Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Day 58 - cycling on

Back on the bike to go to and from work for what feels like the first time in a long while. Things are definitely improving with the leg muscles, and the lower back muscle is not complaining too badly.

More stretching, Deep Heat and light cross training, and I should be able to get back to training soon enough.

Just need to get through football tomorrow night!

Monday, 22 June 2009

Day 57 - back on the road (by bike at least)

I had my bike fixed by another bike shop, and they recommended replacing the back wheel. Of course they did, when such a recommendation nets them a cool £150 plus £25 mechanics fee. But there was a logic to their argument, that if you are going to put a heavy load on the back wheel (and by this they meant the panniers rather than (but probably including) the rider), you need a wheel that is solid enough to take it. Otherwise buckling is going to be a perennial issue. The alternative wasn't much cheaper (£80 - £90 for a compatible road wheel), so I pushed out the boat. Heck, given I save £1,200 in travelcard expenses, showering my bike with the occasional bit of love and attention still amounts to a significant saving.

There has been a noticeable improvement in my legs after a restful weekend. It no longer stings to go up stairs, and I am not having to grip on to the handrail to haul myself up. I found myself taking two steps at a time, which really puts pressure on the calfs, without the expected protest from the abused muscles. The stretching, soaking and spraying regime continues, and I am hoping that I will be in a position to start some light running next week. In the meantime I am going to continue to rest, and perhaps work in some cross-training and then football on Wednesday.

Hopefully that will see me back in contention soon!

Day 56 - Rest

More rest.

Day 55 - P(rest)on

Back home for father's day and to celebrate my parents' Ruby Wedding Anniversary.
More rest, more stretches and yet more Deep Heat. The pain does seem to be receding noticeably each day, which is encouraging.

Day 54 - recovery

Things are easing up a bit, and each step doesn't create teeth jangling pain. More stretching, more Deep Heat and more rest.

Day 53 - the recovery starts now

Time to get serious on muscle pain. The stretching continues, as the most important conduit to bringing my legs back to running health. But today I have augmented it with a few choice products from Superdrug.
Heat pads - my lower back had hurt so badly that I thought it made sense to get some localised, heat-based pain relief. These pads, by the makers of Deep Heat, stick to the skin and then self-heat once exposed to air and provide 8 hours of continuous warmth. They do seem to do the job, and my back was a lot less painful after a few courses.
Deep Heat - Deep Heat spray for after strecthing - this pungent spray is a topical rubefacient heat rub which is familiar to anyone who has played sport at any level. But it was new to me. It creates a deep, warming to burning sensation in the muscles, and helps with muscle sprains and pains.
Ibuprofen - essential for the relief of muscle-based pain.
And, perhaps most importantly, stretching and rest from running.
It is all rather annoying, especially as, with my bike in for repair, I am not getting any real exercise.

Day 52 - Forty minutes of pure pain

Football today. I thought things had loosened up a bit, and, with a judicial application of Deep Heat and taking a few ibuprofen, I thought I could play. Big mistake. Whilst things were fine limbering up, my body's complaints would come to the fore immediately on entering the football pitch.
Each strike of the ground would elicit an internal roar of pain as an electric jolt snapped up the calf and hamstrings. A deep, pounding, ripping sensation in my hamstrings each time I landed on my right food. And finally an intense, breath-taking, searing pain from my lower back. It was this last pain that would see me make involuntary yelps every now and then, gasps of pain wrenched from a face screwed in hurt.
But it was a five a side game, and I couldn't really just drop out and leave the teams unbalanced. That said my poor performance possibly hindered my team as much as helped, and we limped in two goals behind after a very poor first half.
After the 40 minutes I collapsed to the floor, too sore to do much. I stretch off, knowing that the temporary pain of such a routine would be far less than the damage that not stretching would do.

Serious remedial action and proper rest is obviously necessary.

Day 51 - injured?

Things still painful. Perhaps even a bit more painful?
A bad mood not helped by the annoyance of an appalling job done on my bike's service. The back wheel is badly buckled. How this wasn't spotted and fixed, I don't know - I will have to take the bike into a different bike shop and get it sorted.

Day 50 - Sturm und drang

I had planned to go on a light training run with Jarlath today. Nothing too strenuous, a light jog in the park. Jarlath was working near New Bond Street, and so I arranged to meet him there and then head over into Hyde Park.
Things had not improved much since yesterday, and my legs were still screamingly painful. I took a few ginger steps, not so much running as a high speed shuffle. We managed to do 10 pained minutes before I admitted it was too much. The sky had clouded over with a thick, ominous grey to black sheet. The streets rumbled with a low thunder storm, and a few flashes in the sky confirmed the approaching storm.

Instead of a training run we had a long talk about recovery, stretching and injuries. I think the half marathon was far too much, far too soon. I kinda knew that at the time, but I wasn't quite as clear what the impact of it would be. I wasn't properly aware of how painful muscle strain and stress can be, and the impact it would have on training.
It was a useful session, with Jarlath demonstrating a range of stretching positions and telling me that it would be a good idea to have a couple of weeks off to let the body recover from what had been a jarring exertion on Saturday.
As the fat rain pelted the dry earth, releasing the charged, clean smell of ozone, I was inclined to agree.

Day 49 - yes, a mile too far

Ow. Ow, ow, ow. Getting out of bed, inching my left leg out on to the floor, and ouch. Then the right leg onto the floor and ouch. Now I am standing, slightly crooked and back bent forward. I put one foot in front of the other and pain shoots from my calves, up through the hamstrings and through a tight muscle in my lower back.

Forward, a few more shuffled steps, to the stairs. The bathroom is upstairs, and I grab the handrail tightly, and then with both hands as I haul my stiff body up to the toilet. This is no good. Perhaps I did over do it.
A lot of stretching today, in a desperate attempt to loosen up muscles and bring back a semblance of normality. I think it might be too little, far too late.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Day 48 - a mile too far?

Type - steady run

Distance - 13.2 miles

Time - 1 hour 53 minutes 12 seconds

I had left it another day to go for this week's long run. I was still stiff from the intensive run around at Wednesday's football, exercise which came hot on the heels of Tuesday's tempo run. When I woke this morning still feeling stiff and gingerly putting weight on my legs as I got out of bed I wondered how well today's planned 11 mile run would go. I decided to stretch off, and head out.

I had planned a route that would take me 5.5 miles down to the Embankment via Canonbury, Islington, Faringdon and Blackfriars. I would then turn around, and come back to notch up 11 miles. I had been feeling optimistic, and so had planned for a mile long extension at the end in case I wanted to stretch out the run to 12 miles.

It was a perfect morning for running. The temperature had yet to climb into the low twenties promised by the weather forecast, and the sun was patchy, blocked by big puffs of white cloud. There was a gentle, cooling breeze, and no threat of rain. The perfect weather was not matched by perfect physical condition for running. With the first few steps something felt wrong, a sharp pain in my calf muscles surrounding the shins. I wasn't overly concerned, as I had experienced something similar on a few runs and I was sure it would disappear in a few minutes.

It didn't. I ran gingerly, taking smaller steps and wincing slightly when I put each foot down as a slight but jarring pain shot through my reluctant muscles. Still, I thought it would fade as I geared into the run. I passed the first mile marker a little after 9 minutes, and kept going. The pain never really reduced in intensity, and by miles 2 and 3 (each done in about 9 minutes) I was starting to hate this morning's run.

Eventually the pain faded in intensity, but I was far from convinced that it had gone away. Instead I had become used to it after half an hour of running, and eventually the pain from aching muscles would segue seamlessly into the dull throb of tired muscles. There was no real let up, and no enjoyable middle section when the legs felt loosened up and I was able to just run and enjoy the relaxed strides of exercised but fresh muscles.

I eventually reached the river, turning down the Embankment to reach the five mile marker at Temple. I had made up a little time to get in at 44 minutes, a minute under the 9 minute per mile time. I quickened to the five and a half point just after Northumberland Avenue, and, after a brief stretch, turned around to head back.

With my legs still complaining and my spirit sapped by the step after step pain I now faced the prospect of the return 5.5 miles which would be, more or less, up hill. Not a serious ascent, but a noticeable climb from the river bank up to the top of Angel. The climb was in three distinct sections - from the Embankment to Ludgate Circus, from Faringdon to Mount Pleasant and from Sadlers Wells to the Angel.

By this stage. whilst not exactly enjoying the run, I was content enough to keep going. I thought I would probably try and bolt on the extension, and then a mischievous voice in my head told me to consider carrying on for the half-marathon. The run had been so painful, so difficult, that, with the most twisted logic, it seemed that the best thing to do was to carry on for a half marathon. At least then I woudl have something to show for the miles and minutes of teeth-gritted, painful running.

Into Islington and finally my legs seemed to be responding to being properly warmed up. The stiff pain had been replaced by the less immediate, duller ache of tired legs. I had picked up my speed over the last few miles, despite the ascent, and was comfortably running 8 minute miles, bringing the average time for the run down to 8.5 minute miles. By the time I got to my original finish line at mile 11 I was at 1 hour 34 minutes and would have plenty of time to finish the last two miles to get the half-marathon in under two hours. I mentally steeled myself for a last push, and extended the extension loop to go up to Finsbury Park, down to Arsenal tube and back round. The mile to mile 12 was a pained, foot dragging run, but I was buoyed by the elating knowledge that I felt capable of finishing the half marathon.

The last mile was run in a strangely detached, almost out of body fashion. My legs went forward on complete autopilot as I navigated round an extended extension. I had slowed down back to just over nine minute miles, but was still running. To get the final few yards I had to run heartbreakingly past my front door twice, to the Queen's Road end of Digby Crescent and back to the other end before being able to return home shattered, broken, sore but glowing with a triumphant, endorphin-fuelled high. My goal for the Bristol Half Marathon on 6 September had been to finish it in under two hours. Six weeks into training, and two and a half months ahead of schedule, I had already smashed that target.

It probably wasn't the most sensible thing to do. My legs are currently complaining like made even after several stretching sessions. I have been walking in a cowed, crab-like fashion and even cycling has been difficult. But the psychological impact of reaching for a goal, and smashing it months early, has probably made it worthwhile.

I will probably return my long run down to a more sensible 12 miles next week and slowly build back up again. That is if I am able to walk again.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Day 47 - stretch and rest

I decided to push my long run to Saturday, giving myself another day to recover from this week's earlier exertions. I cycled into and from work, and did three sets of stretches to try and loosen up some of the muscles that have become quite tight and sore over the last few days. It seemed to work, and I feel like I should be able to .

The blister from Wednesday is a bit of a problem, but is on a part of my foot not usually affected when running. I am hoping my faith in Compeed will be rewarded tomorrow!

Day 46 - much needed rest

Just about managed to cycle to and from work today - aching all over!

Day 45 - football!

After yesterday's difficult, pacey run I could probably have done with a day's rest. But my schedule had other ideas. A few of my friends have been playing five a side football on Wednesdays for a long time. Initially this was of limited interest to me - I didn't play football and was so unfit that the prospect of running around like a mad little lout was neither appealing nor possible.

But after a while I was feeling left out, with a gaping hole in my mid-week social life and a vastly increased lung capacity. A few weeks ago I had decided to join in. And today was the appointed day.

I was stupidly nervous and self conscious about playing. Football has never really been my thing, and I hadn't played consistently for decades. As soon as I moved to 'big' school I switched indifferently to rugby in winter, cricket in summer. Football on the field behind my primary school was left as a memory from my pre-teen life, and I never really played since. I knew the boys took the game relatively seriously, and they were decent enough players. So the potential for incompetent embarrassment was there, and I felt my usual anxious hesitancy about trying something new. Fortunately I loved it. I always do this, get worked up over something I haven't tried, and then love it when I force myself to do.

It might seem that this story is unconnected with the running-focus of this blog, but I intend to make Wednesday football an integral component of training. It is perfect anaerobic, intensive, interval based training. Five a side is hard work, and by the end of the 45 minutes even the fittest on the field were drenched in sweat. It should be a perfect way of incorporating a training style I find difficult, and makes for a new high point on the weekly schedule.

It did leave me with a pretty nasty and sizeable blister on the ball of my left foot. I need to start treating my feet in surgical spirits and toughening them up!

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Day 44 - upping the tempo (or not)

Type - tempo run

Distance - 5.3 miles

Time - 40 minutes 12 seconds

A quick five miles was what I had suggested to Jarlath for tonight. A tempo run, and, given Jarlath's past record of pushing me, I expected it to be a quick tempo run. The route went east from LSE along the Embankment, under the Millennium Bridge and over Southwark Bridge, along the South Bank all the way to Lambeth Bridge, over to Parliament Square, Horse Guards Road and back along the Embankment to LSE.

My legs have been giving me slight jip - a tightness and sharp pain when getting up from my desk at work or when getting up out of bed. It seems to wear off after a while, and is nothing I am too bothered about, but it does make it difficult to get up to a decent speed quickly on a tempo run. It just demonstrates the importance of stretching, repeated stretching. We start out on a warm up and then, relatively quickly, get into the stride. The route proves to be a bit tough because of severe pedestrian congestion, a few flights of stairs and two raised bridge crossings. It seems a tough run, and it feels like I am running considerably quicker than I have done for previous tempo runs.

By mile 3 I am in pain, a stitch that has built up over the past mile proving stubborn to shift and I am having to breath deeply to keep up with Jarlath. By mile 4 my legs are starting to give a little, a wobbly feeling that usually comes when I have reached the edge of my muscle's capacity or have just run out of energy. I push through for a final mile, expecting that we have done a decent time.

So by the end I am slightly disappointed that the finish time was 40 minutes. When we plotted the route accurately it was actually a 5.3 mile run, so that would take me down to something like 37 minutes 30 seconds for the 5 miles. Which is not personal best territory, but, given the difficulty of the route, not too shoddy. It certainly felt like a decent work out.

Day 43 - rest

Had a vicious migraine in the morning, which took all day to get better. Lots of rest, certainly no exercise.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Day 42 - driving pained legs over steep hills

Type - gradient / hill run

Distance - 4 miles

Time - 36 minutes 36 seconds

Back to the gym, this time Clissold Leisure Centre, for a gradient run. I kept the setting at level 11, and ran at this for a 25 minute programme and then a level run to get up to 4 miles. I still had enough in me to finish with a two minute sprint at 16 km/h. I think I willl stretch the hill programme to 30 minutes next time. I am certainly not ready to increase the intensity to the final level 12 - level 11 is still a tough work out.

But I managed to do an extra half a mile on last week's 3.5 miles in only 1 minute 36 seconds longer than last week's run. So progress of sorts.

I've just transferred all of these blog entries onto a single Notepad document for safekeeping. They amount to 15,000 words, and, perhaps more fitting to the fitness agenda, a total of 98.8 miles in 783.45 minutes (13 hours, 3 minutes and 27 seconds). That is just a shade under 8 minutes per mile, which reflects doing both interval, tempo and fartlek training as well as steady and hill training. I think, on balance, this number will stay pretty steady as the long runs will average between 8.5 and 9 minutes per mile, whilst the tempo, interval and fartlek training will be faster. It also makes sense to keep tabs on the total mileage, as trainers need to be replaced after about 500 - 600 miles.

Day 41 - and rest

Nothing more than a little cross-training at the Central YMCA and running after Alfie who, walking quite freely now, is keen to explore the world as quickly as possible. It is quite an exhausting persuit!

Friday, 5 June 2009

Day 40 - double digits

Type - steady run

Distance - 10.25 miles

Time - 1 hour 22 minutes 43 seconds

There is a special kind of run that comes just when you are feeling listless, down and defeated and, from somewhere, you manage to pull an exceptional performance out of the zip-up sweatband. In the six weeks of uninterrupted training today's run has been the most satisfying. Not only did I manage a step change in distance whilst maintaining a decent pace, but it came after a week of feeling pretty depressed and has managed to put a zing in my step again.

Tuesday's tempo run was difficult and frustrating. I did manage a decent time, but the heat, traffic and delays made it annoying and my constrained chest made it unpleasant. The blister on my right foot had healed to a point, but was still pink and tender. And ominously in the run up to today's run I have felt stiff and sore in my calves and hamstrings. I was supposed to do the long run yesterday, but decided that I would benefit from the additional recovery time. I stretched twice a day in the meantime, and hoped I would be able to loosen the muscles enough to run on Friday.

Another source of apprehension was the faith I was putting in an invisible stick of anti-chafing foot lubricant called Compeed. I had gone to the pharmacist at lunch and asked about a variety of remedies, from zinc-lined tape to blister plasters and the strong recommendation was for the anti-blister stick. It seemed a bit too good to be true - looking like a miniature roll on deodorant and applied to the affected area. It came with positive online reviews, so I slapped some on and put on my Hilly socks and hoped that this combination would ward off any friction and blisters.

Despite these worries I did think that a nine-mile run was possible. I must have been confident enough of my abilities to plan for a mile long extension at the end of the nine miles to take me to ten miles in case I felt up to it at the end. But mentally and physically I was not in the most positive place. I went down to get changed, and headed for the Embankment. My plan was to run 8.5 - 9 minute miles at a steady and, as far as possible, relaxed pace. My route would be similar to the long runs I have taken with Jarlath - down Embankment, veering off through Horse Guards Parade and along St. James's Park to Horseferry Road to avoid Parliament, and then back on the Embankment all the way to Lots Road (map). This would be 4.5 miles, and thus make 9 miles on the return leg. The additional mile would come from a half mile and back further along Embankment past Temple.

I was careful to start off with a decent, slow warm up and the stiffness and aches in my legs soon faded away. Miles 1 and 2 passed in no time, averaging 8.5 minutes for them both and then I was on the long road running by the side of the river. It is a great place to run, with little interruption for traffic (except at the bridges) and wide pavements with few other users. The slowly flowing Thames and some stunning riverside views make it a fantastic route. The mile markers of this run were near bridges - 2 and 7 miles at Vauxhall Bridge, 3 and 6 miles at Chelsea Bridge and 4 and 5 miles at Battersea Bridge. They were easy to remember, and so I could really work on pacing and timing. The pacing was remarkably steady, at 8.5 minute miles for the first half (just under 43 minutes) and then switching with a moderate negative split to do 8 minute miles for the rest (just under 40 minutes).

I felt strong for the whole 9 miles, without any niggles in my muscles, any issues with breathing or being out of breath, no build up of lactic acid or stitches. There was no question that I would not add on the extra mile that I had plotted to make this a rather special 10 miles. So passed the entrance to the gardens off Savoy Place, and on along the Embankment to Temple Avenue, and then back to the Embankment Gardens to finish with some stretching off and a much needed shower.

I finished strong - tired in my legs, and could probably have dragged out another couple of miles at a 9 minute mile pace or so. But no issues with breathing or stitches, and, miracle of miracles, not even the hint of a blister. All that tender, fresh skin and not even the faintest suggestion of friction or rubbing. Wonderful Compeed, marvellous Compeed - how could I have doubted your sleek, invisible sheen? And, of course, delicious, wicking wonder socks, woven by gently, benevolent faeries. Possibly.

The half-marathon is now within my grasp, and a sub-two hour time should be entirely doable. Just need to carry on and keep improving!

p.s. it turns when plotting the route at home I actually did 10.25 miles, which gives me 8 minute miles overall. Nice!

Day 39 - rest in pain

Just cycling into work today, and trying to stretch my sore muscles. I was going to do the long run this evening, but I decided to postpone until tomorrow.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Day 38 - pained

Just a light spot of cross training in the form of cycling to and from work. Which is probably a good job as, for the first time since I started training, I was in a bit of pain this morning. I had been slightly stiff on my run yesterday, but this had eventually loosened out after running for a while. This morning I woke up and found I had stiffened up to the extent that climbing the stairs was a stark trial. All the more worrying given the toilet is up the stairs.

All day whenever I have got up from my desk the first few steps have been stabbingly painful, and I've been shuffling to and fro. I started the day with some more stretches, and repeated them tonight.

I was planning a long run tomorrow evening, but think I will give it another day and go on Friday instead. Hopefully another day with further stretching and light cycling will loosen things up a bit.

Day 37 - a scenic whirl

Type - tempo run

Distance - 5 miles

Time - 36 minutes 51 seconds

I thought I had planned a lovely run that would take me down the Mall, skirt Green Park along Birdcage and then loop Hyde Park around the Serpentine before coming back. I know that area from cycling, so it should have been a well planned, relatively flat and quick route. And, for the most part, it was. With one major reservation - Hyde Park Corner. Affecting both ends of my run (at mile 1 and 4) this massive gyratory traffic surge separates Hyde Park from its royal brethren the other side of the Palace. From the tip of Green Park you cross one six lane section, and then have a couple of hundred metres through the Wellington Arch to reach another cross to get into Hyde Park. On a bike it is a brief inconvenience, but on a timed tempo run it was an infuriating impediment to my pace, stride and enjoyment.

It didn't start as the most successful run. I had forgotten to take a puff on my ventolin inhaler, and from the first steps my chest felt tight. It would barely improve for the next half an hour, as deeper breathing rasped against a constrained lung capacity producing unhealthy sounding wheezes. My legs didn't feel in much better shape, and took a while to warm up from first step stiffness. The sun was shining, and, whilst ordinarily a blessing, the intensity of the heat made the whole thing more of a chore. It was a scenic start, with the ruritanian perfection of St. James's Park at the side of the Mall, itself a blaze of red, white and blue from giant Union Flags hung out for the Queen's Trooping of the Colour.

The park roads were packed with people pouring out of offices and shops and spreading themselves lazily on the grass. In the distance the choppy surface of the shimmering Serpentine was interspersed with paddle and row boats, shrieks of laughter echoing over the water. I didn't take much of it in, concentrating on just putting one foot in front of the other and fighting the negative thoughts that this might be the run to cut short, or slacken off.

The last two miles were a joy, with a slight downhill stretch all the way along the east side of Hyde Park, down Constitution Hill and along the flat of the Mall. It would have been perfect but for the repeated interruptions of three sets of traffic lights across the Corner.

That said I did manage to finish in under 37 minutes, a time I largely attribute to the flat nature of the route. Without the frustrating stops at Hyde Park Corner it might have been even quicker.

I think, in future, I will stick to the river!

Day 36 - rest

Rest day - just cycling to and from work (via a lovely rendezvous with friends in Spitafields, next to the 'hothouse of despair').