2016 London Marathon Training – Weeks 15-16 (11-23 April)

Taper time! For me the worst period of marathon training. Nervously completing each session hoping not to get injured. Reducing volume when the body wants to keep on pushing. Two weeks to get through before the big day.

Monday 11th saw a pair of hour sessions on the elliptical trainer. I wasn’t really planning on beginning the taper until Thursday, which would be a natural time to begin it as I was working on the Chinese GP, which was another four days of early mornings and long days. The first hour I felt really strong, the second hour a little tired, but still feeling a lot of power in the legs.

That evening I took part in another spin session. Feeling strong again I went for a measured performance, which saw an average of 254 watts.

Tuesday morning and I was out for an eight mile easy paced run, which was unremarkable other than it being quite humid for an April morning. That lunchtime I got an unexpected email from the British Triathlon Federation informing me that I had, after all, qualified for the World Duathlon Championships in June! To be honest I’d totally forgotten I’d got a qualifying time and was on standby in the event of any drop outs. I’d even gone and booked a half term holiday the night before, which I was thankfully able to cancel without penalty.

With this new event on the horizon in mind, my planned debut on my new TT bike at the Witham Wheelers time trial took on a new importance, as I now had just six weeks or so to get used to the bike, adapt to the time trial position, and get up to speed.

The 10 mile TT was more an exercise in getting used to the bike. It clearly has potential for speed but I found it hard to maintain the aero tuck position for more than a minute at a time before the upper arms screamed enough! I’m not blessed with any upper body strength, it’s no disadvantage when running, but clearly i have to do some urgent work to address this. It’s planks and push ups for me for the foreseeable future!

The time 26:30 was not too bad considering the time spent in the upright position and the cadence being far higher than I found to be my optimum when time trialing last summer. It was fifty seconds outside my course best when I gave it full gas, almost collapsing at the end from the exertion. Today I was as fresh as a daisy and cycled home without duress.

Wednesday saw a ten and a half mile marathon paced run in the morning – six miles at marathon pace with the final mile at marathon heart rate. The legs took a while to warm up, but the pace wasn’t bad when they did, peppering six minutes per mile, with the marathon heart rate mile at 5:37. That afternoon I ran to the school to pick up my daughter; she paced me home on her scooter, hitting close to ten mph at times. That was cool!

Thursday I was working through the night. I had to take my daughter to school so again literally did the school run. I did that again in the afternoon, albeit with a diversion to the bike shop which made the run a ten km effort.

Friday was, as planned, a rest day with a 2 am wake up call and 11 hours of being sat behind the desk – with more hours later on in the afternoon.

I was hoping Saturday’s final long run would be an easy effort. It turned out to be something of a near disaster. I’d planned to run eleven miles, then changed at the last minute to make it 13. I set off okay, the pace dropping down to 6:40 or so by the third mile. I then began to feel an odd ache in the upper right hamstring, followed by some glute discomfort. Then that spread to the left quad and the left glute in the form of cramp. It receded a little after some stretching so I continued, hoping to run around 11 miles. At eight miles however the cramp in the left quad became a searing affair, and I was left virtually unable to walk. Still two miles from home, I, in desperation, began jogging backwards. This seemed to help the issue somewhat and I was able to jog slowly home.

It seems this issue of cramping is tiredness related and probably due to dehydration. As with the previous bouts of cramp the pain receded over the course of the day and was feeling good enough to consider running on the Sunday. However I decided discretion be the better part of valour and so, in gap in work, put 90 minutes on the elliptical trainer. I was tired, and the left quad still had some aches, but it was a strong session.

Monday morning and I decided to risk a 10k run. As it turned out things were fine save for the pretty high heart rate, which I am hoping was just down to tiredness. That evening I put in a very easy effort in the spin session, reducing the FTW so that periods in the red zone were actually fairly comfortable.

Tuesday was my last run in anger before the marathon. Three miles warm up, then 5k at marathon HR, then a mile at sub 2:40 pace and a final mile at sub 2:45 pace. The marathon HR 5k was covered in 18:02 which equates to 2:32 for the marathon. That I don’t think is sustainable, sub 2:40 pace felt very comfortable.

I had another crack at the TT in the evening with Witham Wheelers. The week of planks and push ups had a good effect as I was able to stay in the aero tuck position for the majority of the ride. I lowered the cadence but was mindful to avoid pushing the legs beyond any period of discomfort. I clocked 26:00, ninth on the night and just 20 seconds now outside my PB.

Wednesday morning saw an hour on the elliptical trainer, then a final four miles of running that saw me naturally progress down to 6:10 for the final mile as I warmed up and felt more comfortable. The last session before London was an hour on the trainer. As with Wednesday’s effort I didn’t push hard but the legs felt a little heavier than I would have liked. I’m hoping it’s of no concern and just still the effects of working the weekend on Chinese time. I do though have what is either a slight cold or hay fever (the pollen count is high), which may be effecting me slightly. I have no concern over that.

So – no more can be done other than some pre-race stretching. My main concern is definitely cramping, but if that can be avoided, I am hopeful of a strong run, hopefully another sub-2:45, maybe a PB, maybe something a little more special. Time will tell.

Promising Times

Following the Time Trial in the last post, I ran an easy 8 mile the following morning and then an hour on the elliptical trainer in the afternoon in between covering the F1 Post GP test at Barcelona. The left hip and groin continued to give concern which continued into Thursday’s long club run with GRC, which saw the hip ache for much of the run. It wasn’t enough to slow me but the ache was similar to what I experienced when the second sacrum fracture occurred, so it wreaked havoc on the mind as I feared the worst with every stride.

Thankfully no ill did materialise and the body was grateful for a scheduled rest day on the Friday. I woke early on Saturday morning to head to Melton Mowbray Country Park for a second stab at the parkrun held there. I arrived a little later than planned and so could only do just over a mile for a warm up. The nagging pain in the left hip was still there; I prodded quite firmly in the lower back and felt a release in the hip area. We were called to the start and was delighted to feel no discomfort at all from the moment we set off.

I was in fourth for the opening 100 meters or so but took first position by the time we reached the narrow bridge and set off up the steep hill for the first time. I formed a group of three who soon split from the rest of the field. The other two were unwilling or unable to take the pace so after the first mile (5:26) I made it my intention to try and make a decisive break so they couldn’t use me as a wind break on what was a fairly windy day.

The Melton parkrun course is a busy, twisty, two lap affair made up of sections of off road, gravel paths and part footpath. It meant there was little opportunity to pour over the Garmin data during the run. So aside from the mile splits and an occasional glance at the (pretty high) heart rate, it was a rare case, for me, of running to feel.

At the start of the second lap I still had my two shadows in tow. As we hit the big hill for the second time I knew that would be my point of attack and I pushed hard. It worked, for by the time I reached the summit I had a four or five second gap. There was to be no more looking back and I pushed on down the gradual descent on the other side.

It was there I suffered cramp in both lower quads. It was a similar cramping to what I experienced on two occasions post Christmas last year. I put it down then to Christmas excess and dehydration. I think I can claim I was dehydrated too at the parkrun. I also noted that on each occasion I’d eaten spicy food the night before, so there maybe a connection there. The pain was quite severe. If I had not been leading or if I wasn’t on for a good time, I probably would have stopped. However the lure of both a first place finish and a good time willed me on. Mile two was covered in a slower 5:46, but I dug deep to keep pushing all the way to the finish, clocking 5:36 for the third mile and crossing the finish line first in 17:25.

To put this time in perspective, it is a course PB for me by 1:29 and is currently the second fastest time run by anyone at Melton. It is my equal third fastest parkrun on any course (My best is 17:20 at Coventry, then 17:21 at Peterborough). Both those courses I consider to be much quicker than Melton, which is hilly, twisty, and half off road. I was very pleased with the time; a little less happy with the cramp in my legs.

This ruined plans of a long warm down, instead it was an effort to walk back to the car, which I had parked in a hurry and couldn’t quite remember where it was. Thankfully by the end of the day the worst of the effects of cramp had worn off and I looked forward to cycling with Witham Wheelers the following morning.

The Sunday morning club ride was a lot of fun. It was a group of around 20 riders and I, from the off, was feeling quite strong, taking turns at the front into a headwind. At around 30 miles I joined a group of four who formed an informal breakaway to the coffee stop. I struggled at times to stay on their wheels, but I was a lot stronger than I was four months ago. Following a tea and Bakewell Tart, the run home began gently enough but soon the pace picked up and I was again comfortable in staying somewhere near the front of the pack and taking turns. At times I could have gone faster but we were under instructions to keep the group together as best we could.

We were split a little by a level crossing, so the final miles I wasn’t in the front group. I saved my efforts for the final hills in the Belvoir area and was pleased to clock the tenth fastest time on Strava up Countesthorpe Hill and the second fastest time on the drop back down into town from Barrowby. Seventy eight miles was covered in a shade under 19mph and I felt as fresh at the end as I did at the beginning, which is very encouraging.

Monday was a bit of a shambles. I was supposed to row, run and swim at the gym, but I was delayed getting there and then forgot my swimming trunks, so could only manage the row and run. The treadmill run though was pleasing – eight miles covered in a progressive manner in 55 minutes, culminating with ten minutes at 16-17 km/h. Not being able to swim (and test my new goggles) is not great preparation for the upcoming triathlon, but at least it is only 400 meters of swimming to be covered, which I should be able to do on a minimum of training. To make up for the lost exercise, I put in an easy 40 minutes on the elliptical trainer in the evening.

Yesterday’s Time Trial with Witham Wheelers also didn’t quite go to plan. It was meant to be a lap of the road race circuit (Around 12 miles), but a lack of marshals (And competitors) meant at the last minute the TT reverted to the usual ten mile effort. I was cold and wet, my feet numb, and I struggled to keep up the heart rate over the course and nearly came a cropper on a couple of the wet bends, both covered in loose gravel. My Garmin time of 26:47 was therefore pleasing under the circumstances, as was the post ride brick run – 5k covered in 20:00.

Following an easy run this morning over some hills and trails, the plan now is to consolidate ahead of Monday’s BUPA 10k in London, which will be quite easy as I will be flat out working for the most part on the Monaco GP, which is always one of the busiest F1 events of the year. I’m hopeful if I can stay injury free and avoid a repeat of the cramping episode I suffered at parkrun, I could put in a half decent performance on Monday. It will be the first time I’ve raced in anger since last September, so it will be interesting whatever happens.

The New Addiction: Time Trialling

Having joined local cycling club Witham Wheelers at the end of 2014, the next progression having joined them on several cafe rides and their Reliability Rides (the same idea but without the coffee stop) was to take part in their weekly time trials. The staple diet of many British cyclists for generations, the once clique, at times secretive (codes for courses) is now happily a much more all embracing pastime, which sees riders of all shapes, sizes, and abilities compete against others, but more importantly, themselves and their previous best efforts.

Witham Wheelers has a summer time trial league, mostly consisting of a weekly 10 mile TT on a rolling course shaped roughly like a drunk stick man. In a world far removed from running, where the only real requisite (for a man) is a pair of trainers (Which can be as cheap or as expensive as you desire, it makes little difference as long as they fit and suit your running style – if you believe the experts) cycling and, in particular time trialing, is a discipline where money can buy you fancy kit and the fancy kit can earn you free seconds, perhaps even minutes. On display at any club TT are a dizzying plethora of aero bikes, aero bars, aero helmets, aero wheels, aero bottles, skin suits, shoe covers and more. It’s a discipline where aero drag is the devil and plenty of power too is a must.

Ten miles on a bike may seem a simple proposition, but when you are racing contre la montre, and you are an instinctively competitive animal, it is as tough as any running race – in some ways harder. The pain is different but it is a painful pursuit. And I am addicted.

My first foray in time trialing was a brief dalliance back in the year 2000 when I was a Leamington CC member for around six months. I took part in two or three of their time trials on the Fosse, raising a few eyebrows with my mode of transport – a mountain bike, and attire – trainers, baggy shorts and, for my first effort, a cotton t-shirt with Kermit the Frog all over it. I think I was not far from last on the flat time trials, but I caused a minor sensation when later in the summer on the hill climb TT at Edge Hill, aided by the purchase of a cycling jersey and shorts, I pedaled my mountain bike up the hill in a time good enough to take third place. The efforts merited attention of the club newsletter (Promising newcomer I was crowned) and there were even mutterings of banning mountain bikes for hill climbs as they could be construed as having an unfair advantage with their more generous compact chain sets.

Over the winter I had a couple of worrying crashes on my commute to work. I then changed jobs which meant long hours and a long commute and cycling all but disappeared from my training regime for five years. In late 2006 I bought my racing bike I still ride to this day. I used it to ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats, took part in a couple of sportives and a duathlon, but was sparingly used for many years until the end of 2014 when I joined Witham Wheelers.

The bike cost me £1000 which I considered a small fortune for a bike. I now realise there are people I ride with whose wheels probably cost twice that amount. The plan is to upgrade, but for the time being I’m making the most of my slightly overweight, slightly inefficient machine and using the most of my limited financial resources to make marginal gains in other areas.

For my first TT I knew I needed a pair of aero bars. I researched long and hard and purchased literally the cheapest ones I could buy. They are very simple, prone to a little movement unless I tighten them a lot, but for short rides they are doing a decent job of getting myself into a reasonable aero position. I was pretty nervous at the start line, barely able to clip myself in properly despite being firmly held at the start. I shot off and pedaled as hard and fast as I could. Four minutes in and I was shattered, heart rate sky high and with that horrible dead feeling in my legs. And that was on the downhill section! The rest of the ride was a lesson in how not to time trial – unable to sit in an aero position, legs full of lactate, and I came home in 27:25, claiming 22nd position and one precious point. Not as terrible ride as I thought, but there was over four minutes separating myself from the winner.

First Witham Wheelers TT – showing less than optimal aero position.

The second TT I thought I’d be able to easily go quicker by just knowing the course, but was not willing to give it everything as I had a half an eye on running the London Marathon that weekend. I was though a touch disappointed to see I’d managed to go seven seconds slower. This prompted hours of research on the internet on learning good TT technique and, more importantly, the cheapest ways to earn ‘free time’ in the form of aero enhancements. I stumbled upon a website which, although based on an elite rider, gave a good indication of where I should prioritise my budget to get the best bang for my buck. Aero bars came first, followed by skin suit, aero helmet, and shoe covers.

I had the (cheap) aero bars covered. My cycling jerseys are all fairly baggy – a penchant for loose fitting running clothing carried over into cycling. Two days after running the London Marathon I couldn’t face running so thought I’d give the TT another chance. I purchased the closest I can get to a skin suit for now – a Witham Wheelers club jersey, which was a long overdue purchase. Going against my instincts to size up, I got a small which just about fits and certainly doesn’t flap around in the wind.

I then went against all best practice when testing kit for aero improvements – I changed another variable. The previous two attempts at TT’s I’d ridden fairly high cadence – averaging 93 and 96 rpm. Because the legs were pretty worn out after the marathon I tried the old school approach of grinding out a big gear in warm up. Instantly I saw that the pace was as good, if not better, than when I was spinning frantically. I could also stay in the aero position more comfortably with the bike more stable.

So I rode the TT in blustery conditions, riding as best I could with the legs in the shape they were. Whether it was the power (or shape) of the jersey or the change in cadence, against all the odds I rode the course 22 seconds faster than I’d previously done, coming home just outside 27 minute (27:03). As less people had turned up in the windy conditions, I was pleased to finish eighth. It was a pleasant surprise that left me wondering if I should run a marathon every Sunday.

Spurred on, I scoured eBay for second hand aero helmets – the next investment in the pursuit of speed. To my surprise second hand helmets were selling often for not much less than new ones, which ultimately made me opt to go for the piece of mind of purchasing a new one. I went for a Lazer Tardiz in golf ball white – on sale at nearly half price at the wonderfully named Fat Birds (Don’t Fly) cycle shop in Hunstanton. I splashed out on the plastic cover which blocked out the vents when it wasn’t warm enough to merit having them. More seconds saved, perhaps.

The Aero Helmet

Last week I didn’t get to try out my new purchase as gale force winds meant all but the most resilient turned out to ride. I hate strong winds so plodded off to Grantham Running Club for a hills session instead.

Yesterday though things were better. It was still windy enough to be less than ideal, but not, in my opinion, dangerously so. Looking distinctive in my new aero helmet (My two year old daughter called it the airplane helmet) I set off for my fourth effort at the Witham Wheelers 10 Mile TT. My warm up was less aggressive than in previous weeks. Going off number 18, I pfaffed around in the final minutes debating whether to wear arm warmers. With two minutes to go I decided to wear them; with a minute to go and called to the start I decided to tinker with the settings on the Garmin. I finally got my feet in the pedals with around 15 seconds to spare.

The TT began into the wind. Settling briefly into the tuck I immediately noticed the difference the aero helmet was making – I reckon around 2-3mph over the short stretch to the first left turn. The run down to ‘turn one’ was aided by the wind and with the chain in the lowest gear I ground out a super low cadence – probably too low – as I hit 31mph approaching the first hairpin turn.

The Strava segment suggests I took the hairpin quite well. I then faced the reality that the wind had aided me quite a lot as it was now full on in my face and the long drag back was interminably hard. Head wind and 1% gradients are probably my least favourite cycling conditions and once again I lost time. I picked up a bit as we passed through Hungerton and the wind became more of a cross head wind. The long drag the second hairpin took an eternity. All eyes were on the average speed. I knew that if I made it to the hairpin at >21.7mph I was on for a new PB. I clocked 22.0mph as I turned back on myself. Invigorated I settled back into the tuck position and ground the big gear as best I could.

Once again the final mile and a half saw me flag a little. It’s going to take a few more weeks before I have the cycling legs to give it full beans for the full ten miles. Spurred on though by a possible new PB, I pushed hard to the line, shouting out my number and stopping my Garmin. 26:34! Thirty seconds better than last time. The power of the aero helmet! I knew too that my official time would be quicker, and so it was (26:29). What I hoped I may be able to achieve come the end of the summer I’d managed at my fourth attempt.

I was so happy I rode home and tried a brick session run. That too wasn’t a disaster. After a tough first half mile I settled into a steady, if little ponderous rhythm to clock a sub 22 minute 5k.

Thoughts already turn to the next time trial and where to extract more time at minimal cost. Working on optimum cadence is probably key, then working on getting a good tuck position. All good fun, and so far not too expensive. But I am looking at bikes on Ebay…



Slowly Getting Back Into It

It’s been a few weeks since I last posted. I’ve still been training, albeit not as much as a few months ago. I kind of made an unconscious conscious decision to ease back on the training for a few weeks before picking it up gradually this week with a mind to go full beans again nearer the end of June.

The decision to ease back on training was made easier for two reasons. Firstly the annual two month bout of hayfever has begun to hit me, which in the early days does little more than raise the heart rate a bit and make the breathing a bit more difficult, but will get progressively worse until the middle of July (Weather permitting).

Secondly after a club hill session a week last Tuesday (Where I put in one effort to gain a Strava segment 1st place, then cruised the rest of the reps, happy that the legs felt fairly good) I was off with my brother to the Isle of Man to experience my first taste of TT action. And that was an awesome experience, everything I expected it to be and a little bit more. A place where H&S has barely scratched the moral compass of an island that appears to embrace a bit of healthy danger.

Amongst the four portions of fish and chips; three pizzas, two cooked breakfast; several egg baps; and more pints of cider (most of it rubbish, sadly) than I care to remember, I did actually manage to squeeze three runs in. One was a sightseeing run taking in the promenade of Douglas and the fearsome (on a bike anyway) Bray Hill – where a Strava segment was attacked in moderate anger). The next run was a 10 1/2 mile affair where I found a relatively quiet country lane (Which turned out to be an A road, albeit not an A road like we know it on the mainland) and enjoyed the peace and the challenge of some tasty hills. The legs were feeling quite good, with just the pelvis nag to bother me.

The final run was on (Not so, if you don’t have a bike) Mad Sunday, where me and brother Joe began with a pretty quick assault back up Bray Hill (which Joe led me up to my chagrin) and then a 10k tour of the town, stopping for juice and nuts at Tesco (The joys of camping).

I returned home on Monday evening, feeling decidedly unhealthy and a fair few pounds heavier than when I left. A resolve to put in a good week of running was born out of necessity and it began with a good club intervals session, putting in 10 reasonable 800m efforts, the best of which was sub five minute miles and at approximately 2:25, was only seven seconds or so outside my 22 year old track PB.

Wednesday was a steady seven miles; Thursday a shorter than planned six because of work; Friday 13.4 miles and some of which off road looking ahead to next week’s Baslow Bootbash. This morning saw another six miles, the groin and pelvis a bit achy but otherwise clear signs that the injury ridden past few months were hopefully coming to an end and the post marathon malaise beginning to leave the body.

On the back of this I entered the Summer Solstice 10k, which I may or may not (Depending on work) be able to run in a couple of weeks. If I break 37 minutes there frankly I’ll be happy; it’ll show I’m better off than I was at this time last year. If not, I’ll just be happy that I am currently running mostly pain free.