Monday, 17 December 2012

Three months since the last posting! How time flies.

To be honest there are quite a few contributing factors to my lack of reportage, including IT problems, holidays and generally being extremely busy at work as we’re currently down a person in my team so we’re all picking up the slack.

There’s also been a decent amount of training work, being done in preference to writing about training I should be doing, plus a few races.

I'm sure you'll be relieved that I'm not planning on giving the detail of every workout I've done, every race, or every business trip, but an improved level of service will resume at some point, plus a look back at the latter part of this year.

Plus, I also have a couple of new pairs of shoes to review at some point, both good.

Monday, 13 August 2012

The Aftermath, or Fitness Drops Off a Cliff

So in the aftermath of the Grim Reaper, I’ve been getting less and less happy with my performance and my DNF.  Yes, it’s easy to argue that I was beaten by the conditions adn that I dropped out injured but a lot of other people finished their races at all three distances 40, 70 and 100.

I’m also pretty annoyed when I look at the splits I was running fourth by quite a margin when I dropped out.

Plenty of other athletes better than me have DNF’d, look at Paula Radcliffe in the Athens marathon, Ryan Hall in this year’s Olympics, or however many more.  I can remember reading about one Olympic runner who anticipating hot and humid conditions did part of his training in a sauna, I think he still lost anyway.  And what about all those attempts at the summit of Everest before the successful one?  The question is therefore, was I beaten by the conditions, or did I simply fail to prepare properly? 

Currently I’m leaning towards the latter.  I could have practiced running in the rain, or on softer ground more, I could have done more strength work, I could have run further in training.  Either way, it’s irrelevant now for that race.  Let’s look forward and think about what I might do next time.  

One thing I’ve been doing is to try and lengthen and strengthen my hamstrings with eccentric exercises i.e. those that contract while lengthening.  One of the causes of my difficulties in the race, apparently, is short hamstrings caused by running and cycling, and the yoga is obviously not doing enough for it.  So since then, at least twice a week I’ve been doing this:

Warm up

Straight Leg deadlift x 10 x 45kg,
lunge x 15 each side,
Single Leg squat x 15 each side
X 3
good morning x 10 x 20kg,
press up x 20,
tricep dip x 15
X 3 sets,

eccentric HS curl 3 x 10,
ITB stretches 5 mins or so.

Seems to be having some effect both on hamstrings and muscle mass, as I’ve put on about a kilo, but my waist remains unchanged or maybe slightly smaller. 

The only problem though is that my fitness appears to have dropped off a cliff since the race.  I was planning to enter either a marathon in early Nov or a 38 miler in late November, but at the moment I don’t think I’ll be in any condition to enter either of them.  Either it’s a massive loss of fitness, or the cough that I seem to have developed about two weeks after the race is having more of an effect than I thought.  I’ve had it for about ten days now and on today’s run I was really struggling.

I was effectively running at my 10km heart rate, but at slower than my HM pace, and had to stop and walk twice for a breather.  Time to start a few MAF runs I think, build up the aerobic base again.

Today’s run for the record was

9.47km / 50:21 / 5:19 per km / AHR 155 / MHR 176

That max HR is truly shocking for what is essentially a flat loop.  Yes it’s warm and humid today but that really is not an excuse.

I also feel a bit like I’m back to square one on the zero drop running as my calves are sore for a couple of days after a run at the moment which I have not had for a long time now.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

The Grim Reaper

So, this was it, the main event of the year, the one I've been training for for 6 months or so.  The last two weeks I've been steadily gathering equipment and nutrition together in a corner of the bedroom.  I knew I had too much stuff, but I was taking advantage of the fact that it was 10-mile loop course and that we could pitch a small tent at the start/finish of the lap, perfect for changing shoes, socks, shirts etc.

Firstly, getting there was a challenge as on Tuesday I managed to wrap my car around a tree.  I walked away fine, but the car is written off.  Big thanks go to both my yoga teacher Mark at Ely Yoga Studio who leant me a car and to the people at Admiral Insurance who kept my policy active until Monday to allow me to get to the race.

So my final kit list was
First aid kit of superglue, knife, durapore dressing tape, baby wipes, toilet paper, kinesio tape, vaseline and nappy rash cream as lubes.  The same box also held my head torch, hand torch and spare batteries.
I also had baby powder for the feet, sun block and sunglasses (waste of time for the last two).

The weather forecast was for heavy rain all night and heavy rain for most of the day, so I'd packed several changes of socks, plus shorts, shirts, running leggings, all in plastic boxes and bags to keep them dry.  I'd taken my old Merrell Trail Gloves, Altra Samsons and New Balance MT00. 

One look at the conditions said the Altras had no chance, and I opted to start in the NB Minimus to allow me to fit my sock selection underneath.  I had my last three toes on each foot taped against blisters, plus Injinji socks and then Sealskinz socks on top to keep them dry.  I also started in short sleeve shirt and Ron-Hill running tights, plus waterproof and cap to try and keep rain or sun off my face.

My food bag was way overstocked, partly to give me choice later in the race.
Carb drinks - three types, one with added caffeine in case one became unpalatable
Small box ful of energy bars
Gels - enough for two per ten mile lap
Plastic tub of nuts and apricots
Pack of fig rolls, malt loaf
Nuun tablets
Emergency bounty bar.

Plan was one 500ml bottle of nuun, one of carbs per lap plus a couple of gels one large energy bar and various combinations of small energy bars, fig rolls, malt loaf etc.  Overall it should have given me about 750 cals per lap, or 375 per hour (assuming two hours per ten-mile lap).  Al to be carried in a waist pack.

The day started ominously with the race briefing at 8am, when started raining already.  Catch up with all the people I'd met on facebook, then last minute preparations, toilet stop, waterproof on, check moustache (freshly waxed into handlebar for the event) and then it's time to go.

First lap, starting into the rain about 1km drag up the main drive to the castle and to the start/finish point of a normal lap.

The course is in the grounds of a country estate, about 50% tarmac and the rest off-road on farm trails and field margins.  It was set up with one manned check point and two other unmanned interim checkpoints where you had to punch a card to show you'd completed the lap, with the card checked each time at the start/finish tent.  Last year I did a half marathon here in glorious weather and it was a superb course.  Today was going to be a lot different.

First lap started great, long drag down from the castle on tarmac before the first offroad section up a small hill between fields and woods, topping out to run between some more fields.  Carry on with that for a bit with a few undulations and then down to what I found to be a tough bit last year (and I'd built up in my mind for this year as well).  A stretch of cinder/large spiky stones that I remembered as sbeing about a mile, in reality it was probably less than 500 yds.  A bit more hard packed trail and trun onto a short tarmac stretch again before the fun and games really began.

The first really off-road section as you turn into the woods.  This section was already getting cut up by the time I'd got there, especially the only real serious hill on the course.  Very short probably 200-300 yards, but about a 45 degree angle and muddy.  First lap was OK in the trail shoes, but it was already getting slippery.  I did need to think about managing my HR here though as I went over 160 vs plan of keeping it under 150.  So walk here next time.

This topped out on a long stretch of rough grass through the trees following a fairly well defined path which was wet, but runnable.  You could still pick out dry ground at this stage to run on.  Pretty much more of the same hard trails, dodging the puddles until the first check point.  About 30 secs to drag the card out of my waist pack and punch it then another long stretch down the edge of a field before getting back to the main stretch of tarmac about three or 4 km long, straight as a die and undulating.  Last year on the HM I used this to pick off about 15 rabbits one by one; not today, just keep it steady, maintain my 150m per 2km walk and get the food and liquids in. 

I didn't take many pictures during the race, just too wet for the camera

Still raining at this point about halfway round the first lap, but the sock strategy is working well and my toes are toasty and dry.  A major difference this year was the river crossing; last year you ran through a dry stream bed, this year you had to take the rickety bridge as there was about 4 feet of water in the stream.  More field edge then up to the final interim checkpoint, stamp the card and carry on.  Similar mix for the next 2 or 3km and the end of the first lap. 

Into the tent, get the time logged, refill bottles, grab gels and bars and out again.

Main difference this lap is that the showers are getting heavier and more frequent and the off road sections more cut up.  In some cases the puddles were right across the track and on the hills water was beginning to run down the paths.  The stretch through the woods was very slippery on just the second lap, this time I walked the hill, and the grass wea getting pretty waterlogged by now.  The socks were still working though and the feet were nice and dry. 

The third lap was where it really started to come down.  On the grass stretches you could no longer avoid the wet bits and your feet were sinking 3-4" into it with every step, with water streaming through your shoes.  The waterproof had been overwhelmed by now, but was keeping the wind out so I stayed warm, and my cap was absolutely saturated with water dripping off it steadily.  The paths were now getting quite difficult where there was no tree cover with some pretty slippery mud, bit no trouble if you took it cautiously. The stretch up the muddy hill and through the trees was treacherous with one faller in front of me.  The stretch that followed now resembled trench warfare with no dry spots at all.  I think it was here that my socks finally came a cropper as I stepped in one puddle just too deep.  The rest of the field margins were the same and the rain was now running in rivulets on the tarmac.  The conditions were starting to take their toll by now and my ITBs were starting to feel the continuous sinking into the ground and the slipping and sliding around. 

I started the fourth lap and went past my longest ever run to date, but feeling pretty tired by now and extending my walking breaks so that I was now around 1 mile run/400m walk and also walking some of the wetter sections.  The ITB and hip flexors were now really tightening up on me and making it difficult to keep going.  Pace was really starting to drop off now from 6:30-6:40 per km to now struggling with 7:00 per km.

With no visible signs of the rain stopping and the prospect of more of the same, I called it a day.  I could have probably continued for another lap, maybe even more but the way the ITB was caving on me it wasn't certain and I could see myself doing some long-lasting damage.

So overall
65.17km in 8:02:43 at 7:24 average pace including time refilling bottles each lap, 7hr 33 moving time

544m elevation gain, AHR 139 / MHR 163.

Broadly speaking I was on plan for my target 2 hours per lap, to finish in 14-15 hours.  Given last years conditions I have absolutely no doubt that I would have finished.  Maybe not to time, but I would have completed.  Overall I was expecting my knees or achilles to be the thing that dumped me out, not the hip flexors and ITB.

Afterwards, I sat in my tent for a while, feeling sorry for myself.  Once I'd started getting changed and made myself some hot coffee things were looking better.  It's surprising how much difference being warm and dry makes.  After that I went into the main checkpoint tent for some physio attention to the ITB and adductors.  One particular ITB treatment was excruciating, but did feel better afterwards.

So what did I learn this time, that will help next time
1) Sock strategy worked well, but I need some longer sealkinz.  No blisters at all, but the feet still got wet.
2) Be prepared to adapt the plan to the conditions.  Maybe if I'd let the walk/run breaks drift adn walk more of the really soggy stuff I'd have put less strain on the ITB/hip flexors and lasted longer, but gone slower.
3) The nutrition and hydration plan worked well.  I didn't quite get in the calories I'd intended, but hydration was spot on at 500ml per hour.  Overall calories were a bit less than target at 300-320 vs target 375, but I certainly didn't suffer a lack of energy and didn't hit "the wall" so the fat metabolism was working fine.  I was pretty much down by a gel per lap and making up at the pit stops, for some reason I was preferring solids.
4) Kinesio taping works.  Having had to scale back training because of knee trouble, I was amazed how good they felt during the race.
5) I need to do more strength work and more speed work, try and deal with the cause of some of these weaknesses.
6) XEndurance tablets.  Someone gave me (and a bunch of others) a sample pack.  Looking at it it appears to be mainly buffers but as the guy who gave it to me said, it really helps with the DOMS.  Now on Saturday evening my legs feel fine, achilles slighlty sore from the work, but the only real pain is in the ITB and hips

I'm supposed to go back on Sunday for a HM again, but with more rain forecast I'm scrubbing it.  In this case discretion is definitely the better part of valour so I've got my first DNF and my first DNS in the same weekend.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Sydney and Christchurch

Normally I don't get a chance to see much when I go to places, but in June I had a trip to Sydney and Christchurch, two days in each plus the chance to stay over a weekend with my cousin who emigrated to christchurch about 8 years ago.

The original plan was fly Friday to Sydney, arrive SUnday, work Mon/Tues, fly to Christchurch Weds, work Thurs/Fri fly home Mon, arrive LHR Tues.  Ten days, two of which would be spent in an aeroplane, in economy class.  Call me spoilt, but for long haul, I really hate economy class!

However, Sydney's client screwed up and forgot about a public holiday on Monday, so I ended up with a day spare in Sydney but the hassle of working on Wednesday and then taking a three hour flight to Christchurch plus two hours time difference, arriving at the hotel after midnight.

June in Sydney and Christchurch is very definitely winter.  In Sydney, it was raining on the Sunday when I arrived stopped briefly while I went for a run with a fellow minimalist runner, Adam and then did not stop again for two days, not the best weather for a spot of tourism.  I'd had it all planned out to get a day pass on the public transport system and go down to the harbour area, pop over to Manly for lunch on the beach, back to Darling Harbour and then back around the city centre botanic gardens.

The reality was; look out of the hotel room window, see the rain and get a bit of work done; head down to the town centre and do a bit of sales shopping (in the dry) including replacing the waterproof coat I took with me, but turned out to be leaking; have some lunch; wander about and get wet; visit a couple of museums (indoor); get wetter; go back to the hotel and finish some more work.

Did manage to get a few photos though.
Went down to the harbour for dinner on Sunday, there was a light show with laser projection on the Opera House

Sydney Harbour Bridge by night

 Another view of the Bridge from the Rocks area, one of the original settlements
blogsite keeps turning the photo round!
Just to give an idea of the rain, it was running down the streets 
Another turned round shot of Sydneys tower in the low clouds

Christchurch by comparison was dry, but much colder, similar in fact to a UK winter, cold but not too cold with typical temperatures around freezing but not normally much below that.  Both with the two days work and acting the tourist with my cousin the one thing that you just can't get over is how much damage those three big earthquakes caused.  When you consider that the first big one was in Feb 2011, there is still a huge amount of devastation with buildings still being pulled down in the city centre, 6000 homes that need to be abandoned and rebuilt elsewhere and large parts of the city deemed unfit for building.  My cousin was telling me some very interesting stuff about the work he does for an NGO in disaster resilience, all around building mental wellness in the population as part of the recovery process. 

He lives in an older house (100 years, that's old for NZ) which being made of wood flexed a bit and took some damage, but is still liveable.  Lots of others are in the same boat as him, but even those houses will need to be moved out of, and repaired eventually. 
This bridge was simply twisted by the quake, one bank of the river dropped by about 2m.  Most of the road bridges have had to be built up on one side to compensate

 This is typical of the city centre now, lots of gaps.  My cousin's office was the other side of the remaining building
 Some stuff is still being pulled down
The cathedral was massively damaged and its future is still in doubt

There are still almost daily earthquakes, mainly small at less than 3 on the richter scale, a few 4 plus.  There's still a lot of uncertaitny in some areas such as out on the coast where they have roads closed and narrowed off with shipping containers against further rock falls.

 Sorry, photos on their sides again.  Soem houses had very narrow escapes, but are now unliveable and at risk of further rock falls
A rare Volvo 262, with right hand drive, in good nick in the UK, this would go for about £15k+
Shame about the rocks.

One of the things that has started, and my cousin is involved in is soemthing called Gap Filling, where people do something with the vacant space where buildings have come down; art work, gardens, pop-up bars or shops etc

I did manage to get my botanic garden visit in though, in Christchurc.  Had intended going to the main museum, but that was closed pending repairs.

They had some great trees including this twisted elm, perfect for bonsai. 
And the obligatory holiday snaps

Me, top and cousin Steve, bottom

Friday, 22 June 2012

Sommething wicked this way comes!

That would be the Grim Reaper 70 mile ultra marathon, in just over three weeks now. And it's a combination of taining for that and a busy work schedule that have kept me from posting here for two whole months.

Before I get carried away with what I've been doing, apologies to all three of my loyal readers who I'm sure were on tenterhooks all that time.

Since that last entry, I've had my usual schedule of travels around the country, experiencing the delights of Redditch, Portsmouth and Luton, mixed in with an industrial town south of Rome and then last week a 10 day trip to Sydney and Christchurch in New Zealand.

Training wise it's been reasonable.
  • I've run 385km in 34 hours
  • I've cycled a mere 38km for a club time trial, warm up/cool down included
  • I've rowed a trifling 6871m in 30 minutes, when I didn't fancy a run
  • I've ten whole hours to yoga.
The highs?  Yes, there have been some; including a decent first time trial for the season, a longest single run of 40km and a weekly high of about 80km, which I'm pretty happy with.

And the lows? As April went on, I was having increasing pain in my knees, mainly I think due to increasing the overall training load with it being almost exclusively running.  It seemed to be ITB related from the way the pain was working, so  I took the decision to have a week off from running and work exclusively on yoga and on knee strengthening/flexibility.  That turned out to be a great decision as it's been much better since.  I'm now looking at kinesio taping to help even further and, when time allows will try adn get myself to a sports therapist to look at the longer term solution. 

With the race only just three weeks away now, I've dropped the long run in favour of shorter back to back runs of 20-30km each day on a weekend.

So as it's now just three weeks away, the plan is now to have two more semi-long runs this weekend and then start winding it down for the next two weeks before scaling back to just maintenance in the week before the event.

Photos from down under will come later.  All I can say now is that Sydney was horribly wet, and that Christchurch is a beautiful town, but is still suffering in a big way from the effects of the earthquakes they had.

And I will try harder next time not to leave such a big gap

Friday, 27 April 2012

Indonesia, Gym, Altra

I think I last posted before Easter, and as usual I’ve been a busy boy since then.  As well as working on the new gym in the house, I’ve had a ten day trip to Indonesia including a visit to a brand new gas production platform.  The contrast between that and the same client’s 25 year old platform is striking. 
I’ve also had a birthday, and tried to keep up with some semblance of a decent training plan whilst I can.

So, to start with the gym first, we used to have a 1.5 car garage attached to the house, in which I had a turbo trainer, indoor rower, weights bench, large workbench, tool storage, wine storage, spare bike storage etc and all the other general crap that tends to go with a garage.  My wife decided that she wanted to turn this into a new room for the house.  She also decided that my gym should move outside to the single detached garage that we have.  The only problem with that is that i) it’s not heated and has poor lighting ii) it’s not a tardis and is already full of garden tools, lawnmowers, pots, compost, chemicals etc.
A veto was duly exercised and I got a part of the garage walled off as a gym, greatly reduced, but enough to have turbo trainer, rower, bike storage, wine storage and, finally give me enough room to fit a pull-up bar on the wall (a focus on running and cycling over the last few years has left my upper body horribly feeble compared with my rugby playing days).  Since I’ve got back from Indonesia I’ve used it once, and that was a pretty favourable impression.  I certainly don’t think that I’ll need to bother with much in the way of heating, even in the coldest parts of the winter as the underfloor insulation combined with the latest double glazing technology seems to be working pretty well.  If anything I’m going to be needing to leave doors and windows open most of the time.

I took a sequence of photos from old exercise space in the full garage through to dedicated gym, but I’ve mislaid some of them, mainly the before’s so here’s just a few.

In progress, before the wall in the foreground came down and the wall was painted white, it was a very dark space, even with the window

Starting to fit out, the shelves at the end got moved as I’d planned to use the white block-wall for bike storage, but decided that the blocks were too soft to anchor the brackets.

Final gym with wallbar area, and looking the other way, the all-important bike and wine storage.  Rower and turbo trainer in the foreground.  The wall bar is slightly too low and may end up getting moved higher by about 6-8 inches
 So, after having a good long run on Easter Sunday, I had the Monday off, and then on the Tuesday flew to Indonesia via Singapore.  As usual the flight took it out of me heading eastwards, and there’s really no way of getting around that .  I tried to manage it this time by taking an earlier flight to arrive in Jakarta around lunchtime.  That then gave me time to have a nap before heading to the gym for a treadmill run and then dinner before an early night.  

The problem with this trip is that we arrive in Jakarta one day, jetlagged and then have to get up at 04:30 the next morning to take a 3-hour turboprop flight to a place called Matak, on the Anambas Islands and then wait around there again before taking another chopper flight out to the platform.  Overall that first day is brutal.  This time we had the added logistical requirement to visit three installations, and FPSO and its older linked platform, and then the newly installed platform about 6 months old.
Over the ten days I was there I managed to get in six treadmill runs and a yoga session, not bad really considering I also had a job to do. Unfortunately the garmin threw a bit of a wobbly and failed to record two of the sessions, but I managed to log the details anyway from memory. 

The exciting thing from these is that of the six treadmill runs, three of them showed some real progress in pace vs HR level. Given the environmental conditions of humidity and higher temp than I’m used to I’m very pleased with that.  Now you can argue that this is due to the ease of running on the treadmill, or due to a screwy foot pod (I never rely on a treadmill for speed/distance) but I would counter with
1) I set a slope on the treadmill to make it more realistic
2) A previous calibration of the footpod suggested that it was accurate to about 1 or 2% (needs rechecking)
3) I’ve run a similar distance (using gps for distance) since getting back, in windy conditions and seen a similar improvement

Since I got back I’ve also had a great long run of 38km in 3:39, very calm and relaxed. Still trying to work out the best hydration and nutrition strategy, and on this occasion I probably got the hydration part of it a bit wrong, thinking that as it was a cool day I could get away with less.  That was probably true, but not to the extent that I did, and it showed in dark urine for the rest of the day even though I was drinking well after I got back.
I almost forgot, it was my birthday while I was away. On the day itself I was busy working away with my colleague in the hotel bar over dinner and a martini and went back up to my room around 10:30, wandered around my room for a bit, went back into the sitting room (very plush hotel, with very nice rooms) and found a cake sat on the desk that they’d left while I was at dinner.  It was very nice as well, but far too large for me, so I had a slice and had the rest boxed up to take into the clients offices the next day to share with their HSE team.

The other cool thing that happened this month was a free pair of shoes!
While I was looking for what was eventually purchased as the New Balance Trail zero drop, I also came across Altra on the web and really liked the look of them.  Only one drawback, I couldn’t find them anywhere in the UK, and e-mails to the company went unanswered.  I was happily surprised therefore when a fellow forumite from New York sent me a message saying he would try and get me a pair through his contacts as a buyer for a sports store.  I was on tenterhooks hoping they’d get to me before I went away, but no luck.  So my new pair of Altra Samsons finally arrived on Tuesday of this week and my first impressions are very favourable.

They look good, even good enough to wear as a casual shoe with a pair of jeans.  They appear to have some very similar construction characteristics to the New Balance Minimus Trail with a very lightweight mesh and minimal stitching with use of some welded construction.  The soles look good, the rubber feels robust enough and while the tread is not going to handle any heavy off-road terrain, they look well suited to the road and light trail use in mainly dry conditions.  They also feel extremely comfortable with the 3mm insole in them, definitely wide enough across the toes.
The only misgiving I have on first trying them on is the laceholes.  They stretched a bit, and I’m wondering whether they could have done with a bit more reinforcement. There is also a little roughness to the finish where the sole is sealed to the upper with a few loose fibres, but I’m not expecting that to be any kind of issue.  First impressions on running are very favourable.  Light and comfy, and very grippy on tarmac even in the wet weather we are having at the moment.  Not waterproof, but then I wouldn’t expect it, and they are no less waterproof than any of my other minimalist shoes.  I think both these and the NB minimus are showing the age of my Trail Gloves at the moment, which is not to say that I have anything against the trail gloves, they are just showing the 500+ miles that I’ve put into them.  I’m also thinking of late that my feet may have changed shape over the last year or so as I’m finding the fit off the trail gloves a bit less comfortable than I used to.

Anyway, I digress, so back to the main theme.  After two runs of 12 and 11km, one very wet, the other damp, the soles are showing absolutely no wear at all and the silver/grey is not yet showing any dirt (though that will come, I’m sure).  In use, the one thing that really stands out other than the comfort is the heel-claw thingy, which really provides a snug but unobtrusive security around the heel.  I’ve only tried them in socks and with the insole so far as that’s how I’ll probably use them in the Grim Reaper, but I’ll also try them out with no socks and no insoles as time goes.
I can definitely see these as being a go-to shoe for road work and light trails.

Why do my photos keep inserting rotated through 90 degrees? They are not that way on my hard drive.  Anyone help?

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Work, garden, construction

All three have been keeping me busy lately, plus some time for training a well.

At work, there is one workstream I'm involved in that has a government imposed hard deadline of 31st March for our clients to submit data to the regulator that has been externally verified i.e. by us.  Generally it goes well, but we have one client who never holds up their end of the deal, and another one who had a major emergency on one platform about a week before the deadline, which was more important than them getting one final piece of data to me.

Still, at least it keeps me at home.  With one trip in the last week of March cancelled that means I've been at home for 7 weeks apart from a couple of day-trips to London.

I've also had a couple of days vacation time to use up, so I've had a couple of long weekends with some time in the garden doing annual maintenance tasks, repotting a few bonsai and starting to move planst out of one very narrow, dry and not very useful flower bed ahead of a project to remodel part of the garden later in the year.

We've also had the builders in to do th ework on splitting the garage in two to give a sitting room and a smaller room at the back that I'm fitting out as a gym.  The room will be large enough to fit bike on the turbo trainer, the rowing machine and a pull up bar on the wall.  I'm also shelving the walls out for storage of odds and ends related to cycling, running and other training.  There'll also be a rack on the wall to store at least one other bike.  My part of it is now largely complete structurally, with all painting done, floor down, windows in etc.  Shelving is nearly complete and should be done this weekend all using either reclaimed wood or old shelves I had in the shed, bike rack should be up, but the pull up bar will not, which is not on the critical path anyway.  I'm getting pressure to move stuff in, but there is still some electrcical work to do and I don't want the equipment to get damaged in the process. Photos will follow in sequence when it's all done.

I've managed to get a decent bit of training in over the last 2 weeks or so with over 7 hours per week, despite a bout of tendonitis in my left foot, which is sore, and inconvenient, but not a show-stopper.  That's been in the picture for about three weeks, and now I know what it is, self-treatment over the last week has improved it greatly.

So in the last 18 days I've been sticking to my general pattern of 10-12km runs on Tuesdays Wednesdays and Saturdays , with yoga on Thursdays and a long session on Sunday.

The Sunday long session is building time on feet towards July.  I'll be trying to stick to a pattern of long runs for two weeks, with a third easier week on the bike, still similar duration, but without the impact component.

The mid-week runs are nothing to write home about, either steady state HR capped sessions or speedwork, tempo type runs or long intervals with elevated HR.  The cycling club TT season has also started again, but Tuesday was a wash out with heavy rain all afternoon.  I'm sure the hardcore raced, but on the course in question, there would have been too high a risk of crashing for me.

So the long sessions have been

Sunday 25th March - nice long ride on my carbon-framed road bike, with the aero bars now fitted.  Split the ride in two with a brief 5 min stop for drink and snacks and a stretch mid way. 

1) 1:22:47 / 42.03 / Ave 30.5 / AHR 148 / MHR 159  
2) 1:23:50 / 42.14 / ave 30.2 / AHR 142 / MHR 155
Total) 84.17km / 2:46:38 / 30.3kmh / A145 / M159
For this point in the season, I'm happy with that at around 19mph for three hours.

Sunday 1st April was a long run, the plan for this one was to test out nutrition, hydration and run/walk strategies.  Plan was to run the first 10km then walk 1minute every 2km.  That worked well, but this week I'll do the run/walk from the start and see how that works as I don't think I drank enough or took in enough calories in the first 10km.  I also made a balls-up when I had a call of nature in that I lapped, but did not pause the watch, then paused it when I finished, noticing my mistake about 500m later.

Overall, this told me that I need to increase my calorie intake, but it also broke a psychological barrier of three hours on my feet.  Now that I've done it once it's no longer daunting.  The New Balance 00 trails performed well as well, and the calves and achilles held up very well.

31.03km / 3:08:47 / 6:05 average / AHR 146 / MHR 167

The legs were feeling it at the end, but mentally I was OK, with my low point coming about 20km in.  The DOMS was not bad at all on the Monday, but Tuesday was worse, which is typical for me.  That was the day I didn't TT and probably could not have done well anyway, but had a gentle run instead. 

Ready for another long run tomorrow. Then packing on Monday ready to catch a flight to Indonesia for 10 days.  I'll be in Jakarta for my birthday, but at least I'll be onshore.  Plan while there is to try and get in as many 10km to 1hr runs as I can, plus a bit of yoga, but I think taking three hours out on Sunday is going to be difficult.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

New Balance Minimus Trail - First Impressions

I finally ordered these on Saturday, didn't like the black or the lurid green, so went for the orange, half a size up based on the advice of the customer service people at New Balance as I expect to be wearing socks with them at least some of the time.  Expected delivery 3-5 days, so I was thinking they should be here by Friday.

After ordering them, I promptly forgot what day it was, with a wedding anniversary on Sunday and a day off work yesterday, so I was very surprised to find a package being delivered this morning. 

Then I realised why it was so quick, they'd forgotten to pack the shoes in the box!  The whole package was well under a kilo.  I'm not a lunatic about but I have excess packaging, so I was very pleased to see a simple courier service bag, tamper seal and cardboard box. 

Now for the moment of truth.  Holy crap my eyes!

I know I ordered orange, but I wasn't expecting ORANGE with a capital O.  These things are bright.  Once I'd got past that, the second impression was how light they are, just 4.4 oz each, 123 grammes for those of us who speak European.  That's less than a bag of sweets, a small tin of tuna, put them both together and you've just about got enough for a medium size steak. 

The box had the usual warnings against TMTS going from standard shoes to zero drop.   Once I'd managed to remove all the unnecessary tags and crap, I got to have a decent look at them They are very light, and they easily pass the squishy test as you can see.  What is obvious here is how much though NB has put into these in terms of removing extraneous material from the uppers compared with the earlier MT versions.  This is achieved by having all heat welded material with almost no stitching. It's a slightly odd feeling fabric, smooth and shiny, and the tongue is made from soemthing different, almost a felt-like material, again very lightweight construction.  Put them on and they're almost sheer, you can see your own toes wiggling.  I'm glad I went for the half size up as there's not a lot extra in the length and they're about right widthwise.  Put a thin sock in them and they'll be snug.  To be honest, I'd have probably been better off with half a size up on the Merrell trail glove as well as they are very snug just in bare feet.

Turn them over and you can see again where the feedback from the earlier versions has fed into the evolution of these, with the hard rubber on the spots likely to need it and softer, very squidgy stuff in between.  The firm stuff seems a bit harder than on the trail gloves, but it's hard to tell with just a thumbail test.  The real proof will be in the wearing.

This evening, my foot felt good enough for me to try them out, plan was a short run round the village, stopping if I felt any TOFP. 

They are very easy to put on, feel very comfortable, start off and it's almost like running in carpet slippers.  They are so light they feel like they're not there and running feels effortless.  So effortless in fact that I ended up at 50 minutes and 9km.  Developed a slight blister on the inside of the arch of the left foot, but that I think is due to not lacing them up correctly.  That's an area I'm prone to blister if I'm not careful, and I think I need to pay a bit more attention to lacing these up. 

Turning them over again, the orange hard blobs seem to have done well, but the softer black blobs are showing wear already.  I'm not really interested in those though, with the wear points being much more important. 

One thing that will be interesting to see with these is how well they hold up overall.  The Merrell trail gloves feel very substantial and have held up well, these seem very light in construction by comparison.

I'll give them another test this Sunday on a long run with some off road work as well to see how they work in the rougher stuff.  I can see me now using the huaraches in the dry, on or off road, with both these and the trail gloves available for the wet and rougher ground. 

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Spring is, springing, I guess

It's mid-March, the weather is warming up, a nice high pressure over the UK is going to give us  abalmy weekend.  Time to turn my thoughts to the veggie patch for this year.

So, after the usual Saturday chores of taking Serena to ballet and doing the shopping etc, then lunch, I went out into the garden.

First things first, get the bonsai out of their winter quarters in teh greenhouse.  They all look like they've survived pretty well, and two that I was worried about last year look lilke they've come back strongly after a rest.  I'll try and post some photos during the year.

After that, Serena helped me plant some of the seeds for this year.  I got her helping me at first so she could see where the food came from and hopefully help her over her aversion to new and different food as she can taste them as fresh as they get after having grown them herself. Now I think she actually enjoys helping me.

We planted direct into the ground
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • parsnips
  • broad beans
  • purple carrots
  • leeks
  • lettuces
  • climbing French beans and
  • swiss chard
In the greenhouse we're propogating round Italian courgettes, tomatoes and chillies.  The courgette seeds are courtesy of an Italian colleague of mine.  I sent her some parsnip seeds as she can't get those in Italy, I asked for the round courgettes in exchange as I can't find them here.

Just the cavolo nero to be sewn in May/June and a few herbs along the way.

Training has also been reasonably good this week.  I've started putting a bit more detail to the plan for the Grim Reaper 70 in July, with March mapped out now, plus a few other post Grimsthorpe races identified.

Last Sunday was a major contrast to today in terms of weather, with rain from 8am, then turning to snow later on.  So instead of my planned long run, I spent 75 minutes on the turbo trainer.  That's my mental limit rather than physical for that piece of torture equipment. 

It was a great session though with an average HR 140, Max 148 and average power output at 220W, which is a good 10-15W better than I've been achieving so far since September.  I think the decision to up the intensity on the shorter workouts and throw in some intervals was a good one so far.

Otherwise this week has been slightly down on volume but up on intensity.

Two 10km runs, nothing remarkable about either
A hot yoga session - great for flexibility, but my HR didn't get above 140.

Two higher intensity sessions, one a 5km timed run for a little monthly league on another forum.
1) 4:07.5 / A 154 / M166 
2) 4:00.1 / A 164 / M168 
3) 4:06.2 / A170 / M173 
4) 3:58.4 / A170 / M173 
5) 3:56.8 / A 174 / M 176
Total 22:09 at 4:02/km
Run in huaraches and socks, not all out as I wasn't quite sure how fast I could go in them.

Tonight, upping the ante on the bike ahead of April's TT season opener.  Tonight went from 2 x 20 minutes to a single 25 minute piece.  About the duration of a ten mile TT for me.

Warm up - 10 minutes at 208W
25 minutes - Average 272W, Max 288, AHR 159, MHR 166
cool down 5 mins at 190W

This was hard, and it was a struggle, but it was meant to be.  As usual it was my musculoskeletal system that suffered more than the CV, with the legs burning from about ten minutes into it.  I need to read up some more on the central governor theory.

Monday, 5 March 2012

That's it, Grim Reaper here I come

Not any reference to my imminent doom, at least I hope not anyway, but I have now booked my place on the start line of the Grim Reaper 70 miler in July.

There were also the options of a 40, new for this year and a 100, down from last year's 105.  I though the 40 wasn't enough of a challenge and the 100 was probably a step too far.  I'm having trouble though booking the HM top follow it.  The ultra starts on the Friday, 24 hours to complete, and then the HM on the Sunday.  Last year three people did the double, and received a very handsome trophy for it.

As of last Friday, I now have 19 weeks to the off, which should be plenty of time to build up a decent level of endurance.  Unlike a shorter race, I'm not planning on hitting the full race distance in training, but I will be looking to stretch myself.  I'm acutely aware that it's all about time on feet, rather than miles or km covered. It should also give me time to work out my nutritional plan.  I've got plenty of experience doing that for 6 hours on a bike, but not for a run of at least 12-14 hours.

The basic plan is to be getting in a good number of sessions up to about an hour or so during the week, with increasingly longer sessions at the weekends, likely to be alternating week to week bike and run to give me time, but try and manage the impact. I started two weeks ago with25km in my huaraches, and last Sunday with 56km on the bike

Didn't manage to follow that up so well this weekend though, with Sunday being hit by some vicious early March weather, where it started raining at 8AM and turned into snow in the early afternoon.  On Thursday it had been over 15 degC. 

Still, I've had a good week's training with just over 5 hours total from Sunday to Saturday made up of

Sunday - That 56km on the bike in 1hr 50, average speed 30.6km/h, just about 19mph which is nice for this early in the season.  AHR 147, MHR 157

Monday was a rest day

Tuesday - 10.29km run, on my local loop, in huaraches in the dying light, with the headlamp for the last 4km or so.  Upping the tempo a bit to 4:57 per km, AHR 147, MHR 160

Wednesday - 10km on the rower, nice and steady, AHR 139, MHR 150

Thursday, back home late and tired from a day trip to London and couldn't be bothered to go to hot yoga, plus my shoulder was playing up a bit.

Friday - another 10.29km on my feet, this time at 4:50 pace, using the first 5km for an online challenge league - I'll put in a reall 5km time this coming week.

Saturday - turbo trainer intervals - the TT season starts soon!  2 x 20 mins, HR cappped to 165.
1) 5' at 204W / AHR 118 - Warm up
2) 20' / Average 269W / AHR 152 / MHR 160
3) 5'AR rec to HR 134 / Ave  202W
4) 20' / ave 267W / AHR 158 / MHR 163
5) CD5' / 178W to 140 HR

This time last year, I was doing these at 250W, but with higher average and max HR.  It's good to see an improvement.

That's it for today dear reader.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Merrell Trail Glove Review – One year on

It’s about a year now since I tried and failed in my final comeback with my Asics Kayano 15s.  It was about as successful as the previous two and was the final straw in my decision to move to barefoot and minimalist running, more minimalist than barefoot but that’s my choice and I’m happy with it.

One great thing about that choice though was that it let me go from running about 150 miles a year with a constant fear of injury to 642 miles in 2011 and another 115 miles in the first two months of the year so far.  The majority of that (probably 80% or so) was in minimalist shoes with the majority of that in the Trail Gloves, plus some in huaraches from the summer onwards. 
Over the year I’d estimate therefore that of the 750 miles a good 450-550 was in the trail gloves, so I think that gives me a decent perspective on them.  They’ve been used on roads, trails, the beach and grass and in all weathers from minus 10 to plus 35 celcius.

So let’s start with my first impressions:
  • Good snug fit around the midfoot and heel, plenty of room in the toebox even for my fat feet.  I know some people don’t like the way that the midfoot hugs the arch, but I found it to be very comfortable to start with.
  • Lacing system lets you pull the upper in nice and close, but with even pressure across the foot, laces are a bit long though, so a double knot is the order of the day
  • Great ventilation from that upper
  • Like the rubber toe bumpers
  • Love the colour scheme – I went with the black and red.

Early Use
  • Really loved the way they fitted the foot and how they felt very snug but unobtrusive.  That close fit really gave a feeling of security and a feeling of connection between the foot and the ground
  • Had some early blisters from some rogue material just under the arch where the sockless liner ends and the mesh upper begins.  I know this was a common issue and easily sorted with a pair of beard scissors, but to be honest I was a bit disappointed with the lack of attention to detail in some areas where obvious time had gone into others.
  • Loved the ventilation in the hot summer we had last year
  • Rock plate – took the worst of the sharp impacts away, but kept a lot of the ground feel.  Not as much as barefoot or in huaraches, but I don’t think it would be fair to expect that
  • Really did get annoyed with the long laces and difficulty getting them on and off, so swapped early on to a pair of elastic Lock-Laces.  Where have they been all my life!  I can now manage to get out of bed, wake up, get my running gear on and out into an Aberdeen winter within 10 minutes at 5:30am
  • Came in very handy on vacation when my Birkenstocks started hurting my feet.  I did a lot of barefooting that week, but these were great to take into restaurants as they were comfy and unobtrusive
After a year
  • The silver impregnated liner worked wonders.  There’s a very small amount of odour, but by no means offensive after a year’s wear.  This is a great feature and well worth it
  • During the winter I spent a lot of time in Aberdeen which was generally cold and windy.  I found that I could get a thin pair of silk socks in these which worked wonders with foot comfort.  I suspect a thinner pair of the Injinjis would also work.
  • They’ve worn very well in the upper and the interior with no obvious signs of distress.  The picture from above shows a bit of distortion around the front of the foot hole, but the heel has kept its shape as has the mesh section. 
  • Those lock laces were the best buy ever and really add to the shoes.  Why don’t they come with them?

And now to my main bugbear with these shoes.  The souls soles!  You’d think this was the key part of the shoe, after all that’s all there is to a pair of huaraches, and they’d spend the most thought and effort to get the detail right on this bit but this is the only bit that I think really lets this shoe down.
It’s a great tread pattern on the trails and loose gravel and is pretty grippy on the streets as well, so that’s not the problem. 
It’s the wear.  Now I’m nothing special as a runner, Mr Average really I think, and that comes down to my gait as well.  I, like probably the vast majority of runner out there pronate to some extent i.e. I land first on the outside edge of my feet and roll flat.  It’s pretty common, loads of folk do it, even when barefoot.

So why, oh why did Merrell put the least amount of rubber and thinnest tread pattern in this area?

Check out the picture below and you can see that there is plenty of tread left on the majority of the shoe, but two areas starting to wear very thin and now wearing through the outer sole. So what do I do now? Bon the shoes as they wear through there even though the rest of the sole could probably do another 500 miles easily?  Reinvent my gait? Just carry on?

One thing that annoyed me as well was Merrell’s response to a message via their website asking about issue with uneven wear.  They seemed rather disinterested and just told me to go to Timpsons (a UK chain of shoe repairers).  To be honest, Timpsons are great with a pair of bog-standard shoes but with these, no chance.

The Verdict
Overall a great shoe when out there running.  Fits well, even with my wide feet and feel great on. The Glove is a great tagline for these.  Very impressed by the odour proofing.

Really let down by the sole wear.  I’m not expecting them to last for an eternity (get it? Eternal sole?) but I think Merrell missed a trick when they made one of the likely major contact points one of the areas with minimal tread and sole thickness. Attention to detail in the interior finish could have been better as well.
I’d give them about a 7.5 out of ten.  Without the sole issues, a definite 9, maybe 9.5.

Monday, 20 February 2012

The Long and The Short Of It

I’m writing this on Monday after what was, for me, a great weekend’s training, which re-confirmed to me that what I have been doing since September seems to be having a positive effect, or at least it’s not holding me back, which is just as good really.

Saturday morning I had in mind to get out for a run, but after a tiring week opted to stay in bed instead, and go for a turbo trainer session in the evening instead.

My wife and daughter headed off to a nephew’s birthday party in Leicester whilst my son and I stayed home.  The party was at a kids play place and not the kind of environment he is comfortable with.  So we stayed home, went grocery shopping, made bread, made a gluten free coconut cake and generally bummed around for a day. 

Then in the evening, turbo time.  Not sure what to expect, but the intention was to set a marker for some interval sessions to come.  This time last year I would have been doing progressive intervals throughout the winter, but not this year.  The plan was therefore 5 mins steady warm up, followed by 10 mins “on”, 5 mins “off” x 3 with the final 5 mins easy as a cool down.  Total session 50 mins vs a normal TT lasting up to 35 minutes depending on the distance.   HR cap for the 10 minute work intervals was 165, in the big ring, resistance set at +2 or +3 if it needed it..

First task was to reinflate the tyre on the turbo trainer (now looks like a full puncture repair is required) before getting going.

5min warm up - easy 200W, HR to 136
10mins - 265W, AHR 153 , MHR 164
5mins easy, 200W HR recovery to 140
10mins - 265 W, A 161, M 165
5 mins - 200W HR rec to 147
10 mins - 265-270W, AHR 160, MHR 165
cool down 5mins 180W, HR to 136.

Overall Tacx 682 cals, Max 284 W, Ave 236W
Garmin 27.6km / Ave 33kmh / AHR 150 / MHR 165

Overall a pretty good session, when set against last year’s 2 x 20 mins at 250W with slightly higher HR.  I could certainly have done 15 minutes for the first two intervals, though the third may have been a stretch.  To me, that suggests that the base building work has done its job.

Then yesterday, I started the progressively increasing distance that I’m going to follow for my 70-miler in July.  The plan yesterday was 20-21km, and I plotted a route at about 20-22 across the fens by road and track.  Only problem was I ended up at 25km, a running PB for me and a definite PB in huaraches where I’ve only been up to 16km so far.    HR was mostly in control apart from a stretch of 3 km or so on very cut up farm tracks with heavy clinging mud really weighing down my feet.  This bit was also into the wind, which didn’t help. 

I’m beginning to get rather annoyed with my HR strap at the moment as yesterday for the first 3-4km it was playing silly buggers with the wind with the indicated HR bouncing up and down by 30bpm or more every time I went out from behind the shelter of a hedgerow or building.  I think the elastic in the strap is starting to give up after about 4-5 years or so and until it gets damp enough it’s slipping and sliding around.

Anyway, apart from that, the results were pretty good, as per the 3km splits below

1) 15:43.1 / 3km / 05:14 / AHR 155 / MHR 196 – spurious wind affected maximum, there’s no way my HR was that high at that pace
2) 16:23.7 / 3km / 05:28 / AHR 141 / MHR 158 – same as above
3) 16:25.0 / 3km / 05:28 / AHR 142 / MHR 150
4) 16:56.6 / 3km / 05:39 / AHR 145 / MHR 158 – sticky stuff, dragging at my feet, into the wind, should have slowed down
5) 16:43.1 / 3km / 05:34 / AHR 144 / MHR 152
6) 16:41.5 / 3km / 05:34 / AHR 144 / MHR 148
7) 15:58.6 / 3km / 5:19 / AHR 143 / MHR 149 – Back on the roads again
8) 15:41.7 / 3km / 5:14 / AHR 145 / MHR 150 – still on the roads
9) 7:15.8 / 1.39km/ 05:14 / AHR 147 / MHR 150

Total 2:17:49.2 / 25.39 km / 5:26 / AHR 145 / MHR 196

Overall I think that represents a decent weekend’s training and is a great marker to lay down for the distance stuff.  I hadn’t planned to be at 25km for another month and the only thing that stopped me going on was that I had told the wife I’d be home in time to cook dinner.

No decent pictures today either.  This is getting annoying now; I saw three deer lying in a field relaxing, but they got up and ran off before I could get a decent snap of them.  Plenty of other wildlife around as well, but all too fast-moving for me.

Plan over the next few months is minimum one harder session per week, maybe two, and a long run every other week alternating weekends with a 90min-2hr bike ride.   Plan for the 70 miler is to think more in terms of time on feet rather than miles run.