Sunday, 31 May 2009

Day 35 - high on a hill

Type - gradient / hill run

Distance - 3.5 miles

Time - 35 minutes

A repeat of last Sunday's gradient run on the treadmill, though this time at Central YMCA (and including the cycle to and from central London for some added cross-training benefits). I gingerly put the treadmill on to the hill training session, setting level 11 and was pleased by two things: firstly that the programme was not quite as painful as last week, and secondly that my blistered foot did not give me any gip.

I started off with twenty minutes on the cross trainer, nothing too difficult but at a high resistance level and more than enough to start me off on a sweat. I then moved to the treadmill, and did 25 minutes of the hill programme, and then managed another 10 minutes on the level but at a higher speed. I finished off at 3.5 miles, having burnt hundreds of calories and soaked myself in the process.

Back in the changing room, sodden t-shirt sticking like cellophane to my stomach, I pass an old guy who sees me dripping onto the floor and comments that I must have had a good work out. Yes, I think I did. It makes me feel quite pleased.

Day 34 - lidolicious

Another recovery day, but this time mixed up with a little varied cross-training. I woke early to meet Simmo at London Fields Lido. This is a heated outdoor pool (50 metres (164 ft) and heated to 25 oC) that is extremely popular in my Hackney-centred corner of London.

At 8am on a Saturday I didn't expect to see the place packed, but the promise of bright sunhine, warm air and a large swimming club meant the place was rammed. Not much productive exercise there, but good fun nonetheless.

Exercise came from a 12 mile cycle down to a friend's BBQ in Borough, riding via the Central YMCA for a thiry minute session on the cross-trainer at the higher resistance level. It is knackering, but feels good!

I must have undone the bulk of any good by having too much carbon-grilled meat, but with London basking in a heavenly pre-Summer warm spell, it seems rude not to indulge. Besides, it is all good protein.

Day 33 - recovery position

A well placed rest day after yesterday's exertions. I spent a portion of the day trying to work out what to do with my right foot blister. T'interweb is useful for advice, but it does give you a myriad of possibilities. I decided to ask three other sources, my mum, Jarlath and the pharmacist. From these four sources I distilled a concoction of savlon, surgical spirits, blister plasters and zinc-lined athlete's tape for future runs.

To burst or not to burst? That is the first question. The orthodox position is to leave the blister alone, allow the new skin to form under the protective bubble of skin-inflating fluid.

"The unbroken skin over a blister provides a natural barrier to infection, and patients should try to keep blisters intact and unbroken in order to avoid infection."

Hmmm. But that means leaving a blister untouched. Unpopped. Undrained. Its just not going to happen. So instead I go for the sterilised pin, drainage and dressing approach. And it seems to have worked out well. Exercise on Saturday and running on Sunday was no problem, and, as long as the athlete's tape works in the future, that should be that.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Day 32 - blistering pace

Type - steady run

Distance - 8 miles

Time - 1 hour 7 minutes 59 seconds

Two firsts today with the mileage increasing to eight miles and the first run sustained for over an hour, as I went for another long run with Jarlath. The intention was to do a steady run, to focus on pacing and to ensure that I finished the eight miles within my comfort zone and with the feeling that more was possible. The route was simple (map) - the same as the riverside run that chalked up 6.5 miles, but extended to the Albert Bridge opposite the far end of Battersea Park, and then back. Another slight kink was to head up Northumberland Avenue to Whitehall and through Horse Guards Parade to avoid the crowds at Parliament. Other than that it was simple - four miles there, and four miles back.

I had stretched inbetween the difficult tempo run on Tuesday and today, targetting tightened calves and this paid off instantly. We set off at a warm up pace, and there was not the same tension and tautness in the muscles, ensuring the first few miles were not uncomfortable and we easily slipped into a steady pace. We were perhaps a little too quick at the outset, and this contributed to a slower overall first four miles when we slowed down to compensate. Jarlath was keen to ensure that the running was well within a comfort zone, that my breathing was even and conversation possible. It felt more relaxed not to be too obsessed with the timing, and the first half went well. By the time we had turned back and got to Chelsea Bridge it was clear that I had a lot more energy than at the same point half way through the 6.5 mile run a couple of weeks earlier.

The pace shifted noticeably upwards in the next four miles, but for miles 5 and 6 it did not seem too difficult. Only as a passed into the last two miles did things get a little more taxing. The last mile was run with an increasingly painful and jarring blister developing on my foot. It also felt as though my energy levels were failing, with the dead legged feeling that you have little else to give. That, and the usual last climb up Arundel Street to the Strand, meant we didn't finish with quite the same gusto as had been anticipated by the steady plan. But it was a strong finish, and came in exactly at 8.5 minutes per mile. We had run the first half in about 36 minutes, and slashed this to 32 minutes for the last half - an impressive four miles, and a good example of negative splits in action (more on this later). I noticed that the lack of energy was the only niggle, and I didn't have any issue with breathing or developing a stitch.

I now have a blister the size of my thumb spreading across the arch of my right foot. This is the spot I have developed blisters in the past, and obviously I will need to try and target this area. Blister pads, surgical spirits or savalon - I will pop in to the pharmacy tomorrow and see what they have to say about the effective treatment and prevention of these annoying pain sacks.

Other than that it feels pretty good, and I just need to focus on stretching out the miles and thinking about nutrition, hydration and stamina.

Day 31 - resting

Just a cycle into work today.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Day 30 - after sharp showers

Type - tempo run

Distance - 5 miles

Time - 37 minutes 26 seconds

It had not been a good day, and by 7pm I was not in the mood for running. Going back to work after an extended bank holiday (at the wedding in Liverpool at the back end of last week, and off for Bank Holiday Monday) is never much fun, and when I woke to the sound of rain splashing great globs down my bedroom window. Threatening grey skies, ceaseless curtains of water and a stiff breeze made for a miserable cycle. I wouldn't have bothered with the bike but I needed to get it into the bike shop for a well overdue service I had booked last week.

I finally got to work, and peeled out of sodden clothes in the changing room. I discovered I had packed my phone at the bottom of my panniers, and it was now sodden and malfunctioning. At best it would dry out (eventually) and work, but chances were that my nearly new Nokia N95 was finished. Straight to the desk, only to have to go over to Borough for an unanticipated meeting, and a rushed, miserable day. I finally went to collect my bike, paying over £130 to cover the long list of repairs and replacements needed to get my bike back into working order - the final bludgeoning of a crappy day.

But by now the sun was shining, and riding home on a fixed up bike was a delight. I sat down to plot my route (a slight variation on the previous 4 mile run down Petherton Road, but this time going across Upper Street and up Liverpool Road and then back across Holloway Road into Highbury Fields (map)) and did not feel like getting up to run, let alone to pace out a tempo run over five miles.

This is where setting the challenge, training for a specific event and writing this public blog makes all the difference. These three factors combined to push me out onto the road, and, ultimately and after much internal griping, it was worth it. Today's run was not much fun, lacking the willpower to push forward, worsened by a stiffness in my calves that took a while to dissipate and a general lack of fluidity and pace. At least that is how it seemed for the first three miles. This was the first run I have done in this series of training sessions when I wanted to cut the mileage down significantly, to give up and walk home. I told myself all the way to mile 3 that I would cut off the last loop and be home in 4 miles. It was sapping, defeatist and unpleasant, but I just wasn't feeling it and I couldn't seem to snap myself out of the thunderous mood the day had produced.

But then, as suddenly as black clouds displaced by the sun's brightest rays, the last two miles were actually quite enjoyable. I managed to kick up a gear to finish in a highly respectable 37 minutes 26 seconds, under 7 minutes 30 seconds per mile and a minute quicker than my time running the 5 miles at home. It wasn't as easy or as quick as I had anticipated, but then perhaps I need to be reminded that this whole running lark is not easy, but the more challenge and adversity, the greater the reward. And that is kinda the point - that after sharp showers the sun shines brightest; no weather is warmer than after watery clouds.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Day 29 - its fun to train at the Y M C A

Cross training at the Central YMCA gym and cycling back from London (after keeping my bike at work over the weekend). I used the eliptical trainer, raising the intensity to level 11, and did a forty minute session that was intensive enough to leave my top soaked in sweat, but not so much that the exercise was unpleasant. A serious amount of house-work in a belated spring clean only added to a generally active bank holiday Monday!

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Day 28 - intensivity

Type - gradient / hill run

Distance - 3.3 miles

Time - 30 minutes

Back to the gym today for a session on the treadmill. I decided to try moving to level 11, one notch up from over a week ago, and two notches up from the beginning of the month. Given the step up from level 9 to level 10 was pretty intense I limited myself to 30 minutes on moving up to level 11.

Before starting out I did fifteen minutes on the cross trainer, and then moved to the treadmill. The programme started at 11.8 km/h and then moved up to 12.5 km/h before starting to increase the gradient. This was over 1 km/h faster than the level 10 programme, and as the intensity increased, the extra speed really started to burn.

The speed decreased to 9.8 km/h (again, considerably faster than the previous levels), at a gradient of 8%. Breathing deeply, t-shirt slapped soaked with sweat, I wish the minutes away so that the programme would take me over the worst part and down to an easier cool down run. But at level 11 there is no easier part - the gradient falls away back down to zero, but the speed ratchets up again to 12 km/h.

I had planned to extend the run to 40 minutes, doing a steady 12 km/h on the flat for an extra ten minutes. By the end of the programme (30 minutes) I didn't have much in me left to carry on. I thought that the programme had given me a decent enough work out, and the machine said I had burnt over 700 calories, so I didn't feel too bad about finishing there.

Day 27 - return to London

Travelling back to London from the wedding, and no exercise.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Day 26 - wedding bells

No exercise at all today - apart from a bit of running around in my role as master of ceremonies at my friends' wedding.

Ding dong, the bells are going to ring!

Day 25 - the unbearable difficulty of pacing

Type - Steady run

Distance - 7.1 miles

Time - 57 minutes 58 seconds

Sandwiched (or, rather, shoe-horned) into the middle of a busy week was today's steady run. I had a window of two hours before I had to get ready to leave for Liverpool to attend the wedding of two of my best friends, Alex and Catriona. This came after a late(ish) evening eating and drinking with an old friend from school. Turns out drinking is not the best pre-preparation for running, rather sapping the get up and go of a morning off.

Today I planned to run seven miles in under an hour, to meet one of the targets Jarlath had set me for the next few weeks. This would require a steady pace of about 8 - 8.5 minute miles throughout, and, given the run that I had done last week of getting 6.5 miles in 52 minutes, was eminently doable. I plotted out the route (map), having to go down all the way to City Road and back to rack up the necessary milage - as the miles build up it is getting more difficult to route a pleasant run and remember the mile points.

It was a beautiful morning, sunny but with a little cloud cover to provide welcome relief as the intensity of direct sunlight made things more difficult. I set off, aiming to do a slower warm up and complete the first mile in nine minutes or, if necessary, slightly more. My calves seem a little tight, and the running is not as fluid as I have previously enjoyed. I head down Lordship Road to the boundary of Clissold Park and over into Albion Road. At the mile marker and I am on 7 minutes 39 seconds. Damn. That was not the plan - I seem incapable of pacing myself properly at the beginning, which inevitably means the later run is more difficult. Still, it is a gently downwards slope past Newington Green and down Mildmay Park to City Road.

I hit fiftenn minutes, and I can't be sure whether the road I have remembered as the second mile marker is coming up, or I have already past it. I know for certain where mile markers for mile 3 and 4 are, so when the second marker doesn't appear in the next few minutes I have to assume that I have cleared it. This is not helping the pacing of the run, and just demonstrates how important this element of running is when you start building up to higher distances.

At mile 3 and the sun has burst through the clouds, bathing the road in a surprisingly searing temperature. It is getting to late-May, and when the sun does come out it can bring some serious heat. I am carrying my water bottle, and have a few sips, but mostly it just swishes, warming up in my increasingly sweaty palm.

I hit mile 4 at just over 33 minutes, a little behind where I wanted to be to do eight minute miles. I have turned to head back north, and what went down must inevitably go back up. The route goes along New Road, over Essex Road to Highbury Corner. It is slightly uphill, and then goes more starkly uphill around Highbury, where I have to regulate my breathing and my legs are starting to feel slightly wobbly. By the crest of the hill I am over a minute and a half behind, but try and make some of this up by using the hill and stretching my stride.

On past the Emirates Stadium, along Drayton Park and into Gillespie Road to pass mile six and I am on just over 49 minutes. I think I will make it in under an hour, but my legs are starting to seriously ache and a stitch is growing in my chest. I push on, trying to get a final, decent mile, over the Blackstock Road and into the home straight. My chest in burning now, and legs are much less responsive. I don't have much left in reserve for a final push, but try and sprint the last few metres along Digby Crescent. I get in at just under 58 minutes for just over 7 miles (57 minutes 58 seconds to do 7.1 miles) and feel slightly sick, burning up and shaky. Deep breaths, and off to pack for the wedding.

Day 24 - rest

Nothing but cycling to work today. Rest before the run tomorrow.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Day 23 - resistance is (not) futile

Light(ish) spot of cross training today - cycling to and from work and then over to Clissold Leisure Centre for 35 minutes on the eliptical (or cross) trainer. I notched this up a setting in resistance, and it didn't seem too difficult (albeit still making me sweat buckets). Next time I'll increase it some more. It demonstrates how effectively the training is increasing total fitness levels, not just improving running ability.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Day 22 - knowing your limits

Type - interval training

Distance - 400 metres x 6

Time - 1.29, 1.34, 1.32, 1.38, 1.34, 1.30

I am a little out of sync with my training sessions with Jarlath this week. I can't make a Thursday evening session owing to wedding duties, and so we shifted to the best time for both of us - Monday evening. It also meant we wouldn't be doing a steady distance run. I had already done a tempo run on Saturday, so it made sense to try something else. And today was the day to learn the last weapon in a training arsenal - interval training.

Interval training is quite simple in concept, and devestating in impact. It involves running at something like full pelt for a defined distance, recovering, and then doing it again. And again. And again. And then perhaps throwing up, and then doing it again. Jarlath had measured out a 400 metre stretch of Constituion Hill, stretching from the side of Buckingham Palace to the top of Hyde Park Corner. We would run that, and then walk/jog back and do it again a total of six times. But first we had to get to Green Park.

We jogged along Embankment, up Northumberland Avenue, across Whitehall and through Horse Guard Parade. It was a very nice route, and much easier than navigating the crowds thronged around Parliament. On the way Jarlath discussed the fact that my progress would not continue at the rate it had been improving. I knew this, but this session was designed to prove it. And, in the nicest possible way, it did - there is still a long way to go! I joke that it would be funny if I did just keep up the pace of improvement, which, as Jarlath calculates, would mean a marathon in well under three hours. Wouldn't it be funny, I say, to beat you, to stand on your defeated, broken body! Words that will come back to bite me!

We stretched off, and then got ready for the first interval. We shot off, sprinting up the hill. I was level with Jarlath for half, maybe two thirds before falling back. I was gulping air, deep, whooping breaths, and a pain quickly spread across my chest and down my arms and legs. I was done. I tried to go forward at the same pace, but I just couldn't sustain that speed. No wonder, as Jarlath finished the 400 metres in 1 minute 24. I limped in 5 seconds later.

"Maybe that was a bit too quick" Jarlath said, and looked barely out of breath. I weakly nod agreement, hands behind my head to try and get more oxygen into my lungs. Five more intervals to go, and I already feel dead. We walk back and then jog the rest. It doesn't take too long to recover (although later it is apparent that we've given ourselves a decent amount of recovery time, and that this is the time I will have to reduce in future training attempts) and as soon as we touch the start line it is off on another interval.

This one is better paced, and I manage to finish it without limping across the finish line or feeling close to death. It still burns, and the last few metres are tangibly slower than the rest, but it no longer seems impossible to complete the session. Two down, and four to go. The rest follow in a similar pattern - a strong start, speeding past the half-way mark and pushing it until it hurts and I limp the last few metres. The times vary between 1.34 to 1.38 until the last run. With no more sprints after this I feel I can put more into this one, and begger the consequences of overdoing it.

I sprint, pumping arms in front of me and sustaining the pace with long strides. By three-quarters it is hurting badly, and I am breathing deeply to try and drag oxygen into my body. Still the pace quickens, and I am feeling slightly numb. I am gasping ragged breaths, making strange noises, yelps between pain and desperation. I really shouldn't carry on, but I do - being yelled at by Jarlath is a strange motivator but it seems to work. The last interval is one of the quickest, and afterwards I feel spent.

Jarlath said that I should hate him by the end of the session. Hate is a strong word, but I do like him a lot less for a few seconds. Especially as he has barely broken a sweat doing the same session faster. Yes, a long, long way to go. Jarlath chooses this moment to remind me of how amusing it would be to beat him. That is clearly never going to happen!

Recovery, jog back to LSE, stretch down, protein shake and relax. I cycle home, and feel strangely exhilerated, and find myself attacking hills with gusto. It seems the promise of interval training, to really force you to raise the bar, is a true promise. I will certainly be doing more of it in the coming months.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Day 21 - and on the seventh day ...

A rest day on the Sabbath. After yesterday's tempo run I needed to have a day's rest from running, and, with travelling back to London, I didn't have time for much of a cross-training session. I did lug heavy luggage and the shopping for a vegetable and pulse infused pasta-bolognese dish and mixed-fruit smoothies. This is the building block for a shift in nutrition - I am trying to compound the benefits from the running by eating healthier and introducing more protein to support the training.

So an easy day, but I will be out again tomorrow with G, and I am sure that will not be a restful experience!

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Day 20 - running the home stretch

Type - tempo run

Distance - 5 miles

Time - 38 minutes 30 seconds

I went home for the weekend, a trip to see the parents delayed from the week before my birthday by helping the marathon running loons and long overdue. I take my running kit, and have planned for a run on Saturday morning.

After the great paced run on Thursday the goal for today’s tempo run seemed initially modest. I wanted to tick off one of the three objectives Jarlath had set for the coming weeks (to run 7 miles in under an hour, 5 miles in under 40 minutes and 6.5 miles in 52 minutes). Given I had already done a longer steady run this week I decided to go for a tempo run and beat the 5 miles in under 40 minutes.

Five miles in 40 minutes calls for running 8 minute miles, which, with a slower warm up time included at the start, meant something like 7½ minute miles for the bulk of the running.

I plan a route that will take me into Leyland along Croston Road, a loop behind a housing estate and back along Croston Road until a final loop round Church Lane and Coote Lane – largely linear but ‘bulked out’ by the two loops to take it to five miles. I put the finish at the top of School Lane, thinking about the hill that reaches from Church Lane to this top. Ah, its not steep – it’ll be fine. Plus I get to wear the new clothes from my splurge yesterday.

The run is over a perfect route – largely flat (but remember that last hill, Ian), few obstacles or roads to cross and easily memorable mile markers. It is early, and there are few cars and people around. A few dog walkers are out, all old men with cloth caps and bright eyed black and white spaniels – is it a club? But the time, a threat of rain and stiff wind keeps most people indoors. I start with a warm up jog, and ease into a decent pace. Perhaps too quickly, I finish the first mile in eight minutes. With a longer warm up this should have taken maybe nine minutes, perhaps longer.

Then I relax into a very comfortable pace through two and three miles, heading down towards seven minute miles for these sections. It is still windy, and soon a light drizzle settles in (fine rain, the sort that soaks you through – a special north-west nod to Peter Kay). It feels good to be running in the rain and it is not cold. And then my legs start to ache. Maybe I have peaked too soon, paced a little aggressively as the run up to mile four is noticeably harder. I am finding it harder to stretch into a longer stride, to keep up the speed.

A car pulls over, and the driver hails me. I reluctantly, but politely stop, remove headphones and listen to him ask for directions to Sainsburys. I direct him, and have wasted 40 seconds in the exchange. It doesn’t do to be rude, especially back in the friendly north, but that was annoying. By mile four the pace is back to around 7½ minute miles, and I have ten minutes to get the run in at under 40 minutes. I turn into Church Lane, and climb the smaller bridge that crosses a railway line, and then remember the last half mile will take me over the hill.

That hill. That stupid, triple humped, twin railtrack crossing hill. It stretches upwards from the junction of Church Lane and Coote Lane for about half a mile before curving downwards to my finishing line at the top of School Lane. I powered up the first hump, crossing the single-track line to Ormskirk, thinking that there wasn’t much further to go I tried to power up the second hump, crossing the Pennines Line. I could do it, but there wasn’t much left for a burst of speed. I reach the top and use the downward momentum to build up to a sprint, before staggering up the final climb to the finish.

I finish at 38 minutes 30 seconds. With either a flatter finish or not stopping to give directions I would have done it in under 38 minutes, or five miles at a 7½ minute mile pace. That said I shaved 3 minutes and 45 seconds from the time on Friday 8 May, and felt in fine fettle. Other observations – I don’t mind adverse weather, I really like my running t-shirt but I am not convinced by compression shorts. They slightly chafed my inner thigh, and if this is the case at 5 miles then I worry for greater distances. I will buy some looser running shorts and see what I make of them.

I finish at the top of my street, and walk home the few hundred yards as a nice warm down and then stretch off. There is no water at home – the mains has been cut off. I end up washing in the Evian I had bought as a post-run drink. Who said its grim up north?

Friday, 15 May 2009

Day 19 - more shopping

No running today. After yesterday's exertions a long walk at lunch time and stretching the legs seem as much as I want to endure. I don't feel too bad this morning, but a slight ache in the muscles gives away what I put them through yesterday.

Instead I take myself shopping. Cotton t-shirts and football shorts were fine for starting out, but now I am getting more serious and this means serious gear. I wanted it all - a synthetic, tight weave top that would wick away sweat faster than I could produce it. Compression shorts that would keep muscles warm, injury free and shockingly tight. I restrained from anything more adventurous - the heart rate monitor can wait for another day.

I went to the London Marathon store in Covent Garden and bought three items. In retrospect I am pleased with two, less so with the third. The pleasing items were a blue Ronhill short sleeved running top (silky, wicky and lovely) and a pair of Hilly lite [sic] running socks. I had previously bought some basic running socks, but these are the more specialist kind for longer runs to minimise risk of blisters. They also got highly rated in the Runner's World round up of socks (it is a fascinating world). I appreciate that at the moment I am as highly susceptible to overspending as I am to overtraining - but with good advice from the store and Jarlath I am happy that I am not doing either to excess.

The third item was a pair of LP compression shorts. I had been looking to get some lycra base shorts to wear under plain football shorts (without that ridiculous netting that so many running shorts have and which just seems to chafe me rotten). I looked at Ronhill, but the man said to try out the much cheaper LP shorts first. I asked Jarlath to explain all this afterwards, and I probably should have just got a pair of Skins compression shorts. That said, I will order the Skins online, save as much as the LP ones cost, and then have two pairs, one as a spare pair. So not gutted by this purchase, just not terribly enthused.

Day 18 - smashing the barriers

Type - Steady run

Distance - 6.5 miles

Time - 52 minutes 25 seconds

Back to the streets of London for another punishing, pushing and utterly rewarding run with Jarlath (G). G had told me last week that we would be upping the distance to 6.5 miles, wanting to run for about 55 minutes to experience a decent distance but not quite breaking the hour boundary (which, I presume, will be for next week). This would also be just over the distance for the 10k, so give me a good idea of how close I was progressing towards my first goal of a sub-50 minute 10k. G had planned the route to go the 3.25 miles from LSE to Chelsea Bridge, and then turn around and come right back (map).

"Sounds good." I said. "Pretty flat as well". G smiled and raised his eyebrows, an impish glint which suggested he knew something about the terrain that I did not. I thought about it, and knew the Embankment, Millbank and Chelsea Embankment was pretty flat. It follows the river, so deviates little from the gentlest of uphill gradients as it tracks the river upstream. "I suppose the roads rise a little to take in the approaches of the bridges".

"We'll see." And that was all I got out of him.

I had prepared myself much better for this run than any of the others. I had a protein rich pasta dish for lunch, a fruit smoothie two hours prior to running and a nutrigrain bar 30 minutes before setting off to tide me over. I bought a small bottle of water, mindful of the last run and G's comment that any greater distance (than the 5 miles we did then) would require water. I turned up at his office, and he seemed genuinely pleased I had listened to and acted upon his advice. Of course I had - the guy has just finished running seven consecutive marathons. His word is my running bible!

So we set off, across the Aldwych and down to Temple. Steeply down a few hundred metres to Temple. Ah. What goes down, must come up. And in this case what goes down gamely and fresh at the beginning of a long run comes back shattered, cramped and sweaty with a final sprint up a relatively steep gradient.

"Do you see what I mean now? No hills?" G smiled. I won't repeat on a family forum my exact reply, save to say that where it not for him being the nicest of guys, he would be capable of sadistic training excess!

The run started well, very strong and I got into a stride early on. There were no real twinges, and we paced well. Over Parliament Square and weaving through the crowds. I made a mental note that in future we should dart off this busy, tourist-filled road and divert via Northumberland Avenue and Whitehall. On the way back past Parliament, more tired, irritable and with a pace being interrupted by pedestrians I voiced this idea and got knowing agreement.

Millbank and Chelsea Embankment were, as far as is possible with running, fun. We talked about MI5's discrete offices, and MI6's less discrete Vauxhall conceit. We discussed which building James Bond had burst from to plunge into the Thames in a speedboat. Jobs, life and all the usual tittle tattle of friendly conversation. And it was proper conversation, fully formed sentences barely out of puff.

It started to feel more difficult getting towards Chelsea Bridge, with the looming, broken hulk of Battersea Power Station dominating the view. We had to get under the Victoria railway bridge and then would simply turn around at Chelsea Bridge. It started to seem a long way back, and the pace seemed quick. My legs were throbbing slightly, and my chest already damp with sweat. This will be the last run I do without something better to run in - synthetic material that can effectively wick away sweat and is more comfortable.

We stop, stretch and drink some water. G was right - this run needed water, and the dry mouth of the 5 miles would have been unbearable extended over 6.5 miles. We pause, only 43 seconds, and then set off again. My legs don't want to work properly, jelly thighs placed gingerly in front of jelly thighs. It takes a few minutes to get back in to the stride, all the while I am increasingly anxious I have gone too far, too quickly. Soon I settle in to the run, and the amazingly cathartic effect of retracing steps, ticking off the landmarks, bridges and streets that mean every step brings the destination closer. Maybe my preference for circular runs is unfounded - are linear routes preferable?

Getting towards Parliament and a slight stitch starts to develop, a sharp pain in my chest. I begin deeper, measured breathing which has the effect of dissipating the lactic acid and reducing the stitch. It works, for a while. Past Parliament, and on to Embankment and the stitch is back with a vengeance, feeling painful in the lower stomach and upper chest. I breath deeper, and, with only a mile to go, hope that I can continue the pace. I have no real idea of what time we are heading for, having left the pacing up to G. G offers support, shouts of "good run", "dig deep" and "great time". And I continue, past the gardens, past Embankment tube, past Savoy Place and my DWP office, under Waterloo Bridge, painful, aching, burning breaths and stabbing pains. Deeper breaths, still burning, still searing pains but now only that hill to go.

That hill. The small hill on the run that has no gradient. Returning right at the end to mock me. It is only a few hundred metres to the top, but it is right at the end. From somewhere I push out a final sprint. I don't think I could have run much further than the finishing point, but I suppose the point is that you don't have to.

I stop the watch at 52 minute 25 seconds. Wow. I think about it. That seems a good time. And then we work it out - 8 minute miles, and a 10k race done in under 50 minutes. Wow! I am really pleased. I recover quickly, another positive sign from the training, and go back to polish off a protein laced, post exercise smoothie.

Perhaps I'll make a runner of me yet.

Day 17 - And rest

Just cycling into and back from work today. A busy boy has to have time to fit other things in!

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Day 16 - running up that hill

Type - Gradient / hill run

Distance - 4 miles

Time - 37 minutes 10 seconds

It was back to the gym for a gradient run this evening. I last did a gradient run on Day 5, a little under two weeks ago. Then I did half an hour of a programme of steadily increasing gradients at setting number 9. Today I decided to increase the intensity, going for level 10. A while ago I had done a run on level 10 of the hill climb programme, and I knew the step up from level 9 was quite intense. The speed is increased by about 1km/h, ranging between 8.5 and 11.5 km/h, and the gradient peaks at 8 degrees. Two thirds of the running is done at 4 degrees or steeper, and the peak of the run is a slog.

The advantage of this varied intensity running is in working different sets of muscles. The upper calves take much of the intensity from running at an angle, and there seems to be a lot less pressure on the thighs. By the middle of the programme, at the steeper gradients, it is a tough run but not in the same way as a steady or tempo run - there is not the same demand for oxygen or build up of lactic acid. Instead there is a more rounded work out of the whole leg as the programme moves from higher speeds at lower gradients to slower, steeper speeds.

I finished the hill programme, and carried on running at a comfortable 12 km/h before finishing with a two minute sprint at 16 km/h. The result of the high intensity and speed of the programme and the faster post-programme run was to complete the four minute target in just over 37 minutes, taking over 4 minutes from the previous time. The difference between the two runs, only 11 days apart, was palpable, and a real indicator of the progress that has been made in such a short period.

It was tiring, but manageable, and I think the next time I hit the gym I might give level 11 a try. Given the machine only goes up to level 12 I expect that this is going to be a tough run.

I bought a copy of Runners' World today, the leading magazine in, unsurprisingly, the world of running. I'm hooked. I am not sure whether it is particularly well written or just concerned with a subject for which I have beginner's enthusiasm, but it has a lot of tips and guides, especially for beginners. I think this marks the final stages of my addiction, one which will become complete with the purchase of lycra running shorts. Oh yes.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Day 15 - downward spiral

Just a bit of light cross training today in the form of cycling to and from work. Whilst this is a ten mile round trip, it is not at the highest level of intensity and so is a decent post-run activity to fit into the cross training mould. I was going to go to the gym and do a session on the elliptical trainer, but I am still having on going issues with my stomach and didn't sleep well last night. Excuses, excuses! But I feel it is justified to take it a bit easier - the intensity of running training is making me move away from the feeling that I should exercise every day. And with the danger of over-training being as prevalent as under-training, this is not a bad thing.

Monday has become a weigh-in day - a one a week time to check weight and see whether it is going up or down. I used to be slightly obsessional about checking my weight, making daily morning notes to chart progress or not. But I have now got in to the more sensible and healthier routine of just doing a weekly check. And the last few weeks have shown real progress. Today I was six kilograms down on five weeks ago, and the weighing scales have been corroborated by looser jeans and trousers and now looking quite so whale like in the mirror.

What is really astonishing is how the weight is coming off. Part of it is down to the intensity of the exercise. Running outside is, for me and, I think, generally, more difficult than treadmill running. There are hills, uneven pavements, wind and pedestrians to contend with. And when you are doing varied training, at higher speeds, then you burn far more calories.

But also the running is having a very positive impact on my diet and nutrition. I have lost all appetite for snacks in-between meals. I have a bit of fruit in the morning, and a yogurt in the afternoon, but haven’t had a bar of chocolate at my desk for a fortnight. And it is not a case of trying to diet, which, for me, invariably fails. The desire, the appetite, the sweet tooth have all diminished.

Secondly, if you know you are going for a run you are loathe to eat the wrong things which will make the run more difficult, compromise your time or affect your performance. So Diet Coke has made way for water (albeit often flavoured with Robinson's Special R cordial) and larger meals have been replaced by more regular but smaller portions.

If I keep this up then I am in spitting distance of getting back to the weight I enjoyed in 2004/05. And that is as much a motivation as anything else.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Day 14 - upping the tempo

Type - tempo run

Distance - 4 miles

Time - 29 minutes 57 seconds

Today I wanted to do a shorter run, but try and beat the thirty-minute time I had set for the four mile fartlek run on Wednesday. It seemed a perfect time to introduce the concept of tempo training to my expanding repetoire of running techniques. A tempo run is a rate of performance at a steady pace. More technically tempo runs are workouts where you run at a steady pace that is around 70% to 80% of your maximum aerobic capacity. Tempo runs are just past the point where you begin to build up waste product in your legs at a rapid rate during a run - the lactate-threshold velocity. For me this meant running at a steady pace of about 7 minute miles after the much slower initial warm up period, and sustaining this for 25 minutes.

This pace would be necessary to get to the four mile run in under thirty minutes. I had come tantilisingly close to this on Wednesday, and a combination of a slower warm up and faster steady run would hopefully deliver results. I plotted a variation on the Highbury loop, going down Highbury New Park through to Highbury Grove, St Paul's Road and then up Highbury Hill, round Drayton Park and over Blackstock Road (map). A slow warm up down Green Lanes and Highbury New Park, and then steadily shifting up a gear as I moved towards Highbury. The training guides suggest that a properly executed tempo run should feel 'comfortably hard', and that is exactly the result I got. It would have been tough to go much faster, certainly over the distance, but it wasn't impossible to get round the four miles and I still had a tiny bit in reserve for a final sprint.

I ran down Highbury New Park for a bit of variation. I nearly went away from it with a sprained ankle. The road is a peaceful, traffic calmed, tree lined avenue, but the mature chestnuts and elms have smashed through tarmac and paving to create viciously uneven pavements. I was watching my step, but still nearly went over on my ankle a couple of times. I don't think I will use that street again, especially when the parallel Petherton Road is more even and running friendly.

Amazingly I reached the Blackstock Road with over three minutes to spare until the 30 minute deadline. And so, breathing heavily to dispell the stitch building in my chest, I extended jellified legs to attempt a sprint for the last 500 metres. I stormed down Digby Crescent with the intense, agonised look of someone fleeing swift-winged Furies, pounded down the pavement, taking in two paving slabs with each stride, passing the next lamp-post and counting down the door numbers. A few pedestrians scatter, startled at the sight of my hulking body charging down the road. I reach my front door and hit the stop button on my watch. Twenty-nine minutes and fifty seven seconds. Pained gulps of fire charged air, sweat flooding down my forehead splashing down to the floor. I sit on the wall next to the door and smile - it is good to have goals and even better to meet them!

Day 13 - unlucky for some?

After yesterday's distance exertions it was time for some post-running cross training, just to ensure that the leg muscles were all nicely exercised and relaxed. I cycled ten miles at a steady pace, just enough to ensure that there was some resistance and tension in the muscle groups. I realised that I needed to take my bike in for service, as the cracking sound of imperfect crank shafts or loose ball bearings was driving me made. This exercise lark is costing plenty!

Friday, 8 May 2009

Day 12 - personally trained

Type - steady run

Distance - 5 miles

Time - 42 minutes 15 seconds

I had arranged to run with Jarlath after work. Jarlath is much, much fitter than me, and after his multiple marathon exertions knows quite a bit about running. So tonight was running with a running partner, but also getting some invaluable tips on everything from pacing to stretching via nutrition and hydration. We had decided to run five miles, and Jarlath plotted a route that would leave LSE, head west along the Embankment until Lambeth Bridge, cross the river and then head east along the south bank until Southwark Bridge, over the river again and then back along the Embankment to Temple (map). He asked me what time I would like to do the five miles in, and I had to think. I had done four miles comfortably in 35 minutes, so 44 - 45 minutes seemed reasonable, if not overly ambitious.

From my past week's running I knew that I had to change my technique. I was running too fast, too soon and this was making it difficult to increase the mileage comfortably, and making the last mile of the run much slower and more painful than it should be. The focus today would be on pacing. We set off with a slow jog, having to correct an urge to go too fast. Running with someone more experienced is a great way of sorting out these issues, as the pace was very much dictated by his speed. Warming up for about five minutes, and then hitting a stronger pace as we approached Westminister, we increased the speed into a decent, but comfortable, pace. All the way to four miles and the running was comfortable, with the mildest burn to my calves and thighs, but then crossing the river again, climbing stairs at Southwark Bridge and climbing over the span of the bridge put paid to comfortable running.

Jarlath pushed the last mile much harder than I would have perhaps done on my own. This is another advantage of running with a stronger runner - it pushes you to achieve a great time, pushes you beyond just a good run to something that feels fantastic. That said I could have done without a final 200 yard climb from Embankment to the Aldwych! All finished at just over 42 minutes, and then into the gym to go over stretches, making sure that I was doing them properly, finessing them and suggesting additional exercises. Before today I would have emphasised the importance of pre-running stretches, but afterwards it is clear that it is all about the post-exercise stretching as the best way to avoid injury.

It is fast getting to the point now where i am going to have to consider properly my running schedule, ensuring there is enough rest periods, recovery exercise and proper nutrition. But for now a strong five miles finished the week off nicely.

Day 11 - rest

Rest day.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Day 10 - Something to prove

Type - fartlek training

Distance - 4 miles

Time - 30 minutes 31 seconds

As you may have gathered I didn't enjoy yesterday's run. Slogging round a four mile course with a swishing weight of creamy pasta in your stomach is not much fun. Although I managed to get a decent enough time I was keen to go on another run this evening to try and obliterate the memory of an unpleasant session. Doing two consecutive runs is not necessarily the most sensible thing to do during training, but given the low overall distances I thought I would be able to get away with it. Just to mix it up a little I decided to run the same four mile course as yesterday (slightly amended back to the original course given Arsenal wouldn't be playing tonight - map), but to do a session of fartlek training. As previously mentioned fartlek training essentially involves steady running interspersed with bursts of much faster running for a set distance or time.

The idea behind this form of training emerged in the 1930s and was developed by the Swedish coach Gösta Holmér. The Swedes had been comprehensively thrashed by their Finnish rivals throughout the 1920s, and Holmér's plan was designed to redress the balance. Fartlek, meaning "speed play" in Swedish, is a form of conditioning which puts stress mainly on the aerobic energy system due to the continuous nature of the exercise. The difference between this type of training and continuous training is that the intensity or speed of the exercise varies, meaning that aerobic and anaerobic systems can be put under stress. So whether it is bursts of sprinting or changing the gradient of the run for a distance the body will benefit from this comprehensive training.

I started with a five minute warm up run, steady jogging up until the start of Petherton Road and then sprinting for about 500 metres. Back to steady jogging, until my breathing had returned to normal, and another burst of speed. This was repeated about five times until I was absolutely knackered. Fortunately I didn't have any problems with breathing, cramps or lactic acid build up, but my legs were aching. This must have been the result of back to back runs, and another lesson in the importance of proper recovery periods in training.

I had a long steady run along Highbury Grove, along Highbury Hill, climbing up the brow of the hill and, in the sense of changing gradients, continuing with the principles of fartlek training. Then a long sprint downhill towards Arsenal tube station, and then an unsteady, jelly-legged jog towards home. By the time I got to Blackstock Road I was on about 28 minutes, and less than half a mile from home. I wanted to get under half an hour, and managed to put in a final sprint. It was just too far, and I came in at 30 minutes 31 seconds. Still, this was 3 minutes 38 seconds quicker than yesterday's run, and 4 minutes 52 quicker than Saturday.

The emphasis for the next few sessions will have to be on extending the distance, but this sort of time puts an ambition to run the two 10k runs in 50 minutes within reach.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Day 9 - through the pain barrier

Type - steady run

Distance - 4 miles

Time - 34 minutes 9 seconds

It isn't a good idea to exercise on a full stomach. It is down right stupid to attempt a training run on one. I knew this, but I also thought that I had given myself enough time to digest the decent sized portion of spaghetti carbonara I had eaten at a late lunch. I had taken the day off work today, the day after my birthday. Not because I had any crazy plans for bank holiday Monday, but because since my holiday I had gotten massively behind in all of the small household chores that need to be kept on top of. No more ironed shirts left, dust building up in corners of my bedroom, kitchen left in cake batter splattered disarray after the weekend's cake making exploits.

I ended up eating at about 4pm, after getting caught up in finishing off my chores. By 7pm everything felt pretty digested and normal, so I stretched off and got ready to run. Today's route would go down Green Lanes, coming off at Petherton Road to run through Canonbury, before looping back on to Highbury Grove at running past the Emirates and across Blackstock Road. (map) The first sign that things were not going too well was in the crowds of Arsenal fans. It was obviously a match night, which would make my run along Drayton Park Road interesting. Then, before turning off on to Petherton Road (about half a mile in to the run) I started having vicious pains in my chest. The undigested lump of pasta was swilling in my stomach, and sharp stabbing pains crippled my body. I tried to breathe deeper, longer and slower breaths, controlling my running and breathing to minimise the cramps.

I kept going, a bloody minded determination to finish a run that was, after all, only four miles long. Eventually the pain subsided to become a background annoyance, my legs freed up and the run gradually shifted from being hellish endurance to just unpleasant, breathless exercise. One single bright moment was finishing the four miles in under 35 minutes, an improvement on Saturday's time.

Another lesson learnt - be very careful with food, digestion and timing, otherwise running quickly becomes painfully unpleasant.

Day 8 - rest for the wicked

I had intended to run today, but in the end I spent too long at Alfie's first birthday party, ate too much cake and felt too lazy to run.

Given it was my birthday I felt that a day's rest was the smallest present I could give myself!

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Day 7 - resistance is not futile

Cross-training is an integral part of a comprehensive training programme, and today was the start of integrating this into my regime. I cycled into central London to the Central YMCA to use the elliptical trainer for half an hour. I have a London Fitness Network gym membership which gives me access to all the facilities of London's council and charity gym, pool and fitness facilities. Included in this network is the Central YMCA.

This is a big health complex and the heart of the UK YMCA movement. After Village People the YMCA gym sounds both daft and ridiculously camp. And it does have a big gay following, but it is a very serious gym. It is the best appointed facility I have used in London - a vast two level spread of CV and resistance machines, large studios and a central sports hall with everything from interval training, badminton and even juggling.

Today was a decent training session, nothing spectacular, but I am very aware of the risks of over-training and am consciously checking my desire to go further.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Day 6 - A tale of two parks

Type - steady run

Distance - 4.15 miles

Time - 35 minutes 25 seconds

I started the day with a walk into Stoke Newington to buy some training socks. I have developed a small blister on the same place between the heart and solar plexus of my right foot, and thought that a proper pair of training socks would help, quickening sweat away from my feet.

I had a mounting sense of unease whilst warming up and stretching. I've had this a few times - it is almost a fear that I won't be able to go the distance without hyperventilating, collapsing or worse. I suppose this is just a novice runner's fear of the unknown, but it doesn't help with controlled and steady breathing - almost becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once I got past the first few hundred metres things were fine, and I soon started enjoying it. I had devised a route that would take in a loop of Finsbury Park, come back down along Brownwood Road and then loop around Clissold Park (map).

The run around Finsbury Park was very pleasant, despite the incline on the eastern boundary of the park. It is a good loop for runners, a broad road and footpath running around the edge of the park, past the lake and tennis courts. Back out into the busy streets of Seven Sisters Road before darting into the traffic calmed streets that link the two parks together.

Clissold Park is a lovely park. I think it, along with neighbouring Abney Park Cemetery, is my favourite non-central open spaces in London. And now that the dread hand of winter has relinquished its chill grip the park has burst into life in an orgasm of chlorophyll. Vast London chestnuts, oaks and elms dominate, spreading vast green canopies over much of the park. But there is still expansive, rolling green lawns, two lakes (named the Beckmere and Runtzmere after Joseph Beck of The City of London and John Runtz of The Metropolitan Board of Works who saved Clissold House park and Newington Common from being developed in the 1880s) and the remains of Clissold House which now serves as a community centre and cafe.

But by this stage I didn't get to enjoy the views as much as I usually do, concentrating more on putting one foot in front of the other. The park boasts a running track, wood chips piled thickly to create a spongy path which is noticeably easier on the legs. It does make the surface uneven, and I am not sure on balance whether I prefer this comfort for the certainty of tarmac. I whipped round, thankful that I didn't develop the build up of lactic acid that has bedevilled past runs nor get horrendously out of breath. My legs were aching slightly, but his is the inevitable consequence of training. I had enough left in me to do one final sprint back home, to arrive in a great time of 35 minutes 25 seconds. I think I am going to have to work on my pacing, because whilst the speed is nice, I need to be able to sustain running over longer distances.

Day 5 - peak performance

Type - Gradient / hill run

Distance - 4 miles

Time - 41 minutes 41 seconds

Today I had lunch with Jarlath, marathon champion, fitness guru and a very handy friend to batter with training questions. We went to Wasabi and I had a steaming bucket of pork katsu curry and rice. I love katsu curry, and would normally have to stop myself from licking the last of the sauce from the box. But today was different, and it is not just pork katsu that is lying uneaten at the end of mealtimes. The first thing that went was a desire for snacks. I've always done a lot of exercise, and so it doesn't take much of a mental leap to understand that in order to keep and enhance my massive waist-line I eat a lot of rubbish. But perhaps now it is more correct to say I ate a lot of rubbish, because this week I've had no desire for the chocolate or sweet treat. Ultimately I would like to eliminate sugar from my diet, followed by caffeine. I've been drinking a lot of water. Real, pure and unadulterated water. Uncarbonated, uncoloured, decaffeinated and without artificial sweeteners or vegetable plant extracts. I've reduced Diet Coke intake to a single bottle in the morning. This is quite a reduction, as anyone who has seen my recent fizz-binges can attest.

So is running giving me a win-win weight loss double whammy? Is the loosening in my trousers a sign of things to come? Will I finally crack the weight gain that has bedevilled my late twenties?

I seriously hope so.

On to the training. This evening's run was based on a hill training programme on the treadmills at Clissold Leisure Centre. I had been running the same programme before embarking on proper training. I had managed 25 minutes on level 9, which means running between 10 km/h down to 7.5 km/h but with the gradient increasing every couple of minutes or so up to 7 degrees. This might not sound much, but it makes the running a proper slog. I decided to keep the programme on level 9, but to increase the length of the run to 35 minutes. This increased the intervals between gradient changes to 3 minutes, which gave 12 minutes of running at 6 degrees or above. It was tough going, with thick drips of sweat falling to the treadmill belt far below.

It felt good. It felt better than good. This was my most enjoyable training run so far, difficult but manageable, without the unnerving sense that I was pushing too far beyond my comfort zone and with less of the debilitating build up of lactic acid. It felt so good that I decided to go for a full four miles, and increased the programme length. After 40 minutes I did a sprint at 16 km/h for 1 minute 41 seconds to push me to 6.4 km. I walked home as the sun was sinking beneath the tree line, a red sky promising good weather for the next day, the clouds striped in glowing pink and peach hues and the spire of St. Mary's church burning gold. If summer is just round the corner, now is the best time to get properly fit!