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?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Eating high-carb vegan food for energy, recovery and health

I've been building up to this change of diet for a while and have been following it for just over a week. It's a radical change for me as it means finding new 'favourite foods' to replace eggs, cheeses, cakes (made with milk & eggs) and of course, Mum's roast lamb. Tough, but so far, so good. My reasons for trying a high-carb vegan diet are primarily the promises of increased energy, faster recovery after training and improved health. It means plant-based eating — the full nutritional requirements for good health can be obtained from a vegan diet, even vitamin B12.

The majority of food in a regular supermarket is vegan but that doesn't mean that eating 'vegan' equates to good health. A diet consisting solely of coca-cola, chips and bread spread with peanut butter isn't going to be healthy! Many processed (canned) vegetables have large amounts of sodium, so I'll spend most of my time in the fruit and veg section of the supermarket as reading the tiny nutrition information print on processed food is a pain in the proverbial. I'll let you know how I'm feeling about my change of diet in a month or so.

There are many impressive vegan athletes in the world, most notably (for runners), champion ultramarathoner Scott Jurek, author of Eat & Run. The two that have left an impression with me are cyclist Christine Varderos (see her talk on Youtube) and Rich Roll, author (with his wife, Julie Piatt) of The Plantpower Way and a memoir, Finding Ultra. Rich is a great speaker and in the following off-the-cuff interview, he talks about his life and vegan diet (beginning at 6:15).


Sunday, December 27, 2015

Fresh running legs for a fresh year

Bring on 2016! Firstly though, a summary of my running for 2015. I feel a little like 'You Had One Job' on Twitter (in that I had one goal for 2015 and missed it by 'that much'). My goal was to run 5k in 21:59 or faster and as the year ends, my best time remains the 22:31 I ran at the Tuggeranong Parkrun back in April. Despite this failure, I'm ignoring the pleas from my friends to find a new job. My goal for 2016 remains the same: break 22 minutes for 5 bloody k!

I'm excited about my prospects for achieving this singular goal and I'm about to tell you the reasons for my enthusiasm. Two things really. Firstly, a revelation from my holiday in the good old U S of A. During those six weeks I did minimal running (and no cycling) and as if by magic my legs recalled a feeling from long ago: freshness, youthfulness and springiness. I wrote a blog post back in 2011 about the undeniable value of having springy muscles. If you have springy muscles and tendons you travel further with each stride (a free ride if you will, that all young runners enjoy). Towards the end of the US trip my legs were feeling youthful again, even though my lungs began to feel old due to declining aerobic fitness. The second thing is a chat I had recently with a bloke in my age-group (55-59) who runs the Parkrun in the mid-18s (and is surely on his way to breaking 18). Paul told me he thought I had the ability to run 20 minutes for 5k and was very confident I'd easily break 22. He then told me about the minimal running he does; how he combines it with cycling and how he always races with 100% effort on fresh legs.

The deliciously exciting conundrum I'm now faced with is to figure out how to arrange my cycling and running training so as to always be racing with 100% effort on fresh legs. I've been reading The Time-Crunched Cyclist and wondering how to combine that type of cycling training (high intensity, low volume) with my running training. I'm unsure at the moment how to do this and can foresee some experimentation in the early part of next year. The temptation I'll be trying to resist will be to do more volume, as the other exciting news I have for you is my decision to continue my Professional Runner's Lifestyle experiment indefinitely! I'm retiring permanently from wage slavery on the 8th of January, 2016. I apologise to Mark and others for being a total prick in the jealousy-inducing stakes. The low stress and ample recovery time available to the professional runner IS all it's cracked up to be. It's been a very long time indeed since I've felt this relaxed.

I'd like to wish my readers all the best for 2016. May your running goals be challenging and achievable. I'll let you know how my training plan evolves in future posts. Now, back to my rest day!

Cycling beside the Murrumbidgee River at Wagga over Christmas

Monday, December 07, 2015

Successfully avoiding the excesses of an American diet

I've been back in Australia since Thursday afternoon and feeling recovered enough now to get back into the running routine. We enjoyed a wonderful holiday (just short of six weeks), but man, the typical American food on offer was hard work. So much meat; so much cheese; so sweet and salty; so big! Possessing a sweet tooth, I also enjoyed more than my fair share of desserts, including the wonderful key lime pies of the south. I'm also taking a while to catch up on blog reading (computer time was limited in the U.S.), so please excuse my slackness in that area.

So, what is my physical state after such a long holiday with minimal running (and no cycling)? Not too bad is the short answer, but the actual statistics reveal the brutal truth: race fitness does decline, if ever so slowly, when one cuts back on training. The legs may feel fresh and your body energetic, but you run slower. 'Use it or lose it' is a true adage when it comes to running and a good bank of aerobic fitness only lasts so long.

What exercise did I do? Well, over 41 days I ran on 22 occasions — an average of 23k per week (supplemented by lots of easy walking). Prior to the holiday my 'normal' training routine was around 50k per week of running and 160 to 200k per week of cycling. Leading up to my good 10k in Melbourne I raced the Tuggeranong Parkrun in 22:41 at an average heart rate of 144, feeling pretty happy with my race. On Saturday 5 December I raced the same course (similar conditions) in 24:12 at an average heart rate of 148 (maximum of 158 — very close to my actual maximum of 162). Ouch! My legs felt good and fresh but I was huffing and puffing like the Chattanooga Choo Choo pulling out of Baltimore Station.

As the year draws to an end, I hope the few readers of this blog are doing well. Enjoy your running and don't over indulge in key lime pies! See ya'all in 2016.
Unusually mild (14C) for my run in Central Park on 26 November. Way too hot for ice skating!
Central Park NYC as the sun sets. Love it!
Walking over the Brooklyn Bridge the previous afternoon. Beautiful!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Melbourne Marathon 10k: A good race, but not perfect

Of all the active running blogs that I read, Bob's, Geoff's, Joe's and Liz's would be the only ones that could answer the following question: Did you run to your absolute physical potential when you ran your PB time for a certain race distance? My own answer to that question would be "No" for most lifetime PBs that I've run. All of the other blogs that I read are written by runners who can still run faster. My PB that came closest to 'as good as it gets' was the 9:56.3 I ran for 3000 metres at age 34 (which happens to be the speed one needs to run to finish a marathon in under 2 hours 20 minutes). After finishing that race I remember thinking that given perfect training and weather conditions, it wouldn't be long before I'd run 3k in 9:45.

In Melbourne on 18 October I raced a good 10k, but not perfect. My time was 47:39 (a minute slower than the time I ran in 2008). My legs felt good during the race but not totally energised and fresh. My pacing was pretty much spot-on — the effort felt even (the course is undulating, so dead-even splits aren't going to happen) and I finished strongly over the last 2k with a sprint for the final 200 metres. Executing a perfect race would have seen 47:00 on the finishing clock in the M.C.G.

I enjoyed Melbourne, in spite of not having run the perfect race. Lunch with Liz, Bev and Al on Friday had been fun, so too the pre-race dinner on Saturday evening. I was pretty satisfied with the whole long weekend. But still (as a competitive runner) I wasn't super-satisfied or ecstatic with my race performance. I guess this whole post is a roundabout way of saying that one never knows at the time it happens, that a PB will never be improved upon. One always has optimistic expectations to run faster. Because the perfect race is a very rare thing indeed. If you happen to be in the perfect race (and have the awareness to realise this as it's happening), then give it everything you've got. Everything.
I'm behind in reading blogs (and running) as I've been holidaying in the U.S. Here I am practising my discus technique. Everything is big in America.