Friday, 11 May 2012

First Pilates class since the MDS finished, and my core is stronger than ever before

Good evening ladies and gentleman and distinguished members of the audience.  I just came back from a one to one Pilates class, and it is the first one I have done since the MDS finished.  I was worried that I would struggle a bit, partly because I haven't done any Pilates for over a month now, and partly because my body is still recovering from the MDS.  In fact I needn't have worried because my core felt stronger than ever before, and the teacher noticed that too.

I purchased an abo for 10 lessons so I have another 9 lessons left to help me prepare for the Ticino trail.  It will be hard to do it twice per week like I was when I wasn't working, and I think I will have to do it once per week now.  It might have been easier to do it twice per week if the studio was close to work, but it isn't.

My calves were aching a bit from the barefoot running in Irchelpark last night, but this didn't cause me any problems during the class.  My hamstrings nearly cramped up once though, as did the muscles in the arch of my right foot.  I was happy that my groin seems to be okay now and also my knee only clicks slightly from time to time and not loudly and regularly like it did a few weeks ago.  I am still going with my theory that tight quads caused the loud knee clicking, as post MDS my quads were extremely fatigued and tight.  With the gentle runs I have been doing the last week they have now loosened up.

I was using the Pilates class tonight as a tester to see if I have recovered enough to start the yoga classes again.  With a big thumbs up I am going to restart yoga next week.  I will try to do one normal yoga class on Tuesday lunchtime at UBS and one hot yoga class during the week at the Bikram School of Yoga.

My weekly training program will now incorporate the following:

1 class of standard yoga
1 class of hot yoga
1 Pilates class (one to one)
2 track sessions (one with Jeff Grant of Hillseeker Fitness and one with TV Unterstrass running club)
+ a variety of weekly solo runs (some in my Newton Sir Isaac guidance trainers, some in my Vibram FiverFingers and some completely barefoot)

If I manage all that and still have a little energy left over I will try to do one weights session per week in the UBS gym.

My Pilates teacher is going to help me with my aim of toughening up my feet by training me on a special piece of apparatus called a foot corrector  She will also help me to strength my groin muscles further, so I don't have any more problems with groin strain during the Ticino Trail like I did during the MDS.

On my final closing note I just wanted to let you know that Anny purchased a pair of Vibram FiveFingers in New York, so we can have a lot of fun training together in VFFs.  I am happy that I was able to inspire her to try something new like minimalistic running.  I am also well aware that she will have to ease into them gradually due to her recent entry into the world of sport.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

My first 100% barefoot run

Since I had to take Negrita out for a walk tonight anyway, I thought I would try some true barefoot running with her in Irchelpark.  There is a path that borders the park, which is made up of wood chips.  The Swiss call it a Finnenbahn and there are plenty of them scattered throughout Switzerland.  It is intended for use by runners/walkers who want a softer surface to run/walk on.  A perfect place I thought to try going completely barefoot.

I wore my Newton running shoes to get to the park and back, as I didn't want to risk stepping on a small piece of glass on the way to the park or on the way home.  On the Finnenbahn itself, there is much less likely to be glass, as generally people respect it's purpose and leave it clear of litter.

Once I got to the park I took off my shoes and socks and set off on the Finnenbahn.  Although the surface is soft on the knees, it is not that soft on the feet.  The wood chips lie at various angles and if you step on one that is lying on its side it can be a little sharp.  I was also a bit concerned about getting a splinter in my foot.

I focussed on my technique, trying to step as lightly as possible with lots of little steps.  Like this it was a little uncomfortable on my feet at times, but not painful like it may have been otherwise.  The Finnenbahn is not continuous the whole way round the park and is sometimes necessary to traverse gravel and stone to get to the next section.  I certainly noticed the difference running on gravel compared to running on the wood chips.  On the gravel it was hard to run properly at all, and it was almost like walking on hot coals (kind of like ouch, ouch, ouch).

Part of the Finnenbahn was muddy due to the recent rainfall and this was by far the most interesting section to run on.  It was beautifully soft and the feeling of mud squelching between my toes was just glorious.  I would have been happy to run on that surface all day long, and barefoot wins hands down over shoes when it is as soft as that.  I did around one and a half laps of the Finnenbahn, doubling back towards the end in order to avoid traversing the large gravel section for a second time (once was enough).

After finishing my barefoot run I put my shoes and socks back on and headed home.  Negrita was alone in the apartment all day today, so she was bursting with energy, and I thought it would be nice to really push the pace on the way back to the apartment and let her burn off some of that pent up energy.  According to my Garmin our fastest pace was 3:07 min/km, which is pretty fast, although it was downhill.  When we arrived back at the apartment we were both gasping for breath but her little tail was wagging and I felt pretty good too.

It only took just over 25 minutes to run from the apartment to the park, do a lap and a bit and then return home, so it is something I can easily do again another night.  Hopefully doing this maybe once a week or so over an extended period of time, my feet will become extremely tough and strong.  I am going to need strong, tough feet for the Ticino trail in August.

Longest run so far in my VFFs - 10km

Since I left UBS 8 months ago, some of my colleagues who never ran before took up running.  I had already decided when I woke up today that I would take my running kit to work with me and do a lunchtime run.  Then as I was heading to the changing rooms I bumped into one of my colleagues and he told me they were about to go running, so I thought I would join them.  We were the four musketeers.

I was planning on a short run as I decided to run in my VFFs, and 5km is the furthest I have run in them before.  My colleagues were planning on running 11km however, so I told them I would run with them part of the way then turn round and head back to the office on my own.  The route we took was the path next to the Glatt river and it is a mix of gravel and asphalt, although most of it is gravel.  Gravel is an interesting surface to run on in the VFFs, as you get a lot of the sensations you would if you were barefoot but without the pain.  I still had to keep an eye on where I was running though, as some stones can hurt if you tread on them.

The pace was pretty much 10km/h most of the way, but after I left my colleagues and headed back to work I slowed down initially so that I could do a nice fast ending.  As I neared the end my pace was 3:37 per km.  The turnover rate of my legs was very high, as when you are running in VFFs you naturally tend to take lots of little steps instead of bounding like you would in well cushioned shoes.  It really felt great zipping along the river with the feeling of the ground beneath my feet.

I haven't noticed any difference in my body after the run, other than my calf muscles are a little tighter than normal.  I certainly don't want to push my limits too much and get injured, but 10km in my VFFs seems just fine.

The only downside of today's run was that there is a lot of rape growing next to the river, and that stuff smells horrible when it is in flower.  It is really pungent and smells partly like bog water but worse, and partly like someone who has not washed for days and days.  Personally I think it should be banned, or grown in areas well away from the general public.  The only thing that smells more pungent than rape that I can think of offhand is marijuana, but I kind of like that sickly, sweet smell.  Next time I run the same route we did today perhaps I should run with a clothes peg on my nose.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

A lot of fun - just back from my first coached running session

Howdy friends.  Tonight was my first coached running session with Jeff Grant of Hillseeker Fitness.  He runs these group sessions once per week in Zürich, on Wednesday nights at 7pm.  Based on what I have seen a variety of people of all ages, nationalities and abilities seem to show up.  I would estimate that there were around 15 people at tonight's session.

We met at the Sihhölzli track in Zürich, although the location sometimes varies and next week for instance we will meet at the Saalsporthalle nearby.  The class was a lot of fun and after 2 laps of warming up we started some drills using a set of agility ladders.  Jeff placed 2 ladders at right angles and then he would instruct us whether to run straight from one end to the other or whether to run to the junction and then sidestep to the left or right.  The aim is to take small, quick, light steps whilst traversing the ladders on the floor.

After we finished the agility drills we did a short mental training exercise.  He played some music on his laptop, which encouraged box breathing.  This apparently is when you breathe in to your belly for x seconds, hold the breath in your belly for x seconds, breathe out for x seconds, wait for x seconds and then begin the whole process over again.  Whilst breathing in he would say a phrase such as "Breathe in the energy" and then whilst breathing out he would say something like "Breathe out the tiredness".  It was similar to what my yoga teacher says when we are calming down at the end of the lesson, and if you try to listen carefully to the words (and try to follow them too) it does help you to achieve a good mental state.

Now that we were mentally prepared he sent us on the track to do two timed 1,600m runs i.e. 4 laps of the track.  It was up to us whether we wanted to run the first one faster or the second one faster, but Jeff wanted us to make a good effort for both of them.  I chose to go for it on the first 1,600m run.  I had no idea how long it would take me, as I have not done a timed 1,600m run since childhood.  Luckily there was another very strong runner in the group and I used him to help pace myself.  I stayed on his shoulder the whole duration and in the last 200m I tried to pass him but he was a competitive fellow who didn't want to let me pass, and he finished just ahead of me.  It took me 5 minutes and 40 seconds to complete.

After everyone was back and had had a chance to rest, we did the second timed 1,600m run.  This time I was rather tired and I took it much easier.  I still came in second though, but my time was 6 minutes and 32 seconds.

Then finally to round off the session we did some fun drills.  Jeff placed 2 cones on the ground and then we had to form pairs and run between the cones in our pairs doing leapfrog over each other and then bear crawling and then bunny hopping and then a freestyle animal movement (up to us to choose) and then finally normal running.  My pair was the winning pair as my competitive nature took over again.

I was impressed by how Jeff made the session a lot of fun, so that you didn't really realise what you were doing was hard work when in fact it was.  He seems to be passionate about his work and really wants his clients to enjoy their training experience with him.  Not everyone in his group is super fast but he still makes them feel good about themselves with his encouraging words.  At 25CHF per session it seems like very good value for money.  Importantly for me too, it is a great way to meet other runners so I don't have to do all my training alone.  There are a couple of other ultra runners in the group.  One is running in the Ultra Trail of Mont Blanc this year, and another who was not there tonight just completed the Marathon des Sables like myself so Jeff was telling me.  It may even be that I recognise him when he comes to the session next week, as I talked to so many people during the MDS that I lost track of all their names.

The sessions could even be something that Anny will enjoy, especially as most of the attendees are female and of a similar level to her.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The impressive fitness program offered by UBS Opfikon

The following is the current fitness program that UBS are offering at the Opfikon office where I work.

I find it really impressive just how many options there are, and it seems quite a lot of new classes were added since I left 8 months ago.  Now for instance yoga is offered 3 times per week, compared to twice per week when I left.  I also do not recall seeing CrossFit in the program 8 months ago.

The classes that interest me most are the yoga ones and possibly the CrossFit ones.  There used to be a group of us who attended the Lunch Yoga Flow classes with Muy, but since I left it seems their enthusiasm wained and the they stopped going.  I will have to try my hand at getting some others to come along and join in, as I always like it when there is a regular group of people that I know.  It helps to motivate me when I am feeling a little tired and considering skipping a class.

Monday, 7 May 2012

First day back at work after an 8 month break

Well as most of you know, today was my first day back at UBS after an 8 month break.  It felt almost as though I had never left in terms of the conversations I was overhearing about various systems and components I had worked on, and all the familiar faces I saw that I know and like.  I spent most of the day waiting for the various access rights to be granted and for accounts to be setup that I needed in order to start installing my development environment.  This meant that for the first few hours I was just sitting around twiddling my thumbs, which I am not that good at, but by the end of the day I was able to start installing the various programs that I will need.  Hopefully by the end of tomorrow I will have the majority of my environment set up and will be ready to get my newly assigned tasks.

The day started well with me sticking to my plan of running to work.  I was a little perturbed when I got up and looked outside this morning, only to see that it was wet and dreary.  For a few minutes I thought about changing my plan, but as I mentioned yesterday I am a creature of habit and it is important for me to start as I mean to go on.  Although it was wet outside, it didn't actually rain during the time I was running, so I am glad I didn't change my mind based on the weather.  Firstly I jogged down to Central to drop Negrita off, and then I started my run from Central to UBS Opfikon.  I had considered doing the run in my VFFs, but 7.69  kilometres is a lot further than I have run in them before, so in the end I opted to wear my Newton Sir Isaac Guidance Trainers.

The run went without a hitch, but I still feel I have not recovered fully from the MDS.  I just don't feel quite as strong as I normally do when I am running yet.  I will continue to increase the speed and duration of my training runs very gradually until I feel that I have fully recovered.  In the end, the 7.69 kilometres took me exactly 40 minutes, and I would describe the pace as comfortable.

Running to work is a good way to start the day in my opinion.  After a run and a shower I feel energised and awake.  Luckily UBS has shower facilities on site or else it might not be so easy to do.  Hopefully more and more employers will realise the benefits of having healthy employees and provide such facilities.  I am sure it will be worth their investment in the end.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Running to work tomorrow - start as you mean to go on

Tomorrow is my first day back at work after my 8 month sabbatical.  I feel like I have forgotten absolutely everything and I am hoping that that isn't really the case.  Hopefully once I am back in familiar surroundings everything will come back to me.  I can remember what Java is at least.

I am really glad I took the sabbatical as I am coming back full of energy and a good deal fitter and thinner than when I left.  I got the chance to do everything I wanted from seeing the gorillas in DR Congo to climbing Kilimanjaro to cycling across South America to completing the Marathon des Sables.  The only thing I didn't quite get was my top 50 place in the MDS.  That dream only lasted for the first 3 days, but I am no longer worried about it and I can always try for it again in 2015 by the seems of it, as some of the guys from this years MDS are talking about signing up for it again in 2015 and I would like to join them.  Anny doesn't seem to be against it either.

I am rather a creature of habit, and I want to start this week as I mean to go on.  Since I am now training for the Ticino Trail in August, I want to start running to work.  There is no better way to get myself into the habit of running to work than to run to work tomorrow, on my first day back.  I have already packed my running rucksack with all my work clothes and a wash kit, and placed it next to the bed.  All my running kit is also nicely laid out on the chair, so I really have no excuses.  Anny is off to New York early tomorrow morning so I will have to take Negrita to Central for 8.15am (where the dog care person picks her up from), and then I can run from there directly to work.

The other habit I want to form this week is to eat healthily during my lunch break at work.  I used to eat far too much, and mostly junk food before.  So I think I will start taking a healthy packed lunch with me to encourage myself to eat better.  Tomorrow though I will go with some of my colleagues to lunch in the canteen just to catch up a bit.

The final bad habit that I had was a ridiculously high caffeine intake. Every time I took a 5 minute break I grabbed a coffee and that ended up being quite a few cups of coffee per day.  Combine that with a lack of attention to my water intake and it was probably no wonder I often felt tired and run down.  I will try to just get a little fresh air during most of my breaks now, rather than having a coffee each and every time.  I will also try to make sure I drink enough water each day to stay well hydrated.

That is the plan anyway.  I will let you know how I get on with it as the week goes on.  Old habits die hard as they say.