Monday, April 28, 2014

Catch me on the radio talking about minimalist running shoes...

Bupa London 10,000 Week 5 / 9

Preparing for a race is often a case of micro managing a set of niggling little problems and making sure that none of them become actual "stoppers". It may be that I am not doing as much volume as I would while training for a Marathon, but the intensity is definitely higher. Without wanting to sound like I am complaining or making an excuse, those problems include a slight twinge in my left Achilles tendon, an occasional sharp pain in one of my toes on my right foot, a cough and - although it is much better lately - a tired back. Added to that, my treadmill really started showing its age and the board that I had replaced only six months ago, started to sag in the middle and the belt keeps veering off to the left, to the extent that it actually shredded the edge off while I was doing one of my faster workouts. The treadmill has turned into a bit of an addiction for me (or, should I say, watching TV will running on the treadmill). I don't think it is the cause of all my niggling problems but it probably doesn't help always running on a level surface and its only when something gets taken away, that you realize how much you depend on it.

On a more positive note, I was able to eek out a little more speed on Tuesday, and got a few seconds closer to my goal of running 5 sets of 1 km at 20 kph (3' per km). The quality workout on Thursday had the innovation that there was no rest between the changes in speed - in spite of being a very short session, it was surprisingly difficult and tiring, but I did it more convincingly than the last time I attempted it. That just left the split 10K which I started on Sunday on my home treadmill, only to run into the aforementioned belt shredding issue. I had wanted to go and see the Madrid Marathon but the kids were tired after going to bed at midnight the night before after a dinner of sushi, so I didn't have the heart to get them up before 10am. They did seem quite up for a cycle ride, though, so we set off to Majadahonda - some 7 km away - with me running and the boys in tow. There, I popped into Decathlon, and bought a new treadmill which - as my eldest had joked - we didn't try to take back home on the bikes. Ironically, while reading the manual of the new treadmill that I had downloaded from the internet (I'm like that - I actually read these things!), I discovered a possible solution to the belt being off center. Indeed, I found the unusual sized allen key which came with my old treadmill and, on tightening a particular bolt, was able to re-center the belt, at least for long enough to complete the split 10K workout I had initially planned.

Adrian (my youngest)'s Five Fingers finally arrived on Thursday and just in the nick of time, because he had his  "Olympics day" on Friday, in which he was running 400m. So we went for a practice run in them and did a couple of 400m runs as well as an 800m lap, jogging with a sprint finish. More than actually "training", it's a question of getting a feel for what pace he can maintain for a certain distance as well as him seeing what he is capable of: after the sprint finish, he proclaimed happily "I didn't know I could run so fast!". I underestimated how sore his calf muscles would be the next day, and he didn't run so well as a result - not that I care or he seemed to, but perhaps I did overdo it. Even at his young age (9), it seems like changing to "zero drop" shoes like the Vibram Five Fingers implies using different muscles that have previously been neglected. Anyway, he loves his shoes and enjoyed showing them off at school.

Monday: -
Tuesday: 5 x (3' @ 3:07, 3' @ 6:00)
Wednesday: 40' @ 4:00
Thursday: 2 x (200-600-1,000), 200 @ 3:00, 600 @ 3:10, 1,000 @ 3:40 w/ 3' rest between sets
Friday: 40' @ 4:00
Saturday: 40' @ 4:00
Sunday: 10K easy (morning) + 1K, 3K, 2K, 3K, 1K @ 3:25 w/ 1' rest

Monday, April 21, 2014

Radio Gestiona

Here you can listen to / download the radio show I took part in with José Luis Gómez Alciturri earlier today. This week the focus was mainly on José Luis' ultramararthon running and his charitable ventures, but next week they will broadcast the second programme we recorded, in which I talk about the transition to running in minimalist running shoes. Thank you to Dani and Chema for the invitation! Considering I used to do a radio show about music, I never thought that the next time I appeared on the radio, I would be talking about running.

Bupa London 10,000 Week 4 / 9

I used up the most of my remaining holiday that I'd carried over from last year to do a bit of spring cleaning in the house. Apart from throwing away an enormous amount of broken bits of plastic that used to be collectively known as "toys", I also threw out piles of triathlon and running magazines (including, unfortunately, the one in which an article of mine was published). In fact, I was looking for that very article today, as I was to feature talking on the radio on the subject of minimalist running shoes. More on that soon.

As I mentioned at the time, I was finally able to do a full 5 sets of 3 minutes at my supposed vVO2Max and it didn't feel too difficult! I should try to do these kind of workouts in an empty gym more often. As we were going down to see the in-laws in Ciudad Real on the Thursday, I squeezed in another day of quality training on Wednesday and did a quick 40 minute run in the morning before setting off.

Friday was a beautiful day and one of those rare occasions (these days) when I actually ran outside. It was nice to confirm that I can still run "in real life" as well as I can on the treadmill but I did notice a twinge in one of my toes. I was running along the very same stony path that I am convinced initiated the stress fracture I suffered 4 and a half years ago. They say that humans are the only animal to trip over the same stone twice: in this case it could be literally the case. The pain I felt in my toe was the same sharp but difficult to locate precisely pain that I felt with the stress fracture. Once I got back to the house, I couldn't reproduce the pain by wiggling or pressing the bones in my foot, so I put it down to some freak misstep, perhaps as a result of not having run much on uneven ground recently.

My idea for Saturday was to get up early and head down to the municipal sports ground, where there was a 400m outdoor track, and do my 7km "aerobic test", keep my heart rate at just under 172 bpm. In spite of having looked up on Google Maps how to get to the track, I got hopelessly lost and had already run about 4km by the time I finally found the sports ground. I had also run out of time, because I had promised my wife that I would be back within 45 minutes (so that she could go for a run herself). But, more than that, based on the fact that my toe was continuing to give me alarming spikes of pain every time I stepped in a particular way, I decided to head back.

We celebrated my birthday that lunchtime and, among my presents was an Easter egg, which I wolfed down practically in one go. I regretted it almost immediately. I have quite a lot of control over what I put in front of myself to eat but very little over what I eat of what is put in front of me. This, coupled with my worry over my niggling toe pain, brought out my obsessive demons and I took a decision which was probably not a very wise one. I decided to head back down to the running track and to try again to do the 7km test, more to burn off the calories from the Easter egg than to serve as a realistic test: the fact that it was the end of the training week, that I had already run that morning and that my belly was full from a birthday lunch all weighed against it. Once I was on the track, I felt myself slow down and my heart rate speed up to a point that I would have ended up trundling round the last few laps if I were to respect the 172 bpm threshold. Rather than depress myself with a crap test result, I decided instead to break the test into two sets of 7 laps and one of the remaining 3 and a half laps, the total of which was not too far from my recent (and slightly surprising) best time of 24:49 for this test (10:05 + 10:12 + 5:02 = 25:19). I didn't have any problems with the aforementioned toe while on the track, but it did give me a bit of grief on the way home. I can only assume that it is due to a lack of road running so, once it has had a chance to recover, I'll make sure to incorporate a bit more road and trail running which should be easier now that the weather is getting better and the days longer.

Monday: -
Tuesday: 5 x (3' @ 3:10, 3' @ 6:00)
Wednesday: 3 x (800-400-200-1,000), 800 @ 3:40 w/ 2' jog, 400 @ 3:25 w/ 1' jog, 200 @ 3:10 w/ 30" jog, 1,000 @ 3:40 w/ 4' jog
Thursday: 40' @ 4:00
Friday: 15K @ 4:00
Saturday: 5K (morning) + 1,5K + 2 x 2,8K @ 3:31 + 1,4K @ 3:26 + 1,5K (afternoon)
Sunday: 40' @ 4:00

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Functional Movement System

I'm very lucky to live near a place called "Slings" which I have mentioned on my blog several times before. There are lots of new fangled places that offer the latest gimmicks to get you off the couch and into shape, but this just makes it harder still to separate the wheat from the chaff: Slings is definitely not chaff. Lately a lot of things have lead me to the same place: it's where I buy my Vibram Five Fingers (including the ones I have on order for my 9 year old son); it's where I have been treated for my back pain by an excellent osteopath and it's the only place I have found (other than Amazon) which stocks those foam rollers which I find excellent for said back pain. They even stock Vivobarefoot shoes!

I was just chatting to a work colleague the other day (one of the very few people I know who runs in minimalist footwear) and he happened to mention the Functional Movement System. With a name like that I was naturally sceptical, but coming from him and bearing in mind that that Timothy Ferriss dedicated a whole chapter to it in his life-hack book "The 4-Hour Body", I was curious to say the least. When it turned out that his search for a qualified FMS professional had also lead him to Slings, I decided to make an appointment to find out more.

I met with Juan Nieto, who spent an hour and a half subjecting me to unintentionally humiliating and surprisingly demanding tests of balance and agility. In spite of the Under Armour Spiderman t-shirt I was wearing, agile I was not. At least I did OK on the treadmill: Juan said that, had it not been for my good running technique, I had scored so low on his test that he would normally not have recommended that I should run! One of the principal conclusions was that a lack of pelvic stability was causing my lumbar muscles to compensate, thus leading to the lower back pain I had been experiencing lately. It might have been a slightly guided diagnosis, but it made sense. He also noted a lack of flexibility in my ankles, meaning that I ran much more on my toes, "like a sprinter". On this point I wasn't 100% convinced that I should let my heel land with anything more than the fleeting "kiss" it currently plants on the ground, but he was certainly right about my landing slightly ahead of my center of gravity and my relative slowness in extracting my foot from the ground which are probably all related. He even noticed the slight assymetry with which I lift my left leg (well) and my right leg (not so well). In spite of this, he also spotted that my toes are quite rigid (partly due to a bunion) - something perhaps unusual for a "barefoot runner". He prescribed me a very detailed set of exercises that I should do which were, again, surprisingly demanding. For example, one thing is to do a "plank" just any old how; another is to do it with a pole on your back to which you must keep perfect alignment. It made me realise that even when I was doing exercises such as the plank to supposedly improve my stability, the small deviations from the ideal position were due to other muscles compensating and this is bad: you end up reinforcing the compensation itself rather than training the weakness you are trying to address in the first place.

I have since been on the FMS website and tried to find the exercises Juan prescribed me. It's clear that they were so tailor made to my particular ability (or inability, as the case may be) because I was unable to find the exact versions, that it only served to increase my faith in the benefit of doing those exercises. The good thing is that they can be done more or less with things you find around the house.

From what I managed to glean reading the first few chapters of the founder Gray Cook's book, the system aims to be as holistic as possible, refraining from dissecting "movement" into component "motions" where possible but, instead, establishing a set of 7 standard tests to guide the practitioner towards a set of corrective exercises for the most important short falls. Having an objective metric is essential to be able to monitor progress (and maintain faith in the method, necessary if you are going to make the requisite investment in time as well as financially). However, Gray emphasises the point that the metric should not be the focus in itself, rather that it should indicate where the focus should be applied. The tests have been designed in such a way that failure to complete them adequately correlates with increased injury rates in sports according to research. So the system purports to be a way for active people to pre-empt injuries. We will see! I have - touch wood - been injury free for several years but, as Juan said, I am still young and I cannot expect to be able to maintain the intensity at which I am currently training into my old age, unless I make sure that I am not "compensating". It is clear that my back pain is an early warning system.

Immediately after the session, I went off to the gym at work where I knocked off 5 sets of 3 minutes at 3:10 (19 kph). I have never managed to do this before and it was "easy". It's true that it was off peak, so the gym was much cooler than normal - also I think my Spiderman t-shirt may have some cooling effect after all - but I also think that the exercises I had done with Juan had directly helped by reminding my body of the role of my hips in running. I have written before about a similar experience I had when I did the Pose Clinic in Odense (Denmark) a few years ago. We were filmed running before and after a drill which was essentially a "plank" with a partner pressing down on our glutes (read: bum) to add resistance. I noticed nothing while running but the difference was clear to see on the video frame by frame: all of us without exception spent less time on the ground and more in the air in the second video. Dr Romanov, the inventor of the Pose Method, is big on exercises to increase hip strength.

I was a little reluctant to add another method / system / technique to my existing pile, with all the possible conflicts and confusions that this could cause, but FMS made a lot of sense to me and slotted in quite nicely alongside the others. I was half expecting to be told that I should stretch in order to increase my flexibility, but this could not have ben further from the FMS philosophy!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Bupa London 10,000 Week 3 / 9

This week went pretty well and I found myself able to bring forward my goals like, for example, instead of 2 x 3' + 5 x 2', I did 3 x 3' + 3 x 2'. If you've done the maths, you'll see that there is a little trick there - 2 x 3' + 5 x 2' = 16' but 3 x 3' + 3 x 2' is only 15'. Still, I'm pleased to have progressed (finally) to 3 sets of 3' minutes at the not too shabby speed of 19 kph (3:10 /km).

Similarly, the fractured 10K run I did on Sunday, I was able to do faster and with less rest than I had envisaged, so that I am training more or less at where I expected to be by the end of the 9 week cycle. It's funny how fatigue works: I distinctly remember feeling tired when I woke up on Sunday and not in the mood for a tough workout, but by the afternoon I was ready for more!

I thought about something new while I was running. As I do quite a bit of running, you can expect that I don't think of new things very often and, when I do, they are just a tweak of a tweak. What I thought of was this: by "priming" my foot before landing by stretching the toes upwards a little, it felt ever so slightly more "springy" than usual, perhaps adding a fraction of flight to my stride. I remember my coach telling me - years ago - to think of priming the foot, but it was too subtle for me to notice back then. Ultimately, if you cannot sense at some level the improvement from a tweak, you need up discarding it, assuming you were doing it right in the first place. I imagine that the treadmill has given me some bad habits but it's consistency makes for an excellent laboratory to tweak your running technique.

Today (Monday) I ended up going to the osteopath - not by design, but rather because my wife had forgotten her appointment and so I made use of the session that would have otherwise gone to waste. He told me that my back was in the best shape of anyone's he had seen recently, which was encouraging and also tallied with my own perception of late. Perhaps if I can remove the "stopper" of my back, I can find another level of training intensity. After all, I can't say I am finding it too difficult right now. The only difficulty I seem to have is with the "recovery runs" which I sometimes find too stifling and, as they are supposed to be recovery runs and not quality, I have tended to cut them short or into pieces. I had a dream the other day (a nightmare?) in which my ex-coach, Jonathan, appeared and I felt terribly guilty about not respecting his polarised training (doing 80% of runs quite a bit more slowly than Marathon Pace).

Monday: -
Tuesday: 3 x (3' @ 3:00, 3' @ 6:00) + 3 x (2' @ 3:00, 2' @ 6:00)
Wednesday: 40' @ 4:00
Thursday: 6 x 200m-400m + 400m, 200m @ 3:00 w/ 30" jog, 400m @ 3:10 w/ 1' jog
Friday: 40' @ 4:00
Saturday: 20' + 10' + 10' @ 4:00
Sunday: 1K, 1' jog, 3K, 2' jog, 2K, 1' jog, 3K, 2' jog, 1K @ 3:25 (morning), 40' @ 4:00 (afternoon)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Bupa London 10,000 Week 2 / 9

The week got off to a good start and I found my vVO2Max intervals on Tuesday much easier than usual. When I say "than usual", I am referring to the last time I did them which was several weeks ago. I couldn't help noticing that I was settling into a higher cadence than I normally run at (not that I normally run that fast, mind you) so perhaps I am still finding that optimal balance between bouncing too high and bouncing too often. Perhaps it also had to do with having had a few easy weeks beforehand because on Wednesday - although it was in the sweltering sauna of the work gym - I found it extremely difficult to complete my set run of 40 minutes at Marathon pace, so I cut it short to 30 minutes. I would have done it at home, but my parents were arriving that evening and I didn't want to disappear off to the treadmill in the basement.

I've started "training" my youngest son, Adrian, who is 9 years old. I should probably say that we are "practicing running" rather than training, in order to avoid the wrath of the sort of people who hang out on the LetsRun forums and pounce on anyone asking advice on how to "train their son / daughter", calling them a bad parent and stopping just short of calling social services. I like to think that Adrian enjoys spending quality one-on-one time with his dad and he seems to enjoy the running itself, but I have to be careful not to push him too hard or, indeed, not to let him push himself to hard in a bid to make his father proud (which I am anyway, of course). We've started just running a few loops around the park and, more than anything else, I'd like him to get a feel for pace, for what he is able to maintain and what it feels like if he goes off too fast at the beginning and so on. Hearing him thud along in his rigid trainers prompted me to buy him some Vibram Five Fingers but, before you do call social services, I will take it very slow with him and see how he adapts to them. My hunch is that it will be much easier for him to make the transition (after all, he has run in minimalist shoes like those made by Vivobarefoot in the past) as he has had much fewer years shod on this Earth than I have and he is only just beginning to run. Also, children are much more adaptable than adults, as I found to my cost when I switched over to Vibrams a little too enthusiastically the first time around.

The rest of the week was pretty much "business as usual". It feels good to be back in the swing of things again.

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

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Bupa London 10,000 Week 1 / 9 (again)

I started off more or less where I left off, in my preparations for the - ahem - Half Marathon in the Hague, with 8 lots of 2 minutes at my "vVO2Max" of 19 kph (3:10 /km). My back, which had very much been a limiting factor before, is in much better shape after a few weeks of relative rest and so the workout was not overly taxing. What did make the week a little more challenging was fitting in a quick trip to Mexico on Wednesday.

The (12 hour!) flight left just after midnight on Tuesday night / Wednesday morning, I arrived to Mexico City at about 6am the same morning with the time change, went to the office after a (cold!) shower in the hotel, met up for dinner with a friend, had a breakfast meeting the next day and then caught the flight back at midday, arriving at 6am in Madrid (now on Friday) and going straight to work via a quick (hot) shower at home. The trip was such a whirlwind that we did the same there and back as the pane and its crew. All this made it difficult to find time to do any training - that, and the general lack of security is not exactly conducive to running in the streets. I did manage to get up nice and early on the Thursday - more than anything, to make sure that I'd be tried enough to sleep on the plane back home - and do a 40 minute run on the hotel treadmill. Remember that Mexico City is at an altitude of 2,400 meters... It was too much like hard work to run at my usual pace of 4:00 /km (15 kph) so I ran instead at 4:27 /km, or 13.5 kph which felt more or less the same. According to Jack Daniels' running calculator, the altitude counted for about 16 seconds per kilometer.

I recently bought another gadget: an oximeter, which measures the oxygen saturation in my bloodstream. The main reason for this was as a result of something I read in Steve Magness' book about Exercise Induced Arterial Hypoxema, a symptom that many elite and not-so-elite athletes suffer from, in which the oxygenation of the blood drops significantly during exercise, as the heart pumps the blood around the body so fast the oxygen doesn't have time to diffuse into the bloodstream. I took it with me, to see what effect the altitude would have. Normally, in Madrid at 600 meters above sea level, my reading is around 99%. Recently, I've been playing around taking measurements after running 40 minutes at 15 kph and finding that it drops down to around 95%. Before I even got on the treadmill in Mexico, however, the reading was down to around 90% and it didn't change much after exercise.

The interesting thing would have been to see if the reading increased to 99% over time, and how long this process took. I would have liked to test some natives to see whether their readings were closer to the 99% mark but I limited myself to just testing my boss who gave more or less the same figure as I got.

I was surprised at how well I coped with all the travelling - I didn't really notice any adverse effects except not being able to find where I had parked my car on Friday night. Last time I flew back from Mexico, I also remember being a bit groggy and ending up scratching my neighbour's car at work. Considering that I had done that maneuver literally thousands of times without once damaging anything, I can only put it down to jet lag.The rest of the week's training went by without too much ado but that is to be expected as I am starting off having rested quite well for the last couple of weeks. Soon the ever present fatigue associated with following a training plan will be with me again.

Monday: 8 x (2' @ 3:10, 2' @ 6:00)
Tuesday: 40' @ 4:00
Wednesday: -
Thursday: 40' @ 4:27 (2,421m altitude)
Friday: 6 x 400-200 + 400, 400 @ 3:10 w/ 1' jog, 200 @ 3:00 w/ 30" jog
Saturday: 40' @ 4:00
Sunday: 6 x 1,600 @ 3:25