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%