Will Thames

swim, bike, run, tech

At Last, It’s Nearly Upon Me

It’s just over three months since I found out I had a place for the London marathon. There have been injury niggles, particularly after my half marathon, that I managed to overcome with a lot of rest and perseverance.

The most I’ve done in one day is 28km in training, so there will be half as much again to do on the day, although at least I did 38km in two days that weekend.

On paper my run volume looks shockingly bad - particularly March where injury, recovery and then skiing took over, but April looks very good considering that’s only half way through.

MonthRunsDistance (kms)Time
Jan13119.213:11
Feb12131.2113:45
Mar671.606:41
Apr989.110:08

Am I as ready as I’d have liked to have been? Three months ago I thought 3:30 was a real possibility - I’m still not ruling it out but I’ve accepted that 3:40-3:50 is a more likely result. However, I’ll give London the effort that such a world-class event deserves. Hopefully then some more sponsorship will come rolling in!

I’ll leave my plan for Sunday for another post.

Race Plan for Tomorrow’s Half Marathon

I will set my alarm for 07:30 when I will quickly dress into my cool weather running gear. Going upstairs for breakfast, I will put on my GPS watch, and then have a mug of coffee and some cereal.

I will aim to leave the house for 08:00, taking with me my backpack packed tonight with a dry set of clothes, and a set of race clothes suitable for warmer weather (lighter top, shorts). The bag will also contain my race number and timing tag. I will then drive to the race venue, which will already be in TomTom.

I hope to arrive at the race venue for 09:00 with an hour before the race starts. I will keep warm and warm up during this time, changing if necessary into the warmer clothes. I will also have a caffeine gel with some water at this point.

At 10:00 the race will start. I will aim to start at around 05:00/km and progress towards 04:45 as the field thins out and I warm up further. Each lap of the lake should take around 47 mins.

At 11:40, I hope to cross the line. I will do some gentle stretching and some easy walking before driving home.

London Marathon

When work’s new charity of the year, the Prostate Cancer Charity was announced, I emailed our charity coordinator to see if they had any places. Unfortunately, they didn’t.

Today I got an email asking if I still wanted a place! Of course I do! The London Marathon is the one event I’ve wanted to do since starting running!

Not long to go though - just 14 weeks to build back up to marathon distance. I should be pretty conditioned to running after last month’s efforts, but I know I need to build up nice and gently - destroying myself with injury would not be good.

At least I know what the next three months’ training looks like - a marathon training plan with some cross-training of cycling and swimming. FIRST should do the job, once I can actually do the long runs!

2011 Training

How fortuitous. One of my favourite sports writers, Matt Fitzgerald, has done a 20 week iron distance training plan in this months Triathlete Europe. That takes about 8 weeks off my training plan, meaning a start in April rather than February.

Now obviously that doesn’t mean I can doss around for the next three months, but I can go to Running School (a Christmas present from my lovely wife) and possibly even treat myself to a swim training day too.

I do need to get back on the bike and back in the pool in January though, I can’t keep being slack!

I also learnt about Yasso Intervals today, which also totally fit with the principle of reducing variation. While they might not correlate with a marathon after 8 hours on the go, they should correlate with the ‘add a sixth of the time’ school of thought (so if I can do 3:30 800s, I should be able to do a 3:30 standalone marathon and 4:03 iron distance run leg)

Next step is to start formulating a proper training plan focussing on my key workouts and fitting in other things such as holidays etc, so I’m totally ready to start hard graft in April, while improving technique in the interim.

Goals for 2011

For 2011 I plan to do:

  • London Olympic distance in less than 2:30 (0:30, 1:10, 0:50, with transitions coming out of that somewhere!)
  • Richmond Parkrun in less than 0:22
  • Challenge Henley in less than 12 hours - this may not seem ambitious after a 12:17 Ironman Switzerland but there are a lot more hills. (1:20, 6:40, 4:00)
  • 6k pool swim in 2:00
  • Go sub 1:40 in a half marathon
How do I plan to achieve this? Obviously I want to improve my running, hence the improvements on my run times - this will be done by increasing frequency, and working on improving form, while minimising injury risk.

My bike performance should have a good baseline from last year, but I’ve let it slide - I need to do a lot of miles and that will mean rollers, turbo and long rides before summer even starts.

Swim will also be built on volume rather than technique - overdistance training, regular testing, plus some speed work. Biggest issue is probably feel for the water, so sculling, doggy paddle and distance.

Races planned for next year include: Richmond Half Marathon, Blenheim Sprint, London Olympic and Challenge Henley. No middle distance tri planned yet (Bala is the weekend after Blenheim, which might be a big ask, A Day in the Lakes is probably too hilly and badly timed for me).

I guess this means I’m not so ambivalent now.

Advent of Running: Week 4

It’s difficult to write this one up, but I have to admit, I was beaten by this challenge. The first day I didn’t run (the 21st) was due to a slightly sore little toe (of all things), a very minor Achilles niggle and those combined with a lack of motivation to do more treadmill running meant I stopped.

I did worse than originally hoped, but I stuck it out longer than I felt I needed to given the weather. The point of the challenge for me was to enjoy running every day - I knew I wouldn’t enjoy every run, but I didn’t enjoy any treadmill run.

After I stopped, I meant to carry on running regularly, but my toe got worse (to a point where it was so sore that I could barely walk) so I rested it, and will barely run at all until it’s properly checked out next week as running did seem to stop it improving, and it’s much better at the moment but the underlying issue is still there.

I learnt a lot - I can run more often than I have done before. I’m not sure I need to though, unless I want to stop being a triathlete and start being a runner, which I’m not sure I do. Racing both sports will always mean I’m worse at running than I would be if I concentrated solely on running, but I suspect more injury and less enjoyment would probably also happen.

Of the runs below, the first was in snow, the second on a treadmill and the third on still a bit icy pavements (little enough to make me think it was a good idea, too much to actually be that good idea)

DateMinutesDistancePace
Dec 1930.05.105:58
Dec 2030.05.505:30
Dec 2242.07.006:00
Total102.017.6 
Average34.05.905:45

Advent of Running: Week 3

A bit less distance this week, but a bit more speed. The last 5km run would have been a lot faster had it not been on frozen snowy grass.

DateMinutesDistancePace
Dec 1239.06.506:00
Dec 1333.57.004:47
Dec 1437.06.006:10
Dec 1545.08.105:33
Dec 1642.56.606:26
Dec 1734.06.005:40
Dec 1824.35.004:51
Total255.345.2 
Average36.56.505:38

Advent of Running: Week 2

Successfully completed another week of running, this time without a visit to the treadmill, thankfully. Was thinking of doing a 5km run today but having suffered through a 12km at very slow pace, very glad I didn’t!

Seem to be doing quite well at alternating easy and hard days, which is good as it allows recovery.

Tried using a foam roller for the first time today to try and allow my calves some release, will see how my legs appreciate that tomorrow.

Weekly log

DateMinutesDistancePace
Dec 0540.06.406:15
Dec 0630.55.805:15
Dec 0740.06.306:20
Dec 0843.08.105:18
Dec 0932.05.405:55
Dec 1039.07.005:34
Dec 1172.012.006:00
Total296.551.0 
Average42.47.305:48

Advent of Running: Week 1

Someone on Tritalk suggested a challenge for December, an Advent daily run challenge.

This started on Advent Sunday, meaning it includes a bit of November too, so yesterday I completed my first week ever of running daily. Before now I don’t think I’ve run on consecutive days more than a couple of times, if that.

The snow didn’t help, of course. I’m planning on getting some Springyard Cross Country ice grippers to run on ice, but this week I could only hit the treadmill for two days before the thaw.

Weekly log

DateMinutesDistance
Nov 2843.07.3
Nov 2931.05.0
Nov 3034.06.0
Dec 0136.07.0
Dec 0230.05.0
Dec 0330.04.6
Dec 0454.010.0
Total258.044.9

Ambivalent About Iron Distance

Typically only two possibilities are mentioned for a post-Iron racer - “Never Again” or “Iron Addict”. I didn’t think I’d be in the former camp, and thought I’d lean more to the latter, but I’m just not that bothered about doing another just yet. One problem is that none of the UK long distance races seem very suitable in terms of timings (either too early or too late). I could look at IMUK or Outlaw but neither are as convenient as Forestman or Henley.

I guess I’m just keen to do other things next season too - my first Sprint triathlon (yeah, a bit crazy to do a first Sprint after Ironman), maybe a standalone marathon, maybe an ultra run, maybe the Fred Whitton challenge. I’ll keep up my swimming too, to keep myself in challenges. I’d love to do A Day in the Lakes, and Bala was so good this year that I’d consider doing it again - I’ve said it before, but I really do enjoy middle distance.

I also need to ensure my supportive wife doesn’t feel like a tri-widow - Ironman training schedules don’t lead to the most fun weekends!

Anyway, I will be back to the iron distance, just maybe not in 2011.

Running

My run volume has been well down over the last couple of weeks due to, of all things, what seems to be foot eczema on my little toe. I’ve been trying to keep it dry and prevent too much rubbing of it, so I’ve not been swimming or running. It seems to be getting better now, so I’m hoping to get back to a bigger volume soon.

I initially thought this might have started from a blister from my five fingers, which would have been ironic as my little toe is too far away from the ends of the shoes to even reach the shoe toes. However, it could be an allergic reaction to either a cat scratch or the shoes themselves!

I’ve ordered some toe socks to provide some protection, but I won’t stop running in them barefoot altogether.

I have come to the realisation that while I think barefoot running is a good motivator to improve form, it is not essential, so I’m going to mix it with some new Newtons. My ‘clown’ shoes are off to ebay as they don’t promote forefoot striking. I’m clearing out four pairs of running shoes this weekend (two to ebay, two to shoes4africa via Running Shoes London when I get there)! That’ll leave my new Newtons, my Vibrams and my Adidas trail shoes.

I’m not doing Hellrunner next weekend now, as my run volumes have been so low, and I still haven’t broken the 5km barrier - doing a 16km run, offroad, trying to maintain good technique just isn’t going to happen. I might make it up to myself by aiming for the London Ultra run at 50km, but I’m not going to force my run volumes up too fast, so that might be overly ambitious - to be honest, getting back to past distances and past speeds would be a good start.

My cycling and swimming motivation hasn’t been great - I think I need something to aim for as I’m just struggling to even bother at the moment.

Running Update

So common perceived wisdom is that you should build very slowly into barefoot/minimalist running to avoid injury - increasing volume by 10% per week. In my first week I did about a kilometre, doubling that would take ten weeks at that rate.

I’ve been trying to build up gently but last Sunday I did 2km, and today I did 5km. Last week I did under 4km, this week I’ve done more like 12km.

I am going to take the next couple of runs quite easy - the 5km today was a bit too long, my form was poor towards the end, and so I should ensure I can do the distance properly before moving up further.

But I am quite excited that soon I’ll be able to get back to my old regular runs of the Putney Bridge loop (6.5km) and the Barnes Bridge loop (7.5km). Then I’ll keep my midweek runs fairly constant and start increasing the long run distance.

I had my first venture to the other side of the river earlier this week - running in the mud was fun (but you quickly get wet toes!) but the surface certainly keep you on your toes (haha), increased awareness to avoid sharp stones is essential!

Offseason Progress

As my run volume dramatically declines, so my need for aerobic activity increases, and I’ve returned to the pool and perhaps more radically, the bike. I really enjoyed my first group pool speed session in over 18 months and swam the fastest I think I’ve ever swum. My bike session yesterday had some very interesting pace characteristics for what should have been two evenly paced threshold intervals

I’ve really enjoyed reading what I call Run by Feel, and have embraced some of its less obvious philosophy wholeheartedly and want to shape my entire triathlon training programme around it.

One key point from the book is that the amount of variation in most training programmes is actually massively greater than is best. For example many Kenyan runners have a very simple training programme (simple to follow conceptually, much harder to follow athletically!) and get great results. Also, the less variation, the easier it is to measure progress. And a testing session is almost always a good training workout, as long as you’re not in need of a recovery session!

As such over the next few weeks I want to define some key workouts so that I can just pick six plus workouts per week, follow them, and track progress against previous iterations. I will ignore running for now as my key workout is ‘Run at a comfortable pace until the slightest perception of niggles’ and even that might be going at it too hard.

Swimming

  • Testing sessions: 1500m-2500m time trial (looking to turn current 1500m pace into future 2500m pace), also CSS test.
  • Interval sessions: 100m warm up, 10 x 100m + 1 lap rest, 100m cool down. Overglider session 2.
  • Could use some technique sessions too

One key point is that the first interval session, and a 1500m time trial can be done in a lunch hour, so could fit in a three session week.

Cycling

  • Testing session: 15 min warm up, 2 x 20 minute threshold interval, 5 min cool down
  • Pick a couple of spinervals DVDs to do on the turbo trainer
  • The aero spinerval is great on the rollers
  • Get outside once in a while!

Running (once I improve)

  • 7-8km tempo run - looking to improve on speed
  • Long run - looking to maintain pace over longer distances
  • Track intervals - pick two and alternate

McMillan’s pace calculator will help me work towards ideal goal running paces, I’ll have to find similar for swim paces. I’m still waiting for Garmin to release MetriGear’s Vector power meter so that I can finally get some decent info on the bike (at least the rollers will be consistent week on week)

Review of This Year’s Goals

In my 2009-2010 goals, I listed my goals for this season just gone. How did I do?

  • 25 minute 1500m swim by June 2010 - FAIL. My swimming endurance and technique have improved this year, but that hasn’t translated into improved times - just longer distances
  • 45 minute 10km run by June 2010 - FAIL didn’t even try this. The running calculator for my HM at the weekend suggests that I could do a 46:07 which is not success.
  • Ironman Switzerland (IMCH) in sub 13 hours - SUCCESS! 12:17, smashed it.
  • New Forest tri in less than 2:30 - no idea how well I’d have done at this! I wouldn’t call this success or failure (perhaps failure to try)
  • Bike leg of (flattish) middle distance triathlon in 2:45: I did Bala in 3 hours, which is quite close to this goal; I’m saying this one wasn’t a success or failure either

Hmm, that’s not great - two FAILs, one SUCCESS and two uncertain outcomes. What can I learn from this? That my goals need to be more relevant. Who cares about a 45min 10k or 25min 1500m swim when you’re training for Ironman which is all about endurance, not speed.

I succeeded at my main objective, the sub-13 hour Ironman, and I’m also happy with my sub-1:45 half marathon, not to mention the surprise of smashing the six hour barrier in Bala (I predicted 6:30!), and my new 5K Richmond Park PB, shaving a minute off. My six hour London Duathlon was a triumph of stubbornness. I’m happy with all of my race outcomes (I can’t think of a single race where I’m disappointed in my performance), which is surely the true test of . I’ve had a good year, I’m a bit concerned improving on it will be hard, but I suspect there is so much potential for improvement that I’ve yet to realise.

End of the Season

I officially declare my racing season over. That’s not to say that I won’t race again this year, but it really is time to start the off-season.

This year I’ve decided to concentrate on form in my off-season - use the break as an opportunity to go destroy my form and rebuild it from scratch.

I plan to train solely* in my brand new Vibram Five Fingers KSO that I picked up from Ten Point at the weekend. I’ll keep my Green Silence for races for now, and if it gets too cold I reserve the right to put on warmer shoes, but for now, I want to train as close to barefoot as I personally dare in London.

Running in them just on a treadmill was strange enough (although of course the feedback loop on a treadmill is always going to be terrible). Running on hard surfaces should promote forefoot striking, and that should radically reduce my injury risk (although at a cost of radically increasing my injury risk in the very short term; having said that the impact is different - any potential muscle pain should be far shorter term than knee damage)

I need to build up to running in these slowly. I’ve been wearing them on the walk to work, and tomorrow I hope to have a jog. I don’t plan to run very far - I don’t know how far that will be yet, but I’ll be listening to my body very carefully.

If I don’t lose my fitness, I will do Hellrunner as planned, but for now, my priority is form over fitness. I’ll use swimming and cycling to try and at least maintain my aerobic fitness, even if I lose some run endurance.

  • see what I did there? ;)

Royal Parks Half Marathon 2010

My first race was the first Royal Parks Half Marathon in 2008, where I was very pleased going under 2 hours, finishing in 1:55. Since then I’ve done a lot more running, including my first marathon at the tail end of Ironman Switzerland.

However, the last few weeks haven’t been entirely confidence-inducing - I’ve had some calf issues that have disrupted my training such that most of my shorter runs haven’t been pain-free (interestingly some of my longer runs I have managed to push through the muscle pain). Last week had been pretty reasonable with an excellent (but not very fast) intervals session and tempo run.

Given that most of my leg pain has been after setting off too fast, my plan for the race was to start slow and finish fast, warming up during the race. I did participate in the British Military Fitness warmup, after which I felt tired before the race even started!

A former colleague, Andy, was also doing the race, and we had very similar goals, hoping to get 1:45, so our plan was to run the race together as much as possible.

At 09:30, the race started, and about three minutes after, we crossed the start line. Andy and I ran a fairly solid pace, staying around the 5:00/km pace for the first few kms, a bit faster than planned. However, I felt good and the pace felt easy enough that I wouldn’t blow up. We avoided other runners, and didn’t bother with water stops, heading through Parliament Square, over Westminster Bridge and back, and then along the Embankment. Our pace headed as low as 4:45/km at times, but it was never particularly uncomfortable.

At around the 8km mark, Andy wasn’t feeling too good so dropped back, and I just pushed on, aiming to maintain a good speed. I kept a good eye out for Peta as I entered the park around the 10km mark, but she spotted me. I also saw her a bit later, probably around the 15km mark as I went past the lake again, so early enough not to be looking too shocking!

I didn’t really feel much need for water in this race - I took some twice in the second half, mainly to wash down my shot bloks and pour over my head for cooling. Temperature wise it was fairly comfortable, much cooler than 2008.

At around kilometre 18, I really just had to dig in and push on. However, in spite of how hard I thought I’d been working, kilometre 20 was the fastest of the lot, as I did 4:40 just before the finish line.

In terms of perceived exertion, on a 10 point scale the first half was around 5, and it went up to around 9.5 in the final km, even the sprint across the line didn’t feel like I’d hit 10.

I was very happy with 01:42, but I know that I have the potential to do better; just as with my last Royal Parks race, had I had less traffic, I could have gone faster. My negative split (my last ten km were two minutes faster than my first ten km) was a bit too extreme. However, it was good to feel confident about my pace early on and not blow up.

This was the most enjoyable run I’ve had in weeks, I was pleased my calves didn’t stiffen up and I ran without any significant pain, although there was some suffering towards the end. My confidence is skyhigh at the moment, and I plan to use that confidence to set some proper goals for the next year. But that’s another post.

Running Thoughts

I’ve realised over the last few weeks that my philosophy of running is changing almost daily - there are so many things I’ve lost faith in and so many things I’ve started to consider

Stuff I used to do but don’t any more: * Gait analysis * Stretching * Heart rate monitoring

Stuff I do instead * Focus on good running form, with midfoot strike and high cadence * Engage the core (I follow the principle of specificity and don’t do much additional core work) * Run by feel, particularly rate of perceived exertion

There are a few things that I think might or might not be sound - barefoot running (I do understand the philosophy, but am happy just aiming towards forefoot strike), paleo diet (it might work, but I’m not convinced that people don’t just lose weight because of the strictness of the regime).

I’d like to move up to ultra distances next season, I’m definitely considering the London Ultra race, which is barely ultra at 50 km, but is a step upwards from my one and only marathon. Not sure I’m ready for desert running, but I like the sound of mountain marathons, as well as some of the hillier coastal endurance runs. One step at a time though. But I want to make sure I’m running right for long distances, hence the focus on form and technique, something that is often neglected in running.

London Duathlon Ultra Distance 2010

I wasn’t really looking forward to this race. I felt under-prepared (because I was) and had a minor niggle in the form of a tight left outer calf on the last two runs. And my last bike ride was three weeks ago.

However, I had an early night Saturday (I’d had an early night most of the week as jetlag following my return from Australia to be fair) and was up at 6am. Had breakfast and coffee, finished off the last remaining tasks and cycled off to the event. A remarkably quiet ride later, with none of the usual waits at level crossings, and I was in the park, ready to register. I realised after registering that it wasn’t even 7.15am, the official opening time.

It was very pretty though

After registering, I racked my bike, and then had around 90 minutes to relax. So I took some more photos, and just sat and chilled out. With thirty minutes to go, I returned to transition, put on the timing chip, and suncream, put on sunglasses and headed to race start. Watched the elite men start, had a quick warm up jog, and then returned to find my fellow racers being herded into the start pens, so joined them. At 9am prompt, Zac Goldsmith started the race and we were underway.

Given my recent form, my race strategy was to take it easy and hang in there until the end. So I aimed for a Rate of Perceived Exertion of 10 out of 20, and to maintain good form, and that was pretty successful - I slowed down going uphill, sped up slightly going downhill, and ran gently on the flat. Plenty of people overtook me, but that was ok, I was just racing myself. As I got past the 5km, my left calf was feeling slightly tight, but as I got past 6km, and the second water stop, disaster struck - I took the water, and realised that as I slowed to drink it, I was blocking people behind me, so moved to the left slightly, and then turned to throw the empty cup in the bin, and then completely missed a tiny little lip between car park and path and tripped over it, sprawling onto my hands and then rolling onto my hip and left calf. For all the pain of completely stacking it, and the accompanying embarrassment, I got up, dusted myself off, and kept running. I quickly realised that although my hands and legs were sore from cuts and grazes, the calf tightness had disappeared completely. The next kilometre downhill was free and easy and I suffered no running problems from my fall, thankfully.

The second lap was much less eventful, same strategy of RPE 10, and that all went fine - I overtook one bloke who had overtaken me on lap one while sounding knackered already but the rest of it is pretty unmemorable. The stats show I went marginally faster, and wasn’t the 4th slowest on that particular lap.

Onto the bike, and here the pain in my hands didn’t really help matters, but neither did it hinder my performance particularly. Again, my strategy was to maintain a low RPE, and thus hopefully a consistent pace. Also I tried to eat gels regularly, and drink sufficient energy drink and water. Looking at my times, I pretty much succeeded at consistency, but it did get harder. Part of the problem is psychological, I’ve done plenty of laps around Richmond Park but never more than four in one go before getting bored! Seven was a real stretch!

I found myself treating the laps like a giant interval session, with two intervals (the main Broomfield Hill and then the hill up to Pembroke Lodge) and the rest of the lap the recovery between them to get up them the next time around.

Peta had come to watch me from the start of the bike - I just saw her enter the park at the end of my first lap, and it was good to see her at different points on the course in the following six bike laps. Apparently I spoiled the photos by telling her how many laps I had left too many times. It was good to have that little extra support though.

As I got back to transition, I had a really slow transition, as the walk from bike dismount to my rack was so far and I didn’t feel like running in my bike shoes by this point. After a slow change of clothes, it was back onto the run.

Again, I tried to maintain a consistent RPE, still 10, but that translated to a bit slower - the run lap was only five minutes slower in total though. My watch died after just 7 minutes on this lap, so I really was going on feel! At the halfway point, it was great to see Peta again, and had a quick kiss before heading on my way to the finish. I was only overtaken by one other ultra distance competitor, and I overtook a few myself. On this lap I was 103rd on the run, compared to 157th on the first run lap, so I was obviously doing better consistency-wise than others.

It was great to finish and to collect my medal - I was happy with 5:55 overall, especially my poor preparation. I then collected my bike and headed to Pembroke Lodge to meet up with Peta for coffee and ice cream. The ride from the finish to Pembroke Lodge is only 4km, although I had to do it along the footpath as the road was still closed, but it was utterly exhausted, so rather than cycle home, I walked to the train station with Peta.

From my times, my goals of consistency and injury-free running were well met (although I’m in more pain today) - there is about a minute difference between lap 1 and lap 7 on the bike, and five minutes between lap 1 and lap 3 on the run.

We took some photos of my scars