Sunday, October 25, 2020

Let's Be Grateful

 In a strange masochistic way, I always wanted to know what it would be like to run an entire marathon on a treadmill. I think it was Jo Fearon a few years ago when she ran 12 marathons on the 12 days of Christmas (she had to restrain herself to the marathon distance because she was nursing a baby at the time - talk about hardcore!) that started my curiosity, but knowing how miserable an experience even a single hour on the treadmill usually is I wasn't ever tempted to follow up on that in reality.

Two things have happened since that made the difference. The first was the emergence of online training platforms like Zwift with their virtual worlds tied to your own performance on a treadmill or bike trainer. It should not really make a difference, you are still working away without moving from the spot, but seeing your avatar moving along in a 3D world is a complete game changer. The second thing was obviously a worldwide pandemic that made it rather unwise to hold mass events, to be putting it mildly, and virtual events have taken over instead, poor replacements they may be.

I had waited for a long time to sign up for the virtual Dublin City Marathon, not really being tempted by virtual races, but eventually I did. I was a bit unsure where I should do my running; laps were an obvious choice, especially as it allowed you to stow away some sports drink, in the hope nobody would interfere with it, and I had the option of Bray's People Park (1 km loops), Shanganagh Park (2 km loops) and Boghall Road - Southern Cross Road (5 km loops), plus the distance it would take to run there and back home.

Then level 5 lockdown came to Ireland, and while all those options were entirely inside my 5 km radius and therefore perfectly within the guidelines, I opted to cocoon and went for the treadmill, though in all honesty more out of curiosity to finally grab the chance to see what it's like rather than an overblown sense of civil obedience. It also solved the drinks problem, all I had to do was to put them on the windowsill beside me.

Once all was in place, it was just a matter of starting the computer and the treadmill and start running.

The first 5k were rather tedious. Time just didn't want to pass and I thought this was going to be a VERY long day. Mind, I have plenty of experience of very long days running and today wasn't going to be one of the tough ones, not really. Eventually I managed to tune out and get into the Zone, which helped a lot and made the next 90 minutes or so mostly just fly by.

The pacing was maybe a tad optimistic. I hadn't done any marathon specific training and was falling back on muscle memory, though I had covered plenty of miles in that last person standing challenge, which I reckoned would stand me in good stead, so I set the pace of the treadmill to 12 kph, 5 minutes per k, which would get me home just under 3:30. That was fine for the first 25 km and I was doing pretty well, mentally as well as physically. Of course, I've been in that game long enough to know that the first 25 k are not the ones that really count. And true enough, at that point I felt the first spasm in my right calf, the bane of my life, yet again. Fuck.

The treadmill adds another dimension to the cramps game, assuming that you don't want to be spat out at the end when you seize up, which could easily lead to further injury, something I was keen to avoid. So when I felt the second spasm I decided to play it safe and slowed down. At that point I still felt pretty good and managed to get another 10 k out of my legs but then the fun started again, and this time with rather more vehemence. I narrowly avoided an undignified treadmill exit out of the back end, but it was perfectly clear that the only way to avoid further drama was to slow right down, which I did, and I jogged home the last 7k in rather pedestrian fashion and finished up in 3:37:49.

To be honest, I was happy enough with that, not a complete disgrace and I was definitely feeling it for the last few miles and not exactly in perfect shape when I finally stepped off.

So, the Virtual Dublin City Marathon is done and I have satisfied my curiosity regarding treadmill marathons. And I got the badge on Zwift. 

The final verdict: In all honesty I'm not particularly keen to repeat the experience, I much prefer a real marathon. But you know, one day there will be the day when I cannot run any more. Today is not that day. Let's be grateful for that!



Saturday, October 17, 2020


That Last Person challenge I mentioned dragged out quite a bit longer than I thought it would. I had resolved to stay in only for as long as I could do so reasonably easily but didn't entirely stick to that. We were down to the last three - in fact we were down to the last three for about two weeks, with everyone too stubborn (read: stupid) to drop out.

The one thing I wanted to get out if it was the motivation to run more than the usual 7 or so miles a day, and I sure got that. I never thought I'd ever run another 100 mile week ever again but turns out, I did. By that point I had a few niggles to deal with. The balls of my right foot were hurting at the end of each run, and it was fucking agony in one particular pair of shoes. The heel of my left foot was hurting for the first 2 miles of each run, and I think it got just a tiny little worse with each day, so I was definitely pushing my luck. Then again, pushing my luck in training is what got me to international championships, until my luck ran out that is.

I did a couple of runs on the treadmill when it was a bit too wild outside for my taste and in the end that's what cost me. On Wednesday morning I went on the treadmill yet again for a planned 25k. First of all, I was dead tired because running for 2 hours or more every morning had seriously cut into my sleep time the last couple of weeks. Secondly, for some reason I had miscalculated and stepped onto it 10 minutes late and I kept thinking how I would have to rush after the run to shower, breakfast and get ready for work. And then my right calf started to hurt, and the time was just crawling along.

After an hour I could not face it any longer and stepped off. Challenge over. Congratulations to Denise and Conor!

As it happens, for the rest of the day I was happy that I would not have to get up at 5 am on Thursday to run 30 k rather than disappointed about dropping out, so I was definitely at peace with it.

The calf still hurts, right where the Achilles attaches to the calf muscles, so it may be a tendon, muscle or maybe even ligament issue. I'm not too worried about it, I've run through way too many niggles in the last 15 years to worry about yet another one. 

I have kept the miles shorter since dropping out. I need the rest after the hefty recent mileage. And I'm still planning on doing the virtual Dublin marathon next week, so I guess it's some sort of taper time now. Running 26 miles on my own isn't all that appealing to be honest but I'm sure I'll get through. I've done worse.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Not on the EcoTrail

Today would have been the day of the EcoTrail Wicklow race, had it not been cancelled a few weeks ago. I had actually been reasonably optimistic that they would be able to hold it, since trail running is a socially distanced pursuit even when there's no pandemic spreading through the world, but of course in the end it wasn't to be. Such a shame - it would have been a gorgeous day, with clear skies and views for as far as the horizon stretches out. Just imagine the views from the Sugarloafs, or Djouce! I did get to enjoy a little bit of it as I met a work colleague, who moved here a few months ago, and we went over Bray Head and towards Little Sugarloaf, but had to turn around after an hour. Still, it was a very enjoyable 20k run, and who knows, with the weather about to turn and the days getting significantly shorter, it may have been the last of the nice days of the year.

Covid is of course a worry for all of us. With two kids in school and Niamh being a teacher they are having plenty of unavoidable close contacts, and the numbers in Bray are actually worse than in many parts of Dublin. It feels like it's only a matter of time until one of us tests positive, and my main worry is to spread it to the grandparents, who are in their eighties. Please don't let that happen!

As for running, with everything else cancelled I signed up to another virtual challenge four weeks ago, a last person standing one with the EoI running group. It's not the one where you run 4.5 miles every hour until everyone else has dropped out, it's about running a set amount of distance every day (well, they set it to 5 times a week), until everyone else has dropped out. At the time of writing there are still 9 of us in the running, out of the initial 15. A few years ago I would have declared myself the hot favourite for that kind of challenge, but those days are gone. We'll see how long I can hang on.

Monday, September 07, 2020

Weighty Matters

Just so that this doesn't get misunderstood: I do not believe in dieting. I have never followed a diet and never will. I have never starved myself in order to lose weight (or gorged myself to gain weight, for that matter). I have, however, heard plenty of times that I was too thin, sometimes in slightly less flattering terms. It shouldn't be hard to grasp the basic fact: I am fairly lightweight because I burn a lot of calories exercising, not because I am eating less. In fact, one of my colleagues once nicknamed me "sugar rush", after seeing me tuck into more than my fair share of sweets on more than one occasion. And yes, chocolate is my weakness.

Ever since I started running my weight has always gone up and down with my mileage. When I did 100 mile weeks I found it impossible to eat enough to keep my weight level, and when I was in recovery mode after a race my weight always shot up accordingly.

This was always quite predictable and stable but recently I have noticed that my weight keeps dropping. Undoubtedly it has to do with the fact that I am exercising twice a day, running and cycling once a day each. I used to think of 142 pounds as my optimal race weight, though more often than not I was about 144/145 for my goal races. Still perfectly acceptable, and I never ever got below 142, until now that is. This morning I was 141, and I have weighed myself below 140 at times, though that was caused by being dehydrated after a run, not my real weight.

Anyway, I told Niamh she had to bake more. Surely I won't lose any more weight when I stuff myself with chocolate brownies or similar on a regular basis? She keeps protesting that she is baking plenty anyway. We'll see how this plays out. Having to eat more cake in order to keep the weight stable - I can think of worse!

Last weekend I overdid it a bit. The very hilly 19+ mile course I had plotted had been a couple of miles longer than expected (very sloppy planning by me, this hasn't happened before) and I was rather tired at the end. Oh, and my legs cramped violently an hour later when I put them up - calves, bottom of the feet, around the ankles, any muscle in the lower legs really, until I somehow managed to put my weight on it. Blimey! So much for my attempt to get on top of my cramping issues. I just read an article that cramping is correlated with the muscles not being strong enough and has nothing to do with dehydration, salt levels or magnesium. This matches perfectly what I have observed over the years, my cramping problems were always significantly worse when I wasn't in top, top shape, and I never found any of the other theories even remotely relevant. Still, I took it easier this week. Also, my Garmin said I was overtraining - I wasn't entirely convinced by that, but with my recent history of overtraining it was definitely preferable to err on the side of caution. The watch has me back in green now. Let's keep it that way.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

And - It's Off

It's a prediction I would have preferred to be wrong about but as it happens I did call it right: The EcoTrail race has been cancelled. I think it may already have been cancelled when I wrote my last entry but I hadn't heard about it yet.

It had not been a difficult prediction to make and it definitely did not hit me out of the blue but I am still disappointed. I was really looking forward to the race. I happened to speak to Rene the other day and he will put on some "challenges" but I don't know what they will entail yet. I'll see.

The funny thing is, I only signed up to the EcoTrail after the Dublin marathon was cancelled, because initially I had not fancied putting myself through all that suffering yet again. Now that the EcoTrail is no longer on I have actually signed up to the Virtual Dublin marathon, so I've basically come full circle. I'm still not much of a fan of virtual "races", and I definitely won't be doing that one as a proper race (and I won't include it on my list of races on the right hand side) but it's all that's left this year, I'm afraid. 

Ah well.

As a result of all that I didn't head back to the mountains this weekend but did a flat(-ish) road run on Sunday for 2 hours. Grand. I love road running as well, after all.

We've had two Atlantic storms the last week, which is very unusual for August, and, having grown old and soft, did a few more treadmill workouts when the outside world did not seem too inviting. With Zwift, that is actually manageable, totally different to what treadmill running used to be. I also have a couple of planned workouts in my head for the treadmill for future rainy, stormy days; hours of uninterrupted uphill running isn't something I can replicate in the real world, and progression runs on the treadmill are a completely different beast to doing them on the road, so there's added value in that.

Sadly, my indoor cycle trainer seems to have died a few days ago. It had starting to get wonky a couple of weeks ago, the Bluetooth signal was no longer working but I managed to use it via ANT on my mobile, but now it's completely dead and resisting any attempts to send even a single signal, so I gave up on it and ordered a replacement. Actually, an upgrade. Half a year ago I wasn't sure if I would end up actually using it, so I had opted for the cheapest model that still satisfied my requirements, but after 6 months of virtually daily use, sometimes twice, I know it will be used and I'm going a bit more upmarket. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Hill Training

Training keeps going really well, I am really pleased with how it is going. I haven't felt as good for at least three years, and my HR and pace numbers support that as well. It looks like I have, once again, accidentally stumbled into a training regime that works, though the final proof of that is of course still to come.

As always, it's not all plain sailing and I do have a couple if issues. A couple of months ago my right foot was a bit swollen and bit tender to the touch. Also, when running it felt like my socks were scrunched up underneath the balls of my foot. I have heard that Morton's neuroma feels like that but can't tell if it was that or not. However, it went away eventually. Then, one morning about 2 weeks ago I was walking up a couple of steps in my house and felt "something" give, but it was manageable. I went for a run and didn't even notice it but later that day my foot later started swelling up again and it became a bit uncomfortable.

That was two weeks ago and it seems to have settled down again. The foot is still a little bit swollen but I can only tell if I compare my two feet directly to each other. It doesn't hurt, and I can curl my toes again, which I could not do a week ago. So, all in all, not too bad, but something to keep an eye on.

I had a great run on Sugarloaf last week. Instead of tagging two or three different mountains as I had done for most of my mountain runs I ran three laps on the Great Sugarloaf trail, which is the steepest and most technical part of my mountain runs anyway. I was pretty happy how that was going, and I ran for close to four hours, so it definitely was a good workout in its own right.

This Sunday I did something completely different. It was something I had been planning for a while, and a first rainy Sunday in a while provided a good opportunity. I hopped on the treadmill (obviously using Zwift to alleviate the boredom), set the treadmill to 5% incline, and ran for 2.5 hours. It was meant as a strengthening session for the calves but actually they still felt pretty good even at the end, so I'll probably give it another go, this time with a steeper incline. It's something the treadmill is excellent for - I just don't have a mountain around me where I can run uphill for several hours without it flattening out.

On the downside, the new Covid restrictions that came in just the other day make me doubt if the race will still be able to go ahead. It will, however, not change my training. Of course I would prefer if there were a race at the end of it, but I'm not running to race, I'm running because I love it, and will continue to do so.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Hope Dies Last

I don't want to be too hopeful. The last two years my performances have completely tanked (after already declining for three years before that) and I have on more than one occasion thought I might have turned the corner, only to be taught yet another painful lesson at my next race. So, let's not jump to conclusions just yet.

However, there are definitely positive signs. I did a mile time trial a couple of month ago that was faster than any mile I had run for a few years, even if it was still slower than my 10k used to be. But that's progress. And now that I have committed to running the Ecotrail again, I can actually compare my training to last year and actually it's looking pretty good. 

I had been battling with the problem that my legs just could not take the training mileage any more but every time I reduced my mileage to get the legs back into recovery mode, my fitness completely tanked. I might finally have found the solution: cycling!

I have stumbled into this completely by accident. I have been cycling to work for a couple of years but cycling for about half an hour at a time just does not have much impact, at least not at my level. But when we went into lockdown back in March, I started to do far longer training rides, albeit virtually on the Zwift platform. Two months ago I actually started following a proper training plan that has three to five workouts per week and boy, some of those workouts are brutal! But I have to say I am impressed. The level seems to be just right - the workouts are challenging but (usually) doable. On more than one occasion I was convinced I would not be able to finish the workout and just kept hanging on by my fingertips but somehow managed to hang on. That's a well designed training plan - tough but just about manageable.

I had two failures: on one occasion my legs started cramping rather badly and I just could not continue. That had been after doing a 3 hour mountain run in the morning, so maybe should not have come as a complete surprise. The other occasion was just the other day when the legs just did not have any pep. Or maybe it was in my head but whatever the cause, I bailed out. All other workouts have gone okay, even if I ended up wobbling into the shower on jelly legs.

The main worry for the Ecotrail are getting those crippling calf cramps again. So far I'm doing alright during my run training but when I do a reasonably easy bike ride later that day I can feel the spasms starting (and getting off the bike can be a real trigger - ouch!). I never used to cramp in training, so that's a new experience but my hopes that working up right to my cramping point might improve my resilience have so far proved futile. I still have close to two months, plenty of time to work on increasing endurance. We'll see how it goes. I'm reasonably hopeful.