Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Embracing Wim Hof... (well, not actually - social distancing and all that)

 One of the most notable changes to have happened to me over the last 12 months has been a realisation that we are capable of so much more than we usually believe. A friend and fellow runner (one of these super fit types who does Triathlons) was talking to me recently about the Wim Hof Method. At this point, I am hoping you haven't just opened a new tab and typed in 'Wim Hof Method' into the search bar - because if you have, you probably won't finish reading this. If you've gone already, please do come back!

The reason Wim Hof came into the conversation (and I'll come back to him later) is we were talking about the statto stuff that I really enjoy learning about. If I tell you that two men with a combined age of around 100 were discussing resting pulse, VO2 Max levels, Max Heart Rate and Training Zones, you'll get the picture. If this stuff really doesn't interest you, maybe skip this paragraph, skim down the page for the name WIM HOF and then carry on! One of the things we were talking about was training zones - his Personal Trainer  (and no, I haven't) has been encouraging him to try to maintain heartrate at a much lower rate when running which, to my mind means running more slowly (which it does...but for longer). So instead of going out for a 90 minute run and blasting as fast as he can, he goes out for 90 minute run with the aim of not going over 140 bpm - this is his magic number for the end of the cardio zone and the beginning of 'Peak'. Seemingly the theory behind this is that building stamina and training your heart to work at a lower level will help you carry on for longer. I absolutely see this if training for a triathlon with all that entails, but not convinced yet that it's the best way for me - I'd be virtually walking! What on earth has this got to do with the Iceman (I can't type his name yet as those skimming will get cross)? It's where the conversation headed to next - via VO2 Max levels and resting pulse. I'm even boring myself typing this...but there's a point and I will get to it. I've noticed since September that my resting pulse has increased and, consequently, my VO2 max has declined slightly. Nothing worrying or dangerous as my resting pulse averaged 54 over the past month - but it was 47/48 last summer (I was running more and quickly, so was fitter). I mentioned that I felt the only way I could run more quickly was to increase my VO2 Max and reduce my resting pulse again (I have just glanced and as I type it is 54) to below 50 consistently. And that is when the big reveal came...

'Have you heard of WIM HOF? (In bold for those who are skimming - welcome back!)

My answer was no - but I was soon being filled in about a 61 year old Dutch man who has trained for many years and has earned the nickname 'The Iceman' due to some of his feats of endurance in the harshest of conditions, such as running a marathon barefoot inside The Arctic Circle. There are loads of documentaries around about him - You Tube is a good starting point. He is a holder of 26 World Records and builds his stunning achievements through a belief in a three point plan, which is known as 'The Wim Hof Method'. I'm not the kind of person to jump headlong into fads without doing my research. I've never been on a diet, none of this kind of thing ever makes sense to me, but a lifestyle change is different. So Step the book. The Wim Hof Method, Activate your Potential, Transcend your Limits is the title of the one I bought, although there are a few to choose from. At this point, I am interested, but remain at heart a sceptic - and can't stop myself calling the book The Duckworth Lewis Method (there's one for cricket fans!)

There are 3 main 'pillars' of the method:

1) Cold 

2) Breath

3) Mindset

I'll talk about each one individually in different entries - starting today with cold. 'A cold shower a day keeps the doctor away' is the main phrase. In a nutshell, the theory is that we as a society view cold as our enemy, preferring warm comfort, and in doing so, we inhibit our vascular system, and to reignite this, all we need to do is to take a cold shower every day (at least 5 times a week anyway). Sounds punishing - cold is relentless and harsh - would I be able to handle this? What are the benefits? In theory, this will lower stress, anxiety, pulse rate and consequently improve my VO2 Max - which should in turn improve my running speed. The plan suggests that for the first week, aim for 30 seconds at the coldest setting on your shower at the end of a warm shower, after a week, go to a minute and increase this so that after a month you are up to 2 minutes. Day 1 comes...warm shower, then spin the dial down to the coldest setting. First response - sharp gasp and intakes of breath. This lasts for about 10 seconds or so, and suddenly I feel my body adjusting to this. 30 seconds was fine - no problem. Day 2...same, 30 seconds and out. By Day 3, I had started to wonder if accelerating through the programme would be a good idea, so timer at the ready, I turned it down to 0 and closed my eyes. Work through the first ten seconds, deep breaths and then...relax. Let the water envelope the body and enjoy. Of course, I'm loosely timing this, so I decide to glance at the stopwatch - 1:30! Excellent! At this point, I decide that a 4 week programme can become 4 days and moved to 2 minutes from Day 4. It is now Day 7 and I am sticking to two minutes for now. Eventually I will take this longer, but for now - 2 minutes is enough. So what has the impact been? Difficult to pinpoint whether the showers or the breathing are the ones having the impact, but resting pulse graph over the last 30 days looks like this:

This has been inconsistent over time and much depends on what I am actually doing on the day - for instance the one where I am at 58, I had been on the phone most of the day, walking around. Not enough to register as active, but still enough to raise the pulse slightly. Over a 3 month period, the average has been 54, so when we take the last week (I am now on Day 7), I have been below this and for the past two days, have been 50 or below. We will see whether over time this is maintained. The other impact is on VO2 Max - this is estimated by my Fitbit taking into account all sorts of information - weight, BMI, Pulse when resting, sleeping, running etc. I think the estimated range this gives me is on the generous side. A week ago, it was 58-62, today I look and this has moved to 60-64, the highest it has ever been and certainly high for someone my age. Is this the showers? The breathing? Placebo effect? Who knows. For now, I am enjoying the new regime - it is far too early to tell what the impact on running and overall wellbeing is, but watch this space!

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

10k - My 'go to' run...what else works to increase speed?

 So, as training has started again, I am trying to evaluate the extent to which I am improving as a runner. This is at times hard to quantify as I am still quite inconsistent. Therefore building consistency has to remain a major priority in my training. My ideas around this come into a number of main headings:

1) Nutrition - making sure I remember what I have done when I felt good running. This is now a fairly well-established pattern and in honesty, it's not just about the 24 hours before a run and making sure there's enough fluid, carbs and protein taken on board, but is broader than this. I'll go into detail on my routines in a later blog, and of course, the quantity of fuel I need will vary from that of other people. This is all influenced by so many variables, one size certainly would not fit all.

2) Repeated runs - Familiarity can breed contempt as the saying goes, but in many ways, nothing beats running the same route if you are looking at 'landmarks' to guide you with regard to how a run is going. I have 5 or 6 main runs that I repeat, with different goals and strategies. I always have a time in mind, but each one has a landmark after 1km and 2.5km, so I know how I'm going and, more importantly, how I am feeling. This helps - if I'm slower than I should be, I try to put my foot down, if the time is good, it is also a welcome boost.

3) Negative Splits - I have been practising this for around 8 months now, but didn't realise this was a 'proper' training method and not just something I invented to keep me going! In a nutshell, these runs involve running for a set time in one direction, then turning for home and getting back in a quicker time. I did one of these last week, and ran in one direction for 30:30 - turn round and kick for home. Can I make it in less than an hour? Adding a layer of challenge motivates me to push harder and I find these to be great fun. Handy hint - make the first half 'uphill' to make the second half easier!!!

I'm going to talk about my 'easy' 10k that I do now. It's pretty hilly round Ribble Valley and most of my runs have an elevation of at least 120 metres - more in some directions, with 10% and greater gradients a regular feature. I regularly run up into hills as this really helps to build aerobic fitness, but when I do a timed 10k, the route I choose only has an average incline of around 1% on the way there and -1% on the way back. Over 5k, elevation of 87m is not too much, there's very few roads where I need to cross and therefore potentially stop and, as an added bonus, it is broken up into natural shorter sections, so more landmarks and less time to get fed up. I went out to do this last Friday morning - nice and early. A cold, crisp morning - no need for hats, gloves or anything daft like that, but definitely a morning for leggings not just shorts!

Preparation - Wednesday - start adding more Carbohydrate to my diet. Instead of my usual breakfast of Greek Yoghurt and fruit, have a toasted muffin and also a mid morning carbohydrate snack. Apart from this, Wednesday is a normal day. Thursday - back to usual breakfast, but add more granola than I would normally have (about 50g rather than 25g). Normal meals again, then before bed, a 500ml drink - (SIS Go is my preferred one) - this adds electrolytes as well as carbs, so a quick stretch in the morning and I'm theory. Friday morning - up early, coffee, flapjack, about 300ml water and I'm off. 10k is a 2 gel (both isotonic) run - one after about 1.5/2k, the next just after half way. That's plenty - if I've struggled with sleep, I'll chuck a caffeine pill down prior to setting off and that  prevents fatigue toward the end. 

Stretching. Is it me or is stretching a bit overrated? I see people on videos warming up for longer than the period they exercise for. For me, the muscles I use most need a decent stretch - calves and hamstrings are the main ones. I also try to remember to do some back stretches as well as occasionally I get pans in my lower back when out and about. I'm not fully committed to a major stretch and often do take shortcuts here - but I know I need to do the basics before flying out of the door. 

So...the 10k itself. My plan - and this works for me on this route.

1) Get off to a fast start. The first 300m or so is uphill - about a 15m elevation at and average gradient of 6.1% ( is great for this information) so this isn't easy. I can get up there in around a minute, and then I have half a km of graduated downhill, then it flattens out. After 1km I'm back on the flat and always aiming for below 4:30.  This is where landmarks are important. The first glance at the watch is outside the Post Office - usually around 4:30 - needs to be nearer to 4:20 for a fast run. The fastest I've done for this is 4:08, but on that run, I ran out of steam towards the end. The reason I want to set off quickly is that I know that once I am into a stride pattern and pace, I find it difficult to shift through the gears, so if my cadence initially is below 170, I'm in for a slow run. 

2) Know the pitfalls of the route and overcome with nutrition. The next 2km is slightly uphill - about 50m over the 2k, nothing too tough, but always the slowest in this run. This is where the gels come in. A nice refreshing sweet flavour (Fruit Salad and Blackcurrant are delicious!) gives me a boost as I head into Barrow and if I reach Whiteacre Lane in around 13:30, I know I'm doing ok. From this point until the 5k mark, there are a few ups, a few downs, but again, not too strenuous.

3) Take advantage of the easy sections! On the flatter parts, I can get back down to the 4:40 mark per km - turn and come back, the knowledge of the route helps as I know those 2 slow kms from the beginning become the quicker ones, although rarely as quick as the first one. The last 600k or so involves a longish uphill drag with a great 300m downhill to finish, so the run really is all about muscle memory and me knowing how hard I can push up the hill - and balancing that with ensuring there's enough energy to sprint the last section. This is where I love technology - I can often find the highest cadence in my run is those first 300m and the highest maximum speed is pretty much always the last 300m...down a pretty steep hill in fairness!

4) Don't lose the rhythm! When I am tired, or just lazy, my cadence (steps per minute) can go down to 164/166 and really needs to be 170+. It's about setting a pace and sticking to it, even on hills - just shorten the stride, but maintain the rhythm - slow down once and it's hard to get back up.

So last Friday I tackled this run - I had in my head that my PB was 47:58, so aim was to get as close to 47:00 as possible, but below 47:30 would be great. In truth, I didn't start well and it was only 3km in that I found a consistent rhythm - nonetheless, the times looked ok and as I turned round at the 5k mark, I was just below 24:00, so definitely similar to my best. This is where knowing the route helps as the next 3km when pretty quickly - and as I got home and confirmed the time, the trainers were telling me that the time was 46:52 - over a minute off my best! I was delighted...until I checked and my previous best was 46:58, so while this was a PB, it was only 6 seconds faster than a previous run! Typical! Enjoyed it very much though and starting to think about maybe taking on a longer run soon. Looking at different ways of training and potentially trying to run for longer at a lower pulse rate, I usually work 80% in the peak zone and have been told that to build stamina, this may be something to strip back... let's see. 

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Starting Again...

 Hello everyone, and welcome back to the blog!

Some time has passed since the last update, and I have been trying to maintain fitness while relaxing and not punishing myself. As it is now pretty much a year since I begun the blog, and started running, I thought now would be a good time to reflect on where I'm up to and share with you my targets for the year to come. 

As I type, I have had confirmation that I have retained a place in The Great North Run this September and I am increasingly optimistic that this will take place. This time last year I entered, and put an estimated finish time of 2:15 on my application. I had no idea what to expect, having never run further than 5k in my life, and not having done that since 1986 - and training began. For me, having some fitness built up already meant I was basically learning to run, pretty much from scratch and my first 5k clocked in at just short of 31 minutes. This gave me a real platform to work with - If I aimed for 6 minutes per km and could do pretty much this, maybe I could get get close to 2 hours. That was my thinking back then. As I trained, I encountered all sorts - mental blocks, exhaustion, self-doubt (yeah, pretty much every blog entry covers that for the first 4 months!), a small number of injuries. I even bought some proper running shoes! For those of you who have been reading throughout, this is old news I know, but as I start the new year, there are a few things that I now need to remind myself of:

  • Older is not necessarily wiser - I am still going out chasing PBs and striving to go faster, further and to improve - sometimes, it is ok to just go and enjoy a run!
  • Science is important - I had two runs last week - equal distance (10k) but the harder 10k was quicker and felt easier - all about hydration and nutrition. I need to remember to put fuel in the tank
  • I can run the distance of a half marathon - I did it in September and did so in a half decent time (given my age and lack of experience) so I can do it again
  • Discipline is important - If I want to improve, I have to work hard
  • It's not about me - this was only ever about helping others. Shelter is my nominated charity, and I know they need our help now more than ever.
Visitors to the giving page will currently see a picture of myself and my good friend Pete. We tried to keep this ticking over the winter months with a 2800 sit ups in February challenge. Between us, we got slightly competitive and managed 12400 in total, and our friends have managed to bump up the quantity of money in the pot by around £300, which is ace. I'll get that updated in a few weeks and get back onto the running! 

So...targets for the coming year are fairly simple:
  • Stay fit! Obvious one, but injury free and fit are two different things. When I have a strain, I need to rest or I will break. 
  • Do the run and give it my best. I have a time in mind - but I know now that on some days, I simply don't go as quickly as others. If I have a slow day in September, or it's hot, or windy, the time could alter by a good ten minutes. I'm not dwelling on that. If it happens, it happens (but I'd love to go quicker than last year)
  • Enjoy it more - I genuinely enjoy running now - reading back to last year, it was a slog and a strain and quite often I barely made it through a run! (See this example from my first ever 10 miler! On Tuesday, I went out, set myself a challenge based on 'how far can I run in an hour?' and loved it. No doubts, no issues, no pain - just enjoyment. I need to remember that and keep the thoughts close. If anyone is interested, I managed about 12.3km in the hour. I can't go faster than that...even over a shorter distance, it appears 4.45/4.50 per km is my upper limit. Again, I'm fine with that. I'd love to run 4:30 and get 10k down below 45 minutes, but I don't think I ever will. I am blaming two things - short legs and old age. It won't be through lack of trying!
Anyway, that's the overview of where I am at right now, feeling good about my running, need to invest in some shorts that can hold a phone without it bouncing around. A few people have pointed out that going so far without any means of communication isn't the smartest of moves, so I am listening. Currently considering how to keep the blog fresh rather than more repetitive tales of the same runs in similar times and over the coming weeks am going to try and do a regular update, with each one being on a set theme. Ideas for these are coming to me all the time, and I am open to suggestions!

  • Nutrition - Before and after
  • Hydration
  • Developing stamina
  • Improving speed
  • Recovery - linked to nutrition
I am still on Instagram and posting images on there whenever it seems appropriate, so please do give me a follow - I get a boost from 'likes' and reposts!

Thanks for reading - take care, stay safe and look after each other. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Race Day...some reflections!

 It was all over in the blink of an eye. Not literally, otherwise I would be a world record holder. Looking back on Sunday, a couple of days later, each section of the run almost feels like some part of a surreal dream. I'm going to try to capture what went on on #GNRVirtual day first, and finish off the blog with some reflections on the past 6 months and what I have learnt throughout. There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on the world, but learning to run through this has been, well, let's just use 'interesting'.

So Sunday, Great North Run a way. I had long since got my head around the cancellation of the race, and reconciled this with the plan I had for a Ribble Valley route. My initial idea was to get up into the hills and really challenge myself, but when I looked at the actual GNR route, it bears no relation to Pendle Hill. Anyone who has driven, cycled or walked from Pendleton to Sabden up past The Ski Club will know that taking that route would be madness. I wanted a comparable route to the GNR, not a punishment! I settled on a route that would constantly undulate, some steep climbs, some nice flat sections and even one or two gentle downward inclines. It needed to be a peaceful route. I am still making every effort to maintain social distancing and therefore heading into the countryside was a priority for me. Part of the joy in running is the solitude, a big part to be honest, so a jaunt towards the Trough of Bowland was in order. I am conscious that people who do not live round here (hello to the Argentinian readers by the way) will not know any of these places, but for fellow Lancastrians, some familiar names help to put this into a context. So... Billington, Whalley, Barrow, Clitheroe, Edisford Bridge, out towards Bashall, back towards Chaigley, head back to Whalley via Mitton. The main loop itself is around 20k, so I had to put some extra little sections in (more of that later). 

The morning arrived and the weather forecast was excellent. I was not going to use the ViRace App, but go with Fitbit and Bluetooth on trainers for timings, splits etc. My routines don't change on a long run like this. Well hydrated for 2-3 days beforehand, loads of energy drinks (Science In Sport Electrolytes - not Red Bull or Monster!) and plenty of lean proteins and carbs. On the morning of the run, I don't overeat. A single protein flapjack (I like Pro2Go, although Graze also do some excellent ones), a strong coffee and the secret magic ingredient just before setting off. A 250mg caffeine pill so stave off any muscle fatigue. Managed to allow time for plenty of core work to protect and strengthen my weak areas and by 8.10am, I am ready to go. This morning the stretching was doubly important. Not only was I running further than ever before, but over the past couple of weeks, some tightness in the left calf and hamstring had been apparent and in recent runs, I had also had some twinges in my lower back. These are all connected, so making sure the preparation was right is really important. 

So how did it go? Well...let's start with good news, my initial pace was good, nothing was hurting and as I hit the 1 km mark, the time seemed about right. The first km has more down than up, so anything below 4:30 is fine and on Sunday this was 4:15. That was when the first strange thing happened. I had no energy and my legs felt like they didn't want to move. No panic, I've got 4 gels with me, maybe I'm not as hydrated as I should be. I tell myself to crack on, and keep running at this point, as I didn't want to waste a gel so early on, but a couple of minutes later, I succumbed. 7 minutes in and I've had the isotonic gel I was planning on consuming at the 3k mark. Not to worry, if I leave a decent gap after this one, it'll be fine. So the gel consumed, I get into what feels like a good rhythm and after about 4km, I'm feeling pretty strong. A glance at the watch tells me my time is decent and as I hit the 5k mark, I look to see the time that has elapsed. At under 23 and a half minutes, I am concerned that I am going too fast and won't be able to maintain this. I go back to March, when I first started this adventure, and 5k was taking me over half an hour. The other little voice in my head is telling me to speed up, keep going, run at this pace and I'll be done in 1:40, even allowing for some tailing off at the end.

At heart, I am a competitive soul, so I tell myself to keep going at the pace I am going and see where it takes me. The pace is maintained into Clitheroe, turn left past Holmes Mill and head towards the Level Crossing. As I said earlier, I knew I had some distance to make up, so decided that going into the park in the castle grounds and going through and back would add around 600m (and is flat) so quickly did this, consumed the second gel (caffeine one) and got onto the main road towards Edisford. At the point of running past Roefield Leisure Centre, I have covered just over 8.5k and time looks good. I'm too tired to do the maths but it was around 40/41 minutes from memory. 

From here on in, the run is pure countryside, so no pavements, hopefully no cars and no other people around apart from the odd cyclist (that is not to say all cyclists are odd). The next 2k is hard - not too steep, but generally uphill, this is a long stretch towards Bashall. It feels longer than it is - no landmarks, nothing to pass and I feel like I am walking. This is definitely slower than when I ran this route 2 weeks ago. As Bashall Barn appears on my right, this is a pretty big point, my watch vibrates, 10k done. 47 minutes. 47 minutes? That's my fastest ever 10k. This is the point at which I hit 'the wall'. This is such a psychological point, but I knew that I had a tricky couple of km coming up, I have set off too fast, I'm utterly exhausted and, unlike on a normal run, there is no get out clause. I can't just stop, walk for a bit, get a lift home. There's no option but to carry on. In my pocket I have got 2 gels, one more of each type, and a chocolate protein bar. That's no use as the sun is out now, it's hot and I am thirsty. Eating this would not work at all. I have, however, for the first time, brought another bag with me, containing two strong painkillers (in case of the back/glute issues flaring) and another caffeine tablet. I've never taken two before, rarely do  I bother with any, but on this occasion, I wonder is it worth a try? I have it in my hand and it looks huge. My mouth is dry and I'm not convinced it can be swallowed without water (which of course, I do not have). While having this internal monologue, I decide to give it a whirl, pop the tablet in and (eventually) it slips down my throat. I can't say whether or not it helped because the next 3 to 4 km are nothing but a hazy memory. I remember it was hot, there were lots of cyclists out and every time I found some shade, I ran in that for some respite. It was probably only about 15 Degrees but there was no breeze at all. Next thing I remember is turning left towards Mitton, done around 15k by now and as my mental capacity diminished throughout the run, have no idea what kind of time I am going to finish in. I felt ok again, and was running around 5:00 for each km. This felt ok, one more gel...kick of caffeine and carbohydrate and that should see me through. 

What I had not allowed for in this case was that as I ran past Mitton Hall, with just over 4k to go, that mentally, I was done. Suddenly my legs would not move, my quads began to feel like they were burning and both hamstrings tightened. What made this worse is that I knew I could take a short cut and get home in less than 3k from here, but I needed the extra distance. I needed around 400m extra so even the full loop wasn't going to be enough. What is there left to do at this stage? Just run. Slowly. I slowed the pace right down and as I ran parallel to Calderstones Park, I actually felt like I was going backwards. I know this is all psychological as I ran 19k 2 weeks ago with no real issues, but I really struggled to get over this. Gradually I ate up the distance and as I headed into Whallley, I was 1 km from home, but still had 1.6k to run, so a left turn back towards Clitheroe for a while, turn round and run back - should be enough. This was another turning point, although energy levels were low, I knew now I had this covered. All I had now was the spectre of Whalley Road towards Billington ahead of me. When planning such a route, leaving a long steep hill to finish probably wasn't wise, and as I crawled towards the final turn, took one last glance at my watch to check the distance - I'm still short! Only one thing to do...carry on up the hill for a while longer, turn round and then back down the hill. I haven't mentioned time for a while - by the time I had reached 15k, I had stopped caring about that, so hadn't looked at the time, just the distance. I would love to say I sprinted to the end, arms aloft, celebrating, but it was definitely a stagger. 

So what was the time? Well. I'll start with targets. I always have 3... 1) Absolute minimum expectation - for today this was 2 hours, still way better than I would have expected a few months ago 2) 1:50 - This is the target I shared with friends - what I may realistically expect to attain 3) Aspirational target - just me, nobody else finds out this target. Today it was 1:45, which is bang on 5:00 per km. 

I am absolutely thrilled, amazed, shocked and many other adjectives to think that I could do this (although this was, to use my own words, never about the time)  I have learnt so much, not only the science behind running, but about what we are capable of, about how to push limits without taking risks. Most importantly, the core reason that I took on this challenge was to make a difference. I am going to do the Great North Run for real next year, once my feet have had a good rest, and will continue to do all I can to raise much needed funds for my chosen charity Shelter. So far, through kindness and the generosity of many, between us all, we have raised approximately £2000 when Gift Aid is built into the calculations. If you wish to support this and make a donation, please click the link below, share as widely as you can via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or any other social media platforms that you use!

Thanks for reading, supporting, encouraging and donating. The kindness of others has really helped to motivate me to do this. :-)

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

The Finishing Line is in sight

 The end is now in sight! As mentioned in the previous entry, I'm now in the position where, to quote a wise man, I 'won't get any fitter, but can still get injured'. With 2 weeks to go, I have completed one last long run and have no plans to run anywhere near that distance (just short of 19k) between now and the day of the #GNRVirtual

So how did it go? An early start meant the sun was up, but it was cool. There was a slight breeze - so conditions were pretty much perfect. The route planned was, by the standards round here, pretty flat and was a route I had done a couple of times in Late May/Early June. Last time out, I completed this course in 1:48, and average KPM of around 5:30. Targets are important to me and really help while I am running, checking my watch occasionally helps me to retain focus and positivity. It also serves to give me the occasional kick up the backside that I might need to ensure that my pace doesn't drop too much in the middle section. In cricket terms, my running often mirrors a One Day International - starts off quickly, finishes well, but the middle overs can be a bit of a plod. This is something that is regularly seen in my splits. All too often the first km and the last km are the fastest ones, with those just coming up to half way usually the slowest, whatever the distance. The watch helps me to keep an eye on this, even though the readings are not quite as accurate in hilly areas. Back to targets... 1) Maintain improvements to cadence. On shorter runs I am up to 170 SPM, but on a run this long, last time was 160. I need to do better in this regard, and be up around 165 - ideally a bit higher. 2) Time targets - below 1:45 is an absolute must and my real aim would be to go below 1:40 - hopefully down towards 1:37/1:38. That is getting closer to the 5:00 per km mark, which I seem to be able to do on runs that are up to 12/14 km. 3) Don't hurt myself - push but don't strain.

So, targets set, processes followed - warm up done, all seems in my favour. There's just one slight issue - a  tightness in my groin running down the back of my right leg. It isn't stretching out and all I can hope is that when I set off, it will ease. Off we go...the customary quick start sees the first km covered in 4:12 and we are through Whalley in a decent time. At this point, there is no sign of any pain from anywhere, which is an unexpected bonus. Up hill now as I go through Barrow towards Clitheroe and as I turn onto the main road into Clitheroe, the time is indicating below 20 minutes - just over 4km covered, so a solid start. Feeling good at this point, the next stretch is long and straight, some undulations, a mix of up and down, but nothing too hard. I turn down Greenacre Street and pass Holmes Mill - 32 minutes on the timer and still going well after 6.3KM. Still feeling full of energy and pain free. I'm actually enjoying it! Usually I am only aware of enjoyment after the run ends..this is a new feeling. Of course, at this point, something is about to go awry, isn't it? What will it be? A fall? An injury? A sudden urge to go to the toilet? Or... a train. Yes - a train. Looking up, the level crossing comes down and the traffic is building up. Maybe by the time I reach the crossing, the train will have passed...but no, it hadn't, so a quick diversion into the park at the Castle Grounds is all I can do. It slows me down, but not by much, a 100m or so in and out, quick turn round and off I go again. Of course, this has a bit of an impact on how far I have run by the time I am at certain landmarks, so calculations of how close I am to previous times are inaccurate. In a strange way, this helped as I think over then next 3/4KM, the running improves massively from the previous time out. Past Edisford Bridge and up to the dreaded climb to Bashall Barn. Today I didn't feel myself slowing down too much at this stage (looking at the splits when home, these 2km were done in around 5:15 each, was nearly 6:00 last time) and as I hit the 10k, just over 48 minutes were on the clock. A decent start - time to keep it up. After another km or so, I felt my pace drop and needed to kick on - gave myself a talking to and upped the pace. The sun was fully out now, with nowhere to hide here, but once I turn back towards Whalley, there are trees and the shade was welcomed. 

The rest of the run is a bit of a blur to be honest. I remember hitting 16KM in around 1:19 and feeling ok, but once I hit 17KM, my tight groin started to ache, this was definitely tightening up now. At the end of this route, there are 3 possible ways to go - one will take me to the full 21KM, 1 will take me to 19.5KM and the other option... I've never done, so I don't know how far it will be. Truth be known, I have gone far enough, so I take option 3 (shortest route!) as injury prevention. When I arrive back and log the run, the Bluetooth measures the run as 18.8KM, my watch measures it as 19KM, so I settle for the shorter of the two distances and what does the time say?

I can't quite believe this time! Less than 5:00 per KM on this distance goes way above what I expected or even hoped. The increased cadence has made the difference, and the pace of the run is pretty consistent throughout. The uphill drag to Bashall Barn is the slowest part, but it's uphill for some distance, so it will be. Last image here is the splits. First 5KM and last 5KM. This is what I am most pleased with. My groin was tightening, but the pace was pretty much maintained from start to finish.

So what now? A few days rest - hopefully a couple of gym sessions and light running for the next couple of weeks. I'm considering a couple of 1 hour runs, try to maintain that 5:00 per KM pace and then by 13th September, I can get this virtual race run and give my body a real break!

Friday, August 28, 2020

TWO WEEKS TO GO...what have I learnt?

I haven't updated the blog so much in recent weeks - apologies for that, but... there hasn't been much to report really! I have carried on training, built in plenty of rest, and been considering a few issues to do with nutrition in readiness for 13th September - the big day!

So what have I been up to? Just mixing it up, some timed runs, some longer runs and some sprints. I am injury free and feel in decent shape right now, so the focus now has to be on 'ticking over' and getting more miles in my legs without risking injury. Now seems like a decent time to go in reflective mode once more and to think about what I have learnt over these past 5 months.

1) We are all capable of getting better at what we do quickly when we put our minds to it.

This is the importance of Positive Mindset. I make no apologies for emphasising this first. Back in March, I set off for my first 5k. It took nearly 31 minutes - over 6 minutes per km and my target had been 30 minutes. I looked at that and set a goal of 25 minutes, which I hit within a month and last time I did that run it was 22 minutes. A massive improvement from the start, but what was different? Sure - fitness gets better, but it gets better quickly. Above that, telling myself that I can do this, keeping on going up hill rather than slowing down to little more than a walk and not making excuses has been the key aspect. Setting targets for myself every run has also helped. Achievable targets that mean that previous runs are bettered, but not by so much that I give up part way through. Here's an example...recently I have been running time, so giving myself a time to run as far as I can. At the point at which I reach the halfway point of the time, I turn around and run home. Can I make it back before the time elapses and how far can I go? Each time, the aim has been simple...go further than before and make it home more quickly. 45 minutes, 50 minutes and an hour are the main ones here. Yesterday was a 45 minute run - the flattest one I could find. Objective? Go for 45 minutes maximum, get home before the clock ticks over and do more than 9km. Why more than 9km? Simple...that's how far I got last time on that run. Anything below 5:00 per km is fine with me on any run over 5k, the further below the better.

Here is the summary - and the reason for the improvement is cadence. Previous runs of this length had a cadence (steps per minute) of 166 - so 6 steps per minute more makes all the difference. This was probably my favourite run yet - 4:45 per km over this distance is decent going for an old duffer like me!

2) The first 2/3km still hurts

Weird this, it matters not a jot how much stretching, warming up I do, I hit 1.5km and my breathing goes funny and my thighs start to burn. This is when I go for the pocket, take out a gel and consume. Within 5 minutes, I am pain free and breathing settles down. Having the gel before setting off has no impact. I suspect it's my body simply getting used to the increased heart rate. My resting pulse is below 50 (usually 47/48) so getting up to 170/180 is a big increase.

3) Eating more food is a good thing!

It took nearly four months of training for me to work out why some days I ran like a 70 year old. Friends will be shocked to read that insufficient food intake has been an issue. What I know know is that preparation for longer runs should start a couple of days beforehand. The official term seems to be ‘carb loading’ but to me it’s more a case of eating loads, especially the evening before a morning run. I have also discovered that hydration is important and an electrolyte drink prior to bed helps both to hydrate and to add the zinc etc that the body will need. I’ll not go as far as to say it negates the effects of alcohol, not drinking before a run is always the best advice, but... well... let’s not dwell on that!

Last week I went out for a run after an evening meal of 3 bean chilli burrito and the previous night had been an Indian takeaway with a mountain of rice. Energy levels were higher than ever. The only possible down side to this approach is that fundamental issue of if you eat it, you have to use it or weight gain will no doubt take place. Like most people of a certain age, weight gain happens more easily for me than weight loss, so I can’t adopt the eat as much as I want approach for ever!

So what now?

16 days to go... a long run tomorrow (19k) should give me an indication of the time I should expect to achieve. I’m going to go off at a 4.45/4.50 Per km pace and see how long I can maintain this for. If I can get as far as 12/13k at that pace then ease off a bit, I should hit my target time overall. What’s my target time? Well... I have two. One none negotiable and one optimistic! Let’s see how tomorrow goes and review from there.

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Monday, August 10, 2020

A month to go...

As the title says, a month to go and my training plan has completely gone out of the window! I knew in all honesty that drawing up something as rigid as that would not work. The trouble is, to echo the message from a very old entry...I know my own body and there are times when a short run doesn't really cut it. Equally, there are times when I am too busy with other things to do the longer runs. What I also realised is that when the weather is hot, a long run can only be done early morning. I have to say, first thing in the morning is my favourite time to run. There are fewer people around, which helps with social distancing, it is cooler and then I have the rest of the day to work, or relax if I am on leave, as I was last week.

A week off was something to be enjoyed and gave me an opportunity to get out for a couple of longer runs - I decided to do a couple of 16k runs last week, both different routes, both with challenge and hills involved. The first one is the one I have done a few times, previously my best time was 1:23 - which I had got down from a previous 1:32. My hope for this was to hit 1:20 - a solid 5:00 per km over a long run would make me feel I was on the right track. 

The map my run website has this measured as 15.6 km, whereas the Bluetooth in my trainers and Fitbit measure just over 16 km, so it's near enough. I'm not a professional athlete, just an old guy trying to get a bit better at running, so in reality, I'm not that bothered! Anyway, I know this run well and I know the first 6 km are difficult and pretty constant in the incline, so that's ok. The danger there is that I run this section slowly as I know there's some good downhill to come between km 6 and 8, but I then am in a rut and cannot accelerate. This run I will remember as the first long run where, however tired I became, at no point did I hit the 'I can't do this' wall that is my usual barrier. I felt good, ran ok - nothing earth shattering, but made it home in 1:21 - a bit slower than I had hoped but nonetheless, pretty pleased.

What I am also noticing now is that following such a long run, my body feels ok afterwards. Initially, running these distances (actually running any distance), made me hurt for days. I recall the day after the first time I had done this run, I could barely walk for 2 days! Now, I am ok afterwards and, apart from a bit of muscle fatigue, the next day feels fine. So I make the decision that definitely another 16k is on the cards a couple of days later, so I plan a route. Well, I plan a couple of routes in honesty. Plan A is full on torture, Plan B is 75% torture. Both involve Pendle Hill and sharp climbing and the decision of which route to take would be taken at the 8km mark, which is the point in the run where I have climbed 250m and the decision is either to keep on heading up for another km, or turn round (cattle grid near The Wellsprings if you want to google the images to see how high it looks!), head back down towards Clitheroe and have a run along the cycle path and back that way. Of course, there are positives of both. If I carry on, I know that  after the Nick O' Pendle, there  is a very steep downhill section where I can really accelerate, but this brings into play the risk of damaging something. I am also wary that I have still got a dodgy calf and decide at this point, to take the slightly easier option. I know. Cop out. Anyone who has been up there, even in a car, will have felt the pull, so I'm calling myself sensible not soft. I turned round, 8km under the belt and headed back down Pendle Hill, a lovely run and the sun had just come out. At least on this occasion, I had not opted for the black long-sleeved compression top! As I reached the A59 (newish mini-roundabout, just east of Clitheroe), a seemingly innocent roadsign got into my head and gave me some torture. All the sign noted  on a right turn was 'SKIPTON'. Don't get me wrong, I like Skipton, but the thought that this is being indicated on the road sign, on its own, spooked me a bit, I have to confess. It's Yorkshire...that means I must be miles and miles from home. I'm not going to be able to get back - I've underestimated the distances involved (etc) I also had a problem crossing the road due to the amount of traffic, so this added a couple of minutes to the time. After this, I started running again, and got a decent rhythm going for the rest of the run. This was always going to be slower than the other route, however, and I made it home in 1:23:36 - which I was pleased with overall, especially considering the amount of climb, through Wiswell, on to  Pendleton and then up the hill.

So now...a few days rest, see what happens and with less than 5 weeks to go, I have probably 12 training runs left before running 21km for the first time. I think the next couple of weeks, I'll do a couple more 16k along with some 1 hour runs - see if I can get beyond 12km in an hour. I doubt it very much, but it won't be through lack of trying!