Monday, 26 September 2011

Continuing the Barefoot Practice, and trying the new BikeFood Energy Gel

I’ve been struck down in the latter half of this week with a mysterious injury.  Last week’s hotel had a very soft bed indeed, which as well as stopping me sleeping properly has been known to trigger back/neck problems as well.

On Wednesday morning however, I was up in Aberdeen (again) and went out for my morning 5 miles.  All was going well until, crossing a sidestreet I was distracted by something out of the corner of my eye and looked in that direction at just the wrong moment and as I stepped up onto the kerb, I caught my trailing leg and went sprawling.  My knees took the brunt of it, but I also landed heavily on my hands, picked myself up, dusted myself down, cursed my stupidity and went on my way.  The worst of it was skinned knees, considering I know people who have fractured wrists in similar circumstances.

So I woke up on Thursday morning (good start) and went out for another 5 miles, OK, no problems.  This time in my Merrell Trail Gloves.  I hadn’t worn them for about two weeks, having run exclusively in huaraches or barefoot, so it felt quite odd to have the top of my feet fully covered, and I noticed the subtle difference in feel from the huaraches. Perhaps their new Road Gloves may be more suitable for me.

Anyway, by Thursday evening, I had started to experience some fairly significant discomfort in the left side of my neck, upper back, and shoulder.  I hardly slept that night and it was worse in the morning.  No way I could run.  Two ibuprofen allowed me to work during the day, but that was it. I thought a couple of glasses of wine on Friday night might help me sleep, but no luck, and it had completely seized up in the morning with very limited mobility in my neck, so I was up at about 0500 to have breakfast and start watching the rugby world cup.

Strangely, it seemed to get better during the day, so I ventured into the garage in the evening to have a bash at the turbo trainer.  I full expected pain from the neck to drive me back inside pretty quickly, but it never happened.  I ended up doing the full hour no trouble and actually felt a lot better than I thought I should.

Taxc 722 cals / Max 232W / ave 215W
Garmin - 1 hr / 18.6mi / AHR 142 / MHR 149 / cad 95 / 760 cals

Saturday night was not a whole lot better for sleep, waking several times in the night, but again, during the day it felt much better, so I headed out for a run.  I decided to go for the New Year’s Eve 10K loop again, knowing that there were several points I could turn back and short it if necessary.  Took my waist pack with a pair of huaraches just in case, and a small amount of the new Bike Food Gel that was delivered a week or so ago along with some water to flush it down.  I wouldn’t normally take either water or gel for 10k, but I wanted to try it anyway.

My technique must be improving as I had no blisters this time and very little post run foot tenderness.  The numbers show the relative lack of stamina barefoot vs shod.  I think the limiting factor is my feet rather than the CV system as I could feel my calves, achilles and feet tiring as the run went on.  I also think the wind was more in my favour on the first half than the second, but that’s the kind of thing you have to put with whether racing or training.

T) 6.35 / 53:30 / 8:26 / A 144 / M 154 
1) 8:14 / A 138 
2) 8:14 / A 146 
3) 8:16 / A 146
4) 8:26 / A 147 
5) 8:49 / A 145 
6) 8:24 / A144 
7) 0.35mi / 3:07 / 8:24 / 139

Anyway, now the product review.  I’ve been using Bike Food’s  ( ) energy drink, bars and their protein powder for a while now, and I saw earlier in the year that they were finally bringing out a gel, which is what I’d always thought they were lacking.  As I was down to my last half dozen gel sachets I put in my pre-order, waiting eagerly for the end of August, only to be told that it would be late by about ten days.  The measure of these guys is that to make up for the delay, they threw in a 500g tub of their energy drink for nothing.

So, to the gel.  It comes in a large flask, 700g with each serving being 40g.  The bottle is clearly marked on the outside for you to be able to decant it into the small flask they supply with it via the easy pouring lid (similar to a squeezy HP sauce bottle).  The flask has a non-drip spout similar to a sports drink bottle.  The intention today was to test the leakproofness of the flask and taste the gel ahead of a couple of hopefully reasonably long rides early next week. 

The ingredients and label design

First impressions on opening the bottle were a clear smell of honey and lemon, not dissimilar to a cough syrup but without the medicinal twang.  Very mild and pleasant smelling and clearly shows the origins of the natural sugars from honey and agave. 

Only a minor issue, but the small pocket flask is ungraduated, so I added my own as you can see ( I think I need to do that again as I was not the most accurate), the flask appears good for 5 doses which is going to be enough for most runs/rides. 

It tasted pretty much as it smelt, with a good flavour of honey and then the tang of lemon following it.  I’ve tried a whole variety of gels, and so far only this and one other are ones that I would ever consider using.  I’ve found Hammer’s and Zipvit’s both to be way too thick in consistency and nasty flavours as well.  This and High-5 both have a syrupy and smooth but not too thick texture so they are easy to get down and only need a little water to rinse your mouth.

Overall this is a great product and I can’t wait to try it out on a longer ride or run.

  • No more sticky fingers from rolling up single gel dose wrappers and shoving them in a pocket for later disposal
  • No leakage from the small flask, great dose marking on the larger flask
  • Great flavour and consistency
  • All natural ingredients

  • Only a minor quibble, but why not mark the flask they send out with it?

Overall I’ve now tried all but the energy sweets from Bike Food and I like them all.  They’re a bit more expensive than some other brands, but I think that’s reflected in an apparent attention to detail.

The bars are based on cold-pressed dried fruits (dates and so on) with added flavours like mango or cocoa and plenty of nuts.   The drink has added BCAAs, minerals and vitamins and has a great flavour and is gentle on the stomach.  Their protein powder is unique in that it is vegetable based.  When I went dairy free, I was struggling to find a product that was non-whey based and non-soya based (I don’t like soya because of its links to hormonal imbalances).  Their protein powder is based on milled hemp seed.  It tastes a little odd to start with, but once you get used to it it’s great.  I’ve used it in bottles and also a scoop added to my porridge in the morning every now and then.

Overall, I think of the products I’ve tried theirs is right up there at the top for me.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

It’s Been A Long Time Since We…..

[insert your own suitable phrase here], I’m going for “rock and roll” personally, but then I’m a Led Zep fan.  They’ve helped relieve boredom and take my mind off the pain of many a mind numbing turbo trainer session staring at the garage wall or doing progressive intervals.

Anyway, my intention with starting this blog was good.  The plan was to make at least a weekly update and supplementary entries where relevant, but the last three weeks have been just manically busy both at home and at work.  So apologies to all my loyal fans out there (all 200 or so of them so far).

In short order it’s been a bit like this

Week one – White water rafting at the weekend (on the Olympic canoe slalom course, photos to follow)
Two days in Aberdeen, get home on the Friday

Week two – my sister and her other half come up for the weekend, Barbecue, Serena (7) and my sister “camp out” in the garden, Bruce and I go to the pub. 
Sunday, Fly to Aberdeen for the week including two days offshore, home Friday

Week three – chores at weekend, play with the kids, watch a few rugby matches, off to Germany on Sunday. Busy week with a difficult client (you’d think we were trying to get them to sacrifice their children, it was that belligerent at times), home Friday.

So since the last post two weeks ago, I’ve had some pretty good training time, for me anyway.  I’ve managed to stick with my target 5 sessions a week.  The target was chosen as an increase from last year, but also pragmatically with work and family in mind.

So week beginning 4th September I managed a total of 19.12 miles running, and 18.1 miles on the bike.  I’m not going to bore with the details mile by mile, but it looked like this

  • Mon – Run on Aberdeen seafront, 5 miles in 40:08 @ 08:02, AHR 132, MHR 152                                         
  • Tues – Run on Aberdeen seafront, very windy and rainy, 5.12 miles in 41:08 @ 08:02 forgot HR strap                                
  • Weds – Offshore, BF Run on a treadmill in a very hot gym, 4 miles in 32:32 @ 08:08, AHR 145, MHR 151, got a small blood blister on the right big toe, harder to avoid friction from pushing off on a treadmill                                                                
  • Thurs – None, knackered after getting back onshore, went out for a curry.                                                                       
  • Fri – Run, Aberdeen sea front,  5 miles in 40:52 @ 8:10, AHR 143, MHR 151 ran this one in Huaraches                              
  • Sat – bike, Indoors on turbo trainer, 1hour, 18.06 miles at average 207W, AHR 143, MHR 150
Total for the week,
running 19.12mi, 2:34:40
Bike –   18.06mi, 1:00:00

Week Beginning 11th September
  • Sunday, flew to Germany
  • Mon – Run in the morning in huaraches – 4.21 mi in 34:52 @ 8:17 HR strap went screwy indicating 168-182-202-207, so AHR not reliable                          
  • Tues – morning run, following up a valley, so hilly 5mi in 42:52 @ 8:34, AHR 142, MHR 153, included one downhill mile at 6:46, which was about as fast as I could turn the legs over without faceplanting
  • Weds - evening run, part BF/Part Huaraches, 4.87 mi in 40:44 @ 8:22, HR strap went a bit screwy again              
  • Thurs – day off                                                                                                                                                                                  
  • Fri – morning BF run in cool, dry conditions, 4.32 mi in 39:33 @ 9:09, HR strap screwy again
  • Sat – evening BF Run, checking out a 10K race course for BF ability, 6.38 mi in 53:01 @ 08:19, AHR 136, MHR 148
Total for the week 24.78miles in 3:31:02

That BF run on Saturday was the longest I’ve done to date, and was in wet conditions.  I’ve got one small blister on the ball of my left second toe, so I think my BF technique is improving.  From yesterday’s experience, I think the course could be run BF, but if I was looking to improve on last year’s PB I think I’d have to do it shod.  It will all be weather dependent on 31st Dec anyway, as it is usually pretty dire around here that time of year, so I will have huaraches in mind anyway.  Between now and then I’ll have plenty of time to train in the huaraches anyhow as I have about 8 or 9 weeks in Aberdeen between now and Christmas, and I don’t run BF there on the streets.  I’ve found a local synthetic track which I may have a run on at some time.

The one thing I have really found out this last couple of weeks thought is that if you are intending to follow this Maffetone method properly, and consistently, it does take some effort, in particular letting go of the ego and being prepared to run slowly at times.  I found that particularly difficult this week with the hills, but I was getting better towards the end of the week.  

To try and stop me going over the imposed HR cap, I’ve adjusted the warning from the Garmin downwards slightly to give me some extra time to respond before I hit the max zone.

Now for the white water rafting.  My wife bought me one of these “experiences” for Christmas last year, to go and do white water rafting on the new artificial course in the Lee Valley Park that will be used for next year’s canoe slalom at the Olympics.  To be honest I wasn’t really looking forward to it much.  I’m not really that big into water sports (apart from my surfing years a long time ago) and the closest I tend to get to being thrown about in water is my 4-yearly offshore safety training refreshers.

I eventually managed to book it in for late August when I had a couple of weeks vacation and Rekha and the kids could also come and watch. So off we all went, piled into my old car, as Rekha’s had an acute suspension problem at the time.  I arrived in good time, luckily, as they’d managed to lose my booking somehow.  Eventually it got sorted out and there I was all done up in their supplied wetsuit with a tech-tee underneath as a rash vest and my trainers in preference to their wetsuit boots.  I still had an open blood blister so I wanted shoes whose history I knew.

With my lost booking, the boat numbers were a bit screwed up as two large groups wanted to stay together and then there was another couple and myself.  It ended up pretty well I think with me and the couple in a smaller boat with an instructor and the other groups in boats of 9 people each.  Looking at them as we were practicing and then rafting in anger, it looked like we had the better end of the deal as the boat of 4 people rode the waves better and was much easier to co-ordinate.

They have a very good system with this new set up with a big lake at the bottom, a man made course in a horseshoe shape with pumps taking water up to the top of the course.  The kayaks/rafts get taken from the lake up to the top on a conveyor belt, all very civilised.  And the spectators can also get up pretty close, so until she got bored I was entertained by my seven year old daughter waving and shouting “hello daddy” every time I went past, and then catching me up again further down the course.

I think we must have gone round at least half a dozen times, probably more.  I was still feeling fresh enough to carry on, but time was up.

It was thoroughly enjoyable, much more so than I had originally thought and I quite liked the idea of the closed course.  I think a rafting trip might be quite enjoyable as well though, rafting in the day and camping on the banks at night for a couple of days, catching fish and looking at the stars.

A few selected photos here.  The rest are on the web here

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Start of a new training phase, time to test the baseline

This Autumn, I've decided to follow an HR capped training method in all disciplines.  I've done it on the bike before and also on the concept 2, but where running comes in, it's always just been the filler while I can't do the other things and I really didn't pay it much attention.
That changes this year. 
I'm going to be following a method described by a fellow called Phil Maffetone, who started out in life as a doctor, trained for a few marathons and finished, but ended up broken in the process.  He went back to the drawing board in training terms and with his medical mind also bought in the links to endocrinology, diet, stress management etc.   His main premise is that, for an endurance athlete, when we train the aerobic system to be effective, we can work harder (i.e. go faster) at the same effort without going anaerobic.  This is obviously more efficient as the aerobic system makes use of both glycogen and fats in a much more efficient way with much higher rate of energy generation than anaerobic.  The final part of the theory is that this approach then means that you have that anaerobic kick ready for the last part of the race when you need it, rather than having already gone into the red for 90% of the race before. 
He's also got a fairly good website
Among other things he's worked on nutrition and health with a range of "stars" and athletes and curiously has also been an advocate of minimalist shoes and barefoot running for a long time, which fits nicely with what I'm doing. 
So, the first thing as always is to test the base, find out where I am right now, so I know where I'm improving from.  First thing is to calculate my max aerobic function HR, using an empirical formula (not dissimilar from the 220-age for max HR)
In this case it's 180-age = 143
I'm allowed a plus 5 bpm adjustment as I've been training actively and not been sick for the last two years.
That means that in this first aerobic phase I should not be going above 148bpm.
As I said, first things first, test where I am now.  I've had a couple of days in Aberdeen this week, so that was ideal as I have a nice, mostly level route I run which loops along the prom.  The protocol for the test is run 3-5 miles at or below the Max aerobic level, HR of 148 for me.

Wednesday and Thursday morning I did this regular loop, in opposite directions. Repeated because the first time I thought I'd balls'd it up as I had an MHR of 157 vs cap 148, but that was in the warm up when I came up to a junction, so I'm not too worried about it. The results actually came out pretty similar in both cases.

Results are

T) 5.41 mi / 43:47 / 8:05 / A145 / M 157
1) 8:33 / A 138 Warm up
2) 7:50 / A 144
3) 7:52 / A 147
4) 7:58 / A 146
5) 8:04 / A 146
6) 0.41mi / 3:31 / 8:32 / A 147 - cool down

T) 5.44 mi /43:37 / 8:01 / AHR 144 / MHR 154
1) 7:49 / AHR 134 warm up
2) 7:57 / AHR 145
3) 7:47 / AHR 146 (slight downhill)
4) 8:07 / AHR 147 (slight rise)
5) 8:05 / AHR 146
6) 0.44mi / 3:50 / 8:39 / AHR 144 cool down

The test is supposed to show how well balanced you are between aerobic and anaerobic ability. The flatter your pace profile the better and more conditioned your aerobic system is as it suggests that you can carry on at that pace for quite soem time. 
So while I'm quite pleased with my results above, that's not to say that my erobic efficiency cannot improve further.  My recent HM by comparison had an average HR of 161, where this would be the perfect event to be able to run aerobically for most of the race.

I also did the same on the turbo trainer, as I'll also be spending some time on the bike over the winter and into next year. Plan was 10 mins - 35 mins on test - 10 mins cool down. I'd planned to record overall average watts every 7 mins (similar time to a running mile) and then work out average watts for that segment with a bit of spreadsheeting.

Total 55min/16.43mi / 17.9 ave / 525cal / A 203W / M226W / AHR 140 / MHR 150
1) 217W / A140 / M148
2) 213W / A147 / M149
3) 209W / A147 / M150
4) 205W / A147 / M149
5) 201W / A146 / M149

Again pretty flat profile suggesting that my aerobic system is fairly well conditioned.

The plan now is to train exclusively inside that aerobic limit for the next three months and redo at least one of these tests each month.  After that period, going into December, I'll start introducing interval workouts with a build up to a 10k road race on New Year's Eve and a 25 mile TT in Feb if I can get to that one.