Sunday, March 20, 2011

Don’t stress, you’re running!

I've had a pretty good week training wise, confirming that the week off has been no detriment to my training. This was pretty reassuring, and has helped keep me on track towards my longer term running goals.  

To have felt that I had slipped backwards would have been pretty stressful, and I read recently that stress from whatever source is interpreted the same way by your body. These stresses are many and varied and include causes such as work, family, illness and physical training.

There is an analogy in place between how the body can cope with stress and the events at Rorke’s Drift in 1879 depicted in one of my favourite movies “Zulu”. (I think this goes back to my Welsh heritage where the bulk of the soldiers were from, and the fact that it is an amazing story of endurance and mental fortitude of the individuals involved). In essence we have limited resources to combat stress (a limited number of soldiers), and therefore if it only presents on one or two fronts we can divert enough attention to those areas to be able to cope. If however, we are pressured with stress on multiple fronts we simply do not have enough resources available to survive.  At this point something has to give and your performance will drop off.

This is certainly something to take into consideration in your overall training, without which you could easily send yourself on a downward spiral towards overtraining. If you do have an intense period of work, or a major family event which will increase stress you need to adjust you training accordingly. It all comes down to having flexible running goals and realistic expectations. Even the professional elite have to do this when they fall ill or pick up an injury, or suffer a stressful home situation.

The assumption from this idea is that training is a stress, and while there is an obvious physiological strain associated with ultra distance running, there is also a therapeutic benefit. It is well known that regular exercise if a prescribed treatment for depression, and as I’ve seen on a T-shirt – “It’s cheaper than therapy!” 

Personally the emotionally benefit of running 20, 40, or 100kms, far outweighs the stress caused (not  just the endorphin hit, but the comfort I get from knowing that I am doing good training and working toward a goal).

So don’t stress out with your running, it is meant to be fun. Be aware of your limits to withstand stress and adjust your expectations accordingly.

Run Happy

Thursday, March 17, 2011

7 days rest doesn’t make one weak!

I've had an interesting week, in that I didn’t manage a single run. Not injured, just that my wife has been away, and parenting duties prevented any running whilst the kids were home, and I couldn’t get out for a run while they were at school.

Funnily enough though, I had no problem with this, even though I should be ramping up my training. I’ve taken it as a kind of mid season taper, and a great opportunity for a bit of physical recovery. 

Looking back on my training last year around this time I had a few very skinny weeks for mileage as we were away visiting family, and it had no detrimental effect on my fitness.

That said I am back into it, and making up for lost time. The first run out was hard work with heavy legs (very similar to after a taper) and amazingly my calves were still a little tender to touch following my bout of DOMS about 10 days earlier. 

I followed up that 20km trail run with a similar run but with three hard 1km hill repeats in the middle, by the end of which I was toast. Today I just went with a circuits session (joined by my 9 year old Jack which was nice to see!).

I’m monitoring my training carefully over these next two weeks as I am testing out a pair of SKINS A400 compression shorts. First week without compression gear and the second wearing the SKINS. I will keep my calf guards on for both weeks though, especially given the intensity of hills being run and the DOMS recovery.

I have been fortunate enough to be supported by a number of companies (on the right hand side of this page) for my 33 marathons challenge, and I shall be posting reviews of their gear over the coming weeks.

So while my body has (hopefully) been repairing all the micro level damage I will have inflicted on it of late, it will be interesting to see how that has affected my performance. This is of particular interest as I start my final couple of months training before The North Face 100 in May, and as I continue to build on this for the far greater challenge in August. The results of the next few weeks could suggest that another week off could be in order.

It’s widely accepted that training should include easier weeks, and I am interested to see how taking a full week off will benefit in terms of long term recovery and in any drop off in performance.

I’ll keep you posted.

Run Happy

“Even a mistake may turn out to be the one thing necessary toward a worthwhile achievement” – Henry Ford

Monday, March 7, 2011

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness - DOMS - My poor Calves!

Delayed onset muscle soreness or “DOMS” as it is better know is a condition that every ultramarathon runner will have experienced at some time or other in their training and more likely in racing. Fortunately when running frequently it is an unusual injury as it typically affects untrained muscle groups. The main cause is the eccentric loading of muscles, effectively forcing a muscle to contract when it is already stretched. 

The injury is not typically felt until 24-48 hours after the session (hence the delayed onset part of its name). I train quite a bit, mostly running with some other strength exercises too, so DOMS is uncommon for me, however this week it has taken me out of action for a couple of days and been a real wake up call.

The reason behind it was a short sharp stair climbing session on Friday. It consisted of running up about 150m vertical of stairs 10 times, which was taking about 2 minutes per repetition. I’ve done this session before (although only 8 reps, and with a much longer warm up/down) and the only problem then has been that it’s bloody hard! This was no exception as by the 7th set I was feeling pretty dizzy and weak. Still I finished the session and that was the end of it.

The following day I had an LSD planned, so went out (in the rain again!) and ran 40kms on the hills and trails around my home in about 4 hours 30mins. No problems there as it was pretty cruisey.

Getting out of bed on Sunday morning I had a bit of a shock as it was a struggle to stand up as my calves felt like they were in a vice and were very tender to the touch. I knew immediately that this was DOMS and that the effects normally only last for about 24 hours so I would just ride it out. The rest of my body was completely normal and seemingly unaffected.

Not my legs I must mention!
Today however I was only marginally better and thought that running would not be advisable. So I have spent the evening sitting on the floor in front of the TV doing some gentle, but persistent massage to my troubled calves using my TP Therapy balls (I’ll write more on these in another post).

The trouble is that all the best advice on DOMS it that there is little you can do to speed recovery (according to Tim Noakes’ running bible – The Lore of Running). What I do is make sure that I am drinking plenty of fluids to flush out the waste products of the damaged muscles and to eat plenty of the right foods (good quality protein and food rich in antioxidants) to aid the muscle regeneration process.

The thing that really hit me was the severity of this bout of DOMS. Basically as I was running up these stairs my entire weight was being loaded onto each calf individually as only my toes were in contact with the steps. Normally when doing my hills sessions and running on the trails, my entire foot takes the load sharing the weight across all the muscles of the lower leg. This subtle difference in training has had a massive impact on my performance, unfortunately a negative one (as the effects can take around 2-3 weeks to fully recover).

Just a very short taste of what is in store
The reassuring thing I keep in mind is that in my next race, the North Face 100, which has too many stairs to mention, the steps are quite different. They are fashioned from logs and rocks, and typically you can get you entire foot on the step. If last year is anything to go by I will be putting both feet on each step as it is a long day at the office. So hopefully I will not be putting myself in the situation I am now.

At the same time is reminds me of the need for specificity in your training. Being aware of the terrain and conditions of the course you are going to be running, enables you to prepare your body as best you can for what lies ahead – without putting up with many days of discomfort (especially when you may have to drive home the following day!). So with that in mind I will be doing more on the stairs, and probably a bit more on the weights to focus on this weaker area. Although I know that the next race will not be as demanding as the trauma I inflicted on my calves, there is a potential weakness that needs addressing.

Ultrarunning is one of the disciplines where you most certainly are only as strong as your weakest link.

Run Happy

“What counts in battle is what you do when the pain sets in” – John Short

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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Feel your way to better running form – in the dark

This evening I planned to go out for a hill session. Since the house move this is a bigger effort than normal as it’s about 7kms to get to the bottom of the new track I have found for my hill sessions.  Fortunately this is also about 1km long with 100m vertical, much like my previous hill track.

The sun was setting as I headed out so knew that I would need my torch to complete the session, the prospect of a hard hill session on a trail in the dark made it far more exciting. However, whilst running along the road in the dark I got my torch out of my pack, (which I always have with me along with all my mandatory trail race kit) only to discover the batteries were flat. Being a proper boy scout I also have a back up torch, and this wasn’t working either! Once again the Boy Scout in me came to the fore as I also carry two spare sets of batteries, one for each torch.

The challenge was to change the batteries as it was now completely dark. So the easy option was to do the backup torch first and use that one to provide light to change the more tricky head torch. The problem was that the batteries in my back up had leaked and corroded the torch shut. Now I had to try and change the head torch in the dark, with 3 AAA batteries. I could just about make out which way around they were using the light from a passing car.

So the moment of truth...I turn it on and it is barely glowing, offering no benefit at all. I must have left the spent batteries in my pack last time the torch ran out!

I had no other option, well no other safe option, but to return home along the road, reflective vest on, and a white line to follow.

It was pretty disappointing as for the first time in a while I was running smoothly and feeling strong. I did not waste the session though, choosing to make the best of it by turning it into a tempo session.  For the remaining 7kms to the finish I accelerated each km so that I was near sprinting for the final km.

The interesting thing I learnt from running in the dark where you get very little visual and auditory input is that it encourages you to use your other senses. I focused on proprioreception and the feeling of how my body was moving. Especially with the smooth, consistent road surface, I could distinctly appreciate my foot strike, as well as other biomechanical actions I have been working on.

It is just a case of allowing your brain to focus on your running without distractions that cloud your attention. This is just another reason not to run with music (as covered in a previous post), at least not all the time. Of course you don’t need to leave your torches at home, you could just find a safe stretch of road and switch them off for a bit!

Some good came from torch fiascos. I adapted the situation to get training benefit from the session, and I learnt to check your kit BEFORE you head out, especially if you’re likely to be using it!  That said if I didn’t have my reflective vest in my pack the run home could have been pretty hairy.

Run safe and run happy

"Failing to plan is planning to fail"