Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Gluttony I banish you until next Christmas

We all need a few days break from time to time, and for those of us that celebrate Christmas, this is the time when we tend to let things go for a few days.  All those sweets, chocolate, biscuits, the free flowing alcohol, huge meals and hours of chatting rather than training.  Most of us put on at least a little bit of weight.  I am no exception this year, having taken far more than my fair share of chocolates.  I just hopped on the scales and it is showing that I am 82.5kg, so I have gained just somewhere between half a kilo and one kilo (it could have been worse I guess).  It's over now though as I have decided to banish the gluttony until next Christmas.

Above is a photo of me modelling my fitness related Christmas presents.  Most of them I mentioned I would be getting in an earlier post.  I am wearing my new A400 skins, holding my compact rumble roller, with my Nike Zoom Victory track spikes on my feet.  The gift I am holding in my left hand was one I didn't know I would be getting, a book of the World's Ultimate Running Races.  That was from my sister.

Ten days have now passed since the Pisa marathon and I am easing gently back into training.  I have no residual aches or pains, and my energy levels seem back to normal.  That does not mean that my body is completely recovered inside though.  Some people say it takes around 3 weeks for your body to recover fully from such a race.  Others say allow one day per mile, so 26 miles in the case of a marathon.  You gain less from diving back into heavy training than you do from giving your body the time it needs to recover, and allowing it to get stronger.

With the next race a half marathon, I don't need to do any crazily long runs.  Instead I will be focussing a lot on speed and speed endurance.  With my cool new track spikes, I can train in all weather, even when the track is icy or snowy.  I have no excuses now eh.

Enjoy your Boxing day everyone!

Monday, 24 December 2012

Paul's Christmas Day Message to the FatToFit Nation

My dear FatToFitters,

Looking back on this year from a personal viewpoint, it has not at all been an annus horribilis.  Rather quite the contrary in fact.  It has been an annus mirabilis.

During all good times bad things will happen.  This year some of my friends and colleagues were unfortunate enough to lose their jobs, and I am sure many of you will know other people in similar situations during these hard global financial times, or maybe you yourselves have been unfortunate enough to lose your jobs.  I realise it must be extremely difficult, especially at this time of year, and that losing your job can lead to a drop in self esteem and depression due to financial uncertainty.  We are in such difficult times now though, that losing your job is in no way a sign of lack of ability.  Even people who are really great at their jobs cannot feel totally secure during these tough times.  I can only suggest that you think not of the negatives, but rather try to see this as an opportunity for a change, a chance to find something that you like even more.

Some of you will also have experienced the death(s) of someone close to you.  I myself recently lost my paternal grandmother who was a lovely, kind, family-oriented woman, and my paternal grandfather is also very frail as of late.  Rather than be sad though, once we have passed the initial grieving period, let us remember all the fond memories we have of this person and all the joy that they brought to our life in the time they were with us here on earth.  My family talked to my grandfather recently, and asked him if he would turn the clock back if he had a chance.  His response was one that we should all try to mirror.  "I have had a good life", he said.  "I have no regrets".

My personal year has been a good one and for this I count my blessings.  My health has been good, I have a warm and loving fiancee who I can share my life with, and a cute little energetic dog that came along with her, I still have most of my family alive, I have caring and supportive friends and I have achieved the aims and fulfilled the desires that I wanted to for this period.  As you all know, travel is one of my great loves.  Taking a sabbatical was one of the best things I ever did.  I had wanted to do one for several years now, but had always resisteed for fear of losing my generous, stable income and not finding a job upon my return.  Had I not taken the sabbatical I would have felt as though I had unfulfilled desires and would not have been completely content in my life.  I decided that the risk was worth the reward and I gave up my job and did all that I had been meaning to do, and in the end what happened?  Did I spend months unemployed and struggling to pay my bills?  No, I was offered my old job back and returned to it on the date that was most convenient for me.  Sometimes we worry much more than we really ought to, and we only end up holding ourselves back.

2012 was also the year when I completed "the toughest footrace on earth", the Marathon des Sables in the Moroccan Sahara.  It was the hardest thing I have ever done, and it made me realise the immense mental strength we often possess inside ourselves that we never realise we have until we need to call upon it in times of need.  It is a race where pain, hunger, thirst and tiredness all act together to unlock your hidden power.  You leave the race realising that the limits you thought existed were only a fraction of what you are truly capable of.

I ask you look at what you have to be thankful for this Christmas, and regardless of your situation, you will probably find many positive things in your life.  So, on my closing note to all you FatToFitters, I wish you all a happy Christmas and a very happy new year, and in 2013 go out there and challenge yourself, push your limits and live life with no regrets.

Christmas tidings of love, peace and joy,

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

New marathon PB of 3:18:06 in the beautiful Italian city of Pisa

Pisa marathon 2012
They may have the best pizzas and pastas in the world, they may have one of the most romantic and melodic languages there is, but the Italians don't seem to have a great public transportation system (no offence intended).  I almost didn't make it to Pisa for the Pisa City Marathon on Sunday!

I left Zürich on Friday night and took the direct train to Milan.  I stayed in Milan overnight and then took the direct train to Pisa at 8:10am.  I was meant to arrive in Pisa at 12:21pm, which would have given me plenty of time to relax, hydrate, carbo-load and mentally prepare myself for the marathon the following day.  Only it turned out that there was a fault on the line and the trains could not make it to Pisa.  I don't want to distract from the main subject of this article, so suffice to say that 14 hours after I first left Milan I finally arrived at my hotel in Pisa, slightly dehydrated and very hungry.  It was not the greatest marathon preparation that I could have wished for.

I woke up rather tired at 6am on Sunday morning, got some breakfast, went to collect my race number and then went back to sleep for an hour.  The race was due to start at 9am, so by the time that came round I was wide awake, with a case of pre-race jitters.  I was still trying to decide my strategy in the moments before the race.  If you recall, my estimated marathon time was between 3:10 and 3:15 based on race time predictor tools I found online, and the fact that I recently completed the Ticino half marathon in a shade over 90 minutes.  Nevertheless my real end goal is sub 3.  So the 2 strategies I was torn between were:

1) follow the 3:00 pacemakers and give it my best with the risk of blowing up
2) play it safe and follow the 3:15 pacemakers, but wondering if I could have done more

I am not really one for playing it too safe, and I had put a lot of time and effort into my training, so I decided strategy one would be my choice.  It was a risk, but a risk that I was willing to take.  When the race started I tucked in behind one of the 3:00 pacemakers and tried to conserve as much energy as possible by letting go of any unnecessary tension.  The pace did not seem that crazy and I am used to running much faster than that during my interval and tempo runs, but I was not sure that I could keep up the pace the whole 42km.  Only time would tell.

As the kilometres passed, the 3:00 pacemakers started to pull slightly ahead.  I realised that the pace was not maintainable and I eased off slightly, although they were still in sight for a long time.  I passed the half way point in 1 hour 32 minutes and 30 seconds, so although sub 3 was no longer a possibility (given the fact that I was starting to get tired), a really good time was still possible.  After 25km had passed, my pace started to slow significantly though.  It was a little demoralising that I was now in no mans land between the 3:00 group and the 3:15 group, and I had no one to tuck in behind.  I always prefer to follow someone when possible, as it helps me to pace myself better.  I can also switch off mentally and not have to focus on my Garmin watch so much.

The kilometres between 25 and 35 were tough ones for me.  My pace slowed by over 1 minute per km, and I even had to walk for a minute or two at one point.  The walking helped though and when I started running again I felt a renewed sense of energy and motivation.  The 3:15 group had already passed me by now, but I decided to dig in and finish as close to 3:15 as possible.  I started to remember all of Jeff's mental toughness training tricks, like running in honour of someone or picking someone as a target and running them down.  I tried both of those and they worked rather well.  In the final few kilometres I started to pick off quite a few people.

Now there was less than 1km to go.  A rather muscular guy passed me, and I thought to myself no way is that bulky guy going to beat me to the finish and stepped up my pace.  In the last 500m I was really flying and I think that extra kick came as a result of all the strength training that Jeff got me to do.  The fast twitch fibres were finally able to take over from the fatigued slow switch fibres.   I finished up with a cracking pace of 3 minutes 7 seconds per km (19.25km/h).

My final time was 3 hours 18 minutes and 6 seconds.  Not quite what I had been hoping for, but a new PB by almost 12 minutes, so certainly nothing to cry about.  Now I need to give that sub 3 a crack next spring.  There is still plenty of time I can knock off by more even pacing and spending more time on my feet.  Let's see if Jeff and I can get our heads together and come up with a kick ass sub 3 plan for next year.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Snow chains for shoes?

Snow chains for shoes?

If you read my last post, you will remember that I mentioned one of my colleagues took a tumble on the ice whilst we were out running last Friday lunchtime.  Whilst he didn't hurt himself too much, he wasn't about to take any chances yesterday it seems, and he came into work with the rather interesting looking devices pictured above.

They are basically like a spike and snow chains combined, and you slip them over your normal shoes.  On the front section you have a rubber plate containing small spikes and on the rear you have what resembles snow chains.  Snow chains are sets of chains that you attach to your car tyres in really snowy conditions when the roads are too treacherous for standard winter tyres.

I asked him how the run went wearing them, and he told me that they gave him a lot more grip than usual.  Grip in the forward direction was great he said, but in the lateral plane his heel did still slide from side to side a bit.

My colleague picked them up from his local Tschibo store, but a quick search revealed that there are several manufacturers also selling them online.  In the UK for instance I found the following link

The advantage of these over standard spikes is that you can wear them over your normal shoes, making them a cheaper and possibly more comfortable option.  They are also fairly light and compact, so you can slip them in your day bag.

It is the first time I have ever seen such a device, but I can imagine them becoming increasingly popular if the snowy weather continues as it is here now in Switzerland.  The elderly in particular could find them extremely useful.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Treadmill vs. outdoors running - which is faster?

Due to the abundant snow and ice on the roads and pavements of Zurich, today I was forced to do my 10 mile tempo run on the treadmill.  I was considering to do it on trails, but on Friday when I went out running with my colleagues we almost slipped over several times on the gravel trails (one of us did actually take a tumble), due to ice patches hidden by freshly fallen snow.  The last thing I want with my marathon next weekend is to get injured, so the treadmill it was.

The only gym I am a member of is the one at UBS, which unfortunately is closed at weekends.  So I paid 25CHF to join Anny as a guest at Airport Fitness, where she is a member.  All the treadmills were taken when we arrived, but after 5 minutes  of waiting one became available.

After a 5 minute warm up I set the treadmill at 14km/h, thinking I would be able to run the planned 10 miles (16km) fairly comfortably at that pace.  After all, 14km/h is 4:17 per km pace, and I did the Ticino half marathon (21.1km) several weeks ago at an average pace of 4:15 per km.

Imagine my surprise when I found I was getting tired after only 30 minutes or so.  I even had to lower the speed slightly to give myself a bit of a break.  It wasn't as if I am sick or feeling run down.  I feel just fine and dandy.  That brings me nicely on the to the title of this post - Treadmill vs. outdoors running - which is faster?

I would say based on my experience today, that for me personally, outdoors running seems faster.  I am able to maintain a much better pace on the road.  I started googling a bit, and it seems I am not alone with thinking that road running is faster (there were very few people who seemed to suggest the inverse, that treadmill running is faster).  There are several reasons I can imagine for this perceived difference:

1) having the ground slipping underneath your feet is not the same thing as having to propel yourself forward, so different muscles will be used
2) those with short strides may find they have to keep a really high leg turnover on the treadmill to do the same speed as they do on the road (treadmill running would seem easiest for those who have very long strides and spend a lot of their time in the air rather than on the ground).  I think that I have fairly short strides and a high cadence, so I found my leg turnover on the treadmill very high
3) on a treadmill you do not have air blowing over you to cool you down the same as you do when running outdoors (a small fan is not the same as an outdoor breeze and the cooling effect of air resistance)
4) the treadmill often has springs in it to absorb some of the impact, so you do not get the same propulsion as you do when pushing off a hard surface like asphalt
5) running outdoors is more stimulating for the mind, so maybe your perceived exertion is naturally lower

I would be really interested to hear what others think.  Do you find you can do better times on the treadmill or when you are running outdoors?

Before signing off I would like to share one interesting piece of information I found during my search.  Apparently treadmill running is great for improving running efficiency, as when running on the treadmill we naturally try to conserve as much energy as possible.  So even if you favour outdoor running, that may be one reason to consider a treadmill workout from time to time.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Father Christmas is going to bring me a pair of odd shoes

Odd socks we all know, but odd shoes?  This year I wanted Father Christmas to bring me a few sports related gifts.  I asked him for 3 main things: a pair of track spikes, a foam roller and a pair of A400 SKINS for running in.  I have been very well behaved this year so I felt like he might listen to me.

Things have moved on since the days of writing a wish list with pen and ink and then holding it above the flames of an open fireplace and allowing it to drift up the chimney, up up and away, to eventually arrive at the North Pole.  I spoke to Father Christmas this year via mobile phone.  He also seems to have moved, as the Father Christmas I spoke to lives on the Welsh border, which also happens to be the same place where my parents live.

Anyway, enough of coincidences and getting back to the main point of the story, Father Christmas called me back today and said that he was happy to be able to tell me he could deliver every item on my wish list.  He said the foam roller had arrived at his grotto last week sometime, and the track spikes had arrived earlier today via Elf Courrier.  The SKINS are due to arrive shortly.  Now Father Christmas is very diligent, and he likes to make sure that all the packages arriving at his grotto are in perfect condition, so he opens each and every one of them and makes a small inspection.

Now imagine his surprise when he opened the package containing my track spikes and saw one fluorescent green shoe and one blue shoe.  Oh dear he thought, what has happened here.  Not wanting to feel outdated though, just in case fashions had changed and he was unaware of it, he went online and used Google to check the track spike reviews.  "Oh my goodness what a strange world this has become" he exclaimed, as Google confirmed that indeed some vendors are selling odd shoes on purpose.

In this case, the shoes in question are the Nike Zoom Victory Unisex track spikes, and they come in blue/ green.  One shoe is blue with some green on it, and the other shoe is green with some blue on it.  It will take a bit of getting used to, but odd shoes are a pretty cool concept.  Hats off to Nike for coming up with that novel idea.

Here are Santa's other gifts for this little boy (me) this Christmas

Compact Rumble Roller

SKINS A400 top and tights

Thursday, 22 November 2012

CrossFit Zürich Open Day

Roberta, one of the CrossFit Zürich coaches

Hello everyone.  I wanted to let you know that CrossFit Zürich is having an open day on the 1st December to celebrate the opening of their new box at Letzigraben 165.  Everyone is welcome and there are free trial classes available for those who have not tried CrossFit before.

There are also prizes to be won, including a one year free membership.  Below is the email that I received from them, containing all the necessary information:

Dear Member,

We would like to invite you to join the celebration of our new box December 1st.. We will open our doors from 11h to 17h at Letzigraben 165.

There will be many events going on to mark this new era of Reebok CrossFit Zurich. Of course, we will do so CrossFit style, that is high intensity, high heart rate, heavy work, lots of sweat, and plenty of fun. So the answer is yes, there will be WOD's.
 However, as you all know, we work hard and we play hard, so there will also be lots of time for chilling, chatting, mingling, and raising our glasses to cheer to our new box. We will have drinks, snacks , music and maybe some foot work and hip movement. And no, we don't mean KB swings. We mean some dancing. So let the PARTY start...

Bring your family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. Other than WOD's, we will have Schnupertraining, CrossFit competitions, and various other fun challenges with cool prizes.

As you enter the box, please take a number. We will give away a free one year membership, one 6-months membership and 3 one month membership.

WOD Sessions @ 12:00, 13:00, and 14:00 ( no need for sign up)
Schnuppertraining @ 12:30, 13:30, and 14:30.

Do NOT miss out. We will be very happy to see you there and be part of this important moment. You make the close community that we are.

3,2,1 GO! 

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Low budget strength training

The benefits of strength training are numerous.  To name just a few:

  1. strengthening bones (especially important for women who are more at risk of osteoporosis)
  2. decreasing body fat
  3. improving appearance (which in turn helps to improve self confidence)
  4. for the men, weight bearing exercises also aid in increasing testosterone levels.  

My personalised weekly coaching plan includes several strength training sessions.  I usually do  one or two CrossFit lessons and a one to one Pilates lesson.  I won't lie to you though, this combo does not come cheap.

So what if you are on a very limited budget and still want to get the benefits of strength training?  What gives you the most bang for your buck?  Having tried many different forms of strength training from yoga and Pilates to free weights, gym, CrossFit and kettlebells, one of these for me stands out the most.  It is very cheap to do (requiring a one off purchase), exercises the whole body at once in a very functional way, and can be done in as little as 15 minutes.

Have you guessed it yet?  I am talking about kettlebells.

Kettlebells are nothing new.  The Russians have been using since the 1700s.  They differ from traditional dumbbells in that the kettlebell's centre of mass is extended beyond the hand, which facilitates swinging movements.  It requires power and strength from the core and immense stability from large muscle groups to control the movement.  According to Wikipedia

By their nature, typical kettlebell exercises build strength and endurance, particularly in the lower back, legs, and shoulders, and increase grip strength.[1][4][3] The basic movements, such as the swing, snatch, and the clean and jerk, engage the entire body at once,[3] and in a way that mimics real world activities such as shoveling or farm work.[1][4][2]

I want to introduce Anny to the power of kettlebells so I am going to go out and buy a small kettlebell in the next few days.  When she gets back from her business trip I will show her one of the easiest but most effective kettlebell exercises, the kettlebell swing.  She will have a super strong core and back in no time at all.  This will also benefit her running form.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Living in Switzerland or Austria, and normal running not hardcore enough for you?

For most of us mortals, running in itself is hardcore enough.  There exists however a certain breed of supermen and superwomen for whom normal running just isn't enough.  They need something more, and thats where races like Tough GuyTough Mudder and the Spartan Race series come in.

Just as recent fitness trends have moved away from high tech fitness machines towards back to basics training methods like CrossFit, kettlebells and such like, the demand for sadistic races has exploded.  Once the domain of the special forces, one can now find all kinds participating in these races, including accountants, software developers and a whole host of other deskbound career types.

Imagine the following situation.  You are a person who loves challenges.  You have been slaving away all week for crazy hours in a job you have no passion for, for a boss whom you hate and other than the pay cheque at the end of the month you have nothing to show for it, and no appreciation.  Now what do you do at the weekend to get rid of all that accumulated stress.  Either you can go out and party, sit at home and whine and complain, or you can go out and do something positive like take part in a race.  With names like the Spartan Death Race, these events are a magnet for challenge seekers from all walks of life.  Just making it to the end in one piece gives an immense sense of satisfaction in itself.

Now the problem.  If you like me live in Switzerland, these races don't yet seem to have made it here.  Mountain ultras yes, but short and extremely tough courses that even your CEO with few hours to spare in his tight schedule can fit in, there do not seem to be so many.

Well don't despair, as it seems Tough Mudder is planning to make an appearance in Switzerland and Austria in 2013.  No dates are set at present, but you can preregister your interest for the race at  I urge you to go ahead and do so.  I have done so already.

Tough Mudder events are hardcore 10 to 12 mile obstacle courses designed by British Special Forces to test your all round strength, stamina, mental grit and camaraderie.  I hope to see you all there in 2013.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

New half marathon PB

Last Sunday was the Ticino half marathon, and a cold and rainy half marathon it was.  If I wanted to be really blunt, I would say that the weather was shite.  However, as I am softly spoken (cough cough), I will say that the weather was "not ideal".  It was like running through one big puddle.  Whatever you did, whatever you wore, you were going to get soaked, either from the rain (outside in) or if you wore waterproof clothes from the sweat (inside out), regardless of how breathable they claimed to be.  It was a race after all, so you were bound to sweat like a beast.

I went into the race with a previous half marathon PB of just over 1 hour 35 minutes.  This time though, my training has been significantly more structured and consistent (despite a much lower average weekly mileage), so I had higher expectations for myself.  My absolutely best possible time would have been 4 minutes per km average, so just over 84 minutes.  In training I have not been able to keep up that pace for such long distances, so I knew that in reality it was a long shot.  However, there is always the extra adrenalin factor in a race, which helps to spur one on.  Realistically though, I was expecting to finish the race in around 90 minutes.

In terms of kit choice, I opted to wear my Montane Quantum GL Slipstream Jacket throughout the race to at least keep some of the rain and wind off me.  This is the same jacket that I wore in the Marathon des Sables during the hailstorm on the long stage, saving me from a severe case of hypothermia, and it weighs in at an impressively light 65g (in size medium).  The electric blue colour is also pretty funky.  On the bottom half I opted to wear the Nike DriFit shorts that I also wore in the MDS, so that at least when they got rain soaked they would not be super heavy.  Then on my feet I wore my Newton Distancia racing flats, that I have also been using in all my training runs.  Recall that I am a minimalist runner now, and don't go in for all that cushioning malarky.  Again, the advantage with them being light shoes was that even rain soaked they would not be overly heavy.

I started in the first group based on my estimated finish time, and we started at 9.15am along with the full marathon runners.  The others (Anny and my 2 colleagues Derek and Mehdi who also did the half marathon) started in group D at 9.45am.  There were not so many runners in my start group and there was no need to jostle for position.

I was wearing an MP3 player headset throughout the race, full of carefully selected motivational songs such as Lose Yourself by Eminem, Good Feeling by Flo Rida, Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You) by Kelly Clarkson and some others that some people might call outdated but which for me will always inspire me such as Eye of the Tiger by Survivor.  I also included Highway to Hell by AC/DC, as this was the song that they always used to play at the start of the MDS stages, so it brings back fond memories, as well as memories of just how tough I can be when needed.

As the countdown started, I switched on my MP3 player, got into "the zone" and then I was all ready for the off.  I sometimes have a habit of going off too fast in races at the start, and paying the price for it later, so I was determined to go off more steadily this time.  It seems my best intentions were thwarted, as looking at my Garmin stats I ran the first km in well under 4 minutes, and my heart rate went up to around 180bpm (my max is around 188bpm).  After that though it seems I paced myself well, as my heart rate stayed steady at around 165bpm.

For the first few kilometres I was trying to run around the puddles in order to keep my shoes dry, but I soon gave that up, as it would have resulted in me running an extra few kilometres on top of the 21.1km.  So I ran straight through the next puddle I saw and continued ploughing through every one thereafter.

I felt pretty strong throughout the race, but I was not expecting the hill that came in the second half.  It was not a huge hill, but 35m of elevation gain is certainly noticeable when you are already somewhere near your limits.  I did the Ticino half marathon several years ago, and it followed the same course back then too, but somehow I forgot about that hill between then and now.  Once the hill was over, followed by the short downhill, I knew it was pancake flat all the way along the lake to the finish and I switched on my cruise control.

My final time was 1 hour 30 minutes and 17 seconds, so pretty much spot on what I had predicted.  Based off that time, I would be looking at a 3 hour 10 marathon in Pisa, so it is not quite what I aiming for, but Sunday was a new half marathon PB all the same.

Derek and Medhi also got half marathon PBs.  They completed the Greifensee half marathon a few months back and this was their second half marathon race.  Anny also completed her first half marathon successfully.  So congratulations to all three of them.  All three have been running for less than 1 year, so it is quite a feat that they are now running half marathons.

Two days on I am now back into my marathon training regime.  Today, as per my plan, I did a short recovery run at lunchtime and a CrossFit session after work.  Tomorrow is the end of another Hillseeker running series, and so time to redo the 400m benchmark test that we did at the start of the series.  I have to break 61 seconds if I am to improve on my previous 400m time.  We will see whether I can achieve that, or whether my body is still recuperating from Sunday's race.  I have a gut feeling though that if the conditions are right I may be able to do 60 seconds or under tomorrow night.  After that I wouldn't be able to continue with the rest of the session though.

With all that talk of exercise I need to go and rest now.  On a separate note I am very happy with my SKINS recovery clothing, and after going to sleep in my RY400s on Sunday night, I woke up on Monday morning not feeling as though I had run a half marathon the day before.  So they seem to do their job!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

With only 3 days left till the Ticino half marathon, what are my expectations?

Evening folks.  Well the time has passed at warp speed as usual, and the Ticino half marathon is now only 3 days away.  The training has been going very well, and the only real deviation from the plan that Jeff set me was when I missed a few consecutive days of training (well 6 or so) due to a cold (aka man flu).  In general though, I have followed 90% of his plan.

Some of the target times Jeff sets for me seem a little ambitious, but I always try my best to hit them.  For instance the other week I was meant to do 8 Yasso 800s, in a target time of 2 minutes 51 to 2 minutes 53 per 800m.  Now I can easily do one or two 800m intervals in that kind of time, but I don't think I could do 8 of them.  Or maybe I could, but on that particular day I was suffering from shin splints before I had even started, so there was no chance.  In the end I did the first and last intervals in the target time, but the ones in between were closer to 3 minutes.  I was pacing myself.

In order to be in with a chance of a sub 3 hour marathon, Bart Yasso says that you should be able to do 10 x 800m intervals in 3 minutes each, with 3 minutes rest between intervals.  So taking only this into consideration, it looks like I am on course to be sub 3.  I would only have to be able to do 2 additional intervals at the same kind of pace that I was doing the other day, and I reckon I could do that even now.  Jeff gave me 2 minutes rest in between each interval, but Bart Yasso allows an extra full minute of recovery.  The workout I was doing was therefore tougher than a standard Yasso 800s workout.

Looking good so far, but the Yasso 800s progress doesn't seem to match with the marathon predictions based upon time trials I have been doing over shorter distances, such as 10k and 16k.  They seem to give me a predicted marathon time of 3 hours 15 to 3 hours 20.  This means, that to be honest I am not really sure what I am capable of.  Somewhere between 3 hours and 3 hours 20 it would seem, which is a very wide range indeed.

The half marathon in Ticino this Sunday will be a good chance to get a more accurate idea of what I am capable of in the Pisa marathon.  I will run it as a full on race.  My previous half marathon PB is around 1 hour 35, so I would hope to be able to go under 1 hour 30 with all this quality training under my belt.  I have never trained this much, or this consistently in my life before, except in the 3 months leading up to the Marathon des Sables.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Compression clothes for recovery - yay or nay?

I have seen a lot of positive reviews about SKINS compression clothing.  SKINS offer both active wear compression clothes (for use during sport) and recovery compression clothes (for use after sport).  Some of the guys who were running alongside me in the Marathon des Sables 2012 were wearing SKINS recovery clothes in the evenings, and some of the CrossFitters that I do classes with wear SKINS leggings or SKINS socks to the classes.  Since everyone else is at it, I thought I would give them a go, and last week I purchased a pair of SKINS RY400 leggings and a SKINS RY400 long sleeved top.

RY400 is part of the SKINS recovery range, so I wear the leggings and top after sport and sleep in them.  The best test so far was when I wore them on Sunday evening after my 2 best effort attempts at 10km in a single day. One best effort attempt at 10km normally causes me some mild aches the day after, so 2 best effort attempts at 10km only 4 hours apart should cause some fairly extensive aching.  At least that it what I was expecting to feel.

When I woke up on Monday morning after going to sleep in the RY400s, I only had a very mild ache in my calf muscles.  In fact it was more of a tightness than an ache.  It is too early to say whether that was thanks purely to the SKINS, and I would like to do some tests with and without them after doing similar workouts and compare how I feel the day after on each occasion.  For now though I will give them the benefit of the doubt, as I was feeling much better the day after than I was expecting to.

How do they claim to work though you might ask.  According to the SKINS website:

"When you apply compression to specific body parts in a balanced and accurate way, it accelerates blood flow. This gets more oxygen to your working muscles – and boosts your performance.

Better blood flow also helps your body to get rid of lactic acid and other metabolic wastes – which helps you work at a higher rate for longer. Plus, improved oxygenation reduces the effects of delayed onset muscle soreness and accelerates muscle repair. So engineered gradient compression and dynamic gradient compression play a big part in helping you recover from exercise too."

This jury is still out on whether they boost performance, but they seem at first glance to aid recovery, so I want to give them a go during exercise and see if they give me any performance boost.  I plan to purchase some SKINS A400 leggings and a a SKINS A400 long sleeved top for use when running.  I will let you know how I get on with those in due course.  In the meantime though, I will be sleeping in my RY400 leggings and top after each tough workout.

Tomorrow should be another good opportunity to see if they really do aid recovery, as today I did a CrossFit class with lots of American style kettlebell swings.  The last few times I have done kettlebell swings I have had serious DOMS in my lower back the following day.  So let's see if I get any DOMS in my lower back tomorrow after having slept in my SKINS.  Nighty night for now.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Exercise Induced Asthma, Series 7 gets underway and new 400m PB

Series 7 of the Hillseeker Fitness Wednesday Night Running Sessions started tonight, and with the light fading fast in the evenings these days, we are now meeting at the floodlit Sihlhölzli track (photo opposite).

I have missed quite a few days of training in the last week due to a cold that almost threatened to go to my chest, but I rested well and it passed fairly quickly as a result.  I was feeling completely back to normal when I woke up this  morning, so decided to go along to the first session of Series 7 tonight.

After a decent warm up, some drills and some short sprints we moved on to the main body of the workout.  Each series begins and ends with a benchmark test and this time Jeff chose to use 400m as the benchmark distance (1 lap of the Sihlhölzli track).  We would get 3 attempts at it, and we were free to choose our race strategy.  If we liked we could use the first and second attempts as practise and go all out on the final one or we could go all out on the first attempt and then best effort on the remaining two.

I knew that 400m should take me not long over a minute, so I decided to go all out on the first lap.  I made sure to get a good starting place on the inside lane and at the front of the group.  400m is a short distance, but if you don't pace it well, it is easy to blow up before the end.  I paced it pretty well as I was coming down the home straight with the feeling that I couldn't give it any more, yet I hadn't slowed my pace significantly since starting the lap.  I finished the 400m lap in 1 minute and 1 second, in pole position.

However, what with the highly intense effort followed by an abrupt stop, and the cold, damp air outside, my exercise induced asthma started to become a problem shortly after finishing.  The remaining 2 laps took me over 90 seconds each, and then I had to drop out of the rest of the session as I started to struggle to catch my breath, and began coughing incessantly.

Although I have had exercise induced asthma since my teenage years, it rarely causes me a problem.  So much so that I don't even own any inhalers as a backup anymore.  The only time it seems to cause me an issue is when I perform at max effort and then stop suddenly, and even then it only usually happens if the air is especially cold.  Usually as winter draws on it improves, but we have recently had a sudden drop in temperature from over 20C to well below 10C.  I think it would be a wise idea for me to go to the doctor though and get some Ventolin just in case.  I can also then use it as a preventative measure when I think that the weather is likely to trigger an attack, like tonight.  I will have to book an appointment tomorrow.

Having done the 400m in 1 minute and 1 second I am sure you can see what is coming next.  I will try to knock one second off my time and go under the 1 minute barrier very soon.  Whilst that won't win me any awards, under 1 minute is a pretty decent time for someone training for a marathon.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

16k time trial run reveals a lot about my sub 3 chances for Pisa

A slight cold has given me this valuable opportunity to update my blog.  I will rest tonight and try to do the Yasso 800s that Jeff planned for me today, tomorrow night instead.  So time for a quick update on where I stand with regards to my marathon training.

I have been following Jeff's plan pretty much to the letter, although twice now I have had to do the planned workouts one day later due to migraines.  In those cases I combined 2 days of workouts into 1.  I now have a solid fitness and strength base, and I am really enjoying the CrossFit classes that I am doing twice per week.  We will see if my Pilates teacher notices any difference in my core strength on Friday, as due to my holiday and then her holiday, I have not been able to do Pilates classes for over a month now, but I have in the meantime started doing regular CrossFit classes.

Jeff had me do a 16k time trial on Monday, and I completed the distance in 1 hour 9 minutes and 44 seconds.  According to the RW race time predictor, that gives me a predicted marathon time of 3 hours 14 minutes and 56 seconds.  If I had run it in 1 hour 4 minutes and 23 seconds that would have given a predicted marathon time of 3 hours.  So, based on this prediction and my prediction from the 3k time trial, I can realistically expect to run the Pisa marathon in 3 hours 15 minutes if all goes well.

There is nothing at all to say that I cannot improve between now and then, but to knock 15 minutes off my predicted marathon time in the next few months would be a long shot.  I hate to set myself a aim and then not to achieve it, so my aim of a sub 3 hour marathon will most likely have to be carried over into next year.  I will get Jeff to draw me up a plan that keeps me in great shape all winter, allowing me to start from a really solid fitness and strength base next year.

Once I manage a sub 3 marathon, I want to try my hand at an Ironman.  One thing at a time though - for now my aim is clear, a sub 3.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Rajalta Rajalle-hiihto and Mezza Maratona Ticino

Rajalta Rajalle-hiihto

What on earth is Rajalta Rajalle-hiihto I hear most of you asking.  That is exactly what I was asking my friend too, when she suggested I google Rajalta Rajalle-hiihto 2013, and see if I fancied signing up for it with her.

In English it is known as the Border to Border skiing event, or Rajalta Rajalle-hiihto in Finnish.  It is a 440km cross country skiing event that goes right across Lapland, from Kuusamo (near the Finnish border with Russia) to Tornio (on the Finnish border with Sweden).  There are 7 skiing days in total, with each day ranging from 44 up to 78km.

Up to four groups can take part in the event, and each group can contain a maximum of 100 skiers.  The first group leaves on the 7th March, the second group on the 8th March, the third group on the 9th March and the final group on the 10th March.

People of all ages and nationalities take part in the event, but it is a fun activity as opposed to a competition.  It used to be known as the world's longest organised ski tour, until the Finns went and created an even longer 6 week event that traverses the length of the country.

Each day a single piste is cut into the snow.  The piste is designed for classic cross country skiing as opposed to skating style, but from time to time people have been known to cheat and start skating some sections of it.

I am now signed up for the RR1 group, which departs from Kuusamo on the 7th March.  It is going to be an awful lot of fun and another story to tell my grandchildren one day.  I will obviously have to maintain a high level of fitness from now until March, but other than that the main issue I have been told I will face is blister management.  That reminds me of another little event that I took part in recently called the mighty Marathon des Sables.

Mezza Maratona Ticino

In addition to the Border to Border event I also signed myself up for the Ticino half marathon today.  It takes place on November 11th, and Anny will be running it too.  Not only that but one of my colleagues has already signed up for it, and another two are considering it.

I ran the Ticino half marathon back in 2008 and completed it in 1 hour 40 minutes and 39 seconds.  This time I shall be hoping for a good 10 minutes quicker than that, if not more.  We shall have to see if I manage it.

The time that I get in the Ticino half marathon will be a good indicator of what time I can expect to do in the Pisa marathon in December.  If I cannot do the Ticino half marathon in under 1 hour 30 minutes then I can be almost guaranteed I will not manage to pull off a sub 3 marathon in December.  Even as it is a sub 3 by December looks to be pushing it.  If it does not come this year then I will have to attempt it again next year, possibly in the Zurich marathon in April.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Pisa it is. The countdown begins...

With my base fitness extremely high, having followed Jeff Grant's tailor made coaching plan since the beginning of September, it was time to look for a competitive event to train towards.

My current aim is to run a sub 3 hour marathon.  I know I cannot do that at present, so I needed to find a marathon that would take place several months from now, giving me sufficient training time to improve and get closer to my 3 hour target.  If I had to make a rough guess now as to what I am capable of, I would estimate between 3:10 and 3:15.

The problem with looking for marathons in December is that there are hardly any of them.  Most people don't want to run races in the middle of winter, and there is the danger of slipping and falling on ice.  Luckily though I found the Pisa City Marathon, which takes place on the 16th December.  I checked the timing with Jeff and he thought that it gave us sufficient time to train beforehand. So I put my pen to paper and signed on the dotted line.

The Pisa City Marathon is meant to be a flat, fast course, so it should be a good one for setting a new PB.  Whether I really am capable of a sub 3 marathon by December, I am not sure yet, but I should definitely be able to set a new PB.  When I ran the Zurich marathon in 2011 I completed it in just under 3.5 hours.  That was after only 2 months of solid injury free training and carrying a few kilos more than I am now.  So the odds are certainly in my favour.

Jeff's coaching plan has me doing a lot of speed endurance work plus a weekly long run.  A typical week consists of 2 to 3 cross training/ strength sessions (either Crossfit or Pilates or both), a hills session, a long run, an intervals session and/or a tempo run.  I usually get one full rest day per week.

In the first few weeks following the plan was quite tough.  I was aching most days, especially after the CrossFit classes, which were very new for me.  In CrossFit we do a mix of short runs, rows, bodyweight exercises and free weights, and it was the free weights that I was not accustomed to.  But now a month later my body is starting to get used to the free weights again, and I am usually aching very little the next day.  I have noticed a small amount of weight gain since I started the strength training, due to additional muscle growth, but I feel faster when running too.

I plan to book another lactate test in the next few weeks to get an accurate marathon prediction.  But the other day I did a 3k time trial at lunchtime and covered the distance in 11:31.  Using a tool I found online, this gives a marathon prediction of 3 hours 14 minutes and 42 seconds.  That means there is still some way to go, but I still have several months of training left.  And on that note I need to prise my fingers off this keyboard, put on my trainers and do the hills session that Jeff has put in his plan for me today.

Adios amigos...

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

I find my way out of the Black Hole I was stuck in, and Anny completes her third race to date

Anny before the race
Well howdy everyone.  It really has been a while this time, but I didn't forget you one bit I promise.  I could try to spin you some yarn about being stuck in a black hole and only just finding my way out, but the truth is that I was on holiday in Spain and Portugal with Anny and I do have to apologise for not updating this blog in the last 2 weeks.

First of all we attended a wedding in Madrid, which turned out to be a lot of fun and then we headed all along the Argarve coastline by car, stopping at various places along the way.  It was nice and relaxing, and the weather was more like summer than autumn, but I also made sure to keep up with the training that Jeff had entered into my online coaching plan.  Between the training, the travelling and needing some rest though, I didn't really get that much time for blogging I am afraid.

After getting back from Portugal we stopped off again in Madrid for a few days.  Whilst we were there Anny did a 10km race around her barrio (neighbourhood).  The race took place last Sunday.  If you were following the news you will know that Spain recently had an unprecedented amount of rainfall, especially in the South.  Well Madrid was not immune and it also rained there, without letup, for several days in a row.  Anny was very lucky though it seems, as Sunday was a gloriously sunny day with barely a cloud in sight.

The race started at 9am sharp, and there were around 800 people on the start line.  Anny started somewhere in the middle of them.  I advised her not to start at the front and end up going off too fast and not to start at the back and have to fight her way through the crowd for the first few minutes.

She was hoping for a time under 1 hour and as my watch started to show 55 minutes my anticipation grew and everyone who was wearing a pink shirt on the horizon I thought might be her.  Then shortly afterwards I saw her familiar big smile and she upped her pace from there all the way to the finish line.  Considering how tired some of the runners around her looked, she looked as fresh as a daisy and I am sure she is capable of shaving several minutes off her time just by pushing herself harder, without any additional training.

Her final time was 56 minutes 34 seconds according to my Garmin.  She was really happy with that and so were her family and I.  She is actually following a half marathon training plan at the moment, so she is almost ready to do a half marathon.  If she could do that under 2 hours that really would be fantastic.  Some of my colleagues are also beginner runners, and they recently ran a half marathon around the Greifensee in just over 2 hours.  It seems the world, well the world around me at least, is running crazy at the moment.

Anny after the race

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Quality vs. Quantity

As I mentioned in my previous post, my own training has often favoured quantity over quality.  I felt like the more I ran the better runner I would become, provided I did not become injured or burnt out through overtraining.  This got me down to a predicted marathon time of 3 hours 4 minutes (using the lactate test method), so it can't have been too bad, but I spent a lot of my free time running and often struggled to recover between workouts.

At the end of my first week of coaching under Jeff Grant, I can see that he is focussing much more on quality, at least at this early stage in my training plan.  Last week I only ran 45km, but each session was a quality workout and there were no "junk miles".

I trained 6 days last week.  I ran on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday and did strength training on Monday (CrossFit foundation course), Thursday (CrossFit) and Friday (Pilates).  Saturday was my only rest day.  So the program is pretty intense.  As each session was fairly short though, I was able to recover rather quickly.

Monday started out with a 3km time trail, a benchmark test that will be repeated in 6 weeks time to see whether there has been some improvement.  I did that on a gravel path next to UBS completed it in 12 minutes and 3 seconds.  Later that evening I travelled to Richterswil to do the CrossFit foundation course with Jeff.  Whilst the bulk of the 2.5 hours was spent listening to instruction on proper lifting form, we also did some actual lifts and floor exercises, so it qualifies as a workout in itself.

Tuesday was the killer fartlek intervals run, that I mentioned in my last post.  51 minutes of running, incorporating 2 long intervals (5 to 7 mins), 2 medium intervals (3 to 5 mins), 4 short intervals (20 sec to 3 mins), 2 high skipping intervals and 2 short sprint bursts (5 to 20 secs).  It has been a long time since I worked that hard in a single session.

Wednesday evening was Jeff's regular running class at Saalsporthalle.  We repeated the mental training with colours exercise, and ran barefoot laps on the sawdust Finnenbahn.  I focussed on good running form, and challenged myself on each lap, but I did not overdo it as I have done on previous Finnenbahn sessions.

Thursday evening after work I attended my first CrossFit lesson with CrossFit Zurich in Glattbrugg.  The gym is conveniently situated 1 minutes walk away from where I work.  One part of the gym is devoted to CrossFit and the rest is used for martial arts training.  The building itself is a large shack, and it feels like back to basics Rocky Balboa style training, especially with all those people sparring and pad training around you.  It is pretty cool I have to say.

We started by warming up on the Concept 2 with a 500m row, followed by some windmill stretches, medicine ball cleans, bent over rows and plank holds.  Then we moved onto the WOD or workout of the day.  This involved doing 6 sets of 3 bent over power rows with a weighted barbell, followed by 3 rounds for time of: 800m run, 20 overhead squats with a weighted barbell.  I found that the overhead squats really challenged the mobility of my shoulders, and they should actually help to open them up over time.  The majority of people in the class were heavily muscled.  There were only 2 of us in the class that looked like runners, and this showed in the 800m runs.  The instructor himself though was a good example of the fact that you can be incredibly strong yet lean.

Friday lunchtime was hill training.  After an initial warmup I was meant to do 5 times 3 minutes of uphill running, with 2 minutes rest in between each interval.  I tried my best to find the steepest longest hill in the Opfikon forest, but unfortunately there was no hill quite long enough.  The best hill I found was only 1 minute 30 long.  Nevertheless I did my 5 repeats on that hill, then did one extra repeat on another hill nearby.  Friday night I had my Pilates class.

Saturday was a well needed rest day, and I felt like I had earned it.  My shins were slightly sore, not really full blown shin splints, but not that comfortable either and the right Achilles was ever so slightly tender.  My body needed a chance to repair.

I woke up on Sunday feeling fine again, and did the planned 2 hour long run.  Jeff wanted it to be as much trail as possible, so I chose to run at the bottom of the Uetliberg.  Every 15 minutes I had to run one minute hard (just over tempo pace) and I also had to run the last 5 minutes really hard as though I was pushing for a good time at the end of a race.  Running the last part of a long run hard seems to be a commonly used training technique nowadays, teaching your body to recruit extra muscle fibres when it is already in a pre fatigued state.

I found some nice new paths on the Uetliberg, and without realising it I covered 404 vertical metres.  Some of the running was on nicely prepared gravel paths and Finnenbahn, and other parts were on rocky, muddy trails.  It was a good mix of terrain.

The plan continues today, with 10 x 30 second intervals, which I will do at lunchtime.  I will keep you posted on my progress.  So far so good though, and I am starting to feel stronger and quicker on my feet already.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Jeff kicks off my 3 month coaching program with a killer fartlek intervals run

As of yesterday (Monday 3rd September), I am being coached by Jeff Grant of Hillseeker Fitness.  He is going to help me to try to achieve my aim of completing a marathon in under 3 hours.  Up till now, other than the Wednesday night coached running sessions, I have been coming up with my own training plans.  It has worked pretty well (I did manage to complete the Marathon des Sables after all, and did my first and only marathon to date in under 3 hours 30), but my plans sometimes lack direction and focus.  Probably they are not optimised too, favouring quantity over quality.

On top of this, I am entering into an unknown domain - the world of speed endurance running.  At present I am primarily a pure endurance athlete.  I can easily run a marathon and in fact much further than a marathon.  Earlier this year I would run anything up to 70km (with an 8kg backpack) and be back on my feet a couple of days later.  I can also (when needed) run fast for very short periods, but what I cannot really do at the moment is to run fast for extended periods of time.  This is what we mean by the term "speed endurance", and speed endurance is what is required in order to break the 3 hour marathon barrier.  4 minutes 16 seconds per km is a fairly quick pace after all, and this is the pace you need on average to go under 3 hours.

Jeff set me as my first running workout a fartlek intervals run of between 48 and 52 minutes, including the following items:

2x long intervals
2x medium intervals
4x short intervals
2x high skipping intervals
2x short sprint bursts

long = 5-7min
medium = 3-5min
short = 20sec - 3min
sprint burst = 5-20 sec
high skipping: choice distance, but be careful with your Achilles

I was considering to take Negrita with me on the run, but as she doesn't like intervals very much, I decided she was better off at home.  She is much more of a steady pace running dog.  So all alone I hit the streets of Zurich armed only with my tight fitting Adidas tracksuit (more motivation to keep my weight down).

I started with the long intervals as I am used to those most.  Then one by one I ticked the other items off the list.  It was an extremely tough workout, and I barely managed to complete it in the allotted time, and still allow myself sufficient recovery time to get my breath back between each interval.  My total workout time was a shade over 51 minutes, and the last items I completed were the high skipping intervals, as those I was saving for a more deserted part of the city, which ended up being the residential backstreets of Wipkingen.

The sprint intervals were fun, but boy did I get some strange looks sprinting at full speed along Langstrasse.  For those not from Zurich, Langstrasse is where you find all the titty bars and less desirable characters (although plenty of normal people go there too), so a person sprinting along the street at full speed (and I do mean at full speed) may make some people wonder if that person is running away from someone or from the police.

I was also doing one of my fast short intervals close to a roadworks, and realised that I needed to change direction quickly due to an obstruction across the pavement.  I barely made the corner and almost landed in a 1 to 2 metre deep hole.  That would have been a quick end to my sub 3 hour plans.

As I arrived back at the house after 51 minutes, I was completely and utterly exhausted.  I cannot recall the last time I worked that hard in a session.  Even pinwheel is easier than that, as in pinwheel (where the intervals are always the same distance) you get into a kind of rhythm.  On today's run however, one minute you are sprinting and the next you are jogging and the next you are tempo running and the next you are skipping and so on.

Right now, one hour after finishing, I feel really energised.  Let's see how much I am aching tomorrow though.  Tomorrow is the usual Wednesday night running session with Jeff at Saalsporthalle, and then on Thursday I am doing my first Crossfit lesson with Crossfit Zurich, having completed the foundation course with Jeff yesterday evening in Richterswil.  I was already aching a little before I started the fartlek interval run from doing all the major lifts and Crossfit moves yesterday with Jeff.

The hot bath is calling now folks, so I bid you all a good evening and may the force be with you.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Roundup of the last few days of training

Hello everyone.  Well my last post was some days ago now, so I wanted to provide you with a quick update of what I have been doing the last few days in terms of my training.  You may or may not be interested (although hopefully since you are reading this you are interested), but writing it down for me is a great motivator to help me continue along the path to long term fitness and weight control.  So here goes.

My last post was about the Zurich lake crossing, and at the end of that post I mentioned that straight after the 1.5km swim I went to the last of Series 5 of the Wednesday night running sessions, and improved my benchmark run performance compared to 6 weeks earlier.  I shaved 11 seconds off my time and went down from 5 minutes 30 at the start of the series to 5 minutes 19 at the end of the series.  It helps to have some idea of what the benchmark run was, so I would best describe it as a cross country run, on a mix of grass, sawdust, gravel and asphalt, incorporating a large uphill section and a steep downhill section, and around 1.4km in length.

After we completed the benchmark run, Jeff got us to do 40 squats, then another lap of the course, followed by 40 squats (which I substituted for lunges due to lower backache), then one final lap of the course, followed last but not least by 40 bodyweight exercises of our choice.  I chose to do press-ups.  That was Wednesday's training completed.

Thursday I rested and then on Friday evening I had my Pilates class.  I was still aching a lot from the gym session on Monday and the swim and benchmark run on Wednesday, so I had to be very careful throughout the lesson to avoid cramps.  Several times cramps threatened to take hold and I had to quickly cease the exercise and stretch it out.  The muscles threatening to cramp were my quadriceps, my hip flexors, my triceps and the muscles in the arch of my foot.  By the end of the lesson I was aching less and feeling a lot more flexible again.

After leaving the Pilates class I decided to head straight to the track and do some Yasso 800s.  The last time I tried those on the 8th August I managed to do 6 of them.  It was clear from the first Yasso 800 on Friday night that I was not going to be able to top that and still walk off the track in one piece.  Even the first repetition felt rather hard.  I guess it is not too unexpected considering I had just completed a one hour one to one Pilates class and done an extremely heavy gym session at the beginning of the week.  So I did 3 Yasso 800s and then called it a night.

On Saturday I rested and then Sunday was my long run.  My long run the previous week was 15km, so I decided that I would up that by 5km to 20km.  I wouldn't really advice people to increase their long run distance that quickly if they are not accustomed to the new longer distance, but although I let my training slip for one month, 20km is still rather short for me.  In fact I am even considering to run a couple of times the full marathon distance in training. Having run 70km twice in my Marathon des Sables training, 42km does not seem so brutal.

Today was time for my second gym session.  I wanted to incorporate some more plyometrics into my routine, and true to my word (as I mentioned I would last week) I performed some depth jumps, as well as squat jumps and clap press-ups.  I combined that with skipping, some hopping exercises, standing jumps over hurdles and one legged lunges using something similar to TRX Suspension Training technology (but my own improvisation using the equipment that was available in the UBS gym).  Then I did some free weight shoulder presses, kettle bell swings, triceps curls, squats, standard press-ups, stationary bike work and rowing on the Concept 2.  I am tired even just writing all that down.

Unfortunately the UBS gym does not have any boxes of the right height to perform depth jumps.  So to start with I improvised by stacking 4 aerobic steps on top of each other, with a further stack of 4 located a few metres away.  I jumped off the first stack, landed and then immediately tried to jump up on to the second stack, but it fell over as I landed on top of it and I was very lucky to avoid injury.  I was just about to pack them all away and abandon my depth jump attempts, when a quick thinking lady who was also in the fitness room suggested that I make a single high stack against the wall, and jump off that onto the floor then jump up into free air.  That worked rather nicely and I was able to complete my planned workout.

The plan for tomorrow is most likely a 30 minute tempo run, but that will depend on how I am feeling after my plyometrics and strength training session from today.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Zurich Lake Crossing - Fun, Sun and Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikinis

Zurich lake crossing 2012
I am not really a regular swimmer these days.  In fact I haven't swum regularly since my college years, but I do enjoy a bit of a dip from time to time, so the prospect of doing the Zurich lake crossing last Wednesday afternoon  (22nd August) seemed appealing.  Especially given the pleasant weather and water temperature (the water has to be warmer than 21C in order for the event to get the go ahead from the authorities).

The only doubt in the back of my mind, was that considering I had not been in the pool since the 5th January (so more than 7 months ago) according to my blog, 1,500 metres of open water seemed quite a long way, especially when floatation devices were not permitted.  This in in contrast to the Limmat swim, which took place on the 18th August, where floats are permitted and where the river's current takes you down the course with a minimal amount of effort required.

There are lots of safety boats lining the course of the Zurich lake swim in case people cannot make the distance due to tiredness or cramps etc, but I didn't really want to enter and end up on one of those boats.  I decided if I signed up for it and got myself to the start line I would get to the finish line under my own steam, regardless of how long it took.

Now one thing you can rely on from the Swiss Germans is a well organised event and impeccable punctuality.  Having never been to the event before I wasn't sure how the system worked with regards to signing up, getting your clothes transported to the finish line etc, but from the moment I got there everything was signposted and very obvious.

When you arrive you pay your 20CHF (you are not able to sign up for the event in advance) and are given a swim cap with a number on it.  The number indicates how many people have already paid before you.  You also get a voucher for some food and a drink at the finish, and a ticket with your number on it, which you attach to your bag.  I was number 2,443, so 2,442 people had already entered before I arrived.  The swimmers are divided into groups according to their start numbers and then each group is allotted a start time.  The first start was at 15:00 and then my start was a few slots later at 15:48.  Around 20 minutes before your allotted start time you have a chance to join in a group warmup with the other people from your starting group.  This is led by some fitness instructors standing on a big stage and with energetic music blasting out from loudspeakers, and is quite fun in itself.  After the warm up you strip down to your swimwear, put everything you don't need for the swim in a bag and then deposit your bag next to the sign indicating the range in which your start number falls.  That's it.  All you have to do then is get in the water when it is time for your start group to leave, and swim to the finish line, where your bag is already waiting for you.

There were all shapes and sizes and colours and ages of people standing next to me in my group start.  I was very impressed by just how many people in a small city like ours are capable of swimming 1,500m over open water.  The organisers were expecting around 10,000 swimmers in total.

I was a little nervous as the minutes ticked down to the start, not knowing whether I could swim that far in open water or not.  Then it was time to start and there was no more time to be nervous.  The deed had to be done.  I waded into the pleasantly warm water and commenced with a nice gentle breaststroke.  Fast swimmers were meant to swim on the left hand side of the buoys and normal swimmers on the right hand side of the buoys.  I classified myself as a normal swimmer and so started swimming on the right hand side, but I soon found I was being held up by others in front of me and moved into the fast lane.

I got into a good rhythm and was really enjoying the swim.  Distance wise I had no idea how far I had gone or how much further I had left to go, till I saw a buoy indicating 650m had been completed.  At that point I was full of energy and knew that I would manage to finish the 1,500m stretch without too much stress (unless something unexpected happened, like getting cramps).  I am not really sure how many people had to drop out, as I was very much focussed on the swim and not so much on the other people around me.  From time to time I would switch to front crawl (freestyle), but I found the water went up my nose more when I did that, so I only did it for short sections.  Nevertheless it was much faster when I did switch to front crawl.  The water was pretty calm in general, but from time to time there were small waves.

I was really in the zone when I saw the buoy indicating 1,000m done and 500m left to go, and I started to speed up.  In the final hundred metres I gave a sprint finish doing front crawl and when I climbed out of the water I was breathing heavily but feeling fantastic.  I had done it.  I looked down at my watch, having no idea how long it had taken me.  I had completed the 1,500m crossing in 37 minutes.  On the website it said to anticipate spending between 30 and 60 minutes in the water, so I figured that my time cannot have been too bad for a seldom swimmer.

After climbing out of the water there were several stands offering free soup to the swimmers.  Then you moved into another area where the bags were piled up next to signs indicating the starting number ranges.  I found my bag and put my clothes on, then headed towards a funnelled exit.  As you passed through the thinnest point of the funnel you had to show the number on your swim cap and the number on your bag, so they could make sure that they matched and that you were not stealing someone else's bag.  This was a good check, but not infallible as you could easily have rummaged around in other people's bags and extracted individual items from them and put them into your own bag before passing the control.  But this is Switzerland after all, and theft is not that common, especially not amongst the participants in such an event.  I have been to cycling events in Switzerland where people leave their racing bikes unattended, worth thousands and thousands of Swiss francs, and if you were so inclined you could steal them by the dozen.  The trust principle seems to work though.

After the bag control we were given some risotto, a bottle of water and a custom made green plastic drinks bottle (as a souvenir of the event).  Then we were free to enjoy the atmosphere, sunbathe and mingle.

I had to leave however, as I needed to get to Jeff's Wednesday night running class, the last of the series.  We always repeat the benchmark run we did at the beginning of the series at the end of the series, and I was eager to see if I had improved.  Having just done a 1,500m open water swim, and still recovering from a heavy gym session (including plyometrics) on Monday, I was not that hopeful that I would be able to beat my previous time.  In the end I did though - I shaved 11 seconds off my time, down from 5 minutes 30 seconds to 5 minutes 19 seconds.  So Wednesday was a glorious day for me.

If you are considering to do the Zurich lake swim next year I urge you to go ahead.  It is a lot of fun.  If you are wondering why you should pay 20CHF to swim across a lake that you could normally swim across for free, I can tell you why.  Firstly there is the group atmosphere.  Then there is the safety factor - on a normal day you would be at risk of getting decapitated by a speedboat or run down by the paddle-steamers when you are crossing the middle part of the lake.  Thirdly there are the freebies that you get - maybe not worth 20CHF in themselves, but when combined with the atmosphere and the safety factor, 20CHF is a price well worth paying.

Zurich lake crossing 2012 - Group warm up

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Sub 3 hour marathon training - incorporating plyometrics into my routine


Plyometrics or "plyos"  is a method of training muscle elastic strength and explosiveness to enhance athletic performance.  The term plyometrics was coined by Fred Wilt in the 1970s/1980s after watching Soviet athletes training for track and field events, but the method itself had been around since the late 1960s/ early 1970s (known then as the "shock" method and credited to Yuri Verkhoshansky).  The idea behind plyometrics is to induce an involuntary eccentric contraction (as the athlete lands from a height) followed shortly afterwards by a concentric contraction as the athlete jumps upwards.

In simple terms plyometrics involve a muscle lengthening followed by a shortening muscle action.  This is known as the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC).  Plyometrics exercises can be divided into fast SSC exercises like depth jumps and slow SSC exercises like squat jumps (shown in the illustration above).

The depth jump is part of the original "shock" method used by the Russians in the 1960s.  To perform a depth jump the athlete jumps or steps off a box and prior to landing he pre-activates his muscles in anticipation of the impact.  On landing he bends his knees slightly to absorb the impact and then he jumps immediately upwards again.

My use of plyometrics

At this stage in my sub 3 hour marathon training I am trying to focus on improving my speed endurance, and in addition to interval sessions and tempo runs, plyometrics training is another method that I am experimenting with.  My core weekly routine at present consists of one 30 minute tempo run, one intervals session (or Yasso 800s), one plyometrics and strength training session, one long run (currently building upwards from 15km) and one Pilates lesson.  The rest I play by ear.

The plyometrics exercise that I used in my strength training routine on Monday was the squat jump.  Having read more about plyometrics, as of next week I will alternate between squat jumps and the depth jump.  The former is a slow SSC exercise and the latter is a fast SSC exercise.

Plyometrics training is not for everyone.  For a start it is not suitable for people with knee or hip problems, due to the high shock forces involved.  It is also important to have a good strength base before embarking on a plyometrics program.  For this reason it is more suited to well conditioned athletes.

My strength base is reasonable (through doing running, yoga and Pilates), but as I am not accustomed at present to strength training, I was aching all over today.  The plyometrics squat jumps were partly to blame I am sure, but I also did a lot of gym work on my quads and hamstrings, and some upper body work too.  Hopefully after a few weeks my body will adapt to the plyometrics and strength training and I will suffer from less DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).  I had been planning to run today, but considering how much DOMS I am experiencing, I figured my body needed a day off to recuperate.

Tomorrow is the repeat benchmark performance test as part of the weekly Wednesday night running sessions.  I hope I do a better performance than last time, but considering my tough gym workout on Monday I will not be too surprised if I don't.