Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Lisbon Half Ironman Weeks 8 and 9/9

Into the final straight the natural question to ask is how well my training has gone and, more specifically, did I meet my

Training Objectives
- Convert endurance from Marathon training into endurance for an event that will last between 4:30 and 5:00 hours 
- Maintain as much as possible running speed from the last year of running focussed training  See below for how my "aerobic test" went
- Practice swimming technique and get used to swimming for up to an hour without stopping 
- Improve upper body strength I have become very lazy about weight training lately...
- Get used to aero position on the bike  This has gone better than I anticipated - I've even managed to tolerate an hour and a half on the turbo trainer without breaking which I find harder than riding on the roads.
- Develop bike speed  The high intensity intervals I did once a week should have some positive impact.
- Take advantage of commuting by bike when possible /2 Strictly speaking I did commute "when possible" only that the weather has been so bad that it has not really been possible (because there is a stretch I have to cycle in my work attire) very much of the time.

I'd also add another objective that wasn't part of my original list:
- Train respiratory muscles with Power Breathe  I've progressed from 30 breaths at 1.5 to 30 at 4 (out of 10 on the level 3 device)

It seems a shame now that we (finally) have such gorgeous weather here in Madrid, that I should have done virtually all my training this week indoors; the only exception was my leisurely commute to work by bike on Wednesday. (Actually, the weather has now returned to the cold, grey and wet days we've had most of the year so far.)

On Wednesday I also went for a swim, including 20 minutes at a pace I felt I could maintain over the Half Ironman distance. According to my Garmin swim, I swam an average of 1:56 per 100m, which translates into a sub 37 minute swim leg. Considering how much time and effort I have put into swimming lately, I'm satisfied with that kind of pace. If I want to improve any more, I will have to be more consistent and also mix in more variety (specific strength, speed, endurance and technique sessions). What I did find interesting, was that I naturally switched to a 4 beat kick pattern - as if the 6 beat kick that I had been using lately was over-the-top. I expect that this will feel even more natural in a wet suit which provides extra buoyancy thus avoiding the need to kick quite so often. The 4 beat kick is an asymmetrical pattern where you kick 3 times during one arm pull and only once during the other. The single kick is like the kick in the Total Immersion style and is used to rotate the body and is coordinated with the arm pull; the 3 kicks are timed to coincide with the pull, draw and push back.. I would have thought it would be more important to keep the legs high by kicking 3 times while breathing but it felt more natural to me to kick only once on the side to which I was breathing, probably because I could breathe more effectively this way. Or, seen another way, I could kick more effectively while holding my breath much in the same way as you breathe in between strokes while rowing, for example.

I spent a fair amount of time this week getting used to the aero position on the turbo trainer: I did one "easy" session of an hour and a half as well as some intervals of 15 minutes at Half Ironman pace and the bike section of my "brick". The idea this week in general has been to reduce volume by boiling the training down to its essentials, so I have increased the proportion of higher intensity while at the same time converging that intensity to Half Ironman pace. The brick, for example, consisted of an hour at HIM pace on the turbo trainer, followed by half an hour running at 3:50 pace (15.5 kph). It is always harder doing workouts on the turbo trainer because of the boredom and the lack of natural breaks from hills, corners, roundabouts etc. What also made the brick harder than normal was the mains electric shock that I got from touching the treadmill while wearing socks soaked in sweat - it made me shout out involuntarily. Regular readers will recognize this as one of my regular rants: I have lived in three different houses in Spain and in all three of them I have received electric shocks from touching toasters, microwaves, ovens, hi-fis. I guess I am more susceptible as I tend to go around in bare feet much more than most people. I can't help thinking that the 3 pronged plug we have in the UK, with it's explicit earthing, is a superior design to the European version.

That just left the other big "workout" of the weekend: that of packing my triathlon bike up into a small space for taking on the plane. While we are on the subject of "rants", what was Mr Allen thinking when he designed an alternative to the Phillips screw that was so similar to a circle that either the keys or the bolt would easily get rounded off? Still, I kept my calm and managed to dismantle everything without any disasters (unlike that time I tried to change the nose cone assembly). I had trouble figuring out which way the pedals were threaded (until I realized that you could actually see from the thread that was poking out) and worked up quite a sweat to get them off. There is an aspect of packing that I have to admit I quite enjoy and that is when there is a happy coincidence that conspires to optimize the space occupied. In this case, the "camel toe" of my Adamo seat was perfect for clasping the frame of the bike, thus holding the seatpost nicely in place. Lastly, I let the air out of my tires and swapped out the skewers for some crappy ones that I don't mind getting broken by the brutish baggage handlers. I definitely notice that I am much more patient when I have less volume (and not necessarily intensity) of training. My family notice it too...

I found my own packing list from last time to come in handy
The last time I did one of my aerobic tests - running 7 kilometres at a heart rate of 172 bpm (my Half Marathon intensity) - I did it on very tired legs and therefore got a tired result. I thought I would effectively end my training cycle on a (hopefully) good note by seeing how I fared on fresh legs. I happened to choose about the only rain-free window of the whole day which, otherwise, was a perfect temperature and similar to the temperature in which I've done my previous tests this year. It was, however, a bit blustery but, being a circuit around a tartan track, what was a head wind in one direction was a tail wind in the other. I was very pleasantly surprised to do my best time for this test ever, of 25:39 - this equates to a Half Marathon time of 1:17:19 (in theory...). Even if it is not realistic to extrapolate to the Half Marathon distance, it is worth pointing out that this was exactly the same pace that I ran my fastest 10K race in December and there is no question of GPS error here as I ran 20 laps of a 350m circuit (actually, for once the GPS was spot on - it normally adds an extra 200m or so erroneously). It felt completely under control with by breathing never getting laboured and I didn't find myself having to slow down towards the end in order to keep my heart rate at the prescribed level. I also took the opportunity to do a dress rehearsal with my Vivobarefoot Ultras - which I haven't used since the Marathon in Valencia last November - as well as an alternative to the BreatheRight nasal strips I usually use in competition.

I've no idea whether "dilating the nasal cavity" has any benefit on performance or not but it certainly feels like it does. On the one hand, I can't believe that the extra amount of air that can enter through the nose can compete with opening the mouth ever so slightly more (although I once remember arguing with someone who claimed that it wasn't physically possible to breathe in through the nose and the mouth at the same time). But maybe there is some other reason for it. For example, perhaps it influences our perception of effort. It's not quite the same thing but it is equally unexpected - when we dive into cold water we experience something known as the "dolphin reaction" which is a sharp inhalation in response to our noses being immersed in cold water: I suppose the intention (if evolution can have intentions) is to take one quick breath before going under water. Or maybe it's just the placebo effect. The problem I have with the BreatheRight strips is that they always come unstuck during a race and start getting on my nerves. They are also not very cheap at around 2 euros a pop. I usually end up using two of them per race because the first one invariably comes unstuck right away. I thought I would try the ClipAir nasal dilators which are a little rubber thingy which you insert in your nose.

At first sight they look as though they would restrict the airflow but they are somehow soothing and I might even consider wearing them during the night (rumour has it that I am a snorer). In a packet you have three different sizes and I went for the largest. It felt pretty good during the run but as I got sweaty it started to slip down gradually. In practice it means you just have to push it back up again every so often - a bit irritating but better than the BreatheRight strips which you have to replace once they come unstuck. Also, in a triathlon it's much faster to shove a little rubber gizmo in your nose than to put what is essentially a plaster on top of it. I have seen some people starting the swim of a triathlon with a BreatheRight strip or similar already in place and have wondered how long it manages to stay on and how. I've even considered supergluing one on (maybe that is their secret).

The last dress rehearsal was to go for a swim with my wetsuit, particularly to get used to the effect on my kicking (as the legs floar more) and to practice "sighting", or looking up regularly to check that I am still on course. The problem with swimming in a wetsuit in the pool is that you get very hot, so it's not really practical to do any kind of workout. It always amazes me how much difference the wetsuit makes. I think it is especially effective for people who don't swim particularly well as it covers up all our mistakes. Swimming comfortably I found myself covering 100m in 1:47 and, making an effort I perceived to be similar to the pace at which I swam 20 minutes earlier in the week, this dropped to between 1:30 and 1:35.

Tonight we go to Asturias which, unfortunately, looks to be where the rain is also going. All that is left is a 30 minute easy run tomorrow and a 20' sharpening run the morning of day before the race. My training has gone very well, I'm feeling pretty good just a slight runny nose and my big toe is still giving me some problems from when I tripped over back in January. If all goes well I will hopefully be able to beat my best time of 4:44 in the Lisbon Half Ironman on Saturday. My goal is to beat my best time for all of the legs of the triathlon individually: swim 36:23, bike 2:32:54, run 1:24:18. The transition times could also do with being cut down - I'm not sure why my T1 (first transition) time of about 5 minutes was noticeably longer than those around me - but I'm not going to try anything fancy like a jumping onto a moving bike or anything like that.

Tune back in on Saturday if you are curious to see how I got on.

Monday: nada not even nadar
Tuesday: 90' aero position on turbo trainer
Wednesday: commute by bike, 40' swim (10' easy, 20' @ 1:56, 10' easy)
Thursday: 3 x 15' aero position on turbo trainer @ 150-155 bpm
Friday: easy 60' swim, 30' run (15' @ 4:00, 15' @ 3:45)
Saturday: 60' aero position on turbo trainer @ 150-155 bpm + 30' run @ 3:50
Monday: 7km @ 172 bpm (25:39)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

New York Marathon 2013?

I waited like an excited kid on Christmas day for 12 noon EDT (6 pm Madrid time) and by 12:03 EDT I had already applied for the 2013 New York Marathon. I've paid my $11 for what is now the fourth time and I find myself again in a lottery to see whether I get to run this year or not. I'm not sure whether the odds are better in the general lottery or in the one which I am in, for people with a qualifying time, for which there are only 2,000 slots and priority goes to those qualifying in NYRR races. I suspect my changes are slightly better but still far from certain - I tried to get the organizers to give me some idea by asking them how many time qualifiers they had in a normal year and, of those, how many were from NYRR races but, of course, they didn't answer as this information is worth a lot of money in terms of $11 "lottery tickets" that people like myself might otherwise not have bought.

Well, if not this year then next year for sure!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Lost lanes

I have to make the disclosure that the book I am about to recommend is written by a friend of mine but that shouldn't make any difference: Jack Thurston is the presenter of the Bike Show on Resonance FM (104.4 in the UK) so he knows a thing or two about bikes. He's even been interviewed by my favourite blogger, BikeSnob NYC - what higher accolade is there in the biking world?

Lost Lanes is a collection of original cycle routes around London and the south of England with lovely photos (if only the weather was that good all the time) and interesting and engaging descriptions of the routes, together with recommendations for pit-stops (both for the bike and the stomach). The routes are grouped into different categories: for kids, for gourmets, for history, for hills etc, so it covers pretty much all the bases. Oh, and this being the year 2013, the book comes with downloadable tracks you can store on your GPS devices to ensure you don't get lost.

It has to be said that a lot of books of this type have been written but I can't say I have ever seen one in which so much thought and care has been put into the selection of the routes themselves. The descriptions really make them come out of the page and have even got me thinking about organizing a family holiday around them some time in the future. There is one route that I am particularly interested in trying - although probably running as part of training for a Marathon - which goes alongside the Regent's Canal, along the Greenway, through the Docklands and past the Millenium Dome.

You can preview the first pages of the book here.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Lisbon Half Ironman Week 7/9

This was my "peak week" from which I worked backwards when I was designing my training plan. The key session was the brick on Sunday - more on that in a moment - but it has also been a good moment to see what kind of shape I am in. I started the week off with a very fatigued lower back and contractions around my left shoulder (which is separated by a torn ligament from an accident years ago) so I decided to see a physiotherapist. Mónica showed me some strengthening exercises (which I only found time to do once) and put on some Kinesio tape which I found helped.


I don't have too high expectations of my swimming as I haven't really been training very long or hard but I am starting to see some return on my investment. Now I have got the hang of my Garmin Swim watch (updating the firmware also helped) I can see a positive correlation between increased effort and pool speed and I am even seeing my times improving. The biggest obstacle for me as far as swimming goes has been a lack of motivation which I think stems from not having any way to measure my progress, however slow and humble that might be. The Swimnovate watch I used previously doesn't allow you to upload data to the computer for analysis (although the Pro version does) neither does it make it easy to see at what pace you are swimming the intervals.

On Monday I swam the Half Ironman distance (1,900 m) without stopping at a very comfortable pace (starting very easy and gradually working up to a sub HIM pace) and in less than 40 minutes. This might sound horribly slow but, considering that my Half Ironman swim times have been around 36-38 minutes in a wet suit drafting off other athletes and working much harder, I think that I can safely say that my swimming technique has improved. Another thing will be to see whether that translates into a faster time when I have to contend with the churn and chaos of thousands of other swimmers not to mention the tendency I have to veer off course.

On Wednesday I did a workout which was just the right level of challenge to feel satisfying without being too taxing. The idea was to break the Half Ironman distance into ever smaller chunks which I would swim at ever increasing speeds. Interestingly, the Garmin recorded the first two sets as a mix of freestyle with a bit of back stroke and breast stroke thrown in: I think that my technique became more consistent as I warmed up and swam faster. I was pleased to be able to swim each set faster than the previous and the total time (ignoring rest periods, of course) was 37 minutes, not much slower than my best HIM swim time of 36:23.

Swim StrokeDistanceTimeAvg PaceAvg EfficiencyAvg StrokesSPM

On Friday, buoyed by my recent swimming success, I decided I would do a set of 15 minutes at my best guess as to what my Half Ironman pace would be. Normally the swimming pool is practically empty on a Friday but, 10 minutes into my 15 minute set, I was interrupted to move into another lane as a group class was starting which required the use of three of the six lanes of the pool. It would have been nice to have had some kind of warning. Slightly pissed off, I started a second interval of 5 minutes and just two lengths away from the end, I found my lane blocked by a guy who had just joined our lane and was standing next to the other person at the wall. I suppose I would have had to have stopped anyway, as we would have to pass from being two people going up and down each side to three people going round in circles, but the feeling of "circuitus interruptus" was so overwhelming that I tore off my swim cap and goggles, throwing them to the side and stormed out of the pool. I was a bit embarrassed afterwards at my obvious display of frustration but I find it hard enough to control my emotions at the best of times let alone when my heart rate is up and I am suffering. You have to be extra careful in the work gym not to piss other people off as you never know whether that person will be your boss in the future or not...


I went to work on my mountain bike on Thursday as well as doing my series (intervals) on the spinning bike at lunchtime. Over the last few weeks I had built up to doing a set of 9 lots of 4 minutes at a heart rate of around 170-172 bpm. I found this so tiring that I was a bit of a zombie afterwards - not helped by the fact that I continued to sweat profusely long after showering and donning my suit. I couldn't face even riding my bike back from the gym to the office so I convinced a friend of mine to give me a lift there, so tired was I. By  home time I was feeling a bit better and, although I took it easy at first, I was sprinting through Pozuelo to my house by the end. The workout did take a bit of a toll on my back, though, so I limited my training on Friday to a short swim: the important thing was to be ready for the weekend.

So, as I've already said, the big workout of the week - no - the training cycle, was the brick of 2 and a half hours cycling and 1 hour running, including a fair amount of HIM intensity. Perhaps not the best day for it, being the day after my birthday (which, by the way, was appropriately "Record Store Day" - before being a triathlon-nerd I was a deejay in my spare time)... In an attempt to make the workout more appealing, I signed up for a local 10K race taking part in the forest that I often cycle through on the way to work. I figured that I could get up early, do my ride, run the 7 km to the start and treat the race as the higher intensity part of my workout. Dani gave me the idea as he was coming all the way from his house just to take part.

Now, in spite of having a degree in Mathematics, I have never been very good at subtraction. And I can't blame the G&Ts that I had the night before, because this plan was hatched some days prior to my birthday celebration dinner. Some way through the ride, I realized that I wasn't going to arrive before 10:45 am, in time to pick up my race number and toe the start line, but rather an hour after that. But then I thought that I had perhaps confused the start time and that, I had in fact, done the subtraction correctly, and that I had the time of 11 am in my head as the start time for setting off from my house after leaving the bike. It just so happened that it was a small detour to swing past the start on my way back home and, to my dismay, I arrived just before the start (during the 30 second silence in honour of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing) wearing my cycling shoes. I actually seriously contemplated leaving my bike with a race official and running the race in my socks! I realized that this would not have been a very wise idea, especially with my triathlon coming up, so I set off home and prepared myself mentally for doing my run on the treadmill instead. This meant thinking about what film I was going to put on this time in order to take my mind off things. I chose an unfortunately very bad recent adaptation of Hansel and Gretel* (according to IMDB, there were 5 made in 2013 alone) which had the double inconvenience of making my run even more boring as well as making me quite hungry watching people wolfing down cakes and sweets. Again, like last week, I had a gnawing urge to stop running as I was tired, bored and uncomfortable, but it wasn't too difficult to get to the end if I just waited for the time to pass. I was very tired in the afternoon, but not as tired (or indeed grumpy) as last week which was just as well as my parents were staying with us.

Unusually flat (in the middle) for Madrid
As far as the ride itself went, I did the middle section of an hour at an average pulse rate of 148 bpm (a bit on the low side) and an average speed of 34.1 kph, which translates into a HIM bike time of about 2 hours 38 minutes (without aerobars). It is very difficult to ride to a particular pulse rate because of its slow reaction to hills - I suppose this is why the power meter was invented - but I plan to race at about 150-155 bpm for the bike segment of the Lisbon triathlon. I got a bit lost a couple of times and ended up overtaking the same guy twice who then immediately latched onto my back wheel like a limpet both times. I know it shouldn't really bother me, but it does. I find it disconcerting that someone can keep up with me so easily when I am working that hard even if, intellectually, I know that the drafting effect is giving roughly a 10% advantage. Even so, I don't like the idea that they can hear how hard I am having to breathe. I took the same route back as I did last week but, this time, the annoying long hill was nothing like as daunting or energy sapping. The whole ride was just over 80 kms (and 500 m climbing) at an overall average speed of over 31 kph.


As usual, Tuesday was series day both in terms of running series (intervals) and catching up on the TV series "The Following" that I put on while I ran on the treadmill. The ladder workout - which consists of running 1 minute, 2-3-2-1-2-3 at equivalents of 19, 18 and 17 kph - has become progressively easier the more times I have done it. The first time was in a gym in Canary Wharf with an incline of 1%; since then, as my treadmill isn't as powerful, I have replicated it using speeds of 18, 18 and 17.5 kph with inclines of 4.5%, 2.5% and 1%. I remember that the first time I did this version of the workout, I felt quite stiff the next day. Perhaps as a result of the hill running I did in Morocco and Andalucía, my legs are more accustomed to this. Whatever the case, I felt up to doing three ladders this time: it was hard but not overwhelmingly so. In fact, I even felt up to doing a mid tempo run the next day of 15' at Marathon pace (15 kph) followed by 15' at Half Marathon pace (16 kph).

The only other run I did (apart from the brick) was an hour and 40 minutes on Saturday morning. I was quite tired by this point in the week, I have to say, so I considered leaving my Garmin GPS watch behind, which I thought would only demoralize me. It was supposed to be an easy run and the rhythm shouldn't have been important, but I knew I would compare myself to the surprisingly fast 90' I did two weeks before. In fact, as I started running, I thought of writing on this blog that I was feeling my new age of 41 as an excuse. I ran down to the Casa del Campo where my route was cut ever so slightly short by yet another triathlon which was taking place there - I had to make up the extra time with a little loop around my house. I always find it psychologically much harder to keep on running once I have got to my house, rather like that time in the Marathon leg of the Brazil Ironman when I had to run past my hotel before getting to the finish line. However, I was very surprised to see that I had not only run the Half Marathon portion in less than 1 hour and 30 minutes, but I had run the whole way at an average pace of 4:10 per kilometre. It's a fairly hilly course (233 metres of climbing in 24 km) and some bits are quite technical, making it all the more surprising. I expect that if I had had my heart rate monitor on, my pulse would have been outside my aerobic zone by some way but - you may have noticed a shift in my philosophy lately - I am thinking more along the lines of "train slow, race slow; train fast, race fast" these days.

To be honest, I don't think that any one of the paradigms is right for everyone all of the time. "No pain, no gain", "train fast, race fast" or so called polarized training (only low or high intensity) are one-size-fits-all approaches. At the end of the day, there are conflicts between training speed, endurance and strength so the balance is always going to be tricky. The advantage of being a self-trained athlete is that I can play around with what suits me best. I think that the two most important things to take into account are consistency and variety which are as much in competition with each other as speed, endurance and strength. Consistency is necessary for your body to adapt to a training stimulus; variety is necessary if you want your body to continue to adapt and improve. For example, if you always run for an hour at 12 kph, you will become very efficient at doing just that, but not so good at running a 10K race flat out. In sports physiology jargon, I believe these two concepts are known as specific training (consistency) and base training (variety). So, right now the "train fast, race fast" mantra seems to be working for me, so I will stick with it until the marginal gains run out; maybe then I will return to polarized training. For now, I am interested to see whether I am able to coach myself to a Personal Best time in the Half Ironman, after having done so in all the other distances I run. (Not to take merit away from Jonathan, my ex-coach, from whom I have learnt a hell of a lot.)

Monday: 1900 m swim
Tuesday: 3 x (1'-2'-3'-2'-1'-2'-3' @ 3:10-3:20-3:30) run
Wednesday: progressive 1900 m swim, 30' run (15' @ 4:00, 15' @ 3:45)
Thursday: commute by bike, 9 x 4' @ 170 bpm on spinning bike
Friday: 30' swim (15' easy, 10' + 5' @ HIM pace)
Saturday: 100' run @ 4:10
Sunday: 2 h 30' bike (including 60' @ 150 bpm) + 60' run (20' @ 4:30, 40' @ 3:50)

I thought this review from IMDB of the Hansel and Gretel film I saw was so good that I would copy it here (I hope that neither the author nor IMDB mind):

Oh My God.2 February 2013
Author: Gilad Mitrani from Somewhere near you
Oh My God. This movie sucked a**. I feel as though I should kill myself now. This movie cannot be unseen. I will forever remember it as the worst movie i had ever laid eyes upon. My IQ burned by 20 points while my sense refuses to comprehend why was such an awful movie was ever written, filmed, acted, edited and finally released to the unsuspecting audience. The characters were unified in their stupidity, the character buildup was forced and felt unnatural. The visual effects seemed to have been created by an 8 year old boy using MS-Paint (and not in a good way). The acting was absolutely shameful and degrading. I feel sorry for all those involved in the making of this waste of time in film disguise.
hear my words, those responsible for the movie need be avenged!


Monday, April 15, 2013

Lisbon Half Ironman Week 6/9

I've come up with a theory as to why I find cycling hard so painful and yet I am able to maintain that level of discomfort for much longer than the equivalent while running. I think that my brain is "calibrated" to the sensory feedback from running - Dr Tim Noakes' idea of a "Central Governor" that uses this information to produce a sensation of effort and discomfort that forces us to slow down, both to avoid wasting energy that might be needed later (to outrun a lion for example) and to avoid irreparable damage. When running a Marathon we may somehow find the energy to run the last straight faster even though only minutes before we had been feeling so exhausted that we couldn't possibly run any faster. And, even if you then collapse over the finish line having spent what seems to be every last drop of energy, you still have enough left over to get back to the hotel. The idea is that the Central Governor is the key to how hard we can push ourselves and, ultimately, to how we pace ourselves in competition: training at intensity not only changes our physiology, it "re-calibrates" our brain in the depths of the subconscious to a new level of effort. So, based on this theory and the fact that I have done less high intensity training on the bike, I think that my brain generates a higher level of discomfort for a level of effort that is, in fact, easier to maintain than it seems. Perhaps all our brains are evolutionarily wired to running which is more energetically demanding and damaging to our muscles, tendons and bones than cycling. This might explain why the Tour de France is so widely considered to be a suffer-fest, even for those highly trained cyclists that take part in it. As far as I am concerned, I just have to remember that the pain in my legs will be relatively higher for the bike leg of the Half Ironman and that I will be able to maintain it for longer than it seems.

I do have another theory, though. On the bike I usually train in a particular heart rate zone. At first it seems impossible to get my heart rate up to where it should be because there is inevitably a lag. I find myself gritting my teeth and breathing harder in an effort to persuade my heart (and my head) that I really am working as hard as I am supposed to be. The fact I am focussing so much on how hard I have to work makes it seem much harder. On the other hand, if I run at a particular speed, at first it always seems surprisingly easy - the sensation of difficulty creeps up slowly on me and it is psychologically more bearable.

I had decided that this week I would do one of my aerobic tests, where I run 20 laps around the 350m running track all the while trying to keep my heart rate at a maximum of 172 bpm. Normally I try to do this test on fresh legs but, this time, I was already quite tired from the hard session on the spinning bike the day before, not to mention the accumulation of fatigue from the rest of the week of training. Nevertheless, I thought it would be interesting to see how I fared especially as a triathlon is all about running on tired legs. I had to slow down much more markedly and my heart rate was noticeably higher than usual so, in the end, I was over 30 seconds slower than last time, which translates into one and a half minutes over the Half Marathon distance. I'm not sure this really tells me very much so I'll probably do one last test (this time on fresh legs) just before the race, to see how my running speed has been affected by my triathlon training.

In fact, I was so tired on Friday - or rather, my back was - that I very nearly cried off my training on Saturday. I had real trouble getting to sleep because my back just felt tired in whatever position I was in. For once I'd actually arranged to train with a friend so I was a bit loathe to let him down by being a pansy. Luckily I woke up the next day feeling much better.

On Saturday morning I drove down to Griñón, on the way out to Toledo, to go for a ride with Dani. As its relatively flat round where he lives, I decided to take out the triathlon bike for a spin, complete with disc wheel and tubulars (if I had got a puncture, I would probably have had to call a taxi). It was so nice to have a change of scenery as well as some company. Buying my triathlon bike was a bit like having an orgasm - almost immediately afterwards all my desire to compete in triathlons vanished. Dani, with his enthusiasm for competing in what will be his first Half Ironman in Lisbon, reminded me of the excitement of taking part in a triathlon and re-charged my batteries to some extent. What also helped was having the best weather we have had in Madrid all year - a glorious day of sunshine which, together with an excess of wine, was a bit too much for me in the end and, as a result, my after lunch siesta lasted all the way through until the morning.

I woke up on Sunday not in the very best frame of mind to attack my most important workout of the week - the "brick" - but, again, it was a beautiful day so it was much easier to get out of the door. This time I took the road bike and managed to design a new route which avoided going through Brunete. I have nothing particularly against Brunete, but it is very difficult to go anywhere far on a road bike from where I live without passing through there and I have come to despise the rolling hills between Boadilla del Monte and Brunete that sap my speed and energy. I know most cyclists relish hills but, as you probably know, I hate them. What is the point of going down if you know you have to go up again? (It's probably not a very good idea to ask what the point of anything to do with cycling is.) This route inevitably had its hills but at least they were different ones. I was pretty tired by the time I got home and was seriously contemplating changing the brick into just a bike ride (i.e., skipping the run altogether) but I had everything set up to watch a film on the treadmill (Cube Zero - the prequel to the Cube films that amazingly I had not already seen). Training for triathlon feels so different from what I remember Marathon training to be. It didn't feel hard per se, running at 15.5 kph after nearly 3 hours of continual exercise, but the discomfort and associated desire to stop were more present in my mind than the effort needed to keep going. I thought of my friends who had just finished the Marathon des Sables and of what it must have been like to trudge for hours and days through the hot sands of the unchanging Sahara desert. The Marathon is just short enough to still be a race but anything longer feels to me more like a test.

Monday: 40' swim, 80' turbo trainer (including 60' aero)
Tuesday: 2 x (1'-2'-3'-2'-1'-2'-3' @ 3:10-3:20-3:30 etc)
Wednesday: 45' swim (15' easy + (3 x 5' HIM pace + 5' easy)), 45' aero position on turbo trainer
Thursday: commute by bike, 10 x 3' spinning @ 170 bpm
Friday: 7 km @ 172 bpm (27:02...)
Saturday: 120' triathlon bike
Sunday: 145' bike (including 50' @ 150 bpm) + 60' run (30' @ 4:30, 30' @ 3:50)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The most expensive running shoes for a professional Marathoner

Believe it or not, while you or I may be able to acquire these shoes for a little over €100, a professional Marathon runner would have to be prepared to pay thousands of euros to compete in them. This is because they would have to renounce the juicy sponsorship deals that the likes of Nike and Adidas pay them to cross the finish line while showing off their products.

Look at the size of those things
For example, Patrick Macau, the current Marathon World Record holder runs in Adidas Adizero Adios shoes which promise to be "feather light" at only 210 grammes each. The Vibram SeeYas, on the other hand, only weigh 136 grammes. There are, of course, other things to take into account than pure weight but I personally don't count among those their soft, energy absorbing soles. While it is true that elite Marathon runners have to tolerate both much larger volumes of training than I could imagine doing as well as much higher velocities which translate into significantly higher ground forces, they are also in correspondingly better physical condition. They also weigh much less, have much better natural elasticity but (probably) have less actual brute force leg strength than I do.

There seems to me be an extended myth that the cushioning of running shoes somehow returns energy. What I find bizarre is that this claim is made at the same time as saying that they help absorb energy and therefore prevent injury. One day if I find myself with a lot of spare time I'll try to work out the physics of it but my intuition tells me that the key here is elasticity: how much energy is returned and, most importantly, how quickly. Think about dropping a cricket ball on a hard floor, how quickly and high it bounces back. Then drop a tennis ball. Now a chicken sandwich. The elastic response of the sole somehow has to have packed into that relatively small space the same or better efficiency as the Achilles tendon, not only in terms of energy return but also in terms of rate of energy return. In a recent study of the physiology of elite Kenyan runners compared to non-athletic Caucasians, a significant difference in terms of elasticity of the Achilles tendon was noted, evidenced by higher rebound heights and shorter contact times.

In terms of unnecessary extra work done, the Adidas shoes - which, it must be said, are probably amongst the best of a bad bunch - require approximately 42,196 x 0.825 * (0.210-0.136) = 2,576 Nm which is equivalent to Patrick Macau having to climb an extra 46 metres vertically or about 19 flights of stairs after crossing the finish line of the Marathon. According to Ed Frederick - who, ironically enough, worked in the research department at Nike in the 80s - shaving 110 grammes off the weight of each shoe would lead to a Marathon time between 2 and a half and 3 minutes faster. If true, that would put Patrick Macau with his Marathon PB of 2:03:38 tantalisingly close to breaking the 2 hour barrier.

I look forward to the day when Marathons are run in true minimalist running shoes or, as Bikila did in the Olympic Marathon in Rome, barefoot. (For those of you who don't know the backstory, Abebe Bikila was a last minute substitute for the 1960 games for the injured Wami Biratu. Even back then the runners had to wear shoes made by the sponsors - in this case, Adidas - but they didn't have any in Bikila's size, so he decided instead to run the Marathon barefoot rather than in an ill-fitting pair. I find it quite ironic that it was because of a running shoe manufacturer and not in spite of one that the World got to see that it was possible to run a Marathon barefoot and win in record time.)

Maybe we should launch a Kickstarter project to sponsor the top Marathon runners in the World to wear whatever shoes (or not) they want to run in.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Lisbon Half Ironman Week 5/9

I have a confession to make. I have gone back to one of my old habits. No, I haven't started smoking but I have started biting my nails or, to be more precise, biting my nail. I've at least managed to contain the damage to one nail but the habit has actually been creeping up on me insidiously over the last few months until I finally admitted to myself that evasive action was needed. That stuff that you paint on your nails that tastes disgusting is not enough - the point is that nail biting is a form of self harm which can be quite painful, so an unpleasant taste is hardly going to make any difference. I am having to wear a plaster on that finger until the nail becomes "regular" enough not to annoy me. Only then will I be able to break the vicious circle of being upset with myself for biting my nails and biting my nails because I am upset with myself.

This week was a return to triathlon training after a nearly two week long interruption due to travelling to London and holidays in Morocco. Unsurprisingly, going back to the swimming pool felt very much as it did when I first started up after the best part of a year of not swimming: boring as hell. I thought a bit about why I found swimming so boring and came to the conclusion that it was primarily a lack of motivation due to not being able to see any progress. Being an "early adopter" I of course already had a swimming watch which would count the laps for me and even the number of strokes I was doing per lap but it is extremely fiddly to use and offers no real means to analyse the data. With my birthday coming up, I decided that my wife's present to me would be the Garmin Swim watch and I would convince her to give it to me early...

So on Friday I was excited to get into the pool with my new watch. It is certainly much more intuitive to use but it does have a few drawbacks* as far as I am concerned. Firstly, it would be useful to be able to set up an alarm that beeps every certain number of laps or minutes: my goggles always fog up so I can't read the display very easily and I'd rather try to get "into the zone" and just swim without wondering how much further... It may be a question of configuring it properly but another feature which is important to me is to be able to see how well I am doing when I am resting at the wall; for some reason, the totals for the previous interval are not shown when you are in pause mode, only a bunch of zeroes for the interval you are about to commence. However, the most significant problem I had with it was that it didn't recognise my strokes as freestyle! This is because I have resisted learning how to do one of those fancy flips at the end of each length. I hate doing turns at the wall because I either get water up my nose, end up veering off in some random direction or feel as though I am running out of breath. Still, it's about time I learned to do it properly and the watch has given me the perfect reason to do it. Once the data is uploaded to the Garmin Connect webpage, it is very easy to analyse and it doesn't matter too much if a length here or there was mis-measured; it is still possible to measure quite accurately your speed and efficiency.

Although that brings me to my other gadget related news. While driving through some winding roads in the south of Spain en route to Morocco, one of the kids "vommed" on my computer and, since then, the trackpad has been behaving as though there was a colony of ants underneath. Apple were quite happy to replace the trackpad under the guarantee until they spotted the "water" damage. Now it will turn out to have almost been cheaper to have gone by plane (although, of course, the kids easily could have got sick on the plane). Until I get it back (any day now) I won't be able to analyse my workouts in much detail.

Probably the only workouts worth mentioning were the ones I did at the weekend. I went for what was supposedly an easy run of 90' on Saturday and ended up running slightly more than a Half Marathon in that time. Perhaps it was because the Madrid Half Marathon was being run on Sunday and I wasn't able to compete because it didn't fit in with my training plan. I was quite surprised that the run turned out to be so fast as it felt easy and had a reasonable amount of hills (not to mention some steps you have to walk up and down, adding at least 20 seconds each way). To think that it wasn't all that long ago that running a Half Marathon in less than an hour and a half was a goal in itself.

On Sunday my family decided to go skiing in the Sierra mountains of Madrid and I decided I would give it a miss. This meant that I had the luxury of being able to dedicate my whole day to executing my training plan of a "brick" of 2 hours cycling followed by 50 minutes running, including some Half Ironman intensity (40' cycling and 30' running). I got up leisurely, had breakfast and arranged everything for a smooth transition: I would do the run on the treadmill so I set up a film to watch (Sam Raimi's "Evil Dead"). Everything went pretty much to plan in spite of getting a bit lost on the bike and going on to a roundabout a bit too close to an oncoming car (I was too focussed on pedalling hard). Then I went for an extravagant lunch in a very pijo restaurant as a treat and finally flopped into bed for a siesta, waking up only minutes before my family returned from the slopes.

When I drew up my initial training plan for the Lisbon Half Ironman, I worked backwards from the hardest brick that I planned to do in training and made every week revolve around the brick, including a couple of quality workouts for running and bike speed. With the two week break from triathlon training, I had to skip a couple of bricks meaning that the jump in difficulty from the last one to the one I did yesterday was relatively large. The tiredness I felt (and, to be honest, still feel today) was quite different to the fatigue from training for a Marathon, which is much more muscular; this feels more like a depletion of energy and reminds me of how I felt when I was training for the Ironman. When training, I try to avoid taking in any gels and even try to keep my drinking to a minimum (although I will admit that I had a couple of biscuits between the bike and the run yesterday) but I may have to consider taking in some kind of energetic supplement as the bricks get longer and harder.

Monday: 60' easy swim, 60' aero position on turbo trainer
Tuesday: 70' run (2' @ 3:45, 3' @ 4:30)
Wednesday: 3 x (10' easy + 5' HIM pace) swim, 45' turbo trainer (15' easy, 15' HIM pace, 15' easy)
Thursday: 12 x 2' @ 170 bpm spinning bike
Friday: 30' swim, 30' aero position on turbo trainer
Saturday: 90' run @ 4:14
Sunday: 120' bike (40' @130 bpm, 40' @ 150 bpm, 40' @ 130 bpm) + 50' run (20' @ 4:30, 30' @ 3:50)

* UPDATE: After installing the new firmware on my Garmin Swim, at least two of my grievances with the device have been resolved. It is now possible to see the totals from the previous interval while in "rest mode" and it seems to recognize my idiosyncratic swimming style as freestyle much more of the time. In fact, after struggling to do the bloody somersault turns, I resorted back to my usual push-off and it seemed to work even more reliably. It would be nice if, as many other users have also commented, Garmin added time / distance alerts.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Lisbon Half Ironman Weeks 3 and 4/9

It's always harder to fit in training when travelling or on holiday. In fact, it's also harder to update this blog, which explains my absence around these parts lately. I've been in London for another conference and then we went down by car all the way from Madrid to the Middle Atlas in Morroco for our Semana Santa (Easter) holidays.

I had to switch back into "running mode" as triathlon training really isn't very practical if you have neither access to a bike nor a swimming pool; running is also more time-efficient. One aspect of triathlon training that I have mentioned before on this blog is that you can cram in more training sessions per week by using one sport to recover from training for another. In other words swimming and cycling help you recover from running, running and swimming help you recover from cycling and cycling and running help you recover from swimming. In fact, last Saturday was the first day I had off from training in a month! It is worth remembering that "recovering" from training isn't just for "wimps", it also means adapting to training stimuli - in other words, this is the whole point about doing the training in the first place.There is, however, a common denominator to running, cycling and swimming and I find that my back gets fatigued after a while. I remember that this was the only physical limiter I encountered during my training for the Brazil Ironman: I wouldn't describe it as back pain exactly, but as a sensation of extreme tiredness that no position provides any relief from. I suppose that all the hours in the car didn't do my back any favours either. Then, with the return to pure running training, it was prudent to have at least one rest day per week; I ended up taking two partly because it is always harder to find time and motivation to train when on holiday.

A rare opportunity to dry out my kit
On the more positive side, a change of scenery injects a fresh sense of enjoyment into training. Also, most of the places I ran were very hilly which will have helped build up much neglected leg strength, as well as being at altitude which supposedly stimulates the growth of oxygen-carrying red blood cells (although for this I believe you have to be at altitude for longer than a few days). We ended up going to Ifrane - a slice of the Swiss Alps in the heart of Morroco - which is where many elite Morrocan athletes train as it is at an altitude of about 1,700m. We stopped to have a look at the athletics track where, a year and a half ago, I went as part of a training camp with my trainer Jonathan and an elite Morrocan athlete, Youness Ait (Half Marathon in 1:03!). Thanks to my Garmin watch, we were able to go on a trek with the family, re-tracing the cross-country route we ran that time. I would have liked to have gone to see Youness - who has since had to return to Morroco where, unfortunately, he is currently unable to make a living from athletics - but Midelt was just too far from where we were staying.

Another thing that is very difficult to control on holiday, of course, is what you eat. I've yet to see how I have faired in that department as my bathroom scales have run out of batteries, so often have I been weighing myself lately. I remember being quite shocked at how much the other guys on that training camp controlled what they ate: I'd assumed they were so skinny and light due to their genetic make-up and the amount of training they did.

I did manage to do a good quality interval training (series) session in Fez. I found a nice kilometre long stretch of boulevard with a wide pavement; the only downside was that it was pouring with rain at the time. I hit all my pace targets and more except for the very last set of two minutes at 3:20 min/km (18 kph) which I completed at a pace of 3:28, partly due to tiredness but also due to loss of traction from the wet pavement and having to avoid turning cars etc. I got the impression that people looked much more at what I was wearing on my feet than is usually the case in Europe - maybe people are more accustomed to sizing up status by the quality of one's footwear or perhaps my bare legs simply attracted attention. Of course, my Vibram Five Fingers caused a ripple of giggles wherever I went. I'm very happy with the Spyridon model which I have been using to train in - they seem very robust and are equally good on rough terrain as for running fast on asphalt.

I've also continued to use my PowerBreathe device fairly religiously - 30 breaths twice a day - and have progressed steadily from 30RM (30 Repetition Maximum or "failure to get a satisfying breath after 30 reps") at a load of 1.5 to a 30RM load of 3.5. I've found it helps to try to use my diaphragm to initiate the breath (in fact, this is exactly what the inventor of the device, Alison McConnell, encourages you to do) but it is absolutely not true that you don't break into a sweat when using it! It may be very convenient to be able to carry the device around in a pocket and the training itself only lasts a few minutes but the only problem is that it is not something you can really do in public, not even in the gym and especially not in a public toilet unless you are extremely un-self-conscious. I find that the car is usually the only place private enough (not while driving, obviously!) but it is better to use the device while standing up rather than sitting down.

Of course, the main casualty of my weeks away was the "brick" (Bike-Run) that is to triathlon training as the long run is to Marathon training. Still, I have another 5 weeks to build up to my longest planned brick of 2 and a half hours bike + one hour run.

Week 3/9
Monday: 2x60' aero position on turbo trainer
Tuesday: aerobic test 7km @ 172bpm (26:24) + 45' swim
Wednesday: 20 km @ 4:09 (London)
Thursday: 20 x (30" max + 30" rest) on indoor bike (London)
Friday: 45' @ 4:21 (London)
Saturday: -
Sunday: 90' run with hills (Ronda)

Week 4/9
Monday: 60' run with hills (Chefchaouen)
Tuesday: 60' @ 4:09 (Fez)
Wednesday: 8' @ 3:38, 5' @ 3:32, 2' @ 3:17, 8' @ 3:43, 5' @ 3:38, 2' @ 3:28 (Fez)
Thursday: -
Friday 75' progressive run at 1,300-1,700m altitude (last 20' @ MP) (Azrou)
Saturday: 120' @ 4:40 at 1,300-1,700m altitude (Azrou-Ifrane)
Sunday: -