Wednesday, October 14, 2015

New York City Marathon 2015 Week 8/11

This was the big week in terms of kilometres (over 100) but my so-called "peak week" actually starts now, as I write this, and is more intense.

My upper back and neck have continued to be painful the whole week. I now know why they invented the swivel chair for sedentary office workers. I made an appointment with my osteopath but I have to wait until next week. Having said that, in a meeting this morning, I got an incredibly satisfying series of "cracks" out of my neck (that must have been quite audible) and feel a lot better for it. Nevertheless, I think it will be a good idea to unlock some of the tightness that has been accumulating there.

Generally I have been re-reading my blog for the equivalent training week from 2 years ago but it was just as well that I didn't remember to do so before my workout on Monday which, back then I claimed was one of the hardest. It was still pretty tough - 45 minutes increasing the pace every 15 minutes from 4:00 /km (15 kph) to 3:40 /km (16.5 kph). More than anything it is psychologically challenging to know that you have to not only keep going, but be prepared to run even faster.

On Wednesday I went out for my usual hour long run and it turned out to be the day of the flying ants. At first I mistook them for floating bits of ash from a bonfire, but soon realized what they were. Luckily I was wearing my sun glasses so I only had to watch out for them flying into my mouth. One thing I did while preparing for NY two years ago was to do a number of "hill sprints": i.e., charging up a slope of around 10% as fast as possible. The idea then was that this was to be a form of strength training. This year, as I have gone for so long without doing weights and because I feel that I have lost a bit of muscle mass, I have been going back to the gym. This week I decided to switch over to the hill sprints - the last thing I felt like doing after running for an hour, I can tell you. What I hate about them is that there is no immediate relief when you get to the crest of the hill. In fact, it is almost the opposite: as you run up you feel fine most of the way but, when you stop, your heart and lungs feel like they are going to explode.

Here you can clearly see the lag between ascent (altura), pace (ritmo) and HR (frecuencia cardiaca)
This lag is quite disconcerting because it feels like there is nothing you can do to make it go away (except wait). It reminds me of when I drink the smoothies (made from ultra frozen fruit) at the gym too quickly and get a brain freeze that seems to last for ever. Just yesterday I was listening to a talk by Sam Harris in which he was arguing that how you frame pain can completely change it. For example, when you are lifting weights you might feel discomfort and muscle burn. This might be something that you would actively seek to feel, as a confirmation of the hard work you were putting in. But if you were to wake up with the very same pain for no apparent reason, it could prove to be intolerable.

At the weekend we set off for Asturias as Monday was a bank holiday. But so, it seemed, did half of Madrid. To give you some idea, in a bar we stopped at for a sandwich along the way, I bumped into two separate people I knew, also on their way to Asturias. The traffic was so bad that we decided to try to break our journey. Thanks to the advent of smartphones and a bit of luck, we were able to find a hotel with a room for the four of us and the dog at a reasonable price and very close to the motorway. The only downside was that it wasn't a very good location to go for an early run. The run I had programmed for Saturday was the typical run I would do on the treadmill as it consisted of 70 minutes continuous running, alternating between 2 minutes at 3:45 and 3 minutes at 4:27. I worked out that this corresponded roughly to 600 m at 3:45 followed by 600 m at 4:27 and found a simple loop of this length to run around in Villaviciosa. If anything this was slightly harder than the original workout as the hard loops were slightly longer and the recovery loops slightly shorter. Also, running 29 times around a park is not my idea of fun. I managed to hit all the paces on the hard loops and most of the paces on the recovery loops but, as I got towards the end, the recovery was not enough of a recovery and I started to slow down a little. Talking of recovery, my Garmin Fenix 2 watch advised me to take 67 hours to recover from my efforts.

Of course, that I didn't do. Instead I ran 35 kilometres. Asturias is particularly hilly but, with a bit of insider knowledge and ingenuity, I was able to design this flatish route with only about 350 metres of climbing. In fact, I started from Villaviciosa and ran the right hand branch first, as this was the more hilly of the two, before attacking the left hand branch. The curious thing about the route is that it very nearly joins up at the top but is separated by a stretch of about 100 m of water (depending on the tide). For a shorter (17 km) version, I could try swimming across the "ria".

There and back the long way round
To get down to the start, I took the quad bike - a capricho from my midlife crisis a few years ago. It is a lot of fun to ride but it uses up a fair amount of mental and physical energy to navigate the windy roads. I got my replacement waterproof iPod Shuffle in the post just in time to use it on the run (the previous one had a very short battery life for some reason). The guys at Underwater Audio have to be praised for their quibble free service and for putting the customer first, as they sent out the replacement via Amazon as soon as they had received the tracking number of the one I returned.

The run itself started off well and felt nice and easy, as is usually the case. The hills didn't present much of a problem and I enjoyed the scenery. It was psychologically hard to have to run past the quad after 20 kilometres, to complete the final 15 kilometres. At the turn around point, with 7 kilometres or so to go, I started to feel weak, tired and even a little sick. I had hit the wall. Not such a bad thing as I think it is important to suffer this in training every now and again (and better than in the Marathon itself, where motivation, proper rest and, above all, energy gels will help avoid this). On the other hand, it can have a demoralizing effect, which I tried to minimize. I stopped 3 times on the way back and lay down by the side of the road, hoping no-one would stop to ask if I was alright.

Eventually, of course, I made it back (otherwise I wouldn't be writing this blog, for one thing) and - after downing a couple of cans of Coke Zero - headed off on the quad to meet my family at the Espasa beach near Colunga, where I ate and drank myself back to normal.

"Wow, that guy looks knackered"
Monday: core
Tuesday: 45' (15' @ 4:00, 15' @ 3:45, 15' @ 3:40)
Wednesday: 60' @ 4:15 + 5x hill sprints
Thursday: 40' @ 4:00
Friday: 60' @ 4:08
Saturday: 70' (600 m @ 3:45, 600 m @ 4:27)
Sunday: 35 km @ 4:23

Total kilometres: 103

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