Sunday, February 28, 2016

Cortisol High

I am actually surprised I'm still standing, never mind being able to run tough long workouts. As of now I have been without proper sleep for two nights. I am feeling sick with stress and worry and whenever I try closing my eyes, no matter how exhausted, the thoughts keep spinning in my head and I am unable to sleep. On both recent nights I have been wide awake but exhausted until about 4 o'clock, and then I manage to drift off for a few minutes at a time but never for long and never into a proper sleep. The story around all this may well be worth telling, but not here and not now.

The world was still standing on Friday morning and I did 5 easy miles for recovery after Thursday's workout. The legs were a little bit heavy but reasonably fine and I did a few fast strides over the last mile or two, which probably explains much of the yet-again-elevated heart rate. Things started to unravel over Friday afternoon and when I got up on Saturday morning, no longer being able to cope with the bed any longer, I got dressed and ready to go. Except then I just could not get myself to open the door and go running. It wasn't the physical exhaustion from lack of sleep, it was the fact that I was emotionally drained and just could not face the freezing cold rain outside. I knew the weather was going to improve later and I would have time for a run around lunchtime, otherwise I guess I would have managed to go out regardless.

When I did go out on my second attempt several hours later the weather had turned really nice, cold but crispy clear. I decided to do 6 easy miles. By the 3 mile point I did not want to turn around and ran for another mile before finally executing that u-turn. At some point I caught a glimpse of the watch and saw a HR in the 150s when I would have expected it to be in the 130s at the time. I guessed the stress levels were playing havoc because the effort was completely easy, or so I thought. It wasn't until I came back home that I realised that what had felt like a slow recovery jog was in fact 7:21 pace. I had messed up my Sunday run last week by running too hard on Saturday, so I was definitely worried about tomorrow's long run. At least that long run was a plain old long run with no faster segment, which made it feel much more do-able, even with the pace too high on Saturday.

Another sleepless night later I got up early again but actually had a bowl of cereal and a banana before going out. I have not eaten before a training run in years but last week's horror show was too much on my mind and I preferred taking some extra calories onboard instead of running for miles on empty again, fat adaptation be damned. The weather was beautiful again, which undoubtedly helped my clouded mind, and I opted for the very hilly loop around Caragh lake, followed by a loop to Ard-na-Sidhe to add up to 22 miles. It all went very well. I started feeling tired after 17 miles and fought side stitches for a mile at 18 but even then preferred to be out running rather than sitting at home with my demons. The fatigue and the stitch faded away again and I was still running well at the end. A marathon wouldn't have taken much out of me today either. At least my endurance is still good.

26 Feb
5 miles, 40:50, 8:10 pace, HR 144, with strides
27 Feb
8 miles, 58:49, 7:21 pace, HR 150
28 Feb
22 miles, 2:50:57, 7:46 pace, HR 149
Weekly Mileage: 70

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Not Half Marathon Pace

I felt pretty much destroyed after Sunday's run and was more than a bit worried how my training was going in general as well as how I would recover from this one workout. The way I felt immediately after the run I wasn't sure if I would even be able to run properly the next morning, though it did improve during the day.

Well, at least I was in for a nice surprise on Monday morning. The legs, while tired, were not sore at all and a slow easy 5-mile recovery jog both felt good and made me feel better. I basically repeated the same on Tuesday, a little bit faster for the same subjective easy effort. On Wednesday I did 8 miles still very easy, and the heavy feeling in the legs had completely gone away by then.

The nicest surprise, though, was the heart rate for all of those runs. For the last few weeks, basically ever since I had picked up a bug in that third-rate hospital a month ago, the heart rate had been elevated by a worrying amount for every single run. Looking at the numbers alone you might have thought I was hammering all my runs but they were genuinely at an easy effort. Ever since Monday, that has changed. I have seen this several times before, sometimes one big workout can all of a sudden cause a noticeable drop in your heart rate (or, in other words, a jump in your VDOT). Usually that's a tempo run but on Sunday it was a long run, albeit one with a faster segment in the middle. With that new set of numbers and the legs feeling perfectly fine again, I felt reasonably optimistic that I was ready for another workout on Thursday morning. The plan said 4 miles easy, 4 x 2 miles at half-marathon effort, 4 miles easy again. Tough but manageable?

It was a freezing cold morning but no wind whatsoever, pretty good conditions - certainly better than what we've had to cope with over the last few months. The first few miles passed quickly, so quickly in fact that I almost forgot that I had to start a fast segment at that point.

What happened next was interesting.

I'm not sure what my half-marathon pace would be at the moment but I would hope for it to be around 6:30. My 2 recent 5k races would indicate that to be a realistic target, though the 10k was a bit slower. But this morning I found it absolutely impossible to run that pace. It is far better to run at a controlled effort than try to overreach just to hit an arbitrary pace goal (which I almost certainly would not have been able to hold for 4 segments), but my controlled pace sure was slower than I would have expected. I ended up with 6:47, 6:45, 6:36, 6:44. The positive signs are that the pace held up very well. The heart rate was very steady at about 160, which is definitely lower than a half marathon effort, and I basically had the feeling that I could have run much, much further at that effort (in fact, the recovery breaks felt unnecessary and just served to break my rhythm) but no faster.

The reasons? The cold temperatures might have something to with it, some lingering fatigue from Sunday, the fact that I haven't done much speed work at faster pace (then again, I had no problems with sub-6 pace at those 5ks), and I'm pretty sure MC would point to a lack of recovery and trying to do too much. I don't think it was a bad workout as such, I'm feeling pretty good and energised afterwards and if I had run 10 seconds per mile faster I would have been perfectly happy (albeit still thinking of a few years ago when I would have cruised through those segments at 6:20 or faster). I don't think I'll break any records in Ballycotton next week but I've had some time to come to terms with the fact that I'm not quite in the shape I would like to be in right now. Anyway, there's still plenty of time before Manchester*.
22 Feb
5 miles, 43:01, 8:36 pace, HR 132
23 Feb
5 miles, 41:48, 8:22 pace, HR 134
24 Feb
8 miles, 1:04:36, 8:04 pace, HR 137
25 Feb
17 miles, 2:07:19, 7:29 pace, HR 149
   4 x 2 miles @ 6:47, 6:45, 6:36, 6:44
* btw, fuck you, Damien Duff, Didi Hamann and Liam Brady.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

"You Look Like Shit!"

Niamh's assessment was brutal but it perfectly matched how I was feeling. Sunday's 21 miles had knocked the stuffing out of me and I was totally knackered. I have finished 50 mile races in better shape!

Every training cycle seems to have at least one training run that turn into a total sufferfest and this one fulfilled that function for the present one. I now hope that I can recover - if I can't I'll have to dial back.

There were several factors that contributed to today's exhaustion. I had gotten Saturday's effort completely wrong. It was supposed to be an easy run but I had already violated that by running the first 3 miles into a very strong headwind. I was in Tralee for the day and the unfamiliar surroundings somehow threw me - I'm sure at home I would have managed to slow down. It left me far more tired than I should have been.

As someone had asked in the last post, I never take anything with me when I run, no water, no gels, nothing. I drink plenty of water before I go out but otherwise I'm running on empty. I'm used to that and I'm sure I'm reasonably well adapted to burn fat as fuel but today's run also incorporated 3 marathon pace miles from miles 12-15, and during those I must have burned off most of my energy reserves because the last 5 miles felt like I was running totally on empty. The marathon effort did not quite go according to plan either, 7:07 pace was all I could manage, though the strong wind had some direct input into that, so it wasn't a complete failure.

It wasn't just the legs, my stomach felt awful as well. For a start, by the time I finished the run I hadn't eaten for over 15 hours, but I've done that many times before without feeling unduly stressed. This time I felt ravenous but at the same time unable to hold down any real quantities of food. I gradually felt better as the day passed by, but still not quite 100% in the evening.

"Why exactly are you doing this to yourself?" (Niamh again)
"For the sex, money and fame" (hey, she asked)
"You're not getting any of those!" (no surprises here)

19 Feb
5 miles, 41:13, 8:14 pace, HR 142
20 Feb
9 miles, 1:07:17, 7:27 pace, HR 151
21 Feb
21 miles, 2:44:39, 7:50 pace, HR 148
   3 miles @ 7:07 pace

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Thursday Workout

Tuesday morning saw the rare occasion of seemingly all my muscles aching. I know the sore shoulders and arms came from Monday night's yoga session (my arm strength is pathetic, I knew that already), but if the sore legs were a hangover from Sunday's run or the same yoga session, or from both, I could not tell. But I think as long as I have a demanding yoga class on Monday it would be unwise to do a midweek workout on Wednesday, which pretty much reduces the midweek option to Thursday only.

After three nice and dry, if freezing cold, days, the weather had turned nasty yet again. I had hoped that the winter storms would be behind us, but while Tuesday's weather system did not qualify as a full-blown storm it sure was bad enough. I did contemplate running on the treadmill instead when I heard the wind and rain against the kitchen window as I got ready but headed out onto the road nevertheless. After all, a bit of running in character-building conditions doesn't do any harm. The run itself went well enough, especially considering that I wasn't exactly feeling on top of the world with all those aching muscles, but I was a bit alarmed but the sky-high average heart rate of 148 which would usually indicate a workout rather than an easy run. That's something that has been with me for a while now. It can be an alarm signal for overtraining but I don't think that's quite the case - I don't have any of the other symptoms.

I reckon that three easy days should be enough to recover from any but the most brutal workouts, even with a tough yoga session thrown in for good measure. Actually, my yoga muscles were still achy on Wednesday evening but thankfully that was the shoulders rather than the legs, and I was ready to run another workout on Thursday morning.

I took the fact that I was really looking forward to the workout as a very good sign. Mentally at least I was ready.

Conditions were decent enough, at least at the start. I did get caught by a couple of icy cold rain showers and the wind seemed to pick up during the second half of the run, or maybe my fatigue had me take notice eventually.

The respective paces for the faster miles were:
6:46, 6:43, 6:45, 6:51, 6:50, 6:49, 6:53, 6:52

Some of the pace differences are due to hills and/or wind direction as I was trying to keep the effort reasonably level rather than the pace. The last two were tougher than the previous ones when the fatigue started to make itself felt, especially in teh hamstrings and glutes.

The paces for the moderate miles were:
8:22, 7:16, 7:29, 7:33, 7:26, 7:46, 7:34, 7:42

with the first one being a warm-up and the rest all around 7:30 but with wind and (small) hills all having some influence.

Running the middle part of the workout in 5 miles loops had the unintended side-effect that on the second loop all the previously easy parts were part of faster miles and vice versa, which made for a nice contrast, even if I felt slightly differently on one particular hill.

All in all I'm pretty happy with how that workout went. It was much better than last week's and even the HR/pace relationship has returned to a level not seen in almost 4 weeks. to me that shows that I am recovering, from previous workouts as well as from whatever bug has been affecting me for the last few weeks.
16 Feb
8 miles, 1:02:59, 7:52 pace, HR 148
17 Feb
8 miles, 1:01:04, 7:42 pace, HR 149
18 Feb
16 miles, 1:55:58, 7:15 pace, HR 154
   alternating miles

Monday, February 15, 2016

Workout And Recovery

"How you recover from a workout tells you more about your fitness than the actual workout itself"
I am putting the above wisdom to the test right now. Thursday's workout hadn't exactly gone to plan with me running slower than expected and still ending up totally knackered. However, I felt surprisingly good on Friday and Saturday, so recovery was certainly going well. Well enough to dare another workout on Sunday, again a slightly cut-down version of the workout that had been in the original plan. I did 18 miles with the last 2 at marathon pace, and since I ran around the lake it was a very hilly workout as well. I felt pretty good and wasn't exactly hanging around when climbing up those big hills but from 11 or 12 miles onward I was suddenly heading into an unexpectedly strong headwind which seemed to suck the strength out of my legs and I very much doubted I'd be up for 2 fast miles at all. However, when I got to mile 16 I gave it a go anyway, waiting to see how long I would last. Well, turns out I lasted until the end but truth to be told this was probably more than marathon effort.

I marked contrast to Thursday's workout I felt pretty good for the rest of the day but suffered from sore legs on Monday, so almost the reverse reaction. I'll see how it goes tomorrow before I decide if I will do another midweek workout.

Now that the base phase is finished, I have changed training. As long as things are going to plan I will run 2 workouts per week, a long run on Sunday and a midweek one either Wednesday or Thursday, depending how recovery goes. All other days are short and easy and all about recovery. The mileage will be lower as well, in case that's not obvious already.

Having a treadmill turned out to be helpful when I was finding myself a single parent for a day, looking after a sick child on Saturday. There was no way I could have gone out leaving her alone for an hour, but I managed an hour on the treadmill while she was asleep. Thankfully she gradually started feeling better as the day went on.

My high HR continues to be a concern. I suspect I have the same bug in my system that Maia is still suffering from but I seem to be able to hold it off without any actual symptoms. Apart from the elevated running HR I do not notice anything being amiss.


Last week I posted something on facebook, more thinking out loud typing away than asking a real question. Spartathlon is in September, the European 24 hrs championship in October, which caught me by surprise as I had not expected there to be a championship this year at all. My gut reaction was to run the Spartathlon but the response was 2 for Sparta, 2 for doing both and 18 for the Euro, which was enough to sway my mind (or maybe I was changing my mind anyway). After a few more days of contemplation I fired off an email to the national team manager and confirmed my availability, and he straight away confirmed that my selection was secure as long as I was fit and healthy. So that's that. A return to Sparta will have to wait for a year.

13 Feb
8 miles, 1:04:07, 8:01 pace, HR 144, treadmill
14 Feb
18 miles, 2:16:29, 7:35 pace, HR 154
   last 2 miles @ 6:53 pace
15 Feb
6 miles, 49:31, 8:15 pace, HR 140

Friday, February 12, 2016

A Workout

The last few days I made sure the mileage would be low, much lower than my usual fare. I was trying to get a bit ahead on recovery and get ready for a workout, following the basic advice that once you move away from base training the hard days should be proper hard and the easy days should be proper easy - a simple enough concept but one I'm finding surprisingly hard to follow at times.

I had not paid much attention to the high HR on the treadmill because that always seems to happen but it was still very much elevated back on the road on Tuesday. Wednesday's numbers looked better already so I, possibly foolishly, decided to finally start running a proper workout the next morning. I vaguely suspected that I might be fighting off an infection, a theory that got some additional weight when the kids started feeling unwell on Thursday and Friday respectively but I wasn't to know that at the time, and personally I felt perfectly fine.

Actually, from the second I decided to do this, I was very much looking forward to it, so mentally at least I was very much ready for it. I did show a bit of caution by cutting the workout down a bit, trying not to completely overwhelm myself. The plan was to do 6 easy miles, with a few strides, followed by 5 or 6 miles at half marathon pace with 1 minute recovery between each mile. For once it was a nice enough morning with very little wind, which made a very nice change and added to my positivity. I felt very good at first and repeatedly had to slow myself down. I still felt good during the first couple of the faster miles, though they were definitely slower than expected. I had ideas of 6:30-6:40 pace but it was about 10 seconds slower. However, I definitely felt that running somewhat relaxed was much more important than hammer out some misguided pace. Alas, the good feeling didn't last and by the time of the fifth repeat it was getting very tough so I skipped the last one. The 3 miles back home were a struggle as it was, so another fast mile would definitely have been a bad mistake. According to Suunto's website, the pace was between 6:39 and 6:53, though I'm absolutely sure the numbers on the watch were a bit faster, something that has happened before. Indeed, the same data on strava has the laps 2 or 3 seconds faster per mile, which I find rather baffling. Obviously it doesn't make any difference to the training effect on my body but my inner maths geek is still hurt by inaccurate numbers.

I was knackered for the rest of the day!

lifted from Liam Smith's FB post
Anyway, I know fully well that someone will utterly disapprove of me running a workout when I could not be sure that I was ready for it. If anything, I wanted to test myself and see how it goes, though if things go badly that would be the equivalent of ripping out your seedlings to see if they had been growing. I ran a very easy recovery run on Friday, feeling a lot better than the day before, not tired and not sore, so maybe I've gotten away with it. I'll see.

10 Feb
8 miles, 1:01:13, 7:39 pace, HR 150
11 Feb
15 miles, 1:54:08, 7:37 pace, HR 152
   incl. 5 x 1 mile @ 6:52, 6:39, 6:42, 6:53, 6:50
12 Feb
5 miles, 41:21, 8:16 pace, HR 140

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Treadmill Running

It's Pancake Tuesday! I love Pancake Tuesday!

It was during storm Desmond in December that I decided to purchase a treadmill. I had been running through some fairly wild weather on more than one occasion but having gotten old and soft cautious decided that this could be dangerous and an indoor option would be a good idea. With storm Imogen hitting the Southwest of Ireland this weekend, that felt like a good decision. It spared me a few painful hail stones on Sunday and I'm pretty sure Monday's run would have had to be binned entirely, the orange warning that had been in place sounding understated for once.

Sunday's planned workout had been cancelled and replaced with an easy run, though that had nothing to do with the weather and all with an email I had gotten from my Guardian Angel former coach who still stages an intervention whenever he thinks I'm doing something particularly stupid. In this case, I would have violated one of his golden rules, namely only to do a workout if you are sure to be able to recover from it, and, as stated in my previous post, that was not the case this time. I followed his advice and did 10 mundane miles on the treadmill instead.

I got asked a while ago how I'm going to compensate effort on the treadmill. The standard advice is to turn the incline to 1%, which allegedly makes the effort closer to road running. From what I can tell, on my treadmill at home that doesn't apply. If anything, 8-minute miles on my treadmill feel tougher than 8-minute miles on the road, and that is entirely consistent (for the record, 6-minute miles feel easier on the treadmill but that's not my training pace). I don't use the treadmill for workouts, just easy runs and recovery runs, and the actual numbers and how they compare to the road don't particularly interest me - I just run at the effort that feels easy and don't pay much attention to the actual pace.

One thing I noticed is that my HR on the treadmill is always high, which I attribute to a lack of cooling that builds up after a while. It certainly does not reflect the subjective effort. If I run at HR 150 on the road I'm working hard. The same HR can be reached on the treadmill without much trouble - though the sweat will be pouring off me.

One other thing that baffles me is that the timer on the treadmill and my watch never agree. For example, on Monday the treadmill said 63:41 after 8 miles, but the timer on my watch said 64:22, and that kind of thing happens every single time. I know treadmills can be out when it comes to distance but I would have thought an accurate time should be a given. Anyway, I always go with the watch.

Despite the high HR, the legs felt very good on both occasions, better so than on any road runs during the past week when the hamstrings and the glutes had always felt rather achy ever since my break.

I felt a bit weird on Tuesday morning. Not tired, just a bit - odd. It may have been because of the yoga session on Monday evening after which my shoulders and hamstrings had been rather achy. Obviously I'm not using my shoulders much when running but the hamstrings made up for it. If that accounts for the high HR, this time on the road rather than the treadmill, I'm not sure.

But you know - who cares! It's Pancake Tuesday! I love Pancake Tuesday! It's my favourite holiday of the year!

I can't think of anything to give up for lent. In past years I usually gave up sweets and chocolate, which then would go on and drop my weight by about 5 pounds over the next few weeks. As I'm already as low as 142 lb / 64.5 kg / 10 st 2 lb right now, I don't think I'd want to drop any more weight so I'll give that one a miss. Any suggestions?

7 Feb
10 miles, 1:18:15, 7:50 pace, HR 152, treadmill
8 Feb
8 miles, 1:04:22, 8:03 pace, HR 148, treadmill
9 Feb
6 miles, 46:44, 7:47 pace, HR 152

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Fatigue Deep, Heart Rate High

Although, right now, there is another Tina Turner songs that springs to mind.

The forecast for the next 5 days are rain, rain, rain, chance ofr rain and rain. Christ!

So I've been back on the road for three days now, and if you include the 2 treadmill runs at the start of the week that makes 5 days of running after a break of only 4 days. I would have thought that's more than enough to get back to your previous level because apparently you do not lose any fitness over such a short amount of time. That's what they said.

Well, they obviously need to re-think what they know. I can see my own numbers as clear as can be. My VDOT values went from 58 last week to 51 this week and have only gone back to 53 as of Friday. I keep the effort as easy as ever but if you look at the HR you'd think I've been doing a couple of tempo runs, which I absolutely did not, neither by pace nor effort.

If I had not gotten sick I would have done my first marathon-specific workout on Wednesday. I still had vague hopes that I might be able to squeeze it in on Thursday, possibly even Friday, and get on with the rest of the program.  But I always knew that if I were advising another runner in the same situation I would have urged her to bin the workout and only start doing tough workouts once you have fully recovered. It's much harder to tell that to yourself, though. In the end I managed to get through to myself, Wednesday and Thursday were both easy 8 mile runs and that was that. From the way my legs have been feeling on such an easy load, a workout would have been a complete disaster.

When my hamstrings felt tired on Wednesday I could only think of Monday's yoga session as the most likely culprit but they still felt unhappy on Thursday and Friday, though surely that cannot come from overtraining after 21 miles last week and still a low mileage so far this week, can it? By the way, the yoga teacher told me that she can see progress already, though truth to be told I suspect she was merely trying to be encouraging because I sure can't see it. As far as I can tell my hamstrings are still as tight as ever (not that that causes me any actual trouble - apart from my yoga positions being less than stellar).

The weather isn't exactly cooperating, particularly on Friday morning when it was pretty wild with gale force wind, heavy rain and f***ing freezing, probably my least favoured conditions. The shower after such a run becomes a way of warming up rather than getting clean.

I'm still in hope that I can do a workout on Sunday (in the wind and rain?). Maybe it's a mistake but at some stage I need to get back to training.

3 Feb
8 miles, 1:02:58, 7:52 pace, HR 150
4 Feb
8 miles, 1:03:12, 7:54 pace, HR 149
5 Feb
10 miles, 1:19:42, 7:52 pace, HR 145
6 Feb
5 miles, 38:59, 7:46 pace, HR 146

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Tentative Comeback

The reason I haven't written anything the last 5 days was obviously that I haven't run anything, and this is very much a running blog. I did try to aid recovery by getting more sleep, which worked as far as sleep time was concerned but I have no way of telling if it made any difference with regards to recovery. I also went to the local pharmacy and bought some Vitamin C and Zinc supplements. If you google the effectiveness of supplements you get very mixed results but I reasoned that even if they would not help they were very unlikely to make things worse, so why not.

By Saturday I started getting rather fed up, not with the "no running" but the fact that the bug was still in my system after 2 weeks. I resolved to go to the Doctor on Monday but then I felt a bit better on Sunday and a bit better again on Monday, so decided to wait a little bit longer. I did 5 very, very easy miles on the treadmill on Monday morning, more to test the system than anything related to training, and the 5 miles spooled off without any bother - at least I can still do a bit of exercise without overextending myself. I did the same again on Tuesday but wasn't feeling 100% so I was still unsure if I'm okay to venture out again.

I felt about 90% throughout last week, 95% on Monday and 98% on Tuesday evening. This time I'm pretty sure I'm just about recovered.

I sure missed some interesting running conditions with not just one but two orange warnings in just a few days. The treadmill came in handy the last 2 days for that reason alone. In fact, it was while watching the havoc caused by storm Desmond 2 months ago when I decided to purchase a treadmill.

I'm not even sure if complete rest is better than easy running in this case. I know from experience that a day of easy running is better for recovery from a minor injury than full rest but if the same holds true for an infection is a different thing altogether. The main reason why I took a clean break is because I still remember getting pneumonia 8 years ago after stubbornly running with a chest infection until one morning I could not even get out of bed.

I got this bug while in hospital and would resolve to stay away from that place but I had that resolve already and it wasn't exactly a case of wanting to go there in the first place, so who knows.

I had hoped to start the next training phase this week but obviously that plan did not include getting sick. I'll wait and see how tomorrow goes.

1 Feb
5 miles, 42:55, 8:35 pace, HR 140, treadmill
2 Feb
5 miles, 41:35, 8:19 pace, HR 143, treadmill