Monday, 24 September 2012


This could have so easily been one of those weeks to regret, one of those in which every day I almost went for a run, but for one reason or another (bad night’s sleep, long travel with work - pick your excuse) I never actually did. Cue Demi, the heroine of the week! Through gentle prompting and careful sidestepping of my excuses she made sure I got out there, turning missed runs in useful miles and intervals.

Not only that, but she completed her own runs with such great focus and determination, taking her first sprint work and speed interval exercises literally in her stride, that I was too ashamed to skip my own...

It only goes to show that living with someone doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing one’s exercise, but can help in making best use of one’s time (it was the kind of week where the ‘almost runs’ would mean playing computer games instead, and how does that help complete a marathon?)
I also started my strength training this week. I use a site called Jefit to compile my exercise routines, which then syncs with the app on my Android (iOS version available as well) and lets me follow the routine at the gym. What’s more, for all the exercises already in its Exercise Database it contains handy animations and descriptions on how they should be performed. You can of course add your own custom exercises to your routine (which can be split over as many days as you need, to focus e.g. on different body parts on different days) and it remembers both the weights / resistance at which you performed each exercise last time, but also your all time best.

The routine I’ve come up with is built around two sessions per week, Day 1 one working the core, arms & legs and Day 2 the shoulders, chest, back & core. They last about 1h each, plus warm-up. I’ve also come up with a sequence (lasting no more than 15’) of 5-6 other core exercises that I can do at home to make sure I’m working my core the target 3 times per week.
So all went well this week, at least until Saturday came and left... On Saturday day was still longer than night, the sun was shining (by and large), running was pleasant (evenings still bright, but nice and cool) and then that stupid Earth had to stand square to the Sun on Saturday afternoon and then tilt back, past the point of equinox and into winter...  and winter certainly obliged!

But duelling on the Equinox a bit longer, I am informed that in pagan celebration the autumnal equinox marks the start of winter preparations... “It is time to respect the impending dark while giving thanks to the sunlight”. I suppose that for runners that means high-viz vests and waterproofs, careful planning of running routes and times and taking advantage of any opportunities to enjoy running in the natural light. Weekends are an obvious candidate for this of course, but I’ll also try running during lunchtimes at work (my programme includes a number of sub-50minute runs) and will report on how this goes next week.

But while I don’t necessarily mind running in the dark or the rain, there will be times when it is just easier to use a treadmill instead... While I certainly don’t prefer it, it does at least make it easier to keep the speed up during the intervals and I’ve found an unexpected way to combat the boredom... audiobooks! Not exactly in keeping with the image of the sweaty runner thumping away to the beat of “running compilations”, but I enjoy the irony of settling down to listen to a nice read while at 80% of HRmax... it also helps the mind wander and act as a distraction in place of an undulating route or beautiful scenery... Now don’t get me wrong, I’ll always remain an outdoor runner, but a treadmill is better than not running at all.

And a sobering thought to leave you with... the weather and darkness will only get worse, and days are not due to become larger than nights again until three days after Rome! So I better get used to it...

Monday, 17 September 2012

And we are off!

So, week one done, and how did we do? Not bad for the first week, I had four short sessions this week (i.e. <10k), but this included some tempo work and some sort of speed or hill interval. On the minus side, a 'owe' yesterday's (Sunday) session which I will do today (essentially swapping rest days around) and I haven't made it to the gym yet, but I hope to do better this week.

Demi (my girlfriend) also started her own 10k programme this week - it will be fun training concurrently for the same distance!

I also had the first post-summer (dare I call it autumn?) training session with the Harriers: A fast-paced 9k run which also happened to work very well as the first session of my new 10k programme from micoach.

The Harriers (or more accurately, the Huncote Harriers AC) had their 2012 AGM after the run and listening to the captains give the reports, I again felt I should be participating in more league / championship races with them... It's all about managing time though and the many demands on it... and time at weekends is the most valuable of it all...

I also started a triathlon class at my local gym – it’s basically a weekly session looking in turn at running, cycling, swimming and transitions and aiming to get us to compete in a sprint triathlon in spring (with a lot of additional training between sessions, of course). I’m not sure I will compete in one necessarily, but I’m using this class as a bit of extra (cross-) training and to help motivate me keep my swimming up. The trainer taking it is also a useful point of reference for nutrition, strength training etc. etc. We started with running this week (outdoors thankfully, not sweating on a treadmill!), and it was a straight 6k run followed by 2 sets of hill reps. A reasonable session for starters (and as a supplement to my more structured programme), but I really felt those hills!

That’s where you need someone to train with though (be it a trainer or just a training partner): to keep you honest and pushing as hard as you possibly can on the way up (especially when you have got unaccustomed with high intensity work outs). Exactly the kind of exercise I need right now then, fast intervals or hills just to get my lungs working again!!! In fact I remember motivating myself to squeeze every last little bit of effort out of myself by thinking that the fastest I ran up, the more fractions of seconds I would be shaving off my eventual marathon time, six months away – seconds, I told myself, that could make the difference between coming in under or over 3:30! You’d be right to call it complete nonsense (looking at each session in isolation) or a valid principle (if maintained consistently over the coming six months), but the point is that I felt it put a spring in my step and that’s what I needed.

Finally, I've being playing around with the Nike+ app on my Android... It took a lot of calibration (the initial stats would have you believe I was setting world records), but I think it's there now... 

So there you have it... A good first week, but I need to ramp it up a bit more!

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

1. Back to School!

The holidays are over and they have left me happier, tanner, but also less fit than they found me... What little swimming and much less running I did was no match for all the eating, drinking and general lazing about, so September’s first 'exploratory' run last week hurt more than it would have in July... nothing surprising there, but now holidays are over I better come up with a plan to get fit again!

Having enjoyed the travel experience to Athens and the Lakes, I’ve decided to aim for one marathon ‘in an interesting place’ each year and make a bit of a holiday of it with my girlfriend (after all, she deserves a reward for tolerating all my disappearing after long days at work to run up hills or hide in the gym!)

For 2013 especially we thought we’d try Rome – a city on our ‘to go’ list anyway and within easy reach for us in the UK and my sister and her boyfriend in Athens – so with any luck and barring accidents he intends to run it as well!

With the decision of the location made, it’s time for the boring stuff I’m afraid… goals and plans! I ran my first marathon last year in 3:51 and as the second one was on a hilly trail, this (3:51) is my current PB. I have done a lot of running since though and - considering I have just over 5 months to prepare - I believe I can set myself a goal of 3:30. This will not be set down in stone at this point you understand, just something to base my training around. As the plan progresses I can always go back and revise this if necessary.

Now I have a goal, for a plan: There is a multitude of marathon training plans out there, as well as web-based applications that create a customised plan for you and track your progress as you follow it. Adidas' Micoach is my favourite: I used it to train for Athens and I was very pleased with the results. Having said that, as I have been training for longer, slower races recently (my last training plan was for a the hilly marathon in July), I feel there is a misalignment in my training in that I have neglected speed over the 5 - 15 km range for the sake of endurance over longer distances. While I'm no professional trainer, I know enough to know that that's not good and will work against me in the long run, so I intend to use the time I have to do something about it: What I propose is to concentrate on my 10k speed for the first three months of my training (till just before Xmas) and then work on increasing the distances of my long runs in preparation for the event itself.

That's easy then, I'll start with a programme that will get me to finish 10k in 40' (my current PB being 46') by December, based on 3 runs a week plus strength training and cross training (thus bringing my swimming in my plan rather than give it up to make room for more runs). If I'm honest, the 40' target is a bit of a guesstimate... On the face of it, it certainly looks challenging enough and a race pace calculator will tell you that it is the equivalent of a marathon time well under 3:30. Is it too challenging? Perhaps, but again, it will at least give me the chance to see what I can achieve by December and amend my marathon plans accordingly.

So there we go! Let week 1 of the run to Rome commence and I will come back with an update early next week!