Monday, 25 April 2011

Chi-p on running...

A couple of months ago a colleague at work recommended a book called "Chi Running" by Danny Dreyer, which claimed to have taught thousands of people to run comfortably, and without injury.  And whilst generally I'm a bit of a cynic, when it comes to running, cycling, and other endurance activity I seem to be prepared to suspend disbelief, and give many wacky theories a chance.  So I bought the book.

Once you get through the first two or three chapters of American west coast New Age-ism, including why it's called Chi Running (as in Tai Chi), there's a lot of stuff around technique that seemed to make a lot of sense intuitively to me - so I've been trying to incorporate it into my running.  There's lots of aspects, but the crucial ones seem to be 1) always strike the floor first with the ball of your foot, not your heel; 2) lean forward, but from the ankles rather than waist; 3) make sure your feet hit the ground under your body rather than in front of you; 4) maintain a relatively high cadence of 75-80 small-ish strides per foot per minute rather than fewer, bigger strides; 5) keep your pelvis level rather than tilted down and 6) swing your arms as if you were elbowing someone rather than punching them.

Doesn't sound too hard does it?  But heck, where once running was strictly a mind-in-neutral, take-in-the-surroundings type activity, I now find myself concentrating just as hard as I have done in plenty of exams in my life.  I guess it's like learning any new physical activity requiring co-ordination of lots of bodily parts - at first it's really hard, but then becomes easier as you get to that 'unconscious competence' stage.  But it seems to be worth persisting with, as (whisper this and touch wood) I'm doing plenty of miles without any significant problems to speak of at the moment.  Since the last blog when I promised myself I'd up the activity I've done 5 runs covering 44 miles, including a 22 miler yesterday, and whilst I'm quite tired and stiff today, there isn't anything too traumatic.  I'm beginnning to believe I really can run a marathon in under 4 hours.

So what else of all the stuff I've read and experimented with seems to work?  A few examples:

- breakfast: generally, I'm a big believer in breakfast, most important meal of the day etc.  And I'm a fruit and porridge man; lots of high quality carbs.  However, on race days I've stopped having breakfast and just have 750 ml of a pre-exercise carb loading drink.  As long as you start eating (bike), or taking gels (running) in the first hour, it seems to make you much livelier in the first part of an event without sacrificing anything later on
- eating (1):  for me, during non-running long events (6 hours plus), real food is much more effective at sustaining performance than gels, sweets, energy bars and so on.  Sure I have some of those in my pocket for a rapid energy boost when I really need one, but generally a cheese sandwich will do the trick
- eating (2):  now this really is setting myself up for a fall, but the fabled runners' "wall" - are they eating enough?  Maybe it's because I've learned my endurance on the bike, where there's a culture of eating, but runners seem to eschew eating in the same way.  I totally appreciate that you can't be taking on the aforementioned cheese sandwich half way through a marathon, but a steady flow of gels and jellies surely would stave the problem off?  We'll see won't we? 

I'm getting boring with that so I'll stop.  Where I can be a bit rubbish is drinking enough, particularly on cooler days, and 2 years ago on the Monster I had a slightly embarrassing 10 mins lying down in the St Johns Ambulance section at the finish at 2am.  I'm pretty sure it was nothing more than dehydration, as I hardly drank a thing after 11pm.  It's the Monster again next weekend, so I'll be consciously drinking plenty, and not just water.  We head up there on Royal Wedding day, and hopefully I'll be in a fit enough state next Monday to record whether we achieved our target of finishing in 15 hours.  With a 6.30am start (which means rising at 5am), I certainly hope so...

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Step it up

So, the Monster is now less than 2 weeks away, and the Marathon less than 5.  I thought I was doing ok, until...

I have a couple of challenges with what I'm doing, ones that are new to me this year (aside from the obvious change of adding running to cycling).  The first is that after doing an event like last Saturday, there's a temptation to take it easy for a week or so afterwards, basking in the warm afterglow of a sense of achievement.  The other is that the training required to a) time trial on a bike (which is what the cycle section of the duathlon was), b) run a hilly hour-long course, c) run a long distance, and d) do a 15 hour endurance event, is all quite different, and so there's a danger of being the proverbial jack-of-all-trades physically.

Those two challenges combine with the unpredictable nature of work to mean that training has to be planned week by week - and it's very easy to under-train.  So, for example, I went out on what turned into a glorious morning yesterday to run further than I ever have before - 20 miles, which took 2 hrs 45.  How's that under-training?  Well, this morning, which surpassed yesterday in terms of its springtime wonderfulness, I convinced myself that what I needed was a gentle spin on the bike, as the thighs were still a bit sore from yesterday's miles.  I thought an hour long spin on the mountain bike round Macc Forest and Wildboarclough, with low gears and no real effort in the hills, would be all I was capable of.  In the event, I was out for a couple of hours, and whilst the slopes needed a little more effort than usual, they were reasonably straightforward.  I sought some extra ones out, but should have / could have done more.

And then it was of course London Marathon today, and watching the highlights tonight I was struck by what the times many of the "masses" (as the non-elites are termed) were doing - loads under 4 hours, Nell McAndrew in 3 hrs 8!  Ok, so many of them have done marathons before, but really, how hard can it be?  (copyright J Clarkson).  Quite hard actually - what we don't see on the tv is the hours of pavement pounding they've done leading up to today.  I had kidded myself that I was going to be the Ledley King of the running world - irregular training and appearances, but a solid performance when I do get out there.  I'm losing faith in that theory though, so my resolve is now firm and clear, the weather forecast is set fair for the week...time to get some miles in.  All I have to do now is keep doing the exercises to keep my ITB (illotial band) problem under control, as that's going to be the main barrier to going well.

Meanwhile, I packed for the Monster this morning - separate bags for each of the changeovers, a bag of spares for dry weather, a bag of stuff if it's wet, etc.  Yes I know it's 2 weeks away, but Easter weekend is looking busy on the domestic front, and I wanted to be sure I had everything I need.  And I'm sad enough to find packing for these things fun - it's nearly as good as going on holiday.  Off now to get some more clothes out - this time for tomorrow's early morning run in pursuit of my new resolve.


Saturday, 9 April 2011

Duathlon: Done

When Gordon Ramsay completes a dish on one of the increasingly rare programmes where he actually cooks something as well as shouts as people (as opposed to those where he only shouts at people) he is wont to say "shoulder of lamb with a mint blah blah: done" in that triumphant, how-good-am-I type way.  Well that's a bit how I feel tonight about the Ashbourne Duathlon which I competed in this morning.  Duathlon: Done.

Yep, the first of the 4 events this blog is named after was completed at 10.41 this morning, and a cracking morning it was too.  Rising at 5 am wasn't an auspicious start, but as we were leaving at 6 I needed that time to go through my usual pre-event routine of a strong coffee to, er, accelerate morning digestive activity, stretch, grease the bits that rub and generally have a bit of a faff.  Because I'd not done a duathlon before I persuaded both wife and youngest daughter to accompany me for moral and possibly practical support, and you can guess how thrilled they were to be woken soon after 5.30.

The venue for the event was actually Carsington Water, about 6 miles out of Ashbourne.  It's a large lake and home to a sailing club and many other watersports events, and a very fine venue it was too, made all the more attractive on a gorgeous, sunny April morning like this morning.  We were there about 6.45, whereupon the faff factor rose considerably as I prepared bike, me, transition gear etc.  A quick briefing and we were off on the first run bang on 8.

That first run was just over 12k, with the middle third being really hilly.  I resisted the urge to go at other people's pace and stuck doggedly to mine, which meant to start with I drifted down the field.  However, it turns out that climbing abilities on the bike (of which I have a little) translate into running, and on the hilly section I started hauling in some other folk.  I finished with a time of 59:33 for that run, which I was absolutely delighted with, but was still only good enough to place me 80th out of 138.  A quick transition, a telling off for getting on the bike before the final 8 mm of it was over the transition line, and I was out on the open road for an anti-clockwise 40 km circuit, which included going through the delightful market town of Wirksworth.

I had hoped to average just under 20 mph on the ride, but again it was hilly - much hillier than I had envisaged, and so that fell to 17.6, which translated to a ride time of 1 hr 19.  That, however, was good enough to take me 20 places up the field, not least because I held my own going uphill, and gave free rein to gravity going downhill, unlike others who seemed quite tentative.  The biggest problem was staving off cramp - the left calf started twinging after 5 miles, but keeping the legs spinning rather than grinding seemed to do the trick.

Transition 2 went smoothly and I was off on the second run, which was absolutely pan flat for 4 km I was delighted to find.  17 mins later I was running under the finishing arch for a total time of 2 hrs 41 min 5 secs, which placed me 61st out of 138 finishers.  The winner did it in 2 hrs 6 mins (how?!  Did he know some short cuts?), whilst the last doughty finisher came in at 4 hrs 15, bless him.  I'm really pleased with that - I'd have been ok with anything under 3 hrs, hoped for 2:50, so to do 2:41 was a very pleasant surprise.  I put it down to the fantastic weather this morning - was in shorts and short-sleeved top even on the bike - and having my own personal supporters, who were great, and who (I hope) thought that the beauty of the venue and the eally good atmosphere of the event made that 5.30 start bearable.

Highlights apart from my time and the weather:  a Virgin hot air balloon drifting low over us on the first run, fantastic organisation and marshalling (well done to the organisers, Punishing Events), and getting to grips with tri-bars!

I had thought that doing this event would be a one-off, but you know, I'm not so sure.....but in case anyone is thinking I'm falling out of love with bike events, my reaction this morning when I hopped over the saddle?  "Thank God for that, I can have a bit of rest".

So, first event down, 3 to go, and if the rest are as good as that I'll be a lucky boy indeed.  

Sunday, 3 April 2011

The Mock Exam

Next week is the first of the quartet of events that make up the title of this blog - the Ashbourne Duathlon.  On the basis that things are a lot less scary if you've done them before, I decided that today would be the day when I did my 'mock' - a practice run of next week's duathlon.

So, at 7.55 this morning I left home to run, with cycling gear and bike all ready to go on my return, and my trainers would be left by the front door ready for the short run that follows the cycle.  Thanks to an app called Cyclemeter on my lovely new iPhone I was able to track all 3 parts of my 'mock'.  And, with the exception of the last half mile, when the curse of the cramp struck, I went pretty well, and would be delighted if I repeated the performance next Saturday.

I'm not normally one for putting facts and figures in the blog, but as I was practicing for a race (and not in any way because I'm rather chuffed with the first two legs) I'm going to make an exception today.

Run 1 (reasonably hilly):  6.44 miles, 51mins 33 secs, 229m ascent, ave 7.5 mph
Cycle (moderately undulating):  25.4 miles, 77 mins, ave 19.9 mph
Run 2 (flat): 2.6 miles, 24 mins 20 secs, ave 6.4 mph

Apart from in a 2-man time trial where we had the benefit of slipstreaming each other I've not got that close to averaging 20 mph over 25+ miles, so I'm genuinely pleased with that effort, but I did pay for it on the final run, as you can see from the average speed figures. 

There's not going to be any high intensity stuff in the training this week - I find it counter-productive in the week leading up to an event.  Plenty of stretching and core exercises, a gentle run or two and some very moderate turbo work, that's the order of the day - let the body convert the training of the last few weeks into performance next weekend.  It sounds like I really care doesn't it?  Well, that's true to an extent - I don't really mind where I come compared to others, but a while back I set myself the target of finishing in under 3 hours.  I don't think that's possible given that time for transitions is added in, but I'll give it a go.  News of that next time...
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