Sunday, 29 December 2013

Christmas Miles Equals Happy Smiles

Running during Christmas week was always going to be a bit of a motivational challenge, what with all the drink and high calorie food. However I was determined not to let this ruin my training. I could not skip training runs - not after only 1 week of the training plan!

I struck a balance between feasting and getting out 5 times during the week to do training. Given the nature of the week I am more than happy to report that I covered 61km. It made having those glasses of wine and calorie-filled food a little more enjoyable!

The weeks' training started on Christmas Eve. I was working that morning but still managed to do a 13km progressive run before I went to work. There had been a storm the night before and the road I run along for this particular part of my training was somewhat flooded in places. It was early morning and I was using a head torch to see. This made it even more fun! It was a pace-based run where I gradually worked my way up to half marathon pace (5:20/km - I know it's slow!). However the flooded road was slowing me down - not to mention dodgy splashes from cars! After 10 km I decided to slow the pace down - it was Christmas Eve after all! Nevertheless, despite slowing the pace, I still managed to run 3 minutes quicker that the previous week on the same training plan. That brought a slight smile to my face, and I went to work with a little skip in my step

Despite a few drinks the night before, I was up at 5:15am on Christmas Day for my Easy Run (half the length of the Sunday long run). Like last week, this meant 13 km in Zone 2. I was actually looking forward to this run and getting up so early wasn't a problem.

The hilly 13 km Spicer's Corpse Route
I ran a controlled run and started to notice quite early that my pace was faster than the week before and yet I was still in Zone 2. By the half way point I had a sneaky feeling that I'd finish the run quicker. There are, nevertheless, a couple of nasty (and VERY steep) hills in the latter half of the route - but even after running these I still managed to finish the 13 km 10 minutes quicker than the week before (on the same route and training zone). I was so happy. Was this progress or just a HR fluke. Either way it was a nice Christmas present from my HR. I got home, showered, open the presents with my wife and 3 year old son, then proceeded to celebrate Christmas with bacon butties and Cava. I was a happy man!

A nice symmetrical HR for 500m intervals on Boxing Day
Boxing Day was another story - I really did not want to get out of bed. Nevertheless I hauled my arse out of bed at 6:20am and then proceeded to psych myself up for what going to be a tough workout. It was the turn of 500m interval training. Run 500m in Zone 5 (around 95% of max HR) and then run 500m in Zone 2 (max. 139 bpm); repeat 6 times. It was a cold morning and I was tired. Nevertheless I completed the session and was a greeted by a pleasant surprise when I uploaded the run into Garmin Connect: I ran 2 minutes quicker than the previous weeks' session. WOW - how did that happen? 

Despite feeling happy with my intervals I was also suffering - and not from the ills of drinks and food. Several hours after the intervals and my knees started to hurt and hurt bad. The speed work had put too much pressure on them (this is one of the reasons why I avoid running fast at Parkruns - when I attend them, that is). I knocked back as much Ibuprofen as I am allowed - and a few more for extra measure (not advisable). The following day (Friday) was a rest day and, with more Ibuprofen the pain started to subside. I wasn't sure whether Saturday's gentle 45 minute Zone 2 run would take place. 

Cold winter morning - running in daylight
was a little strange!
I woke up on Saturday and gently got out of bed and went for a little walk around the house. The knees felt okay so I decided to head out for a gentle 45 minute Zone 2 Recovery run (part of the training plan).

It was a cold a crisp Saturday morning and for the first time in quite a long time I was running in day light! Although I was more than happy to run in Zone 2, the heart rate was up and down like yo-yo! I'm not sure whether it was the heart reacting to not running in the dark; whether it was shocked by the cold temperature; whether it was feeling the affects of the cold I've started to get; or whether I'm just not as fit as I thought I was. This was a "timed" 45 minute, Zone 2 run - yet despite the above I still managed to run a spitting-distance further within the 45 mins than the same run last week. 

The good news is that after the run the knees seemed okay. Yes, I could still feel "something", but given the pain I was in a few days earlier, it was certainly an improvement. I've come to the conclusion that fast runs and my knees do not go together. That said, they are in my training plan and next week I have the 5 km Parkrun sprint. I'm not looking forward to it... 

Sunday brought the return of the long run and the same route and training zone as last week. A 26 km route running Zone 2 (max. 139 bpm) on the flat and down hill and Zone 3 (max. 155 bpm) up hill. The route is primarily up hill.

I struggled to get out of bed when the alarm went off at 5:15am. I'd be suffering (and still am suffering) from a cold. I fell back asleep and then woke again around 5:40am. I then pondered further about whether I should get up or not. Eventually I got out of bed, put my running gear on, and headed outside.

I was met with a bitterly cold morning at around -5 degrees (not including wind chill factor). I had layered up and was wearing my Inov8 running gloves. The run started okay, although the HR was a little erratic for the first 2 - 3 kms; it eventually settled down and it started to turn into a pleasant run. I then then started to hit black ice and slipped a few times. It is bad enough seeing black ice during the day - even harder in the dark with only a head torch to guide you.

At around the 14km mark my right hand started to feel cold and by the 18km mark it was very cold and very painful. I tried to warm it up whilst running but to no avail. By the 20km mark the pain got so bad that I had to stop. I collapsed on the floor hold my hand and felt really sick. My HR was fine, but the pain in my hand was horrendous. At that point I decided to abandon the run and walk home.

Whilst walking home I put my hand under my shirt and after around 1km I started to feel a little sensation in it. At this point I was at the bottom on Andover Road (my Kenyan Hill) and figured I just wanted to get home quick. I therefore ran up the hill for just over 1km. 

When I eventually got home I stuck my hand under the warm tap and then collapsed on the kitchen floor in real pain and clutching my right hand. I felt really sick and the pain would not go away. Took 30 minutes before the pain started to subside, and then I jumped into the shower for 15 minutes. I need to invest in some new gloves...never want to experience that kind of pain again.

As for the run itself. It was a Zone 2 on the flat and Zone 3 on the hills. The good news (if you can call it good news) is that at the point of stopping, my time was the exact same as last week but my pace had improved slightly. I suspect the discrepancy is due to stopping to avoid black ice....

It's been an interesting week of running; but despite the nature of the week I have seen a slight improvement from the previous week. Is this down to the HR training? I think it is a little too early to say, but the signs are promising.

I hope everyone had a fantastic Christmas week (whether running or not). Roll on 2014!

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Here goes nothing....!

Well here we are - the start of my formal training plan!

In an ideal world this would be a simple marathon training plan; run almost entirely on roads and primarily on the flat. If I were only preparing for my first marathon (the Manchester Marathon on the 6 April 2014) then this would be ideal. However, as always with me I have to push the boundaries and make things more complicated and challenging for myself.

On the 10 May I will be running my first ultra-marathon (the Marlborough Downs Challenge - a 33 mile trail race) and on the 21 June my first trail marathon (Trail Marathon of Wales). 

All of a sudden my training becomes a little more complex and more thought is required. Gone are thoughts of running along beautiful flat asphalt-covered routes. No, instead, I have hills and trail runs over rough terrain. My training plan mixes up road running and trail running, to ensure I can sustain a reasonable pace on the road marathon and that I don't burn myself on the trail marathons.

Injury Update
My last blog referred to an injury in left knee caused by running tough trail runs. I'd taken 8 days off running then decided to go for a 5k run. The run wasn't about pace or heart rate - it was about testing the knee. 

I started slow and could feel the knee - but then continued. Eventually I felt no pain. Now when I say the knee, I'm sure it is the tendons going into the knee that are the issue, because my whole left leg from knee upwards is a little sore. The good news is that I don't seem to have made the injury worse...the bad news is that this is not the ideal position to be in, especially at the start of a 21 week, 5 day per week training plan! 

However I had to make a decision about whether I proceed or not. If I didn't then I'd run out of time to run the Manchester Marathon on the 6 April. I just won't get enough miles in or be physically fit enough to run that distance; and this will in turn have a knock-of affect with the Marlborough Downs Challenge a month later. So I made the decision to proceed (cautiously). I will eliminate all trail running out of the training until the left leg feels better. I will also look to try and rest the knee and leg as much as possible when not running - especially on rest days (there are 2 rest days per week).

If I need to stop running then so be it... I will then reassess the situation and my running goals at that point. So here am - throwing the coin in the air: heads I make things worse; tails I'm able to continue. Watch this space for which side the coin lands!

The Start of Training
I'm very much aware that it's going to take a lot of commitment, focus, perseverance, determination and consistency to train for these marathons; and I am under no illusion about the challenge that confronts me. Towards the end of the training I will be averaging 50+ miles per week with almost all my runs (with the exception of my Long Run on Sundays) having to take place before I go to work in the morning. At the start of the plan this isn't so much of an issue, but as I gradually work through the plan, then one of my mid-weeks runs (which is half the distance of the Long Run) will start getting longer; and running in Zone 2 means this will take me quite a while. Towards the end of the training I will be doing 21k before breakfast - and that thought scares the shit out of me!

So here we are, and the end of my first week of running (with Christmas only next week). I've hauled my arse out of bed early and covered 66.40 km over 5 sessions. Given my longest running week was 42k, I can already start to see the task ahead of me.

The week began with a 13k Progressive Run on Monday (usually this would be on a Tuesday, but I was away on business on Tuesday). This was a pace-based run based on the following:

Run 1 km at 7:00 min/km • Run 1 km at 6:20 min/km • Run 2 km at 6:00 min/km • Run 3 km at 5:45 min/km • Run 3 km at 5:30 min/km • Run 2 km at 5:20 min/km • Run 1 km at 5:10 min/km • Cool down

However the run wasn't as successful as I'd hoped for!

With the exception of the tester run I hadn't run for 9 days, and during that time consumed far too much wine and food. Big mistake as this seems to have had a small impact on my fitness levels. I also felt a few twinges in my knee around the 7k mark, so stopped a few times to massage the knee a little. I then ran back but more slowly (i.e., not progressive!). The knee felt fine at the slower pace and, by the end of the run it seemed to have sorted itself out. The weather was also crazy - it was very windy and yet warm (12 degrees!). Finally, I'd never run so early in the morning before (was running at 5:40am) - this will be rectified soon enough, but I think my body was still waking up! All-in-all not the ideal start to my formal training plan. That said I still managed the 13k I'd set out to run; so in that sense 13k before breakfast was a good thing. The Progressive Run is a weekly run, so I am hoping next week I'll have improved somewhat!

Wednesday was my first HR-based Easy Run of 13k (half the distance of my Sunday long run). This was in Zone 2, or in my case no more than 139 bpm. This was frustratingly slow and I was getting quite angry whilst running. As soon as I hit a hill the watch beeped and I kept on having to slow right down to walking pace to get the HR down. It took me 1hr 46 mins to run a measly 13km - it's the slowest I've ever run! However, the positive is that this should be a good baseline indicator for improvement. Hopefully, over time, my pace will increase whilst remaining within Zone 2. 

Kenyan Hills
Andover Road in the morning
Thursday brought my first hill training session - the dreaded Kenyan Hills. This was a HR-based training session where I ran up a 7 - 10% gradient hill for 45 minutes. Ran up the hill in Zone 5 and down in Zone 4. This was hard work and I hit my MHR a couple of times. Felt sick on one occasion. This is a really good workout...but also a killer!

Friday was a rest day with Saturday being a gentle Recovery Run at Zone 2 for a 45 minutes.

The final run of the week was the Long Run on Sunday. The fact that my Long Runs were already approaching 28k before I started the training plan makes it slightly easier for me to ramp up the mileage on the Long Run. I therefore decided to start my Long Run at 26k and will do this distance for 2 weeks before increasing by 10% (running that for 2 weeks and then increasing again by 10%).

Originally this weeks' Long Run was supposed to be on the Ridgeway (a trail route); however, due to my left knee (in fact, leg!) I thought it would be best to run on the roads for while so as not to make things even worse. I could have chosen a boring straight piece of road (perhaps from Newbury to Hungerford and back), but in the end I decided to a hilly 26k loop.

So I got up at 5.20am and headed out. It was actually a pleasant, if uneventful, run. I find running in the dark easier than running in the light... The miles just seem to fly by, even at a very slow pace. I just love starting a run in the dark and then ending it in the light. As I was finishing I ran past 3 or 4 runners who had obviously just started their run and were flying. I felt a little proud of myself because although I was running slow, I had churned through 26km before breakfast. I felt happy...

So there we have it, my first full week of marathon training. I've really enjoyed it thus far. I'm getting used to getting up early, and now actually prefer running early morning. Next week will be a test - running Christmas morning and Boxing Day morning..but I'm looking forward to it...

Happy Christmas everyone...and enjoy your festive running!

Friday, 6 December 2013

No Escaping The Injury-Bullet

Since my last blog we've now entered the month of December, and change is afoot! 

I'm a winter-buff through and through; I just love it - and more especially the cold temperatures and snow. Yet when I woke up on Wednesday morning for my first interval session of the month, it was warm - too warm in fact!

I'd decided to take a couple of days off running after the 28k Ridgeway run. The knees were still a little achy, but I hauled my arse out of bed at 5:50am ready for some interval training. I layered up and headed out only to find 20 minutes later I was starting to strip! It was warm - very warm, and it was frustrating.

My interval training was based on 500m intervals between Wash Common and Newbury College:
  • 1km warm up
  • 1 x 500m Zone 2 and 1 x 500m Zone 5 (6 times)
  • 500m cool down

I felt really comfortable with this session, and kept to within the zones. I have to thank my watch for that! It certainly felt more comfortable than when I tried it a couple of months' back. Does this mean I am improving? 

On Thursday I did some hill training. This involved (after an initial warm-up) running up and down the Wash Water / Wash Common Hill at a slow pace (Zone 3 up and Zone 2 down) followed by a cool down.

I like this training session. It's relatively easy and gets me used to running up steep hills whilst trying to control my HR and not allowing me to "burn out" at the top.

It is now Friday evening and the above text was written on Thursday morning - things are now changing!

A number of things have happened over the past 24 hours that have changed my approach to the rest of the year and my training for the marathon.

Firstly is my bloody knees. You'll have no doubt read elsewhere in this blog that I severely damaged my right knee a couple of years' ago. I've never really recovered 100% and I am always weary about the knees when running - especially when descending. I've gone through a pretty rigorous 6 months of running and they have held up fine. However the Wildman Race really hurt my knees and, since that race, I've not been happy. I've been able to run (I ran the two Ridgeway runs!), but to be honest they never felt quite right after the runs. This week I did the above training and the knees seemed fine; however today my left knee has been painful. It's the knee cap. I suspect it's nothing too serious; it's probably the tough pounding the Wildman Race gave my legs. It was a brutal trail run, and my legs suffered badly. 

I was scheduled to run the sequel to Wildman, the Mudman Race, tomorrow morning. This would have been another tough 15km trail run through the army grounds near Camberley. However, after dodging the injury-bullet for 6 months, it eventually caught up with me - I'm pulling out of the race tomorrow. I need to take some time out and rest the knee. I'm therefore not planning on running for at least the next 4 -5 days and then see how it goes.

I'm really gutted, because unlike the Wildman Race, the Mudman Race looked like fun. Less hills and great trail run. However I need to think about the bigger picture - and that bigger picture are the 3 marathons and one ultra-marathon next year. I'm also gutted because I was just starting to get to grips with my heart rate during training!

Talking of marathons and training  - I attended a talk last night by Gobi. For those who don't know, Gobi (nickname) is a running coach who really knows his stuff (and has the experience to prove it). He held a talk for a number of Newbury Runners who were planning on running a marathon next year. What he told us was fascinating. I knew that training was a serious commitment, but it was reiterated last night. 

I wasn't quite sure if the plan I was following was correct. I chatted to Gobi tonight and he made suggestions for improvement. These tips are critical if I want to succeed. I've learned so much in the past 24hrs. I'm going into these challenges with my eyes most definitely wide open!

So there we have it. I've come to the end of my races for 2013. It's been a hectic and fun time!

What remains is for me to rest my left knee and, hopefully on the 16 December, my formal training plan will kick in. In the meantime I can make tweaks to the plan to ensure it is the right one for me.

Fingers crossed that my next blog says the knee is better and that I am running again!

Monday, 2 December 2013

Discovering the Ridgeway

So here it is – my first running blog!

I have to say I was in two minds about starting such a blog. I’m almost certain that the majority of my friends are not interested in my running exploits, let alone having to read about them in a blog. For some it’s probably bad enough that my Facebook status updates are constantly running related. However for me it is more about providing a medium to express the highs and lows of training for not only my first marathon, but 3 marathons and an ultra in the first half of 2014. This is the challenge I’ve set myself – I may not succeed, but it is something I need to at least attempt. My wife calls it a mid-life crisis since most of the above will be achieved before my 40th birthday in June 2014, and maybe she’s right; or maybe I’m just crazy! I’m thinking the latter…

Over the next several months I’ll be regularly updating this blog – hopefully on a weekly basis. It’s winter now, so the majority of my running is training. My formal marathon training plan starts on the 16 December, and this will [hopefully] prepare me for the Manchester Marathon on the 6 April. This will be my first marathon. Although I’m not “time-drive” or a “PB-Chaser”, I do set myself some running goals. It would be nice to run the Manchester Marathon in under 4 hours. I specifically chose that course because it is flat – very flat! This will allow me to hopefully keep a constant pace without the nasty distraction of hills (which tends to ruin my pace and rhythm).

So here I am: smack-bang in the middle of winter and preparing for my formal marathon training to start. Over the past 2 weeks I’ve done a couple of long-distance runs. Now when I say long distance, I mean they are long distance now because I’ve never run that far before. Hopefully in a couple of months I’ll be downgrading them to “medium” distance as my mileage increases….

Ridgeway Run #1 (26km)

The location of these two long runs was the Ridgeway. The Ridgeway is a rather deceptive trail route and can, if you’re not too careful, catch runners out. It’s a “there and back” route over some tough terrain in places, and some long steep ascents and descents in other places. It doesn’t matter what the weather conditions are or the pace you run, the Ridgeway will pound your legs, ankles and feet.

Running the Ridgeway forms part of my long distance training, although I will be mixing it up with road running. A week ago I managed to convince some of the Newbury Runners (a local group of like-minded runners) to join me on the run. I wasn’t organising a specific event, but asking people that if they wanted to join me then they were most welcome.
There was no set pace - people could run as fast or as slow as they like, or could run as far or as little as they wished.

As I was building my base I would be running at a relatively slow pace (Zone 3 or max 155bpm). For me these runs are about keeping my HR low and time spent running as opposed to pace.

So at 08:00 a number of us met for the first run. I was joined by Greg Filmer, Matt Parker, Matthew Brookes and Brian Emms (with Jack, his trusty dog). It was a cold morning but at least it wasn’t windy or wet. We all set off and for the first 5km we were running at around the 5:35 min/km pace. This was too fast for me as I was supposed to be running slow. My Garmin was beeping and beeping and bloody beeping – all the beeps were telling me to slow down. I was in the groove though and enjoyed running as a pack. However I knew I had to slow down, so I dropped my pace to a point when the watch stopped beeping at me. This meant I slowed down so much that it wasn’t long before the rest had shot off. It got very lonely very quickly! However it meant I could focus on running slowly without the added pressure of running with friends. The plan was to run out about 11k and then run back. Deep down in my head I always knew I’d run a little further – I just didn’t tell anyone.  I caught up the guys at the 11k mark (as they’d been waiting for me). They were just about to head back, but I told them I want to carry on for a little further. Running a slower pace meant I wasn’t feel tired and the legs seemed fine.

So off they went and headed back to the start whilst I trundled along the route until I hit the 13k mark. There were a couple of steep hills in the process but I still felt fine. I then turned back.

On the way back my HR kept exceeding the 155bpm. This was frustrating and after a while I made the mistake of slightly ignoring my watch and just carried on running (all be it slowly). It was a little struggle towards the end – mainly because I’d never run that far before. In the end I clocked 26km in 2hrs 50 mins. I had a nasty shock when I got home and uploaded the stats into Garmin Connect. My average HR was 169bpm; was running on average 90% of max HR; and was averaging Zone 4.9 as opposed to Zone 3 I was aiming for. This was not good and was a huge lesson about keeping to the correct HR zone. No wonder my legs were sore for the next 5 days!

Ridgeway Run #2 (28km)

My 2nd attempt on the Ridgeway (undertaken yesterday) was a far better achievement. I set off with Nathan Darling at 7:30am. It was warm, dry and not windy – perfect running conditions. As there’d been no rain for the previous week, the terrain was slightly harder. We set off together at my Zone 3 pace and we ran together for approximately 5km (including a small detour as we took a wrong turn) before Nathan shot off at his normal pace. I was focused on staying at Zone 3 (155bpm).

It was infuriatingly slow at times but I knew I had to keep up this slow pace. I also had to be careful of my knees, which had become a little sore after the first attempt the previous week. Going down some of the steep descents was a challenge. Ironically I was so slow that my watch was telling me to speed up (now that’s a refreshing change!). However I wanted to protect my knees so kept at a very slow pace and the steep descents.

I caught up with Nathan as he was on his way back. He’d run approximately 12.5k outbound and was heading back. I carried on and this time went out for 15km before then turning back. It seemed like “forever” before I managed to reach the start, and I was on the Ridgeway for a total of 3hrs 33 mins (covering just short of 28km; slight detour we took meant I missed the 30km mark – aarrgg!). However my pace was bang-on. I stayed in Zone 3 for the whole run and I felt quite refreshed afterwards. In fact I felt like running even further!

I’ve never run for that length of time before, and it took a little of me for the rest of the day. I had light pub lunch with a pint of cider; took my 2 year old son for a walk around the block and to the playground; and then around 5pm I just wanted to go to bed. By 9pm I was in bed, and fast asleep.

I woke this morning and the knees are not feeling too bad. I have a sore ankle, but hopefully that will clear up in a couple of days. I suspect it’s the ankles just getting used to running on tough terrain as opposed to smooth roads.

Despite the boredom of running for such a long time on my own and at such a painfully slow pace, I feel like I have achieved a couple of things. First and foremost is my ability to focus and stay in the correct Zone, despite it being mentally challenging running at such a slow pace for such a long period of time. I know it won’t always be like this. Once my base training is done I can then start to throw in some race-pace.

But at the moment it is all about baby-steps….