Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

I've been on holiday in Asturias where we spent Christmas. It was so windy that there was a cyclone warning with gusts of up to 150 kph predicted: in the end, it wasn't so extreme and the weather was actually especially nice for Asturias in winter. Santa Claus (a.k.a. my wife) very kindly gave me a GoPro Hero3 (Silver Edition) camera. My idea is to use it to record some of the runs and cycle rides I do so that I can play them back when I am running on the treadmill or riding on the turbo trainer. Here is an excerpt form my first recording, done without any special support for the camera (i.e., handheld).

It will be a welcome edition now that I am running out of TV series to watch while training. I associate each major race I have trained for with a particular series: for example, Seville 2012 was watching The Wire, New York 2013 was Game of Thrones and, more recently, Aranjuez was Homeland.

I've enjoyed a real break both from work, from training and from watching what I eat (and drink). Although I have been out running a few times, it has only been if I have felt like it and it hasn't interfered with the family's plans. Also I went very much off the beaten track and found some trails I had never run before (although they became so fraught with brambles and mud that I could only go so far).

Tonight is not only New Year's Eve but it is also the occasion of the San Silvestre Vallecana 10K race that runs through the streets of Madrid. It may not have the glamour of the New York City Marathon but it isn't too far behind: 40,000 runners (versus 50,000 in New York) and a great party atmosphere. It is also a point to point course with the difference being that the finish (as opposed to the start) is out of town. I'll be running with my wife (she is already making excuses not to run) dressed as.... well, you'll have to tune in tomorrow to see what my costume is this year. It's worth it, I promise!

This is also a time for reflection and, as this is ostensibly a blog about endurance racing and training, I'll limit my musings to that sphere. For 2013 I continued as a "self-trained athlete" applying ideas from my previous coach, from books I'd read and from personal experience. And, to be honest, apart from a disappointing Half Ironman in which the dreaded cramps came back from their grave to haunt me, I am very pleased with my progress. I shaved more than 30 seconds off my Half Marathon time, almost a minute off my 10K time and 8 minutes(!) off my Marathon time. My training went pretty much exactly to plan with no injuries (touch wood!) and no illness (although, as luck would have it, I got my first cold the whole year in the last few days of the year). Even in "failure" (the Half Ironman in Lisbon) I was pleased with the way I was able to take it in my stride and see it as an experience from which I could learn. I don't see myself doing any triathlons in 2014 but I would like to get back on the bike in the summer and perhaps I can find a way to do a Time Trial even if it means taking my bike to the UK (as there are no TT races that I know of in Spain for amateurs). Instead, my goals for 2014 will be to break 1:19 in the Half Marathon (I just need to find three seconds) and to get a best time for 10K in London (a flat course at sea level in hopefully cool conditions).

So, until 2014, I wish you all a very HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Aranjuez 10K Race Report

Considering that this was the 30th edition of the race, there could at least have been toilet paper available in the toilets but at least I came prepared. I hadn't come to Aranjuez to appreciate the historic significance of the town or indeed its beauty: my aim was to run 10K in under 36 minutes.

The start was also a bit of a cock-up - we were given the "go" before being called back again. In the process my shoe came off my heel and I was worried we'd be set off again and I'd have to opt out of the race to sort myself out. In the end, after some shuffling about, we were given another count down from 10 seconds and we were off...

After running Marathons, 10K races seem horribly hectic to me. I wanted to stop after a kilometre, one which was quite fraught and yet there seemed to be an unfeasibly large number of people ahead of me. In spite of that, I reached the first kilometre balloon in 3:23, more than 10 seconds ahead of my planned pace. The next few kilometres were right on the money, so those 10 seconds stayed in the bank. I remember hoping I'd trip over a stone or that my shoes would fall to pieces or something - any external "fuerza mayor" excuse to stop this suffering. But, at the same time, I was conscious that it was a level of discomfort I knew I could withstand until the finish line and I also knew that there was no way I was going to pull out and tell my kids (who had come to watch me run) as well as my work colleagues (who were also running) that I couldn't be bothered to make it until the finish line.

I got halfway in a Personal Best time of 17:43 for 5K, which boded well for a sub-36 finish. Still, I knew that it'd be tight. I saw my family waiting for me and heard my eldest shout "not far now!". Thank goodness for the slight downhill (not counting a small "repecho") in the last few kilometres - the sums were still working out in my favour. With one kilometre to go, I calculated that I had little margin and that I'd have to pull out all the stops if I wanted to be able to say I could run 10K in 35-something. I could see the clock marching on relentlessly and realised I couldn't afford to let up: a last minute sprint for the line and my prize of 35:48. It was hard but not so hard that with a bit of extra motivation I won't be able to break it again. I didn't know it at the time, because I was so focussed on getting to the line on time, but my wife told me later that my eldest was very excited to see his dad only just achieving his goal.

A perfect end to a very satisfying year of running results and a challenging but not too daunting gauntlet for next year. My friend Manolo (who picked up my race number for me - thanks!) broke 40 minutes for the first time - so he was very happy - and my other friend Dani, with whom we enjoyed a fantastic lunch afterwards, also got a best time albeit a slightly frustrating 42:01 (as is any time that is just over a minute mark).

Now all that is left is San Silvestre which I can now happily run with my wife, with no pressure for my work is done here.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Aranjuez 10K Week 6 / 6

Monday: -
Tuesday: 1K, jog 1', 3K, jog 2', 2K, jog 1', 3K, jog 2', 1K @ 3:30
Wednesday: -
Thursday: 10K (5', 5', 5', 4', 3', 3', 2' @ 3:35 interspersed with 1', 1', 1', 2', 3', 3', 2' @ easy)
Friday: 45' @ 4:00
Saturday: 20' @ 4:00
Sunday: Aranjuez 10K!
Total kilometres: 46

This week has been a bit of a mini taper, with two days off(!) and only two days of quality. I never usually "carboload" for any race less than a Half Marathon - and then, it's just a case of a good lunch the day before - but I haven't been able to resist the excuse to gorge myself on chocolate bars and spaghetti. My thinking is that the extra weight (due to water retention accompanying the stored sugar) is less of an issue in a 10K and I believe that well stocked glycogen stores help convince the brain to give an all out effort. Having said that, I'll lay off a little on Saturday as I don't want to feel bloated on the day.

I have been doing a lot more quality workouts at the work gym than usual, mainly because my home treadmill doesn't go fast enough, but I still notice a big difference between the two. On paper, the workout on Tuesday should have been harder than the one on Thursday: the quality sections were run 5 seconds per kilometre faster and there were less breaks. But, apart from the possibility that the work treadmill runs faster (even with the 0.5 kph I always add to the speed on my home treadmill to compensate), the heat of the work gym I never tire of complaining about. I finished the workout at lunchtime on Thursday totally drenched. It wasn't as stressful as the workouts I did last week but that was because I allowed myself to shorten the work periods and lengthen the rest periods (still within in the range I had set myself of 2'-5' work versus 1'-3' rest). I figured that pushing myself hard now would not yield any fitness gains by this Sunday and would only serve to make my more fatigued.

Aranjuez 10K is a popular race in the calendar because it is a flat course, a nice place to go with the family and it is a better chance to finish the year with a PB than in the crowded and hilly San Silvestre race on New Year's Eve in Madrid. What is a bit of a pain in the butt is that you can't pick up the race number and chip on the day - considering that Aranjuez is about 60 kilometres from my house, it is clear that the idea is that you spend the weekend there. Either that, or you arrange for your race number to be picked up by one of the local restaurants provided, of course, that you have a reservation there. I'd be quite happy with that arrangement if it wasn't for the fact that those restaurants were all fully booked by the time the email explaining this option had been sent out, presumably by the guys who had the experience of running it last year. In the end a friend is goint o pick up my race number for me (and spend the weekend in Aranjuez....). My idea is to try to break 36 minutes - which means running 3:35 per kilometre - something that I think is quite feasible but just requires everything to go to plan on the day. My workout on Thursday served to remind me that this is going to hurt.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Aranjuez 10K Week 5 / 6

My 500th post!! Hopefully this will take my hit counter up to 100,000!

Monday: 10K @ 3:38 w/ 3% incline
Tuesday: 45' @ 4:00
Wednesday: 3 x (200-600-1,000) @ < 3:00, 3:10-3:25, 3:40-3:30, w/ 3-4' rest between sets
Thursday: 45' @ 4:00
Friday: 3' @ 3:00, 2' @ 3:00 + 10 x (1' @ 3:00, 1' @ 6:00) + 40' @ 4:00 (evening)
Saturday: 40' @ 4:00 (morning) + 40' @ 4:00 (afternoon)
Sunday: 40' @ 4:00 (morning) + 40' @ 4:00 (afternoon)
Total kilometres: 95

I can remember not all that long ago trying to run 10K at my then race pace of 40 minutes in training on the treadmill and finding it impossible; now, of course, I am running 10 and more at that pace as a "recovery run". However, the plan for Monday was to run 10K at my now current race pace of 3:38 per kilometre - which equates to my PB of 36:35 - with an incline of 3% on the treadmill. As my treadmill runs a little slow, I set the speed to 17 kph which meant that I did cheat ever so slightly, as I completed the 10K a minute faster than was "really" the case. Still, I was very happy with my effort and it has served its purpose to convince me both consciously and - hopefully - subconsciously that I can beat this time come next Sunday. I did notice my calf muscles a little sorer than usual, possibly from the continuous running up hill (even if it was only a slight incline), so I put my Compex electrostimulator to work on them and was fine by the next day.

The series on Wednesday were much harder than I expected. What a difference a rest makes! I think there is also a psychological effect of going from faster to slower, that the easing up of the pace provides less relief than you expect as you are still recovering from the faster pace. I did the first one at the upper end of the range (200 @ 20 kph, 600 @ 19-18 kph, 1,000 @ 17 kph) but stopped 300m into the second one and did the third one at the lower end of the range - also with a brief pause - (200 @ 20 kph, 600 @ 17.5 kph, 1,000 @ 16.5 kph). I had based the target paces on my current pace for "stand alone" intervals of 200, 600 and 1,000m, banking on the fact that I would be able to manage having only to do 3 of them but the first one took a lot out of me. Next time I will be a little less ambitious and hope to do all 3 at the same speeds.

This week I am chomping my way through Homeland Season 2. Having said that, the vVO2Max session on Friday was too intense to be able to watch anything on the telly (computer). In my quest to build up to the 5 x 3' @ 3:00 (20 kph) I managed to do one of these, followed by another of 2' and the rest of intervals of 1 minute on / 1 minute off, up to a total of 15 minutes. If I keep improving at this rate, perhaps I can gradually extend the time I run at (nearly) World Record Marathon pace a minute at a time until I get to just over two hours... This is something that has fascinated me for some time about distance running. While it may seem to me impressive but not unbelievable that the winners of a race are completing the same distance as me in about 25% less time, to think that I could probably run about 2 kilometres to exhaustion at the same pace that they are able to run a further 40 kilometres!That is to say, not 25% further but 2100% further!! It reminds me of the 10K race I ran last year which started at the same time as the Madrid Marathon - I started in the very front line and found myself running "with the Africans" for the first 700 metres or so, before they dumped me. What an exhilarating experience that was, as well as humbling.

In summary, the training plan for this week was a little too ambitious or, put another way, I did not allow enough weeks of build up to get to the level I was aiming for. The idea was to try out this plan before adopting in a little more seriously for the 10K in London and Half Marathon in the Hague I plan to run next year. The good thing is that I have learned something this time around. I don't think there is any reason to doubt that I can shave off some time from my PB next week if all goes well, although whether that will be enough to dip under 36 minutes remains to be seen - I will certainly be aiming for that!

I took the kids swimming on Saturday morning and did a 10K run on the treadmill in the meantime. Since the last time I was at that gym, I've been trying to find somewhere that sold a "plyometric box" like the one I found there but, as I hadn't noted down the make of the box, I was unable to find one available in Spain. I did find some very detailed instructions on how to make one but I am not sure my DIY skills are up to the job. This time I took a photo of the box and I'm waiting to hear back from Tecnogym to see how much they charge...

In total I ran 50 km over the weekend, if you include Friday evening as part of the total. Saturday morning was a little tough as I felt like I was sweating alcohol from the departmental Christmas dinner the night before. I got to bed by about 3 am, only to be wide awake by 8. It's at times like this that I am so glad for the invention of the siesta...

We also picked up our t-shirts and chips for the San Silvestre 10K race on New Year's Eve in Madrid but it looks like we won't be here to run it: instead we may well run the (shorter) San Silvestre in Gijón.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Aranjuez 10K Week 4 / 6

(Oops, must have hit "publish" while this was still a draft!)

Monday: 1 x (2' @ 3:00, 2' @ 6:00) + 12 x (1' @ 3:00, 2' @ 6:00) (lunchtime) + 40' @ 4:00 (evening)
Tuesday: 45' @ 4:00
Wednesday: 1K, jog 1', 3K, jog 3', 2K, jog 2', 3K, jog 3', 1K @ 3:30
Thursday: 3 x (800-400-200-1,000) @ 3:40, jog 2', 3:25, jog 1', 3:10, jog 30", 3:40, jog 4'
Friday: 45' easy with hills (Asturias)
Saturday: - (ill)
Sunday: 45' easy with hills (Asturias)
Total kilometres: 69

Looking forward in my training plan, I realized that I would soon be attempting to run 5 lots of 3' (1,000m) at 20 kph so I thought I would see what it was like to at least run 2 minutes at that pace. I definitely did not feel ready to step up from the 1 minute on / 1 minute off to 2 minutes on / 2 minutes off, let alone 3 minutes on / 3 minutes off. The good thing about this workout is that more time is spent at VO2Max (i.e., with your muscles demanding the maximum O2 your cardiovascular system can deliver) than is actually spend running hard. As this training plan is a bit of an experiment before a "B" race (Aranjuez 10K) I'm going to stick at 1 minute on / 1 minute off for a few more weeks - perhaps upping the number of intervals - to see if I start to respond to the training. Then I'll know what is a more realistic goal for my training before the "A" races I have next year. I also expermimented with taking Sodium Bicarbonate before this hard workout. I realized that last time I miscalculated and took about 6 times too much! If I didn't get stomach cramps or any of the other purported side effects that time, then I'd say I am pretty much immune to them.

Another experiment has been to start taking creatine again. I can't say I have ever noticed any benefit but I have certainly noticed a difference: I tend to put on weight, whether this is "lean muscle" as the label on the tin promises, water retention or good ol' fat, I'm not sure, but I was getting bored of my starved marathoner look. In any case, it's a good moment to bulk up a little - hopefully that promised extra strength will help my interval training be that much more effective; I can always slim down again in time for the next important race. And, let's face it, December is not the best month in which to be "fighting the fat".

This week I reduced the rest times between the fragments of the 10K at goal race pace and it still felt relatively comfortable. I did, however, have to squash my training up to make space for a bank holiday weekend in Asturias: this meant that I ended up doing two "quality" days in a row. In spite of the 1K intervals being run 10 seconds slower than the 3K intervals the night before, the innocent looking 200m "sprints" at 3:10 (19 kph) with only 30 seconds to recover immediately before made them feel very difficult. In fact, the intensity was so finely judged that I very nearly completed the whole set without incident, if it were not for having got completely out of breath (literally) with 400m to go. I stopped, caught my breath and finished the workout.

Running in Asturias is a bit of a double edged sword. The scenery is spectacular - and even the weather was perfect this time - but, being on holiday with the family I'd rather lie in, spend time with them, eat and drink heartily and then sleep the siesta than be out running up and down hills. On Saturday I felt ill all day and certainly not up to running. These days I don't seem to get "properly ill" (which is a good thing) but rather to feel listless, without appetite and a bit down in the dumps. My theory is that I am fighting something off which is presumably much worse. As that "something" doesn't get a chance to present itself, it's a little difficult to know what the cause is. Whatever the case, I was back to normal the next day and hardly skipping a beat in my training plan.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Unsung heroes: Yuki Kawauchi

It is ironic that, not so long ago, being an amateur was a pre-requisite to compete at a high level in athletics (see my review of "The Ghost Runner") and yet today, being a "citizen runner" as Yuki Kawauchi is fondly referred to, very much sets him apart from other elite runners. As far as I am aware, there are no other marathon runners with a current PB of 2:08 who have not already been snapped up by a shoe company or a professional team. To put this into context, in spite of the organizers of the Egyptian Marathon paying his travel expenses, when he missed his flight due to problems with his passport, he paid for a new ticket himself at a cost of $9,000 - or about a quarter of his yearly salary (he did go on to win, however). On the other hand, in the New York City Marathon he was given the red carpet treatment, where he finished in 11th place with a respectable 2:12:29.

Some articles refer to him as "the Japanese underdog" but I think of him as anything but an underdog; an "overdog", perhaps, yes. Other people with his level of commitment and talent are usually forced to either dedicate their lives to the pursuit of excellence or slip away into oblivion and yet Yuki seems to manage to run for fun ("After 21 Marathon runs, I can now say with confidence how fun Marathon running can be."). One can't help wondering how much he could shave off his time if he were able to focus more single-mindedly on his Marathon running with the financial support of a sponsor and the advice of a professional coach. But perhaps this is the very paradox - it is just possible that he runs such great times precisely because he doesn't have the same pressure that comes with the package and is still able to enjoy running at a high level. I've just finished reading Sage Canaday's account of "Running for the Hansons" and, while interesting, much fun it does not seem.

Another thing I love about this guy is that he is constantly challenging the status quo by doing presumably unwise things like competing at the highest level in Marathons (i.e. sub 2:11) separated by only a couple of weeks (apparently he wanted "to find out whether the common sense of the running world is really any kind of sense at all"). It is only by the actions of brave individuals like this that our understanding of the world is completely transformed and a new paradigm is established. In 2012, he ran 10 Marathons or Ultramarathons (winning 5 of them). On the other hand, his frequent racing schedule most likely scuppered his chances of making the Olympic team in 2012 and, so disgusted was he with his pedestrian time of 2:12, that he shaved his head in penance.

Lastly, there is ultimately something very satisfying in knowing you have given your all or, by proxy, watching someone laying everything on the line to win. I think the photo says it all:

In one 50K Ultra he participated in, he was wining right up until 600m(!) before the line, where he collapsed due to heat stroke. Unfortunately he is no stranger to the medical tent, having been attended to on no fewer than 7 occasions after finishing a race (or not quite finishing, as the case may be).

All this is even more surprising when you consider that he is only 26 years old. We have a lot to look forward to from this young man, I'm sure.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Aranjuez 10K Week 3 / 6

Monday: 1K, jog 2', 3K, jog 5', 2K, jog 4', 3K, jog 5', 1K @ 3:30
Tuesday: 40' @ 4:00
Wednesday: 12 x (60" @ 3:00 m:s / km, 60" @ 6:00)
Thursday: 40' @ 4:00
Friday: 3 x (800-400-200-1,000) @ 3:40, jog 2', 3:25, jog 1', 3:10, jog 30", 3:40, jog 4'
Saturday: 40' @ 4:00
Sunday: plyometrics
Total kilometres: 56

This is my favourite kind of training: sharp and to the point (and all on the treadmill). Most of it I can do at home which makes it especially time effective, only the intervals with sections faster than 3:25 mean I have to use the more professional treadmills at work. One of the treadmills you can program the whole session and so it is just a question of making sure you don't get ejected off the end of the belt. I'm not sure whether I have adapted better to the heat of running indoors (due to lack of wind) or whether it is just that, in winter, the temperatures maintained in the gym at work are more favourable but I no longer find it a struggle to get to the end of the hard workouts.

My Vibram Five Fingers seem to be attracting more attention than is usual lately: on Sunday last week, at a birthday party of a friend of my kids, I got talking to another parent as a result (and by coincidence it turned out we were already connected on Facebook!). This week was no exception. At the gym a new personal trainer got talking to me about them and, in the course of the conversation, I discovered that his PB in 800m is 1:49 (only 8 seconds behind the World Record!) and the 5th best time in the country (Spain). A perfect opportunity to improve my speed for next year, as I drop back down to the shorter distances. I felt a bit embarrassed to be so tired from having run 12 lots of 1 minute at 20 kph (he found it curious that I said "20 kph" instead of "3:00 pace", showing my preference of treadmills over track). The first few felt very easy but then, bit by bit, the one minute jogs were not quite long enough to recover from the previous effort. According to Véronique Billat, I should be able to build up to doing 5 lots of 1 kilometre (3 minutes) at this pace (vVO2Max) but the fastest I have run 5 lots of 1 kilometre to date is 18 kph (although it is true that I have also run 4 lots of 2 kilometres at 18 kph without too much difficulty).

Another effect of increasing the intensity is that running at "Marathon Pace" (4:00 = 15 kph) feels like a recovery run in the sense that I actually feel less tired afterwards than before. So far, the training feels just right - that "sweet spot" in between overtraining and the stresses not being sufficient to solicit an adaptation - the interesting thing for me will be to see whether the improvements in training speed translate into improved times in races.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

San Silvestre Vallecana 2013

I'm in! It was a bit touch-and-go yesterday as the website was down for most of the day (not a good idea to open it at a specific time and date if you want to avoid a colapse). This year I decided to run the popular edition rather than the international edition I ran last year, and I will most likely accompany my wife. I say "most likely" because it depends on (a) whether she actually runs it and (b) whether I run the Aranjuez 10K the week before. If I don't make it to Aranjuez for whatever reason, I'll want to let off steam instead in the San Silvestre race on New Year's Eve. So, as a precaution, I've registered with a qualifying time in order to be able to start from a faster corral. Last year, the women were given the option to start further ahead, so it may come in handy anyway.

I won't yet reveal what I will be dressed as this year (it's a good one!) but, in case you missed them. you can see previous years below:

San Silvestre NYE 2010 (I ended up with some nasty blisters)
San Silvestre NYE 2011 (Abba)
San Silvestre International NYE 2012

Monday, November 25, 2013

Aranjuez 10K Week 2 / 6

Monday: 6 x 1,600m @ 3:25
Tuesday: -
Wednesday: 22 x (30" @ 3:00, 30" @ 6:00)
Thursday: 20' @ 4:00, 10' @ 4:27, 20' @ 4:00
Friday: 6 x (400m @ 3:09 + 200m jog, 200m @ 2:51 + 100m jog) + 400m @ 3:09
Saturday: 40' @ 4:00 (morning) + plyometrics, 40' @ 4:00 (afternoon)
Sunday: 40' @ 4:00 (morning), 40' @ 4:00 (afternoon)
Total kilometers: 73

As a part of my participation in the Santander Por Tu Corazón study, I decided to undergo a test on Wednesday which consisted of a combined PET (Positron Emission Tomography) and MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan. I had to take Tuesday off from training and fast for four hours (not even liquids) before the test. The MRI is used to get an accurate map of my atheroschlerotic plaques (the fatty deposits in the arteries) and lesions while the PET image is superimposed on this in order to measure any metabolic activity (i.e., are they growing). While I've been told that my case is very low risk, the study precisely wants to focus on heathly people with plaques because the norm is that people are only aware that they have them as part of a post-cardiac arrest / stroke autopsy by which time it is clearly to late. Any excuse for a free cutting edge test and an afternoon off work, only it was harder than I thought it would be to endure...

The first step involved being injected with a radioactive tracer which, in this case, was a sugar designed to highlight metabolic activity. I had to keep completely still for half an hour so I just dozed off. The test itself required me satying in the same position (other than a brief break halfway to stretch my legs) for the best part of 2 and a half hours while I was wheeled in an out of one donut shaped machine, spun around, and wheeled in and out of another donut shaped machine. The PET scan was fairly inobtrusive but the MRI made one hell of a racket (no more siesta I'm afraid) and at times I was sure I could even feel my internal organs vibrating in sympathy. The MRi was synched to my heart beat so that the images would be taken at exactly the same moment as the blood was flowing through my arteries. Of course, having a loud noise beating in time with your heart tends to increase your heart rate (think of house music in a night club) but, in spite of this, my heart rate was around 40 bpm which, I was told, made the test harder for the technicians to conduct. The hardest part was the last section, with my head secured in a Hannibal Lecteresque face mask, when I was told that I should try to avoid swallowing. It's a bit like being told not to scratch your nose - there's no better way to make you desperate to do exactly the opposite. When it was all finally over, I was told to keep away from small children and pregnant women because I was still radioactive. I went to the gym afterwards to do my vVO2Max session of 22 x 30" at 20 kph and so I probably looked like Dynamo from the Running Man film, as I gave off radioactive sweat.

For my quality session on Friday, I thought I would try a little experiment. I'd read that sodium bicarbonate can help performance for relatively short and intense efforts. I've only needed to drink two times during a training session in the whole year (including my 35 km long runs) - this was the second time! I'd forgotten that sodium bicarbonate was similar to table salt. Apart from this, this session felt so much easier than the same one I did last week, outside in the cold Moscow air. I suppose it is cheating slightly not having to deliver the pace but rather just avoid being thrown off the back of the belt but it was mainly due I think to the pace being much more even.

On Saturday morning I took the kids to the swimming pool. I was able to do my run on treadmill in the gym while watching them swim! The gym actually had a plyometric box which was perfect for my jumping exercises. I wasn't able to find one in the local shops but a search on the internet revealed that they are quite expensive, so I may try to build my own one when I get a chance. I did find one plyometric box that caught my attention because it included padding to soften the imapct. Surely the whole point about plyometrics is to activate the Stretch Shortening Cycle and any padding is just going to interfere. It seems akin to running on a treadmill while using your arms to lighten the load on your legs (I find it bizarre that some people walk on the treadmill with a steep incline while holding on to the bars).

Sunday was going to be my rest day but I felt pretty good so I ended up doing another two 10 km runs at Marathon Pace, taking my weekend total to a fairly respectable 40 kilometers. It's in no small part due to being hooked on "Game of Thrones" that I have been on the treadmill so much lately. I'll see how I feel on Monday as to whether I take a day off or launch straight into my quality session of a split 10K at race pace.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The first 100 shoes to cross the finish line of NYC Marathon

Somebody has actually gone to the trouble of photographing and identifying the first 100 runners to cross the finish line of the New York City Marathon and their shoes. (Bear in mind that the elite women had a head start of 30 minutes.)

Someone else has gone to the trouble of putting all the results in a spreadsheet opening up the possibilities for hours of geeky analysis. (Meb was wearing Sketchers!)

While it is not surprising to see the top male and female finishers shod in either Nike or Addidas due to sponsorship requirements, what did surprise me was that none of the other runners chose to run in what I would categorize as a "minimalist running shoe". It certainly appears to be the case that the shoes have less cushioning on average than those worn by the 50,000 runners in the chasing pack but we are still talking about more than a couple of centimetres of squishy-squashy soles.

The other striking observation (if you'll forgive the pun) is the number of heel strikers amongst the elite. But, if you look closely, there is a world of difference between the typical heel-striker below

and the one seen above. The key difference is in the angle of the shin which, in the second photo, is such that the knee joint is locked out (ouch!!) and the point of contact is well ahead of the centre of gravity leading to a braking force. In order to run like the person above, you need to have tremendous flexibility and strength in your ankles - you almost have to fight against the tendency of the shoes to encourage you to overstride. Conversely, from personal experience I can testify to it being even more injurious to overstride and land on your forefoot. Perhaps we should stop obsessing so much over heel strikers versus forefoot (or midfoot?) strikers and look first at shin angles. From the excellent new book Running Science:

It's a shame that the article didn't go as far as the first 221 shoes to cross the finish line of the NYC Marathon... :-)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Aranjuez 10K Week 1 / 6

Monday: 2 x 3 x 1,600 @ 3:25
Tuesday: 40' easy
Wednesday: 20 x (30" @ 3:00, 30" @ 6:00)
Thursday: 45' @ 4:27
Friday: -
Saturday: 6 x (400m @ 3:15, 200m @ 2:50) + 400m w/ 2-3' rest
Sunday: 45' @ 4:21
Total kilometers: 46

The interesting half of this week I was in Moscow. I had been asked to present at a conference but then that conference was cancelled and I decided to go anyway, with my wife and no kids (4th time in 11 years for a "DINKy" - Double Income No Kids - weekend). As a bit of holiday reading, I bought a Russian text ("Supertraining", translated into Spanish) on strength training for my Kindle by one of the forefathers of "plyometrics", Yuri Verkhoshansky.

I found a gym which I planned to do my quality workout on Saturday morning but a day pass turned out to cost about 75 euros and the running machines were so slow to increase speed that running such short intervals would have been absurd. Instead, I braved the cold and ran the stretch between two bridges on the opposite side of the river from Red Square while my wife jogged past. With my generous rests in between sets, we ended up running about the same distance in the same time. The uneven pavement made the 200m intervals at over 21 kph quite hair-raising; I would start the 400m at what was quite an aggressive pace to find that I was literally wheezing and slowing down to a trot for the last 100m. Probably not the optimal execution but a good workout nonetheless and one from which I am still recovering today as I write this.

It's not the first time this year that I've seen that green bike somewhere unexpected
Just as I stayed on Madrid time when I went to New York a couple of weeks ago, it was also convenient to stay on Madrid time in Russia. As a result we would get up around 10:30 am (no kids!), have breakfast around 12:00 pm, lunch around 4 pm and dinner at 11 pm. I was suprised to find that not only were there many reasonable and good quality restaurants open 24 hours but we were not the only people eating at such strange times. So on the Sunday, just before checking out of the apartment, I went for a run around the river. I think I saw one other runner the whole time during the 3 days we spent there. Considering that Moscow supposedly had introduced a bike share scheme this year, I was expecting to see at least some bikes if not people riding them: nothing. I know it is cold, wet and windy but no more so in November than London! That, and the fact that people still smoke so much and in restaurants, were the only things which made the city seem a bit of a throwback; otherwise it was very clean, modern and impressive.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Whoohoo, the results are in!

I feel like I've finally got closure... 5 years of waiting meant that being patient during these last few days was that much harder...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Before and after

Amsterdam Marathon 2008 (3:58)
New York City Marathon 2013 (2:47)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Training plan for Aranjuez 10K

So, as I have said, my idea now is to try to improve my speed while I still can. At 41¾ I'm hardly at the peak age for athletic prowess but, on the other hand, I've read somewhere that the number of years running should be considered as an independent factor. In my case (not counting my "youth") I've been running for six years solidly now and, while it's clear that the gains are becoming ever more marginal, it is also true that I have acheived a significant PR in all my race distances this year, especially in the Marathon (8 minutes).

Up until now I have tended not to focus on shorter distances and have almost always raced over 10K and Half Marathon distances on route to a full Marathon. As a result, my training has never been very specific for these distances. I recently bought an excellent new book on running called Running Science which brings together much of the latest research in sports and exercise science. I've taken some ideas from this book and especially specific quality workouts.

The three main principles I want to take into account (the first two of which shouldn't be much of a surprise if you have been following this blog) are:

Specificity. Apart from being harder, running at higher speeds is very different from running slowly. In fact, running at speeds of less than 10 kph is so different it is commonly called "jogging". But without going to such extremes, the biomechanics of running at 13.5 kph (recovery pace), 15 kph (Marathon pace) and 17 kph (optimistic 10K pace) are all quite different. Logically, running at 15 kph is good training for competing at 15 kph just as running at 17 kph is good training for competing at 17 kph. Nevertheless, running at speeds faster than 17 kph probably has some kind of trickle-down effect and improves economy at lower speeds. For these reasons, I will try to incorporate as much race pace training as possible and use the "junk miles" to actively recover from these efforts.

Eccentric strength. Especially at these higher speeds, running economy becomes very important. If you study the activation of muscles with an EMG while running, you find that the muscles are not activated during the "push off" phase but rather during the "stance" (quadriceps, arches of feet and soleus are loaded) and "flight" (hamstrings brake leg swing). If you muscle it, you actively contract your muscles in order to pull yourself along; this is much more inefficient than loading your muscles up like a spring in what is called the Stretch Shortening Cycle (SSC). Normally, we move our limbs by contracting (shortening) our mucle fibres - this is called concentric loading. During the SSC, the muscles are actually lengthening under load (concentric loading): once that load is removed, the muscles and tendons snap back elastically. It's well known, for example, that it is possible to jump higher immediately after jumping from a height to the ground. The downside of eccentric movements is that they more likely to lead to injury as the muscle is clearly weaker in its stretched state. Therefore it is important both for injury prevention and for performance to work on eccentric muscle strength and plyometrics and the Shock Method are the best way I know of to do this. An added benefit might be prevention of cramps. Muscle cramps that occur due to chronic muscle use (as opposed to heat cramps, for example) - Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps (EAMC) - are thought to be a result of an imbalance between increased reflex activity in the muscle spindle and decreased reflex activity in the Golgi Tendon Organ (GTO). The muscle spindle monitors the length of the muscles in contraction and can trigger a Stretch Reflex (for example, if a doctor taps your knee). The role of the GTO is to monitor the stretching of muscles and can trigger a Golgi Tendon Reflex (or Inverse Stretch Reflex) which has the opposite effect to the Stretch Reflex of relaxing the muscle (this is why stretching often helps aleviate EAMC) in order to limit possible muscle damage. The imbalance is thought to be due to over-excitation of the GTO during repeated concentric muscle activation. It would stand to reason, then, that training to increase eccentric muscle strength could help the GTO to become more resiliant to fatigue as well as reducing its activity in running. (This is my speculation but I will try to find some research on the matter.)

vVO2Max. "VO2Max" is dead, long live "vVO2Max"! It seems that VO2Max is a relatively poor way to explain differences between athletes while vVO2Max, or the velocity at which one attains maximum oxygen consumption, is a much better metric. Not only that, but an increase in vVO2Max correlates highly with time improvements in races of all distances. As my goal is to improve my speed in particular, it makes sense to work on my vVO2Max. Currently, this stands at 20 kph from a test I did in February - unfortunately this is only accurate to the nearest 1 kph and it is relatively unlikely I will improve enough to progress to 21 kph but time will tell.

6 week training plan for Aranjuez 10K
- 1 day off a week
- 2-3 quality sessions (Q1-3) a week alternating with 45-60 recovery runs
- Q1 = vVO2Max, Q2 = intervals, Q3 = race pace
- 1-2 sessions of plyometrics
- pace, number of repetitions and rest periods subject to adjustment

Week #1
Q1: > 20 x (30" @ 3:00 m:s / km, 30" @ 6:00)
Q2: 6 x (400m-200m) + 400m, 400m @ 3:10 w/ 1' jog, 200 m @ < 3:00 w/ 30" jog
Q3: 2 x 3 x 1,600m @ 3:25 w/ 1' rest

Week #2
Q1: > 20 x (30" @ 3:00 m:s / km, 30" @ 6:00)
Q2: 6 x (400m-200m) + 400m, 400m @ 3:10 w/ 1' jog, 200m @ < 3:00 w/ 30" jog
Q3: 6 x 1,600m @ 3:25 w/ 1' rest

Week #3
Q1: > 10 x (60" @ 3:00 m:s / km, 60" @ 6:00)
Q2: 3 x (800-400-200-1,000) @ 3:40, jog 2', 3:25, jog 1', 3:10, jog 30", 3:40, jog 4'
Q3: 1K, jog 2', 3K, jog 5', 2K, jog 4-5', 3K, jog 5', 1K @ 3:30-3:35

Week #4
Q1: > 10 x (60" @ 3:00 m:s / km, 60" @ 6:00)
Q2: 3 x (800-400-200-1,000) @ 3:40, jog 2', 3:25, jog 1', 3:10, jog 30", 3:40, jog 4'
Q3: 1K, jog 1', 3K, jog 3', 2K, jog 2', 3K, jog 3', 1K @ 3:30

Week #5
Q1: 5 x 1,000 @ 3:00 w/ 3' rest
Q2: 3 x (200-600-1,000) @ < 3:00, 3:10-3:25, 3:40-3:30, w/ 3-4' rest between sets
Q3: 10K @ 3:40, 3% incline

Week #6
Q1: 1K, jog 1', 3K, jog 2', 2K, jog 1', 3K, jog 2', 1K @ 3:30
Q2: 10K (2-5' @ 3:35, 1-3' @ easy)

Saturday, November 9, 2013

More photos from New York City Marathon 2013

Breaking the tape at the finish line ;-) 
Nice photo but shame about the booger 

Friday, November 8, 2013


I've been thinking about my goals for 2014. In much the same way as I imagine a woman is able to forget the pain and discomfort of childbirth once the baby is born, the euphoria of having finished a Marathon makes it easy to underestimate the hard work it took to get there. Right now, the temptation to sign up for another New York Marathon is huge, of course. In fact, I had been planning to run the London Marathon in 2014, but now I think I will wait until 2015.

There are two persuasive reasons to take a year off running Marathons (and indeed Triathlons). Firstly, I think my wife deserves a break from my long runs which, more than the hours spent on the road, has affected my family due to my low levels of energy on Sunday afternoons (a euphemism for bad moods). Secondly, now that my Marathon time is at least theoretically in line with my times in shorter races, I'd like to return to 5K, 10K and Half Marathons to see if I can squeeze out a few more seconds while I am still "young" enough to keep on improving my speed.

While there is no doubt that the king of road races is the Marathon, there are a number of equally prestigious shorter races - especially if you are willing to travel - which you can take just as seriously. There are also fast, sea level races as well as ones with a great atmosphere (although I think it will be difficult to beat New York Marathon). As well as marking a few key dates in the calendar for which I will train as specifically as I have for any Marathon, I'll take part in local "B" races for "fun".

The "A" races I am thinking of entering for next year are:

The ABN Amro CPC Half Marathon on March 9th in the Hague
The BUPA London 10000 on May 25th
and La Behobia 20K in November in San Sebastian

There, it's in writing now.

New York City Marathon training at a glance

The dips in weekly kilometres are due to races

Some photos from New York City Marathon 2013

I'm still waiting for NYRR to correct my results and for Marathonfoto to let me download all my photos. I'm checking every five minutes ;-) so, as soon as they are ready, I'll post them here. Meanwhile, some photos

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Cholesterol results

If getting a PB in the New York Marathon was not enough, I also got a "PB" in my cholesterol test last week. I've gone from 206 mg/dL total to 177 mg/dL (-14%) of which my ratio of so-called good (HDL) to bad (LDL) is now 84:79 - practically 1:1 - from (57:139), representing a 40% increase in good and a 40% decrease in bad.

So this at least makes me a little sceptical of the claim one of the books I read made, that it wasn't possible to significantly alter cholesterol levels via diet, as the body compensates for less ingested cholesterol by upping its production. I continue not to buy into the whole cholesterol = heart disease thing but the diet has been quite easy to follow (I now don't even want milk in my coffee any more, for example) and I think it is basically a common sense healthy way of eating.
Let's see if the doctor agrees...

Monday, November 4, 2013

ING New York City Marathon 2013 - Race Report

Before I get stuck in, I think it's worth a few words to put this in context. I have been waiting for 5 years for this moment, to run the mythical New York Marathon, of which so much is said. Of course, in the meantime, I have done other things - not least of which an Ironman in Brazil - but, as I was to find out for myself, nothing compares to the New York Marathon.

Just like last year, when the Sandy Super Storm hit, I was staying with my friends Eli and David on Upper West Side but they were going to be away most of the weekend, so I could be "anti-social" and stay indoors on European time. I had packed so lightly that I had only taken one credit card. It turned out not to work in most places (the chip is fine but the magnetic strip is unreadable) and I only had $150 cash which would have to include my emergency money in case something went awry during the Marathon. Remember, I had a flight to catch at 5 pm for which check-in time was two hours prior at JFK, which is about an hour and a half from Manhattan, and the Marathon was starting at 9:40 am...

After dinner and breakfast with Eli and David, we went our separate ways and I did my 20 minute run on Saturday morning down to the Expo on 38th street. It felt so easy and I realized I was clocking up 4 minute kilometres - i.e., Marathon Pace - and this was supposed to be a limbering up run the day before. I hoped I hadn't overdone it at the last minute due to impatience and excitement.

The Expo, much like the Marathon itself, was huge, very well organized and expensive. Last year the clothes had been at a 50% discount but, at these prices (and with my limited funds), I didn't buy anything for myself. I got Eli a sovenir t-shirt which I was able to pay for by card, using the old machine which sort of does a brass rubbing of your card details. I got to see Elaine, who was running as a pacer for the 5:15 group (next week she has a 24 hour run, so this is just a taper for her). Last year, we met up with a large group of international runners and ran the last 10 miles of the Marathon.

I went back to the flat and cooked myself a huge portion of spaghetti with garlic, olive oil and chilli which would do me for lunch as well as dinner and then settled down into a nice hot bath and watched a movie. I was alseep by 7:30 in the evening.

On Marathon day I managed to stay in bed until 4:30 am (the clocks had gone back, so this was 10 hours sleep!) but couldn't wait any longer. I got kitted up, put Body Glide vaseline in all the places I knew from past experience would get rubbed raw (except you always miss one, don't you?) and had a light breakfast. I took a packed breakfast to have a bit nearer to the start time.

I made my way down to the South Ferry terminal on the Subway. There was already a great atmosphere with runners of all sorts of abilities nervously exchanging information. There were a couple of girls with wings and high heels who looked like they would struggle to walk 42 m let alone 42 km but then it dawned on me that they were on the way back home after a night out.

I met a guy called Stian who had done the race a number of times before and so I just latched onto him. He also turned out to be a lot of fun and that helped me to keep relaxed. That, and the beautiful views of the sun rising over Manhattan from the ferry. Once on Staten Island, we went on a hunt for a free Dunkin' Donuts hat and, after a few bum-steers, we found the right place but there were none left. After all the terryfingly complicated pre-race instructions, things are much more laid back and practical than you would expect: nobody checks if you registered for the ferry when you get on board, there's plenty of food and drink at the start and there are places where you can take cover from the elements while you are waiting. There was, however, a very conspicious increase in security following the dreadful terrorist attack in Boston: for example, our ferry was escorted by a coast guard with a manned machine gun.

Two hours before the start I dug into my standard breakfast of (now cold and dry) toast with olive oil and salt, as well as a couple of cereal bars for good measure. Another point of business was to do a number 2. There seemed to be almost as many porta-potties as there were runners, each, amazingly, bountifully stocked with ultra thin toilet paper. I always take it as a good omen if I am able to "go" just before a race and this was no exception: I bade my goodbye and goodluck to Stian and went off to my corral in Blue Wave #1. Now, with only an hour to go, I downed a couple of Ibuprofen, some Omeprazol (to protect my stomach from the Ibuprofen) and a caffeine pill (whoohoo!) with a swig of Red Bull. I had managed to stay off caffeine for two weeks prior to the event (not counting the cereal bar I accidently ate the day before which rather unexepectedly turned out to contain caffeine).

Finally, we were ushered into the pen from which we would start. I had the best tickets in the house where I happened to be standing. I could see Michael Bloomberg giving what was likely his last public address before leaving office as well as the elite male athletes (the women had started half an hour earlier) as they were introduced as if it were a 100 metre final. As Chema Martínez jogged passed I yelled "Vamos Chema!". There was no chance to do any kind of warm up, so a bit of bouncing up and down on the spot would have to do as I threw off my cheapo tracksuit (it was entertaining just seeing what kind of random clobber people turned up in - I saw one guy in a suit which he later chucked away).

I had three goals in mind for the race. The easiest goal that I'd be happy with would be to break three hours. I thought it was important to have an acheivable goal to avoid not having anything to say to the "hammer man" when he came asking for reasons 35 kilometres later. The realistic goal was to run a 2:55 Marathon, based on how my training had gone and how much tougher the course was relative to Seville, where I had run 2:47. But the unrealistic but very "chuffing" goal was to beat my best time of 2:47:53. My kids are now old enough to have stopped asking me if I have won a race or not but I sometimes think that the chances of me actually winning a major Marathon are somewhere in between winning the lottery having bought a ticket (slightly more likely) and winning the lottery without having bought a ticket (slightly less likely).

Boom! and we're off. Everyone says to disregard the first couple of miles which are spent crossing the Verrazano bridge. The views were spectacular. Carried off by the emotion, I ran the first two miles (one up and one down) a full minute faster than the splits a spreadsheet taking hills into account had advised. Oops. Instead, I used the splits (printed on a wrist band) as a guide to know whether the upcoming mile was going to be relatively hard (slow) or relatively easy (fast). I got to the 5K mark in around 19 minutes and realized I was running at least 2:48 Marathon pace, not 2:55 pace. But I felt good and my heart rate was steady, so I pressed on.

As the roads were so wide and well maintained, as well as the runners around me being reasonably sparse, I didn't need to look where I was going most of the time. So I watched the crowds instead. It was fascinating seeing all the different folks and different strokes. Sometimes there would be clusters of similar types, like hipsters in Brooklyn, Hispanos in Harlem, and sometimes they'd just be all mixed up. About 2 million people turn up to support the Marathon and support it they do. I enjoyed reading the banners with motivaitonal and/or funny messages like "Celebrate Yourself" and "Pain is temporary, Pride is permanent" although I particularly remember one which said "Slow down and ask me for a date" which didn't help by allowing the thought of slowing down to enter my head (and not because I wanted a date). Neither did the all-too-common "You're nearly there!" (with 10 miles to go) - in fact, the spectators guide (yes, there is such a thing) specifically warns spectators against saying this.

By the same token, the bands were fantastic. If there weren't bands, there were deejays. If there weren't deejays, there were ghetto blasters. And failing that, there were people playing percussion with spoons on old pots and pans. There was only one band which was a real downer, a kind of folksy group in Brooklyn playing a really slow number with the words "Keep on going..." when it sounded like they would have problems keeping going themselves.

The downside of so many spectators is that it is impossible to see your friends, even if you have fairly specific indications of where they are going to be: the crowds were 5 deep in many parts. I didn't see or hear anyone I know but it didn't matter: it is true what they say about the crowds compensating for the hills. It was a very cool day which was perfect temperature-wise but it was quite windy (to the extent that the eventual winner finished in a rather "pedestrian" 2:08).

The part of the course that I think I enjoyed most was Brooklyn - best diversity, best music, mostly straight and still on fresh legs. Leaving Brooklyn by the Pulaski bridge, I passed the Half Marathon point in 1:23:25 (net). I changed over to my second little bottle of gels which were orange flavour (yippee!) - what a nice change from the berry flavour (which I switched to originally after getting sick of orange gels in the Ironman). For some reason, although I wasn't particularly aware of it at the time, the next 5 kilometres through Queens were the slowest of the race (nothing to do with the residents of Queens, who gave their Brooklyn neighbours a run for their money). It helped to think that my splits were automatically being "tweeted" to at least my family who were at that time driving back from Asturias. (It later turned out that the Twitter / Facebook setup didn't work - bastards, I want my $2.99 back.)

Everyone talks about the silence of the Queensboro bridge that crosses from Queens into Manhattan and the deafening noise of the crowds the other side on 1st and 59th street. Even so, I was unprepared. I was so overcome by emotion at this point that I literally nearly choked. All along 1st Avenue were the densest crowds of the whole course and, to shelter from the wind, we ran as close to them as the policemen placed every 50 metres or so would allow us.

I couldn't help feeling that the incursion into the Bronx was a bit token - just so that it could be called the five-borough Marathon - or worse, patronizing. There was practically nobody around to cheer. The way back down on the West side took us through Spanish Harlem where we were treated to Gospel Choirs, High School Bands and Salsa music: I expected to hear the Bobby Womack song as we went Across a 110th Street.

Exactly as I was passing the 20 mile marker - the only place along the course where there was a huge screen showing the live coverage of the race - it just so happened that the winner, Geoffrey Muttai, was crossing the line 6.2 miles away. 21, 22 miles. Hills schmills. Now it was time to concentrate: I stopped watching the crowd and fixed my gaze on the middle distance. Less than half an hour to go at this pace and still no sign of the hammer man. I started to increase the pressure to make sure I was keeping up the pace and started to overtake people who were fading. I heard someone say "Enjoy it, it's nearly over". Now this might seem a weird thing to say when the pain was clearly outweighing any enjoyment at this point but he made me remember that I had been waiting 5 years to run this Marathon and, here I was - actually running it right now - and in less than half an hour it would be over, finished, and there was something bittersweet about that.

It felt easy, really. Maybe I am culturally programmed to find it easier to run 26.2 miles than 42.2 kilometres. This time I only had to grit my teeth for the last 2 miles now in Central Park and this was only because I knew that there was a slim chance that I could actually beat my best time! I also knew that the last mile was uphill but I didn't care. I was pumping my arms furiously and sometimes running with my eyes closed. Someone shouted out "Looking good" and I naturally assumed he was talking to me: I replied out loud but more to myself than to anyone else "Of course I'm looking good!". It was great to be passing so many people - "Oh, I remember you - I lost sight of you back in mile X" I was thinking to myself.

I crossed the line in 2:47:38 and was overwhelmed with emotion. (I didn't hit the sign this time.) After a minute or so to recover, I just kept on jogging right out of the park and back to the flat, some 2 more miles in total. People were saying "Congratulations", "Good job!" or "Hey, the finish line was back there" etc. The volunteers were all fantastic and a big part of what made the day so special. They were so cheery without being cheesey, as well as very helpful and patient.

I had plenty of time in the end to shower back at the flat and make my way on public transport to the airport. When a Marathon goes to plan I don't feel muscle pain afterwards and I remember feeling much more tired (and grumpy) after my long training runs. When it goes badly, then it is a struggle to walk for days, especially downstairs. I was so excited that I didn't manage to sleep on the plane so I find myself now in a similar state to that in a Marathon when I feel fine but know that, at some point, I am going to suddenly feel very very tired.

It has definitely been worth the wait, the cost and the hassle. I have never been involved in anything of this scale with such a good atmosphere. I learned from the boredom I experienced in the Ironman that I thrive off crowds. Unlike in Seville where I couldn't remember anything about the course afterwards, so much was I "in the zone", this time, I was in the zone but also in the moment. Like I did in Seville, I pretended as I ran that I was watching a film of myself running the Marathon but this film was much more interesting and I was the star - everyone was cheering for me.

I didn't just run a "sub-3" Marathon, I ran another sub-4 (minute per kilometer  Marathon. This puts an end to the silly "post summer Marathon curse" I was convinced I was suffering from. I think the keys have been consistent training, continuing to run throughout the summer, a good taper, being well fueled before the race and, above all, being relaxed.

For now you'll have to take my word on my result as I don't (yet) appear in the official results (although I estimate that I'd be in about position 225 / 50,700 runners) and my splits mysteriously vanish into thin air after 35 kilometres. On top of this there are currently no photos of me crossing the line and the track I recorded on my Garmin watch seems to be corrupted. I'm so zonked that the whole thing could just have been a dream but I do have this finishers medal in my pocket so...

My last $9 wisely spent
UPDATE: I managed to fix the track on my Garmin (http://connect.garmin.com/activity/399723762). The guys at NYRR still haven't fixed my results but I did find some video evidence of me crossing the line for the doubters among you:

You can catch me just after 16 minutes into the video. It also explains why there were no photos of me crossing the line: the photographers were too busy having a natter.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Last minute preparations

I am so enjoying myself today. I weighed myself at 80 kilos this morning and, for three days, I'm going to allow myself to eat all those things I've been holding back on (well, almost all): chocolate, energy bars, pasta, rice, bread... I know by now that, even though they are only three days, with all the water retention that goes hand in hand with storing carbohydrates as glycogen - not to mention the effects of a long haul flight - I am likely to feel like a beached whale come Sunday morning.

A friend of mine has posted an excellent piece on the logistics for the New York City Marathon which has come in very handy, not least because I had forgotten about the clocks going back in New York one week after they do in Spain. I also purchased a license for an impressive spreadsheet she links to, which calculates your mile by mile pace taking into account hills and a number of parameters which you can control. Here is the result for the parameters I set

Whether I will follow it remains to be seen, but it is useful to know that, if I find myself 20 seconds behind pace after the first mile, I am still on track: this is exactly the sort of thing that can turn out to be a shock if it is not anticipated, potentially throwing off the pacing for the other 25 miles.

Having said all this, I will try to remember to enjoy the Marathon. As I often say, it is a privilege to be have the roads all to yourself (and 69,999 other people) and - let's face it - especially the roads of New York.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

New York City Marathon Week 11/11

Monday: -
Tuesday: 3 km easy + 30' @ 3:45 + 3 km easy
Wednesday: 40' easy
Thursday: 30' easy
Friday: -
Saturday: 20' easy
Sunday: ING New York City Marathon!!

Obviously I haven't done most of the training for the week yet but I realized I never actually get around to posting the final week of training (which, in some ways, is just as critical, if not more, than the other weeks).

Last night I got everything ready to go down to the basement and do my last "non-easy" run (3 km easy + 30' at 10 s/km faster than Marathon Pace + 3 km easy) while watching Netflix. First of all I found myself wrestling with my computer and the headphones to be able to get a decent sound and then I mounted the treadmill only to find that none of the buttons were working. (Actually, that's a slight exageration: it was possible to set the incline to 0% or 2% but nothing else.) This is the third time that the treadmill has broken since July. The last console I had weathered my corrosive sweat several years before packing in but this one has only lasted 3 months! At least it lasted through (most of) my preparations for the Marathon. Instead, I rather reluctantly headed outside to run round and round the local park - far less interesting than watching a film, even if I am down to the last dregs of what Netflix has to offer by now. I ran a little bit faster than I had planned but it was a good workout to finish on.

My plan for the Marathon itself is to keep my pulse rate below 172 bpm at least until half-way, if not until the last 7 km and to run each mile between 6:26 (Personal Best pace) and 6:50 (3 hour Marathon Pace) according to how I feel. It's not the best place to go for a Personal Best, so that is not really a target (although it would be fantastic and it's not completely out of the question). However, I have learned that it is important to have a sufficiently demanding goal (in my case, sub 3) otherwise your mind tends to wander as does your pace and, when the "man with the hammer" comes, you don't have anything to tell him.

On the day itself, if you can be bothered or if you happen to be in my family in which case I will bother you personally, you can follow me in realtime via my "Twitter" https://twitter.com/teticio. The race starts at 9:40 am on Sunday (1:40 pm Madrid time, 12:40 pm London time - the clocks in New York go back on Saturday night). The question on everyone's lips will be: WILL I MAKE IT TO THE AIRPORT ON TIME?

If you are in New York itself, look out for someone with bib number 1330 dressed like this:

Monday, October 28, 2013

New York City Marathon Week 10/11

Monday: -
Tuesday: 2 x 1'-2'-3'-2'-1'-2'-3' @ 17,5 kph with 4.5%-2.5%-1% incline
Wednesday: 60' @ 4:06
Thursday: 60' @ 4:12
Friday: 60' @ 4:27
Saturday: 2 x 30' @ 4:00
Sunday: 21.1 km @ 4:14 (1:29)
Total kilometres: 87

I had another trip to London this week so I had to shuffle my training around flights and meetings. As time was a bit tight, I decided against staying with my brother down in Stockwell and instead treated myself to a night in a hotel near the office. What was supposed to be an easy run on Wednesday turned into more of a Marathon pace run, fueled by pent up energy. In fact, if I ignore the first kilometre which gave a dodgy GPS reading (200m elevation in London is a bit of a give-away), the average pace was a snappy 4:02 per kilometre. My idea had been to run along the canal but, when it disappeared underground, I lost my bearings and ended up heading down towards the OXO tower instead.

The following morning I decided to stick closer to the hotel and went for a pre-breakfast run around Regent's Park. It seemed like a lot of other people had the same plan as me and, in fact, one guy stuck so close that he was drafting off me for one whole round trip. This time I ran a little slower but, again, if I ignore the GPS error at the start, my average pace was closer to 4:08 than the 4:12 overall.

I thought it would be much harder than it seems to be so far to give up caffeine. Perhaps I was taking so much of it that it no longer had any effect. Perhaps the sleepiness I felt before was purely psychological or maybe it is just that I have been - let's say - in "tension" lately in between work and training demands. I'm quite glad to stop drinking so much Coke Zero, which I am convinced can't be good for me, quite apart from its caffeine content, but I do miss coffee. I often find myself yearning for a coffee - after all, its about the only thing I take reasonably slowly - but a descaffeinated expresso (without milk) seems a bit like the concept of achohol free whisky.

After slightly overcooking the pace earlier in the week, I considered commuting my Marathon pace run on Saturday for an hour long run at easy pace. But, as I find often happens, I woke up on Saturday from my easy run the night before feeling refreshed, so I decided to stick to the original plan. There is a fine art to tapering because it is tempting to use the extra energy to run faster and therefore end up as tired as you would have done after a normal week. On the other hand, I believe that a good taper is one in which you whittle the training down to the bare essentials which, at this stage in the day, should be mostly runs at close to Marathon pace. With that in mind, I ran the 21.1 km the next morning in 1:29 (4:14 per kilometre). Although I have been calling 4:00 my Marathon pace for the purposes of training, in New York with the extra complications (jet lag, hills, crowds, etc) I'll be happy to break 3 hours so this may well be my true Marathon pace.

The previous day I had been much of the day on my feet firstly at a wedding and then at a Halloween street party in an American urbanization. It was just as well that the wedding had a medieval theme, so I was able to go dressed as a Tuareg which also served as a Halloween costume (nothing frightens Americans more than someone looking like - as someone put it - "a Bin Laden"). Unfortunately, the babuchas I had were far too small for me so I ended up walking barefoot. Correction: nothing frightens Americans more than someone looking like Bin Laden and doing something as crazy as walking around barefoot. Thanks to the leathery soles I have cultivated, it was actually fairly comfortable. On the other hand, it wasn't the most sensible thing to do just a week before the Marathon. I seem to always need to do something unrecommended just before every Marathon I run: perhaps it is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel that makes me relax my disclipine at the last moment.

So now it is time to reflect a little on how my training has gone, what shape I am in and what my race plan will be for Sunday. I think my training has gone very much to plan, much as it did in the lead up to Seville. I'm pleased to have started a couple of weeks earlier - given that I didn't have so many months of consisent training immediately before - and I think that the fact I have stuck to running all through the summer (rather than cycling, for example) will help break what seems to be winter Marathon curse for me. I have run 4 of my 7 Marathons in October / November and only one of them went according to plan, in which I set off a lot more slowly than I needed to (my second half was 7 minutes faster than my first!). I haven't been so discplined as I would have liked about doing my extra curicular exercises such as plyometrics, hill sprints, Power Breathe, achilles and core but I think I have dedicated enough time to them to ward off any injury (touch wood). I'm particularly pleased about my weight which is consistently down around the 80 kg mark, some 4 kilos less than I weighed when I ran Seville in February: carrying 4 extra kilos for 42 kilometres even if some of them are muscle is no joking matter.

All that's left is to come up with a race plan remembering, of course, that I won't be running 42.2 kilometres but rather 26.2 miles!