Thursday, July 28, 2016

Back racing, and loving it!

My slow and steady comeback to running continues to go well. I've been competing in short races (around the 5k distance) and in doing these, I realise how much I miss the thrill of racing. I possess a very strong competitive gene! The unknown Formula One driver Jean Behra once said, "Life is racing, the rest is waiting." Yes, a seemingly extreme life philosophy, but one that applies to my own running. Don't get me wrong — I do enjoy the simple act of running (the movement; being in nature; the camaraderie of runners), but I love racing.

An unexpected upside of this return from injury is being taken back to my running roots as a 23-year-old enthusiastic newbie. Every couple of days I can feel my fitness improving (and the data from the Garmin backs that up). The graph is steadily pointing skyward. This is exciting, but I have the knowledge that the graph will eventually flatten. A truth that my naive 20-something self didn't think would happen until I was running 30 minutes for 10 kilometres. Sounds crazy, but I had no coach and no idea. In reality I reached my peak as a 37-minute 10k runner.

On the 17th of July I ran in a race where, for a few kilometres, I was thinking 'wow, I'm flying along, passing runners, blasting along this muddy trail, feeling young again!' The race was the Sri Chinmoy Gungahlin Gallop 10k Trail Race — up on a muddy single-track to the top of this bloody big hill and back down again. I finished in the middle of the pack (probably towards the rear of the middle!) and my time of 75 minutes was woefully slow for a 10k, but my body and mind were for once co-existing in a place familiar to all runners. Greedy I know, but I want more of that.

Racing down the hill (recalling my days as a steeplechaser) in the Gungahlin Gallop 10k [John Harding photo]

My video, mostly showing runners in the 30k

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A month of tentative running done


This coming back business is a slow process! I ran the Lake Stakes 6k today — really it was a 5k run as the first kilometre was my warm-up walk. 5k in 31:45 with an average heart rate of 137 (well over MAF HR) for 870 heart beats per kilometre. My calf was good, but I'm still being ever so careful, shuffling along, with very little force being applied to the ground. I felt a twinge in the upper calf (not the original injury area) last Thursday and had three days rest from running.

I've run 76 kilometres over the past 4 weeks, most of that being gentle treadmill running, accustoming the legs to the running movement and gradually building up some leg strength. It's been going well until that twinge last week. I raced a 5k cross country event at Stromlo on 25 June finishing 3rd last in 28:21. Average heart rate for that race was 138 for 782 heart beats per kilometre, so today's race was a small slip on the game of snakes and ladders.

The plan for the next couple of months is to continue building the mileage and run Parkrun 5ks and races at racing HR effort (145ish) for my only hard weekly session. My eventual goal for weekly running volume is 6 hours per week, supplemented by cycling mileage. If I was a fast runner I'd be covering over 90k in 6 hours, which is sufficient volume to run well. For me it will be around 60k, so all I've got to do is get from 20 to 60! Phew!

Organiser Peter with his '300 runs' shirt at the Lake Stakes today. [P Thommo photo]

Sunday, June 19, 2016

I finished 289th in a 5k

It was with much relief that I finished the inaugural Burley Griffin Parkun on Saturday morning. I ran the 5k with my left calf entirely happy — feeling no different to my right calf. It was my longest pain-free run since March 17 when I ran 5000 metres on the track in 25:13.07 and damaged the left soleus with 2 laps to go. So it was quite a relief when I crossed the finish line on Saturday, albeit in the slow time of 31:26.

My tactic for the run was to move smoothly and easily, using no power on the gentle uphill sections of the course. I employed the ultramarathoner's 'Cliffy shuffle' running style, gliding over the ground with minimal push-off from the toes. My plan is to gradually build some running muscle strength by increasing the distance of my regular runs over time.

One thing I found interesting about Saturday's run is how aerobically unfit I am for running! My average heart rate was 141, exactly the same as for the 5k track race back in March, yet I was over 6 minutes slower. Apparently 250 to 300 kilometres of cycling per week doesn't make you a fit runner! How long it takes to get back to 25 minutes for 5k, let alone my 22-minute goal time will be found out in due course. I remember tearing my right soleus in the 2006 City to Surf but that injury only took me 4 weeks to overcome. Eight weeks later I could run 4:43 km pace for 3k. I think it'll take a tad longer this time. I'm a tad older after all!
Running on a damp path in the 1st Burley Griffin Parkrun
A 'Cliffy shuffle' got me to the finish line in one piece!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

I feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day

Waking up each morning to the same predictable and annoying routine. I can't run! My calf injury refuses to give up. Persistent bastard! The gradual comeback to running that I mentioned previously lasted eight days. I noticed a soreness developing after 2k of the BBQ Stakes run on 4 May so walked to the finish. After two days off I ran in the Batemans Bay Parkrun, starting out feeling hopeful. I ran smoothly with kilometres of 5:20 and 5:19 (no pain at all), then suddenly, a sharp pain in the left calf! I stopped running and walked gingerly to the finish.

I've now had fourteen days off running (the calf feels totally normal on waking and when walking). My cycling training continues to go well. So thankful for that! I rode in my 4th cyclo-cross race last Saturday and had a heap of fun. This time I was pleased the course didn't require any running at all (I walked my bike up the one set of steps). The Youtube video below shows my race. Started last in the field of 19 and maybe finished 15th (the results aren't up yet).

The only running race I've entered is the Sydney City to Surf on 14 August. That gives me ten weeks to resume running and be fit enough to cover 14k. My plan is for a further 3 weeks off running (making 5 in total) then 3 weeks to build up to continuous runs of 10k. That should be enough. Marathoners rarely run the race distance in training, do they? And I don't have a wall to hit during a 14k race, do I? So all good!




Heart rate graph from my cyclocross race mirrors the hill on the course. Interestingly, average heart rate is similar to my 5k races yet my cycling training is typically between heart rates of 100 and 120.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Sven and the Art of Cycling for Maintenance

I commenced an ever so gradual return to running with the Tuggeranong Parkrun on Saturday. I walked the first half then alternated roughly 100 metres of running with 100 metres of walking for the second 2.5k. My time was 38:11, with the run/walk section at around 7 minutes per kilometre. The calf was good, so touch wood that continues to be the case. It's been 43 days since the original tear/strain which has included two aborted comebacks.

The popular (and sensible in my view) thing to do when injured is to cross-train by doing some other aerobic activity. This can be walking, cycling, swimming, deep-water running or training on an elliptical machine to name the more popular forms of cross-training for running. My choice has been cycling combined with a couple of days a week of brisk walking. I've been riding around 220 kilometres per week (90 minutes to 2 hours per day or more). Long rides have been for 4 or 5 hours. All this cycling leaves me feeling very fit aerobically — my resting heart rate is as low as it's ever been in recent years. My legs are good and strong too. For cycling.

I'm close to becoming a cyclist who can run, but not that well. Running is a very specific discipline of movement. And within running there is sharp specificity at different race distances. Sprinters don't do that well at marathons and marathoners don't do that well in mile or 800 metre races. Triathletes are good at swimming, cycling and running because they spend a lot of time training for each of the three activities.

The recently retired Sven Nys is regarded as one of the greatest cyclo-cross racers of all time. Cyclo-cross is a sport in which you race a bike for around an hour over often muddy, hilly and sandy circuits while running the sections that are impossible to ride. Sven's aerobic capacity would be the equal of a runner capable of competing well at the World Cross Country Championships. His running ability in hard-soled cycling shoes (while carrying 8 kgs of bike) was the skill that often made the difference in World Cup races. He's a good runner! And he now runs 'for fun' — in the Antwerp 10 Miles race on 17 April, Sven ran the good but not remarkable time of 61:53 (around 3:50 per k). I'm sure, given 12 months of specific running training, he could take 5 minutes or more off that time. If you want to run well, you need to run. Simple!

Walking to the finish of the Tuggers Parkrun on Saturday
Heart rate during a steady 41k bike ride. Average of 105. There's lots of coasting when cycling (unless you're riding a time trial on a flat or uphill course).

Monday, April 04, 2016

Stopped from running by a calf injury

After my last blog in early March I resumed my return to running fitness back in Canberra. For two weeks I was going well and in hindsight, a little overconfident, as I decided to race the ACT Veterans' 5000 metre track championship race on Thursday 17 March. I knew I wasn't nearly as fit as I'd been for the 2015 race but hoped to enjoy competing and perhaps run around 24 minutes. I started well enough, running 4:45 for the first k and having Angel M for company towards the tail of the 16 runner field.

It was a warm breezy evening and soon after three laps Angel went by and it was all I could do to follow him. The next ks were 4:58, 5:08 and 5:15 (not the type of splits you'd hope for in a good 5000 metre race). With two laps to go my left calf felt like it was cramping — had I not been so close to the finish of my last 5k track race for the season I would have stopped running. The leg was hurting! I finished the race (25:13 and 15th place) and took the next day off running, hoping to cure what I thought was a minor strain. Wrong! I made it 2k into Saturday's Parkrun before the calf "cramped" again and I had to walk.

I had eight days off running (I could still ride my bike) before resuming run training with an 8k run in Wagga. I made it through that run with minor discomfort from the calf but 6k into my run the following day it "cramped" again, just as it had done in the Parkrun. I suspect the initial injury had been a tear of a muscle or muscles in the calf which just hadn't repaired itself sufficiently to resume running. I've now had a further six days off and I can tell that the injury is slowly improving day by day. I'll wait until the dodgy calf feels exactly the same as the good one and can stand some vigorous massaging before resuming running. I hope you're all doing better than I am as the weather (in Australia at least) is now perfect for running.

Walking the Ginninderra Parkrun on Saturday 2 April. My cyclist self thinks running is a slow method of getting places, but walking takes forever!

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Starting from square two (beats square one)

Not long after writing my last blog post I had a fall at home which (long story short) resulted in seven nights at Canberra Hospital and a break from my professional running career. I'm expecting to get the 'all-clear' from the neurologist to resume exercise (and driving!) this coming Tuesday, but in advance of that, I've begun to run again. I feel too good not to run!

This past week I've been doing short runs and bike rides, limited (fortuitously perhaps) by a lingering Aussie heat-wave. I've been staying at Mum's in Wagga and this past week have been completing runs of 3 to 5k — usually point-to-point, which gives me a 3 to 5k warm-down walk back home. Does one really need warming down in 35 degree heat?

I've been 'running by feel', with no heart rate monitor, just the Garmin's splits to ponder over afterwards. My feelings have been pretty good. I feel like I'm pushing off the ground well and moving smoothly with few discernible muscular niggles. Natural pace has been between 5:15 and 5:30 per kilometre, which happens to be that training sweet spot a little slower than half-marathon race-pace.

I call this post 'starting from square two' as I haven't had that much time off. So far in 2016 I've averaged 40k per week of running (plus cycling) and after the fall had 18 days off exercise before resuming with a short 2k jog. Square one would be starting again after 3 months off. You don't really want to go there! Reminds you of the difficulty all beginning runners face. If you happen to be a beginning runner, might I suggest slowly building up to continuous runs of 30 minutes. Start with alternating walks and jogs. When you reach 30 minutes, try and repeat that as many days a week as possible. And think about doing some cycling. Cycling is fun, gentle and rest periods (when you coast downhill) are built in.

I plan to do some cyclo-cross racing in Canberra this coming season. Good fun!

Friday, February 05, 2016

So much energy! All due to the Vegan diet?

I'm loving this plant-eating gig — except for one thing — my energy levels are so high that I'm finding myself doing crazy atypical stuff. Like vacuuming and dish washing and folding up clothes.

I'm also losing my appetite for sweets and cheese. Weird! I'm finding myself drooling over a big plate of apricots, or dates, or bananas, or watermelon. Anything but cheese and biscuits. Becoming too light is a bit of a concern — 72 kg is still in the "normal BMI" range for my height but I'm starting to feel too light. Carbohydrates are my friend but I must be just burning them up.

My training is going along nicely. I have to crack the whip to stop myself from doing mega-long rides. When I'm on the bike I just want to go all day (sore arse notwithstanding). But I need to allow time in my schedule to do other stuff (like cleaning bicycles and mowing grass). Have I mentioned that I don't know how I managed to find the time to be a wage slave?


Vitamin B12 supplementation is needed when you stop eating meat. Protein from golden peas, perhaps not. But it doesn't taste too bad, so why not?