Wednesday, September 30, 2015
As I've been getting a few questions in from people and can't get along tonight please see below a couple of comments on spikes / trail shoes from me before "spike night" which might help - I'm sure the team that are there on the night will be equally helpful.
Generally spikes come in two types for distance / XC running.
Middle distance spikes are generally very "aggressive" and will have a plastic plate on the underside. These will really struggle badly on even hard surfaces and aren't generally recommended.
Sample models: Nike Victory, Saucony Endorphin MD
Long distance spikes are again designed for track running but aren't anywhere near as aggressive. They may have a small plastic section on the forefoot. They will have limited grip and very little cushioining around the heels and it will be a harder material generally than rubber. These are lighter than XC spikes generally and slightly tougher on the achilles.They have very lightweight / flimsy uppers which are liable to rip quite easily.
Sample models: Nike Matumo, Saucony Endorphin LD
XC spikes tend to have an entirely rubber sole on the underside which often has some designs built into it to help grip better and more cushioning along the length of the spike - this makes them less hard work on the calves and achilles. The uppers are tough and hard wearing. The shoes are generally a bit heavier than the LD spikes.
Sample models: Nike Victory XC, Nike Zoom Rival XC, Saucony Kilkenny
The alternative to spikes is trail shoes. Generally for XC you will want to go for more of a fell shoes than a XC shoes. Most fell shoes are actually pretty light-weight and are often built slightly less aggressively than an equivalent spike with more of a heel-drop (Bare Grip excepted). If you have struggled with achilles problems I would recommend a pair of these (but not the Bare Grip).
Sample models: Walsh PB, Inov8 X-talon 190 / 210, Inov8 Bare Grip 200
As regards which one suits you best - trail shoes are suitable for a variety of runs and distances. You can wear your spikes on track (regardless of whether they are XC or track spikes - for training I would actually go with XC spikes as the rubber sole reduces the injury risk) and this isn't a bad idea - particularly during the winter when it can get icy.
For XC races - in moderate conditions with a mix of trail and mud I think the benefit risk/reward of wearing slightly faster / better gripping spikes doesn't come ahead of good trail shoes with less injury risk. Most of the LEAGUE XCs are in fairly good conditions on Wimbledon Common - you can definitely get around with an aggressive pair of trail shoes.
For the more muddier races (Surrey XC, Southern XC, National XC and anything in Lloyd Park) - spikes come in more use because you can install long spikes which give you really good grip even in deep mud... for the absolute worst courses I have an inclination that when the mud is so deep that you can't even reach the solid ground with your longest spikes that something like the Bare Grip or X-talon with grip all along the length of the shoe is more useful.
Regarding spike length - you should get a variety of spike lengths. Generally 6mm is suitable for short grass courses (e.g. a golf course) with lots of trail. 9mm is standard length for most courses. 12mm are suitable when the course is muddy and entirely on grass / mud. 15mm are monster spikes and only suitable really for the Southern / National XC. You may want to get a variety.
Regarding caring for your spikes - you will want to put a dab of vaseline on each spike as you insert it using the spike key. This will help it come out more easily later on. Take care to have the spike key that's right for your spikes (the actual spikes not the shoes) as otherwise you will wear away the thread on the spike and not be able to get it out properly.
After each race you should handwash your spikes and remove the spikes from the bottom of the shoe - you strongly risk them rusting in otherwise.
Hope that helps - chuck up anymore questions.
Friday, September 11, 2015
So as I train and improve and get better results I start getting the questions about how I do it. Particularly from people who follow my Strava and struggle to understand how I can race at 5 minute miles when if a run of mine dips under 7mm it's a serious cause of celebration.
Now this isn't to say that this is the only way to train. To the dismay of felines and PETA members everywhere I'm a firm believer that there are many ways to skin a cat. What I do know is that this seems to work for me and from what I've seen works for a lot of other people as well.
Principle 1 - Mileage makes champions
Time and again the biggest improvement I see is with athletes who have never consistently run anything like serious mileage increasing their mileage and suddenly running all of the times that their interval sessions might suggest were possible.
Athletes rarely believe it will happen until they try it. 40 minute 10k runners become 35 minute men in the space of a year.
The increase of mileage from say 30 miles per week up to a 60-80 regular miles is totally transformative (far more than the addition of any interval session).
If you run more miles, by and large, you will improve.
Principle 2 - The hare doesn't always beat the tortoise
When increasing mileage (and just generally) - SLOW IT DOWN.
Look at all of the physiological markers - aerobic threshold, anaerobic threshold, vo2 max - what do they have in common? They are all far faster than serious runners train on a daily basis.
There are very few runners at a good level who are able to train at marathon pace each day. It just doesn't happen. When you're not triggering those physiological changes through hitting the aerobic threshold is there any point to training as close as possible to marathon pace?
Not to my mind. Running in that "gray zone" is a killer that many British athletes fall afoul of. Too fast to recover and not fast enough to trigger the adaptations needed.
Let your body guide you on easy runs.
Principle 3 - Double down
In contrast to the Wetmore school of big singles I much prefer to split my runs into two per day as much as possible with maybe a long weekend run.
I find this allows you to build mileage much quicker and get you into a "normal" training routine where running twice a day is standard significantly quicker. Even if that second run is a walk.
By splitting the runs you also allow more focus on the individual runs - whether that is one as a steady run or a mini session and the other as an absolute jog - rather than a single "middling" run.
Double down to win the jackpot.
Principle 4 - Commute
Most people won't, on the whole, manage to keep getting up early to run and going out to run once home from the office. The only feasible way for the everyday athlete to keep up this sort of training intensity without a substantial degradation in social and family life is to build it into your daily routine.
Running your commute (or at least part of it) gets you into a clear daily rhythm. Your colleagues will rapidly get used to the sight of you both arriving and leaving in short shorts and with all the running you're doing you will have absolutely fantastic pins.
Get yourself a good back-pack, work out just how light you can travel (blokes can easily leave their whole work wardrobe in the office) and build it into your daily routine.
Running should become a way of life.
Principle 5 - Train to race
It can be very easy to get caught up in this training. Running lots of miles is totally addictive. The miles themselves can become the goal rather than the racing perfomances. Often athletes can become scared of racing - they've just been running slowly - how on earth can they race a good 2 mile or 5k!
In the same way that the under-trained athlete can run a brilliant set of km reps and think "well I'm definitely good for X" because of the training session, the mileage athlete can think "there's no way I can run X because I haven't done a session that fast".
The best way to do that is through regular and frequent racing. There's nowhere to hide and you'll see in brutal honesty exactly where you are.
The nice side is, that racing will bring you on. Unless you're also doing a lot of volume at a high intensity (e.g. a regular 8 x km session) - then the very act of racing will condition you to race much better the next time.
Regular strides (at say, 1500m race pace) in as many of your runs as possible will make sure your legs are capable of turning over at the correct pace. After you've done that then VO2 max and lactate threshold will have been improved by your mileage depending on just how much you jumped.
Yes - for the elite athlete these become more key but they are, as ever, the icing on the cake. Not the cake itself.
If you are regularly racing you will have fun, see where you are in your training and maybe even surprise yourself a bit. Even with heavy legs I would expect most to still run PBs off the above sort of increase in mileage and once you start to stagnate over a couple of months then look at changing things up.
Please note that this applies to shorter races! A hard HM each week will just wear you down...
Don't lose sight of the fact this is about racing.
Disagree? Post below.
Sunday, September 06, 2015
"And now, the end is near;
And so I face the final curtain"
Today was my last full day of running. Another lazy start after getting breakfast at a nearby cafe. I think the difference between the UK is clearer at meal times than at any other. The desayuno option is clear - bread, some sort of pastry or Spanish omelette, orange juice and coffee. It's excellent. The provision of two drinks makes it clear that you're expected to savour it.
Similarly - as I sit here outside a bar in the town centre - I've bought a half pint of beer and they instantly bring olives. Last night my coke led to a bowl of crisps. There are small snacks on the bar counter.
Today was short at just 18 miles but surprisingly tough. My legs are definitely feeling it now which isn't surprising after 158 miles in a week. Oddly enough hills and descents are fine but the flat is killing me. After the first 18km I struggle to raise my legs beyond a jog.
On Sundays all of the shops are closed so some villages I run through are almost deserted. Aside from the dogs. The dogs wandering are quiet and friendly. Most are chained or behind gates and go crazy at the sight of a Pilgrim. Ferociously barking minutes after you have left. Straining at their chains as they slaver. These are not tame dogs and I wonder at their treatment to be so savage.
The route takes me up, out of the city. As I'm going back towards the coast I need to cross the mountains again. This is clearly a popular jogging trail as I go past local runners, struggling to keep up despite my pack and heavy legs. The view from the top of Oviedo is exquisite as I wind through the mountain pass. Today is one of my favorite days running - the scenery is stunning in all directions.
After coming out of the mountains I join a long slow slog to Aviles. It's flat and straight but right now that's the last thing my legs need. Tired I struggle over the threshold of the Albergue. This one isn't perfect but a friendly host keeps me cheery and I happily set up camp before heading out to the city.
Tomorrow is a run to the airport and then (finally) home.
Saturday, September 05, 2015
As I approach the end of my trip I'm starting to look a bit more closely at how exactly I'm going to make the airport to get home. This isn't quite as easy as it seems as there doesn't seem to be much in the way of accommodation near the airport.
As the Albergue in Aviles is meant to be excellent I wanted to stay there but as it is only 24km from Gijon I was going to end up short! I decided to leave the Camino Norte and follow the Camino Primitivo to Oviedo (a pilgrimage site in its own right) before tracking back up to Aviles. This meant that I'd have one day of 30km and another day of 44+km with a convenient rest point after 30km in Polo de Tiero on day 1 rather than carrying on the full 44km to Oviedo the most likely option although both had Albergues. Although my hotel was fantastic I wanted to get back among my fellow pilgrims.
A late start enjoying the hotel and trying to tease out the soreness behind my left knee led to me leaving around midday, my latest start yet. Amazingly for the first time all week the sun was out and it was a gorgeous day.
I was moving surprisingly well and went past Jean and Frank at about 16km. When I stopped at 21km to apply sunscreen and attach the "Saharan" flap to my sun hat I knew mentally I would be going the full 44km today. The Camelbak also made an appearance today although I'd still go for the coke bottles...
I passed through Solo del tiero in a flash stopping only to get my credencial stamped at the cheery and friendly looking Albergue. I should have stopped there...
The final 10 miles were whilst not brutal certainly not the straight road I was expecting. Not helped by the final km being straight uphill. I went to the Albergue only to find it was closed. A helpful car driver (clearly used to pilgrims coming down this dead end) explained the location and I set off again to another location about a km away and straight up hill.
As I approached it I was wary. In contrast to the welcoming approach of most Albergues this one had a locked door and was a long walk up to the building which looked a bit like the community building at the end of last season of The Walking Dead or the compound in 28 days later or the prison in Resident Evil... okay I need to watch less zombie movies.
After being thoroughly investigated by the prison warden on guard (I'm being unfair, he was probably a volunteer) I paid the princely sum of 5€ and got led to my room... It stank. Mould was clearly growing on the walls. I hoped I could open the windows to let the stench out of my cell but they were bolted shut. The showers were clearly newly installed so I showered, packed my bags and left. 5€ seems fine for a shower and you would have had to pay me several times the amount I paid to get a hotel room in the booked out town to stay there. Spartan yes - I have in the last month been quite happy sleeping on a town hall floor with no sleeping bag and only a bag for a pillow. Filthy and mouldy no. Especially after running 28 miles.
The Cathedral in the town is beautiful and after finding a room I enjoyed another menu del dia. The menu del dia in Spain is fantastic where available. For 10-12€ you get bread, wine (often a bottle), a huge first course ( I always go for Fabada Asturiana - a hearty stew with white beans, bacon and black pudding sausage) which is a main meal in itself followed by a second course (usually pork or beef with chips for me ) and then desert or coffee. It's a heck of a deal.
So this blog is about choices - to take the Primitivo, to run past the nice Albergue, to leave the bad one and also about my running.
As I've been going through the past few days I've been thinking about the events I should target. I think I owe it to myself to give an ultra event a real go at some point. I think my body may be more suited to multi day events. It's gone through this week with barely a squeak. "Injuries" have barely lasted a day. Maybe it's all the blood flow but I seem to be healing and c recovering faster than ever. My feet look immaculate and whilst I haven't been pushing the pace I can tell there's a lot more there if I need it.
Similarly I've been wondering about my training. It'll be interesting to see the effects of this week but I feel incredibly strong and powerful right now. Maybe the odd ultra high mileage week will work. I'm also investigating ultra lightweight sleeping bags and camping kits... The idea of being totally self sufficient bar maybe food is enticing.
For another day perhaps.
Friday, September 04, 2015
So I'm past the midway point in my journey.
Day 4 was a good one. As expected it was raining when I woke up. Now normally I have little to no time for cyclists but they occasionally put together a few good thoughts. Particularly number 9 on this list. Of course almost all the cyclists I know are seriously scared of their bikes melting in the rain.
So with a wry smile on my face I set off.
Most days there's not a whole lot of differences between running and walking the camino. I get to start a little later and finish a bit sooner. Usually I cover a bit more distance as well but not a lot more.
Today the difference was a bit more obvious! With the rain pouring the walkers were triple layered and moving slowly under ponchos. I bagged all my kit in dry bags, layered my waterproof over the dry bags, put the waterproof cover over my bag and set out into the rain in t-shirt and shorts.
I got drenched. But when you are only wearing a tshirt and shorts they dry quickly when running and don't actually weigh you down. I arrived into the next town barely 3 hours after I started already mostly dried out having taken only one brief comfort break.
Ribadasella is a charming and quite tourist focused town. A sharp contrast from the rural villages I'd been going through. At the youth hostel I met Frank - my first Brit of the week (Kelly the Irish girl I'd met the night before was the closest until then! ).
It was nice to go for a beer with someone that spoke the same language (as far as a Geordie and Londoner speak the same language ) and Frank was great company as we debated politics (him left, me right) and talked about his three children.
We headed back and picked up Jean (a Parisien with impeccable English, 8 children and many grand children). As we shared a bottle of vino tinto before the bat began serving food we spoke about our motivations for doing the Camino (both are veterans).
As can be seen from the table cloth below this quickly led to scrawled drawings including those of the cathedral at the end of the Camino. Over the entrance of the cathedral are the symbols Alpha and Omega, and below, reversed - Omega, Alpha.
This is to demonstrate that in the end of all things (including your Camino) there is also a beginning. I think I'll take that with me.
It particularly resonates with me as I started running at the Omega club. With the route marked out with fishes... or Alphas.
Funny how life works out some times. I've been chasing the Camino my whole life it seems. Following those little fishes.
Jean spoke about how he saw three things in people on his Camino - faith, hope and charity. It made me think back to the people I've already met - the kindly bar lady who kept her restaurant open in hope of a customer, the volunteers running the Albergue in San Vicente, the young girl delighting in playing with my foam roller.
As Jean and Frank made the point to me. It's the start of a lifelong journey along the Camino. Maybe not this year or next, but next decade or the one after that. One day I'll be one of the walkers along the camino, grizzled grey beard, telling a young French man in my now flawless French about faith, hour and charity. Beginnings in the end.
It's been a good trip.
Wednesday, September 02, 2015
When we start a job or a task it can be overwhelming. Especially when it will take 3, 4, 5 or more hours of concerted effort.
The last few days I've been starting the day almost despondent. 20+ miles? That's a very long way. Especially as the plan was basically to run without any scheduled breaks to about 13 miles, have as bite to eat and then finish the day. It led to lots (and lots) of unscheduled breaks where I didn't walk as I'd decided I was going to run.
So today I changed two things.
Firstly - I switched my Garmin to km. Miles are fine when you're running 7mm. When you're running 10+ mm then it's a LONG time between beeps. It's also much easier for me to visualise 400m to the next beep than 0.35 of a mile. As I'm in Spain all the distances and the guidebook are in km.
Secondly - I switched to running 5km and walking 1km. With a "break" just 25-30 minutes running away (instead of 2 hours) I was much more focused with very few informal breaks (just photos and directions which I now sped up to just a few seconds).
These two simple tweaks helped me out away the hardest and longest day yet. I was always happy to start running because it was only 5k and I knew I could run 5k.
Especially as now I could play the mental games I've perfected from years on the track "First km is just warming up, second km you have to work, third km you're already halfway, fourth km is basically the end as the last one doesn't count, fifth km you're pretty much already finished."
Instead of looking at an intimidating battle it was easy and then by the end of the "block" I'd actually covered a free bonus km as well!
6km whilst seeming very manageable is actually quite a decent way and when looking at the day in blocks it suddenly seemed much easier. 1 block was frankly easy. 3 blocks was nothing to get to lunch and on a normal day I'd be finishing not much after 5.
Blocking. It's a thing.
The break also helped psychologically as I was still covering distance (and by getting a full 3.1 miles in without breaks I was way ahead of where I would have been previously) but the 10 minutes walking gave me time to play with my phone, get water in me and massage quickly any site areas on the move.
Today was still a tough day at points though. I was worried about a groin pull first thing but it only affected downhills and when I took them a touch easier (I'd been flinging myself down then previously) I was pain free.
The hills were substantial. Not quite as continuous but they were big. Today was meant to be a long day but it ended extra long. I was following an alternative route which is a touch longer and over coastal trails. It was great but hard work. Unfortunately I was meant to come off it and jog down into town at the end. Instead I kept on it and ended up with an extra 4-5km of the toughest hills I'd had yet. As you reached the bottom of a switch back it then climbed again!
Even with my blocking I wasn't happy to have already run my distance for the day and still looking down on the town from the cliff with no drop down in sight.
So. A good day (I saw a little sun! ) but a tough one. Tomorrow should be much shorter and easier as a sort of rest day. Though with the new run/walk strategy both significantly raising my average pace and mentally making it easier I should fly through it!
Tuesday, September 01, 2015
I woke at 8 with my roommates alarm and peeled back the curtain. It was still pitch dark and I felt like I had barely slept. With the benefit of having until 10 to leave (maybe for the last day! ) I rolled over back to sleep.
Rising later I checked the kit I'd washed the previous day. Outside it was just getting wetter so I'd vainly tried to spread it on the bed above. Still damp.
The second day is less glamorous. A piece of sponge cake (which in its simplicity reminds me of the lembas bread in the Lord of the Rings designed for long trips) from the mercardo and I set off.
It's harder work today. The first 5 miles are tough despite taking them easily. The route is all road but unrelenting hills. None that serious. Just continuous. My ipod shuffle, usually a trusted companion on these voyages, is annoying me so I stuff it into a side pocket. It's the last time it'll be used today.
After 6 or 7 miles I spot a small pony. Tucked in an outcropping between the road barrier and the bushes. It neighs loudly at me. A surprisingly loud exhortation from such a diminutive creature. I have no idea why it is there and no time to figure out. I run on.
I'm getting too deep into my head now. Scenarios running through my mind. I need to divert my attention. I've been plodding until now. Not sure why. I usually plod. Now I run.
I've been passing pilgrims all day. A polite "hola!" and then moving on. Now I'm moving at pace. I pass a gent waiting for his wife to catch up.
"Camino?" He asks incredulously. "Si" I respond. The look of surprise on my face raised a smile for the next mile or two.
I pass the couple from my bunk house who had set off at 8 this morning. A brief hola and I'm on my way. A German pair she is lovely but has limited English. He is terse with much better English. This trip is showing me how poor my language skills are.
I arrive in Colombres. Pleased. This means I've covered most of my miles for the day. I order chorizo frito - expecting chorizo and chips. I get fried chorizo. Mea culpa. It's still delicious. I use the free bread to break up the strong taste of the meat. An ersatz sandwich. The coke tastes like ambrosia as I struggle not to glug it down.
A pretty girl sits down at the table next to me. She's Spanish and another pilgrim. She's done for the day. I think internally ("It's barely 1pm"). I finish my bread and shake off my jacket, stuffing it back into my pack. Time to go.
It's only 10k to go now. Practically nothing. I blitz the first mile until a stabbing pain in my toe. I now what this is. Shaking my shoe I dislodge the bit of straw. I ran through the straw about 30 miles ago yet it persists. I definitely need gaiters.
My dismissive approach to the remaining miles is rapidly tested. Hard climbs through the villages. This area of Spain is so remote. At times I'm almost running through houses. Afraid of intruding but following the golden arrows that drive me without hesitation.
Just under 3 miles to go. I'm tired now. My legs aren't driving as fast as they were. Hills I was springing up are now a test. I've not walked yet and I don't intend to. From the top of one of the climbs I can see down into the bay and the ancient bridge. The trail leads away though. North for a while until it swings south. It's demoralising.
Finally on the bridge I resist the urge to sprint across. I'm here. Where is the Albergue though? It's usually clearly sign posted. On tired legs I jog through the quiet closed city (it is siesta time) until I find it tucked away.
It's different this time. Yesterday was some bungalows which were part of a complex. This is a true Albergue. They show me to the dorm. No blankets. Damn. The girl showing me around says no problem and goes to find out a blanket. The man running the centre warns me to bring my own. Inside I'm thinking I shouldn't have said a word and just slept in my clothes. If I can sleep on a plane I can sleep on a mattress with a pillow. There's no sun during the day but it's still warm at night.
I read for a while. The convenience of having a power socket by my head allows me to charge my phone. A sleeping bag I do not need ; a power socket is far higher in my list of priorities.
I wonder why I'm staying in the hostels. I can easily afford a hotel but this seems more realistic. The lady in the next bunk shows me her insect bites from a less hygienic Albergue and I wonder if I should reconsider.
Hanging my still not dried clothes from yesterday I head into town. A bottle of coke, a packet of sweets, some more lembas for the next morning and some clothes pegs. I'm tired of fighting for them and they'll be light to carry.
I peruse the other shops. Swigging my coke and scoffing my sweets. I end up on the harbour. It's not beautiful but it's quiet and rustic and I'm alone with my thoughts. I'll head to a bar soon. Drink a few beers and eat the menu del dia.
Up early tomorrow. There's a lot of miles still to cover.