Now That’s What I Call…. Encouraging!

With five weeks to go to the Chester Marathon the week had been a good one once I’d fully shifted the cold I’d picked up and suffered over the weekend. Monday saw three hours plus in the gym: A virtual spinning session followed by 45 minutes on the elliptical trainer, ten km of progressive running on the treadmill and a group spinning session to finish me off, all played out whilst outside torrential rain the like of which I’ve not seen in many years flooded parts of Grantham and the surrounding area.

Tuesday was an hour on the elliptical trainer in the morning then a run in the evening which I described euphemistically on Strava as Clearing the pipes, a term the legend David Duffield had coined earlier in the day watching You Tube videos of the 1992 Tour de France. The nasal passages were certainly cleaner once the run had ended, the run feeling very easy despite beginning on jelly legs, knocking out ten and a third miles in sixty four minutes.

Wednesday was a recovery day of sorts, a double spinning session at the gym. The air-con wasn’t working for the first session, which meant Malaysia-esque conditions were replicated for 45 minutes of hard cycling. Luckily the second session was cooler and easier, I pushed on the final rep to see how many watts I could generate. 568 was the result and a slightly tweaked right hamstring the reward.

Thursday saw a fairly painful massage in the morning, an hour on the elliptical trainer in the afternoon and a 13.2 mile GRC run in the evening.  IT was good to have a fair few out of there out running what is likely to be the last over the fields run of this summer before the nights start prohibiting where we can safely run. The run was leisurely but good in many ways to knock out some slower miles.

Friday could have been a rest day but I wanted to do something so I spent 75 minutes on the elliptical trainer. Saturday morning was a straight out of bed run, and for that reason was a bit harder than I’d hoped. There were plans of marathon paced efforts, but the first six miles just weren’t that comfortable, languishing at around 6:45 pace. Then something seemed to click and the last four minutes were closer to six minute miles, complete with a cheeky Strava segment steal I’d just missed out on a few days earlier. The section was only 90 seconds or so long, but the pace (5:01) indicated that the legs were in good shape. That evening I put in another easy hour on the elliptical trainer, lamenting the fact that the last 10 minutes were done in darkness out in the shed. Autumn is coming…

Sunday’s run was going to be a bike ride but the conclusion of the World Athletics Championships put pay to that. I woke at 6:30am to watch the Women’s marathon I’d recorded overnight. I was changed and ready to go for 9 o’clock but my wife was still sleeping, having put in a 17 hour stint working and not finishing until 3am. Plans were changed with the athletics due back on at 11am, I decided instead to run once the athletics had concluded in the afternoon.

By 2:30pm it was raining and not feeling particularly inspired I headed out on a 20 mile route I’d hastily put together and uploaded to my watch. Luckily the rain was fairly light and with the temperature around 18C, it was really rather pleasant to run in with barely a breath of wind. The first mile was comfortable at 7:05; the second mile through the town centre was a 6:28 and felt effortless. I stopped for a semi-planned pit stop at local conveniences and headed back on my run – Somerby Hill the first and main challenge of the day.

This four fifths of a mile climb only averages 4% because it has a long fairly flat section in the middle. The opening and final ramps though are relatively hard, certainly enough to usually fill the legs with lactate. Today though I was feeling fresh and fast, and although the heart rate climbed to near 170bpm, there was no sense of fatigue at all as I completed the climb in 5:45, beating the previous segment record on Strava by one whole second (Very pleasing as I’ve failed many times before to beat it). The third mile was 6:38. Strava GAP reckons it was worth 5:32 with the hill taken into account. I was concerned that that exertion could come to be costly later in the run, but for now it all felt very easy, the fourth mile an effortless 6:08.

Miles 5 – 12 took me on a loop around Ropsley, mostly on roads I’ve run on before, albeit not often enough for me to run without the guide of the breadcrumb trail on the Garmin. Therefore, short of splits, I had no guide to pace and HR. Still it all felt pretty comfortable, the quickest mile 6:09, the slowest, 6:24 on a long drag out of Ropsley towards the A52.

Thankfully only 100 meters or so was on the busy A road, I turned right on the quiet road to Welby. I found myself picking up the pace as I came to complete a half marathon in around 83 minutes, the 13th mile 6:08; the 14th into Welby itself in 5:57. Still it felt very comfortable, the form as good as when I’d started the run. The fifteenth mile was mostly uphill and not particularly pleasant as the rain intensified and High Dyke was busy, but when a slow mile was 6:18 you know you are running well.

Miles 16, 17 and 18 went through Londonthorpe and past Belton House. I allowed the heart rate to rise slightly but still 5-10 beats below my marathon heart rate. The mile splits were 6:02, 5:56, and 6:08. I beat my own Strava segment on five gates, one I’d clocked recently on an eight mile run. The nineteenth and twentieth miles were slightly uphill, that they were run in 6:08 and 6:05 had me almost disbelieving what I was seeing. This was an easy effort long run and I reckoned I’d just run twenty miles faster than I’d ever run them before!

I clocked 20.24 miles in 2:06:28, which is 6:15 pace. 2:45 pace for the marathon is 6:17 per mile. When I went through 20 miles at Rotterdam last year (on my Garmin) it was in 2:06:17. On this training run I went through 20 miles in 2:05:32. I’ve run quicker over 30km (Stamford 2014), by around 5 minutes, but there my average HR was 12 or so beats higher, so I was working much harder.

It was comfortably the best long training run I’ve ever done and arguably one of the best runs ever. I just now have to hope I can maintain  fitness for another five weeks. I know too well that fortunes can change in a moment, so I’m not going to take anything for granted. But I’m very excited about what I could do over 26.2 miles in a few weeks time.

75 Days to VLM – Week 4 Training Summary

After the most pleasing run on Sunday evening there was a bump down to earth come Monday night. After I finished work and helped get the kids to bed, I changed into my running clothes and opened the front door, only to see that it was snowing heavily! I’d not looked out of any window for an hour or two and how the weather had changed.

It may have been a snow shower that only lasted an hour or so, but it wreaked a little havoc with my run. I had on my well worn pair of Nike Lunarglides, which have never had the grippiest of soles and are now almost entirely slick. As the wet snow began to settle, traction became tough at times and I was unsure of my footing. Moreover the inside of my left shin, which had nagged occasionally on the previous couple of runs, now hurt a little more persistently. There was also the right glute/piraformis which wasn’t feeling great and nagged in a manner that wasn’t dissimilar to how it felt a week or so before the sacrum fracture of last year. I hadn’t planned on running far, 4.8 miles was all I managed before calling it a night.

Tuesday evening was scheduled to be nine miles at marathon pace (HR). The left shin had continued to ache sporadically through the day and I wasn’t going into the run with the greatest of confidence – especially as the right glute still didn’t feel great. I was scheduled to meet up with Janis again; I just finished work in time to join him as planned. The first few miles didn’t feel too bad, but it was noticeable I was triggering my marathon HR max alarm rather more frequently than the previous week. After a 7:00 opening mile, we ran 6:18; 6:18; 6:14 and 6:11. Although the pace was quickening I was becoming more and more anxious about the run. The left shin was aching more than it had done at any other point, and, as the temperature plummeted, the accumulation of ice was significant to the point where it was dangerous in places.

The pace slowed to 6:32, then a 6:46 seventh mile, my struggles not helped by a somewhat dodgy stomach. As I continued to feel like I was treading water and as we were running past my house, I made the decision to call it a day at just shy of seven and a half miles. Janis, who was a natural on the icy roads and paths, continued on his way. I disappeared into my house dejected.

Tuesday night and Wednesday morning I made a bid to halt the seemingly relentless onset of serious shin pain. I massaged the pained area and the calves. More importantly I ran through a number of exercises – walking on my heels, writing the alphabet, balancing on one leg with my eyes closed (Much harder than it sounds). Early in the evening I went on a short run – just two and a half miles, to assess the state of the shin. The conclusion was, that with a slight nagging pain for around half of the run, it wasn’t prudent to attempt running any more that evening, and so I put in a steady hour on the elliptical trainer.

Later that evening my training partner Janis messaged me to let me know he was heading off to Norway on Saturday for a couple of months! I think we were both disappointed we weren’t going to train together for a while, but the opportunity for him to earn more money in a beautiful country with more favourable working conditions was a no-brainer. So, after a couple of weeks enjoying the company of a talented runner, I was back to where I had been for much of the past eighteen months or so.

Thursday had been planned as a three strong intervals session with myself, Janis, and 2:32 marathon runner Alastair Pickburn. Janis had pulled out as he had been scheduled to work a night shift (although ultimately he could have run in the evening after all). Alastair and I had pinged back and forth numerous messages on Strava, worked out a session and a place to run it, only for Alastair to cancel on the Tuesday because his scheduled work trip had been cancelled.

With the weather still cold and icy, especially in the evening, I opted, now I was running alone, to do the session mid-morning. Running with the dodgy shin was a calculated risk, I opted to wear a shin compression sleeve I’d bought many years ago and worn occasionally, and with the seldom worn Nike Lunarknit trainers (they seem to promote Achilles discomfort). Which one did the trick I’m not sure – maybe it was the stretches and massage – but the shin barely grumbled over the session which came in at half a mile shy of ten miles.

The reps, now known as the Pickburn Session, were held in conditions hovering around freezing point and in sleety, icy cold rain. The reps were 1 mile, 2 miles, 2 miles and 1 mile, with two minutes recovery between each rep. The first mile was covered in 5:37 and felt pretty comfortable considering it was in the slightly uphill direction of the A52. The first two mile rep was also fairly comfortable, completing it slightly faster at 5:36 pace. The second two mile rep was more challenging, running on lactate filled legs for the closing mile. It was therefore pleasing that it was covered in 5:38 pace. Struggling to recover, the final mile was a battle to the finish, it felt horrible and slow, but was happy to see it took just 5:31. The session over, the run home felt easy in comparison. I was encouraged to see that with minimal effort, I ran a 6:08 mile and a 6:20 paced final half mile. The first interval session of the year was a success.

Friday was scheduled to be a rest day, but I felt that, because of a lack of mileage, I should try and do some exercise. As the shin felt still a touch sore, I opted for another hour on the elliptical trainer, which seemed a good compromise. A double school run and an impromptu trip to the bike shop (To collect the wheel I couldn’t get the tyre on last week), meant around nine miles of walking too, so not that much of a day off.

The long run for the week was again on the Saturday, and, with Janis now departed, it was a run alone. The plan was 18 miles and to hopefully run at below seven minute mile average. I opted to run in the Nike Frees and again wore the compression strap as it had appeared to work well on Thursday’s session. There was thankfully no snow, conditions were fairly benign, although with temperatures only just above freezing, there were small patches of ice here and there.

I knew from the second mile that I was on for a good strong run, the legs feeling like they had plenty of power. The first mile (7:26) and the second mile (7:00) turned out to be the only miles that weren’t sub-7 minute miles. This included the third and fourth miles which included the long climb out of town, I knew that once this was tackled the rest of the run would feel easy in comparison. The miles seem to tick by with little in the way of effort. The only drama came in some unexpected shin pain. The inside of the shin was absolutely fine, the lower front part of the shin though began to ache at around nine miles and gradually grew in intensity. This was probably caused by the strap being a little too tight and compressing the shin a little too much. Thankfully, despite the discomfort, it wasn’t slowing my pace – the fifteenth mile being the quickest of the run at 6:24, and each of the miles from 13 to the end covered in less than six minutes forty seconds.

The eighteen and a quarter miles were covered in an average of 6:44. I was very happy, although the shin was very painful to the touch. The fact that I was able to walk quite normally meant I wasn’t overly concerned – I was happy that the inside of the shin was pain free and moreover the right glute/piraformis was also pain free, thanks, I think, to the Piraformis stretch which has you lying on your back doing the trick.

Sunday was a return to the Witham Wheelers reliability rides, a 46 mile hilly route was the order of the day. The rear tyre, now fully inflated and brand new, pumped up without issue just before I left. The front tyre though had it’s pin snap in the pump as I attempted to put a little extra air into the tyre. With no time (Or desire) to change the inner tube I made a quick decision that no air was leaving the valve and the tyre was pretty well inflated. I decided to risk the ride.

It was cold for the first hour or so of riding, but I knew that with sun due to make a welcome appearance it would warm a touch. I went out in the quick group, which were scheduled to ride between 18-19mph, but were touching 20 mph at the 20 mile point. I spent most of the ride sitting somewhere near the back, feeling a bit the efforts of the Saturday run, which I had expected.

At 20 miles we caught the slower group and there was a brief merging when horses caused a rapid slowdown. I took the opportunity to try and open the packet of jelly beans in my jersey pocket. As I struggled with this simple task, I lost the back wheel of the group, and with their pace increasing again as we hit a slight headwind I soon realised I had no chance of catching them. I thought there were several riders from the slower group ahead and expected them to drop back. As it happened there were just two and only one opted to join me in keeping up the pace as best as possible. I wasn’t riding particularly well and struggled at times even to sit in the wheel of the other rider, but i didn’t give up and was happy to come home in an average of 18.4 mph.

After a brief stop for tea and coffee cake, I rode home and donned the trainers for the now familiar post ride 5k brick run. Oh boy, did the legs feel like jelly! This was going to be a tough few miles. Pleasingly, despite feeling terrible and nowhere near as quick as two weeks ago, I was still knocking out sub 6:40 miles after the initial 6:51 mile. Even the rubbish miles were still relatively swift – and there was no shin pain at all.

With the ups and downs of the week, just 45 miles were covered. They were though covered at an average pace of 6:40 per mile, which I believe is the quickest weekly average I’ve ever had. The intervals on Thursday and especially the long run on Saturday indicate that if I can control the injury niggles, things are definitely heading in the right direction and anything could happen in a couple of months time. For the meantime it’s hopefully more of the same – running, elliptical trainer, strength and conditioning, and a little cycling. It seems to be working well at the moment, so why change?

Day 103–Room For Optimism?

As soon as my day was done working on the Malaysian Grand Prix, I changed out of my work clothes and into my summer running gear for a make or break long run. With the temperature in the high teens and the weak sun trying to shine, I was determined to test the body to see if it is even worth persisting with the dream of making it to Rotterdam two weeks from now.

The opening miles were not promising. For better or worse I decided to abandon the prescribed two minutes walking, two minutes jogging, two minutes running for fear of going delusional if I were to keep that up for the best part of two hours. Whilst the actual pace was not that bad the effort to try and ignore the nagging, consistent pain in the thigh was starting to get the better of me.

At four miles I was actually ready to call it a day and head home. I stopped and, in desperation, did a deep hip flexor stretch for thirty seconds on the left leg. I resumed running and, to my surprise, found that much of the pain in the thigh had disappeared. Were tight hip flexors to blame for all the discomfort?

I decided to revert to plan A and go for it. The long run was back on. I headed to the canal and ran the four and a half miles out to Woolsthorpe. Every ten minutes or so I would stop and repeat the 30 second hip flexor stretch. The pain continued to stay at bay and the legs were running freely, shown in the pace which, before long, was coming down reasonably close to marathon pace. I was beginning to enjoy running again, relishing the pleasantly warm conditions and scenic surroundings on a tranquil Mother’s Day.

At Woolsthorpe, I returned and even though there was the merest headwind the pace, if anything, picked up Any discomfort was coming in the side of the hips and was of the sort that was easily bearable. Only in the final couple of miles did things begin to ache, but I think I was rapidly tiring, being short on sleep and low on energy reserves.

The run over the legs soon stiffened over the course of the evening, but I was at least happy to see that it was possible to run. A lot can happen in two weeks, but I was a lot more optimistic than I was a few days ago. There is now the prospect of taper hell to endure. In some ways being injured makes it easier as I don’t feel as guilty about reducing the mileage. The body is enjoying the rest, for once.

Day 90 – The Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon (Five Hours Too Late)

It was quite a race day.  With something of a lie-in, not needing to be up until 4am to cover the Australian GP, it meant that I was thrown right in – working flat out non-stop until just a few minutes before 3pm. If you want to know how the race went, I’m probably not the best person to ask. Head down, working away, only really know the skeleton details of what went on.

No sooner had the work ended then I was donning the running kit ready for the last run of a long old week. To my chagrin working on the Australian GP meant I was unable to take part in the Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon, which is Grantham’s main (maybe its only) road race of the year. In 2013 I took part on a bitterly cold, windy, snowy day. I had a bad race, hampered with injury, but ended up finishing sixth. Had I taken part this year, looking at the results I would have surely finished second and, who knows, depending on how this year’s training has gone, maybe come within a sniff of victory.

In stark contrast to the conditions in 2013, the weather today was simply gorgeous, sunny, pleasantly warm with only a relatively stiff breeze spoiling the idyll. From the off the legs felt better than yesterday. Stiff, but the calves much less tight. Whether that was helped by the decision to wear compression socks we’ll never know as I refused to take part in a one leg long sock, one leg short placebo experiment.

What was continuing to ache though was the left hip / left upper thigh. I’m sure this is stemming from the back but the net result is discomfort in the upper thigh that feels a little like a dead leg. It’s not really slowing – indeed after the opening uphill miles, I was comfortably into sub seven minute miles, but it is annoying and not the kind of problem I want to be racing with.

The scenery over the half marathon course is in places simply gorgeous, especially the run on the canal path towards Woolsthorpe.  A quick pit stop at the pub and I was back into my running. The first of two steep hills I made relatively swift work of and I was running faster as the headwind became a tailwind for much of the remainder of the run.  The miles went by quickly enough as the sun began to slowly set. The second hill into Barrowby was a killer, but I knew that once tackled it was all gently downhill back to home.

I  went though 13.1 miles in 1:31, not a bad effort considering by then I’d already covered 100 miles for the week. The am I losing my pace doubts are in full swing at the moment; I should look at the facts that I am running just outside 3 hour marathon pace after a 100 mile week covered when I have been getting up to work, on average, at 2:30am. With proper tapering and the smoothing away of any niggles, hopefully I will fly.

The run was over after 16.4 miles. Shattered and stiff, at least I could relax for the rest of the evening safe in the knowledge there should be no early wake up call for Monday morning.

Day 87–So So Tired

This is, by necessity, going to be brief. Two and a half hours sleep before being up at 1am and then working straight through to midday. Four hours at best sleep before some more work and then time to head out for the club run. I was on zombie autopilot.

For all that the legs didn’t feel too bad. The left hip was sore for the solo miles I ran, so before heading a but out I did a little stretching which seemed to help. It was a small group running at the club. The first few miles were actually run at a pace I could have kept with until, with one or two with a half marathon on Sunday, dialled the pace down to a rate that would have me snoozing by the layside if I wasn’t careful.

Along five gates and a strange weather pattern in the still air as we ran through cold and warm packets of air – I don’t think I’ve ever run through air with such a clear temperature difference before. Little things like that were just about keeping me alert, but I was struggling.

At Londonthorpe with the main climb of the run tackled, I said my goodbyes to the group and pushed on alone, the thinking being the sooner I got home the sooner I could get to bed ready for the next night shift. The final miles were fairly hard going with the legs stiffening, but the pace had picked up too to be comfortably under seven minute miles, so hardly suffering too much yet from the lack of sleep.