Thursday, 12 February 2015

The legs are coming back...

As most readers will know, I struggled badly in December with a severe chest infection and asthma-related symptoms.  Just over three weeks of training left me feeling as though my fitness levels had completely deserted me and my legs were feeling totally and utterly drained after just a few miles.

I estimated it would take a good 6-8 weeks to start feeling anywhere near normal again.

So here I am just before the middle of February to confirm that after a good 5-6 weeks of regular training, all be it a gentle reintroduction, I'm beginning to feel like my normal self again.

January was a real struggle for me.  I only managed just over 59 miles for the entire month.  The first couple of weeks of January was pretty unpleasant.  I managed to run 5k on New Years Day and then Friday 2nd January but my legs were in such a state, I didnt run again until the Monday.  That was pretty much the case through January.  Run, legs felt awful, recover, repeat.  In them first couple of weeks, my quads felt so badly bruised.  I dont think I've ever felt as sore as that after a marathon let alone the odd occasional 5k.  Towards the end of the month, I managed a 7.5 miler and a 8 miler but that was pretty much it.  At the end of the month, I was beginning to get my confidence back and the recovery after each run was becoming less and less which was encouraging.

February has been much better.  On Sunday 1st February, I managed my first double digit run of the year, a long slow 13.1 miler in 2:03.  I felt like I still had something in the legs at the end, although I was really feeling it after Alison dragged me around Bluewater that afternoon!

In the next 11 days, I've ran a total of 55 miles, so I've really been putting the miles in and my stats are showing an alarming rate of improvement as I would expect.

On my now regular 7.5 mile loop around Petts Wood, I monitor my times and HR along a specific segment, measuring 5.9 miles, starting from the Tudor Lane junction of Petts Wood Road out towards Locksbottom and Bromley Common than back up to Petts Wood via Southborough Lane to Franks Wood Avenue.  Its a good leg stretcher with about 4 miles of draggy hills involved with a speedy section in the middle.

As you'll see from the times, the two times of interest are the top two.  Despite setting a new PB for the segment on 26th Jan, the run on 10th Feb is hugely significant.  My average HR was back to where I would expect it to me.  156bpm is around my tempo pace, where I'm comfortable, not pushing hard and could spend a good 2-3 hours there if required.  Compare that to the run almost 2 weeks previous.  I was pushing harder.  However 2 weeks later, the legs and lungs are clearly coming back.

As it so happens, I've been setting a good few PBs in the last few weeks.

The end of the segment above, Southborough Lane is another good example.  Its almost a mile drag with a 2% gradient.

So despite not pushing as hard as my PB run for the 5.9 mile segment on 26th Jan, the Southborough Lane climb was 2 seconds quicker for 5bpm less effort.

The following day, I ran with Plumstead Runners and treated the run as a recovery run for the most part but decided to run the hills involved as strongly as I could.  First up was Lodge Hill in Welling...

Last night's run up Lodge Hill was hugely significant.  3% gradient for the best part of half of a mile and I'm running an average 7:48 min/mile pace for only 153bpm, considerably less than my previous best effort up the hill in May 2013.  I have to say I felt bloody great as I was running up the hill too.  Normally I'm blowing out of my backside on the short and sharp hills but this felt different.  I felt strong, I felt good and I really wasnt blowing too hard.

I have to say almost 24 hours later, my legs are feeling rather heaving today but I have run three hard runs in three days so thats to be expected but there's clear evidence that the legs are lungs are definitely on the road to recovery now.

The only thing I need to do now is start upping my mileage properly ahead of the Brighton Marathon in April.  I have to say the December illness has put me behind schedule and I'm certainly running out of time to complete a full training schedule this time around but hopefully I'll be able to manage myself through.

However, a sub 4:00 marathon finish maybe an unreasonable request given the lack of training left ahead of April.  I'm just going to run and see where I come :)

Monday, 2 February 2015

Learning from an evening with ex GB Athlete Mara Yamauchi

Last week, I was very lucky to get one of a handful of invitations from English Athletics to come to the Institute of Sport and Exercise and Health at Tottenham Court Road to attend a workshop entitled "Preparing for a Spring Marathon", hosted by former GB Athlete, Mara Yamauchi.

Now I must admit, I'd heard Mara's name before but I didnt really know that much about her so as always, Google came to my rescue.  Click here for her details on Wikipedia.  Now thats what you call a proper athletics career.  The only GB woman quicker than her over 26.2 miles was Paula Radcliffe.  Mara retired from competitive athletics at the age of 39 in 2013.

Mara setting her 2:23:12 Marathon PB at London in 2009

Mara spoke to us for the best part of two hours, sharing her experiences, her tips and advice and then held a lengthy Q&A session at the end.

I regret not taking a notepad now but I done my utmost to note the key points down on my iPhone (if you ever read this Mara, apologies, I was sitting right at the front appearing to be playing with my phone most of the evening but thats because I was listening to your every word and noting down what I could)...

So here's my notes on Mara's talk...(apologies for the bullet points but thats how I make notes and they sort of make sense to me...if anyone would like some clarification, get in touch!)

If there's one thing that Mara recommends that anyone does is running a lot of training at 85% of your marathon pace, what she calls her 'fast jog' speed which builds the Anaerobic system (ie) improves Lactate Threshold.

Remember the acronym...


Never increase by more than 10% otherwise you will risk injuries.  10% increments is the accepted general rule.

There are 3 key sessions in a weekly training plan

1 - Long Run
  • Vary long runs with pace
  • 3/4s of long run at 85% then surges teach body to cope with 'the wall'

2 - Thresholds
  • 4 x 5km with recovery between
  • Races good alternative

3 - Fast Jog

  • Improves mechanics and excellent form of strength training for the legs.
  • Try and incorporate hills into training at all times.
  • Hill Sprints - up to 10 second sprints up hills at max intensity from rest. Increases heart strength.  Will pump more blood per beat, increases Oxygen flow to the body.  Slow walk down.  Too short to be a stand alone session, so build into shorter sessions.  (good warm up needed - do it at beginning of workout!)
  • Uphill runs - on treadmill on incline for 20 mins at a time.
  • Use hills on a loop (like on my Watling St - Park Grove loop)
  • Strength training for injury prevention. Keep it simple. Targeting main muscles groups - gluts, quads, calves, hamstrings, core. 

  • Gluts are nemesis of distance runners. Glut training important - squats, clam, glut bridges.
  • Are they firing?  Lay on your front.  Lift your legs up.  Does the but muscle contract?  If so, the gluts are working.  If its the leg/back muscles doing all the work, you know the gluts arent firing.
  • Gluts misfiring leads to knee, calf, hanstring injuries!
  • To strengthen Gluts, Heel first on steps ups with a little jump.
  • Anything that pushes heel into the ground will fire the gluts!
  • Target gluts by stretching bending the knee to isolate the muscle when stretching.
Cross Training
  • Stationary cycling - use HR. 10 beats below what you use running. so 170bpm on run = 160bpm on bike.
  • Aqua running
  • Elyptical trainer
Mental training
  • Use training sessions to practice tips for using in marathons.
  • Just get to the next water station/mile marker. Set goals. Practice a positive mind set.  This is fine, not hard. When it does get hard, you're still in positive mind set!
Draw up training plan
  • Must have a plan.
  • Dont need to stick to it.  Things will come up (illness etc).  Dont panic.
Mara used 3 month build VO2 max early, mileage middle then race pace at end.

  • Always eat within 20 mins at the end of training - nutrient depleted, dehydrated etc to start recovery
  • Use recovery drink. Milk, Chocolate Milk are good alternatives.
  • After drink, have proper meal as soon as you can! quicker you refuel the better
  • Variety is important over time increases vitamins and key nutrient.
  • Highly nutrious food - green veg, coloured veg, oily fish, different meats. Not cake and sweets.
  • Good hydration ALL the time not just before training.
  • Drink before bed. If not needing a wee in the morning, you're likely to be dehydrated.
  • Practice race nutrition.  Practice on long runs.
  • Dont drink too much on marathons.
  • Practice meals on race day.
  • Get the basic right before taking supplements. Food in its natural state is better than supplements.
  • Lets people off the hook of having a good diet if relying on supplements.
Rest & Recovery
  • Training doesnt make you fitter and faster. Rest does!
  • Training is a negative experience and then it adapts in the rest periods. Rest is therefore essential.
  • Find a cycle of adaptation that suits you.
  • Train...Rest...Body Adapts
  • If it works, stick to it!
  • Less is more. 
  • Sleep is paramount. Maximise sleep where you can!  Good sleep hygiene - no gadgets in room - condusive to good sleep.
  • Rapid hydration/refueling
  • Massage, stretching, ice baths, compression for recovery!
  • Easy week every 4-5 weeks and applies to all year round!  You need to have down time. Pro athletes take Sep/Oct off before winter training.
  • Injury = enforced rest = better performance
  • Extra factors require rest eg heat/altitude acclimatization. And Jet Lag.
  • Travel = enforced rest & extra stress
  • Dont panic if training plan goes out of the window!
Injury Prevention
  • Know your body
  • Use common sense - 10% increment etc.
  • Keep it simple/dont be dazzled - injuries can be cured simply, dont get caught up with physios, surgery etc.
  • Tackle pain early - listen to body. Pain is a warning sign.
  • Gluts - 2nd most important thing to work on! Like driving a car with flat tyres otherwise.
  • PF, Hamstrings
  • Learn the course
  • Can you run the course beforehand? Makes huge difference mentally.
  • If cant run it, cycle it, walk it, google map it!
  • Goal and plan ahead - make a goal, have a goal. Makes the race worthwhile rather than plodding along. Often plans go out the window, maybe have a plan B
  • Drink & Food - Plan (Have recovery drink at end!)
  • Kit & Shoes - Plan
  • Logistics - think ahead
  • Always Plan ahead - wasting mental energy otherwise
  • Nerves - get rid of them!
  • Can you control the nerves?! figure out what makes you nervous then deal with it.
  • If you cant control them and are out of your hands then dont worry, no need to!
  • Possibly write down worst case scenrarios and how you'll deal with them. Helps puts things into perspective.
  • Drinking at 40km is a waste as it takes 20 mins for the nutrients from the drink to hit the blood stream!
  • Lactate threshold handheld monitor.  y axis lactic acid, x speed = where lactic starts to go up, thats fast jog speed!

  • Road cycling on the road not ideal cross training as cant get HR high enough. Only on turbo trainer!!!
  • If time limited, make every session count.  If 3 times a week, threshold - intervals - long run. Focus on what makes you run faster.
  • Focus on quality as you get older.
  • Races are good substitute for threshold runs as tend to run races faster!
  • 85% fast jog is key to developing speed over distance
  • thresholds/tempo - say 10 miles at HM pace. Eyeballs out but can keep going on and on!
There were several more questions from beginners and sub 3hr marathon runners but I deemed them irrelevant for what I was there for.

Mara setting her Marathon PB at the 2009 London Marathon...

One tip that Mara did mention which raised a few laughs.  Always practice your finishing pose.  After her first few marathons, when she'd been pictured not looking her best when finishing the races, her husband (also her coach) made her practice her finishing pose to make sure she smiled on the finishing line.  The picture above was from the 2009 London Marathon when she set her PB and she said it was her favourite picture as she remembered her 'pose' for the line!

Mara as great company and we all listened intently to every word she said. She definitely had the full attention of everyone who had turned up on the evening.  A huge thanks to Mara and Julia Bailey at England Athletics who made the event possible.  A thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

2014 was awesome, 2015 could be even better...

A belated Happy New Year from me.

Its been a while since my last post as not a lot has been happening, well not from a training point-of-view.

My last update was man-flu related.

I ended up losing 25 days to whatever the hell I had over December.  It wasnt much fun.  Even after a course of antibiotics, a 7 day dose of additional steroids followed by a super-strength course of antibiotics, I was nowhere near 100%.  At one point I ended up in Queen Mary's at Sidcup for a Chest X-Ray, just so that the GP could rule out possible Pneumonia or some other nasty.  I cant tell you how relieved I was to find the X-Ray was all clear.

Thankfully, the almost constant coughing and wheezing has now stopped which has allowed me to start training again, all be it very slowly.  I'm now religiously taking my steroid inhaler, something thing I've never done since my teens and I'm carrying my Ventolin inhaler around with me everywhere.

As you'll see from my Strava feed, my first run back was on the 29th December.  That was a huge eye opener for me.  That ended the longest break I've had from training since I started taking my fitness seriously and it has affected me badly.

My stamina has gone, my leg muscles are aching after each run, so much so that my quads have felt bruised upon return and stretching and my HR, both active and resting has gone through the roof.

I've since run 5k on Jan 1st, 5k on Jan 2nd and then what I would call a very conservative 10k on Jan 5th, despite my average HR being much higher than it should be for a run of that pace.  However, that is to be expected after the time off.

As I build up my training again, no doubt my HR will come back down again.

It's disappointing and very frustrating to know that I ran my quickest 10k in almost a year in my last run before coming down ill but its one of those things that you just have to accept.  Illness and injury will occur and there's not much we can do about it.  We need to manage our bodies and try to look after ourselves as much as we possibly can.

I ended 2013 with a review, so I really should officially end 2014 in the same way, all be it a week later than it should have been.

2014 was pretty awesome.  Here are my final stats:

Not only did I run my first marathon in April, I ran another three, making it 4 in a year.  I managed a fraction over 1,016 miles for 2014, a little less than the 1,055 I racked up for 2013.

In terms of my 2014 targets, I achieved #1 (successfully running Paris all be it not sub 4hr as planned) and #5 (running more marathons). Target #2 of running a sub 50 min 10k totally evaded me as I didnt actually run one competitive 10k in the year.  I'll leave that one as a work in progress.

As for Targets #3 and #4, neither really happened.  I think my cycling days are well and truly over, if I'm being honest with myself.  Although I enjoyed a few of the rides I had last year, cycling doesnt physically challenge me any more.  I cant be hassled with the maintenance required for a decent road bike and I certainly cant be hassled with traffic.  The last two rides I had ended up with me getting a sh*t-load of road rash, thorns and my life flashing before my eyes.  I've got an 8 year old daughter and I want to see her grow up.  I know I can trust myself on my bike but sadly I cant trust other road users.  As much as cycling is becoming popular, the roads are becoming unsafer.

As for social life, mixed really.  Hopefully that will improve in 2015.

However, totally out of the blue I met a woman and she's put a smile on my face.  Its a  pretty tough thing to do in all respects so 2014 has been a pretty decent year.

Unlike NYE on 2013 when I went running just before midnight to totally forget the New Year was coming, NYE 2014 was spent partying.  Talk about a change lol.

So on to 2015.  Hopefully it'll be even better than 2014.

As for objectives & targets, I'm going to leave them as open as I can...

1) Achieve a new marathon PB.
2) Achieve a new 10k PB.

Stating numbers is counter-intuitive.  I'd desperately like to run a sub 4:00 marathon and a sub 50min 10k but until I actually do it, I wont know if I can.  2014 taught me a lot about my body and a lot of the time is down to timing.  I was in decent shape ahead of Amsterdam but being ill the night before the race ruined the run for me.

If its going to happen, it will.  Of course, we need to train to give our bodies the best chance of making it happen but I'm going to try and run this year without putting myself under any pressure.  I want to enjoy my hobby and not get overly compulsive about my targets, although I intend to train as hard as I can.

To give my body the best chance to succeed, I've now knocked the booze on the head for the foreseeable and I'm back to counting the calories religiously again in an attempt to drop a few more pounds (25 days of no training over the Christmas period is not a good scenario as you can imagine).

So here's so a happy, successful and most importantly injury/incident free 2015.