Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The Dark Side: Cycling!

I never thought it would happen. After many years of abusing my cycling friends, I've now finally succumb to the sport myself (well, sort of).

In the past I've always considered cyclists as dork-ish looking people with helmets and padded-ass shorts who think it's fun to spend hours pedaling away along the roads, usually getting in the way of traffic, pretending they're in the Tour de France and dressed like their biking heroes. Runners however, especially long distance runners, are more concerned about not dying, and so such lavish undertakings by cyclists are pretty much non-existent in the running world.  

However many runners do turn to the Dark Side cycling after an injury (and one could argue that's too late in the day) - that is, they're forced into riding a push bike to stay sane whilst rehabilitating from shin splints, stress fracture or other joint pain; and that is very much the reason why I've now taken it up. Just recently I had some pain around my right shin and rather than running on it I stopped (thinking bigger picture this year) and decided, after 4 days of become increasingly frustrated by not being able to do exercise, to purchase a bike so I can at least maintain some of my fitness during these dark days of injury.

So here I am - three tiny bike rides in and I've already spent more money than running and I have a sore arse to show for it! 

*** Honesty Note: to be honest that's not technically true; my running watch alone cost more than the bike and all the cycling gear thus far***

How Did It Get To This?
I'm not 100% certain I have shin splits, but from reading various articles on the web it certainly seems the most likely cause of my pain. I can only imagine the reason for this has been the sudden ramp up in speed and hill sessions when running. After having a good first week of 2015 running (see my previous blog) I then came down with man-flu which knocked me out for a week. I then started training lightly at first and, once I started to feel better and my HR was starting to recover, I then brought in some speed and hill work into my training. Nothing too strenuous but certainly more than I've been used to recently. I was starting to make progress and my road to the 9Bar Chilly 10k in February and a new 10k PB was starting to look possible. Then, just as I was about to attempt a parkrun PB, my right leg started to hurt. A dull pain deep within the muscle around left side of the right shin. It certainly felt like the bone. Well...having had a stress fracture in the same leg before I knew that I had to stop running immediately or this could knock me out for quite a while. A light dose of shin splints, if caught early, could go within 2-3 weeks of not running; a stress fracture is more like 10 weeks at best. Not wanting to make it worse I decided to give up the running for a while. However I wanted to keep as much of my fitness as possible, especially my cardio. Not being a huge fan of swimming I decided to get a cheap bike.

The Bike
When it came to the bike I only really had two options: a road bike or a cyclocross; and neither are cheap, not even on e-bay. A road bike meant I could only go on the road, and smooth roads at that. It would allow me to go fast, but even a semi-good bike is at best £450 (and these get bought up very quickly on e-bay). Cyclocross bikes are similar - a good one starts around the £600 mark, and on e-bay they go like hotcakes. Given the bike is only there as a "injury recovery" bike, I decided to set a small budget of between £300 - £400. The cyclocross however, would allow me to go slightly off-road, which meant I could go on some bike rides with my 4 year old son. It is for that reason, and that reason alone, that I went for a cyclocross.

After much research, and being outbid on e-bay more times than I'd like to remember, I decided to opt for the Carrera Crixus II Cyclocross bike at Halfords for a bargain price of £250.

Picture courtesy of

Picture courtesy of
It's not the best bike nor the lightest but it should suffice for my needs. I don't plan on riding hundreds of miles per week on it, so as a starter bike it will do me. Once my shin splints have disappeared I shall start bringing this into my training program as a means of reducing the impact on the legs as a result of running all the time.

*** Wishful Thinking Note: at the time of time writing I have absolutely no interest in entering any kind of cycling race whatsoever...never, ever...I just want to point that out now...*** 

So here's to a speedy recovery from shin splints and a cardio which is vaguely maintained as a result of cycling....

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

New Year | New Challenges | Different Focus

A new year and so begins the new challenges - all be it with a slightly different focus!

My daughter, Clara Róisín Nicholls, was born on Boxing Day. Along with this bundle of joy and sleepless nights comes a new set of running goals; goals that are focused more on speed than distance.

Last year was all about distance running and seeing how far I could run. This year, and due to the arrival of Clara, the time I have available to train is severely reduced. Therefore my focus for 2015 is on speed and achieving a new set of PBs for the following events:
  • 5km
  • 10km
  • Half Marathon

Fitness Indicators

Despite only being a couple of weeks' into the new year, I've already managed some good training runs that have both speed and hill work involved. There are two routes that provide me with a solid indicator of my current fitness levels.

David Lambert Special
For short-distance work (10km and below) there is the David Lambert Special. A 7.6km figure of 8  between Wash Common and Newbury which takes in some steep hills. David Lambert, for those who were wondering, is my next door neighbour and he runs this route ever other morning at some ridiculous o'clock time. He averages 40 minutes, but to be honest he's probably not pushing himself to his limit. I've ran the route twice. In October 2014 I did it in a respectable 40:09 with an average pace of 5:15 min/km. I ran it again last Saturday and, despite the harsh wind, managed to complete it in 35:24 with an average pace of 4:38 min/km. I was very happy with this and a good start to the year. Take the hills and wind away and that pace would give me a very good 10k time come race day! Incidentally the first 5km of this run gave me a new unofficial 5km PB of 22:05 - that's a whole 52 seconds off my official parkrun time!

Tesco-Garden Loop
For mid-distance (10 mile and Half Marathon) there is the infamous 17.2km Tesco-Garden Loop. Those who have read my blog will know about this route. I've ran it many times and although a very boring route it is an excellent route for testing mid-distance fitness due to the hills involved. Last week I achieved my quickest time of 1:26:26 with an average pace of 5:02 min/km. Take the hills out of the equation and that would give me a storming new half marathon PB. Incidentally the first 10 miles of this run gave me a new unofficial 10 mile PB of 1:20:10!

Along with the above runs and a few recovery runs I also managed to through in a long-slow 33km run. So a good start to the year and, despite currently having man-flu and not running, the runs thus far this year have given me a little confidence going forward.

2015 Training

Having a new baby (along with a 4 year old) means my training needs to be more focused and with less weekly miles than 2015.

I'm currently able to run during my lunch. I've been doing it for almost 4 months now. I can do a 10km route at sub-150 bpm in an average time of 53 mins. In the past I've tended to do this 3-4 times per week, but once I get rid of this man-flu I hope to do it 4-5 times per week. I can play around with the run and mix things up: speed work, progression runs, negative splits, slow plods, strides, etc. I'm going to play around a little. 

I'm also hoping to still run a couple of times in the evening. Monday and Wednesday nights are the two nights I've been running regularly. Monday tends to be when I run a slow but hilly 21k route (couple of hours) and Wednesday is when I am out with the Newbury Runners (1 hour). I'm also hoping to attend Parkrun more often this year. Parkrun and I have a love-hate relationship. It's a 5km sprint around the common and I really do not enjoy running the route or running that fast. Nonetheless it is one of the events I'm looking to get a new PB at this year, so have decided only to attend as and when I feel I'm fit enough to have a PB in my sights. Long runs at the weekend however, are out for this year...

2015 Targets

I've set the following targets for 2015:

Current Official PB
Current Unofficial PB
Target Official Time
22:53 (2014)
22:08 (2015)
46:54 (2014)
46:33 (2014)
Half Marathon
1:57:37 (2013)
1:50:25 (2014)

I've tried to mix realistic with ambitious. The 5km target should easily be possible based on my unofficial personal best; however that was done on a road during an afternoon and not around the uneven terrain that is parkrun first thing on a Saturday morning. I do not perform my best at parkrun so although the target time of 22 mins looks easy, I personally think that will be a huge achievement on my part. Compare that the 10km and Half Marathon target times; they should be possible with the right training, pacing, terrain (no hills) and weather conditions (no wind).

2015 Events

I've spent a little while looking at events to enter and I'm a little reluctant to sign-up to events too far ahead of time. Parkruns occur every Saturday so when I feel like it I will just attend one. That leaves the 10km and Half Marathon. My son goes swimming and RugbyTots on a Sunday morning so I need to be careful how many events I enter on a Sunday as it would mean leaving my wife to take care of both him and the baby or meaning he misses those activities on a given week so we can go to my events as a family. Where possible my events will incorporate a fun-run for him to attend (he's done one before and enjoyed it).

Thus far on my radar I have the following booked:
  • Windsor & Eton Half Marathon (21 March)
  • Greenpark Royal Berks 10k (17 May)

No doubt more will be added to the list shortly!

Final Thoughts

2015 will be an interesting year and one that will be the complete opposite of 2014. Although I'm not a speed demon and prefer the long slow runs, it would be nice to bag a few PBs on the shorter events whilst also striking a nice work/family/running balance. 

Now let's do it!