until the final few days when I will stock up on carbohydrates as Marathon tradition dictates.

Instead of commuting into work on the bike I thought I would get back on the triathlon bike and give it a spin on the turbo trainer. I always like to have a new objective in mind (in this case, Lisbon International Triathlon in May next year) before my current one is completed so that I avoid being "aimless" and the anticlimax that comes with it. I've been reading a book by Graeme Obree on cycling training lately. While it has some pretty original ideas as you would expect from the man who invented not just one but two different cycling positions in order to break the hour record, it also gets across quite how obsessive and attentive to details one must be to break the hour record. It is written in a very conversational style and I can't help feeling a little like friends of mine must feel when I start banging on to them about the benefits of running with minimalist shoes. You know that you are at best overloading them with information and at worst boring them to tears but you find you can't stop - it isn't acceptable for others to only know half the story, they must know all the details. So the chapter on how to set up your turbo trainer in such a way that the results are repeatable and your micro improvements from training are measurable is detailed to say the least. Sorry to disappoint you Graeme, but I took away the just the bit that I can be bothered with and that is to buy a bike computer that can be attached to the back wheel (as opposed to the front) and to make sure that I always use the same resistance on the trainer and pump up my tires to the same PSI. The bike computer has to be a wired one rather than a wireless one, otherwise the signal isn't strong enough to get from the back fork to the handlebars so unless you want to have to look under your crotch to see how fast you are going... In fact, the wire is only just long enough if I don't force it to follow the frame of the bike. I found it quite tiring as usual to maintain the triathlon position but, after my disappointing struggle with a piece of carbon to raise the handlebars, I'm determined to adapt to it through training. I'm not even sure that raising the handlebars would help very much. Another option worth thinking about is shortening my cranks. If you shorten the crank by 5 mm, for example, you would have to raise your seat by the same amount (because your foot is further off the ground at the bottom of the stroke) but your knee would come up a total of 10 mm less close to your body (because your foot is 5 mm further away at the top of the stroke). In short, there is a "double whammy" effect which means that you have a more open hip angle which is more effective. As this article points out, it is not a question of optimising just the lever of the cranks which are only a part of the whole system, but the leverage of the whole system - and this includes your knees as well as your gears. It is certainly true that my thighs come right up to my stomach (when I am breathing in) so I could perhaps benefit from a more open hip angle but, to be honest, the cost and hassle of experimenting with the crank length make me feel very lazy to do so...

Where was I? See how bikes and an obsessive nature are a dangerous combination? That's another trait that I tend to have in the tapering weeks: obsession.

So I did my last series on Wednesday evening - 10 lots of 1 km at 17.5 kph (this time while watching Hunger, which turned out to be a bit slow paced to take my mind off my own pain). To achieve this speed I have to set my treadmill to the maximum speed of 18 kph. I'm not sure whether it is because it is running at its limit and has some kind of safety valve or whether my profuse sweating causes a short circuit (as happened a couple of weeks ago) but, a couple of times during my workout, all the numbers on the LED panel turned into flickering 8s and the machine stopped abruptly. When you are running at these kind of speeds while watching a film, this can be quite dangerous!!

I decided to run a Half Marathon on Sunday at Marathon pace as a rehearsal for next Sunday, partly to get a feel for running with that rhythm and partly to see what kind of form I am in. Of course, it is a little hard to say what "Marathon pace" means if you don't intend to maintain it for the marathon distance. I run to the heart rate which I know I can maintain during a Marathon or, to be more precise, the heart rate that corresponds to a rhythm which I know I can maintain during a Marathon (because the heart rate inevitably goes up in the last third). For me, this is 163 bpm.

I chose Fuenlabrada Half Marathon mainly because it was the only Half Marathon near Madrid. So it wasn't too surprising to see several people I knew from work, some from the Universidad de Europa (where I used to train) as well as the guys (Santi and Jaime) who accompanied me in my quest in Seville to break 3 hours in the Marathon earlier this year. I also met a friend of theirs - Jesús - who is also running the New York Marathon and seems to be about the same speed as me (although one thing is that we ran neck and neck most of the way in a race with 1,000 participants, another will be to try to find him amongst 47,000 runners!). Just as well that my Blackberry automatically adjusted for the clocks going back otherwise I would have arrived an hour too early and been quite fed up by the time the race actually started at 9:30.

It was a perfect day for running - the temperatures had dropped some 7-8 degrees from the night before but it was bright and sunny. I didn't know what to wear so I took a vest, a short sleeved t-shirt as well as a long sleeved Goretex top: in the end I ran in the vest and didn't feel the cold at all. I tried to keep as close to my magic 163 bpm the whole way which meant that, on the uphill sections, Santi and Jesus would extend their lead on me and, on the downhill sections, I would creep past them. On the race organizer's website it looked like quite a flat course; in reality it was fairly hilly which served to break up the boredom but it also broke up the rhythm. Hopefully the profile of the course was not too dissimilar to the New York one in this respect and the temperature will be, I imagine, about the same. I didn't really look at my watch at all other than to read my heart rate so I had no idea at what pace we were running, but I could tell it was fairly brisk, especially when I passed the 10k mark in a smidgeon over 40 minutes. From a cardiovascular point of view, it didn't feel particularly taxing and my heart rate didn't drift upwards at all which seems to confirm that it was an appropriate rhythm, but it did feel quite tiring on the legs. I don't think it would be wise to run at this speed in New York, especially as my goal is to run well and enjoy the route and the atmosphere, but not to beat my best time. The last 400m or so were around the running track so I couldn't resist sprinting at the end. The overall time? 1:23:48 and I was 21st in my category! This doesn't mean I can or should try to run the Marathon in 2:48 but it does confirm that my training has gone very well and that all that is left now is to put it into practice.

To give some idea, this is a comparison with the Half Marathon I ran almost exactly a year ago, also at Marathon pace (only that time the Marathon I did in Valencia was somewhat disappointing, as I was harbouring a virus past to me by my eldest son - this time my youngest has a virus so fingers crossed that I don't get that one!):

As far as the Marathon itself goes, I've been reading reports that the worst storm to hit the northeast coast of the US - potentially stronger than Irene that left New Orleans devastated - is heading towards New York as I write this. There is a possibility that 400,000 people living there will be evacuated and that the subway will be closed (for the second time in history).

The Marathon course takes us through a lot of those red areas...
Sometimes these reports are overblown because a bit of drama is what makes people read newspapers that, lately, have been all doom and gloom. It looks like "Sandy" - as they are calling it - will have moved on by the time the Marathon hits the streets of New York next Sunday but it might cause some disruption and delays in flights I suppose, if there is a backlog of people who were unable to fly earlier in the week. I can't help thinking of the time I got stuck in London because of the ash spewing out of a volcano in Iceland, when I very nearly missed the Lisbon Half Ironman I had been preparing (my first). Just before the full Ironman in Brazil last year there was a similar warning.


  1. Go get that marathon done. Do you use strava?

    1. Thanks! I will do...

      I don't use Strava... but I will be posting details of how you can follow my progress blow by blow shortly (if you can be bothered!).