Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Peace of mind

Of course it goes without saying that my family comes first, then my work and then everything else. But an important part of "everything else" is having everything (including myself) in working order. Although I continue to have problems with my (now left) foot, running is again enjoyable as long as I don't step on a stone. Finally, I also have all my bikes in working order - including the ZIPP disc wheel which needed an overhaul and turned out not to be as expensive as I had feared - and my treadmill has also been fitted with a new belt and board. All my gadgets are also working - something which has an irrational capacity to stress me out when they are not - and I have got some new running shoes which seem to be comfortable to run in. I went for the Merrell Trail Glove 3 again, in spite of the last ones giving me blisters (which I have now built up resistance to) and them wearing out after a disappointingly low number of miles. I had the brainwave to look at the German Merrell website, where the shoes are offered at much bigger sizes and I then discovered that Amazon could source them from Germany. So instead of the usual size 48 - which was on the tight side for me in this model and gave me blood blisters at the end of my toes - I went crazy and bought size 50!! I think it was the right decision even though a size 49 would probably have been just fine. When my toes are bent, they come quite close to the end of the shoe but without touching; as long as I tie the shoelaces up nice and tight, my foot doesn't move around in the shoe. The only problem is that they look like skis! I was a little concerned that I would be increasing my risk of tripping over, as I did in my Soft Star RunAmocs which had an extremely generous toe box. The difference with these is that the sole is much firmer and curls up ever so slightly at the toes (but not to the extent of the typical running shoes with significant heel-toe differential). With any luck my foot will get back to normal and I can keep my Vibram 5 Fingers in reserve for races.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

La Behobia - San Sebastián Race Report

The other day I saw a clinic which was both a dentist and a podiatrist - I can't think of anywhere I'd rather less want to visit. To be fair, Raúl my podiatrist from Clinica Piqueras has been great and very sympathetic to my running needs but the dentist is another matter. The time came around for me to have my wisdom tooth out but now, of course, it wasn't hurting so I talked them out of going through with it. Probably just as well because quite apart from having the race at the weekend, I had a couple of extra stressful days of work to get through first.

The Behobia - San Sebastian was celebrating it's golden (50) anniversary with a pretty cool t-shirt. It was quite hard work getting hold of it, though. The Expo was huge and I hadn't read the instructions properly so I went to get my t-shirt first instead of picking up my race number as I was supposed to. In the end I felt like I had walked most of the 20 kilometer course already. When there are 30,000 people taking part, it's not surprising that some queuing and walking is going to be involved. I did buy an excellent "vintage" Ironman sweatshirt though. In spite of there being so many people, I bumped into people I knew in every restaurant we ate in and while we were paseando along the beach I heard someone say "mira ese tío con pinta de guiri" and it turned out to be Dani, who we had arranged to meet later. This gives you some idea about the scale of the running invasion of the city.

One of the things that I most like about San Sebastian was also one of the things that complicated matters: it is not a city for cars. People are very active - running, cycling and even rowing - and much of the old part of the city is pedestrianized. With the extra influx of people it was practically impossible to park. My wife spent an hour going round in circles (bless her) while I was tucking into my pasta dinner with Dani and his friends.

With this in mind, I think we made an excellent decision to stay in a flat a little out of town, near the train station and about 3 kilometers from the finish line. To be honest, it wasn't even very easy to park around there but it was perfect for catching the train to the start on the Sunday morning. Dani was injured from having recently completed his second Ironman, so in the end he wasn't taking part. He volunteered to take my bag to the finish line so that I could lie in a bit longer as the cutoff time for the cloakroom was 8:45, an hour and a quarter before my start.

The first thing I did when I arrived in Irún (Behobia) was to call Dani. No answer. This was very odd: Dani is one of the most reliable and punctual people I know. In fact, he is probably the most punctual Spanish person I know (whether that says something about Spain or just people I know, I leave to the discretion of the reader). I was actually worried that something bad had happened to him but I was also worried I would have to run with my bag all the way. Meanwhile, I had other business to attend to. The portaloos were a luxury edition which came with toilet paper and a flushing action! Next I made my way to the cloakroom lorries which were still very much "open" an hour after the supposed cutoff time. The only downside was that I had to wear the plastic shawl I had conserved from the finish of the New York Marathon to keep warm and thus would have to dispose of it. Just then I heard my name being called and turned to see a stressed looking Dani: we could only really shrug and make thumbs up signs to each other over the noise which, later, turned out to be the reason he hadn't heard me call in the first place. I should have thought to tell Dani to pick up my New York plastic shawl but I soon realized that the important thing was to empty my mind and focus on the race. It occurred to me that the little incident was a kind of payback for the time in Lisbon when I told Dani, who was participating in his first ever Half Ironman, that he need not worry about taking all his stuff to the bike check in even though I was going to anyway...

I was in the second wave which started 1 minute after the leaders. It was just as well that I didn't try to sneak into the first wave for whatever good that would have done me, because I subsequently noticed that the organization automatically disqualify anyone with a start time ahead of their corresponding wave. The start of the course is relatively narrow so the start times had to be staggered significantly: some people started an hour and a half after me!

I figured that the hills would be more or less cancelled out by the 1.1 kilometre "discount" on the half marathon distance, so I was aiming for a time of 1:20 or a pace of exactly 4:00 per kilometre. We covered the first kilometre (which was flat, of course) in less than 3:30 which would have been fast even for a half marathon on level ground. There was a pacemaker for sub 1:12(!) and he impressively managed to reattach his flag which had blown off, all the while maintaining that cracking pace.

Thanks to the Morton's Neuroma, I could feel a burning pain radiating out to my toes but I knew that it wasn't "real". That is to say, I don't suppose I was doing myself any favours but, having decided to run the race, the pain wasn't a true reflection of the damage I was doing to myself so I tried to ignore it. After a while it got better but it was nevertheless a drain on my concentration.

It was fairly easy to remember where the hills were: kilometres 3, 7, 13 and 17. They weren't as bad as I had feared and I realized that running around Madrid means having to tackle hills of similar difficulty on a daily basis. Having said that, I'm sure that the hill intervals and strength training I did helped. It's funny how the suffering is different: I notice more of a burning sensation in my lungs and a metallic taste in my mouth than on a flat course. As it had been raining in the early morning, the roads were slightly slippy which meant that my shoes had less purchase on the ground. I'm used to losing time relative to others on the climbs but I also tend to regain it on the descents: this time, my conservatism due to my foot pain meant that I didn't catch up as much as I might otherwise have done on the downhill sections.

I was wearing my spiderman t-shirt which was only recognized by disappointingly few children. It's true that there were a lot of people out supporting along the whole route but to compare it to New York Marathon would be to compare the polite clapping at a game of cricket to the raucous support of a football match. Even so, when you are gritting your teeth as you plod up a steep hill every little helps. People shouting "Aupa neska!" in Basque spurred me on; it was only towards the end that I realised that it meant "Go girl!" and that they were in fact supporting a girl that I happened to be running next to at the time.

I got to halfway in just under 39 minutes, well inside my target time. I always find it hard to pace myself when there are hills - the altitude map never seems to correspond to the actual experience. A half marathon (or nearly) is a long enough distance that you can't mess around with it: go off too quickly and you pay it back double. The last hill looked one of the most tame but it was actually the one which took most seconds off my time. It was also the one at the crest of which I knew my family were waiting: I gave them all a high five and then it was downhill all the way to the finish.

Normally I would buy a photo but there weren't any good ones of me..
At last I got to the finish line in 1:17:20 which wasn't a bad effort at all. My 5K splits were fairly even in spite of the hills: 3:45, 3:56, 3:54 and 3:54.

I was pretty happy with my result but I couldn't help wondering if I should have been more ambitious. My goal isn't to beat so and so, neither is it necessarily to beat my own best time, instead what is important to me is to know that I did my best, that I didn't "wimp out". Maybe I erred on the conservative side what with my foot problems and the added difficulty of the hills, but now I have a benchmark for next time.

After a shower back in the flat, we met up with Dani and his friends in a fantastic (if not a little pricey) restaurant where we righteously stuffed ourselves to the gills with fish, meat and alcohol. All in all, a great weekend with the bonus of a bank holiday the next day to recover (and the kids had school to boot!).

Monday, November 3, 2014

La Behobia Week 7 / 8

Not mine - I wish! - but a friend's
It was strange to think that the New York marathon was going ahead without me this year, as it has been something not far from my thoughts for many years, until I was finally able to take part last year. I am torn between the idea of participating again and not wanting to risk tarnishing the memory of last year by anything less than a perfect day. It helped motivate me while I was running on Sunday - at the same pace I ran the Marathon last year - to think that 5,000 kilometrers away the race was weaving its way through the streets of the city I love so much.

I needed a bit of motivation because my weekend did not get off to a particularly good start from a running point of view. Just the day before I had decided I wouldn't bother going back to see the podiatrist because my foot seemed a lot better so I was unpleasantly surprised to discover that my other foot had started to hurt in an all too familiar way. At least before I could blame the problems on my bunion but my left foot is pretty normal if not a bit flatfooted. Pressing hard between my toes while squeezing the bones together, I could reproduce that radiating pain that seems to be another Morton's Neuroma. This probably means I should retire my Vibrams for good and maybe consider something even more supportive and protective than my Merrill Trail Gloves, which I have only just got my feet used to (I'm still getting blisters!). On top of that my head cold seemed to be deciding whether or not to head down to my lungs. So, for my run on Sunday I thought I would drive down to Madrid Río which was flat with no stones or other obstacles and would be bustling with other joggers and cyclists to help pull me along. It was a good plan but I got a bit lost and ended up having to run the first half on hilly and stony paths. Still, it was a good run and my foot hurt less as it wore on - as long as I didn't tread on any stones.

Maybe one of the contributing factors to my foot problems has been continuing to run on my treadmill in spite of the crevasse in the middle of the running surface. The first of my two 5K sets with 3% gradient was OK - although I couldn't figure out whether the extra give in the surface was making it easier or harder - but, during the second, there was an ominous crack and the belt started to develop a line down the middle as it was getting forced into the crack. Best to stop before I break something else, I thought, so I finished the second 5K in the street (still "topless" which raised a few eyebrows in the neigbourhood, considering it was past dark in almost November). I'm still waiting to get it repaired and it looks as though it is unlikely to happen before the race next weekend. But my work is done here, so it doesn't make much difference now...

Monday: -
Tuesday: 2 x 5K @ 3:35 w/ 3% gradient
Wednesday: 40' @ 4:07
Thursday: 2 x 8 x 60% + 40' @ 4:27
Friday: -
Saturday: 3 x (200 - 600 - 1,000) @ 4:00 w/ 9%, 6%, 3% gradient, rest only between sets
Sunday: 10' + 60' @ 4:00 + 10'