Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Dublin marathon 2014

Well you would have thought that on the 12th attempt, I'd know how to race this distance. This was my 6th time running the marathon distance or further this year and this was the one I was hoping to peak for.

I had done my 'Carb Loading' well, click here!

During the weeks leading up to the race I was feeling quite good. I was managing to stay completely injury free, I was running quite well and I was hitting all my training sessions. I had however, ran a lot more distance this year and I hadn't raced all that much but I was feeling confident that a PB (sub 3:14:59) was a very realistic goal.

As the race began I set off with the 3:10 pacers. We ran in a bunch of about 100 cramped  behind three setters. I felt good. 
Slightly after the half way point I need to pee and I set off at an elevated pace on a downhill section. The plan was to gain 45-60 seconds which would be enough time to empty the bladder. It all worked out very well and I fell back in and felt comfortable. 
A couple of kilometers later I noticed my energy had plummeted, I knew instantly that I couldn't hold this pace for the remainder of the race. I decided to ease off but keep running and was still confident I'd run a PB. 

As the 3:10 pacers carried on up the road I felt relieved I'd let them go. I chomped down a Nakd bar and emptied a bottle of water handed to me by some eager volunteer. My energy was low and I noticed that with every step my left foot was feeling more and more uncomfortable. It felt like I had a blister between my toes and around my mid foot. I kept going. I started eating anything that was offered to me, jelly beans, bananas and I even downed a half bottle of lucozade sport! What was I doing?

Just keep running and you'll get a PB!

Easier said than done, I started walking just after the 20mile mark. I'd walk about 4-5 steps before realising I was throwing away a chance to run a PB. I'd start running again but my foot was in agony. Just keep running, slow down the strides but just keep going! 
I ran as much as I could and found energy knowing my wife, my dad and my two kids would be around 23-24mile mark. It was almost 25miles when I saw them and I got a great energy surge. I turned and saw the 3:20 pacers were closing on me. I put the hammer down and ran all out, my left foot was in excruciating pain but it felt good now. I kept running, determined not to get caught. The last mile seemed to go on forever. I finished!

My official time was 3:18:52, I was delighted to be finished. I didn't care about not achieving a PB, I had prepared and I was very close but my foot hurt too much to go any harder than I had. Some days something's just don't work out. I'll live to fight another day and not for the first time in my life, I feel I have unfinished business on the streets of Dublin marathon. 

Run far, run fast but most of all RunSensible! 


Thursday, 23 October 2014

Carb loading!

When should I start carb loading?

Carb loading should really start about one week before the race. It will start initially through default. You will be in taper period getting ready for the race which means running far less miles than the previous weeks. However, you'll notice that although you are running far less you are still eating a lot of food. This is due to a physiological process taking place in your body. Your body is trying to replenish its muscle and liver glycogen stores, that's why you are eating so much. As soon as you start that taper period the carb loading process begins,,, you might find that you are craving carbohydrate foods!

Over the previous couple of weeks during high mileage periods you had depleted the glycogen stores in your muscles. This is why your long 20-22 mile runs were quite a bit slower than your race pace goal. You would have been performing on below par glycogen levels and doing pretty good. Over these coming days that store should be replenished to maximum and this will give you extra energy and endurance come race day. 

When should I actively start eating more carbs?

Four days before the race you should start the carb loading process proper. This means increasing your carbohydrate intake day on day for the following three days. On the final day of carb loading, which is 2 days before the race you should be eating about 80% of all you calories from carbohydrate food. 

There are a lot of long distance runners who like myself get about 80% of calories from carbs on a daily basis throughout the whole year. If you fall in to that category, you should really try and increase the super high or complex carbohydrates on the third and second last day before the race. 
This type of diet is know as a high carb, low fat and low protein diet. It's the only reliable way to maintain a constant weight, while staying injury free and running many miles. 

What are the high complex carb foods?

Root vegetables

When I consume these foods it is in the absence of saturated animal fat, this allows me to digest them pretty quickly and I don't get any bloating of gastrointestinal cramps. 

What will happen if I don't carb load?

You will either Hit the Wall (read here) or you'll Bonk (read here)

When do I stop?

On the day before the race you should rise and consume a high carbohydrate breakfast. This should really fill you up and the remainder of the day should be light eating. I like to practise the Japanese mantra 'leave the table 3/4 full' on this final day before the race.

On this final day you should pee quite a bit, it should be clear and your joints should feel less stiff. You should go for a very easy 5-6km run to loosen the body out and get a good night sleep.

Are all carb foods good?

Not all 'carbs' are good during a carb loading period. It doesn't take me to tell you that the super refined high sugar low nutrient dense foods are not going to do you any favours during these final days. You've probably trained really hard and made a lot of sacrifices and alienated you family, friends and colleagues. If so don't fall at the last hurdle. Eat well and be mindful about what you eat. Ask yourself the questions, is this food going to help me run or inhibit my run?

Runners World magazine ran an article (here) on how to carb load. They suggest that any type of carbs are good, even the crappy refined sugary products that have virtually no nutrients other than refined white sugar and saturated artery wall clogging fat. I couldn't disagree with them more and I don't think they should be pedalling this to the masses. 
Here's why; they say that carbohydrate foods which contain fibre (fruit and vegetables) will give you gastrointestinal cramps and bloating. Fibre is an osmo-regulator in our gut. That means it draws water in and therefore keeps everything moving, which is what you want. A gut whose contents don't move, while sitting in a dry or arid environment will cause pain, discomfort and bloating. 
During a marathon your body will need and use thousands of vitamins, minerals, salts, enzymes and electrolytes, snacking on sweets or food alternatives will yield none of the essential nutrients you will want on race day. 

Is there anything else I should do?

Is is of primary importance that you increase your water intake over these few days. Carbohydrates are water soluble and require 4 units of water for every molecule of carbohydrate that is stored. You'll notice that your weight might increase by 1-2kg, don't worry. You might also notice that you joints feel a bit stiff and your muscles feel a bit sore. If that is the case the most likely reason is due to dehydration. Increase you water intake until your pee is clear.

Is that it?

No! One last thing.
The most important sleep is probably the sleep two nights before the race. Don't get stressed if you can not sleep the night before the race. So long as you slept well the night before you will be just fine.
Snacking on fruit over these few days will give you good energy, great nutrients and all fruits have a high water content.  

OK, Is that it?


Run far, run fast but most of all RunSensible!


Saturday, 4 October 2014

EOI Marathon Lusk!

Today I ran my 11th marathon distance race and my 5th so far this year. It was a good day! Having learned a valuable lesson in the Dublin half I decided to have a strict plan and to stick to it adherently. 

The plan

Run very conservatively, bearing in mind I had the Dublin marathon 2 weeks later. Finish strong, this is something I'd never done before in a marathon. And run a negative split, which means run the second half faster than the first half. 

How did it go? 

Very well, I managed to achieve all three aspects of the plan!

How did I do it?

I set my Garmin to only display pace per kilometre. The race was a four lap route and I had ran the same course 5 months earlier. I knew I could run a very comfortable sub 3:30 marathon so I set to posting slightly below 5mins per kilometre as a ran. 
I ran a very steady first 3 laps and really felt good beginning the fourth and final lap. I had identified areas where I could inject a little bit of extra pace and began posting quicker and quicker kilometres as the race grew longer. 
The last 5 kilometres were the fastest consecutive 5k I ran in the race and as I finished I knew I had ran sub 3:30. I sat and drank some water before checking my official time. I had ran 3hrs23mins without entering into the red zone or feeling any real pain. I was more than surprised with the result and was happy that, I had finally ran a full marathon without walking one single step, I had finished strong and I had ran a negative split. 

Now I need to rest and get ready to do it all again in 2 weeks on the streets of Dublin!

Run far, run fast but most of all RunSensible!


Saturday, 20 September 2014

Dublin City Half Marathon race report!

Its that time of year again where the races are coming thick and fast. Today I ran the Dublin. City half marathon and this would be a good predictor for the Dublin city marathon. Training had been going well and I was optimistic I'd be close to a PB.

As the race was about to begin I knew that if I ran with the 1hr30min pacer I could easily take off in the final few kilometers and post a sub 1hr30min run, my PB is 1hr27. 

It was one of those days where I wasn't in the mood to listen to reason or good advice. As the race started I went all out, "he who dares wins" I thought and I left the 1hr30 pacer for dust. I settled in to a good pace and ran slightly above pace for a 1hr27 run. I was very confident that I'd finish quicker than 1hr30 so I thought "screw it, let's see what I've got" and I went all out. 
Everything went to plan for about 18km which was 3km short of what I needed. As always happens when you don't listen to sound advice things didn't quite work out. The last 3km were tough, really tough and I managed to keep pace and finish in 1hr28, the finish line couldn't have come sooner. It was a gutsy move that didn't pay off. Had I stayed with the 1hr30 pacer I'm sure I would have been much quicker but hind sight is a wonderful thing. 

My next race is a full marathon which is two weeks before the Dublin city marathon. The plan for that day will be to run very steady and finish strong, this should be achieved by listening to the voice of reason within. You live and learn.

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”  Albert Einstein

There is absolutely nothing wrong with making a mistake, so long as you learn a lesson from that mistake. Today I learned or re-learned a valuable lesson, distance running is all about finishing strong! 

Run far, run fast but most of all RunSensible!


Sunday, 14 September 2014

Portmarnock 10km Race report!

Half way around an amazing course!
This week I ran a 10km race in my home-town. The race was organised by the club I am a member of and it was the second running of the race. I have a biased point of view but I would challenge anybody to find a more scenic 10km race with a good community and family friendly atmosphere than this race.
The race is organised extremely well with road closures, plenty of marshalls, two water stations at 2km and 8km and the perfect terrain of Portmarnock beach. The local community come out to lend support and the whole atmosphere lends a real feel good vibe to the race. These type of races is what running is all about.

If I am perfectly honest, I didn't really want to run this race but since it was my club and hometown event I suppose I had to, although 10km is the distance I dislike racing the most. 
I can muster up the courage and enthusiasm to push myself to the limits over a 5km ParkRun although I do this as little as possible. But doubling that and intensifying the pain is something I don't relish, give me a marathon before a 10km any day!

The sun setting over the course!

The race is scheduled for early September which is slap bang in the middle of training for the Dublin marathon. The race was on a Wednesday eve, I'd ran a 10 mile tempo run the night before and a 22 mile run on the Sunday morning before in preparation for the Dublin marathon. Needless to say a PB in this race was something I hadn't thought of in the lead up. The plan was to use it as a tempo run and go for sub 43mins which would be respectful in my eyes.

The race is not with yourself, but against the sun!

I met my club mates shortly before the start, we did a light warm up and stretch and made our way to the start line. The race director welcome all the participants and extended a special welcome to the World backwards running champion, while warning us to look out for him running up alongside us backwards! "Weird" I thought!

Someone is going the wrong way!
The gun went off and I set out at a comfortable pace but almost immediately I saw this guy running backwards ahead of me and he was looking comfortable at a decent pace. "Oh shit" I thought! I can't be beaten by a guy running backwards even if he is a world champion. I had to change my plan, fast. I know, I know, it was juvenile of me and hugely egotistical. However, try to explain that to me during the first few hundred meters of a race.
I injected some pace, passed the guy running backwards and settled in to a more comfortable pace slightly faster than I had planned. The course was out and back and after the turn around point I was feeling good with my pace and stride. The final kilometer of this race is uphill and I usually do quite well passing people on hills but not today. I was on pace to run under 42mins and I was happy enough with that considering the mileage I had been doing in the previous week/days before this race.

I finished in 41mins28sec or thereabouts and I was pretty happy. If given the choice of root canal treatment on a wisdom tooth or racing a 10km, I think I'd opt for the dental surgery. It wasn't the greatest race I'd ever ran. I was far from my limit when I finished but I did manage to finish ahead of the world champion,,,,, backwards runner!

World champion in action! And Gaetan, another champion!

A world champion never the less!!!

Run far, run fast but most of all RunSensible!


Sunday, 3 August 2014

Stone mad Ultra race report!

Last weekend I ran the Stone mad ultra. It is a 2 day back to back ultra marathon, day 1 was 62km river run and day 2 was a 55km mountain run.

Preparation started in early January, increasing my weekly distance gradually and running an odd marathon here and there. I managed to stay injury free throughout my preparation and healthy too. 

Day 1: 63km, river course, very flat.

Myself and Alan Murphy
I had never raced an ultra before and had no way of knowing how my body would feel after passing the marathon distance. I had ran a marathon distance in training a couple of times and I had ran two official marathons as part of my training. I was very confident that I could hold a steady pace of 5.30 - 5.45mins per kilometre for at least 50km, after that I would be in new territory and was excited to see how it would all pan out. I hoped that I could average just under 6.00mins per kilometre which was the pace the winner had run last year. 

The race started and as usual I was feeling a little eager to get going. I always like a good strong start and I set off running faster than what I knew I could average. After about 3-4km I got sense and settled into a nice easy and steady pace. I was running with @headchefalan (Alan Murphy) we had been twitter friends for about a year and knew bits and pieces about each other's life. It took us about 25km to fill in all the blanks and I honestly didn't notice the kilometres clicking past. Both myself and Alan were conscious of our elevated pace and had began to slow up a bit, now averaging 5.50min per kilometre. As we approached a feed station another competitor passed us, I tucked in behind this guy and tried to keep in his shadow. I followed him and passed him, only to be passed again a few kilometres later. We continued this leap frogging for the remainder of the race. 
I walked across an empty land, I knew the pathway like the back of my hand, I felt the earth beneath my feet, sat by the river and it made me complete -
62km of this on day 1
Running behind this guy was great his pace was just about all I could manage and we passed quite a few competitors along the way. Sitting at the race briefing my self doubt had managed to compile a list of all the guys with really cool gear, these, I had decided would be good runners. My ego then got to rub it in the face of my self doubt when we passed those guys later in the day. It felt good. 

I reached the marathon point and waited (just like we all did on New Years Eve 1999) to see what would happen when I kept running,,,,, nothing different,,,, I kept running,,, I felt good,, and that guy was still in my sights, I was also just about to over take another guy in 'all the gear.'

I came across a fallen tree, I felt the branches of it looking at me, Is this the place we used to love? Is this the place that I've been dreaming of? -

The kilometres from 42km to 50km seemed to drag a bit, I kept looking and my watch and calculating how my pace would change. Finally my watch 'Beeped' and I had reached 50km, I was feeling strong and ran on. The kilometres clicked by easy again and I was at 60km before I knew it, I was tired and had made a school boy error. I was running with a CamelPak. It held about 2 litres of weather but I was only carrying about 1 litre since there were feed stations roughly every 10km. I had refilled the camelback at the third station which was around 30km. The final feed station was at 52km and I should have refilled there too. I didn't!

My strategy for the day was to walk through the feed stations after gulping some water and grabbing 2 fig roll biscuits. This worked quite well. Most guys were stopping to drink, eat, stretch and pee. I drank and ate while walking gaining 200-300 meters on the guys I was hoping to pass or stay ahead of. When I reached the last feed station I knew I was either 10 or 11th overall. They only publish the top 10 results over night and I was hoping my name would be on the list. I pushed through the final aid station and forgot to refill my camelpak. 

When I reached 60km I was hot, tired and really thirsty. I was sucking on an empty water bladder and was super paranoid that somebody was going to come thundering past me. I kept running, albeit at a slower pace 6.10-6.30mins per kilometre. I could still see the guy ahead of me. The run traversed the whole way alongside the river Barrow and it meandered along at a slow pace just like me. I caught glimpses of the guy ahead and saw he was looking over his shoulder to see where I was. I, in turn was also looking over my shoulder to see who had me in their sights. The last 2-3km were tough but I managed to keep running and finished without being passed in the last 20km. I was happy but I was also empty,,, I got a clap on the back and a reminder that "we've got to do it all again tomorrow, with mountains" from the guy I had been chasing for 32km. 
I struggle to remove my shoes, my lips were dry and my sweat had dried to leave a layer of  salt over my face, my legs hurt and I shuffled down the gangway into the river. I walked in and the cool water felt therapeutic on my aching muscles, somebody handed me an Erdinger non-alcoholic beer and it tasted better than anything I had ever consumed before. I got out only by the temptation of tea and sandwiches and I set to work refuelling for the next day.

During the race I ate 4 raw fruit and nut Nakd bars, one 200g packet of dried apricots and I only drank water. I also took 2 fig roll biscuits at the last 4 feed stations and a banan at feed station 3 and 5. I had no gels, no funny coloured drinks and no energy promising over priced bars.
Time and pace: 6hrs13mins39sec Avg 6.02/Km

Day 2: 55km mountain course.
Oh simple thing, where have you gone? I'm getting old and I need something to rely on -

I woke at 5am, my alarm was set for 7am. I was staying in my best friends house, he was racing too (and doing a good job) and we weren't due to leave until 7.50am. I got up and walked around the room. I, surprisingly felt better than I had before I went to bed. I did some yoga stretching and got back into bed. I drifted off and awoke at 6.55am in time to turn my alarm off before it woke me,,, glad I won that race.

We drove to registration and signed in, the top ten finishers from the day before were displayed on the wall and I wasn't on it. The guy I had been chasing all day was sitting pretty in 10th place overall.
Up until that moment my plan was to survive day 2 and make it over the mountain in one piece. Now I had a motivation, pass this guy or the guy in 9th overall. I'd have to beat them by about 4min30sec for 9th and about 2.30sec for 10th place. it was time to get my race face on!

Mount Leinster from afar
Today I wanted to find something, I knew it was out there and I knew I'd find it. The race started and I ran at a much more conservative pace than the day before. I was between the guy in 9th and 10th place. The gap was growing but I didn't panic. We were just about to start going vertical and I love going up hill. 
I closed the gap, we three over took a few guys who had set out at an adventurous pace and were now beginning to walk! We chatted and ran, we walked and we ate, we ran again, walked again and somehow covered the miles. We were going up mount Leinster and the going was tough, some of the incline was at 13%. That means, on covering 100 metres of road you have gained 13 metres in altitude. The legs burned, the running was reduced to a walk and I had opened a gap of about 300m on the guys I was chasing. I reached an aid station at the 30km point. It was hot and I had to refill my CamelPak. My hands were shaking and I fumbled my way through a very simple process. It took too much time and I got more agitated..... I couldn't do it, the two guys had stated the final ascent and I was still trying to rehydrate. @headchefalan wife was at this aid station and she noticed my dilemma, she took over and got me going again with a full water bladder. I was about 500 metres behind the guys I was chasing and had about 2 kilometres before we crested the mountain to catch them. I closed about 400meters but they were about 100meters ahead of me before I started descending. They were with a third person (he was only doing a one day Ultra and hadn't been racing the day before, so not a worry in overall standings) and they were moving. 

By the time I reached the bottom of the mountain they were gone. I don't know how they did it. I tried as hard as I could to descend as quick as possible. I pushed so hard on this uneven bog and boulder ridden terrain that I tore my shoes apart but still these guys opened a gap of at least 1  kilometre. I never saw them for the remainder of the day. However, I had managed to pass the guy who was in 8th place over all. He was in excess of 15 minuets ahead of me so I knew if I wanted to beat him I'd have to go all out. I did! 

My torn 'ass kicks' (Asics)
I ran and ran, I wanted to walk so bad, but I kept running. I was back on the road and I ran all the flat and incline sections only choosing to walk on very steep road sections. I was in "the zone", it felt meditative and I had pushed into a realm of reality I'd only ever been in a couple of time before.

This is the holy grail, this is what we are chasing when we do endurance events. The pain is intense, the muscles are screaming and the body wants to stop,,, but the mind is at peace, the pain begins to feel good and the feeling is euphoric.
This is what you find when you go way, way, way beyond your comfort zone. There are cultures around the world that refer to this as the higher state of consciousness, some others talk about an outer body experience, meditative gurus talk about a higher vibration, where the atoms comprising our bodies are vibrating at such an elevated level that we literally feel a surge of energy that transcends that of normal activity.
It is impossible to narrate in text how to get there or what it feels like but there is one key ingredient, an absolute must in the equation. You must be happy right at that moment! 

Some people suggest that ultra endurance athletes are running from something. Wrong! They  are running to find something. I found it on the last 20km of that run. It is a place where tranquillity washes over you like a soft bathing cloth, a siren is calling and showing a new path and that path seems right. It's a place where energy is free and pain seems to feel good.

And if you have a minute, why don't we go, talk about it somewhere only we know? This could be the end of everything, So why don't we go, somewhere only we know? Somewhere only we know - Keane
Plotting the next goal!
The remaining 20 kilometres of the race were easy and the most enjoyable kilometres I had ran in a long time. I finished comfortably. I had opened a sufficient gap and finished 9th overall, after another competitor in the top ten had pulled out. I was ecstatic my cumulative time was just 2mins slower than last years winning time, however, the previous year had been very hot on both race days. Still I had a goal in my trying and perpetration and it had all played out better than I had expected. 

I ate 5 raw fruit and nut Nakd bars, 200g of dried dates, countless fig rolls and 2 bananas. I drank only water. In the final 20k I didn't eat, I only drank water.

Time and Pace: 6hrs13mins06sec Avg 6.50/Km

I was bitten by the ultra bug and now a marathon seems a little fickle!

My best friend finished too after only rediscovering running in January 2014 after a 5 year hiatus since his one and only marathon in October 2009!!! Big Kudos to you Senan!

Run far, run fast but most of all RunSensible!


Sunday, 20 July 2014

Finding Ultra!

My journey began in January 2013, I was training for the Paris marathon. There had been a 5 year hiatus between it and my previous Dublin marathon 2008. I had kept active in the years between but I was no where near the physical condition that I had been at in 2008.
I was living in London during that period and my main form of transport was a single speed push bike which, was fantastic fitness and resistance training and the only way to keep my weight steady. I was studying during that period and had also started a family having two little boys.
I have one of those minds which does not allow me to dabble, I'm either doing it or I'm not. And during those years work, study and family life were so busy and enjoyable, there was just no time for racing. I missed the training but understood that one day I'd get back to the start line.
When my training cranked up in preparation for Paris 2013 I had some minor health issues, see here. I made some minor changes in my life and nutrition. Every small change I made led to the next small change and still today I am changing and hopefully progressing as a person and a runner. 
The most notable change during this period was the development of a predominantly plant based diet and this also led me to the world of Ultra running. 

What is ultra running?

Any distance farther than a marathon 26.2 miles or 42.2km is considered an Ultra! 
Most Ultras are either 50km, 50miles, 100km or 100miles. 

As I got back into training and began changing my diet, I began to really enjoy the long runs. Taking time out away from a busy life gave me great perspective and some time to view and asses all the challenges I had in my day to day life. The farther I ran the more perspective I had, so I just started running farther and farther. 

Most people think I'm crazy and that I have some sort of unearthly fitness and determination. I don't! I don't have any genetic predisposition to fitness, I don't have any secret recipe for staying fit other than, grinding out run after run staying consistent and having a goal. Achieving a fitness goal is very very simple. But simple should not be confused with easy. It's not easy, it is difficult but simple none the less. 

How is it so simple? 

All you need to do to achieve any goal is search the internet for a training plan, stick to the plan and complete the feat once the training is done. It really is that simple!

What makes it difficult?

Most people think the accomplishment of the feat is difficult. It's not. That's probably the only easy part of the whole process. I just completed the stone mad Ultra 2014, it is a back to back race that consists of 62km day 1 and 55km day two which, takes you up and over Mount Leinster. I sincerely enjoyed every single step and it really wasn't all that difficult. It was immensely challenging but not very difficult, there is a big difference. What was difficult was the training, the sacrifice and the commitment to the process. (Need help with commitment? see here)

Getting up early every Sunday morning after a busy week in work to grind out a long run. Doing a tempo run in the evenings after putting the kids to bed. Running in the dark, running in the cold, running in the rain. Running late on Saturday night when most people are socialising, and getting up to run again on Sunday morning. Running when all you want to do is crash out on the sofa. Not being able to have a few glasses of wine at a social gathering because you've got to run that evening or the following morning. Running alone.....That's all difficult but that's what it takes.

If you have the desire and can commit to the training you'll find enjoyment in running and when you find enjoyment you can run any distance you like. 
People always look at the outcome and think "Wow" how can you run that far. Those people have missed the whole point. The committed to continue sacrificing day after day after day, that is where the marvel is. The sacrifice comes easy when you have the desire to achieve the goal. But most people lack that desire. They say "I'd love to do x, y or z" but when they discover what they have to sacrafice to achieve it, they quit. They quit because they can't see any enjoyment and therefore lack the commitment. They fail before they even try!

It's not easy, it is damn right difficult but it's very very very simple. 

You must have

Desire; to wish or long for; crave or want.
Commitment; a pledge or promise; obligation
Enjoyment; the possession, use or occupancy of anything with satisfaction or pleasure

Then if you really want it, really really really want it! Just do it! 

Run far, run fast but most of all RunSensible!

@RunSensible on twitter

Friday, 11 July 2014

The Butterfly effect!

It's that time again! Training is all done, taper period is over and race day is almost upon me.

As usual and as expected the butterfly effect is taking place in my abdomen.

Why do we get butterflies?

The feeling of 'butterflies' comes from an over activity in the sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system. The fight or flight response occurs when we are presented with a challenge or stressful event in our lives. The autonomic (involuntary) nervous system has two components; the sympathetic and the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system. These two components of the autonomic nervous system work like a 'see saw', if one goes up, the other goes down or is suppressed. 

As we prepare to tackle the challenge or stressful episode our bodies go through physiological changes. When the fight or flight effect occurs our pupils dilate, our hearts speed up along with our breathing rate, the vessels carrying blood to and from our skeletal muscles dilate and this draws blood from our skin (we look pale) and intestines (smooth, involuntary muscle). All this makes us feel 'on edge.'

Because the fight or flight is up the rest and digest is down. This makes sleeping very difficult and will suppress hunger due to the physiological effects of increased heart and respiratory rate and decreased blood flow to the intestines.

As you tackle this stressful event by fighting or flighting (running away) you want a heart that is beating fast, lungs that are quickly delivering oxygen and eyes wide for full vision. You don't want your blood being used to digest food and you don't want your brain thinking about sleep.

As all this happens, the adrenals, a gland on top of the kidneys, start to produce nor-adrenaline or nor-epinephrine (depending on which side of the Atlantic Ocean you live on), this causes a positive feed back loop which, amplifies the whole effect.

Is it normal?

The stomach starts to feel strange 'like there are butterflies flying around inside.' This will continue and increase right up until the race starts. The whole fight or flight phenomenon is nothing to be scared of and it happens to every single person. It's a completely natural response. Be warned drinking coffee during this period is likely to amplify the effect even more. Personal experience has shown me that I start to feel really nervous after drinking coffee while my fight or flight system is elevated. 

As soon as the race starts or just before it starts, you come to a cortical realisation that the event is going to take place. You will feel a calmness engulfing your body and thoughts and then,,, BOOM...... It's race time! 

Run far, run fast but most of all RunSensible! 

@RunSensible on twitter. If you like this please ReTweet it! 

Monday, 7 July 2014

Pre race blues!

What's the race?

I've had a busy few months training and getting my body in shape for a tumultuous weekend ahead. I'm going to drag my body around 117km of road and trail over Saturday and Sunday morning. The event is the Stone Mad Ultra and the distance is split between running 62km on the first morning and 55km the following morning which, includes running up and down mount Leinster.

The training started as the year did in early January. My average speed while running in zone 2 was about 5min24sec per kilometer. The goal for January was to increase my lactate threshold and therefore increase the average speed while main instating a steady heart rate in zone 2.

The following months goal was quite simple, increase the average distance week on week, month on month. Training went well. Most weeks I was able to increase my distance very slowly and gradually. That's the key to building distance and staying injury free. 

I've only had one very minor injury so far this year. In late February while doing a speed session with my running club I jumped a puddle of water roughly about 2m wide. I landed down on my left foot and felt a twinge in my calf muscle instantaneously. We were doing 8x200m repeats and this happened on number 6. I tried to remain optimistic and attempted to keep pace on number 7. The pain was obvious but not too bad. I slowed up and jogged the remainder of the session.
The following morning it felt OK, I ran 10k that afternoon, it was fine during the run but quite sore after. I used active rest (biking) for 2 days and returned to training on the Sunday morning with a long run. I had no pain and was fully recovered.
I attribute my fast recovery to a plant based diet. 

As the months unfolded my body got stronger and stronger. I noticed the little bit of speed I once had in my leg muscle was slowly dwindling away. My training was mostly long and slow and the emphasis was on developing slow twitch muscle fibres, generating more mitochondria and opening new vascular pathways to aid fuel supply to muscles and excretion of waste products such as lactic acid.
As my long runs got longer and longer I began to feel stronger later on in the run. 2 weeks ago while doing a 42 km run I felt tired for the first 10 km. Then almost miraculously after 10 km my body seemed to switch and every kilometer of the remaining 32 km I felt stronger and stronger. 

All the real running is done and I'm in taper mode now. For a race like an ultra marathon, or Ironman triathlon a taper session begins about 2 weeks before the event. I understand the benefit of taper periods, I do however, struggle to stay restless during this time. The goal of a taper period is to keep the body stable at the fitness level you had reached while also allowing it to rest and recover a bit more than you have over the months leading up to the race. It's a tricky period but essential for feeling fresh on race day if done correct. 
I like to cross-train during a taper period and since I've only been running, I can use my bike to maintain my fitness while allowing the usual running muscles to rest up. 

I'm in week one of my taper period and I feel a bit flat and sluggish while running. This is a worry and it's also a very common occurrence. I call this Pre race blues!

I'm hoping that next week I feel a bit better. Since I've eased off the running my body feels a bit weird. I'm one of those people who feels guilty when I'm not out pounding the pavement. I suppose most people feel that way and we always see the self doubt in ourselves and assume that everybody else is feeling great all the time. I know I do!

"You have to wonder at times what you're doing out there. Over the years, I've given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to the self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement." Steve Prefontaine

There are lots of differing thoughts and explanations on why we get Pre race blues during taper week. I'm not entirely sure that there is ever one real cause but I do believe this,

When exercising at a fairly high volume and for a prolonged period of time your body produces and releases a hormone called endorphins. Endorphins make you feel good and gives you a high or energised feeling after training (if you are a low carb guy and you destroy your body during every session I doubt you'll ever really feel the endorphin affect due to thyroid dysfunction.)
During a taper period the endorphin level will drop due to exercise volume drop. We do this to allow the body repairs the micro damage accumulated from progressive over load. Now we have an unbalanced hormonal system which, will take a few days to re-balance or return to homeostasis. A high functioning thyroid gland is essential for hormonal homeostasis. This period will make you feel really,,, Shitty for a day or two, or three!
Then as your hormones return to a balanced level you should start to feel really good. I start to get a little jumpy and restless during this short period before the race. The best way to describe it is, feeling like a wound up spring, ready to release some energy.

It is essential to do some sort of specific training (in my case running) during this period. However, you don't want that training to over load or stress your muscles to a point of micro trauma. If you do you run the risk of not recovering in time for your event and therefore not being 100% come race day. You also don't want to spend too much time being in-active because this will cause the closure of vascular pathways and the cessation of functioning mitochondria. Both of these scenarios will cause below par performance come race day!

I wrote this a few days ago and omitted to post it on the day I wrote it. It is now a few days later and I'm feeling really good, ready to race and injury free.  

Run far, run fast but most of all RunSensible!

@RunSensible on twitter

Friday, 20 June 2014

The Art of achievement!

"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" Thomas Palmer

I'm training for a back to back ultra marathon this coming July. The race involves running 62km on Saturday morning, followed closely by a 55km run on Sunday morning of the same weekend. As you can imagine this race requires some planning, training, failing, reinventing oneself and cast iron commitment before success can be had.

What validates success in this race?

Receiving a finishers medal!

How is it all going?

So far, so good! I've managed to stay injury free by using very specific training methods. Since there isn't a whole lot of speed required during a 120km run over a weekend my training consists of regular, long, slow runs any where from 10km to 42.2km to date.
Week on week I have been trying to increase my weekly mileage. It's now time to crank up the mileage where running weeks will hit and pass 100km. Exciting!

Why race Ultras?

Ultra marathons, it is argued, are what we are born to do, literally born to do? Anybody who has taken the time to enjoy the pages of the best selling book 'Born To Run' have come across the compiling evidence that we are in fact born to run. 
I enjoy ultras because it's not so much about the time but more the process. This is the way it used to be with marathons before people (myself included) started getting all statistical and egotistic about time and pace. How can 4hrs01sec be a failure while, 3hrs59min59sec is an epic win?
The truth is anybody holding a marathon medal should be proud regardless of time. Every body has different circumstances and comparing yourself to someone else is an arbitrary process that inevitably leads to disappointment, unfulfilled ambition and low self esteem. Trust me, I've done it often enough. 

Ultras for the time being seem to be a little different. The conversation surrounding an ultra is usually about how you run it rather than how fast you can run it.
People don't usually ask about time because they recognise you did something epic, something most people will never do, something worth doing. And that's the real key in any fitness regime, something worth doing!

There is nothing rewarding about quick fix, short term punishing exercise regimes. There is also nothing healthy about that type of lifestyle either. The people who enjoy fitness, health and well-being are those who have incorporated exercise into their daily life. The people who have achieved their goals have put in the hours and the commitment to the process.  They also tend to be happy, healthy and vitalised after exercising. Instead of miserable, tired and craving junk food.

Isn't that type of distance bad for your body?

This is a question I get asked a lot, it's usually the question people ask me after they ask where I get my protein from, since I do all this running on a plant based (vegan) diet. 
The short answer is no, this type of running is not bad for your joints. However, it can be bad if you don't take the necessary precautions to stay fit and healthy.

I suggest in an earlier post (It's such a PAIN not being able to run!) that the 3 main causes of inury are;
1. Not enough rest and recovery
2. Training too hard on every run
3. Eating inappropriate foods.

Joint strain and long endurance running is not a driver of injury, in fact I would argue quite the contrary.

Raw foods have a huge anti-inflammatory affect on the body and aid repair and recovery. Animal products are massively associated with a pro inflammatory state in the body and cause an acidic affect on the body. Both these affects are a driver to injury and poor health. Eating plant based, training at optimal heart rate levels and taking good rest keeps me injury free and healthy. 

So what type of exercise is bad for your body?

All those quick fix, minimum effort maximum results, self obsessing and calorie restricting regimes are catastrophic for your body and it's long term health. 
Nothing in life is ever worthy of your gratitude when it came easy, a lot of people don't consider this when they are planning their fitness and long term health. 

The old adage is true "easy come, easy go".

Strangling the health from your body in an attempt to lose weight or get ripped in 6 weeks is the epitome of poor knowledge. These type of regimes are fantastic at shedding weight very quickly, destroying your thyroid gland and earning a quick buck for personal trainers. They inevitably come at the cost of long term health, happiness and satisfaction. 
Having worked as a personal trainer for over 15 years I've never met anybody who maintained their objectives after completing one of these bio hacking fads. 
I suggest that if you really want to lose weight, increase your strength, endurance and happiness while promoting your long term health you need to make lifestyle changes and ignore monthly punishment plans.

Exercise as a health promoter

We all exercise for the same reason. We want to look good, feel good and be healthy. Nobody wants to exercise so they can be miserable, angry and unhealthy, yet that's what a lot of people are doing. Pushing your body to the limit while starving it of nutrient rich foods in an attempt to reduce calories will only ever have one long term outcome, and it's not health.

"The way you think, the way you behave, the way you eat can influence your life by 30 to 50 years." Deepak Chopra

So really, why race ultras?

Well it doesn't have to be an ultra marathon, it can be a marathon, a half marathon or a 10km race. It doesn't even have to be a race.

Choose your own goal if that's what motivates you but at least choose something worth achieving.

Choose health, choose the process, choose the preparation and the willingness to accept failure if it occurs.

Choose to try again if or when you do fail. Choose the sacrifice and whatever it is you are going to sacrifice to achieve your goal.

Choose yourself, choose to be the best person you can be and then go and be that person!

I guarantee it will take longer than 6 weeks but I also guarantee that you will notice seismic shifts in your body, health and diet during the process . Start by changing one small thing. When you've mastered that change another small thing. Keep the long term goal big and don't be afraid to achieve it!

Keep changing and reinvent yourself.

We as beings we are never static. We are either progressing or regressing in every single aspect of our lives. Never is that more true than in physical fitness and health.

"Get Busy living, or get busy dying" Andy Dufresne, The Shawshak Redemption

Run far, run fast but most of all RunSensible!