Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Epilogue

In case you are wondering what has become of me since I stopped updating this blog, I thought I would write one last post...

When I started this blog 6 years ago, I gave it the sub-heading:
"Yet another blog chronicling the mid life crisis of some bloke. Only it is for a good cause and you might even learn something from my obsessive travails... Even if it is just what NOT to do."
A theme that has run through the blog since then is that of obsessive behaviour driven by a fear of becoming (or going back to being) a "slob"- sometimes leading to frustration, disappointment and even injury. But, along the way, there have been glorious moments, moments when I have felt very alive (and "craughed" = cry and laugh simultaneously) as well as achievements of which I am extremely proud.

But in parallel, another thread has weaved its way in and out of this blog and that is coming to terms with getting older. I have had this internal struggle between wanting to feel I am giving it my all and at the same time wanting to be able to continue to run into my old age. This year, with my slipped cervical disc, has felt like the final showdown between the two.

In some sense, I have found a way to encompass both aims by redefining what I mean by giving it my all and thus to find a dynamic balance between the two. I have no interesting race results to report this year and yet I feel prouder of myself than I have in a very long time. How can this be?

We spent our summer holidays in Norway where I very much enjoyed walking early in the morning, realizing that walking was anything but boring if, instead of deliberately trying to distract myself, I actually remembered to look around and drink in my surroundings. In September after 6 months off, I finally got the all clear from the spine doctor to go back to running (gently at first) and I am now able to run as much as I like without provoking any symptoms. In fact, the symptoms have all but disappeared - for all I know, they were already present at these levels for a long time before they flared up: I don't believe I would have noticed them if I had not become so intimate with them.

I am truly enjoying running more than I think I ever have, except perhaps when, aged 15, I very first started to go running with my friend, his brothers and their dad. Instead of thinking about the time or the pace, I am not really thinking about anything most of the time; I may be simply sensing how my body moves almost magically of its own accord, just with the small push of intention that I consciously give it. Instead of focusing on a small patch of ground just in front of my feet, I may be perceiving the whole movie as if it were filmed in Widescreen 3D Dolby Quadrophonic "Smelly-vision". Or perhaps I may be feeling how my breathing is going, all the while without me having to tell myself to breathe in a particular way. During the week I tend to run just 30 minutes around the football field, concentrating as best as I can on these sensations, as a mental and physical warm-up before doing my physiotherapy exercises; at the weekend I will just set off and run for as long (or short) and as fast (or slow) as I feel like. I'm not doing any high intensity workouts but, even so, my Garmin watch reckons I am as fit as I was at my peak. I'm not kidding myself into believing I could compete at my best if I wanted to, but I certainly feel as fit as I ever have and that is much more rewarding and enjoyable in the long run.

I have been very disciplined in following the excellent program that my amazing physiotherapist, Mónica, has been tailor making for me. Little muscles have popped up where I never knew they existed before. Thanks to Mónica (and my hard work), I have entered into a virtuous circle: strengthening muscles makes them easier to perceive, which, in turn, makes them easier to activate and strengthen. My posture has also improved when sitting, standing, walking and running by virtue of another virtuous circle: having enough strength in certain stabilizing muscles makes maintaining an equilibrium less of an effort than slouching which, in turn, strengthens those muscles (as well as preventing tightness and pain in others).

Lastly, but - I think - most importantly, I have been keeping up my Mindfulness practice. I have found that it helps me in many ways, especially in reducing stress. As a result I need much less sleep than before, and the extra time thus freed up more than covers the 45 minutes I spend practicing every morning. In fact, I now get up two hours before I have to leave the house for work, giving me ample time to prepare and eat my breakfast very mindfully as well as to shave with a cut-throat razor(!), which better damn-well be done mindfully otherwise I end up bleeding all over the place. I think that paying much more attention when I am eating leads to me enjoying my food more, eating less and more healthily (for example, I have discovered that vegetables are far more interesting than meat if you are actually aware of their tastes and textures while eating them). Accordingly, as a side-effect, I have lost quite a lot of weight and, in particular fat.

This all brings to mind the concept of the "minimum effective dose" that I read about in Timothy Ferriss' book, "The 4 Hour Body". The idea is along the lines that the best way to get a suntan is by exposing yourself to the sun just enough to make a minimal difference every day: any more and you run the risk of burning and the skin peeling off, setting you back to square one. I'm fairly convinced that the physiotherapy exercises have been so effective because they are very specific and I have been concentrating hard on performing them correctly and patiently (i.e., not while watching the TV - most of the time). Most of them have been with rubber bands or weights that are so light that they are only available in pink, and yet I have noticed a much larger improvement than when I was hefting huge loads.

So, in conclusion, I feel the fittest, lightest, trimmest, proudest and most relaxed than I have done in years. I literally feel as though I am ten years younger. Make that 15. On the other hand, this is not the end of a journey or a final stopping place as reading this post from 5 year's ago goes to show. I think the trick is to accept that this is the way things are now, but that everything changes...

Oh, and...

...HAPPY NEW YEAR!

San Silvestre Vallecana 2016: the year of the crab
(On a side note, I was surprised just now to see that the traffic to my site has increased significantly over the last few weeks and yet the only clues are the search phrases that appear in the "stats" section: "ballerina japanese" and "why don't i get intensity minutes on...".)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Mission accomplished

The time has come, I think, to wind this blog down. "Aw no", I hear you cry (all two of you).

Seriously though. When I started this blog, my goal was clear - to be an Ironman - and then I went from goal to goal (sometimes lamenting that my goals seem to choose me, rather than the other way round) almost without stopping for breath. In the background, though, there has always been a single goal of continuing to keep fit into my old age - perhaps better characterized as a fear of the opposite, of going back to my sofa-lounging days.

It might seem a bit like calling victory too soon when I am currently unable to run (although I am still keeping reasonably fit). What has changed is my mental attitude and I don't think it is too soon to say this. I feel like I am where I have wanted to be for years, something that I always perceived other people to have attained - why could I not be satisfied to just enjoy being active and in good shape? Why did I have to be so hard on myself? What was I trying to prove or what was I afraid of?

So. If my blog has ever been interesting, I think it will become much less so from now on. And I don't want the blog itself to become the reason why I run. I have enjoyed writing all these posts and I know that I will enjoy reading them in the future, but this seems like a good place to stop.

Thanks to all my readers and especially those that have left comments (not including the spammers) and have supported me. If it has just helped one other person undertake their own version of the journey I have been on then it will have been worth it.

HASTA LA VISTA BABY!

Runscribe update

This isn't an update from me on the Runscribe, which I started using back in October last year, as I haven't been running - let alone running with my Runscribe - but rather an important update from the people who make it.


They have just launched a new website "Running Unraveled" which aims to use the anonymous crowdsourced data collected from all the users of Runscribes around the world. In particular, they have finally published the results of a study of those who ran the New York Marathon last year with one, in which I can count myself (I am the 3:02 data point).

The other interesting development is that they have added a couple of new metrics to the dashboard, as well as a comparison to the Runscribe community of where you stand in terms of "efficiency" and "shock". Shock is a total measure of the 3D G's you have undergone multiplied by the number of steps you have taken. Efficiency (I think) is comprised of some mix of step rate, contact time and flight ratio. This last - flight ratio - is an interesting addition which measures the ratio of the time in the air to the total time to take a step. The results from the New York Marathon appear to show a very strong correlation between (lower) race times and (higher) flight ratios, as one would expect. What is perhaps striking (if you'll forgive the pun), is how much variability there is in flight time between elites (50%), competitive runners (25%) and fun runners (10%-0%).

If I ever get back to running, it will be interesting to see how my "flight time" compares to last year. It will also be interesting to see how this metric differs between a similar paced run on the treadmill, on a track and on a trail.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Getting on my nerves

The spine doctor recommended me to do an EMG (ElectroMyoGraphy) test. I was unusually nervous (if you'll forgive the pun) beforehand, partly because I'd read something on the internet (not a good idea) that gave the impression the test itself would be horrendous, and partly because the results of this test would largely determine whether I would have to undergo surgery or not.

The test is designed to detect nerve damage and consists of inserting needle like probes into particularly sensitive parts (in my case) of the arm. In a relaxed state, the oscilloscope should show a flat line with no noise and, when the muscles are activated, it should be plain to see. By the way, it was nothing like as unpleasant as I was expecting, a doddle really.

The nurse told me that I was "como un pollo" or, that's what I thought she said, until I looked it up on the aforementioned internet. What she must have said was "estás como un toro" - I am like a bull or, in other words, there's nothing wrong with me. The doctor was slightly less enthusiastic and explained that there was very light nerve damage, but that surgery was not on the cards (yet) and there was every reason to believe that the nerves would repair themselves, with the help of a vitamin B1, B6 and B12 supplement.

Next step is to go back in three weeks' time, to see how things have been progressing. I am still pretty optimistic but it is a bit like watching paint dry or hair grow. I think the symptoms are getting better when I compare myself to a week ago, but from day to day it is a bit up and down. My home alone physio sessions are getting longer and longer as Mónica includes more and more exercises, but I believe that they are helping.

Poquito a poco...

In other news, I was going to the gym the other day to do my uninspiring workout of 40 minutes on the elliptic machine (without arms) when one of the monitors proposed for me to join in the special activities going on outside. I had the chance to see what it was like being in a wheelchair - in particular, playing basketball in a wheelchair, something I am so bad anyway at that the wheelchair didn't make much difference. It was a lot of fun, especially seeing how people who are unable to do things that I take for granted were able to enjoy the simplest of pleasures.

The guy shooting genuinely needed a wheelchair and ran circles (literally) around the rest of us

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Slipping Jimmy

I had my appointment with the spine specialist yesterday. Do you want the bad news first, or the good news? (Of course, he didn't say it this way to me.)

The bad news is that it is a herniated (or "slipped") disc, not just a protruding (or "bulging") disc. This means that some of the liquid in the disc has leaked out of disc into the medulla, and is compressing the nerves there. I always wondered what a "hernia" was, as it seemed to refer to all sorts of different complaints - it appears to be a medical term for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I believe that this is harder for the body to fix with the help of physiotherapy than a simple protruding disc.

So what's the good news? Well, according to the doctor, about 80% of patients in my condition manage to improve without the need for surgery; the remaining 20% end up going under the knife. And this coming from a surgeon who presumably has a natural inclination to surgery. If I think that that 80% includes people of all shapes and sizes, ages and levels of fitness, it makes me think that I have a pretty good chance of making that 80%. After all, I am in good shape and, when I put my mind to something (like following the exercises my excellent physiotherapist recommends me), I take it very seriously.

So how did this happen? The doctor said it could just have been down to bad posture. I can't help wondering if one of the sessions with an osteopath was the straw to break the donkey's back (or Rob's neck). It doesn't really matter. The point is that, until the symptoms have gone away, I am to avoid any impacts (no running), avoid lifting heavy weights (no more painting of sheds and, in general, a great excuse not to do anything I don't feel like doing ha ha) and avoid bad postures. I have to have a EMG (Electromygraphy) test to see if I have any nerve damage and to monitor my progress.

Meanwhile, my physiotherapy is focusing on strengthening my shoulders and neck, as well as stabilizing my pelvis. It's been a few weeks since I last bought a gadget, so let me introduce the latest in my collection: The Stabilizer.
By inflating the cushion and placing it under your lower back as you lie face up with the legs bent, you can make very controlled movements monitoring all the while the pressure gauge. This allows you to - say - practice lifting the legs while focusing on keeping the pelvis perfectly stable. I bet my wife I could do it better than her (based on her poor posture when running) but I had underestimated the power of Pilates, and she absolutely trounced me. When we got married she still had a "six pack" and was able to support my entire weight standing on her stomach. Having two kids meant that these muscles separated but I think some of her postural problems come from having overworked the exterior core muscles (doing crunches and the like) and ignoring the internal core muscles (by not doing "planks" etc.). As you know, I love anything that is measurable, especially something like this that gives you instant feedback on how well you are doing.

I've also been losing weight more rapidly even than when I have been training for a Marathon. In this graph you can see the first dip as I started my training for New York City Marathon, reaching a minimum on the date of the Marathon itself, then climbing back up to when I started up my training again, this time for the Madrid Marathon. Then, when I got injured, my weight naturally went back up until the last few weeks in which it has gone into a nose dive. People tend to put on weight with steroids (even with the non anabolic kind I have been taking because you get the "munchies").


I've been off the steroids for over a week now and I have been continuing with my Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course (now in week 6 out of 8). I am still getting away with 1-2 hours less sleep a night than before, feeling much more awake and infinitely less stressed. Of course, I still feel stress from time to time but being more aware of it helps not to fall into that vicious circle of getting stressed about being stressed.

Here's to making the 80% cut (or should I say "no cut"?)!

Monday, May 23, 2016

IV Carrera Popular Ciudad de Pozuelo

This year, all four of us (me, my wife and both my kids) "ran" the 5K race. I put "ran" in quotes because, of course, I am not yet allowed to run anywhere in my condition, so I decided I would power walk it with my youngest. As he was too young to officially take part in the race, I signed him up for a shorter race and he entered the 5K race with a race number for the shorter distance.

I had had to get up early to go the hospital to get my (last) steroid jab before the race. As we were the slowest in the race, the coche escoba (the car that marks the end of the race) - which was, in fact, a police car - was in hot pursuit of a guy who was doping accompanied by an underage boy who had not paid the entry fee. Just as well I didn't get drug tested at the finish line.

I enjoyed walking and talking with my son, while my wife and other son were running ahead. In the end, they didn't have to wait all that long for us but, for some reason, my chip didn't register so I'm not even sure what time we did. Not that it matters.

Enjoying it was the main thing, but I couldn't help feeling pangs of competition. The last two times I have run it I have been 4th in my category and fairly high up the overall rankings. This year, much less people were running because it coincided with a very popular 10K in the centre of town. This would have been the year to get on the podium! Still, if I ask myself what that would have meant, I would say that I would have liked for my kids to be proud of their dad. I think they are more proud of me spending good quality time with them and not being in such a bad mood.

I do miss running though. A week today I have my appointment with the spine specialist. It will also be a week without medication, so it will be interesting to see how both my symptoms and my sleep patterns evolve, not to mention my mood.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

MBSR / Mindfulness on steroids

I'm now starting my forth week of the 8 week MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Relief) online course that my wife got me for my birthday. I don't want to come across all gushing or - worse - tell you that you HAVE to do this because it will change your life. After all, the proof will be in how I am, not in how I say I am and, everyone is different. But as this is a blog that started life as a document of my journey from a midlife crisis to becoming an Ironman, there are a few things that I want to share as well as writing them down so that I can refer to them later.

Remembering back to when I started this stage of my life, I had realized that I had invested all my self-esteem into my work so that, when something happened that was out of my control, it threw me completely off-balance. Most jobs have a large component that is out of one's control and so it might seem surprising that I should not have been used to this, but I was writing mathematical models and, as far as I was concerned, my yardstick was an unbending but utterly rational and objective one. I scrabbled around desperately for something to plug the self-esteem gap and, after a few un-recommendable attempts I found that running was an excellent complement. It took me several years to get it under control, going through the typical boom-bust injury cycles that I've written about at length, until I was recently forced to stop for an extended period of time. Unlike the previous time - when I got a stress fracture in my foot in 2009 - this has been more insidious. When I started building up to running again after my stress fracture I used the opportunity to retrain my running gait; this time I am retraining my mind - or, if you like, my mind-body relationship. (It's hard to say this without sounding all mystical but, if you think about it, the mind and body are all part of the same organism.) Most significantly, I am deriving a source of self-esteem just from being able to react differently to situations that normally drive me crazy - from things as stupid as headphone wires getting tangled up, to having to wait in a queue. And, consequently, the need I have to run or compete has diminished (but not the desire).

The other thing that I have noticed and already commented here is a tremendous increase in energy and decrease in need to sleep. I'm beginning to wonder if it is possible that the energy I am saving from not going over and over things, not getting frustrated or, indeed, not trying to sleep mean that I need less of it. Or it could just be the steroids - I will have my last dose this Sunday, so I'll soon know (although my mum says they stay in your bloodstream for a couple of weeks). Having said that, I am not aware of one of the secondary effects of steroids being a dramatic reduction in stress - so dramatic that I have only just begun to appreciate how stressed out I was. My family almost don't recognize me (my son said this morning "Rob Smith 2016"). Hell, I almost don't recognize myself. I am just a little scared that this is only temporary. We'll see in a few month's time whether the effects are lasting or not!

One thing to be "mindful" of is not to get too obsessed with the whole thing. I have a tendency to do this. If I find something works then I tend to take it to such an extreme that it stops working. In some sense, it is almost impossible to be obsessively mindful by definition, as the whole practice is one of being in the moment. I think the only danger is becoming obsessed about analyzing and talking about the effects of practicing it... So if I get boring please tell me.

For now, my objective is not to enjoy life, but to experience it as fully as I can.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

'Roids

So in spite of taking Valium to get to sleep last night, I woke up at 3 am and have been awake since then. Given the - let's say - unpleasant environment at work, you'd think I would have been up going round and round conversations I had had or worries about what was to come, but it wasn't like that at all. I felt really awake (and still do) - in fact, had the family not been at home I would have gone downstairs to do some nocturnal deejaying. Instead, I watched a film and tried a bit of meditating (which just woke me up even more) and even some yoga for goodness sake. In a way I enjoyed it and knew that I was somehow resting, even if I wasn't sleeping.

I don't know where this energy is coming from. It could be the steroids or it could be the release from annoying but fairly constant pain / discomfort. Another explanation is something I have experienced one or two times in my life when I am faced with a point of inflection in my life: a change of girlfriend, a change of country or a change of job. I don't think I will be doing any of these things but I believe that my organism goes into a kind of hyper-alert "survival mode". In the past I have had up to months of needing very little sleep, feeling very energized and alert, but also aware I am living on borrowed time. It could also be the Mindfulness that I am doing that is somehow waking me up. I've certainly noticed it bleeding over into daily situations like driving, waiting in doctor's to be attended, meetings, etc. It's too early to tell, but just two weeks in to the 8 week MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) course my wife got me for me birthday it really seems to be starting to have a positive effect.

The drugs are definitely helping too, and my symptoms have all but disappeared, which means that I can do my rehabilitation exercises that much more effectively and hopefully put this thing back in its box. I suspect I will have to "manage" it, just like I have to manage my Morton's Neuromas - something to be aware of, a warning to be heeded but not necessarily a stopper. My physio pointed out something interesting to me. I have two protruding discs - one between C5 & C6 and one between C6 & C7. The point is that the one between C5 & C6 is on the right hand side and yet I have no symptoms on that side of my body. It is quite possible I have been living symptom-free with these underlying problems for years without realizing it. This paints a much more optimistic picture. It may be that the "crisis" I had which lead to my back and neck locking up concentrated the pressure from the protruding disc on a small area of a nerve, leading to its inflammation and the subsequent numbness and referred pain in my left arm. This would be consistent with the order of events, because I only noticed this once the other problems had gone away and, in spite of not running, before I started medicating it just got worse and worse.

I've continued to make an effort to improve my posture and people have commented that I look taller and sit straighter. In fact I have more or less stopped using my Lumo Lift as I feel that awareness of my posture (and the typical causes for breaking it) has been internalized now (here Mindfulness helps with the awareness too). So I'll probably lend it to my wife for a bit, as she could do with minding her posture a bit more. My Shoulders Back brace did arrive after all (albeit with an unexpected customs bill of about 30 €...) and I really notice that it helps me stand up straighter and taller. It's comfortable to wear during the day under a shirt (and I have found a way of taking it off and putting it on discreetly when I get changed in the gym) but I think that I would have to wear it on the outside of a t-shirt if I were to run with it, because otherwise it would cause too much chaffing. I expect that it will help strengthen some of the muscles that are indirectly implicated in a more upright posture - such as the internal neck muscles I have been exercising recently - but others, like those that help stabilize my scapulas, are probably having too much of an easy time of it and need to be strengthened separately. I'll see what my physio has to say on the matter. Lastly, I bought yet another gadget to help me on the road to recovery: a goose-neck support for my Kindle, so that I can watch movies and series while on the elliptic, without having to crane my neck. I hope that all these measures (plus the new chair I mentioned last time) will help me be in better shape for when I come off the meds and - hopefully - gradually re-introduce myself to running and cycling.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Whoopsie

I got the results back of the MRI - which, by the way was a form of torture as my nerve was compressed during the entire 20 minutes which seemed like an eternity. So it turns out that I do have a slipped disc. Actually, it is not a herniated disc but rather a protruding disc (slightly between C5 & C6 and more "voluminously" between C6 & C7) which is pressing against my nerves. So I have been prescribed a course of corticoid injections for which I have to present my bum to a nurse every morning for the next couple of weeks. I'm also on anti-inflammatories (Enantyum) and have a follow up appointment with the spinal column specialist at the end of the month. I hope that the combination of the meds and the rehab prod the disc back into its little space and that I can avoid surgery.

It's been a difficult time one way and another. At work there is a dour mood as about 25% of the workforce will be cut in the next couple of weeks: we are just waiting for the axe to drop. If its not you, it might be a friend or someone you count on to be able to do your work. Also, my mum has been in hospital for over two weeks, recovering from (her second) bone fusion in her lower back to conserve the discal space lost to degenerative disc disease* and to relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve. It's funny that I should have a similar (less serious) problem at the same time as her. When she had her bunions operated I was having problems with mine; she had problems with Morton's Neuroma at the same time as I did. I wonder if I am suffering from some form of maternal stigmata.

Still, when patience is called for, I can be patient, and this is one of those times. My wife gave me a course on Mindfulness for my birthday which requires a fairly serious commitment (I am meditating for almost an hour every morning). I have to say I don't feel like taking anything else on right now, but I think it is helping. It's time to look after mind and body.

I got a new chair at work, which is much better for my back than the previous piece of crap. I had to go through some bureaucracy to get assigned one and, by a strange coincidence, the whole floor got given a new ergonomic chair (worth about 700 euros) the day before. This at a time when we are wondering whether we will be moved to another office or shipped out of here altogether. Unfortunately I found this chair (a Steelcase "Think") to be worse than the chair I had before, as it is impossible to block in an upright position, so you end up leaning backwards. Looking around the room, not a single person is sitting with good posture: some are leaning back with their necks craning forward, while others are slumped down in the chair as if they were watching the TV. I had to make an extra special fuss to get assigned one of the other orthopedic chairs - a Karnapps - which I think is much better.


I mentioned in my previous post that I had ordered a "Shoulders Back" brace to try to help with my posture. It hasn't arrived yet due to a peculiar limitation in Spain whereby individuals are not allowed to take delivery any item that is classified as "for medical use" - even if it is just a piece of cloth - instead, you have to order through a pharmacy. As I understand it, the pharmacies in Spain operate under a slightly communist regime in that you can only open a pharmacy where there was one before or, in rare cases, if the local government decides there is enough demand to open a new one. So, in practice, they get handed down through families and are a bit of a monopoly. Once I get my money back for the two failed attempts so far, I'll have it delivered to the UK instead.

You may remember that I bought a little device - the Lumo Lift - some time ago, before the problems with the pinched nerve were noticeable. This gadget buzzes every time you slump in your chair or while standing. I've just realized that the pinched nerve has exactly the same function, although it is a good deal more effective: whenever I lean forward or assume a bad posture, my thumb and first two fingers on my left hand go to sleep and I get referred pain in the triceps and the lats. It is doing wonders for my posture, I can thoroughly recommend it. The only difference is that I can decide not to wear the Lumo Lift but I can't turn off the pinched nerve just yet.

Having said that, the steriods (corticoids) I am taking are already having a noticeable effect. On the plus side, the symptoms from the pinched nerve have retreated to where they were 2-3 weeks ago after just one injection. On the minus side, I was totally hyper last night (and in fact, still am this morning) and only slept 3 hours. The best (or worst) thing about it is that I don't even feel tired. I feel almost euphoric, like running a marathon which, of course wouldn't be a good idea right now.

* I discovered in that place of all true knowledge more commonly known as the internet, that "degenerative disc disease" is neither degenerative - in the sense that there is no reason why the discs will necessary degenerate further - nor is it a disease. It just means that your discs have degenerated, but you already knew that.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Update

So, this thing is still dragging on. I am much better in many ways, but I have a pinched nerve which is causing pain and numbness to radiate down my arm to my fingers. Occasionally - perhaps after sitting still for a long period of time - it can feel like someone punching me in the arm, painful enough to make me stop in my tracks, but then it subsides after a few seconds. It's rather like the nerve pain I started to get in my feet almost exactly 2 year's ago, due to the Morton's Neuroma, in the sense that the pain is probably worse than the damage itself. The difference in this case is that there is a chance that the nerve could become permanently damaged and you can't just have it removed (unlike the nerves between your toes) without serious consequences. I've been to see a "traumatologist" who wants to rule out the possibility that the nerve is being compressed by a slipped disc in my neck: this would be one of the worst outcomes and could require surgery. (She told me that she wasn't scared of surgery; I said I was.) So I am getting an MR scan this Friday.

In the meantime, I am seeing the physio once a week and she is prescribing me exercises to mobilize and strengthen certain areas. It's slow progress but it is progress. One of the exercises, for example, is something known as "nerve flossing" where you basically slide the nerve back and forth through its sheath. This has to be done in a range that doesn't cause pain (and therefore inflammation).


She also gave me a book about pain which I will probably read some time over the next two days, as I am going down to Málaga where my mum is having a fairly serious back operation. But the book is for me, not for her. It's interesting how pain works - the pain I am suffering from is not that extreme but it restricts me, and I associate it with certain movements and activities. Above all, it is frustrating. I haven't read the book yet, but I can imagine that the intensity of pain is not the only important aspect, but what it is associated with, how constant it is and what our attitude towards it is. I remember how I got a bit obsessed with the pain in my feet from the neuromas; now I can't remember the last time I felt it.

In terms of "proper" exercise, I am only really able to use the elliptic machine, without moving my arms. It's better than nothing, but it does make me dependent on the gym which I can only use during the working week. Right now, things are pretty difficult at work as there are severe cuts and many people will be made redundant. This is exactly the time when having an outlet like running is so valuable. Instead, I am finding myself going back to an old remedy: listening to music or, more precisely, my previous hobby of deejaying. In other news, my treadmill finally got fixed yesterday after almost 6 months. In the end, the rollers and the belt had to be replaced (on top of the already new board and springs). As the guarantee is up in a month's time, its probably just as well to have it renewed and, if my running continues at a lower intensity from now on, there's a chance it might last me a few more years yet. The custom made plywood running deck is much better than the one that came as standard, and is much less springy.

I've been using my Lumo Lift device every day at work and my sitting posture has improved noticeably. I'm wearing glasses which I can get away with not using, but they help me avoid craning my neck forward to read the small writing on my screens. I've also managed to get approval for a special chair at work which is more supportive, especially for the neck. My first focus is on correcting my "tech-neck" and then I will turn my attention to my Anterior Pelvic Tilt. Following a recommendation from my osteopath, I've bought a brace that helps hold my shoulders back, encouraging a more upright posture that will ultimately strengthen muscles in my neck and upper back. I noticed that there was a huge variety in designs so I initially had trouble choosing between them, until I had the idea of Googling for "shoulder brace running". I discovered that Alberto Salazar has his star runner - Galen Rupp - run with a shoulder brace that was actually designed for jockeys - the Equifit Shoulders Back. I'll let you know how I get on with that when it arrives.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Redefining "best"

Nowadays many schools have "non-competitive sports days" which I think a bit "oxy-moronic". My wife and I don't quite see eye-to-eye on this one but, while she will tend to say to the kids "The important thing is the taking part, not the winning" I usually add that "As long as you feel you've done your best, that's all that matters". But always doing your best is quite a tall order. It never ceases to amaze me how the best athletes in the world are not only able to put out stratospheric performances, but they seem to be able to do it time and time again with extraordinary consistency (notable exceptions like Paula Radcliffe aside). I expect that this is no coincidence and that consistency - especially in training - is key to being at the top of your game.

I have never been particularly consistent. I have run 10 Marathons, approximately half of which I have been very happy with and half I have been disappointed with. My most recent Marathon - in New York last November - was one which fell into the "disappointing: could do better" camp. At the time friends and family couldn't understand my disappointment, and some even tried to convince me to be satisfied with my result but - after a few weeks of grouchiness I must admit - I chalked it down to experience and started to think of the next one. The odd sub-par performance is an inevitable result of my strategy to get as close to my optimum level as possible.

As long as it was just a question of the odd disappointment, it was no big deal; in fact, it made victory all the sweeter when it finally showed up. But I have started to suffer other negative effects that are perhaps not too surprising given that I am getting on a little bit (about to turn 44). I just need to search through my blog for "back", "neck" or "shoulder" to see just how often. I have continued to soldier on - most times without having to skip even one training session - but the stakes have started to get too high and interfere with other spheres of my life.

How can I redefine "best" so that I can still feel satisfied with my performance? I don't feel enough motivation to train just to fun-run a Marathon. One approach would be to just run for the pure enjoyment of being outside, the endorphins, and feeling good about my body - and forget about races altogether. I'm not sure that that is motivation enough for me just yet - although, right now, I'd do anything to be able to go outside for a run, however slow.

Being a mathematician, I think of my theoretical best performance as being a red line, rather like the red line on the rev-counter of a car. If you can train and race as close to that line without ever crossing it, then you should get your best possible result. Up until to now, crossing the red line has has fairly manageable negative consequences, but that seems to be changing. So, if consistency is represented by a bell-curve - the wider the bell-curve, the higher the inconsistency - to avoid crossing this red line means shifting the intensity of all your training downwards.

This is somewhere between my previous extreme of always trying my best and the other extreme of just running for fun. I tend to be a bit of an all-or-nothing guy, so I feel uncomfortable in that grey zone in the middle. I'd always ride my bike in the lowest gear to get started and then immediately shift up to the highest possible gear - what was the point of all those gears in the middle? I always used to listen to my Walkman at the highest possible volume and found the volume control to be a nuisance. Where do I set the intensity dial for my training?

I think the trick is to shift the time horizon out beyond the current training session, the current week and even beyond the race I might be training for. If consistent, problem free running is a must, then "doing my best" means "doing my best while minimizing the chance of crossing the red line". I'm not sure yet how this translates into a training program, but I can try doing all my training at an "easy" pace (not slack, mind you), scaling back the long runs and mixing in some cross training and weights, and I can try running races at a pace that feels lively but not demanding. If I cross the red line - which I suppose will happen now and again, especially as I get older - I just have to be prepared to shift everything downwards. I've got into Chicago with a qualifying time so it seems a shame not to take advantage as training for and running Marathons like this is unlikely to lead to qualifying times in the future (and, in any case, I have paid my $210 already).

More than anything else, I need a challenge that I feel that is just within my reach and is within my control. Work is a challenge but it depends on so many other factors and people; running has been a great complement (and indeed compliment) to my self-esteem in this respect. Running my best in the long run will probably be the hardest running challenge I have ever undertaken.

Probably the closest I ever got to that red line (since I took up running again) was when I ran New York City Marathon in 2:47:42 in 2013. I am extremely proud of that achievement because it was the culmination of years of training, of overcoming injury and low self esteem, not to mention the 5 years it took me to be get into the race in the first place. Many times I have thought of getting a discreet tattoo - somewhere where it doesn't look like boasting, but somewhere where I can be reminded of it - but it has felt too much like giving up and admitting that I will never run that fast again. Now I am thinking again of that tattoo but not as a resignation, instead as the closing of one chapter and the start of another.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

I spoke too soon...

I don't know whether it was the easy 20 minute run I did last night, the effort of keeping a good posture or just simply sitting down for so long, or maybe having slept in an awkward position - but my neck has seized up again. This pisses me off a lot more than just my shoulder hurting as it makes it difficult to go about everyday life and certainly puts running on hold again. Got an appointment with the physio in just over an hour and, tomorrow, I'm seeing the osteopath.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Sermana no tan Santa

It wasn't the best Easter break ever, I have to say, with my back problems and a bout of gastroenteritis (first the eldest, then the youngest, then me), but it was nice to be able to visit my brother and his family in London, my sister-in-law in then my parents in Málaga and, finally, my parents-in-law in Ciudad Real. My brother-in-law, Vicente - a trained osteopath - was able to give me an excellent massage which went a long way to making me feel better, but it wasn't until yesterday that I was able to run again, for the first time in three weeks. That's the longest break I have had from running in about 7 years (and certainly since I started this blog). In that time, my VO2 Max has dropped to 63, my % fat risen to 8.5% and my average resting heart rate gone up to 44, which is about where I was when I started my training back in January. So three weeks of de-training = seven weeks of training. Sounds about right.

I'm still not 100%, but of my three recurring complaints which seemed to collide in a general back seizure - stiff neck (from bad posture at work), sore shoulder (from prior injury) and lower back fatigue (from running with weak hips) - I am just left with slight shoulder pain. I'm going to start seeing a physio regularly to work out what I can do to help prevent these problems. In the meantime, what better therapy than that of the retail kind?

So, I bought myself another gadget, the Lumo Lift, which is a little device that "bugs" you if you slouch while sitting or standing. It's a very simple little thing with a tilt sensor that you calibrate once when you are sitting with what you deem to be good posture and it alerts you by vibrating if you break this posture for more than a configurable amount of time. There is an accompanying app which is not actually necessary, but helps by tracking how many hours you have managed to keep a good posture each day, as well as the number of steps you have taken. It's not really aimed so much at the fitness crowd as it wouldn't work as an activity tracker while running (it is affixed with a small magnet to your clothes) but instead at people with a sedentary job, like myself.

For once it is a product that works slightly better for women than men, as they can attach it more discreetly to their bra strap; men have to place a small magnet on the outside of their shirt, just below the collar bone. You get two of these magnets in the box - silver and black - but you can buy extra colours if you care that much about discretion; I don't. So far it is too much of a novelty for me to have forgotten about sitting with good posture long enough for it to have buzzed me. Although, at first, sitting with good posture is bound to be more tiring (in the short term) than slouching, I'm finding I am able to sit for quite a while without problems and, the good thing is, that you end up finding more comfortable ways to sit while still sitting with good posture, as well as becoming aware of those situations (like answering the phone) that lead you to break that posture. It may be coincidence, but I have noticed that I am a bit more sweaty than usual - perhaps I am making more of an effort by sitting up straight, akin to standing up. I think the trick is neither to slouch nor to sit bolt upright, but getting the right balance is a bit tricky at first. When I get tired, instead of slumping in my seat as I would normally do, I now get up and go for a little walkabout.

The Android app is supposedly still in beta and is not even officially compatible with my phone (Samsung Grand 2) but here I think they are just being conservative. I have installed it anyway and it works fine (so far). The same company also makes a product called "Lumo Run", which is basically a pair of fancy pants which tell you if your pelvis is correctly aligned while running. It sounds like these would be just the thing to address one of my other regular complaints - that of my lower back problems due to my lumbar region overcompensating for my lack of strength in the hip flexors. i can't really see myself buying these as I am quite particular about running shorts, but I can imagine them being a great tool for running coaches (with a good washing machine). (I've noticed that they are now offering just the sensor, which you can attach to any pair of running shorts. I'm a little skeptical of how well this works because, it's clearly preferable to the integrated version so, unless it is much less accurate, why offer both products?)

In other news, I got accepted to run the Chicago Marathon!! The other good news is that I managed to convince my wife that the family holidays would be somewhere cool again this year, so we are going to Norway and Sweden, where training during the summer should be relatively easy, provided I get up early.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Madrid Marathon Week 11/18

I was going to write a very positive report for this week because the training went very well and I hit all my pace targets (and some). Maybe it is not such a coincidence, then, that my back is worse than I think it has ever been, to the point that a colleague had to drive me home in my car yesterday, while another one came along to take the first one back to the office. But more of that in a moment.

The week started off with a surprisingly spritely run around the the football pitch. This was supposed to be an easy run - at a pace of between 4:26 and 4:46 / km - but (GPS error permitting) turned out to be 10km at a pace of 4:05, a smidgen above my supposed marathon pace. One of the things I like about my Garmin Fenix 2, is the VO2 Max metric, which probably has little to do with my real VO2 Max, but does seem to track my fitness very well. It makes even the easiest and most boring runs interesting by giving me a goal: after this one, my VO2 Max soared to 66 ml/s/kg.


...that of a 2:30 Marathoner! (I wish)


Tuesday marked a shift in the Hanson's plan from "speed" to "strength" and a move towards more, longer and slower intervals. The recommended pace for these was about 10 seconds faster than Marathon Pace - which I had set at 3:55 /km as running on the track is somewhat easier than on the roads with their ups and downs. Instead of running the 6 sets of 1 mile at 3:45 /km, I ended up running them (very consistently as it turned out) at 3:35 /km. This was partly because I was used to running the speed intervals at 3:25 /km and partly because my watch was displaying my instantaneous pace, rather than the average pace I was clocking up.

Thursday was another "Something Of Substance" (SOS) workout, being a 13 km (8 mile) run at Marathon Pace, again executed slightly faster than required at a pace of 3:52 /km. A few more easy runs and then all that was left was the long run on Sunday. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

I woke up on Saturday with a stiff neck and shoulder, but nothing too worrying. I bought some bath salts and treated myself to a very long hot bath while watching House of Cards Season 4. I didn't much fancy going for a run, especially as it was one of those cold, grey, non-descript kind of afternoons but, after a few reluctant kilometres, the pace seemed to pick itself up naturally as my back loosened up.

On Sunday my back was even stiffer and I started to get nervous about the impending long run. I also had some chores to do - namely, varnishing hundreds of slats of wood that would soon turn into a new garden shed. Again, my back felt better rather than worse as it warmed up, and the run became less of a worry. I'd designed a new route




which turned out to be very good: all on roads, not too many hills and with most of the ascent out of the way by half way. If my long run pace was supposed to be 4:17 /km, I surprised myself by putting in a 4:06 /km effort. All in all, a good week with 93 kilometres in the bag.

On Monday my back (or, more specifically, my left shoulder and neck) was really uncomfortable. I rang all the physios in the area and ended up going to an osteopath at lunch time. There is little more satisfying than the series of  "clicks" he managed to solicit, and I went back to the office a new man. He made a comment about how strained my muscles around the scapula were but - if he thought that complete rest was a good idea, he probably thought I was old enough to realize this for myself. There is a reason why the muscles "lock up" and that is to protect a damaged area so, if you unlock this area prematurely, you can lay yourself open for further injury - at least, this is my home-cooked theory. So I went for an easy run around the track after work. About 8 kilometres in, someone appeared on the track - unusual for that time in the evening where I work - and, although they looked like they were running easily, they seemed to be catching me up. Just at that moment, a drum 'n' bass track came on my iPod and the combination of the high bpm and high testosterone made me pick up my pace. Even so, I got lapped by this new comer... It was then that I realized that he wasn't just anyone - he turned out to be the trainer who works at the gym who runs 800m in 1:49 (the World Record is 1:40.91!!). More fool me.

I paid for my accumulated stupidity on Tuesday. Although I was able to drive in to work, by 11am my back had locked up so much that I had to get a colleague to drive me home. I then went to Emergencies to see if I could get a shot of something to ease my muscles. The doctor saw me clutching my left arm and prodded a few places (but the wrong ones) in my back and was surprised that poking me didn't seem to provoke pain. So, of course, he thought I might be having a heart attack. (I don't say this with any sarcasm - of course there are procedures that have to be followed, and for good reason.) They did a cardiogram on me and when they asked me if I did a lot of sport, I mentioned to them the fact that I had a CRBBB (Complete Right Bundle Branch Block that Peter Piper Picked...). Nevertheless, I had to spend the next 6 hours waiting for various tests to be completed and analyzed. Finally, I was told by a beaming doctor that it was "Good news! The tests have come up OK, you are fine! You can go home now!". I tried to look relieved although I'd already had all that checked out (and in the very same hospital) some time ago, and said, as patiently as a patient can be, "Great, but the fact is that I came here because my back was hurting and you haven't given me anything for it...". "Ah! I'll hook you up now!". So I got my dose of Valium at last, and headed home (with my wife driving, of course). I was also prescribed a cocktail of hard drugs: Enantyum, Nolotil and Diazepan. By coincidence, while I was waiting the entry for the Chicago Marathon opened.

There are some very good reasons why my back is my limiting factor. To start with, I spend most of my day sitting at a computer with a less-than-ideal posture. When I am in training for a Marathon, I tend to lose weight and some of that is bound to be muscle - I guess my body chooses to shed what it thinks it will need less, and that is from my torso. Also, I think I lack hip-strength and tend to compensate with my back, usually leading to very sore spots just under my ribs on each side. But the real reason - and the real cause of my pain this time - is an accident I had over 5 years ago, when I went flying off my mountain mike in an Evel Knievel stylee and tore all the ligaments in my shoulder (ACL grade III). Apart from lending asymmetry to my whole body, this means that my left scapula is less supported than it should be, and the little muscles around it tend to get overworked. Every so often they go on strike - and who can blame them? The answer - because surgery doesn't seem to be a very good option - is to strengthen them.

So. Now what? I've taken a decision to either NOT run the Madrid Marathon, or to run it tranquilamente. Either way, there will be no "Madrid Marathon Week 12/18". I've also signed up for the Chicago Marathon, which I should get into with my New York Marathon time from last year. This was supposed to be a rehearsal for the Chicago Marathon - in particular, following a new training plan. I've definitely learned some things:

- I like the Hanson's plan - even if it looks easier on paper than the one I was following leading up to New York, it is actually quite demanding.
- It's important to run the easy runs easy, or to at least listen to your body and allow some of them to be really easy.
- It takes many weeks to get back in shape, even if it wasn't that long ago that I was last in shape. In other words, one "detrains" faster than one trains. It's important not to get discouraged during these early weeks and it is probably a good idea to start the training plan from week 1.
- My back is my limiting factor. Between now and starting up my training for Chicago I am going to strengthen my back and build into my daily routine a set of exercises to maintain strength that I will stick to come hell or high-water. Back pain is not fun.
- Running outside is quite different from running on the treadmill and I am perfectly capable of adapting to the relative "boredom" (compared to watching my favourite series while I run). Even running 13 kilometres round and round a track hasn't been so hard to get used to.
- I have to pay heed to my back pain and not just "run through it".

Monday: 13 km @ 4:05 (track)
Tuesday: 6 x 1 mile w/ 400m recovery @ 3:35, 3:35, 3:33, 3:37, 3:34, 3:35
Wednesday: -
Thursday: 13 km @ 3:52
Friday: 11.3 km @ 4:18
Saturday: 9.8 km @ 4:28
Sunday: 25.8 km @ 4:06
Total kilometres: 93

VO2 Max (Garmin): 64 ml/kg/min
Resting pulse (average): 40 ppm
Fat (average): 6.7%

Friday, March 4, 2016

Madrid Marathon Week 10/18

I actually won a race outright this week! OK, there were only 100 or so participants (out of all the millions of Santander shareholders) but a win is a win! It was actually the same race I won last year, so I had some expectations of winning again, but you never know who is going to turn up. As we arrived, to my surprise the security guard waved me through by name. When I asked him how he knew my name, he said that he remembered me from my days of commuting in to work by bike. Now I come to think of it, he might have been the one to tell me that cycling on campus was banned (until I managed to get that ruling overturned).




The course was very windy (as in twisty) and hilly, so 3:48 was not a pedestrian a pace as it might seem; I had to work fairly hard for that. I lead right from the start so I could have taken it a bit more easy, but this was substituting my weekly speed session, so it needed to be a good workout. I very nearly finished in under 18 minutes (the course was slightly short at 4.75 km) but, as the girl who announced the winners pointed out, I ran it faster than last year. Actually, the course was slightly shorter and more hilly than last year but she was correct in that I ran at a faster pace.


Another reason for entering was because I won a goody bag of gadgets worth around 300 € last year. I can't say I was too surprised that there was not the same level of generosity this year (apart from anything else, the share price is less than half what it was last year!). At least I didn't have to rush off to hospital this time - last year my wife was being operated on, so I had to dash off to keep her company and drive her home afterwards.






After jigging around things a little because of the race on Wednesday, I ended up doing my 13 km tempo run on Friday. I noticed my heart rate was significantly lower than usual (<160 bpm the whole way). I also noticed that I ran it with a cadence of only 172 versus my usual 178 - I think that this was simply because the drum 'n' bass mix I was listening to was recorded at that tempo! Maybe I have inadvertently discovered that I am more efficient at a lower cadence. Or maybe I'm just getting fitter.

Another thing I have come to realize about the Hanson's training plan that I have been following versus how I have been training the last few years is that there are very few workouts designed to boost your confidence; the philosophy is more about running on tired legs. For example, they don't recommend doing tune-up races because these mess with the training plan. I would also tend to do those sub-maximal aerobic tests (7 km at 172 bpm) to see how I was doing. The tempo runs are a good measure of how my heart rate would respond in "perfect" conditions during the opening stages of the Marathon and will, I think, ultimately be a better guide when it comes to the race itself. For the rest it is a question of having faith in the plan - I certainly notice that I am getting fitter (as does my Garmin watch) - the question is only whether I will be as fit as I can be on the day.

Monday: -
Tuesday10 km @ 4:19 (track)
Wednesday: 4.75 km race @ 3:48 (73 metres ascent)
Thursday: 10 km @ 4:33 (treadmill)
Friday: 13 km @ 3:57
Saturday: 16.1 km @ 4:23
Sunday: 16 km @ 4:11
Total kilometres: 77

VO2 Max (Garmin): 65 ml/kg/min
Resting pulse (average): 43 ppm
Fat (average): 6.7%

Friday, February 26, 2016

Madrid Marathon Week 9/18

Last week was a bit of an odd one, as I had planned to go on holiday - somewhat reluctantly, as I don't enjoy skiing much - with my family. But, as the little one was ill, they only went on Wednesday and I decided to stay at home (in case you are wondering, my wife did have help). As I had cleared my agenda of all meetings, work felt a bit like a holiday-not-holiday, and I enjoyed working on things that required a lack of interruptions with a more relaxed and calmer attitude than usual.

As you can see from the splits, it was much easier to nail the 400m intervals than the 1,600m intervals the week before. I always warm up and cool down about 2 kilometres before and after doing intervals (when I say "always", I mean since starting this plan) - if you have bothered to tot up my kilometre totals, this might explain the anomalies - but I hadn't realized that the Hanson's had intended me to do the same for the tempo runs. This changes things as a 13 km tempo run becomes a 17 km run with 13 km run at Marathon Pace. When I get to the 16 km tempo run, this becomes a 20 km run, which is getting on for being a long run - so the warm up / cool down is more than just a recommendation.

I have to say that I struggled a lot during my long run on Sunday. It may be due to walking around for hours the day before (in search of a birthday present for my wife) but, in any case, the idea of the long run is to simulate the closing miles of the Marathon, not the first few. I have to admit that I stopped 3 times during the run for about 5 minutes each time. I don't know if it was just mental or if I wasn't feeling tip top - but, one thing is for sure, I felt pretty shattered the rest of the day and my resting heart rate during the night was 44 bpm, about 5-6 beats higher than normal. My VO2Max (as estimated by my Garmin watch) took a dive from the 64 it has been showing consistently, to 62, a sure indication that something was up. I tend to blame those "annoying hills" because I think I am usual OK running at a steady pace on the flat - but I can't ignore them as they are an integral part of the Madrid Marathon course and, crucially, rear their ugly head in the critical closing stages of the race. Psychologically I find it tougher to start the long run at a reasonably challenging pace right from the get-go, as opposed to running some easy kilometres first.

Monday: 10 km @ 4:33 (track)
Tuesday: (speed) 6 x 800m w/ 400m recovery @ 3:16, 3:22, 3:26, 3:24, 3:25, 3:26
Wednesday(tempo) 13 km @ 3:52
Friday: 11.3 km @ 4:18
Saturday: 13 km @ 4:16
Sunday: 24.5 km @ 4:15 (with a few short breaks...)
Total kilometres: 88

VO2 Max (Garmin): 62 ml/kg/min
Resting pulse (average): 43 ppm
Fat (average): 6.8%

Friday, February 19, 2016

Madrid Marathon Week 8/18

I'm running so late with my update this week that I'm almost into next week. Better late than never, I suppose.

This week the intervals on the track reached their pinnacle in terms of length of each interval (1 mile). I found it quite challenging to run 3 of these at a faster pace than 3:30 per kilometer - I must be getting old. Still, it was more or less what could be expected based on my recent performances over shorter distances.

The following day I went to London for a conference that I have been speaking at for the last few years. As I was staying with my brother and had "uncle duties" including babysitting my 5 year old nephew on the Thursday evening, I had to jiggle my training schedule around a little, and ended up with two hard(ish) workouts back-to-back. For my "tempo run" (which, in the Hanson's Method is really a Marathon Pace run, i.e., somewhat slower than most people's idea of a tempo run) I ran round and round Regent's Park. I had to fork out 15 pounds to be able to use the showers at a nearby gym but they were very nice and let me check that my suitcase would fit in the locker before parting with my cash. I'd forgotten that there is surprisingly little street lighting around Regent's Park - I think the park itself was closed (although I didn't bother to check) - but I always run on the pavement around the outside, which is roughly a 5 kilometre loop. As it was so dark, it was pretty hair raising having to avoid people with dogs or even running towards me. Some of the more savvy runners (not me) at least ran with hi-vis clothing or even lights. Stepping out into the road at the last minute was not an option because, while cars tend not to hug the curb and make a fair amount of noise, there were the usual cyclists zooming round and getting in their way would not have been fun.

One good thing about London public transport is that it is so slow to get anywhere, that you can almost always run their faster and thereby kill two birds with one stone. So, on Friday, I ran back from the conference in Canary Wharf to my brother's house 12 kilometres away in Forest Hill. As he works in Canary Wharf, I was able to hand him off my work clothes in a plastic bag and then try to beat him home: had I not had to wait for ages to get a GPS signal among all the skyscrapers and not got lost as a result of the map on my watch getting stuck, I would almost certainly have managed.

I'd arranged to stay the weekend - partly because it was my brother's birthday - but due to a bit of a misunderstanding, he'd booked a trip to Cornwall so I was left to my own devices. I went for my run in the morning and then headed up to North London (via one of my favourite restaurants - Ceviche) to stay with another friend and catch some good music. On the Sunday I went for another 16 kilomtere run from Hackney along the Regent's Canal and in to the City and back. It was actually a sunny day by London's standards.

My resting heart rate has spiked a bit this week - maybe I have been fighting off the virus my youngest son has been suffering from. As I mentioned last week, I possibly overdid things the previous Sunday. Also, if I forget to charge my Vivosmart HR and as a result don't wear it during the night, it doesn't pick up my "true" resting heart rate, which is normally achieved around 4 am and is usually quite consistent. My % fat is now back to where it was at the beginning of the year. At this rate (even if it is slower to shed than to put on), I'll easily get down to whippet like levels before the Madrid Marathon on the 24th April. I'm also finding my VO2Max as estimated by my Garmin Fenix 2 to be quite a steady and reliable measurement - maybe I'm just saying that because it is trending upwards. The watch itself is cute but is a step backwards in some ways from my trusty Garmin 310 XT - which I still use in parallel when I am running on the track: it is harder to read and paradoxically, considering it is aimed at the orienteering crowd, I find its navigation features to be worse (less accurate GPS, no warning when running off track, no ability to set automatic laps based on position). However, the very much improved Heart Rate Monitor and the HRV (Heart Rate Variability) associated metrics like recovery time as well as the VO2Max make it worth switching in my opinion. Also, when I am travelling or on holiday, the ability to be able to upload workouts or download routes via Bluetooth is fantastic, even if it is a bit fiddly to get it to talk to my phone. One thing I have learned is to add the GPS accuracy field to the default screen - it rather optimistically claims to have a satellite fix when the error can be in the range of 40m. If you keep still until this drops to around 10m, it usually behaves well after that; if I ever see a surprisingly fast split, I check that the GPS accuracy is good before believing it.

Lastly, I finally got my new plywood board installed in my treadmill but we were unable to adjust the belt so that it didn't veer off to one side. There is a little bold you can adjust with an Allen key, which inclines the rollers one way or another. We got to the point where a movement of one millimeter of the Allen key in either direction would send the belt off one way or t'other. The treadmill is still under guarantee so hopefully someone will be able to fix it for free.

Monday: 10 km @ 4:28 (track)
Tuesday: (speed) 3 x 1,600m w/ 400m recovery @ 3:28, 3:34, 3:32
Wednesday(tempo) 11.3 km @ 3:49 (Regent's Park)
Friday: 12.2 km @ 4:26
Saturday: 16 km @ 4:16
Sunday: 16 km @ 4:18
Total kilometres: 78

VO2 Max (Garmin): 64 ml/kg/min
Resting pulse (average): 43 ppm
Fat (average): 7.0%

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Madrid Marathon Week 7/18

As I arrived to the gym the other day, there was an announcement over the Tannoy welcoming me to the changing rooms! Actually, the announcement in Spanish was "Bienvenido, a los vestuarios" and the comma was key: Bienvenido ("Welcome") is the name of one of the cleaners, believe it or not. And don't imagine the son of a pop star with a penchant for quirky names: Bienvenido is one of the classic Spanish names, like Modesto, Justo, Dolores ("Pains")...

As usual, I ran all my easy runs much faster than I should have and, although it seemed to have no negative bearing on Tuesday's speed session, which went pretty much to plan even if it was a bit of a struggle to keep the pace up for the longest interval of one mile.

I think I paid the price instead on Sunday. I was careful to fuel up the night before, so the run itself went well, but it was a toughie (rather like the Madrid Marathon course) in that it was downhill until halfway and then all uphill, with a total climb of 284 metres. My watch seemed to agree - it told me that I had "overtrained" and that I should wait at least 72 hours before my next hard run (planned just 48 hours later). I may have eaten well beforehand, but I neglected to eat well after, eating only a small bowl of fabada (Asturian bean soup) and a couple of slices of toast with olive oil all day. Perhaps as a result, I felt quite listless and even slightly down, to the point that I pulled out of the tango class that I have been going to with my wife (initially slightly reluctantly, but then with growing enthusiasm).

Interestingly (at least I find it so), this was reflected quite clearly in my resting heart rate which has been quite consistently around 38 bpm for the last few weeks. On Sunday night it was 45, which was about the highest it got after a month or so of detraining following the New York Marathon. Otherwise my VO2Max continues to climb steadily (touching 64 only to come back down a notch after Sunday's strain) and my % fat is starting to plummet again.

I'm off to London tomorrow and then a week of skiing next week. Long time readers of the blog will know that skiing and I don't really mix and generally try to avoid each other whenever possible, but I didn't want to go for too long without seeing the family. I think I will try my hand at Nordic skiing and hopefully manage to keep up my running training in the gym. I haven't run on a treadmill for a (record) number of months, so it will be odd at first no doubt.

Monday: 10 km @ 4:15 (track)
Tuesday: (speed) 400 - 800 - 1,200 - 1,600 - 1,200 - 800 - 400 w/ 400m recovery @ 3:04, 3:20, 3:27, 3:34, 3:29, 3:27, 3:22
Wednesday: -
Thursday: (tempo) 11.3 km @ 3:53
Friday: 11.3 km @ 4:12
Saturday: 13 km @ 4:17
Sunday: 22.5 km @ 4:11
Total kilometres: 81

VO2 Max (Garmin): 63 ml/kg/min
Resting pulse (average): 39 ppm
Fat (average): 7.2%