Tuesday, September 30, 2014

La Behobia Week 2 / 8

At last I feel like I am returning to something similar to the form I was in earlier this year, before I started having problems with my foot (and before I went on holiday). The same workouts I found hard to complete last week were much more doable this week.

Now that I finally have my triathlon bike back (although I am still waiting to hear the verdict from Zipp on the disc wheel) I went for a slightly longer ride to try out the new position with the upwardly pointing J-aerobars which do indeed seem more comfortable and to allow me to apply more power.

Apart from the two quality workouts (one speed, one with hills) which were a more successful repeat of last week, I was in a conference in Barcelona during the second half of the week and in Ciudad Real at the weekend. Not really knowing where to go in Barcelona nor having the time to start from anywhere but the hotel, I did a kind of random run in the vague direction of the sea then in search of the Familia Sagrada (Gaudí's gothic cathedral) and ended up finding neither. It was so fraught with pedestrians, bikes and especially traffic lights that I had to stop almost every couple of minutes - really not a very exercise friendly city (my conclusion probably being somewhat biased by all the nonsense going on right now about an illegal referendum for the separation of Cataluña). All the stopping meant that I recovered enough to be able to run faster than I would have done normally, so - GPS error permitting - I actually ran 10K in just over 38 minutes. I thought of it more like interval training than as a "tempo run".

I enjoyed the longish run I did in Ciudad Real a lot more. The previous Sunday I had struggled to run an hour at a slower speed (admittedly on a hotter day with more hills) so I was relieved to be able to put that down to an anomaly. It was actually raining - very unusual in those parts - so I was the only one mad enough to be outside but it was a good deal more pleasant, I can tell you, than running in the sun: I still needed a cold shower to cool down afterwards. My run took me through the nearby village of Poblete which will be the venue of a Zombie Holocaust next weekend, that a friend of mine is taking part in. If it weren't for the date then I would be very tempted.

Monday: short ride on tri bike
Tuesday: 6 x 1,6000m @ 3:30 (5 sets) - 3:25 (one set)
Wednesday: weights 3 x 12 x 65%
Thursday: 10K in 38:10 (@ 3:49 stopping for traffic lights)
Friday: -
Saturday: 6 x (400-200), 400 @ 4:00 w/ 10%, 200 @ 4:00 w/ 12%
Sunday: 16.71 km in 70' (@ 4:11)

Monday, September 22, 2014

La Behobia Week 1 / 8

Now I have the first "proper" week of training under my belt I have a better idea of what shape I am in and what constitutes a realistic plan for the next 7 weeks.

I already posted about my experience on the AlterG. One of the good things about training for a hilly race is that you don't really need an anti-gravity treadmill to do an "overspeed" workout - anything with a flat gradient qualifies. I did my first intervals since May on Tuesday - 6 lots of 1 mile - and it showed. I managed to complete them allowing for some extra recovery in between the first 3 and the second 3 but, if I had been doing these at 17.5 kph (3:25 min/km) without too much difficulty back in May, it was quite a struggle to finish them at 17 kph (3:30 min/km).

I was able to step up my weights on Wednesday and I didn't suffer so long from the after effects. Thursday was an impromptu day off as I had to go to two funerals: one I already knew about (Emilio Botín) but the other was quite a shock - I discovered that day that a colleague of mine had died the night before.

Using Jack Daniels's calculator I worked out that running 15 kph (4:00 min/km) up a hill with 10% gradient was considered to be equivalent to running at 19 kph (3:10 min/km) on the flat. So I took one of my speed interval workouts from earlier in the year and adapted it for developing hill strength instead. I'm not sure if I agree with Jack Daniel's calculations because it was a real bastard.

This Saturday I ran the second half of the Behobia course on my treadmill, simulating all the ups and as much of the downs as possible (the limit is 12.9 kph with a -3% gradient). The second half seems a lot easier although there was quite a sharp climb just at the point where I'll be tired from the previous 16 km although it seemed to be downhill from there on in.

Finally, on Sunday I ran down to the Casa de Campo where there are enough hills without needing to simulate them. Encouraged by the favourable progression of my foot, I decided to wear my Vibram Spyridons which provide a little more protection than the Seeyas but less than the Merrill Trail Gloves (which, I have to say, I really do not enjoy running in as they give me blisters and they smell). It turned out not to be such a good idea as I stepped on a stone just in the spot where I have the neuroma on my right foot and, for good measure, I stepped on another stone with the other foot and started to get a similar pain which made me worry that I had two screwed feet. I don't know whether it was feeling depressed about this, the fact that I had not run continuously for longer than 40 minutes for the last 6 months or whether I was coming down with something. I felt pretty crap and washed out for the rest of the day and it's true that the rest of my family had had some kind of virus, leading me to believe that the latter was to blame.

I didn't manage to convince the family to go down to the bike show (la fería de la bicicleta) but I didn't try to hard as I didn't want to end up spending any money. I did finally get my triathlon bike back although the disc wheel is being investigated by ZIPP to see why it has a bit of play and makes that disconcerting creaking sound. I went for a quick spin on it and the initial conclusion is that the aero extensions with a J-bend are much more comfortable, allow me to get down low as well as being able to apply more power. They just don't look quite as cool as the S-bend bars that came with the bike.

Monday: 30' AlterG @ 4:27 - 3:10 w/ 80% - 100% bodyweight
Tuesday: 2 x 3 x 1,6000m @ 3:25 (one set) - 3:30 (5 sets)
Wednesday: weights 3 x 15 x 60%, 40' @ 4:27
Thursday: -
Friday: 6 x (400-200), 400 @ 4:00 w/ 10%, 200 @ 4:00 w/ 12%
Saturday: Behobia II (10.2 km @ 4:27 w/ 130m ascent)
Sunday: 13.3 km in 60'

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Walking on, walking on the moon...

I once read a book called "Blue Ocean Strategy" (which I unfortunately keep misremembering as "Blue Sky Strategy") which puts forward the idea that you should look for wide open oceans to compete in rather than densely populated jungles. The much cited Cirque de Soleil is an example of this - by combining aspects of theater and circus they created a show which appealed to a different audience and for which they could sell tickets at a premium.

So what would happen if the inventor of the bouncy castle were to join forces with the inventor of the treadmill? They would probably come up with something like the AlterG:

The AlterG is an "anti-gravity treadmill" which allows you to specify not only how fast you'd like to run but also how much you'd like to weigh (although it can't change how much you appear to weigh). You wear a pair of neoprene shorts which zip onto the machine, forming a sort of bubble in which you run: by increasing the pressure of the air in the bubble you can achieve weightlessness. There are several reasons why you might want to do this. The most obvious is if you are injured. Alistair Brownlee, the current Olympic Triathlon Champion, used one of these devices to run back to health after tearing his Achilles Tendon, by reducing the associated impact forces. Even for non-injured athletes, it is useful to be able to run at higher speeds without the corresponding muscle damage. In this way, you can train and ingrain the biomechanics of race pace and above.

There are only 12 of these machines in Spain of which only four can be found in Madrid. One of them happens to be owned by a friend and ex-colleague of mine, Antonio Ciardo. Antonio recently left the bank to concentrate on his osteopathy clinic which, judging by his clientele and his swanky new premises in the posh part of town, looks like it was a very good decision. He invited me to try out last night and warned me to bring a towel as I was likely to work up a sweat.

Love the decoration
At first it feels a little strange to be so constrained but I soon got used to it. Once you step on to the belt and get zipped in, the treadmill calibrates itself based on your weight. The first thing we tried was reducing my weight to just 20% - just a tad more than what it would be on the Moon - and, of course, my feet hardly touched the ground. It reminded me of a recurring dream I have where I can't quite fly but I can run really fast effortlessly by just occasionally tapping the ground with my foot. Then we started piling on the pounds until I weighed only 80% of my normal weight - about 17 kilos lighter. After Moonwalking, even a 20% discount seemed depressingly unnoticeable, although I was able to run at my Marathon pace of 15 km/h (4:00 min/km) while still keeping my pulse very low (less than 140). It did start to get quite hot in there after a while - Antonio explained to me that he still has to set up the ventilation - so my pulse gradually crept up. This model designed for rehabilitation has a maximum speed of 19.2 km/h which I tested out at 80% body weight. It was still hard to run at that speed - after all, you still have to move your legs quite fast - but the impact was noticeably lower and I was able to concentrate more on form. After the problems I have been having with my feet (Hallux Limitus, Morton's Neuroma) I was interested to see whether the pain was more likely to be provoked by a different running gait at high speed, or by higher impact forces - the AlterG allowed me to decouple these two effects and seemed to confirm my suspicion that the latter was more to blame.

One aspect that I found interesting was that the machine obliged you to run upright and to minimize hip movements laterally, transversely as well as vertically, especially when the skirt was inflated (that's to say, when running with less than 100% body weight). This strikes me as a good thing as far as running technique goes. For the second half of the workout I ran at 17 kph (3:30 min/km) or just over 10K pace and then gradually put the weight back on. It was so depressing!! I felt so much heavier and more sluggish than I had before I started and, as the cushion deflated, my hips started to move around much more - left, right, backwards, forwards, not to mention bouncing up and down more. Antonio had stressed that it was important to return to weightfulness before stepping off, otherwise the shock might make me lose balance. However, I wish I had left with the memory of lightness as it was so much more pleasant.

Luckily I don't have too much of a need for one of these things (my wife asked me if I would be buying one!) - apart from being extraordinarily expensive, I'm just glad that I am not injured at the moment (touch wood). But it would have come in very handy as a way to get back to weight bearing when I got a stress fracture in my foot.

Monday, September 15, 2014

La Behobia Week 0 / 8

It's about time I made peace with those "annoying hills" that I like so much to complain about, especially now that I am preparing a hilly race.

The first step was to start doing weights again - probably a good thing anyway - so I went to the gym on Thursday and did a fairly light (2x12x50% RM) workout with squats, calf raises, leg curls and leg extensions. Even so I was still walking like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz on Sunday!

One of the cool things about my treadmill is that you can program it to follow a route that you design and it then sets the incline appropriately all the while showing you stills from the Google Streetview as you run. It's a surprisingly effective way of distracting you from the boredom of running indoors. I drew the Behobia course in two sections of 10 kilometers each (part I and part II) and did the first of these on Saturday morning. Then on Sunday, we were in Salamanca with some friends where we bought some excellent jamón and I went on another run which made the one on Saturday seem easy. I've been taking it easy for long enough now that I have to go through the process of hardening the skin on my feel all over again, to which the blisters I obtained at the weekend were testament.

I've still got a long way to go but now I feel ready to start my 8 week training schedule (TBD!)

Monday: 40' @ 4:27
Tuesday: 15' easy + 20 @ 4:27
Wednesday: 40' @ 4:27
Thursday: Weights 2x12x50%, 40' @ 4:27
Friday: -
Saturday: Behobia part I (10 km @ 4:34 w/ 184 m ascent)
Sunday: 10.5 km @ 4:29 w/ 276 m ascent

Sunday, September 14, 2014


As you may know, I kickstarted my first project in 2012 - the Altum dress shoes - basically zero drop shoes that I could wear to work (and in fact still do). Although they kickstarted well, it seems like they ran out of steam (or maybe fell out with each other) because there is no news on that front and meanwhile several other credible options have come to market.

I was very tempted by the Fly6 Kickstarter project but decided to wait until they went to market. I was reminded of it when in Singapore, where every taxi driver has a camera recording everything that happens on a loop, just in case there is an accident. Ever wondered why there are so many accidents on Youtube in Russia? Well, its because everybody has one of these little cameras - it might even be a legal requirement. The Fly6 is an equivalent for bikes which faces backwards, naturally, as this is the most likely source of any problems you might have. It masquerades as a red light but don't be fooled - it has a decent quality camera with a very wide angle. It also has a sensor which detects whether your bike has been lying down for more than a few seconds, after which it waits a further hour before automatically shutting down, thereby conserving any important footage just in case you are not in a position to stop the camera yourself. Hopefully it will never come in handy but it could be interesting to catch cars driving dangerously close or, for that matter, fellow triathletes drafting in non-drafting races (they have even thought of including mounts for aero seat posts in the package). On the website there are a number of quite amusing as well as shocking videos of people driving badly, people falling of bikes spectacularly as well as - in one particular case - a woman being groped by a passing motorcyclist!

As a result of buying the production model Fly6, I was just browsing Kickstarter when I came across a fascinating product. It sounded a little too good to be true until I read the review by Steve Magness on his blog. The runScribe is a tiny little device that you hook on to the back of your running shoe which is able to measure such things as contact time, stride length as well as how much you pronate. The applications are pretty much endless: you can compare shoes, analyse differences between your feet, see what happens to your stride length as you tire, try out different running styles etc. As well as this, they are planning to harvest all the data into a Big Database which they can use to analyse trends and try to reach unbiased conclusions on which shoes are best for preventing injuries and other such questions. Of course, it is also good business sense that they set up a subscription model rather than a one off payment for the device itself, but they claim that this will be low-cost or no-cost and, if the data proves to be useful to shoe companies, this may well be the case. Anyway, the Kickstarter still has a few days to go so, if you are interested, you can grab one for yourself and have a share in the excitement of what I think could be a groundbreaking project. If you'd rather wait for the early adopters like myself to get through all the teething problems then keep an eye out for when this product hits the shelves.

UPDATE: In spite of the Kickstarter campaign being over, you can still get hold of a pre-sale runScribe from their website.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Hello again

In the past I have tended to at least mention the fact I was going on holiday on this blog, if not to actually keep on posting, albeit slightly less frequently. Much the same can be said about my "training" which I have let slip to unfamiliar levels of slackdom. We've been in Malaysia, Singapore and Borneo where doing any kind of sport was quite inconvenient - partly due to the humidity and partly due to lack of opportunity (for example, we spent several days on an island which only permitted a circuit of about 500m!). I did some swimming (with sharks) and a few runs on a treadmill but it was probably about time anyway that I took a real break from training. Previously I had an unwritten rule that I would not take more than 1 consecutive day off training, something I have managed to stick to with the exception of the odd Marathon or sickness and, even then, never more than 2. This belies a fear that I will get used to the luxury of not training and just fall back into my old ways. Well, I don't think that is going to be an issue - I actually enjoyed running yesterday for the first time in months, back on my home treadmill and back in my favourite shoes, the Vibram Seeyas. I've decided to go back to the Vibrams as long as I don't get that pain from the Morton's Neuroma again - hopefully, I can build back to a reasonable level in time for the Behobia race in San Sebastian.

Just before going on holiday, I went for another long ride with Dani - this time, the same route but in reverse. And this time, with enough cereal bars and gels to get me up the hills. I was more conservative going up the first puerto to avoid the embarrassment I suffered the week before when I ran out of steam going up the second one. The extra fuel seemed to do the trick as well as perhaps being a bit more used to the bike. I was also a bit more conservative going down and, even so, managed to lose my water bottle going over a bump. You can see from the video I took that the road is some state of disrepair...

For those of you who can read in Spanish (or, for that matter, know how to work Google Translate) Dani did an excellent write up on his blog which you can read here.