Sunday, November 27, 2016

Limited Progress Is Still Progress

Well, he said it would take about 10 days to see some progress but maybe I'm still a fast responder because it didn't take quite as long. Good thing too, because I might have started panicking after a week otherwise. There is clearly still a long way to go, and in fact my numbers are still pretty awful, just not as awful as a week ago.

The last couple of runs have been a fair bit faster than last week, though partially at the expense of a higher HR. This isn't particularly alarming. I looked back in my training logs at what I did after my comeback from pneumonia and was really surprised how high the HR was for each run - all at least in the 150s, some even in the 160s. There is no way a coach would let me do this now, so at least I know that I am somewhat restrained.

The HR has crept higher the last few days, though not really deliberately. I did become aware a couple of times this morning that I was putting more effort in and pulled the brakes but the legs seemed intent to start turning quicker again as soon as my concentration waned.

I only did 23 miles last week, in 6 runs. I can crank that a little bit higher now, but not much. Blimey, I don't know how often I ran further than that in one day in training alone, never mind races, but it does show how badly I managed to dig myself into a hole.

24 Nov
4.9 miles, 44:51, 9:09 pace, HR 145
26 Nov
4.46 miles, 40:00, 8:58 pace, HR 145
27 Nov
4.59 miles, 40:01, 8:43 pace, HR 148

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Near Future

I didn’t come up with that plan myself, so I’m neither taking credit nor blame. But a plan was clearly needed after it had become perfectly clear that somehow I had managed to get myself into an overtrained state.

I had gotten plenty of advise after the abject race that had been Albi, ranging from "run Dublin, you'll be fine" to "take 3 months completely off", and, as much as it pained me, it was pretty clear that the latter advise was a lot more advisable than the former.

MC did chime in, and that helped a lot. In the end I ended taking 4 weeks off completely, which was painful, and now I'm at least back running. However, I am limited to 2-5 miles max for the rest of the year at least. The idea is to work on the lower set of muscle fibres and get them conditioned. What MC didn't say but merely implied was that this means the higher set of muscle fibres are still being unused (because the runs are so short that they never get used), meaning they get at least 10 weeks of rest, which comes pretty close to that most conservative advice mentioned earlier.

Just to point out how much of a painful adaptation this is, 4 weeks off is the longest break I've ever had since I started running. Even when I had pneumonia in 2008 I was only off for 3 weeks! And then I did not have to be so restrained for weeks and months either. The way I see it, this is the universe's punishment for being an idiot.

I've now done 5 runs, all about 35 minutes in length. I just run one way and when 17-18 minutes are up I turn around and run back. The effort is very easy. The HR is higher than I'd like but I have been told to expect changes after about 10 days.

21 Nov
3.7 miles, 35:01, 9:23 pace, HR 144
22 Nov
3.8 miles, 36:00, 9:26 pace, HR 147
23 Nov
3.75 miles, 35:25, 9:26 pace, HR 142

Sunday, November 20, 2016

I'm Back!

I'm Back Baby!

I'm slow as hell and until a few months ago I would not even have considered going for such a short run but it sure beats sitting at home looking wistfully out of the window. Niamh is also pleased that I'm out running, it saves her the job of kicking me out when I'm unbearable.

Saturday morning was the big day, 4 weeks after Albi. Since back then I still had been running on Sunday it was a day early, really, but a nice dry crisp weekend morning was too good to waste. The one thing I had done over my long break was to turn off the HR alarm on my watch, and, to nobody's surprise, my HR was way high. I'm not at all concerned, I have been there often enough by now. When I start running after a break the HR is always sky high but it comes down quickly enough. When I finally approach something resembling fitness it actually comes down into MAF territory, though I am approaching that from the upper side, so I'm definitely not claiming I'm doing MAF training (which I've tried twice, both to unsatisfactory outcomes).

Anyway, the first thing I noticed on Saturday was that it was freezing cold, which was fine, and the second thing was that my knee still felt funny, which was not. However, five minutes into my run neither was noticeable, so the rest of the run I just trotted along. The legs weren't used to that kind of exercise any longer and I felt uncoordinated and awkward but truth to be told it was better than expected.

I ran for close to 18 minutes into one direction and then turned around, for a total of 35 minutes, which turned out to be 3.65 miles, only just faster than 10-minute pace. That's the way it is right now.

Sunday was very similar, except that there was not even a beep from the knee. Instead the hamstrings in their entirety felt tired, obviously feeling the strain from yesterday. That, too, went away after a couple of minutes and the rest was more or less the same as yesterday, a tad faster but also with a higher HR. I'm not aiming at any kind of pace, just run whatever feels easy and natural, and I know this will come down significantly over the next few weeks.

Baby, I'm Back!

19 Nov
3.65 miles, 35:32, 9:43 pace, HR 142
20 Nov
3.7 miles, 34:57, 9:26 pace, HR 146

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Knee

I never told you the full story about my knee!

As you might know, if you read this blog regularly that is, my right knee felt very stiff and rather uncomfortable after the run in Tralee, 4 weeks before Albi. I didn't really hurt but knee issues are not to be ignored and it never got 100% better.

The day before the race in Albi I asked our team physio for help. She very quickly diagnosed it as a muscle problem, not an actual knee problem (much to my relief) (proving my yoga teacher right - how could I ever have doubted her!) and then proceeded to torture me mercilessly for the next half hour, somehow tearing apart whatever was wrong.

Once she stopped torturing me (f*ck, that REALLY hurt!) the knee felt like new again! While I was still a little bit worried, it was not a factor at all in Albi and I got through 117 miles seemingly unscathed. However, the next day it felt stiff again, probably after sitting for so long in cramped conditions on the journey back, and of course by then I no longer had access to my own dedicated physio. However, it did improve gradually over the next couple of weeks. If the full rest was beneficial or not or if it made any difference at all, I cannot tell. I did work on it a bit, some light yoga stuff, and if I work myself into position slowly enough I can get it to do whatever is required. By now it's 98% clear. I can bend it fully again, though at full flex it still feels a tiny bit stiff. Sometimes I make a clumsy move and a bit of pain shoots through my knee, so I still need to be careful, but in the grand scheme of things it is a minor issue now.

You know what's really weird about not running for 4 weeks? At times my legs hurt just as they do after a long run. I'm not sure how that works. Actually, scrap that, I have no idea what's going on here. I'm sure MC or anyone else with sufficient knowledge and experience can explain that but to me that's just baffling.

Since it's not been 4 weeks yet I still have not done any running, but I started doing half an hour of cycling (indoors, on the trainer). Me being me, I'm doing it every single morning. I make sure to keep the effort very easy but I am pleased nonetheless that there is no negative reaction at all.

I have been sleeping very well since I started going to bed much earlier, with the exception of last night. I have this weird thing that almost every Full Moon I have one night where I simply cannot fall asleep. It's ALWAYS within a day or two either side of a Full Moon. It has nothing to do with the bedroom being too bright because we have perfectly well working curtains and the room is completely dark, yet somehow I just lie there and sleep won't come. It happens so often I am used to it, and since it's only once a month it doesn't have any lasting effects, but it's still annoying as hell every time it happens. Maybe my great-grandmother was a werewolf or something.

I can't wait until the weekend. Then I'll be a runner again. The fact that I am so looking forward to it is definitely a good sign, but the real test is yet to come of course.

Sunday, November 13, 2016


Well, after 3 weeks of total rest when I did not even dare to do a cycle or strength training because I could sense how deep the fatigue had gone, I have taken the first step and started back on my journey towards fitness. On Saturday morning I went up into the attic and dug out my little old cycle trainer that had been gathering dust for the last 5 years and gave it an unexpected comeback.

I started out easy, just 20 minutes on the bike, and easy ones at that. There was no reaction and I upped it to 30 minutes on Sunday, Listening to podcasts is very handy at those times, it makes time pass pretty quickly. I vaguely remember that 30 minutes on the trainer were related to Chinese water torture and of course the same applies to the treadmill, but if you can get your mind off things by listening to something reasonably intelligent and interesting that makes a real difference,

I also decided to finally clean up my act. The tablet/phone/computer screens go off at 10 o'clock the very latest and I'm in bed not much later, That's something I have known for ages but - like most of you - never bothered to actually put int practise. It's amazing how well I have been sleeping the last few nights, despite the best effort of out damn nocturnal cats, and wouldn't you believe it, if you sleep better it makes you feel better,

You can get away with lots of things when you're 20 but when you're closer to 50 than 40 you need to pay more attention to those kind of things, no matter how much you keep telling yourself that you're nowhere near old just yet.

I'm still not running but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and at least I get the feeling that I'm finally doing "something". I try not to make too many plans as I'm not sure if I can get back to where I have been, but the World Championship in Belfast is my definite target.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The Non-Runner's Update

It was the news that nobody had expected. Niamh took it okay but the kids were absolutely devastated when they found out: yes, the teachers’ strike is finished and they had to go back to school. Oh the poor things.

Me, I’m presently dealing with a stupid head cold. Not anywhere near severe enough to justify taking time off work but enough to give me a headache and generally make me feel a bit unwell. If that had happened a week earlier I would have attributed it to the race but it’s more likely a bug I picked up from Niamh and/or Maia because they had been slightly unwell last week. It should be ok in a couple of days.

Since I am still off running for once I won’t have to justify to either myself or Niamh why I’m still running when I’m not well.

I missed out on some lovely weather recently, which is a shame. Dry cold crispy mornings are my favourite conditions for a run and we had plenty of that in the last couple of weeks. Now the rainy season has returned but at least it makes not going out for a run slightly more bearable.

I’m still grounded for at least another 10 days. Then it will be 4 weeks since Albi. I have received plenty of opinions for how long I should be resting, even for up to 3 months of total rest. The one advice I’m trusting most of all is that it may well take 7 – 12 weeks until I am recovered from my overtraining but that does not necessarily require full rest for the entire period. I can try a test run after 3 weeks, and then judge from the reaction if I can proceed or not. I decided to err on the side of caution for once (very uncharacteristically, I know - I must be getting old) and added at least one extra week of full rest before I venture out again.

That is, if Niamh can bear it for 10 more days. I have noticed myself that my mood swings are getting worse. I’m surprised that I still haven’t been banned to the shed yet.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Half Time

Two weeks ago I ran a disastrous race and finally admitted to myself that I was badly overtrained and needed some rest.

One week ago I still could not even contemplate going for a run. As in ever.

Now ... I'm definitely starting to get antsy. This is the longest break I've had from running without Niamh kicking me out of the house (and threatening to do so for good) but I'm not entirely sure that this will last for another two weeks. Endorphin withdrawal? It's not pretty,

That's what you do on your ninth birthday -
play the Ukulele, wrapped in a mermaid blanket
Having said that, things are definitely on the up. I'm starting to think about races next year, though at the same time still wondering if I'll be able to do them - and, of course, if they are even a good idea. That's something that will become clearer in the months to come. But the mere fact that I am thinking forward again instead of just licking my wounds is definitely a good thing.

I'm sure there is a noticeable difference in my "real" life as well. I remember sitting at my work computer, reading a document, and realising after 5 minutes that I had not taken in a single word. That cloud has lifted. And I'm sleeping better. Sleep had never been particularly bad but it's been better recently nevertheless.

A week ago I went for a very short cycle, maybe 1.5 miles. It was just to get out of the house into the sunshine for a few minutes. But the next day my quads were hurting, a stinging, almost burning sensation. I struggle to think how 5-10 minutes of cycling could have had such an effect but I definitely wasn't imagining the discomfort. I tried again yesterday, daring to do all of 2 miles. This time there was no negative reaction at all, so whatever was going on last week has definitely improved. I might start cycling into work but cycling back in the dark might not be such a great idea. I know I used to do it for 5 years but it never felt entirely safe. I'll think about it a bit more.

In order to give a little bit back to the running community, I volunteered at the Killarney parkrun yesterday morning. Well, at least my intentions were noble. What I did in reality was to spill the finisher tokens all over the floor as the runners were coming in, causing a mad scramble to restore some sort of order. Thanks to my fellow and infinitely more useful volunteers we managed to sort it out. Ah well. I guess I'm better at the running thing than standing on the other side of the fence. I might try again if they'll have me back

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Crash Investigation

In the last week I have been receiving a ton of messages, ranging from "are you running the Dublin marathon" to "take at least 3 months off". My facebook page getting saturated by Dublin marathon posts last weekend wasn't a happy occasion for once, but what can you do.

I am really tired! I could not even watch a football game on Sunday without constantly falling asleep, and that is not a statement on the quality of the game. I find myself sitting in a kind of haze at times, and I'm sure my productivity in the office at the moment is not at its best. Running really isn't on at the moment, apart from not having any inclination anyway. When I can be bothered I do walk the dog, much to her delight, but that's as active as it gets at the moment.

Keep in mind that the following was written with the benefit of hindsight. It sounds obvious enough now but it wasn't so clear at the time.

Looking back, with a little bit of help, I can see that the problem started as early as March. The Tralee marathon was supposed to be a training run but I definitely ran it too hard. In some ways that is understandable, I unexpectedly found myself running in third place with a podium finish a real possibility, so there's not much regret about that one. The problem is, I never manged to get back into a fully recovered state. I'm pretty sure this cost me a sub-3 in Manchester, and then I really started piling it on - Limerick, Wings for Life and Lakes of Killarney on consecutive weekends, with the Wings for Life run particularly tough on a very hilly course on one of the hottest days of the year.

Maybe 2 years ago I would have gotten away with that. But this time also coincided with some hugely stressful times in my family and it all proved too much. I never fully appreciated how much stress from other areas of life can impact on your running performance, until now.

By then I had become somewhat aware of my lack of recovery (Killarney had felt quite tough for a 3:15) but instead of resting I added an even bigger ton of fatigue on top of it all by running the 100k in Donadea. It's easy to say so afterwards but it's no wonder Belfast did not go to plan.

Obviously, Belfast was the biggest fatigue factor of them all but instead of finally seeing sense and rest I actually had my shortest recovery after a 24 hours race ever, and I guess from here on the race in Albi was already as good as doomed. My coach never fully understood my need for recovery and the odd easy week or two she prescribed was never enough to dig myself out of that hole. Even though I knew that the last few miles in Dingle had felt much tougher than they should have, I never realised the full scale of the problem. Those tough back-to-back weekends just added another layer of fatigue and things got progressively worse. Running 4 hours in Tralee 4 weeks before Albi felt easy enough but I don't think I would have been able to run a 3:30 marathon that day, things had become so bad.

By the time I started the taper my system was so compromised that even 4 weeks of low easy mileage did nothing to improve my fitness because my recuperation ability was so out of wack by then.

As stupid as all those mistakes are, it is a really common pattern. A runner gets tired, the performances drop and instead of resting and recovering he/she starts training ever harder to make up for it, digging the hole ever deeper. Let this be a warning to you. I never had any of the typical overtraining symptoms but I could tell that something wasn't right.

With all that, where does that leave me now? On the sofa, basically, and probably asleep. I'll see when I start to feel like running again, which right now is absolutely not the case. After a few weeks I might hopefully feel like an easy jog is appropriate, and how my system reacts to that will tell me a lot, though the expectation is still that I will have at least 4 weeks of full rest. Eventually I might be able to do some sort of evaluation, but that's still a bit too far ahead right now.

I do hope that I will be able to come back from this and that I have learned that lesson.