Monday, March 24, 2014

Let's try that again...

This time I really am preparing for the Bupa London 10,000 on the 25th of May (not the 9th of March!). I've made a few tweaks to the original training plan, just being a bit more realistic about my vVO2Max sessions. In the meantime, I have been reading Steve Magness' book which, amongst other things, puts a big question mark over the whole idea of VO2Max, saying that it doesn't correlate well enough with good performance to be a target or indeed a goal training pace in itself. That may well be true in elite runners who are trying to break through a plateau but I think it will do me some good and, anyway, I set myself the goal of running 5 sets of 3 minutes at that pace (3:10/km, revised down from 3:00/km) so I'm going to stick at it. I'm bloody minded like that. Once I've finished his book, I'll post a review up here. The 12 hour flight to Mexico this week should be a good opportunity although right now I am too addicted to Candy Crush Saga to use my Kindle Fire for actual reading...

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Back to bicycles

Can you believe that I am still getting over my cold? It's now on it's way back from its journey down into my lungs so today I went for my first run since the Half Marathon, albeit a very light one. In the meantime, I've been doing a mixture of nothing and riding my various bikes with my GoPro camera. I'll leave you with a couple of videos I took - one on the triathlon bike

and another (sped up by a factor of 4) of my commute to work. As you can see, it's quite a nice route and I count myself lucky being able to ride to work through forests (even if it has been a long time since I could last be bothered with the logistical hassle that comes with it)

There is actually a point in each video where I would cross in front of myself, if I could be riding both bikes at the same time, if you see what I mean.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

ABN Amro CPC Loop Den Haag Half Marathon 2014 Photos

You can probably tell from the even more extreme than usual foaming around the mouth, that I had a bit of a head cold coming on. Well, the exertions of Sunday were enough to bring it on and I am practically speechless today, but not in a good way. I'm supposed to give a two hour talk tomorrow at one of the local universities but I could just as easily lose my voice completely as be right as rain by then. This is something that happens to me once every year or two - I don't ever remember it happening before I moved to Spain. Anyway, between the cold, my stiff legs and my aching back, I'm really not in my best shape today. We've still got gorgeous weather so, if I'm feeling up to it, I may take my mountain bike out for a gentle ride at lunchtime.

I'm not sure how much fighting off this cold might have affected my performance on Sunday but it's better to focus on the things that I can control, such as not setting off too aggressively. On the other hand, maybe I would have been able to keep up a similar pace had I been feeling tip-top - one never knows... I realized that I was worried that I was coming to an age related plateau in performance! If I think how I have been able to train recently, that is hard to believe. Not yet, anyway!

Monday, March 10, 2014

ABN Amro CPC Loop Den Haag Half Marathon 2014 Race Report

Executive summary: On the one hand, I did my slowest Half Marathon time in 2 and a half years, on the other hand, it was only a minute slower than my best time.

Let's get the excuses out of the way, because they serve no purpose: it was hot and windy, I had a cold coming on, my back was painful, I trained for the wrong distance up until a month before, the race was in the afternoon and I was tired from travelling. Now that's off my chest, perhaps instead I can learn from something I did wrong because that is the point of all this, to advance in performance or experience or both.

My flight to Amsterdam (there are no direct flights to the Hague from Madrid) was leaving at 5pm on the Saturday, just long enough for me to pass the "baton" of our kids over to my wife, who was returning from Mali. We met up in a Japanese restaurant in the area which had literally opened the night before - Kabuki Aravaca. The best sushi I had ever tasted had been in Sao Paolo, Brazil, and not in Japan, where I have to say I was slightly disappointed. All that changed when we asked the waiters to bring out the chef's selections. Strictly speaking it wasn't all sushi so I didn't really get the carbohydrates I had been hoping for but when the food is that good, who cares? Thanks to my flight I had to leave for the airport before the bill came...

A room with a view
I booked a hotel that turned out to be in the middle of nowhere but I had chosen it to be near the station, so that it would be easy to get to and from the Hague. It would also have been cheap (€4.50) to get to from the airport but I felt so tired after the flight I decided to get a taxi - after all, how much more expensive could it be? 10 times, is what! Oh well, lesson learned.

Staying in Amsterdam presented me with somewhat of a dilemma. One of my favourite deejays was playing on the Saturday evening and the race was starting at 2:30 the following afternoon but it seemed silly to go so far to try for a personal best in the Half Marathon, only to be knackered from partying the night before. After all, I was only looking to shave 4 seconds off my time. If there is an intersection between my previous life of a deejay and my current life as a runner, it is this: drum 'n' bass music, which is the perfect rhythm to run to.

The weather was absolutely beautiful and you could tell that it was unusual for this time of year as everybody was talking about it and the Dutch were out in force on their bikes. I had a light breakfast on Sunday (perhaps I should have had a heavier one, who knows?) and got chatting to the barman, who turned out to be an ex-professional footballer who was also quite a fast runner. Getting to the Hague couldn't have been much easier - there was a train leaving just as I got to the station and bought my tickets. I traveled very light, just carrying what I needed for the race itself with a change of clothes on top. So light, in fact, that I forgot to take the map of the race area or any kind of ID.

This didn't turn out to be a problem. I hadn't realized what a huge spectacle the race would be: there was a huge throng of people making their way to the nearby park which had been converted into a massive staging area for the races taking place. I was handed my race number without any questions asked, so much for me fretting about it. In fact the atmosphere, if anything, was a little too relaxed. The event was very much aimed at two distinct groups: fun runners and the elite, so that "competitive runners" like myself fell between two stools. For example, the only food available was junk food (although I did manage to find a cheese sandwich) and it was pretty much impossible to warm up as there was no area set aside for the runners away from the meandering crowds. It was also strange not to see the usual stalls selling gadgets, gear and energy bars to runners all too happy to part with their cash. Having said that, it was perfect for hooking in people new to the sport. I think my Vibram SeeYas attracted even more attention than usual with such a casual crowd (although not quite as much as my Pulpo Paul costume) - I was even asked to pose for several photos with them.

The start was a very Dutch affair with the compere even singing some karaoke song that everyone else seemed to know. Sandwiched between the fastest corral (sub 1:30) and the elite were a bunch of Dutch runners competing for some national title. Unfortunately, some of them were very slow so that, when the gun went off, it was a bit chaotic. It took me a while to find my space and get my rhythm. A rhythm, as it would turn out to be, a bit overheated.

I'd thought that "Loop" meant loopy as it was a very twisty and turny course but in fact "loop" means course in Dutch and "lopen" means run. Also, because Holland is very bike friendly, the roads are relatively narrow with wide pavements and bike lanes. This meant that people cut some of the corners although it wasn't very clear whether the measured course was counting on this or not. Certainly there was one occasion when a policeman suddenly decided to stop us from mounting the pavement just after a whole slew of other runners had done so.

As it was quite windy and it seemed like the wind would be in our faces on the way back, I decided to try and bank some time. By my calculations, I should aim for 3:42 per kilometer and 18:30 every 5km. I got to the 5k mark in 18:09 (which, by the way, more or less equals my personal best time of 18:05 for 5k from this time last year, since beaten by 30 seconds) which would have been in line for a 1:16:36 Half Marathon time! In retrospect, I think this is where I made my error - I simply started off to fast and then faded gradually during the race. 

I enjoyed the first half of the race: I was still on target by 10k (37:04) but, of course, the pace I was running at was now as much slower than my target as first 5k had been too fast. The crowds were a bit "soso" as we say in Spanish (wet, I guess). A few times I called out for them to cheer and a brief round of applause ensued. Occasionally I heard my name being shouted but, as they had also put my middle name on the bib, very few had time to read it. I did wonder whether my childhood friends and the friends of my parents were out there, as well as whether they would recognize me - not very likely,  as I hadn't warned them I was coming.

The only part of the Hague that I recognized was Scheveningen beach but by that time I was beginning to realize that it was going to be very difficult to meet my goal of breaking 1:19. The splits were coming in in the 3 fifties and I knew I would have to at least run 3:45 per kilometer. As was to be expected, we were more spread out by now and it was harder to find shelter from the wind which was now in our faces. For a brief moment I thought that I would make it but, in hindsight, I must have done my sums wrong because the time that I was on the borderline of breaking was 1:20, not 1:19. It's a silly thing but, if I regret one thing, it's that I didn't make that extra effort to break 1:20. I didn't exactly take it easy but, having seen my goal evaporate, I didn't have the fight in me to be able to clock in another sub 1:20 time. My initial reaction when crossing the line was to feel angry at myself and even to feel guilty, having spent all that money just to get the opportunity to run a fast flat course at sea level and to have "squandered" it. Maybe the heat and the wind cancelled out the advantage afforded by the profile - it's often the way that a flat land has higher winds, not to mention sea breezes if it is literally at sea level. Now I realize that the error was in running the first 5k far too fast: a Half Marathon may not be a Marathon but it doesn't mean you can muck around with it. In spite of this tactical error, I did manage not to fade too much and I certainly didn't have that horrible feeling of people passing me by. For this, at least, I think I can feel proud.

A lesson in pacing
It was nice to get a medal, especially from ABN Amro where I used to work for 6 years. It's not often you get a medal from your employer, even if it is 13 years late. After the finish line I lay down for a bit but this seemed to worry the officials as it wasn't long before someone came to ask if I was alright and told me it was better to keep moving. I like lying down - it's what I had spent the last 30 minutes looking forward to doing!

In conclusion, it was a nice weekend but it would have been cheaper and easier to stay at home and to have gone for my personal best time in Getafe Half Marathon (which, they tell me, had an even faster course this year). Now I am going to take a week off running completely to see whether my back can recover completely and then I'll take another week to ramp back up before starting another 9 week plan for the Bupa London 10,000m for real this time!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

ABN Amro CPC Loop Den Haag Half Marathon Week 9 / 9

Monday: 4 x 4,000 @ 3:44 w/ 1' rest
Tuesday: 45' @ 4:00
Wednesday: -
Thursday: 40' @ 4:00
Friday: -
Saturday: 20' @ 4:00
Sunday: Half Marathon in the Hague

It's that time of the year again: race time. My last hard workout felt pretty good - 4 sets of 4,000m at Half Marathon pace - and, considering that it was only a little over one set shy of a Half Marathon, it bodes well for Sunday. Now I am in full tapering mode, just a few recovery runs, a few bowls of pasta (and packets of M&Ms!!) and a few days to endure being without caffeine in my system.

A friend asked me why I chose to run in the Hague. I was looking for a flat, cool Half Marathon run at sea level not too far from home but it was also important that there would be a good atmosphere (i..e, lots of people supporting). I learned from my Ironman in Brazil that I get very bored if there is no-one watching and from my Marathon in New York that I thrive off the crowds. I don't expect the Half Marathon in the Hague to be either extreme (unless it is raining, of course) but it looks like quite a big event: after all, it is where Sammy Wanjiru (RIP) set the World Record in 2007.

But there is another reason why I chose the Hague. As a kid we used to go on holiday to Amsterdam and the Hague quite often as my dad had several dutch colleagues and friends. Sometimes we would swap houses (we definitely got the better deal) and have a huge town house all to ourselves. I haven't been back for about 20 years so it will be weird to be running past all those familiar and not so familiar places. Whenever my parents would have people over for lunch, I would delight in making them tell the anecdote of the time that I got lost in the Hague. I was about 8 years old at the time and my mum and I were returning from the beach. I insisted on going in the last coach of the tram and my mum got cross with me and ended up in a different coach. I can still remember the shock of seeing her waving frantically from the stop she had got out at and my impotence as the tram drew away before I could open the doors. (It later turned out that she had got off one stop too early!). I got off at the next stop and, rather than waiting there for my mum which perhaps would have been the sensible thing to do, I tried to find my way home. I didn't know the address and of course there were no such things as mobile phones in those days but I did remember my parents asking directions from a man a few days before. I retraced those directions and eventually found my way back to the house where my parents were on the phone calling the police. I'll be running right by the spot where I got off the tram (the blue line on the map is the way back to the house). I'll give a thought to Rob aged 5 years as I go past...

Monday, March 3, 2014

ABN Amro CPC Loop Den Haag Half Marathon Week 8 / 9

Monday: 8 x (2' @ 3:10, 2' @ 6:00)
Tuesday: 12' + 8' + 10' + 5' @ 3:38, 3% incline
Wednesday: -
Thursday: 15K with downhill section in 57'
Friday: 1K-3K-2K-1K-2K-1K @ 3:25 (except penultimate @ 3:30)
Saturday: -
Sunday: 40' @ 4:00

It's been a bit of a hotch-potch week as I have had to improvise around a long weekend to Asturias followed by a last minute trip to Mexico (which, in the end, didn't happen). Although it is not ideal, I scrunched up all my quality training so that, by Tuesday evening, I had already done all that I had planned for the week! Not only it is tougher psychologically, but I'm not sure that the body reaps as much benefit from training sufficient time to rest and adapt in between. Tuesday was the third hard session in a row and, as a result of this and a miscalculation of the pace at which I was to run, I didn't manage to complete it as intended: instead of running 10K at 3:30 with a 3% incline, I ran it with a rest in between shorter sections at 3:38. I have completed this workout at 3:38 recently but 3:30 was way too ambitious: this is faster than my current Personal Best time for 10K and I am supposedly peaking for a Half Marathon, not a 10K.

Wednesday was a well earned rest day, 5 hours of which were spent in the car going up to Asturias. During practically the only hour of good weather the whole long weekend, I ran down from the house in the mountains to the beach, 15 kms away.

It just goes to show that you use very different muscles running on the flat from up or downhill. Over time I've become convinced of the importance of training as many muscle fibers as possible so that, during a race, when you are down to the last dregs of muscle fibers they have at least had some conditioning. I believe that there are several ways to do this: running on tired legs, high intensity running, weights, plyometrics and hill running. Having said this, I've been very lazy about running hills lately. My legs haven't felt so achy since recovering from the last Marathon I ran! In spite of this, I decided to do another hard workout the next day, in the gym down in Villaviciosa.

Considering the gym only costs about 4 euros you can imagine that it is not the best equipped. As usual, all the running machines were occupied and I was a little nervous as I had promised my wife to be back at the house by 12:30. It just so happened that somebody was finishing up, so I was able to hop on his treadmill without much waiting around. I put it straight up to 17.5 kph and started my first set. Just as I was getting to the end of it, the belt suddenly slowed down and stopped and it was at this point that I noticed the thick black clouds of smoke billowing out of the place where the motor had been: I'd set the thing on fire, literally! I'm not sure that the 4 euros covered the damage I had done but, even so, my neighbour kindly offered me his treadmill while he continued his uphill walking workout on another machine which said "walking only" (the exact same make as the one I had just killed, by the way). He did say "Try to leave us with at least one working treadmill!". With all the fireworks out of the way, I finished the workout at a faster pace than I had done previously, only having to drop back down for one of the sets.

After a pretty intense start to the week, I needed another day off on Saturday (in any case, I'm starting to taper now for the Half Marathon on the 9th of March) and I was still a little stiff on Sunday, so I only did a 40 minute run. As often happens, I find it surprising how much better I can feel after doing a recovery run when I feel too tired to run at all: this morning I feel full of beans and ready for the race ahead. It hasn't been the best preparation I have done for a race but neither has it been the worst. I'm hoping that - weather providing - I can take advantage of the cool sea level conditions in the Hague to knock 4 seconds of my Half Marathon time and come in at 1:18:XX.