Monday, August 31, 2015

New York City Marathon 2015 Week 2/11

This week it was back to Madrid and back to work. Luckily things were still very quiet in the office so I was able to catch up on a few things as well as be very flexible with my training (for example, to avoid peak time a the gym, the two times I managed to go).

It was nice to get back on the treadmill and to a new series - Ray Donovan season 3. I've decided to stop agonizing over whether it is easier or not - I think this is a bit like selectively searching for evidence that drinking wine is good for you. The 8 lots of 1 km were noticeably easier than the same ones I ran in Cambridge the week before and I can't put it down to the training effect or even the temperature. My watch agrees: supposedly it has been calibrating the in built accelerometer based cadence sensor to my outdoor runs and it thinks I am running 10% more slowly than the treadmill claims on average. Now this is no doubt an exaggeration, but one thing is true, and that is that my cadence is lower for the same speed on the treadmill compared to running outside. I think that this is due to the lack of wind resistance and the more springy running surface - both of which mean it is optimal to "bounce" more. When I finally get my hands on the runScribe sensor I helped kickstart, it will be interesting to see what it has to say about the matter. I'm also tempted to ask Santa Claus for the Garmin Heart Rate Monitor with additional running metrics such as vertical oscillation. You can never have too many running metrics (whether they are useful or not is another matter).

My first run on the treadmill, however, was on Tuesday and consisted of 15 minutes at 15 kph followed by 15 minutes at 16 kph (no rest in between). I'd just had dinner with lashings of my favourite hot sauce

which is basically fresh chili preserved in soya oil. I've become quite addicted to spicy food over the last year or so (although I've always liked it having been brought up on it by my dad) and this packs the best punch without overwhelming the flavour that I have found so far. Anyway, the reason I mention this is because I noticed during my run that I was actually sweating chili! I had to be careful not to rub my eyes...

On Wednesday I went for a run outside at around 12 pm (avoiding the hottest part of the day, but it was still pretty warm - 27 degrees or so). I enjoyed running in random directions in the fields round the back of my work and then using my GPS to retrace my footsteps. I can't have noticed how much I was climbing because I was surprised to get back to the start 4 minutes quicker, so I did an extra little loop to make the time up to an hour. All in all, quite a spritely pace of 4:16 (14 kph). Even though it was hotter than those early morning runs I did in the UK, I sweated less because at least it is a dry heat in Madrid. How did I measure this? By the fact that there was still a small dry patch on my shorts at the end of the run!

I managed to squeeze in a weights session on Friday although I was slightly nervous about it screwing up my weekend training: last time I had taken almost a week to recover from the DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). Whether it was because I was a little more trained or because I did a run that evening that served as a kind of "cool down" I don't know, but it did little to interfere (except, curiously, making it hard to sit down on the toilet). I've also been using my PowerBreathe "inspiratory breathing resistance apparatus" a couple of times a day - 30 breaths until "failure" - as I think that this helps. Certainly, I felt that same feeling of literally gasping for breath on the 30th breath as I did during my 1K repeats at 3:25 (17.5 kph) in Cambridge.

My hour run on Saturday went well although my watch seemed to think that I was overdoing things. It has a "recovery advisor" which is based on how much time you spend over 70% of your maximum heart rate. It tells you how long you should wait before training (hard) again. You have to take these things with a pinch of salt, of course, but it at least has the effect of making you ask yourself whether you should take a day off or not. For some reason, it tends to severely underestimate how tired I feel after doing intervals, but after aerobic runs it has been correlating reasonably well. Normally it will say that I should wait between 24 hours (normal) and 36 (maybe take a day off). This time, it surprised me by telling me to wait 3 days! I didn't want to do this as the longish run the next day was the culmination of the weeks' training. I had once made the mistake of preparing a Marathon taking my weekly break the day before the long run and I am convinced that this explains my lackluster performance that time. As a result of the "warning" I took my recovery quite seriously on Saturday and made sure I ate well and treated myself to a very hot bath (followed by a very cold shower) as well as a session with my Compex electrostimulator.

The long(ish) run on Sunday was fine in the end. I made sure to get up early, had a light breakfast (although I am of the mind to do my "easy" long runs on an empty stomach from now on) and was out of the door by 8:30. I'm following the same training plan I did two years ago for the New York Marathon in 2013. The problem is that I cannot help comparing myself to myself, training session by training session (I ran this in 1:34, three minutes faster than two years ago). It is probably not a very wise approach as my watch again warned me to take 3 days off. The "training effect" it also calculated came out as 5 / 5 which sounds good until you realize that 5 equates to "overtraining". Whatever the case, my heart rate was on the high side. After my recent VO2 Max test I am a little confused over what to make of this. On the one hand, my maximum heart rate seems to have dropped significantly from 191 to 185 but on the other hand, my aerobic threshold seems to have climbed from 155 to 160 - or, as a percentage of maximum heart rate, from 81% to 86%. Is that good? Should I allow my heart rate on the so called easy runs to climb higher as a result of my higher aerobic threshold? Or lower, as a result of my lower maximum heart rate? As I didn't wear my heart rate monitor for my training (but only for the race) two years ago, I don't really have a reference. Maybe I should just go by feel.

Monday: -
Tuesday: 15' @ 4:00, 15' @ 3:45
Wednesday: 60' @ 4:16
Thursday: 8 x 1 km @ 3:25
Friday: 3 x 12 x 60% (weights), 40' @ 4:00
Saturday: 60' @ 4:19
Sunday: 21.1 km in 1:34 (4:28)

Total kilometers: 75

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

On Course Swimming Goggles

You know that I love gadgets, especially ones that help me improve my performance (or, at least, make me think that they help me improve my performance). If only these had been invented in 2011 when I did the Ironman in Florianopolis, Brazil. This is the swim I actually did compared to the course I should have taken:

I put my Garmin 310XT GPS watch in my swim cap to get a fairly accurate track and I set it to beep every kilometer, so that I would have some idea of how much longer the torture was going to last. According to my watch, I swam 4.52 kilometers (instead of the 3.8 of the Ironman distance) thanks to taking a slightly roundabout route - at one point I even crashed into someone coming in the opposite direction (no prizes for spotting where). In the middle of the "M" we were allowed back on land, briefly, only to submerge ourselves once more. To put this in perspective, had I taken the perfect route, I would have saved 12 minutes!

Someone (disclosure: a friend of a friend) has invented a pair of swimming goggles that warn you if you veer off course. You simply look at the buoy you are heading for, press a button on the goggles (apparently they are planning for the goggles to recognize a signature head movement instead of a button press) and then the goggles indicate using a simple system of blinking LED lights whether you should go off slightly more to the left or to the right. It doesn't use cumbersome GPS technology, just the good old fashioned magnetic field of the Earth to guide you. I expect that all the clever bits are in the algorithm that works out your general heading while (at least in my case) you are writhing and thrashing your way through the water.

The designers clearly have triathlons and open water swimming competitions in mind and have already obtained confirmation from official bodies such as USA Triathlon that they will be permitted and not considered "cheating". They have also already filed patents so, if a giant like Garmin decides to snap them up (Sight 'n' Go Goggles?), it will be done the right way.

The Kickstarter campaign is underway RIGHT NOW, so if you have similar navigational skills as myself and are thinking of taking part in a triathlon - or even if you just want to support a great idea - head on over to their Kickstarter page. Remember, you saw it here first!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

New York City Marathon 2015 Week 1/11

Yes, the countdown starts once more! I've just come back from my summer holidays which, this year, have been more a case of escaping the summer as we went to the UK instead of the usual hot and humid destinations we normally go to. As a result, I was able to get back into the enjoyment of running outside in the real world. Not only have I been having motivational problems lately but I think I have been abusing the treadmill too much, to the point that I have become good at running on the treadmill and not so good at running outside.

My new Garmin Fenix 2 watch has also helped regain some motivation as I was much more easily able to design routes along which to run while I was on holiday and "sync" them to the device via my phone (although, annoyingly, the button to "create a course" on the web page doesn't fit on my phone's browser). It has a feature which estimates your VO2Max based on your heart rate and your speed which is probably not terribly reliable, but it is somehow encouraging seeing it improve from 59 to 63 (and, at one point, 65) as I have felt myself improving. The recovery feature - which tells you how long you should wait before training hard again - is probably less useful as it failed to notice how tired I was after interval training.

The first two weeks we spent in London, Wales and Scotland. My brother had moved house so I got to explore a whole new area of London that I did not know before, and that was surprisingly green and amenable to running. Amazingly, I managed to get up between 7 and 7:30 am every single day of the holiday and was back from my run before the rest of my family had finished breakfast.

In Wales we had a complete disaster with a rental car which meant we were stranded for a couple of days in Gilwern - there are worse places to get stuck - so my first "rural" runs were around there. The most enjoyable ones, however, were in Scotland along country lanes around the Loch Lomond area which is just simply breathtaking. I ended up buying a new book by Richard Askwith (Running Free) which talks a lot about the benefits of running outdoors versus in gyms, as well as dealing with growing old gracefully and binning the stopwatch.

The last week was back in England where we spent a couple of days in Cambridge - where I was born - and Oxford - where I went to university. The cycling we did in Cambridge doesn't really count toward my fitness goals as it was at a very leisurely pace to have afternoon tea in Grantchester, to where I used to go running with my friend, his bothers and his dad when I first started. But I did also do my interval training in Cambridge, just in front of the City of Cambridge boathouse where I learned to row. I was pleased to see that the oar that I won in Oxford was still hanging up in the Cambridge Blue pub, in pride of place.

In Oxford, we punted (did punting?) and visited the track where Roger Banister broke the 4 minute mile and where I used to go almost every morning in my first year at university, to lift weights with the rowing crew. Roger Banister was the Master of my college and I got to meet him when I was struggling to keep up my academic and athletic work: he told me that they never had to train so many hours back in his day. We walked along the towpath to the City of Oxford boathouse where there still hangs a photo of me rowing at Henley in 1991, but unfortunately the clubhouse was closed so we were unable to see it. I rounded off the week with a long run (now back in London) to Tower Bridge and back and then ceremoniously threw my trainers away which had only just managed to last until the end of the holdays.

Another running related casualty of the holidays was my beloved iPod Shuffle. I got through several of the first generation Shuffles, killing them softly with my sweat, but the newer ones seem much more resilient. London may be cooler than Madrid but it is also more humid and, during a particularly sweaty run, the Shuffle spluttered and gasped its last breath. I tried the old trick of leaving it to dry out in a glass of rice - which it did - but I think I managed to fry some of the components when I prematurely tried to charge it. I decided to buy a new, waterproofed one, from Underwater Audio although sweat is more pernicious even than water so I'll also try to clip it on the part of my clothing that least tends to get soaked.

I realized that the blisters I was getting on my hands by the end of the holidays were actually from running. I should clarify this. We packed so lightly that the four of us were able to take 4 planes and visit 3 countries during 3 weeks with only hand luggage! If I had taken enough kit to cover the 19 runs I did during those 3 weeks then not only would we have had to put bags in the hold but we would probably have been charged excess baggage! So I took only 3 pairs of running socks, three shorts, two vests and a jacket just in case (which I only wore once): every time I went for a run I would hand wash my kit in the shower. I realized that the blisters on my hands were from wringing dry my running kit!

So, all in all, it was a great holiday, quite nostalgic and a good chance to recharge my batteries, get back into shape and get motivated.

Week 1/11 (17th August)

Monday: core
Tuesday (London): 30' @ 4:00 (not sure what my actual pace was as GPS was very off @ 3:26!!)
Wednesday (Cambridge): 8 x 1K @ 3:27-3.32
Thursday (London): 16.4 km @ 4:38
Friday (Oxford): 13.7 km @ 4:20
Saturday (London): 15´+20´+5´@ 4:00 (felt very tired from travelling and not eating enough)
Sunday (London): 18.2 km @ 4:24

Total kilometers: 77