Monday, December 31, 2012


Just a quick message to wish you all a HAPPY NEW YEAR 2013!

...and to tell you that I achieved my goal in the San Silvestre - I got a PB by nearly a minute of 36:43. Race report to follow soon (next year).

Sunday, December 30, 2012

San Silvestre 2012 here I come!

My preparation has not been ideal (I still have that damn cold) but at least I've got the most important bit sorted - my outfit!

The international edition is televised so, if you are in Spain, look out for me on the telly!

Check in again just before we ring in the New Year for the results... Until then, good luck to everyone else taking part.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Bah humbug

I'm a bid fed up, I have to say. No sooner did I post that my training had been unaffected by my cold up until that moment in time, than I found my performance noticeably effected during what should have been an easy run. I decided to take the next day off training and to see what the doctor had to say. The good news is that it hasn't gone down into my lungs but I didn't get the go ahead to keep on training either. Unfortunately she seemed to be one of those doctors (who are more common in my experience) who is the opposite of holistic (separatist?). Of course, if I wrap myself up in a bubble and never leave the house, my cold will probably get better but I will also go mad. Specifically, she said that, as my nose was blocked, I would be breathing cold air into my lungs through my mouth and that could make things a good deal worse. When I suggested running indoors she simply said that it was up to me but if she were me, she would lay off all exercise...

Today I did exactly the opposite. I went to the gym to see how I would fare with the one quality workout I had planned for this week: 4-5 x 1,600m @ 16 kph + 4 x 200m @ 19 kph. Coming from the workouts I have been doing over the last few weeks, this should have been a doddle. The gym was fairly empty today, as you can imagine, so it wasn't quite as hot as it usually gets or, at least, I don't think it was. Even so, by the third set my heart rate was starting to go above my anaerobic threshold by the end; the same happened just two minutes into the fourth set, so I decided to cut it short (although I did finish the sets of 200m without problems). I could have struggled through but then I would have been doing a very different workout from the one I had planned - not a good idea only a few days before the race with a head cold. I could also have reduced the speed but I thought that this would just be demoralising and, after all, little I do now can positively effect my performance on Monday, only negatively.

The point is that, unless this cold clears up in the next few days, I think it is unlikely that I will be able to go for a personal best time. Of course I will try, anyway, but if I see that my pulse rate is getting too high too soon, I will have to make do with finishing in a reasonable time - with any luck, it will be less than 38 minutes, thereby qualifying me for next year's International San Silvestre.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Training plan for Seville Marathon 2013

I've been cobbling together various ideas from different sources: books, old training plans and personal experience. Here is a top down plan for the 8 weeks between San Silvestre and the Seville Marathon on the 24th February.

Top level
- I have 8 weeks to convert from being focussed on running a 10K race in around 37 minutes (3:40 pace) to running a Marathon in around 3 hours (4:10 pace).
- The weakness that showed up in the last Marathon (not for the first time) was a lack of muscular endurance in the (fast twitch) fibres that were recruited towards the end of the race. In retrospect, I think my biggest error was to do my long run on a Sunday after a day off on Saturday (for family reasons) and at too fast a pace.
- A strength has been an ability to tolerate reasonably high volumes of training without injury. I put this down to following a weights programme and having a fairly good running technique (with minimal footwear).

Several ideas I want to incorporate (inspired by Brad Hudson's book, the Hanson Method and Jack Daniel's Running Formula):
- Replace weights sessions with uphill sprints.
- Include "strides" or 200m - 400m intervals at high speed. I find this helps hone my running technique and makes it more efficient.
- Converge running fast at shorter distances (neuromuscular training) and running long distances at slower than Marathon pace (aerobic support training) to running longer distance at race pace (specific endurance). For example, series that become gradually longer and slower; tempo runs that become Marathon pace runs.
- Use the long runs for two different training purposes. Firstly, to increase glycogen stores, capillaries, fat burning etc. by running long and slow after a week of glycogen depleting exercise and possibly on an empty stomach. Secondly, to train the muscle fibres that get recruited at the end of a Marathon by training hard the evening before or by increasing the pace during the long run. I think that I can alternate between these two types of long run, perhaps limiting the second type more to the specific phase.
- Variety. There is a natural tendency to repeat workouts that you know you can do but there is a certain point beyond which the body will stop adapting to that particular stimulus: you reach a plateau. As well as new workouts I think it is effective to have variety in a single workout by playing around with different speeds (in fact, this is where the word fartlek comes from fart = speed, lek = play in Swedish).
- Include periodic tests such as 7 kilometres at Half Marathon heart rate (172 bpm), to see how I'm improving and what my limiters are (aerobic, neuromuscular, etc.).
- Be careful not to peak too early. Try cutting down the taper to only two weeks (after all, I'm only training 8 weeks all told!).

Quality, week by week (Long run on last day of the week)
31/12 Week #1 San Silvestre International 10K. Fartlek. Threshold run. Easy long run.
6/1 Week #2 Fartlek. Threshold test. Hard long run.
13/1 Week #3 Fartlek. Threshold run. Easy long depletion run.
20/1 Week #4 Getafe Half Marathon. Fartlek. Threshold run.
27/1 Week #5 Threshold run. Marathon pace run. Easy long depletion run.
3/2 Week #6 Peak week. Fartlek. Threshold test. Marathon pace run. Hard long run.
10/2 Week #7 Taper. Fartlek. Marathon pace run. Easy long depletion run.
17/2 Week #8 Taper and Seville Marathon. Marathon pace run.

The idea is that the training follows this progression, but the point is to be flexible and to change things along the way depending on how my body responds to the stimuli:

(Here I am assuming that my Marathon pace is around 4:00, my Half Marathon pace is around 3:45, my 10K pace around 3:40 and my 1,500m pace around 3:10)

Long runs
Week #1 25 km easy (4:40-5:00 pace)
Week #2 3 km easy + 22 km @ 4:20 + 3 km easy
Week #3 30 km easy (4:40-5:00 pace) on empty stomach
Week #4 -
Week #5 35 km easy (4:40-5:00 pace) on empty stomach with gel @ 30 km
Week #6 3 km easy + 24 km @ 4:10 + 5 km easy
Week #7 21 km easy (4:40-5:00 pace) on empty stomach
Week #8 -

Threshold runs
Week #1 2 x 15' @ 3:45 w/ 3' active recovery
Week #2 Test: warm up + 7 km (20 laps of track at work) @ 172 bpm
Week #3 3 x 15' @ 3:45 w/ 3' active recovery
Week #4 2 x 20' @ 3:45 w/ 3' active recovery
Week #5 15' @ 4:00, 15' @ 3:45, 15' @ 3:40 w/ no recovery
Week #6 Test: warm up + 7 km (20 laps of track at work) @ 172 bpm
Week #7 -
Week #8 -

Week #1 8 x 1 km @ 3:40 w/ 1' rest + 4 x 200m @ 3:10
Week #2 4 x 2 km @ 3:40 w/ 1' active recovery + 1 km @ 3:30 + 4 x 200m @ 3:10
Week #3 2 x Ladder 6'-5'-4'-3'-2'-1' @ 3:40 - 3:10 w/ 1' active recovery
Week #4 70' of 2' @ 3:45 + 3' easy
Week #5 -
Week #6 2 x Ladder 1'-2'-3'-2'-1'-2'-3' @ 3:40 - 3:10 w/ duration active recovery
Week #7 2 x Ladder 1'-2'-3'-2'-1'-2'-3' @ 3:40 - 3:10 w/ duration active recovery
Week #8 -

Marathon pace runs
Week #1 -
Week #2 -
Week #3 -
Week #4 -
Week #5 40' @ 4:00
Week #6 50' @ 4:00
Week #7 2 x 30' @ 4:00 w/ 1 km easy active recovery
Week #8 3 km easy + 30' @ 3:50 + 3 km easy

A typical week will be:
Monday - Rest
Tuesday - Easy run + Hill sprints
Wednesday - Fartlek
Thursday - Easy run / Rest
Friday - Threshold run
Saturday - Easy run / Marathon pace run
Sunday - Long run

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

San Silvestre Vallecana Internacional Week 4/5

First of all, Happy Christmas to everyone reading this (which, I suspect, will be nobody as you all have better things to be doing).

I'm now into my third week with this *^%$@ing cold. I can't say it has really impacted my training but it doesn't make running particularly pleasant and I'm starting to get a sore throat for the third time which, this time, looks like it might be accompanied by some swollen glands. I have to be especially cautious otherwise I'll not only jeopardise the San Silvestre race but - what is far worse - I'll be miserable company for New Year's Eve.

The only other threat to my performance has been in the way of a huge Christmas dinner with my in-laws in Ciudad Real and presents of a box of chocolates so big that it broke under its own weight and an assortment of "retro sweets". I am quite good at controlling what I eat as long as I don't have temptation placed right in front of me. When this happens I tend to go to the other extreme.

In terms of training, I gave myself a day off on Monday (not counting the 4 km run I did with the dog) and I let myself off the long run on Sunday, which became a slightly less long run the next day. I did do all three quality sessions, though:

Tuesday: 4 x 200m @ 19 kph + 3 x 1,000m @ 17.5 kph + 2 x 400m @ 19 kph
Thursday: 4 x 1,000m @ 16 kph + 6 x 200m @ 19 kph + 3,200m acceleration @ 15-17.5 kph
Saturday: 30" @ 16 kph

Friday, December 21, 2012

Santander por tu corazón - results

You may remember that some months ago I took part in an initiative at work in which I was subjected to extensive tests ranging from blood and urine to heart and diet. The upside for me is to detect any problems I might have while the aim of the project is to collect large amounts of data which can be correlated with future  occurrences of heart disease thereby improving methods of detection, which currently, are only able to spot a problem when it is already irreversible.

There wasn't anything especially worrying - not that I would post it here on my blog anyway! - but, as is always the case when you lift up the hood and start poking around in the engine, some little things that need checking usually pop up. This is why reports like this usually go in a sealed envelope to your doctor because what can seem like a life threatening condition from the description often turns out to be nothing more than a back-covering bit of medical legalese.

What is also typical is that a whole list of measurements are given - blood pressure, cholesterol levels, etc - along with a recommended range. The fact that my BMI (Body Mass Index) came out as 25.18 triggered an alert:

Your Body Mass Index is outside the normal recommended range by the World Health Organization. This indicates an excess of weight in relation to your height and can be due to an inadequate diet or a  lack of physical activity. Please pay special attention to the corresponding sections of this report and in particular the dietary and exercise recommendations.

OK, it's true that I was about 5 kilos heavier when this study was done, just after my holidays in Vietnam, but - come on - there's no way that anyone would say that I was overweight. The BMI is a very limited way of detecting obesity and only really works when it is patently obviously the case. Muscle weighs more than fat which can mean that athletes appear to be overweight. For example, track cycling Olympic Gold Medallist Sir Chris Hoy would be an authentic chubby checker if one was to go by his BMI of 27.2. Given that some people can develop eating disorders by becoming too obsessed with what they eat, I think this kind of advice has to be delivered with a bit more care. In any case, a good pair of callipers gives a much more reliable indication of the fat content of a person...

In a similar vein, the idea that I am consuming 43% more calories on average than recommended is very dubious based on the way that this number of calories was estimated (by asking me to think of what I normally eat) and I find it highly unlikely that I consume an average of 3,407 calories a day! According to this calculator, my basal metabolic rate should be around 1,826 calories a day (with no exercise) and about 2,831 calories a day to support the level of physical activity I engage in.

Talking of activity, I was interested to see what the results of having worn that blasted accelerometer for a whole week would show.

To put this in context, this is what I did that week and the moderate and vigorous activity that was recorded as a result:
Light (accelerometer) Vigorous (accelerometer) Light (perceived) Vigorous (perceived)
Wednesday 8x4" run @ 17 kph 35 30 0 32
Thursday 90" mountain bike 35 0 90 0
Friday 2x15" run @ 15.5-16.5 kph 55 30 0 30
Saturday 90" run @ 13 kph 50 80 45 45
Sunday 60" light mountain bike 30 0 60 0
Monday 60" run @ 13 kph 50 30 30 30
Tuesday 8x5" run @ 16.5-17 kph 70 40 0 40

I don't want to rubbish the report because I think it is a very worthwhile initiative and the information contained in it is very useful but I do think that it is important to deliver the messages with all the relevant disclaimers. Knowing what I do about my body fat, my activity levels and my calorie intake versus consumption, I realize how approximate the recommendations are. Unfortunately, this makes it much harder for me to take seriously the other recommendations in the report regarding cholesterol and so on. The main purpose of the study, of course, is to collect data on a massive scale so these kind of approximations will hopefully get averaged out. It does show just how difficult it is to objectively measure aspects of the human body and compile related statistics even in this day and age.

New York Resolution

Finally after much wrangling (presumably with their insurance company) the New York Road Runners have come out with their resolution to the cancelling of the New York Marathon in November. You can read the full text below but the bottom line is that you can either get your money back or get guaranteed entry to the New York Marathon in 2013, 2014 or 2015 (paying the $350 entry fee again).

I realized that I am a bit of a borderline case. The logical thing for me to do would be to ask for my money back and then get guaranteed entry via my Half Marathon time of 1:19:37 from the Getafe Half Marathon I ran  back in January. The thing is that, for 2013, the qualifying times are going to be more stringent. Interestingly, the New York Marathon website currently has no information about this but, earlier in the year they published this:

Guidelines for Guaranteed Entry: 2013 and Beyond

Qualifying with a fast marathon or half-marathon time. Runners who meet the following qualifying time standards in a half-marathon or marathon (results must be verifiable online) between January 1, 2012, and January 31, 2013:

1/2 Marathon

After feedback from our runners and careful review of tens of thousands of race performances from the last decade, we have revised the time-qualifying standards for guaranteed entry into the ING New York City Marathon 2013. We thank all our runners for their helpful input.

In the open group (aged less than 40) I would have to record a Half Marathon time of less than 1:19:00 to be admitted. But wait! I am now 40 years old so the time to beat is "only" 1:23:00! So now the question is, did I have to be 40 years old on the day of the Half Marathon or is it my age now (or, for that matter, my age on the day of the Marathon) that counts? So far I have only received a cryptic answer to this question and they have lead me to suspect that the qualifying times might change again. If it turns out that my 2012 Half Marathon time is good enough then, by the same sort of faulty accounting we often apply along the lines of "This new bike has been more than paid for by the petrol I have saved", it will be as though I actually won a prize of $350 when I crossed the line back in January.

On the other hand, it shouldn't be too difficult to do another Half Marathon in less than 1:23 and I have already put my name down for the 2013 Getafe Half Marathon which is between now and the 31st of January. The rub is that it is on the 27th of January this year and the deadline for choosing between refund and guaranteed entry is the 25th! It seems like I am surrounded in all directions and that I will have to take a calculated risk or pay the $350 again.

I think the options offered are fair enough and, while there will be a lot of grumbling about paying the entry fee again from those who go for option (2) - guaranteed entry - the fact is that anyone who runs the New York Marathon has got a certain amount of disposable income; if not, there is always option (1) - a full refund. I can't help feeling a bit frustrated, however, as I am so close to being able to get the best of both worlds: full refund and guaranteed entry for 2013...

UPDATE: I still haven't had an intelligible reply from NYRR on the age question but, judging by the qualifying times for the New York Half Marathon, it would seem as though the age is the age on the day of the qualifying race... In other words, the qualifying time I had for 2012 no longer applies and there won't be an opportunity for me to get another one before the deadline.

New York Road Runners: A Message About The Marathon

Dear Marathon Runners:

Thank you all for your patience during the last seven weeks as we have worked through issues related to the cancellation of the 2012 ING New York City Marathon. Hurricane Sandy was a devastating event for our city, and our thoughts and prayers remain with the victims and their families as they work to rebuild their homes and lives.
We are sorry that it has taken us longer to resolve these issues than we had originally hoped. We have been working to offer the best possible solutions in order to meet the needs of the many different groups associated with the Marathon.
Our goal was to offer a range of options to each of you so that you can choose which option works best for you.
All 2012 Marathoners may choose one of the following three options:
Option #1 - Refund. While NYRR has always had a no-refund policy for the Marathon, given these extraordinary circumstances, we are offering runners who were entered in the 2012 Marathon, and were unable to run due to the cancellation¹, the opportunity to obtain a full refund of their 2012 Marathon entry fee (excluding the $11 processing fee); OR
Option #2 – Guaranteed entry to the ING New York City Marathon for 2013, 2014, or 2015. Entrants in the 2012 Marathon who choose this option will be granted guaranteed entry to the Marathon for the year they choose. Runners will be required to pay all processing and entry fees at the time of application (in the given year), with fees maintained at the same rate as those paid in 2012; OR
Option #3 – Guaranteed entry to the NYC Half 2013. Entrants in the 2012 Marathon who choose this option will be granted guaranteed entry to the NYC Half 2013, to be run on March 17, 2013. Runners will be required to pay all processing and entry fees at the time of application. Availability will be limited.
¹ Applies to runners entered in the 2012 Marathon who had not cancelled prior to October 24, 2012.


All runners who signed up to run the 2012 Marathon on behalf of Team for Kids or one of the official ING New York City Marathon charities and obtained their entry from NYRR will be offered the same options. The fundraising you did in connection with the 2012 Marathon will entitle you to any of the options above. If your 2012 Marathon entry fee was paid through your charity partner, you will be contacted directly by your charity.


All international runners who gained entry to the 2012 Marathon as part of a travel package with an official ING New York City Marathon International Travel Partner will be contacted directly by their International Travel Partner representative to facilitate their options.
Ticket-holders for any of the following events will be offered a full refund:
Marathon Eve Dinner
Reserved Grandstand Seating
Blue Line Lounge Presented by Tata Consultancy Services
Marathon in a Motorcoach
TrackMyRunners™ via TXT
Those of you who were entered in the cancelled 2012 NYRR Dash to the Finish Line 5K will receive a separate e-mail outlining further details.


Individual e-mails will be sent to all runners on January 10, 2013, and information will be posted on the Marathon website, providing further details and terms and conditions for the obtaining of refunds and the choosing of an option. The option selection window will open on January 11, 2013, and you will have until January 25, 2013, to choose your option, so we ask that you please act quickly once you receive the instructional e-mail, as there will be no default option.
Please choose the option that works best for you. If you have any questions prior to receiving our instructional e-mail on January 10, please do not hesitate to contact NYRR customer service at
On behalf of all of us at NYRR, thank you for your patience and support. Our commitment is to work hard over the coming year to serve our runners and community and to return the ING New York City Marathon to being our city's best day.
Yours in running,
Mary Wittenberg
President and CEO

Sunday, December 16, 2012

San Silvestre Vallecana Internacional Week 3/5

My cold did go south in the end and I slept like crap on Monday night because of a sore throat. I decided during the night that I would not train the next day but I took my kit along to work anyway, just in case. Digging around in the vast source of information more commonly known as the internet, I discovered that it was generally accepted that while a head cold was just that - a cold in your head with symptoms no lower than your shoulders and without accompanying temperature or swollen gland - it was OK to train light. Training heavily, however could put my immune system on hold leaving me open to an incursion into my lungs.

Sod that. I went ahead and did my tough workout of 4 x 200m @ 19kph + 3 x 1,000m @ 17.5kph + 2 x 400m @19kph anyway. It may be true that, under the circumstances, the training effect may have been negligible or even detrimental, but there is a psychological benefit to getting the work done. (I didn't feel bad at all doing the workout although the slight lack of conviction to finish it made it mentally harder to complete, which I did albeit with a long break in the middle.) This irrational need to feed my ego is something I need to work on as I am currently reading in "Run Faster from the 5K to the Marathon" - Brad Hudson's book on "adaptive training". More on this another day.

I noticed something strange about the sets of 400m: they actually felt easier than the sets of 200m which I ran at the same speed on fresher legs! I realized that the distance of 200m made me think that I should sprint it as fast as I could, even though the treadmill was set to 19kph. This I did by wildly flapping my arms up and down and my feet hardly touching the belt. In fact, the speed wasn't that much greater than the 17.5kph I ran the sets of 1km at and it really wasn't necessary to run them so wastefully.

As well as having run a kilometre with Fernando Alonso I've started to go running with my dog after work. We have a female Boxer which is so full of pent up energy that she is driving us all crazy by jumping on everything that moves and eating everything that doesn't. It is quite simple: either something changes or we'll have to get rid of her (I mean have her adopted). It is still a bit dangerous running with her because she has a tendency to cross in front of me (which could end up in a messy human-canine pile up) and sometimes she stops dead without warning to pee or pooh en route. The previous version, Sushi, died earlier in the year but was nowhere near as nervous as Emma; also she was terrible at running - she would drag me along for the first half and I would have to drag her back home for the second half. Emma is showing some promise - so far we have only run a couple of kilometres but we managed to maintain a reasonable pace all the way. At this rate I might actually end up liking her.

By Wednesday, I had completely lost my voice but I was still able to keep up my training. My second tough workout was 4 x 1000m @ 16kph, 2 x 1000m @ 17.5 kph and 4 x 200m @19kph. My the time I got to the 200m sets I was so befuddled that I actually did four lots of 20 seconds rather than 200m, all the while marvelling at how easy it seemed and how much I must have improved. I decided to let this count as one of the series of 200m and did three more instead. I have to say, I like these workouts where the intensities are all mixed up. I do notice, though, that I am much less taxed by the training load than I was when I was preparing for the New York Marathon that never was: I would go to bed after doing series feeling quite tired and the next day my legs would feel heavy. Even so, I felt very satisfied when I finished my workout, especially as I haven't been at my best with this damn cold.

On Saturday I went to pick up the stuff (t-shirts, chips and race numbers) for San Silvestre. My wife will be running again this year and, for the first time, there is actually a special corral just for women, although I don't think that she'll be using it. I was excited to get my international edition t-shirt which you can see from a photo I took in the toilets of the cinema (where we went to see The Hobbit)...

That evening I did my final quality session of 3 lots of 3,200m at 16 kph which didn't feel too bad at all. In fact, looking at my heart rate it was significantly lower than the last time I ran at that speed. I don't completely trust the treadmill at home anymore: my training at home used to be much more predictable than on the work one where the ambient temperature would depend on how many other people were training at the same time and this would in turn affect my performance. Whatever the case, I've done some pretty good speed workouts over the last few weeks which I'm sure will come in handy on the day.

The long run on Sunday was much harder than usual because I ran on tired legs from the evening before. I think that this is a good strategy and that the training effect was much more significant than it would have been had I run it faster on fresh legs.

I still haven't got over my cold as I write this and I can't help wondering if perhaps, had I not trained, it would be better by now. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure I'll be better before the race in two weeks time.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Getting beaten by Fernando Alonso

Without wanting to be seen to be haciendo la pelota (brown-nosing), I have to say that one of the things I really value about working where I do is that sports and exercise are actively encouraged. The head of Human Resources, José Luis Gómez Alciturri, has teamed up with former Marathon World Champion Martin Fiz to create a new charitable organization - Corre 1km+ - to support educational projects aimed at people affected by the crisis. The two of them together with a hand-picked selection of employees are preparing to run the Maraton des Sables next year - a six day, 251 km self-sufficient ultramarathon run through the desert. I was very jealous not to have been picked but I know that I would have said that I couldn't take part  anyway - my experience with the Ironman I did last year has shown me where my limits are in terms of time away from the family and my work is more demanding now than it was then. In any case I prefer the challenge of speed or distance over that of adverse conditions.

Today the President of the bank, Emilio Botín, decided to inaugurate the nature reserve he has had built next to our campus with a one kilometre run graced by the presence of none other than Fernando Alonso, the Ferrari Formula 1 pilot (sponsored by Santander of course). I was one of 200 lucky employees to get picked to take part in the "race" (not one of the "top 200 executives of the bank" as Emilio Botín described us to the press).

Don Emilio gave a short address to the crowd in which he named every type of tree, bird, amphibian and even reptile that was known to inhabit the reserve, some of them rare species. Fernando joked that we would have to run fast to escape the threat posed by all these dangerous animals.

Needless to say, Emilio Botín didn't run and no-one dared overtake Fernando. I overheard a couple of awed employees saying to each other: "Fernando was running fast and that was wearing jeans!". "Well, that's because he spends as much time training as you do stuck behind a computer". From what I haver heard he is a reasonably fast runner but the fact is that the race itself was more like a lively jog around a windy path that was far too narrow for 200 people to pass each other. In spite of that, there was a certain amount of jostling to run next to the former Formula 1 World Champion and, once we had crossed the finish line, he was overcome with people waving their caps in his face so that he would sign them. I was too embarrassed to push forward but then I regret not having made the effort as I'm sure my kids would have appreciated it.

One poor employee ran into some difficulties and had to be tended to by a medic and the bus on the way back made me think of a bus load of soldiers coming back from the trenches as all you could hear were people coughing. Hopefully the nature reserve will encourage more people to get out at lunchtime and run or ride a bike so that running a kilometre won't be a big deal for anyone any more.

Monday, December 10, 2012

San Silvestre Vallecana Internacional Week 2/5

Hmmm.... My snuffly cold is starting to go south and I may have to think about taking off a day or two from training if it reaches my lungs. So far it hasn't interfered with my training.

Although I only had two days of "quality sessions" (read hard sessions), they were fairly tough. The first was a 40 minute threshold run which I did at 16 kph on the treadmill. (As I had to set the treadmill to 16.5 kph to compensate for being on the slow side, I actually passed the 10K point in a Personal Best time that was very close to my target race time!) As I posted last week, it didn't feel as difficult as perhaps it should have done but it was still a good workout. The second quality session involved doing repeats of 2 minutes on, 2 minutes off, 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off - where "on" meant running at 17.5 kph and "off" meant jogging at 10 kph. I did 14 of these and, as you can see from the graph below, my heart rate gradually crept up with each one. The last two were actually quite challenging and had me literally gasping for air for the last 30 seconds or so (my pulse was at about 184 bpm, about 5 bpm above my anaerobic threshold).

Other than the usual filler or "recovery" runs, I did a longish run of an hour and a half yesterday, slightly slower than last week but with much more hills, in which I covered 20.6 kms. It was a beautiful day but one of those days for which it is difficult to know how to dress: in the sun it was pleasantly warm but in the shade it was chillingly cold.

I'd been under the impression that the San Silverstre International course was slightly easier than the popular one, avoiding the nasty climb at the end. But having read some forums discussing the matter, it seems like the consensus is that it is actually harder. One fairly objective measure is to look at the difference in split times over the first and second 5 kms and compare runners of similar ability from both races. The split difference was on average 1:25 for the international edition versus 1:10 for the popular edition. Perhaps I should incorporate some hill running into my training regime...

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Soft Star Run Amocs with leather sole... 100 kms later

I promised I would give a quick review of the Run Amoc Original Lite with leather sole after having done some more miles (kilometres in continental Europe) in them.

On the plus side, the leather sole is much lighter than the standard Vibram sole that comes as standard, as well as being much more flexible. The advertised downside of having less traction has been the least of my problems, as has the slightly reduced protection against treading on stones: the fact is that the sole is not as hard wearing as its Vibram counterpart. This wouldn't be such a problem were it not for the fact that the upper on my left foot tends to rub against the ground once the sole has worn down and, once the upper starts to tear, the life expectancy of the shoes has already been seriously compromised. After only 100 kilometres with my new pair of leather soled Run Amocs, the prognostic is not good: there is already a sizeable hole appearing.

My conclusion is that the extra flexibility and lightness is not worth the cost once you take into account longevity. Don't get me wrong, the Run Amoc Original Lites are still my favourite training shoe by far -   evidenced by the fact that I have just placed an order for a new pair (my original review can be found here). The leather sole experiment didn't work out so this time I am going to try going for a slightly wider fit. Hopefully this will mean I can eke out a couple of hundred kilometres more over and above the 1,000 kilometres I usually get out of a pair.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Treadmill versus outdoors running

The usual debate on treadmill versus outdoor running centres on bio-mechanical aspects. There are several popular misconceptions. One is that the treadmill "pulls you along" and so must therefore be easier than running outside. The force required to stop you from falling over is the same in both cases; the only difference is that the fixed point about which you rotate is your foot when you are running outside, while the belt of a treadmill rotates you about your centre of mass. You must still work against gravity and reposition your limbs both on the treadmill and outdoors. The second misconception is that you must lean from your ankles when you run on the treadmill, just as you would when running on the road. I specifically discussed this point in my post on "Treadmill running: to lean or not to lean?". As I discussed in that post, this is partly another way of saying the above: leaning is the same as rotating about a point - in one case you actively lean against the road and in the other, the belt "leans you". The other factor, of course, is that when you run outside you must overcome air resistance. There must be a compensatory horizontal force as the resultant of the ground resistance force and gravity, which is only possible if your centre of gravity is further forward than your point of contact. This is just a fancy definition of leaning.

There are some important bio-mechanical differences to running on the treadmill, however. The most important is the fact that the surface on which you run is perfectly flat and consistent. This means that every footstep will be exactly the same and will use exactly the same muscles the same way. The upshot is that an over-reliance on treadmill training lays you open to injury from weak stabilising muscles when trail running as well as to overuse injuries on the treadmill from stressing the same muscles in excess.

Air resistance is obviously an important factor as anyone who has ever been running on a windy day will atest to. Popular wisdom has it that a gradient of 1-2% on the treadmill will compensate for any extra work that would be done against air resistance. According to studies by Dr Mervyn Davies, however, at speeds greater than 18 kph the air resistance impacts the mechanics of running significantly. This means that there is really no substitute for track running at these kind of speeds although it has to be noted that, in race conditions, most of the athletes are somewhat shielded from the wind most of the time.

The aspect that people only seem to mention in passing is the aspect that is most important as far as I am concerned and that is heat. I am very sensitive to heat because I am on the large side (189cm, 85 kilos) and a lot of my energy is spent on evacuating heat. When you run outside even on a hot day with no breeze, you at least have a headwind equal to the speed at which you are running. If you work out how big a fan you would need to simulate this cooling effect on a treadmill then, according to my back of the envelope calculations you would need a 700W fan for a running speed of 16 kph!

I do a lot of my training these days on the treadmill and I started to wonder whether it really has the same training effect from a cardiovascular point of view. First of all, I compared a run I did on the treadmill at work of 20 minutes at 16 kph (followed by 4 lots of 200m at 19 kph) with a run I did on my home treadmill of 40 minutes at the same speed of 16 kph (actually 16.5 kph because my belt runs a little slow). As usual, I found it very uncomfortable running on the treadmill at work because it was so much hotter than in my cool basement with my huge 170W fan. What I expected to see was that the two graphs would start off at the same heart rate but that the one corresponding to my work treadmill would increase more rapidly. Instead, I noticed that they both increased at about the same rate but that my heart rate started off much lower at home. It may be that the work treadmill runs faster than it should or perhaps a 1% gradient is not the same on both treadmills but the difference is quite striking: it is as "easy" for me to maintain that pace for twice as long at home.

Then I thought I would compare my 40 minute run at home with the Half Marathon I ran (outside, obviously) at an almost exactly evenly paced 16 kph. There is really no doubt that these are two very different cardiovascular exercises.

This would appear to back up apparently contradictory findings that treadmill running is easier but outdoor running is faster. In other words, at a given pace the heart rate is lower on the treadmill but runners perceive treadmill running to be harder than running at the equivalent pace outside. This is sometimes put down to the "boredom" of running on a treadmill but I think that there is something more fundamental behind this. I am anything but bored when I am watching a good movie on the treadmill... Corporal temperature is undoubtedly one of the inputs to the Central Governor in the brain responsible for pacing us via sensations of exertion and exhaustion. What I don't know is to what extent this is a real reason to slow down corresponding to a real energetic cost. This was the eternal debate I had with my coach who prescribes training to heart rate: should I have started off my 40 minute run on the treadmill at 17 kph, say, and finished it at 15 kph or should I have run it at a constant 16 kph? Is the part of my heart rate that corresponds to the evacuation of heat reflecting the same work?

Especially as many VO2 Max tests are performed on a treadmill, I think this is something that warrants study - at least, I haven't managed to find anything definitive on the subject as yet. In terms of heart rate, is running on the treadmill similar to running in humid conditions due to the relative difficulty in evacuating heat? Does the gradient of the heart rate drift have any correlation with the size of the runner or with the ambient temperature? What are the differences in training effect between running to a constant heart rate on a treadmill and running at a constant pace? Will anyone be around to care after the World ends on the 21st of December?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Chrissie Wellington retires (not re-tires)

If it's possible to admire Chrissie Wellington any more than we already do, I would argue that her decision to retire from Ironman competitions is a very persuasive reason to do so.

Have a read of the recent interview she gave on the Ironman website and then come back here.

It takes a lot of guts to be able to say to yourself "I've proved that I can do this; now it's time to do something else" - even more guts, I would say, than it takes to be an Ironman World Champion in the first place. I think many of us who compete in Marathons and Ironmans do so because they are alternative realities with clearly defined goals that can be objectively measured - recognizable successes that no-one can take away from us - unlike the scenarios which arise in a typical job, in which not everyone might agree as to how well we have performed. To go from this level of recognition with the structure that following the accompanying training programme must provide, to taking on a new challenge which hasn't even been completely formed yet must take a tremendous amount of courage.

It would surely be so much easier for Chrissie to keep soldiering on until someone younger or fitter eventually knocked her off her pedestal. Then she would gracefully retire in the time honoured fashion with a pat on the back and a BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award, with everyone satisfied that she had given her all to the sport. But I think Chrissie knows that if she can take on and conquer the Ironman, then she can do pretty much anything she puts her mind to. Now she has a platform from which she can do many of the things she talked of doing in her autobiography, picking up from where she left off before her stint as an Ironman World Champion. It's clear to me that Chrissie has never seen the Ironman as an alternative reality but as a step forward in her own personal reality.

Another aspect is that you can be motivated by impressing other people or you can be motivated by impressing yourself which is usually a much harder thing to do because only you know what you are really capable of. Chrissie defines as her "perfect race", her victory in Kona in 2011. While others would have dwelled on the imperfection stemming from injuries sustained in her recent bike crash, this was the time she had to dig the deepest in order to win. For me, what impresses me most is her ability to avoid being drawn into that trap of always going for one more. Sports commentators are for ever thinking of records that will be broken if only a certain number of consecutive titles can be won or a particular time can be beaten, but where does it all end? She must have a tremendous strength of character to be able to say "enough is enough" when everyone around her (except, perhaps, her boyfriend) is egging her on.

I initially thought of writing that "Chrissie is the World Champion Ironman and the World Champion of Quitting While You Are Ahead" but somehow the word "quitting" doesn't sit well in the same sentence. Chrissie isn't quitting, she is starting a new challenge and I for one am interested to see what she does next. I'm sure it will be impressive and not necessarily have anything to do with swimming, running or cycling.

Monday, December 3, 2012

San Silvestre Vallecana Internacional Week 1/5

One way to test how experienced a runner is, is to see whether "Jack Daniel's Running Formula" makes them laugh or not. This is the name of the book that I have decided to follow in my preparations for the International edition of San Silvestre Vallecana 2012. Although it is probably no substitute for having a coach and for doing lactate and VO2 Max tests, etc, Jack Daniels has compiled very useful tables which give an idea of training intensities based on race times, indexed by what he terms VDOT or VO with a dot over the O.

According to JD, my VDOT based on my Half Marathon (Personal Best) time is 58, my VDOT based on my Marathon PB and my 10K PB is 55. These tables assume that you are optimally trained for the distance in question: it doesn't mean that right after running a 1:19 Half Marathon you can run a Marathon in 2:48. In fact, it doesn't mean you can necessarily ever run a Marathon in 2:48 because the tables are calculated by fitting some mathematical function through a set of recorded performances from other athletes. In my experience, my VDOT tends to be lower (worse) the longer the distance, so the fact my 10K VDOT is in line with my Marathon VDOT makes me think that there is some room for improvement. This is obvious when you realize that my 10K PB is currently only 5 seconds faster than the 10K split of my best Half Marathon time...

So, based on a VDOT of 58 (corresponding, in theory, to a 10K time of 36:23) my training intensities are:

Easy pace: 4:22 - 4:41 (12.8 - 13.7 km/h)
Marathon pace:  3:58 (15.1 km/h)
Tempo pace: 3.46 (15.9 km/h)
Interval pace: 3:27 (17.4 km/h)
Repetition pace: 3:12 (18.8 km/h)

From my experience of training to heart rate lately, these paces seem to be right on the money. Of course, the Marathon pace does not really correspond to my actual Marathon pace but the Half Marathons I have run at Marathon pace (according to heart rate) have been only a couple of seconds per kilometre slower. But Easy pace corresponds to my aerobic "<CCL" runs at a heart rate of 150 bpm, Tempo runs are equivalent to the medium intensity "CCM" runs at 167 bpm and my anaerobic ">UAN" runs were always done at Interval pace. The only difference is that there is no pace corresponding to "UAN" which is somewhere between Tempo and Interval pace, depending on how long a series I had to run. What is useful to have as a guide is the Repetition pace, as this is an intensity at which I rarely train. My idea is to put some speed as the icing on the cake of my Marathon resistance training.

The training week basically comprises two or three "quality" (read: tough) days, a long run of up to 25% of the week's total mileage and two to three days of easy running as fillers:

Monday: 45 minutes Easy @ 4:06. This was supposed to be "easy". I was in London and it was cold so I had to run reasonably fast to keep warm. Also, I was trying out my new Vibram SeeYas so it was hard not to overcook the pace.
Tuesday: 20 minutes Tempo + 4 x 200m Repetition. I actually managed to do this on the treadmill in the gym at work because the workout was short enough that I didn't have time to overheat. Normally I do my quality workouts on the treadmill at home with a massive fan but, unfortunately, my treadmill only goes up to 18 km/h (which is actually only 17.5 km/h).
Wednesday: 45 minutes E @ 4:26 on the treadmill (at home).
Thursday: 4 x 1,000m T + 6 x 200m R + 3,200m accumulation run (4:02 -  3:27). I managed to do the first two parts on the treadmill at work but, by the end of it, my feet were in ribbons from wearing my Vibram SeeYas without socks. I did the accumulation run on the treadmill at home.
Friday: 45 minutes E @ 4:26 on the treadmill (at home).
Saturday: 5 x 3 minutes Interval. I was a bit tired so this was harder than usual, especially considering that I would normally do 10 of these - perhaps it seemed harder because JD prefers you to jog in between series rather than resting completely and the treadmill takes less time to get up to speed.
Sunday: 90 minutes Long @ 4:18. I went down to Madrid Río in the car for this. As I passed the gym where we used to meet up for the long runs in training for Seville, I thought I might bump into some of the other guys but I didn't think I would bump into them as actually happened. I ran this a little bit too fast again because it was very cold. It was the first time I had run with gloves, leggings and a hat this year.

The inscriptions for San Silvestre have just opened this minute...