Saturday, 25 April 2015

And I'm meant to be tapering....

With the MK Marathon looming on 4th May, I should be well into an injury-free period of tapering.  Things are not going to plan and this is unusual for me as normally I like to do these things "by the book".

My training had fallen behind through the pressures of work etc.  Such that my long 20 mile easy run in early April didn't go as well as it should (de-hydration, running on empty) and I have an injury.  Actually two, I think.

First injury goes back a while and a troublesome muscle in my left calf area.  Second injury is the classic over-use shin splints, again in my left leg.

Now I am trying to achieve that tricky balance of resting and yet doing a few miles to stay used to running.  I can tell you, I feel torn between wanting to get out there and run every day (I find myself yearning for a threshold run) and yet I know it would be disasterous if I went running everyday.

So today is Saturday and I went for a hilly 7.5 mile run, previous run was Wednesday where I did 4.5 miles on a flat path.  Which do you think was harder?  Yep the shorter run on wednesday.  Why?  Read on....

Having rested on Thursday and Friday, this made a real difference.  Having said that I did start the run by hobbling a bit, almost to the point of wondering if I'd make it.  Thankfully it eased and I was able to run well.  Every now and again I would find myself landing on the ball of my feet (which seems a more instinctive running form now) and this would be painful in my leg.  Running by landing on my heel didn't help and so a rather mid-foot landing eased the pain but I kept forgetting to do this!  I might experiment with a little DIY padding, although I know this will be frowned upon by some purists!  Needs must.

I have chatted this through with some friends who are fellow runners.  All sympathetic and some commented that I "had it coming" through possible over-use and secondly, because I have been relatively free of any problems like this in all the years I have been running and injuries have finally caught up with me.  A kind of justice perhaps?  Thanks guys!

I suspect I will have an uncomfortable time over the next week or so, trying to be patient and perhaps a short jog or two.  I do have some free gym passes so I think some cross training is in order, perhaps a swim as well.  On the big day I am hoping to get around alright, probably helped by a dose of Ibuprofen (dose that count as doping!?!?) and then gallons of Cherry Active to help ease my muscles.

Man this is frustrating!

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Jon you see, cyclists are nice

My good friend Jon is a fantastic person to run with. We have enjoyed each other's company on the handful of runs that we have done with each other.  We seem to agree on just about everything.  Everything, that is, except cyclists.

Jon is one of those lovely people who simply do not appreciate cyclists and I just can't understand why.  He says it mostly from the perspective of being a car driver himself and he complains about the bad behaviour of cyclists and is often 'put out' when cyclists make better progress than cars through places like Harpenden.

On our run last week Jon could not help but notice how friendly with each of the cyclists were that we passed. Some of them would ping their bells for us to hear they were coming, others would simply say hello as they passed us.  Every single one of them was friendly and pleasant.

I couldn't help but comment on this.

"Jon you can see, they're all nice people, everyone of those cyclists"

We strode on a few yards.

"I can't explain it Doug.  Must be because they've read your cycling blog!"

Now that sounded good to me.  And then another group when past us a few minutes later and they beat us to it in terms of exchanging a greeting.

And Jon, there's more.  When I was running yesterday over a similar area it was almost exactly the same.  Apart from one single cyclist, who was clearly on a mission and "in the zone, man" was cheery and at the very least smiled.  Even a group of MTBs greeted me; they were at the side of the road waiting patiently while one of them fixed a puncture.

The highlight of me interacting with the happy cyclists of Hertfordshire was at the point of being really thirsty.  So when the next cyclist passed by I asked him if he could spare a little water.  Naturally and without any hesitation he lured me some water.  I commented on his new looking bike, a carbon Boardman and he said he was "just getting into it" as he sped off.

Drat I didn't get a chance to ask if he'd seen my blog.

So there you are, proof that cyclists are [generally] nice friendly people.  Take note.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

How long does it take to warm up?

Post race stretches are fine, less sure about the shorts!

The question of 'warming up' is a tricky one for runners with a wide range of views on this.  Runners, cyclists and other sporty types will debate the correct way to warm up, with everyone advocating a different approach.

In discussing the topic here, I am doing it from my own perspective.  I have tried different approaches and have settled down to my own routine which seems to work for me.  To qualify this, please let me remind you again I'm not a coach (yet) or a physiotherapist or anything medical.  Just an ordinary bloke who thrives on running.

Different types of 'warming up'

  • On the spot: this doesn't involve running necessarily.  Breathe well, stretch your arms up and wide, shake your hands as they come back down.  Move your feet around, do a few little jumps or skips right where you are.  This is a kind of dynamic stretching or warming up; simply getting the blood flowing nicely, clearing your mind and deeply filling your lungs with air.  This kind of a warm up is, I believe, quite a good thing for anyone to do before undertaking some exercise.
  • Stretching: I quite often see runners at races stretching before the race.  I have also done this in my earlier years as a runner but I'm not convinced.  Unless your muscles are already warm, stretching can do more harm than good.
  • Starting off slowly.  By this I mean not racing ahead even though energy reserves are full and the temptation is to have fun and go shooting ahead.  No, don't do it.  Instead it's much better to run quite slowly, or jog, until you feel your muscles are becoming warm and more supple.

How long does it take?
Yep I prefer the 'on the spot' jiggling around and a slow start as the best way of warming myself up for a great run.  This has proved an effective way of avoiding injury but getting some blood flowing and generally waking my body up.

However, I notice such a difference going from one season to another.  During my long winter runs it would easily take 30 minutes of gentle running before I would feel properly warmed up.  Always the last part of my body to be properly warmed would be my hands and fingers.  Although I always wore gloves my fingers would remain cold for half an hour.  If my fingers were cold, I knew that I wasn't functioning in a completely efficient way.  Once the 30 minutes were over I would speed up a little and really feel I was running with good form and this would coincide with real enjoyment of the run.

Surprisingly even in the warmer summer weather, it takes me 20 minutes before I am running well.  

I always try to have a post-run stretch, although in all honesty it doesn't always happen.  I do generally feel the benefit of it in two ways:
  • muscle soreness can be reduced through stretching, almost as if I'm wringing the lactic acid out
  • the following run, perhaps on the next day, goes well from the start
This is an important thing for runners to consider as we are often on the stiff side.  This has been noticed by numerous yoga and Pilates teachers.  Even though runners are generally fit and in good shape, runners don't always have the right degree of suppleness.  Stretching can help this but it needs to be done in the right way as I do believe stretching, done incorrectly, can actually do more harm than good.

Wrapping up
Making sure we are properly warmed up is important for runners.  We can take steps to warm ourselves up before a run but the early part of the run is still part of the process.  Don't forget this, it's important!  

Listen to your own body.  Make a note of how long it truly takes before you're running at your best and my advice is not to underestimate this.  When you're on a training run, you're not in a race.  You're training purpose is to improve your performance gradually.

Warming up, in my experience, depends on the time of year and the temperature.  When temperatures are cold, do allow extra time for warming up.

Stretching is, in my view, best left until after a run.  With very long runs (i.e. 20 miles plus), it might be better not to stretch at all and instead simply allow your legs to rest.  Stretching could be done a little later.

Hope this helps!

Monday, 13 April 2015

Learned about blogging

Time to pause and reflect on blogging, taking stock, looking to refresh?  Time to consider what’s been learned about blogging.
Never underestimate your reach
Sometimes the most unexpected blog can really take off, or even a post within a mediocre blog.  I recently blogged about UKIP and their views on cyclists (click for post) and this led to finding Mum Juice who had already gone viral in breaking the same story.  Reading her relatively young blog Mum Juice commented that she had 77,000 hits in a short period of time, simply because of her own post.
In this blog, I once did a “filler” post where I took a swipe at the drivers of black Range Rovers and this has turned out to be my most popular post to date in quickly hitting well over 22,000 page views.  Following closely behind is a more serious post which I did on giving up smoking, also scoring 22,000 hits but over a longer period of time.  No doubt other bloggers have had similar experiences with far more hits and have perhaps been seriously viral.
I am not sure whether to be amazed at these figures or not.  To think how any of us, all ordinary people, can set up a blog and then have an audience across the world.  Isn’t that amazing?
Bloggers need a strategy
When I started my first blog, I didn’t really have a strategy at all and I have since learned every blogger needs to be clear about this.  The need to be sure about WHY you are blogging is important and equally important is to stick to that.  Without a strategy a blog can become meaningless and without direction.
Therefore I believe it is important to pause every now and then to make sure the blog is still on track and ticking the right boxes.  For me, this blog is about running, staying healthy, eating well on my journey through life, giving mostly personal reflections on things.  The hit rate and my income from that is secondary.
Other bloggers will have a different purpose and these are all equally valid.  Examples can include being a resource for other like-minded people, to campaign or raise awareness, to market something, to amuse, to generate an income, to record a “project” i.e. my training and journey to XXXX event.
It is also important to be clear on how much time you will be required to invest and how often you’re prepared to write a post.  On this I could do much better, I know I am erratic.  Likewise it is important to know what style you’re adopting.  Is a blog going to be funny, heartening, encouraging, informative etc.  Again, be clear about this.
Don’t be afraid to “be yourself”
With so much identify theft taking place these days, it’s easy to understand how people can become paranoid about their place on the web, hiding behind some kind of anonymous avatar.  Speaking honestly I remember being cautious myself.
The blogs from other people I enjoy the most are those who write personally and not distantly.  By that I mean they are honestly sharing something about themselves, rather than hiding behind some virtual wall so the reader has no idea who they really are.
This leads me to comment on the advantages of being more personal in a blog.  I have enjoyed, far more, the interaction with readers when they leave comments and email me directly on a more human basis, rather than those pointless bland comments which are only a level above spam.
So, if a blog writer is being honest and open, why shouldn’t their readers behave in a like-minded way?  It all adds to the richness of interactions between people who might be on different sides of the world and will probably never meet face-to-face.
Google Blogger, WordPress
This has been a steep learning curve for me.  Like many amateur bloggers, the first foray into this fascinating world is through Google’s Blogger platform (and used for this very blog).  Some people knock Google for being so global, intrusive and universal, while this might be true they have done us all a favour by being able to blog easily.
Conversely I have had arguments from people saying the ease in which almost anyone can get on-line and blog has lowered the quality of the web’s content.  It is true there’s a lot of garbage around but the most important thing is the freedom people have in being able to enjoy free speech.  Their audience maybe small, perhaps deliberately restricted to a small family group, or it might potentially be world-wide.
Back to my learning curve.  Google’s Blogger is absolutely fine for a number of reasons – it’s free of charge, relatively easy to do and you can still be quite creative with different formats, colours and templates.  For another blog I have gone down the domain buying, hosting and figuring out WordPress.  
Being accountable
Being accountable has been an unexpected aspect of blogging for me.  When I write, I am accountable for what I say and I do take this seriously.  I say this for a couple of reasons:
  • If I say “I am a runner, or a cyclist, or a Christian, or a father” I have to live up to that.  In practice this is more than simply minding my Ps and Qs; it is about living up to these things.  An armchair runner is not really a runner, therefore blogging about running also makes me get my running shoes on when I don’t really feel like it.
  • If I talk about a product, I know that can have an effect on the reputation of the brand, or the supplier.  So when I say I like or dislike something, I have to do this in a defensible way.  I don’t expect everyone to agree with me but I must be able to stand my ground as well.
To be grateful for free speech
I am thankful I live in the UK and have the privilege of enjoying free speech.  I do not have to “look over my shoulder” or live in any kind of fear.  We do not live in a land where people disappear for saying the wrong things or having a different ideology or religious faith.
However we cannot take this for granted and I can see there are many threats to this, even in Europe and the UK.  These threats can come from the increasing pressure to live in a secular world, or to appease terrorism or be annoyingly politically correct.
Therefore I do value being able to sit here at home typing this, with no fear at all.  I am here in our house, April 2015, in an armchair by the sitting room window.   I can press the publish button and know within seconds this post can be picked up almost anywhere in the world.  Marvellous.  Free speech.  Such a precious thing.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Unexpected company

Yesterday my long run went according to someone else's plan and not my own.  It turned out to be the most enjoyable, hard, thought provoking run I think I've ever had.

Even the start of the day wasn't quite how it was anticipated.  A friend of ours, Paul who is a faithful Christian and from Birmingham, phoned late on Friday evening, hoping to call in on Saturday to see us.  The only window for Paul was breakfast and it was truly great to see him.  We had breakfast as a family together with Paul joining in and it was certainly nice to have his company; he's always a blessing for us.

A little later on in the morning my thoughts were on getting in my long run.  By that I mean something over two hours.  Owing to the complexities of getting two teenage daughters to their respective hobbies (kayaking and tap dancing), I went to Luton and started my long run from there prior to resuming the fatherly taxi service.  I had run for less than one mile when I bumped into my friend Jon!  Jon is another friend with a strong Christian faith and it certainly shows itself in his day to day life.

Bumping in to him was amazing.  Seconds later we would have missed each other.  How does this kind of thing happen?  Coincidence?  Something else?  Read on....

Both Jon and I know the value of running in terms of staying in good shape and that's just the tip of the iceberg.  For both of us running is a fantastic way of sorting through things in our minds, working through problems, generating solutions, being reflective and the list goes on.  It was wonderful we could share 90 minutes of each other's company and we probably did around 10+ miles.

The run itself
I was on Jon's territory, not mine.  Instantly Jon suggested a general route which I was happy to go along with.  It included pausing once or twice for "I think this is the right way Doug" and "there might be a footpath over there".

Now that "over there" involved sneaking through a small wood near someone's grand house (we were just inside the prosperous Hertfordshire at this point and clearly on someone's land, as opposed to a footpath over farm land).  Next was skirting around a little boggy area before climbing over a vicious barbed wire fence and through a hedge with all kinds of sharp twiggy bits. "Man" I thought "I remember running with Jon before and having a nasty fall - just as well I'm not superstitious!".

And we were fine.  No barbed wire mishaps, no angry landowners (or their dogs) or anything to lessen the impact of this being a lovely run.

Included in the run was a sharp climb.  It was called the "Baulk" or something like that.  Now I had a quick call of nature at the foot of the climb, Jon continued out of politeness and so I could meet him at the top. Wow that was a fantastic climb, I could feel some of my leg muscles burning and I knew I was at the limit.

"But there's Jon!... I think I'm closing the gap.... yes I am, no I'm not, YES I AM!...."

And I wouldn't let up at all, in fact as I could see the top was so close I pushed on even harder, really to the limit and more - and then there I was, at the top with Jon.  We both paused, gasping and getting our breath back before we carried on, at a somewhat relaxed pace for a little while.  I can tell you, I could really feel my quad muscles burning in the last few yards.

The miles drifted by and it seemed almost disappointing that we got back to Luton as quickly as we did.  I had some time on my hand, before switching into Dad Taxi mode, plus I needed a few more miles.

So off I went on my own for a loop around King's Walden
This was the hardest part of the run by far.  Biggest problem was "running on empty" as I was starting to feel thirsty, almost to the point of my lips becoming dry.  I also knew I was in my third hour and I think every runner running non-stop over two hours should be thinking about fuel in me - i.e. getting a bit of energy inside.  And at that point I remembered I'd tucked an energy gel inside my shirt key pocket.  Turned out it had gone off, past the "use by" date and useless.

I pressed on, not quite realising how many miles I had run, I was starting to get a bit confused in trying to work it out.  Should be simple enough trying to work it out but I knew I was becoming muddled.  My running was becoming slower to the point the last 3 miles were at 10mins/mile.

Fortunately the hills were neither long nor steep.  Nevertheless the slopes sapped my energy further.  The last quarter mile was up an incline and (please don't do this at home) I just went for it as fast as I could.  Now I should say "just went for it" does not mean a dramatic increase in speed. Instead it was squeezing the last bit of energy out of my tired legs before they turned to jelly.  I made it, with 5 minutes to spare!  Phew!

Afterwards I was sweaty, achy and buzzing alive with a wonderful euphoric feeling.  Must be all those endorphins and a rush of Runner's High.

So who's plan was it?
Seeing my friend Paul at breakfast time was lovely, encouraging and long over due.  Seeing my friend Jon was remarkable; second later we would have missed each other and yet we both needed a good run, probably for slightly different reasons but running together was all part of the day and how we were being blessed.

So unexpected, so hard, so wonderful.  Each one of those 18.7 miles was incredible and I loved each one.  Who's plan was it?  I think you might already know.

Thank you so much!

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Sinnerman, Nina Simone - greatest running music?

Very occasionally I like to run with my iPod and enjoy some upbeat, uplifting and music.  I've blogged about this once or twice before and my latest find is this by Nina Simone: Sinnerman.

Somewhere in the attic I have a Nina Simone LP (that's an album by the way, a Long Player) which I think is much "older" music including My Baby Just Cares For Me and the like.  Nice as some of these older tracks are, they don't lend themselves to running.  Sinnerman does.

This makes me run faster.  I'm lighter on my feet.  It's really worthwhile having a listen.

Related: Running naked

Saturday, 4 April 2015

MK marathon training update

Well, well, well would you believe I am behind with my training, yet again.  Nevertheless I'm looking on the bright side and hoping it'll all come together on the day.  As usual these things are complex but it can be broken down into two main headings:

Work pressures
My work is pretty tricky at present and I've not had so many opportunities to run after leaving the office and driving home, although this week I've managed a couple of runs.   Other times have found me spending some time at our other offices which are a little further away.

Although I sometimes feel I just want to get into my car at the end of the day and drive away as fast as I can (i.e. escaping work) I have never, ever regretted a run.  Surprising how even a 30 minute run can bring so many benefits.

Yep I have picked up an injury.  Some might say it's "about time" as I have been pretty lucky in my running career through having been almost completely free of injuries.  This time it's a bit more involved....

Dr Doug reckons I have strained, or over used, one of the calf muscles in my left leg. This might be the generic and classic "shin splint" but I don't think it is quite that.   This in turn has led to my gait changing and this has had a knock-on effect with my left ankle, knee and hip all having a grumble.  Having my new shoes do help; these are Asics something-or-other and a little more neutral than my previous Sauconys.  

What helps?
Well I'm back on the Cherry Active as it is pretty good for a post-run dose of good things to help with muscle soreness.  I'm still not over-keen on the slightly tart taste but it is an effective medicine.  

Resting more is always a good thing and I'm making sure I don't skimp on sleep.  Funnily enough, this seems to be in the media far more these days; good sleep seems to be the latest fad in the healthy living circles and probably much to the frustration of those marketing men.

The other element in trying to help myself is simply knowing my own body, reading the signs and judging how far I can push myself.  Now I know that I have the marathon about four weeks from now and I should be peaking now followed by tapering.  Instead I'm still building up!  It is often a tricky balance between training and taking it easy: too much training will aggravate any injuries.  Doing too little will mean my body isn't quite ready for the distance.  Normally I'm pretty good at judging this and so I hope I can continue - but I can tell you, it is a tricky balance.

And then my run yesterday morning
Yesterday was my latest long, slow run.  I like my long runs best of all although they are the most difficult to fit in with family and work life.  Here's my run in numbers:

  • Distance: 16.1 miles
  • Pace: 9:24mins/mile
  • Calories: 2172
  • Pee stops: 1
  • Other runners: 0
  • Cyclists: 8
  • Elevation gain: 928feet

Setting off felt as if I was hobbling and I must have looked a very awkward runner.  After 20 minutes I was staring to get warmed up and by 40 minutes I finally felt loose and running in a fairly fluid way.    I could feel my injury a little now and again but as it seemed better than I expected, I decided to run further and it's just as well I did.

The route was one I had run before although I added the full Bison Hill climb, rather than leaving the road half way up.  This is a serious climb around here and I love it!  

Although 24 hours later I do feel a little creaky, I am better than I was with last week's 14 mile run, so that's pretty good.  Suddenly all this makes me feel a bit more optimistic about the MK Marathon.  Already next week's long run is falling into place with arrangements for running while my eldest daughter has her tap dancing lesson: this should give me a 3 hour window to run around those country lanes between the grotty Luton and the okay Stevenage.

So, it's all coming together!