Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Day 247 - Christmas mission accomplished

Although the primary goal of the training is to get a good time in the London Marathon, one of the more important secondary goals is to shift weight. To this end I was determined that, despite the plethora of sugary temptations and hearty food on offer at Christmas, I would not put on weight over the holidays.

So it was with a touch of trepidation that I stepped on the scales today, fearing that a couple of Christmas dinners and a box of Maltesers will have done me no good whatsoever.

But the result was pleasing - down 1kg on the pre-Christmas weight.

Day 246 - in the bleak mid winter

Type - Steady run

Distance - 6 miles

Time - 44 minutes and 18 seconds

Back to London, back to work and back to the familiar run along the Thames. It had been a rotten day in the City - a cold ride into work with a stiff, frozen north-easterly wind followed by an afternoon of intermittant rain. The weather report had suggested the rain would clear up by early evening. They were wrong.

I stepped out into Waterhouse Square to be enveloped in a swirlling mist of fine drizzle, quickly soaked and then frozen as an Artic wind blew under the arches of the building. There was only one thing to do - start running and warm up.

My boss had suggested I was at best odd for running in such conditions, or possibly mad. But these are the best runs. These are the runs when you feel that you are training over and beyond the usual. Stepping out of the comfort zone and enduring the nastiness of a British winter. With every rain sodden step, every foot-splashed pace and every involuntary shiver I was going closer to my goal of a sub-4 hour marathon.

It was an even run, with a decent negative split (running 7.5 minute miles for the first 3 miles and 7.25 minute miles for the final 3 miles) and a decent finishing time just over 44 minutes.

Days 244 - 245 Shopping to London

On Sunday I went out to Manchester to go shopping. My weight has now fallen so far, with chest and waist sizes similarly plunging, that I don't fit any of my work or casual clothes. My shirts are ridiculously tent-like, t-shirts that you could wrap around me twice and trousers that need tight belts just to stay up.

So I got a new wardrobe. Size 16" collars on shirts (down from 17.5"), 34" waist trousers (from 38") and t-shirts to fit a size 40" chest (down from 48"). And it felt great - great to be able to shop for clothes and not be repulsed by the reflection in the mirror! It has taken a heck of a lot of effort to get to this point, and I wouldn't want to repeat it. So I won't.

Back to London on Bank Holiday Monday. I got in at 2pm and went to the gym for a decent work out on the cross-trainer and then twenty minutes on the treadmill.

Day 243 - bloody mindedness

Type - Steady run

Distance - 6 miles

Time - 45 minutes and 12 seconds

Boxing Day. Another Christmas dinner, this time courtesy of my sister and her husband, another bloated stomach and a another day of ice, snow and rain. Some of the snow had melted from the pavements, but not enough to allow me to run the whole distance on the side. It was safer and faster to run in the road and then dart on to the kerb whenever necessary. A bit more traffic today as people emerge from Christmas Day slumber and venture out to visit relatives.

It was cold. And drizzly. And then it was cold and wet. And then the heavens opened. Rain slamming down, bouncing off the tarmac, coating the ice in a slippery sheen and dripping off my clothing. It eased up for a while. And then threw it down for the last mile. I was absolutely soaked, and had to shove all my clothes straight in the washing machine. The last time I had a similar experience was getting soaked on a paper round and having to get changed in the garage.

But the run was good. It was good to get out on Boxing Day. It was good to get out in the frozen wind and rain. It felt like a pretty steady, even run, even though I wouldn't necessarily advise a long run on a stomach stuffed with a full roast dinner.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Day 242 - Christmas run in snow and ice

Type - Steady run

Distance - 6 miles

Time - 45 minutes and 54 seconds

Stuffed with a Christmas dinner to surpass all Christmas dinners and topped up by a constant grazing on the seasonal surfeit of sweet things that come with the holidays, I felt overfed and languid. I wanted to go on a run, to try and shake off the Christmas ennui.

The only thing making me less than certain on setting out was a thick covering of snow that had frozen into ice across the pavements for miles around. A thaw had started, melting the snow on the roads, but this had not yet gone as far as clearing the ice from the sides. Still, it wouldn't be too hard to run on the road and hop on to the pavements whenever a car went past? Right?

I set off at 7pm after watching the Doctor Who Christmas Special. Is it dedication to running that forced me out of a warm house into a frozen, dark world with the rain starting to fall? Or simply a desire not to return to London weightier than I had left? Or perhaps wanting to ensure I started 2010 on the right training foot? Possibly it was just to avoid the Strictly Come Dancing special. I would run down Croston Road as it became Leyland Road into Leyland, and follow the road through the bottom of the town to the main roundabout. Three miles there, and three miles back to make it six miles in total.
I was also motivated from having read Donol Og Cusack's biography. An Irish hurler, who has earned global fame for having come out as openly gay, his story was inspiring not so much for his candid admissions but for the dedication he had to training. One particularly memorable section described his Christmas day training as the day when you felt you were going further than others simply by being out training.

It was chilly outside, but not horrendously cold. Warmer than the biting, Siberian winds that pinched Sunday's long run. The weather is turning, hopefully dispelling the worst wintery conditions which are hardly condusive to running. I was in my new winter running clothes, and felt warm enough.

The run was solid, an even enough performance despite having to hop every so often onto ice-covered pavements to avoid oncoming cars as I raced along the snow-free road. Given the extra effort of running along uneven ice and snow it was a decent enough time, and certainly helped me feel more virtuous after a day of indulgence.

Days 238 - 241 - Christmas week

I had intended to do a decent amount of exercise in the week before Christmas, anticipating some of the excesses that might come in the following week. The weather had other ideas, sending a heavy snow storm to London and making cycling all but impossible, and coating the north with thick snow and ice, making running at home difficult.
I managed to do a decent session on Wednesday in the gym before heading up to Preston for Christmas. I did half an hour of resistance training, 40 minutes on the cross trainer and a fifteen minute run at a relatively quick setting.
I was going to go for a run on Thursday, but the deep snow rendered this a treacherous and foolish idea. Still, we went out for a long walk on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and on Christmas Day the snow began to melt, so I managed to go out for an brisk and energising run.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Day 237 - twelve miles pre-Christmas, my trainer gave to me

Type - Steady run

Distance - 12.1 miles

Time - 1 hour 32 minutes and 02 seconds

I wasn't exactly relishing the prospect of a twelve mile run on a frozen Sunday morning. After Tuesday's chilly ten miles I had been shopping to buy some appropriate winter gear. I would be striding out with my new long-sleeve running top over my short sleeve top, a Hilly forehead/ear protector and thin running gloves. All part of striking a difficult balance between being frozen solid and miserable, and overheated and, well, miserable. The sweet spot is not to be too cold to begin with and warm into a cosy, steady pace whilst the Artic wind whips and wicks away most of the sweat.

I was running today with Jarlath, who was admirably getting back into training after running the Lisbon Marathon the week before. I wanted to get twelve miles in before finishing for the Christmas break - I wouldn't be doing any more long runs until 3 January when I would be embarking on my 16-week marathon training programme.

So, swaddled in far more running clothes than I had previously worn (Jarlath even had a jacket), we set off. The route was a traditional favourite - along the river, but this time taken further than I had ever managed. Previously I had gone down Lots Road, but today we would get all the way to Wandsworth Bridge Road. Aldwych to Fulham and back - a pretty long way (map).

Pacing would be the most important part of the run. It would be difficult to maintain a 7.5 minute mile pace much beyond 10 miles, and so we set off at a steady 8 minute 30 second pace, gently reducing this so that by the half way point we had reduced the average to just over 8 minute miles. We stopped briefly to get a drink in Sainsburys (the route managed to avoid any other shops on the way) and then headed back.

The run felt good, certainly for the first nine miles. My running was steady and I felt fresh. It was only the last few miles when it started to become a greater effort of endurance. It was obvious to me that we were picking up the pace, but only when we got back to the Aldwych was it apparent how much. We finished in 1 hour 32 minutes, averaging a little over 7.5 minute miles. Again, this will not continue in to my proper training because, as tantilising a prospect as it is, a 3 hour 15 minute marathon is not my goal. Well, not this year, at least.

Days 234 - 236 - cyclogym

I finally recovered my bike from the bike shop after paying over £175 in repairs. It still isn't fully fixed - the seat is a bit wonky and I'm sure the back breaks are playing up slightly. It makes an odd and annoying noise when I stand up to set off from stopping at lights.

Back to the gym for a decent cross-training session on Saturday - a bit of resistance training and a decent 35 minutes on the cross-trainer. All good preparation for the long run tomorrow.

Day 233 - last game

After last night's run I hopped onto my bike hoping to compound a healthy feeling by cycling home. I managed to get as far as Rosebury Avenue where a pedestrian walked out in front of a bus and straight into my path.

An emergency stop, a collision, a flight across the street, a head smacked on tarmac, five hours in A&E and a broken bike were the result.

Shaken up, but not badly injured, I was back at work the next day, and back on the football pitch the next evening. It was awful weather, wintery showers and biting winds. It was no big surprise that the team before us didn't play, or that the ones booked in for afterwards didn't either. The result - over an hour on the pitch and a decent cardio workout.

We also took a photo as an end of year thing. It was my first team photo. I was absurdly pleased.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Day 232 - the return to double digits

Type - Steady run

Distance - 10.5 miles

Time - 1 hour 19 minutes and 38 seconds

It has been a long time coming, getting over injury and laziness and to slowly build back into running double digits. But tonight was the night for my first 10 mile run in over six months.

I was planning a standard, if slightly longer than usual, river run (map). This would take me down from Fetter Lane to the river, along the river (via the usual Whitehall to Millbank kink) all the way to Chelsea and Lots Road. And back. It is the 'and back' part that is the killer.

I started off at a measured pace. I wanted to make sure I could complete the run, and was not interested in a quick first half followed by a pained or difficult second half. Eight minute miles across the whole run would see me get in at one hour twenty minutes, and that seemed fast enough.

Over the weekend I had met up with Jarlath to discuss the training plan for the actual Marathon. By 3 January 2010 it will only be 16 weeks from the marathon, and so it was time to put together a sixteen week training plan. Whilst chatting away we discussed training clothes, and I was saying how I couldn't understand the need for additional clothing in winter. Tonight was the first frigid, if not frozen, night that I definitely understood the need for additional clothes. I was cold, and it was a coldness that didn't go away with a few minutes running, or even with a few miles completed. It just gnarled at my core, sapping strength from my legs and arms. At the very least I think I will get a couple of long sleeve tops to go over my short sleeve t-shirts, a headband and wear gloves. I might even think about getting some tights. Ahem.

Tonight I had also forgotten to bring any shorts to put over my Skins. It felt quite wrong to be going out in just Skins - a little like running naked. I kinda got used to it, but I don't think I'll be repeating that in a hurry.

The run was going well, the first four miles were steady, with just a dull pain developing in my thighs and upper legs. This pain would start to increase as I got past half-way and beyond, but it was nothing particularly bad. By the time I was in the last few miles my legs were definitely suffering, but everything else was fine - heart-rate, breathing, no stitches and no unexplained pains. I had enough left in me to do a decent sprint finish for the last few hundred yards.

It seemed as though I was running faster than the sub 8 minute mile pace would suggest. Either my concept of time and distance was out of kilter, or I had plotted the wrong route. Almost inevitably it was the latter. It turns out I had run 10.5 miles in just under 1 hour 20 minutes, making it an average of 7.5 minute miles.

Days 230 - 231 - bikearama

Did a bit of cycling on the Sunday, and nothing much yesterday other than cycling into and back from work.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Day 229 - speed demon

Type - Tempo run

Distance - 6 miles

Time - 40 minutes and 22 seconds

I had just been on a date, meeting someone briefly for a drink at Pattisserie Valerie before we both went off to busy Saturdays. I felt justified in having a brioche bun and jam as I would be going for a run. Decent, sugary fuel. I then battled Saturday shopping traffic on Oxford Street to complete Christmas shopping and dropped stuff off at work, got changed and headed out.

It was bitingly cold today. It had just poured with rain, and was still a touch damp. But the chill that had descended at the beginning of the week had deepened, and I was glad that my Skins shorts and calf socks almost cover my leg. Still, I didn't feel like I would benefit from any more clothing - I wonder if I will need or want any other layers or equipment?

The run would be what has now become a familiar, smoothed and uncomplicated six. Down Fetter Lane, Embankment, Whitehall, a few back streets to Millbank, past the Tate and back.

I had decided to do a tempo run of sorts, given it was only six miles and that I wouldn't be able to do another run until Tuesday. I set off a touch quicker than I would normally for the first five minute warm up, and kept up the pace for the first half. I was running under seven minute miles, and having to breathe steadily and deeply to prevent any stitches from developing. My leg muscles were protesting gently, and it was far from an easy run.

It was not made easier by there being a decent amount of tourist trade on Whitehall and the surrounding streets. I wonder how much time is added dodging and zigzagging around people, having to have the second sense to avoid bumping the pedestrians who invariably fail to look where they are going. This was also the first time I have run this route in the daylight, and, with the various modifications, it was strange to see the buildings and route in the day.

The second half was run in negative splits, taking the overall time to just over 40 minutes. That is skirting close to 6.5 minutes miles, which would be an excellent run. It is also getting temptingly close to six in six, or trying to run the six miles in 36 minutes. We'll have to see whether that is going to happen any time soon.

Days 227 - 228 - life getting in the way

Ideally I would have gone for a run on either Thursday or Friday, and gone to the gym on the other day. But life does have a tendency to get in the way. On Thursday it was departmental Christmas drinks. On Friday it was a fantastic ceremony with Justin, Maria, Simmo and Wilhelmina and a decent chunk of the city's Swedish population at St. Pauls (Sankta Lucia).

Much better than training, but I will have to do a decent run on Saturday.

Day 226 - back to football

Because of injury, other commitments and a nagging doubt about my usefulness on the pitch I hadn't been to Wednesday night football for some time (missing about three weeks). I went tonight, and it was a good game. I was in goal for about five minutes, so spent most of the game running around and having a good, intensive speed workout.

Day 225 - weights from Birmingham

No exercise today, partially as a rest day and partially as I was in Birmingham. I did use the opportunity of being in the city centre to do some shopping. I bought a set of dumbbells and weights. This is part of a plan to broaden my training to incorporate more resistance work, and also to ensure that I can do exercises when at home (heading over to the gym is not always practical or possible with my hours).

Good purchase, although I ended up getting more of a workout than I had anticipated as carrying home 20kg of weights via the train and buses was not easy.

Day 224 - putting frustration to good use

Type - Steady run

Distance - 8 miles

Time - 56 minutes 14 seconds

I had it all planned out. After Friday's reintroduction to running and a weekend of decent gym-based activity, Monday was going to deliver a cracking run, and set me on the road to having 12 - 13 miles under my belt before the new year.

The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft a glay. And plans tend to go a glaying more often than not when you work in private practice as a solicitor. Unanticipated client demands, a piece of work taking longer than planned or even just messing up an appointment on your diary. And so it came to pass that my relaxing start to the week - a relatively early night, a good run, a long sleep and a good day's work on Tuesday quickly became working late on Monday, travelling to Birmingham on Tuesday, having less time to work than I had thought, and feeling distinctly annoyed with my lack of preparation.

It is all the more frustrating when you only have yourself to blame. And I was really frustrated. I had worked myself into a rage at the prospect of my relaxing week just slipping away into chaotic abandon. So the only thing to do was go on a run and see if that would help put things in perspective. It worked a treat. I cannot emphasise the restorative power of a decent run. At the start I was annoyed, my brain working overtime to plan the coming days and feeling on edge. By the end I had sorted out what needed to be done, was feeling calm, even euphoric. It was a great thing to do.

It was also a great run. Maybe I had channelled the anger into pace, the frustration into the miles. I ended up doing just over 8 miles in just over 56 minutes, so spot on 7 minute mile pace. Over a decent distance, this was a good result.

I set off from work on the usual route, heading down to the river (map). It make it eight miles I would cross over Vauxhall Bridge Road and continue to Lupus Street and the railway bridge. It had long gone dark when I set off, and there was a distinct bite to the air as the unseasonably warm December nights returned to a more seasonally apt frostiness. The gothic courtyard of Waterhouse Square was now decorated with lighted trees, and a Christmas glow hung the place.

Any warmth generated by thoughts of holiday joy were soon displaced as a stiff wind brought a few spots of frozen rain. The air retained the moisture, and my breath vapourised into smoke plumes as I inhaled and exhaled large gulps.

My legs had loosened up considerably compared to the Friday run. It felt comfortable, and I managed to get to the half way point in 29 minutes. Completing the run in negative splits, the second half would only take 27 minutes.

I managed a last burst of speed up the hill towards Fleet Street from the Embankment, and then a final sprint along Fetter Lane to finish the run at 56 minutes 14 seconds.

Days 222 - 223 - and back to the gym

I followed my 'back to running' Friday with 'back to the gym' weekend. Same complaints as with the run - unfamiliar, painful and sore. But I did get more a workout done, and felt distinctly better for having managed a decent session on both days.

Day 221 - back into the beat

Type - Steady run

Distance - 6 miles

Time - 45 minutes

It was a chilly Friday evening when I got back to the road, a few unfortunate weeks after my 9.2 mile run. I wanted to ease back into it with a six mile run, following the usual route from Fetter Lane down to the Embankment and along to the Tate at Millbank.

I have slightly finessed the route, ironing out some of the more annoying or busy sections. Right at the start we had ironed out the bottleneck round Parliament. Now I have taken out the annoying gravel section through Horse Guards Parade, and instead go down the length of Whitehall to take a right down Great George Street. Similarly I turn off the Horseferry Road before Embankment and go down John Islip Street, behind the Burberry HQ and behind Thames House. This then comes out at Millbank and avoids the Lambeth Bridge roundabout and roadworks (map).

It was a difficult run. It is amazing how quickly you can get out of the swing of training, how soon your legs will protest at the unaccustomed activity and your muscles ache at the exertions you are demanding. The only positive from it is the knowledge that it won't take too long to get back into the groove. I started getting a pain in my upper leg and groin at about mile 2. The time wasn't blistering, just a little over 7.5 minute miles. I was breathing more heavily, and feeling the pressure from each step.

By the half-way point I was starting to relax into the run a little more, but it still felt difficult and my legs felt heavy and unresponsive. I picked up the pace a little for the final three miles, finishing the whole run in 45 minutes. It was far from a great run, far from my best. But it wasn't a bad one to get back to training with.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Days 196 - 220 busy, injury, tired and sick

The rest of November just didn't really get together. I got injured playing football, a sharp bruising to my chest which felt like I'd broken something and brought piercing pains whenever I breathed, and yelps of pain when I coughed or sneezed. It is still there, but fading away slowly.
I did a bit of cycling, a bit of running and a bit of gym. But nothing like what I had planned or wanted to do.

It was made more difficult by having my mum's 60th birthday on the first weekend and Antony's 30th birthday on the second. But there will be other events in the run up to the marathon, and I will have to train around them.

And then towards the end of the month, just when I wanted to get back into it, I came down with a vicious viral infection.
Well. I have four weeks until the 16 week point for serious training to begin (January 3). I think I am planning a 20 week training schedule, and will have to discuss this with Jarlath.

Day 195 - neither rain nor sleet nor gloom of night

Type - Steady run

Distance - 9.2 miles

Time - 1 hour 6 minutes 14 seconds

It is still mild in London as we creep towards winter. Whilst the sunny evening runs are long consigned to memory, there is, as yet, no need to swaddle in winter running clothes. Is there ever a need to swaddle in winter running clothes? I expect this statement of bombastic hubris will come back to bite me when I buy the base layer and the tights to fend off frozen nights. But for now, shorts and t-shirt still cut it.

But whilst the temperature was mild everything else about tonight's run was viciously inclement. The heavens had opened with a torrential downpour that sent shallow streams running down the gutters and edges of roads. Thick, heavy rain that drips onto your face with such intensity that you might just drown standing up.

Still, I was going to get wet one way or the other - from sweat or rain. So I plunged into the night streets. I had planned a run of about 9 miles, heading down towards Chelsea and back. I was running from work, so had the first mile largely down hill towards the Embankment. It is not a perfect start, because it makes you run faster than you should for an opening warm up. And the price you pay for downward acceleration is a tough climb at the end when you are watching the final time.

The water starts to drip thickly from my scalp, mixing with whatever chemicals are in my hair and in the air and stinging my eyes. I might have to seriously consider getting a sweat band if I can stand to look like such an 80s reject. The stinging in my eyes is a perennial problem, and I can't imagine it would be much fun running the marathon in those conditions.

I make the half way point just past the Chelsea Hospital in good time. If I just equal that time then I will finish at just under 7.5 minute miles. If I manage negative splits then all the better.

The route back is tougher - shoes squelching, absolutely soaked through. My t-shirt clings irritatingly to my body and the only part that isn't affected is my lower body because I was sensible enough to get the Skins. Otherwise that would have chaffed like hell.

But I manage to pick up the pace. The wind is behind me on the way back. I hadn't really thought about the difference the wind can make. Obviously on the bike it is a really noticeable factor. But even on the road, it makes a difference. I am running at a fair pace now, as much in desperation to get back to the office and to the shower.

The last mile burns, heading up hill from the Embankment back to Chancery Lane. But I manage it in 1 hour 6 minutes 14 seconds. I plot the route afterwards and am pretty pleased to discover it was a 9.2 mile run.