Monday, January 27, 2014

Bupa London 10,000 Week 3 / 9

Monday: 2 x (2' @ 3:00, 2' @ 6:00) + 11 x (1' @ 3:00, 1' @ 6:00)
Tuesday: 45' @ 4:00
Wednesday: 1K, jog 2', 3K, jog 5', 2K, jog 4', 3K, jog 5', 1K @ 3:30
Thursday: 45' @ 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: 60' @ 4:00
Sunday: plyometrics

I had hoped by now to be able to cope with three lots of 2 minutes at my VO2Max pace of 3:00 (20 kph) but I felt that I couldn't manage a third one, so I did the rest as 1 minute on, 1 minute off. There's no rush, I'll get to my goal of 5 lots of 3 minutes eventually!

Otherwise, the rest of the week went very much as planned. Probably the most exciting thing was building my "interesting box" as my son calls it. The box is a "plyometric box" or "CrossFit box" for jumping onto and for jumping off, to improve my eccentric strength and elasticity. There's no way I would have undertaken such a task if it weren't for my friend

or Manolo Manitas, as you see him below, putting the final touches to the inner brace before screwing on the lid. It was at this moment that we discovered that the guy in the shop had cut the pieces for the brace slightly short but, without so much as a sigh or the batting of an eyelid - let alone a swearword - Manny came up with a brilliant solution (or "chapuza") involving gluing on some extra bits of wood. Noone will ever know unless they break open the box (or if they read this blog). I found the experience quite cathatric as I would have probably kicked the thing to pieces in frustration before realizing that there was a solution...

I hadn't realized just how bloody big the box was going to be. Perhaps I was thinking of what 20 x 24 x 30 centimetres would look like when I knew perfectly well that the dimensions were in inches. Somehow, the box I had seen in the gym didn't seem so daunting with all that space around it. Where the hell am I going to put the damn thing?

Now it will certainly be easier to incorporate plyometrics into my weekly training (as long as I don't have to keep the box somewhere inconvenient - it weighs quite a lot more than you would think). I suspect it will live outside so I'll have to give it a good coat of varnish and keep it elevated from the ground under a cover. In the meantime, I can dream of being able to do this:

Monday, January 20, 2014

Bupa London 10,000 Week 2 / 9

Monday: 15 x (1' @ 3:00, 1' @ 6:00) + 3 x (1' @ 3:00, 1' @ 6:00) w/ 5' rest
Tuesday: 20' @ 4:00
Wednesday: 6 x (400-200) + 400, 400 @ 3:10 w/ 1' rest, 200 @ 2:50 w/ 30" rest
Thursday: 40' @ 4:00
Friday: 2 x 3 x 1,600 @ 3:25
Saturday: 60' @ 4:00
Sunday: -

I made a bit of a newbie mistake by letting my exuberance get the better of me on Sunday and "doubling up" because, on Monday - surprise, surprise - I was qute tired and, as a result, didn't quite manage to complete my workout as intended. I struggled a lot more than the previous week doing the same 15 sets I had done then without too much difficulty so that the final three really were the straws to break the donkey's back: I did them in the end, but not without a good long rest in between. Lesson learned for next week: don't push it on the easy days or you won't be able to push it on the hard days (when it really counts). Also, the easy days are there to give your body a chance to make the necessary adaptations to all the training stresses you are subjecting it to. If you don't rest properly you won't reap the benefits of training in the first place. I know this!

The other downer from the weekend was that we ran out of fuel for the boiler. Yes, in this day and age, we still have to call a lorry to come and deliver diesel to our house. We only noticed that we were out when it was too late to call so we spent the whole weekend wearing jumpers and having cold showers. As a result (although I don't really believe in the connexion between being cold and getting a cold) I got a cold. With all this in mind, I didn't feel so good on Tuesday so I only ran for 20 minutes instead of the 40-50 minutes I had set myself. Instead, I thought of it as a day off from training as I had gone for over a week without taking one.

I was about to leave home on Friday morning with my computer in my kit bag, all primed to be able to watch another episode of "The Walking Dead" to distract me from the discomfort and boredom of my training, when I (luckily) realized that the kids would have gone ballistic: Friday evening is their opportunity to play Minecraft. Funny that we should all be vying for the computer for zombie related activities. I wasn't looking forward to having to do my training run in the stifling work gym (I couldn't do it at home as I was going out with colleagues after work) without any entertainment. Then I had a brainwave - I set up my iPhone for a blind user and coaxed it into reading Daniel Kahneman's excellent "Thinking fast and slow" book to me on my Kindle, albeit it in a slightly robotic voice. I was surprised how well I was able to follow what she (it) was talking about.

I bumped into one of the monitors at the gym who asked me how my training was going, saying that I must be quite motivated after my recent Personal Best times. I realized that I am lacking a little bit of faith in my training plan because I am not so used to preparing 10K races - especially not so seriously - as triathlons and Marathons. Why is faith so important? When you are in the midst of a training programme you are almost by definition not at your best; if you were, then it would mean that you are not stressing your body enough and therefore not likely to improve (or be at your best...). You feel tired most of the time right up until the last minute when you taper down for the race and when you instead start to drive yourself crazy thinking that you are putting on weight and getting out of shape. The confidence comes with experience and being able to compare training performances with previous sessions at a similar point in the cycle.

In the meantime, my blog has made it to 100,000 hits! I was hoping to actually catch the moment (without cheating by pressing F5!) but in the end I forgot and it had already got to 100,015. Thanks for following the blog, it's nice to know that someone is reading it.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Reasons to be cheerful... part 3

It's not only important to plan my training but also to plan the TV that I will be watching while I train. Thankfully, all the series I have been watching in 2013 have been renewed (except for Breaking Bad, of course, which has instead spawned a new series "Better Call Saul").

The Following Season 2 – 19 January 2014
The Walking Dead Season 4 (last 8 episodes) – 9 February 2014
House of Cards Season 2 - 14 February 2014
Vikings Season 2 – 27 February 2014
Game of Thrones Season 4 – 6 April 2014
Mad Men Season 7 – April 2014
24 "Live Another Day" - 25 May 2014
Under the Dome Season 2 - June 2014
Rectify Season 2 – Summer 2014
Homeland Season 4 - September 2014
Better Call Saul (Breaking Bad spinoff) – November 2014
The Returned Season 2 – Late 2014

Bupa London 10,000 Week 1 / 9

Monday: -
Tuesday: 15 x (1' @ 3:00, 1' @ 6:00), 40' @ 4:00
Wednesday: 40' @ 4:00
Thursday: 6 x (400-200) + 400, 400 @ 3:10 w/ 1' jog, 200 @ 2:50 w/ 30" jog
Friday: 6 x 1,600 @ 3:25
Saturday: 50' @ 4:00
Sunday: 50' @ 4:00, 40' @ 4:00
Total kilometres: 76

It feels good to be back to work - I mean, of course, in the sense of training. I'm pleased to be able to say that I haven't lost too much fitness or gained too much weight in spite of a few weeks off. When I drew up this training plan, I pitched this week to be harder than my starting point for the build up to Aranjuez 10K but less intense than the peak I managed to get too. However, this time I plan to get to a higher peak and I have a few more weeks in which to do it. One thing I have noticed for sure, is that the "recovery runs" at 4:00 minute per kilometre pace feel very easy, to the point that I again find myself wondering whether it is me getting faster or my treadmill getting slower.

The treadmill is becoming a bit of a habit. There are plenty of people that refer to it as the "dreadmill" and fret over having to train indoors during the winter months, but I find it so convenient just being able to pop down to the basement and catch up with my current favourite TV show. I can even be babysitting the kids at the same time if my wife is out, as was the case on Sunday, but I was unaware that they had locked themselves out in the garden (without a coat!) and had been ringing the doorbell, which I couldn't hear over the sounds of zombies in my headphones. Oops.

I expect I'll start running a bit more outside soon, once the weather brightens up a little bit. Abusing the treadmill no doubt introduces some quirks into my running gait as well as potentially increasing my risk for spraining an ankle, as I don't get to train anything but a perfectly stable stride. For this and other reasons, I should also do some kind of strength training like sprinting up hills or jumping off boxes, especially now that I don't follow any kind of weights programme. Next week... :-)

Friday, January 3, 2014

Work and play

I wouldn't be the first person to draw parallels between running and work but my personal experience has lead me to focus on other similarities than the more commonly touted synergies.

A few months ago, Josep Ajram - the self-styled extreme endurance athlete - came to give a talk at my work at the invitation of the head of Human Resources, José Luis Goméz Alciturri, himself a two-times finisher of the fabled Maraton des Sables. Two themes were elaborated upon in particular - firstly, the setting of challenging objectives both in sports and in work and, secondly, the importance of a team spirit. Perhaps having to share a jaima as well as your food and water with other runners is more similar to the tradeoff between personal goals and company goals in the workplace; my experience of endurance sports has been much more of a selfish one. In fact, this is exactly what I like about sporting challenges is that they are to my way of thinking "pure" in that they depend on you and only on you. Similarly, "real life challenges" like those we confront at work are rarely so well defined that it is clear what steps have to be taken, who is responsible for taking them or whether indeed the goal has in fact been achieved or not. The equivalent would be a race in which the finish line could be extended indefinitely (or you could be told at a moment's notice that the race had finished some time ago), not everyone agreed on the direction to run in or even on whether it was permitted to use some other means of transport and, finally, where some were running with other people's race numbers or none at all. Again, what I like about sporting challenges is that there is no room for interpretation: the first person to cross the line is the winner. (This is also why I have little interest in team sports or endurance sports such as the Tour de France in which subjective elements like etiquette and drafting come into play.)

I do, however, see parallels between training the body and training the mind: in sports we are largely concerned with physical performance (although there is, of course, always a mental aspect); work - or at least for office workers like myself - is mostly mental. Work can be very stressful and I consider this to be the equivalent of a tough training session or race, the difference being that I may not have any control over when this happens or to what degree. To the extent to which it can be anticipated (for example, an important and potentially conflictive meeting on the horizon) it can be prepared for in just the same way as a race can be trained for. If it is an unexpected load, then the best approach is to be sure to have a sufficient background training volume to be able to take the strain and avoid "injury": this is the equivalent to endurance and is more comonly called "resiliance". Another consequence is that it important to have rest days - especially the weekends, for example - where you disconnect completely.

As I have said, it is much more difficult to measure how you are doing in most real life work challenges than it is, say, to guage your progress on the treadmill. But there is an element of faith here too: when you are in training you are constantly tired and, as your body is adapting to the stresses you have subjected it to, you are simultaneously increasing the level of stress, so you don't know for sure how you are doing until it comes to race day. Through experience, you can compare yourself to how you were in the same part of the training cycle in previous seasons and base your confidence on this. The takeaway is that planning, having faith in the plan and following the plan step by step is the key, whilst drawing on past experience to make adjustments to the plan if deemed necessary.

For me, these two aspects - stress management and planning - are the greatest cross-over benefits from all my training and competing in endurance sports. The more obvious parallel between becoming fitter and learning isn't so new to me but, as I have got older, avoiding injury and stress as well as having to plan because I no longer have a coach or a teacher have become more important. It's not to say that I don't continue to improve and learn, it's just that it's at a slightly slower pace.

Back 2 Skool

As a colleague of mine just said, it's only when you go back to work that you realize quite how much you've managed to wind down over the holidays and, therefore, how much of a holiday you really needed. The same goes for my training. I've had a good two weeks of taking it pretty easy, coating myself with a fine layer of protective fat and allowing myself to get over a head cold. It's ahrd to believe that I ran a PB in 10K only a couple of weeks ago because I feel stiff even from the little (slow) running I have been doing these days. Well, it's time to go back to work now.

So next up on the calendar is the Bupa London 10,000 on the 7th of March, which leaves me with 9 weeks of training time between now and then. This will be the first time that I take a 10K race so seriously and with so much of a build up (although I don't think that last year's winner, Mo Farah, has anything to worry about just yet). My idea is to put into production the prototype training plan I tried out for Aranjuez. This time, I'm hoping that the extra weeks of preparation will allow me to get to my training goals, of which I fell slightly short: they are ambitious and subject to revision, depending on how things go. In particular, I want to continue my "vVO2Max" experiment and see whether I can build up to 5 sets of 1,000 at 20 kph (3:00 per kilometre).

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Q: What has 10 legs and 5 fingers?

A: Me!

San Silvestre Vallecana 2013 Race Report

Needless to say, from the minute I got on the Metro, my outfit caused a mini-sensation. I lost count of the number of times I was asked to pose for a photo (in fact, I am suffering from a kind of post-fame anti-climax in which it feels weird that nobody should pay me any attention). One guy in particular said that he would definitely be running as an octopus next year, having seen how many girls were asking to have their photo taken with me. As I was running, I got called variously "El pulpo Paul", "Calamardo" (Squidward from Sponge Bob) or just simply "Ese pulpito!". Apart from it being a bit hot, it was actually quite a practical costume for running in as I could put it over the rucksack I was carrying and giving "high fives" to the kids amongst the spectators was never so easy.

I was also pacing my wife, who was aiming to get under one hour, thus being able to start in the sub-60' corral next year with some of our friends. We did try to sneak into the women's corral which started 15 minutes after the sub-60 bunch and 15 minutes before us but, in spite of a rather professional forgery of the wrist tag and my covering my face, my height and hairy legs must have given me away because the astute security types lost no time in pointing out that the octopus was, in fact, "un tio".

As we were joining the back of the pack, a couple of guys called out to me by name and, I have to confess, I had no idea who they were. Perhaps I had been running with them before and they had worn hats and sunglasses so I was unable to recognise them. It turned out that they had been sent a photo of me by my brother-in-law, who'd instructed them to "saludarme" - they were about to start the third of for 10K San Silvestres they were running that day.

My only complaint about the suit was that it was very difficult to look behind me to see whether my wife, Ana, was keeping up with the pace or not: every time I turned my head around, the costume stayed put, meaning that I would have to either turn around completely and run backwards (not very advisable in crowds) or twist the octopus head around with my spare hand (in the other hand was my GoPro with which I filmed the whole race). It was also difficult for me to look at my watch to see how we were doing.

Ana did very well considering that she had done virtually no training and was not feeling very well. The killer hill in the 8th kilometre was too much for her, though, and she had to stop a couple of times. I wasn't sure how much to press her because I couldn't really know how much it would mean to her to achieve her goal relative to the suffering but I did give her some advice along the lines of "the faster you run, the sooner it will be over". We caught up with the pacing balloon only to see to my dismay that it was for 65 minutes - they had clearly gone off too fast and were having to hang back. Then, when we turned the final corner and the clock came into view and I saw that she could just make it so I shouted that there were 15 seconds left, 10, 5... According to the clock, she just made it my a whisker; according to her watch she was 0.7 of a second over an hour. I realised that I should have also crossed the line at the same time because we had potentially swapped our chips without realising. However, the official time clocked her in 1:00:09 and me in 1:00:12. Had I known, I would have spared her the sprint for the line, which left her a little worse for wear before our New Year's Eve celebration dinner. She said she enjoyed all the octopus related shenanigans but, on balance, enjoyed the race less than last year when she wasn't so concerned about the time.

Just as Ana was catching her breath, another guy came up for a photo-op with the pulpo and was keen to know the time I had done. He explained that he had seen me at the start and set himself the goal of at the very least crossing the line with me, if not beating me. Unfortunately for him, he did neither... Look out for photos of running octopi on blogs and let me know if you find any of me!