Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Day I Found Out...

… my girlfriend used to be a pretty good runner!

One of my colleagues came in stating he had broken his 10k PB on a training run with a 38:20 clocking. She chimed up with, ‘pfffffff, I used to run 38 minutes’.

‘What? Hang on a minute,’ I thought. ‘I knew you did some high jump and you had great genes, but 38 minutes isn’t hanging around!’

As a member of the fairer sex a 38 minute 10k would currently place 258th on the UK best performance list for 2009. In comparison my 32:51 minute 10k from Cherington back in July (on a slightly hilly course) puts me as the 382nd fastest British man.

*** NEWS FLASH ***
My girlfriend is a better runner than me!!
*** NEWS FLASH ***

Then I looked at my 5k time, 15:36 … that places me 220th on the UK 2009 men’s rankings. Phew, I’m back in the game. It also means that my time is faster than any British woman has run for 5k on the road this year, although the same can’t be said for 10k – I would place fifth. I think I have some proving to do out on the roads of Echternach in two weeks time!

Anyway, enough about me. Unfortunately Steph got a knee injury and stopped running some years ago, but then today went for 4k and only stopped once. She got back home and onto skype looking great, she really loved it. I'm so proud. When I see her in two weeks time we're definitely going running together! She'll be Luxembourg champion in no time! There are such good omens and signs. The one time she stopped she looked down and picked up a four leaf clover - what are the chances? Lucky in life, lucky in love. Run strong with a beat in your heart!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Stepping Out onto the Wire

Marathon preparation lends itself to risk. You enter training knowing that there is a real possibility that you won’t see the start line, that all the sacrifice and pain will be for nothing. When you’re punishing your body on a daily basis it’s liable to break down, and the closer you get to race day the more risks you take as the stresses on the body increase.

‘The wire’ is a term predominantly used by cyclists to describe the time when they find that balance between optimum training load and race weight. There is a point where your muscle power or stamina can be extremely high whilst bodyweight is low, thus when you race you get the best of both worlds – good performance and less weight to carry – making you faster.

The journey along the wire is a haphazard one where injury risk increases and the immune system starts to decline. The final few weeks before a big competition is the time when things can go irreversibly wrong. Get injured or sick now and there is no way to recover in time for the competition.

Heading out onto the wire

I’m starting to see subtle differences in my physiology, the extra rib poking through against the skin on my chest, the way my cheek bones seem more defined as the gauntness sets in, the uncharacteristically brown lower legs from training during sunset. I know I’m creeping out onto the wire, although I’m not intentionally trying to lose weight, it’s just a side effect from the increased training. Ironically, despite looking a little bit skinnier I'm actually becoming more muscular. By running at around 6 minute miling for the majority of my training it's making me tough and my legs and arms look pretty ripped. By appearance you might start to think I was more of a miler than a marathoner.

At present I’m trying to counteract it, I don’t need to be so thin, so I’m scoffing down ice cream every night after training and treating myself to chocolate and marshmallows. It’s a great time to be a runner – intensive training and eating whatever you want. Hunger is almost constant, so I eat decent sized meals and keep snacking throughout the day on bagels and cereal bars. Before midday I had already eaten a bowl of cereal, special K bar, cheese sandwich and a slice of cake and then also finished a slice of quiche, packet of crisps and a large cookie by 3pm. However, despite the tasty advantages there are some disadvantages.

My cough is back. I always get it, originating around the Adams apple, when I’m training hard. It’s mainly prevalent in the winter during the colder months, but it came back last night after a steady evening 16 mile run. It’s both annoying yet reassuring. I cough when I’m fit, it’s ironic, but it’s true. I’m taking it as a good sign, although I’ll be sure to get rid of it as soon as possible. What I don’t want for the cough to get worse and to get ill; that would be a nightmare. I'm taking vitamin C and zinc tablets to help my body fight any germs.

The gaunt look of elite runners, balancing light weight with extraordinary musculature

I can feel the muscle tightness in my lower legs, my left iliotibial band is stiff and needs loosening off. My right adductor is a bit sore and my calves are always glad when I spin on the bike as they get a chance to stretch out. At the moment all of these problems are just niggles, but left untreated they could become full blown injuries which would stop me from running. You start to notice as well that getting out of bed or a chair becomes an effort. Muscles try to relax and allow movement, but underlying everything is an ache and some stiffness.

You can survive out on the wire for a while, but not indefinitely. Hopefully my trip along the wire is happening at the right time and I haven’t started too early or too intensively. Time will tell.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Post-marathon Planning

What I’m going to do after the marathon is over:
Give Stéph a sweaty kiss
Drink a litre of powerade
Put on compression socks
Try not to lie on the ground (but fail)
Collect my winner’s cheque (wishful thinking!!)
Fall asleep in the car
Soak in a hot bath for an hour
Eat a huge bowl of pasta
Eat a whole chocolate cake (with ice cream)
Enjoy a light massage
Fall asleep again
Wake up with jet lag
Hurt (legs really painful)
Realise where I am
Smile (pain goes away)
Fall asleep a happy man
Take a week off running
Plan the next challenge

Another great run tonight – 10 miles in under an hour. Started with a fast three miles (5:37 miling), then into a comfortably four miles (6:11 miling), then finished it off with two miles at threshold (5:31 miling) along the sea wall, and finally 1.5 mile warm down (7:07 miling). Nice cool breeze around Vancouver now as autumn approaches, although that didn't stop me from going topless.

I’m feeling very good and surprised with how effortless my body can just adapt to running quicker than six minute miling. I guess when I stopped all the heavy mileage and focussed on shorter but quicker training for 5/10k racing it’s somehow paid off. The trick now if not to overdo the faster workouts and then blow up before the marathon and go in feeling tired.

To top it all I’ve cycled to and from work every day this week – that’s a round total of 83 miles (135km) – which will have given me some aerobic assistance and helped to loosen the muscles following the hard running. Having biked home and then gone training each night I’ve often felt a bit of fatigue lingering in the legs, so hopefully that will been beneficial come race day.

Right, 11:30pm and I’m shattered – bed awaits and then up to Whistler tomorrow for the day with the parents. Might squeeze an early 30min loosener in before we go, otherwise a day spent resting won’t do me any harm at all.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Where Did That Come From?

I asked a few friends about 'get marathon fit quick' plans and explained my current philosophy of daily hour long runs at sub-marathon pace (6:00-6:30 miling). Oli Mott is always a great guy to ask; a doctor by education and an international duathlete by trade, his mind can calculate lactic thresholds, VO2 max scores and predicted pacing in an instant.

Oli Mott. The picture explains everything you need to know!

"I think you're doing the right thing," he commented. Phew!
"Keep the 6-6.30 mins/mile running going for the next two weeks then ease off. Get a couple of 1.45 hour runs in. No point in doing any sessions, as you're not going to be racing faster than your training pace (and it'll feel easier in flats on flat roads in the race). The main idea for this aerobic training is get your body to burn a higher percentage of fat at race pace so you don't go pop. Maybe the odd glycogen-depleted run... I reckon you'll be around 2.50 (6.29 pace)."

Well I took his word for it and set about a 1hr 45min run this evening, leaving Yaletown across Burrard Bridge, through the streets of Kitsilano out to UBC before running a short loop and home along Jericho Beach. Conditions were perfect having been warm all day, so race vest, race shorts, racing shoes and sunglasses were applied for a complete race simulation, and off I went.

Burrard Bridge

The first couple of miles up and over Burrard Bridge were relatively steady, nothing too frenetic, but once I opened up through Kitsilano I knew I was on to something good. Maybe it was because I was in my racing shoes which are really light and bouncy that my legs responded so well. Maybe it was because I was running on a firm surface which didn't sap energy out of my legs. Whatever it was, it was working.

I headed down to the beach and kept ticking over nicely, glancing down at my Garmin to see 5:50 miling... something had to be wrong, maybe the satellite was re-adjusting. I kept the same rhythm, finding my legs and arms working in perfect synchronisation, my breathing became automatic and suddenly I realised I was in cruise control. I glanced down at the watch... 5:49 miling... 'gees, I must be locked in to this pace,' I thought.

At the end of Jericho Beach at the 7.5 mile point the road bent upwards to the University of British Columbia. I went onto my toes and kept my head up, trying to remain springy with the notorious words of George Gandy in my ears: "Let the hill do the work to you, don't fight it." At halfway I was finding it pretty hard, this hill was longer than I thought, but I took encouragement as I started to catch a couple of kitted up cyclists ahead. Up and over the top and I tried to open my legs up again to find the rhythm, and sure enough they came back to me. I passed the Museum of Anthropology in 51 minutes.

Jericho Beach

Crossing my way through UBC I tried to find a water fountain, conscious that I hadn't sipped anything since home, but my efforts came to nothing. Luckily having successfully navigated my way up the hill I had the pleasure of running back down. Long downhills can really mess me up, give me a stitch and ruin my quadriceps, so I shortened my stride, kept my torso leaning forwards and ran it as I would if it was the marathon: no risks. I came off the bottom feeling good and found a water fountain for a quick stop.

The next barrier was the half marathon and I sailed through back at 5:50 miling on the flat in 1:18:21. Smash! 'I can't keep this up,' I thought. 'I just can't, this is suicide.' But the longer I ran the more I realised that actually, I was finding this alright; this wasn't actually hurting too much. Mile 14 and 15 were ticked off with just a couple of small hills to overcome, and I stopped at 16.5 miles for another sip of water before tackling Burrard Bridge again.

'Stay springy, stay springy,' I thought to myself as I eased my way up the long drag, and sure enough my body listened to my mind and soon I had reached the top and could enjoy the descent. Heading down Pacific I glanced down at my watch. 5:50 miling again... 'how can this be?' I stopped the clock as I hit 18 miles, 1:47:58, exactly 6:00mins per mile average. BOOM!!

That's over two thirds of a marathon in 1hr48... which means that if I kept the same pace up for another eight miles, I would finish with a time of 2:37:30 ... now there's a scary thought. In reality I think I could have kept going at that pace for another few miles, maybe until 20 or 21... and then it would have been very tough. However there are a number of positives as well. I didn't take on any carbohydrate during the run, I only took on water, and my first hydration was at 12 miles. The route had a decent sized hill in it which really takes energy out of the legs; although maybe Echternach will be the same? A lot of the flat running was on fine gravel, not tarmac, which makes you lose energy into the ground as the foot slips a little bit with every stride.

The man in my head, George Gandy (right), "stay springy!"

... and then I also remembered... I cycled to and from work today, that's an hour of aerobic exercise. Sure, I didn't pedal hard, but it wasn't slow either. So I ran my eighteen miles having already done an hour of aerobic work. Bonus!

However, the best thing this run has given me
is the confidence. I thought I was pretty unfit and going to really struggle, but now the marathon looks like it's going to be a really great challenge and a top ten finish is certainly on the cards. Watch out Echternach, I'm coming for you!!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Silence is Golden

Having got back to Vancouver from Gold Coast I decided that I really really really needed to start getting my head, body and backside into some serious marathon training, so with the rain pouring and jet lag kicking in I headed out the door for some Stanley Park running action.

After two miles I had to remove my vest, it was completely saturated in the driving rain and I headed for the relatively dry trails under the blanket of tree canopy. I was going well, legs ticking over nicely and I started to pick up the pace, hitting 6min miling which would get me round 26.2 miles in little over 2hrs 35mins.

One thing I use to distract myself from the monotany of training is music and my iPod shuffle has done its fair share of a few thousand miles since I got it as a birthday present two years ago. However, on this one occasion, despite battling the rain for the best part of an hour (and not for the first time!) it stopped working and my ears tuned in to the sound of my mouth gasping in the oxygen and of legs pounding the ground.

Having got home and tried everything to get it working the iPod decided that its expiry date was up and alas it needs to be replaced.

However I haven't got round to finding a new one, and I'm not sure that I need to. You see, when I listened to music my brain would think too much. The music was a distraction from training, but my brain soon became tired and thought up its own things anyway. Some of those things weren't always positive as my brain would start to get moody as the blood was redirected to the muscles which needed the oxygen. Sometimes I would come home with a tired body and a tired mind. The endorphine buzz from exercise was unable to pull me back up, and when you're physically and emotionally knackered it's a tough thing to feel good again.

But something changed. Now I can't train to music it is as if my body has become a single machine again, not separated into an overactive brain and automatic legs but a working unit that moves in harmony. My thoughts are clear, my senses heightened and my sense of wellbeing improved.

When I run I now understand my body's function. I hear the breath leaving my mouth, feel my lungs inhaling and placing pressure on my ribs, taste the sweat running onto my lips and sense my feet striking the surface. For once, when I train it is as if I am at one with the world, one organism existing in its environment, doing everything absolutely necessary to continue doing what it was built to do.

It's a beautiful thing and it has made me realise how amazing my life is. The moodiness has gone, the positive thoughts have climbed in, and in a little under four weeks I will toe the line in Echternach and start a journey where it's just my body and my mind versus the road. Both will play an important part in ensuring I complete the race, but I already know that my heart will be beating stronger than ever.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

How to prepare for a marathon in just five weeks…

Well here goes nothing, a mad cap idea thrown together because I HAVE to run a marathon. Not many people HAVE to run 26.2 miles, but I do… and here’s why.

Last winter I was training for the London Marathon, had run the elite qualifying time over the half marathon distance and was all set for an epic battle, throwing in 100 mile (160km) training weeks and generally becoming an absolute aerobic monster. I promised my Mum I would run it for charity, Cotswold Care, a hospice that offer support and care for terminally ill patients. My Nana used to go there when she had cancer and they were brilliant.

All was going exceptionally well and then I got a new job… in Canada… which was great, but meant that I wouldn’t be able to run London so I shifted attention to the Vancouver Marathon… which I then missed as I was off covering a triathlon race in Korea. Epic fail.

I promised I would run an autumn marathon instead and signed up for Victoria, but then I met my girlfriend and wanted to be across in Luxembourg at that exact time… and then came a brilliant idea. Walking down West Georgia Street in Vancouver last week a voice said in my ear “we have a marathon in Luxembourg in the middle of October!”

Case closed. Echternach Marathon on 18 October is the go date. Training is sporadic, but has started, it’s going to hurt like hell but I have no choice.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Training With The Dobriskinator

There aren't many women in the world who can beat me in a race, but when I was at Loughborough I considered it a privilege to be beaten by my team mate and training partner Lisa Dobriskey. I would put emphasis on the fact that she was a 800/1500m runner and I preferred the longer distances, but every winter for six years we would pull each other through the sessions and base training, smashing out 6 x 5mins on the track or charging up and down Beacon Hill.

Training with Lisa was like training with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. Off the track she is quite possibility the nicest person in the world, always smiling, always chatty, always complimentary, but during competition she has the sharp focus and determination that makes her dangerous. Very dangerous. She wants to beat you, make no mistake. The top guys were scared of Lisa, knowing that if they were having a bad day she would be nipping at their heels whereas I was just happy keeping up with her, watching the tell-tale bobbing ponytail bounce off her shoulders as we carved out bend after bend, rep after rep.

Being a Dobriskey fan is a hard life, one full of emotions, both high and low.
Here are my memories.

Commonwealth Games 2006
Lisa was a big rank outsider, the up and coming potential but not the race winner. That was until she charged off the final bend in Melbourne and kicked hard for the line leaving behind a trail of competitors in her wake. The world woke up to Lisa Dobriskey and I remember sitting at University watching her on TV with Rich Warburton and Rich Belton screaming at the screen. We went to breakfast still buzzing.

Olympic Games 2008
Lisa's preparation for Beijing was far from ideal, an early season injury left her playing catch up, but just before she left Frank Baddick and Rob Whittle towed her round to a 4min 1500m clocking in Stretford. In the final she came onto the final lap in sixth, moved up with Sharron Rowbury from the USA and used her kick for home, but it was too late, she finished fourth. I watched the race sitting on my living room floor, rocked back with my hands over my face. I looked up and saw Lisa doing exactly the same. I shed a tear but was still delighted for her incredible display.

Lisa falls to the ground after the 1500m final in Beijing. She finished fourth.

My fondest memory was the January of 2008 leading into Beijing. Lisa had been injured the previous autumn and was just beginning to get back into good shape and I was in a good run of form. It was a cold dark night on Beacon Road where we did a 900m uphill effort and cruised back down, usually five or six repetitions. Rep four came and went and I was ahead of Lisa in a group of guys so I dropped back on the recovery to give her some assistance. Half way up the fifth rep she was breathing heavily, really heavily, but Lisa doesn't give in and I wasn't going to let her. "Come on Lise, think of Beijing" I shouted. She surged again, getting into my slipstream before kicking over the top of the hill together. We strode down the hill in silence and went for it again. No words were said, we knew what we had to do. It hurt like hell, but that night we beat the hill into submission.

World Championships 2009
Some athletes in Britain were suggesting that Lisa shouldn't have gone to Berlin for the World Championships, that she hadn't shown the sort of form as she had done going into Beijing. I told them to wait and see. Sure enough she had another great race in the final, finishing third, just 0.01secs behind silver... and then the gold medallist was disqualified for pushing. Lisa had a world silver medal. I followed the race online via the BBC as I covered a race in Japan. I went to bed a happy man. Beijing made her stronger and now the whole world knows Lisa Dobriskey's name.

Lisa celebrates having taken second at the World Championships in Berlin.

Who knows what next year's Commonwealth Games or the Olympics in 2012 will bring, but every time I step onto the track in Vancouver I wish Lisa was there with me. Every time I kick for home I imagine she's alongside me, pushing me to the line. Every time the going gets tough I think about how hard I used to work to try and stay ahead of the only girl in Loughborough who could show me a clean pair of heels.

Here's to you Lisa, you legend.