Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Blisters, illness and perseverance

What a frustrating week! 

You'll have read from my previous blog about my attempt to change my trainers earlier in the week and the pain and suffering that followed. Well to add to the misery was another bout of  cold. It was nowhere hear as bad as the flu, but enough to have my HR higher than normal (even when not running), keeping me awake at night (so lack of sleep all week), and basically making me feel very groggy and not really wanting to go for a run. Both my wife and I had it, and this time we blamed nursery!

With a lack of sleep came the inevitable struggle to get out of bed early in the morning for a training run - as a result, my training plan this week didn't quite go according to plan. It was hard; I struggled in places, ran slow, but still managed to pretty much keep on the mileage target and churned out 69 km during the course of the week (just a couple of km short of my target).

Tuesday's run was supposed to be a 13 km progressive run, but I just couldn't face getting out of  so early in the morning. I was still a little tired from the Long Run on the Sunday, and I was starting to come down with a cold. However I felt guilty that day (hate it when that happens!), so in the evening I put the new trainers on and went out for a 10 km run. I tried to keep to a 5.35 min/km pace (my half marathon pace), however I struggled badly. Heart rate was all over the place and I was puffing and panting and my legs felt heavy. Coupled with that I was starting to get blisters from the new trainers. I completed the 10 km run in just under an hour. Not good, but hardly surprising.

On Wednesday morning I went for what was supposed to be a 15.73 km run at Zone 2. However I soon realised it would take me too long to complete it running that slow and so upped the pace a little. I ran, snotted, spluttered, coughed my round 15 km but then stopped as I went past my house - I was running out of time and I needed to get to work. My feet were destroyed with huge bloody blisters! It was time to take the trainers back, but that's in another blog...

I could not face a slow 1 hour Zone 2 run on Thursday morning: my feet hurt like hell and I'd been struggling to sleep due to the cold. I was very tired and really not feeling too well. I therefore took Thursday and Friday off as rest days. Saturday was the dreaded Parkrun. I really wasn't looking forward to it. I hate running fast around 5 km - been there, done that and don't really want to get sucked into it again. That said it forms part of my training plan - every 3 weeks.

Wearing my old trainers I ran 6 km to the start at a slow pace. This felt comfortable, but I still wasn't feeling too well and my feet still hurt. My HR was also high (again). I was a couple of kms into the Parkrun and my legs seemed okay; however my breathing was heavy - too heavy! I coughed and splutter my round, finishing in approximately 27 mins. My 23 min PB seems like a distant memory...how I did that I'll never know. After the run I plodded home, by which point my legs were starting to tire also. In total I'd covered 15 km. Not quite the training session I was hoping for. Being ill and tired was starting to frustrate me...

Sunday was my Long Run. The plan was to repeat last weeks' run to Hungerford and back, but this time run the full 31.40km as opposed to the 30km we did last week (when my HR was the issue).

The alarm clock went off at 5:15am and I really struggled to get out bed. If Robin Killingsworth wasn't running with me, I'd have been tempted to stay in bed and catch up on my desperately needed sleep, and rest my painfully blistered feet. Nonetheless I got up, changed and put my new trainers on (which I'd got the day before from Reading). I was ready for the run.

Neither Robin nor I were really feeling the lovin' for this run - we both felt crap. That said we were running and chatting at a faster pace than last week and my HR was relatively low - around the 163 bpm mark or below. Heading out to Hungerford we were running in the low-to-medium 6 min/km bracket as opposed to last weeks' high 6 min/km bracket, and yet my HR remainder constant. Breathing-wise I felt fine...no puffing or panting and yet running slightly faster. However as we approached Hungerford my legs started to really feel tired. It wasn't the pace that was causing the tiredness, it was the previous days' running - if not the weeks' running. When we got to Hungerford I just wanted to stop -my  legs were hurting.

Not to be - I took a gel and the we turned around and headed up the hill out of Hungerford. Just prior to Kintbury I decided to eat a healthy bar I'd bought - never eaten anything running whilst before, so this was my first attempt. I took one bite and spat most of it out. It was like eating sawdust. My mouthing instantly tried up and I felt sick. I reverted back to a gel and plenty of water! We were still keeping a good pace; only slowing down when going up hills, which were now killing my tired legs.

At around the 22 km mark I told Robin  I needed to go to my "happy place", which meant I
New Balance M1260v3
didn't want to talk for a while. I wanted to think deeply about 'stuff' to take my mind off my very tired legs. All along however, my HR remained around the 163 bpm figure or below...often falling below 159 bpm, and yet still keeping up the pace. I told Robin that I just wanted to head back to the start rather than taking the planned diversion to make the run up to the 31.40 km mark. I'd run the last 5 km back to the start every week, so psychologically it was good for me. With 2 km to go we hit a very steep hill with a real kicker at the top. Robin went up faster and I plodded up. When we rejoined he said he'd wished he hadn't run up so quick. I don't blame him - it's a leg sapping hill; short but steep. We then ran the last 1 km or so back to the start chatting to each other. We finished just as it was about to rain.

In the end we completed just on 28km in 3 hours. We averaged 6:30 min/km, which is 30 seconds quicker each km than last week. I was also happy with my average HR - 159 bpm. We were 2 km short off what we ran last week, but did the run 30 minutes quicker. Even we'd ran the additional 2 km, it was still a good improvement. Breathing-wise I wasn't tired at the end...but my legs were another matter. They felt very tired and I had new blisters appearing on old ones (lovely!).

On the whole this was a positive run for a number of reasons:

  • Firstly the new trainers worked. I may have new blisters, but figure that if it wasn't for the old blisters I'm not quite sure the new blisters would have materialised. That said, I think it is about time I invested in some blister-free socks. I've ran well over 1,000 miles in my existing socks (all blister free!).
  • Secondly, I was more than happy with my pace and more especially my HR. Yes, it's not fantastic when compared to other runners, but given my recent difficulties, I felt it was very constant and didn't rise too much (whilst running a slightly faster face than the previous week).
  • Thirdly, although running on tired legs was painful, I tried to keep a constant pace on the flat and down hills and it seemed to work. I managed to do the run and it taught me a lot about the pain of having tired legs on a marathon and still forcing yourself to carry on. I need to do more of this in the future.
  • Finally, I experienced what choosing the wrong food can do to you - lesson learnt!

I just wished the legs were fresh like last week. If they had been then it is likely I'd have been able to run the planned distance and perhaps a slightly quicker pace, especially on the hills. However, given my hellish week I am more than happy with this final run of the week.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

The pain of replacing trainers

After running over 650 miles in my pair of New Balance M860v2, I decided it was time to replace them. My knees had started to hurt after long runs - a clear sign that the cushioning and possible stability technology within the trainers had seen better days.

My gut instinct was to get another version of the same model of trainer (M860) - so version 3. I'd done a lot of research and found that version 3 was a completely different trainer. However, since they were the 2013 model you could pick them up relatively cheaply (even at Sweatshop, which is not known for cheap trainers).

During my research I also tried to self-diagnose my gait. I did the wet-foot test and it looked like I had a normal arch; however I couldn't be certain. Given the amount of miles I'd be covering this year I wanted to make sure I chose the right trainers. The best way to do this was to get my running style analysed by the professionals.

NB M860v4 - "Feet Killers"
Although I'd prefer to go to Sweatshop in Reading, it is quite a distance from where I live, and I wouldn't be able to get out there for at least another couple of weeks. There was, however, a specialist running shop in Oxford. 

I popped in there on Monday and they spent approximately 40 minutes analysing my gait and getting the right trainer. I was told I had a collapsed arch and that I needed both a stability shoe and also one that was slightly wider than my current ones.

In the end I opted for another pair of New Balance M860s - the latest version (version 4). I was really confident these would be the right trainer for me. My 3 year old son certainly loved wearing them around the house before I could take them out.

One of many painful blisters on the collapsed arch
On Tuesday night I took them out for a test drive. I ran 10km and I could start to feel pressure on the inside of each foot (where the support is for the collapsed arch - i.e., for overpronators). On the Wednesday morning I went for a 15km run and at the end of the run had severe blisters on both feet in the same location (where the collapsed arch is). They were horrible and painful blisters - some of them were red (not good!). I decided there and then that there was no way I could run in them. My knees felt fine but my feet were destroyed!

I rang the shop on Wednesday morning to ask their advice. They told me that they could not accept a return because I'd run in them, but that if I pop into the shop on Thursday then I could speak to the manager to ask his advice (incidentally he's the one who sold me the trainers in the first place). I was gutted! I'd spent £95 on a pair of trainers that were killing my feet. 
Comparison in medial support

I was in the process of figuring out a way to continue running in them when I got a call from the running shop. They'd spoken to someone in their HQ and, because M860s vary so much in versions, they agreed to either exchange, set up a credit or fund my money. Blistering is a known problem with the later versions of the M860s, especially if you'd previously had an earlier version (like I did). This was a huge relief!

My old NB M860v2 - Medial support is lower
I took my trainers back on the Thursday and they kindly refunded my money.

With the money back in the bank (or at least, back on the Visa card) I now have to go through the whole process of looking for another pair of trainers again.

NB M860v4 - Medial support very high and firm
What I do know is what I need to avoid. The pictures opposite show the difference in medial support between the two versions: v4 has a much larger and firmer support, and that is what was causing the problems. Although I need support, I perhaps don't need (or at least, I am not prepared to have) that level of support.

I've done some research and I've spotted a pair of Brooks Adrenaline GTS 14 (or the earlier 13) which could do the trick. I'll need to test them out first. 

In the meantime I need to wait until my blisters have died down before trying on new trainers. Therefore I'll be going back to my old faithful...

This trainer lark is more complex that it ought to be...! 

Watch this space for the next installment of the trainer saga....

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Flu and Road to Recovery

It's only inevitable that after such good week of running (as was the Christmas week) that the following 15 days would find me laid up in bed with a serious dose of the flu. I caught it on the 30 December 2013. It was a pretty bad dose that required two visits to the doctors, eventually being given antibiotics. At one point I was coughing so much that it was making me sick. This frequently happened. It wasn't nice...

Towards the end of the illness I was itching to get back out running, but needed to make sure the conditions were right. The three conditions I set out were: the previous night I wasn't coughing my guts up; on the day of the run it was not cold nor wet. On Monday 13 January 2014 those conditions materialised, and so I prepared for my first run of 2014.

My First Run of 2014
After 15 days of illness, my first run back was always going to be difficult one - and it didn't disappoint!

I hadn't fully recovered but felt I'd done enough recovery to at least attempt a gentle 10 km. The plan had been to run a gentle Zone 2 (max. 139 bpm). So on Monday I put my running gear on, fired up the Forerunner 305, switched the head torch on, and set off... within minutes my watch was beeping away telling me that I'd exceeded Zone 2 - WHAT! I'd only just started running! There and then I knew this was going to be a frustrating run. To make matters worse, I was coughing and spluttering throughout the run....not good!

I was approximately 4 km into the run and all of a sudden my HR went from 139 bpm to over 160 bpm! Even when I stopped, the HR kept increasing....! My HR monitor was playing silly-buggers. I tried to keep to Zone 2 but I just couldn't without walking. After another km I decided to turn this run into a "free run". I stepped up the pace to around 5:30 min/km and ran for another 3 km then slowed down, reverted to Zone 2 for a couple of km and then finished the run in Zone 3. My time for the 10 km was a disappointing 1 hr 22 mins. I could have run faster but not within Zone 2.

Although it was good to be out running again I was hugely disappointed. Even though I'd not put any weight on over Christmas and through my illness, my fitness had diminished! I'd worked so hard to improve my Zone 2 times, and here I was having to start from scratch again with base fitness. That's my sub-4 hour Manchester Marathon target gone out the window! I had a 16 week training plan to take me up to the 6 April and Manchester. I successfully ran the first 2 weeks, then was ill for the last 2 weeks, and it will probably take me another 2 weeks to get my fitness levels back. That's 4 weeks out of 16 when I've either not been able to run or if running, just struggling to get fitness back. This is not boding well for me and my first challenge of 2014! I'm on a low at the moment....

Regaining my Fitness
My first week back was also never going to be a full training week (i.e., doing progressive runs, sprints, hill work, as per my training plan). My next run was another attempt at a Zone 2 run (most runs this week are of this type, in an attempt to get my base fitness back). I decided to have a rest day Tuesday and so on Wednesday morning, at 5:30am, I headed out for a 15.73 km Zone 2 run. This is my planned mid-week run that is half the distance of my long run.

As I expected this was a long and tedious run. I've really lost my Zone 2 pace, and this couldn't have been more evident that in this run. On Christmas Day I ran 13 km in Zone 2 in 1 hr 36 mins; today I could only run 10.86 km in that same time (and even then I kept crossing over into Zone 3). It was painfully slow and I was running out of time (after all, I needed breakfast and shower before heading off to work!). I therefore ignored the HR monitor and for the last 4 km picked up the pace to complete the 15.73 km in 2hrs 12 mins. It's a rather embarrassing time - but that's what a severe dose of the flu does to you. At least I ran for over 2 hours, which is good...

Thursday brought my first set of intervals post-illness. Now before my illness I was starting to make progress on the intervals. My 500m intervals involve the following: warm up for 1km at Zone 2 (139 bpm); 500m sprint (Zone 5); stop until HR comes under 139 bpm then run in Zone 2 for 500m (recovery); then sprint for 500m (repeat 6 times); then cool down with a 500m Zone 1 jog. This was going to be a test of how much the illness has taken its toll on my fitness levels.

As expected my performance on the intervals was below par - or at least, certainly below my last performance on Boxing Day. My sprints were slower than on Boxing Day and my recovery time was a lot slow (took a long time to bring my HR from over 170 bpm to under 139 bpm). Overall the session took me 9 minutes longer than on Boxing Day. If there was ever a sign of my lack of fitness due to illness, then this was it.
28 Dec 2014: Pre-illness

Friday was a rest day, which was needed. I didn't want to push myself too much during my first week back.

18 Jan 2014: Post-illness
Saturday brought a very gently 45 minutes Zone 2 recovery run. My heart rate monitor was playing up again. It's amazing how quickly it can fluctuate in its reading - it can go from 139 bpm to 160 bpm within seconds, and likewise come down from 160 bpm to a crazy 120 bpm within 10 seconds. I know these monitors are not perfect (I use a Garmin one), but I don't understand how it can work one minute and then go crazy the next. When they work they are great; when they throw a funny turn, they are annoying and ruin the rhythm of the run. Anyway I decided to give up on the heart monitor for this short 45 minute run and just ran slowly - around 7:45 min/km. I've decided not to beat myself up anymore about my lack of fitness, and just accept it for what it is and try to regain it over the next couple of weeks.

So Sunday came and the Long Run!

My last long run before the illness (the one where I almost froze my hand off) was a 26 km run. My training plan calls for increments of 10% every 2 weeks. However I have been ill so wasn't able to run the next scheduled increment of 28.60 km. Being a stubborn bastard, and not want to get too far off track on my training, I decided to keep to the training schedule and make this long run 31.40 km (a 20% increase on my last long run). This would be the farthest I've ever run.I decided to pick a different route this time and calculated that running from Wash Common (where I live) to Hungerford and back would take me to around 31k. I was joined on this run by a fellow Newbury Runner, Robin Killingsworth. Now I'd warned Robin about my ridiculously slow pace and also the ridiculous time I'd be starting the run (5:45am on a Sunday!). He was up for it. Originally the plan was to run out along country roads and then run back along the Avon & Kennet Canal. However the canal is flooded in places, so it was going to be a simple there and back.

We set off at the scheduled start time and feeling potentially embarrassed by the slow pace I usually run, I decided for this run to up the pace slightly. My Long Run is usually Zone 2 (139 bpm) on the flat and Zone 3 (155 bpm) on the hills. I decided today to run between 155 - 165 bpm, which would hopefully allow me to increase the pace a little. 

This worked out well. We chatted constantly throughout the run (3 hours 31 minutes of chatting!). Before we know it we'd hit Kintbury (around 9km) and then, within a flash of an eye (well, not quite but you know what I mean) we were descending into the centre of Hungerford and the main high street. We got there in around 1hr 33 mins. We took a couple of minutes break whilst I took a gel then headed back. 

The route back seemed to involve more hills and I was careful to slow right down as soon as my HR started to approach the 170 bpm mark. Robin was running well, although he was suffering a little with his knee (I know the feeling!). For the last 7 km we took a different route back to the starting point. This was a hilly route that I'd run many times before but in the opposite direction. I posted on Facebook that the last 5 km was hilly, but having looked at the route on Garmin Connect, I can now confirm it was the last 7 km. The hills meats my HR would steadily increase to the 170 bpm mark - when it did, I walked for a minute or so until it came back under 160 bpm and then continued. 

We made our way through Wash Water and past the Woodpecker pub. This was the start of the last hill - from Wash Water to Wash Common up Andover Road. It's a steep hill with a real "kicker" towards the top. Not wanting the HR to exceed 170 bpm I decided to walk a little of hill. When we got to the top it was then a pancake flat straight for 1 km and to the finish. I decided to use this last km to slow the pace right down and use it as a cool down.  Originally I'd wanted to cover 31.40 km as this is what my plan was telling me to do, but as my house was coming up I decided to stop. We'd covered 30.53 km. For the first time this week I was a happy bunny!

This has been a frustrating week for me, but as many of my friends have told me, this is my first week back and it will take time to recover from the illness. Despite this I managed to cover 70.42 km - now that's not too bad!

My knees are a little sore after the Long Run, but I think that is partly down to the trainers. My road runners have covered well over 600 miles, so I'm looking to replace them this week.

I want to thank Robin for the run today. It was good to run with someone and someone who didn't mind going slow. Chatting also made the time fly.

Next week I'm back to my full training plan, starting on Tuesday with a Progressive Run (which should be interesting!). In the meantime, I will have a well deserved rest day tomorrow (Monday). 

Happy running everyone...!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

News Flash! A New Challenge

Over the past week I've decided to set myself an even greater challenge than what I've already got planned! 

In August I will be organising and taking part in a 56 mile (90km) ultra run from Bath to Newbury along the Avon and Kennet Canal, culminating in the annual Newbury Runners summer BBQ!

This is not an official race and the Newbury Runners are not an official running club. That said I've had some interest, with people deciding to run the route a number of ways:

  1. The whole distance as an ultra run
  2. A set distance (e.g., last 10 miles)
  3. The whole distance as part of a relay team

There is also the option to run an additional 10km at the end to round it up to the 100km milestone. 

The run will take place on the 9 August 2014 - it will be mid-summer and temperatures are likely to be high. It will also be an unsupported run, which is important for those wanting to run the whole distance. Runners will need to be self-sufficient (which means carrying all their own food, water, gels, change of t-shirts, socks, etc. themselves).

At the end will be the annual Newbury Runners Summer BBQ and party, where everyone is welcome, not just the runners. 

Happy training!