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" 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!

Monday, October 21, 2013

New York City Marathon Week 9 / 11

Monday: core
Tuesday: 3 x (1'-2'-3'-2'-1'-2'-3') @ 3:25 w/ 4.5%-2.5%-1% incline
Wednesday: 60' @ 4:27
Thursday: 7k aerobic test in 26:02 (average HR 170)
Friday: 60' @ 4:27
Saturday: 50' @ 4:00
Sunday: 32km @ 4:27
Total kilometres: 91

This was the peak week, the mother of all weeks, up to which I have been building for the last two months. From now on in, while it won't exactly be a case of plain sailing, the work load starts to taper off for the last two weeks.

I recovered pretty well from my 35 km run the Sunday before, so the "ladders" I did on Tuesday were not too stressful as these things go. Work was, though, so beating up on the treadmill helped to relieve some of that.

In fact, I did virtually all of my training on the treadmill this week, all except for the long run at the weekend (that would have been madness!) and the aerobic test I did on Thursday morning before work. It's always hard to convince myself to make much of an effort that early in the morning but I enjoy the feeling of having already done my work for the day much more than, for example, the days off when I start to get a bit restless (and am often in a bit of a slump from the day before). I didn't expect to get my best time (25:29) but I was surprised to see my heart rate shoot up so quickly to near the target level of 172 bpm - lately it has taken nearly half the time to get up there. It might have been due to the accumulated fatigue of the last few weeks or, more likely, to the fact I did my previous run last thing the night before. Whatever the case, I found myself having to ease off the gas pedal to keep my heart rate below 172. Even so, I did one of my best times - 26:02 - which equates to a pace of 3:43 per kilometre.

On Friday after an easy run on the treadmill, I went out with some friends from my old deejaying days who I haven't seen for ages. We were out until about half past four which is probably the latest I've stayed up for years. I still woke up at 9:30, unable to sleep any longer, and the prospect of 50 minutes at Marathon Pace - let alone the daunting long run I had programmed for the next day - weighed heavily on my mind. The Marathon Pace run wasn't very taxing at all, but I did feel tired all afternoon: thank god for the invention of the siesta.

All my training has been geared towards the run I planned for Sunday: 5 km easy + 24 km at 10 seconds per kilometre slower than Marathon Pace + 3 km easy. I took the train down to Madrid Rio, where I had designed a flat course alongside the river and where seeing other runners would help motivate me. In fact, I saw a couple of people I knew in the first few kilometres and may well have passed by some others later on, but I was so tired by then that I was practically running with my eyes closed. The quality section started off well - perhaps too well - because I was hitting splits that were even faster than Marathon Pace. At about halfway through the 24 kms, I started to feel the energy slide out of my body and my breathing become more and more laboured. The whole point of this run was to simulate the end of a Marathon without suffering the after effects. But psychologically it is a very difficult session because it comes at a point in the training cycle when you could really do with some encouraging indication of your Marathon performance. The thought that you are planning to run 10 kilometres further 10 seconds per kilometre faster in just two weeks is enough to make you want to stop. I knew it was vitally important to keep going and I told myself that I had gauged it just right: the next kilometres were really going to feel like the end of a Marathon.

As you can see, I got slower and slower and it felt like a excruciating  private torture. Had it been a real Marathon, I have no doubt that I could have forced the pace, but then I would have ended up needing days to recover: exactly not the right thing to do at this moment. I did, however, have to make a huge effort to keep up a semblance of a reasonable pace while fighting off the desire to vomit or faint. I allowed myself to flop onto the grass after the 24 kms were up - the final 3 kms are just there as a warm down. I felt absolutely and utterly drained. In spite of taking a generous 5 minute break and starting off again at a trot, the last 3 kilometres weren't any easier. At the very end was a gentle hill which had me literally gasping for air as there just wasn't enough to go around. As I lay on a wall with my sweat soaking into the pores of the stone, a señor came up to me and asked if I was alright - I must have looked quite a sight. It took until dinner time before I felt more or less normal again.

The long run wasn't quite as impressive as the same one I did back in February, while preparing the Seville Marathon, but it wasn't too shabby either and, as I say, I think I accomplished my mission of simulating the end of a Marathon without paying any long term consequences. It's certainly shaken out any complacency with respect to the distance I might have had from my last Marathon performance  The average pace for the 24 kms was 4:19 versus 4:13 last time; the overall pace was 4:27 versus 4:20. That week back in February I also did an aerobic test, but that was in 26:38, more than 30 seconds slower.

Now the taper starts and I have decided to try another little trick I picked up from Matt Fitzgerald's "The New Rules of Marathon Nutrition" book. I'm going on a caffeine fast so that, presumably, the caffeine I take on race day will be that more productive. Considering I drink an inordinate amount of caffeine (on a good day, 3 Coke Zeros, 1 Red Bull Sugar Free, 5 expressos) this might well turn out to be the biggest challenge of them all...

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Weight a minute...

I can't help smiling to myself when I hear people talking about wanting to lose a couple of kilos. Not out of superiority or anything like that but because my weight can easily fluctuate by 4 or more kilos in a week as a function of how hydrated I am. The only way that I can tell if my weight is heading in a good direction is by plotting a graph over several months, like the one below:

I always weighed myself on the same scales, after doing a workout. Aha, I hear you say, no wonder your weight fluctuates so much - it depends on how much you happened to sweat. The same thing would happen if I weighed myself at any other time, as I know from experience, because it would instead depend on how much I had hydrated since my last workout. I realize that the results will be biased downwards but who cares, as long as I am consistently biased. There definitely looks to be some kind of downward trend going on there. The interesting thing will be to see how much it bounces back over the two weeks of taper and, in particular, the three days of carbo loading. I probably won't weigh myself then, though, as it will only give me the pre-race heebie jeebies.

Come in number 1330, your time is up

Two big pieces of news this week in the States: the Goverment has rebooted and I have got my race number for New York City Marathon!

Just as well I am in the first wave that leaves at 9:40, as I have a plane to catch (from JFK) at 5pm that afternoon. It's going to be tight but, as long as nothing goes terribly wrong, I should have time to have a quick shower in my friend's flat in Upper West and head to the airport, probably by public transport.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

New York City Marathon Week 8 / 11

Monday: -
Tuesday: 45' (15' @ 4:00, 15' @ 3:45, 15' @ 3:40) + core
Wednesday: 60' @ 4:37
Thursday: 40' @ 4:00
Friday: 60' @ 4:41
Saturday: 70' (2' @ 3:45, 3' @ 4:27)
Sunday: 35 km @ 4:27 (2:35:47)
Total kilometres: 100

Whoopee!! Only one hard week of training left to go: my supposed "peak week". Although it depends how you define "peak" because this week was probably the pinnacle in terms of kilometres run; next week will be less but of a higher intensity.

Tuesday's workout was quite challenging because it amounted to an acceleration run of 45' starting from Marathon Pace and ending up at 10K pace. Work was again quite stressful that day and I found I had to fend off annoying thoughts trying to penetrate my brain, almost causing me to stop at one point. But I kept telling myself that it was just discomfort, not pain that I was suffering and that I would be so pissed off with myself if I stopped that it wouldn't be worth it. I gritted my teeth and counted down the last few minutes after which I felt rightly pleased with myself for having perservered. It wasn't as hard as doing a race, but it was one of the hardest sessions of the whole cycle and one that I have been building up to over the last weeks. For that reason, it was all the more important to get it done.

By comparison, the 40 minutes of Marathon Pace on Thursday were a doddle but, as I ran them last thing at night before going to bed, I didn't properly re-hydrate afterwards. I remember peeing just before my so-called "easy run" at lunchtime on Friday and being a bit dismayed to see the tell-tale bright orange colour. Consequently, the run was relatively tough even though it was quite slow; I weighed myself afterwards and the scales confirmed that I hadn't prepared properly: 77,6 kg, the lightest I have seen myself since I was about 16. To some extent it was a relief because I had been worrying whether my accumulating fatigue would be too much for me to be able to get through the weekend's training load. Knowing it was just a question of taking my recovery a bit more seriously restored my confidence.

I thought that 70 minutes alternating between only 2 minutes at 16 kph and 3 minutes at 13.5 kph would be too easy and that I would have to up the ante. After all, only a week before I ran for 80 minutes at 16 kph... and my shortest intervals I have been running at 18 kph. It was hard going and I took a short break half-way because I felt myself overheating and the 3 minutes at 13.5 kph stopped feeling like any kind of break.

So, by the time Sunday morning came around I was more than a little nervous about my impending 35 km outing. I needn't have worried: it felt pretty easy as these things go and I managed an average of 4:27 minute kilometres (13.5 kph). This compares favourably with the same run I did at the same point in my training cycle for Seville in February because that was in London, a few degrees cooler, 650 m closer to the sea and, more importantly, with half the amount of climbing and was only 3 seconds per kilometre faster (which all came from the last 5 kilometres which I decided to "sprint" that time).

I'm starting to get psyched for the New York Marathon but imagine if it were cancelled or disrupted for the second year in a row? Not possible? In America, Anything is Possible™...

In other news, I've been very slack this week in my extra-curricular training (PowerBreathe, achilles, core, plyometrics). I just didn't feel up to doing any more either for time constraints or energy constraints. In any case, I'm in the specific part of my Marathon preparation from which I basically worked backwards to come up with a training plan. In other words, I thought what the maximum training week should be and then trained for that. I think that my achilles is much better and is not at all sore after running any more so any extra load would not be so much preventative but perhaps more likely to lead to overuse during these hard weeks. The same goes pretty much for the plyometrics which can be quite risky. But, if I am honest, I am making excuses for myself. I'll try to at least keep up the PowerBreathe and core exercises several times a week from here on out.

Monday, October 7, 2013

New York City Marathon Week 7 / 11

Monday: core
Tuesday: 2 x 1'-2'-3'-2'-1'-2'-3' @ 3:25 with 1%-2.5%-4.5% gradient
Wednesday: 60' @ 4:21 + core
Thursday: 3 x 15' @ 3:45
Friday: 40' @ 4:27 + 5 x hill sprints
Saturday: 20' @ 4:27
Sunday: Alcázar de San Juan Half Marathon in 1:19:53
Total kilometres: 64

I don't have much to say about the training this week so I'll move straight on to the race report.

The idea had been to spend the weekend with the in-laws in Ciudad Real and to stop off at Alcázar de San Juan on the way back, where my family could see some friends while I ran the Half Marathon. Unfortunately, not only were those friends out of town that weekend, but my wife was feeling so poorly that the last thing she felt like doing was getting up at 7:30 am to drive 100 kilometres. It's not like I felt much like doing that either, but I was obviously a lot more motivated to do so; it was just a shame I had to drive back to Ciudad Real again afterwards only to go all the way back to Madrid that afternoon. Oh well, the things we will do for our sport...

While I was warming up by bouncing up and down on the spot, my necklace came off - just as well it didn't happen in the race! Only a few weeks ago, I lost the last one I had - presumably during a training run - and I had gone to the trouble of getting a replacement from this guy who makes necklaces by cutting and filing old coins. As usual, I lined up right at the front but some last minute stragglers squeezed in between the line and the timing mats just before the gun went off, catching us completely by surprise. It was actually on the verge of being dangerous as I clashed fairly hard with a woman (sorry) as we stampeded off.

As I clocked off the kilometres at 3:45 a pop, I noticed that whoever had put the kilometre markers up must have done it using a GPS watch because, unlike most races, there was near perfect agreement with my Garmin all the way... with the exception of the 2nd kilometre which was about 100m long, leading to a confusing 4:10 split followed by a 3:20 one. I got to the 10K point right on the money: 37:30 exactly.

The second lap of the two lap circuit didn't quite go as smoothly but I wasn't really aware of myself fading (the second half was only about 45 seconds slower but that amounts to 4 seconds a kilometre). Perhaps it had something to do with my decision to stop pressing the "lap" button on my watch at every kilometre marker and to just concentrate on running as best as I could. If I had detected a sustained slow down it is just possible I would have turned up the pressure a little.

You can see my shoe is at the point of falling apart completely
In the same way I was lucky not to lose my necklace before the race, I was also lucky that my shoes lasted until the end of the race. The left shoe felt all floppy and loose for the last kilometres (see the photo above) and I remember just looking forward to finishing so that I could sort it out. It turned out that both the shoes, in fact, had fallen apart in the race. They've done me pretty proud, I should say, having got me my personal best times in 5K, 10K, Half Marathon and the Marathon, as well as suffering with me through countless interval sessions since this time last year. I've already got my replacements which I picked up when I was in Boston a few months ago, so I'm all set for NYC!

Ah, yes, the other thing that happened was that my heart rate monitor slipped down during the race. Not that it mattered at all because I don't actually remember checking my heart rate once during the race, but I was quite curious to see it afterwards. The highest it got to was around 170 bpm at the 50 minute mark - again, markedly lower and slower to creep up than in previous races.

I was pleased to have at least broken 1:20 again, even if I didn't manage a personal best time. Not counting Half Marathons run at Marathon pace, it is the first time I have ever not got a PB running this distance! Still, while I can't expect to go on indefinitely I believe there is a smidgen of room for improvement: after all, the temperature was about 10 degrees hotter than the Half Marathon I ran in Getafe back in January, where I recorded my best time to date.

The runner's "goody bag" was the most complete I have ever seen. Just trying to remember everything in it reminds me of that game "I went to the supermarket and bought...". Let's see: a bottle of wine, an apple, an orange, a cereal bar, a bottle of Powerade, a bottle of water, a sample of Manchego cheese, a t-shirt, a cap, a diary for 2014, an inflatable neck support for travelling, two key rings and a purse! I'm not complaining by any means but I really could do with more shorts than t-shirts, of which I have got far too many.