Monthly Archives:

Little and often – or fewer, bigger chunks?

On Sunday my wife went up to London for a couple of days, and after my run I went down to Bournemouth. I sorted out a few bits on Monday and thought about a run along the promenade.

If I’m down in Bournemouth, I love to run along the sea front but this time it looked like a run would be foolish for at least three reasons:

  • first, because it would be the 9th day in a row with exercise
  • second, my knee was complaining a bit after Sunday’s run
  • third, the weather was a little ‘frisky’, with rain lashing down and 60 mph gale force winds.

The English Channel is aptly named in the way it funnels the wind along the coastline. Once I followed someone riding a bike into a strong headwind along the promenade, until he gave up pedalling, got off the bike and pushed it.

This time I decided that discretion was the better part of valour (doublespeak for ‘I wimped out’) and the running kit stayed in the bag. Getting back to Oxfordshire I resisted the temptation to do a session on the turbo – a real rest day! I won’t deny the feeling that I should have done something, but I’ll get used to it …

… and I did. I took Tuesday off too.

That brings me to the question posed in the title: would I be better off doing, for example

  • 6 days of exercise with medium length runs (c 6-8 miles) and 45-60 minutes on the turbo, or
  • 4 days with longer runs (9-12 miles) and turbo sessions of over an hour, with more rest days
  • days with multiple short sessions?

As a simplistic example, if I wanted to run for 6 hours a week, would it be best to run for three 20 minutes sessions on 6 days, or six one hour runs across 6 days, or four 90 minute runs across 4 days?

As always, I expect the answer starts ‘It depends …’.

Several short sessions in a day, compared to the same time spent in one session

I can see that several shorter sessions in a day might keep the heart rate up for longer, and I understand why some people would be able to fit them into a working day more easily – and even find it easier to get motivated for a short session. Personally, being retired, the time is less of an issue and I think I might struggle with several short sessions (to say nothing of the washing of smelly kit).

One shorter session on more days a week, versus fewer longer sessions with more rest days

With the importance of rest days, I guess fewer, longer sessions might be better? Also, that feels like a better use of time (change, warm up and stretch afterwards just once for a 2 hour session instead of twice for two one hour sessions?) …. but are longer sessions likely to be riskier from an injury perspective?

I have no idea as to the correct answer but I keep reading that training for the ultra needs time on your feet, running when already jaded and ever longer runs to help replicate the race day itself. Feels like fewer, longer sessions are what I’ll try in the next few weeks.

I expect that all approaches are reasonable if not taken to the extremes – I once ran a marathon with a chap who decided that running one half marathon each week would be good training. It didn’t end well …

Gym, turbo, run – it’s OK, but is it enough?

By last Thursday evening, I’d had 7 exercise sessions in 7 days (and a 7 hour drive on the one rest day), so on Friday morning I did the sensible stupid thing and went to the gym.

I know about the benefits (indeed, the necessity) of rest but it is easy to feel that you need to make up for lost time – and I’m feeling that after Christmas, the knee ligament sprain and skiing. The best thing about the early morning gym visit was that the absence of any other exercise on Friday made it almost feel like a day off.

Of course, knowing that I should be taking rest days is not the same as actually taking them. Instead, I followed normal procedure and did an hour on the turbo, in a pool of sweat, for 28.44km (17.7miles) on Saturday afternoon watching more of the 6 Nations rugby. Good to see Rome bathed in sunshine as Oxfordshire was grey and battered by high winds.

Sunday continued with the wet and high winds theme of the last three weeks but I wanted to get in a third run in the (Monday to Sunday) week. I waited for the wind to drop below 40 mph and for the rain to stop and headed out for the same run as Wednesday, 13.4km (a little over 8.3 miles). Still running slowly – but faster than Wednesday.

I sometimes wonder if the first mile of a run will ever get any easier. It takes that long for my breathing and pulse to settle into a more comfortable rhythm. I’m sure it would be easier if all runs from the house didn’t immediately go up a small hill. Equally, it would help if I warmed up properly but I always have the foolish feeling that, with only a finite amount of energy to play with, I don’t want to use any of it before the run.

That leaves the week with 4 turbo sessions (90km – 56 miles), 3 runs (nearly 33km – over 20 miles) and 50 minutes in the gym lifting heavy bits of metal.

Despite all the recent activity, I’m not sure I’m in great shape for the forthcoming challenges:

  • The sportive towards the back end of April is about 150km with quite a bit of climbing – but I’ve not been out on the bike since the Lake District in October
  • The 16 week training plan for July’s 50km ultra starts in a couple of weeks but I doubt I’ll be up to the first week’s 31 miles by then.

Hmm. Realistically, the short term aim will have to be 3 runs a week, aiming for over 20 miles in total – and getting on the bike twice a week for a couple of hours in total (if indoors) or 4 hours (if the wind and rain are kind and let me outdoors). In addition, I’ll try a visit to the gym – and get back to running to it.

Importantly, I’ll try to remember that nobody is paying me to do any of this – it’s my choice and I’m supposed to be enjoying it.

More good news on Friday was that I’d recommended that two of the children we’d been working with on the balance bikes on Wednesday, should be tried on bikes with pedals on Thursday. Both cycled unassisted – bravo to them.

Turbo (x5), cycle training (x2), run (x2) – a week dodging the storms

I took Thursday as a rest day, we went up to London for supper and stayed the night for an early Valentine’s Day.

Friday it was back to Oxfordshire and back on the turbo – the knee felt a bit stiff and so running seemed inadvisable. A slightly below par 21.55km (13.4miles) in 45 minutes.

Back north to my sister’s on Saturday to continue sorting my father’s personal effects. There were warnings of likely disruption from Storm Dennis (appropriate as that was my father’s name) but he was kind to me and, apart from constant rain, the journeys were better than anticipated.

The storm hit harder on Saturday night and there was a lot of rain again on Sunday. I was going to run when the rain stopped in the afternoon but the roads and paths in the area were pretty flooded so it was the turbo again – 45 minutes for 22.9 km @30.5kph (14.2 miles @19mph).

Monday morning was spent taking a couple of groups for training at the cycle park. A little wet, cold and blustery but, with over 20 children it was enjoyable, nonetheless.

In the afternoon I forced myself out for a run. After a bit of a mental wrangle I managed to push on past the 10km distance that I’ve been running recently and did 13.4km (a little over 8.3 miles). My longest run since the Rotterdam Marathon last April but only just over a quarter of July’s ultra distance.

Still not at all fast – but it’s the distance that matters at the moment. The knee still twinges which is disappointing two months after I hurt it, but it’s not stopping me running so I’ll go with it for now.

If I needed a reminder that getting back into the running has to be done with a certain amount of caution, I got it in the form of a number of random aches on Tuesday morning. Painful right foot, painful left hip and painful left knee. If all the problems had been on the left I’d have assumed the new ones stemmed from running weirdly to protect the knee injury – but the right foot raises a question mark over that.

I had a session on the turbo in the early evening – cold conservatory, rain hammering on the roof and no enthusiasm. A bad combination so just the 30 minutes for 14.9km (9.26miles).

Back to the cycle park to take another couple of groups of children on Wednesday. Cold, windy and a little wet again but one of the girls who could not cycle on Monday was cycling by herself by the end of today’s session – that (and the fact that most of them do not stop grinning for the whole session) is what makes it worthwhile.

Pains (other than the knee) got better through the day. They were slightly replaced by a cricked back from bending down to help small people stay on their bicycles but it was the turbo again in the early evening. Just the 45 minutes for 21.81kph @29.1kph (13.5 miles @18.1mph).

Thursday morning I went for a gentle run with my wife just over 6km (3.8 miles) in a strong wind. Aches and pains much reduced (other than the knee which remains a little ‘tight’) so I decided today was part of my experiment with double-up exercise sessions on one day a week. Accordingly, 50 minutes turbo in the early evening for 23.75 km @28.5kph (14.76miles @17.7mph). Probably a bad idea as it was tough.

For me, that’s quite a hard week of training. Less running than I’d have liked, more turbo than I wanted but you have to fit in around the weather and the injuries, don’t you.

The knee is still not quite right after the tendon sprain – but looking on the bright side the Achilles Tendons that hurt every day for several months leading up to the Rotterdam Marathon are behaving well (so far). Hope I haven’t just jinxed it.

Could an ultra marathon ever be easier than a normal marathon?

OK, stay with me here and I might be able to explain what I mean, despite the apparent (and possibly actual) nonsense of the title.

Please note that I’m not saying that marathons are easy – they’re not. If you’ll forgive me getting scientific here, marathons are officially ‘a very long way to run’ and so are ‘extremely difficult’. Although ultras are ‘even further’ my point is that, while still being extremely difficult, they might not be quite as difficult.

Big talk for someone who has not run beyond the marathon distance. I may yet live to eat my words – but here’s the reasoning …

I like running but I’m not particularly good at it. Now in my mid 60’s I’ve run three marathons (two just under, and one just over, 4 hours) and have decided to try an ultra (a 50km trail race).

The third of my key aims in all my marathon attempts has been to run all the way (the first two are to get around safely and to try to enjoy the experience). I’ve also had a time target for each of the marathons – sub 4 hours for the first two and sub 4.15 for the third.

I’ve hit the targets each time but there is no doubting that they put extra pressure on the event.

For most entrants, ultra marathon running is a bit different. All credit to the super-fit who run them all the way, and are actually racing, but they seem to be the minority – the majority of entrants are going to be very happy finishing and will almost certainly do some walking. Indeed, walking is often expected and even encouraged. In addition, stopping at feed stations is also actually encouraged – adding yet more time to the race.

That leads to one interesting difference between marathons and longer distance races: the time taken to complete an ultra seems to be much less important to the extent that, other than for the elite racers, it is pretty much irrelevant. Why?

Could it be that, 30 or 40 years ago, no one but elite athletes did marathons so when mere mortals started doing them it was awe-inspiring simply to see ‘an ordinary person’ complete one. Now so many folks have run one, they seem more within reach to the majority. As a result, perhaps doing one seems to be less impressive in itself (though to me they are always impressive) so we look to ‘how well (ie fast)’ we do it.

Put ‘ultra’ in front of ‘marathon’, and perhaps some of the sense of awe comes back. Ultras have not made it into the mainstream like marathons have so, to the majority, it is impressive just to complete an ultra. Accordingly, the ‘how well did you do’ it aspect disappears again.

If you talk to a non elite athlete who has run a marathon, you probably ask what time they did it in. If you talk to that same person who has completed an ultra, is time a factor at all?

If time is a factor, is the longer the time all the more impressive as a measure of endurance and suffering, rather than a sign of less speed?

Given that an ultra (including the one I’m aiming for) can be as little as another 5 miles beyond the marathon distance, the awe for such an ultra is probably not 100% merited but its existence does seem to take the time pressure off.

I’m very happy to say that I have completed a marathon in under 4 hours – but I’ll be delighted if I am able to say I’ve completed an ultra marathon, irrespective of the time, or the amount of running/walking involved.

So, freed from the time pressure, and with walking entirely allowable, could the 50km ultra (potentially) be a bit easier for someone like me who feels obliged to run the whole way and aim for a target time if doing a marathon?

Perhaps it could be, mentally at least – but if that leads to complacency in the training, the extra distance and more difficult terrain of a trail race may well constitute a real sting in the tail that will come back and make me look a complete fool …

Or, of course, I could mess it all up by deciding that I want to run the whole thing …

Turbo, turbo, run, labouring, run. Lacking a bit of inspiration

I took a day off on Friday after 11 sessions (2x gym, 2x run and 7x turbo trainer) in 11 days. Although I was on a (very small) roll, I’m sure I needed the rest. Not just physically, but mentally too (to say nothing of giving the washing machine a break).

Saturday (with a tight knee but better calf muscles) I did an hour on the turbo for 30km (18.65miles) while watching the Ireland v Wales 6 Nations rugby. Hard work but at a decent pace.

Well played Ireland – and well won England later in the afternoon, edging Scotland out in a really ugly game in atrocious conditions.

After only 7 miles of running the previous week, the aim was to do slightly more milage over the next few days. Unfortunately, Storm Caira arrived on Sunday, with heavy rain and winds of 50+mph (80+kph) so I wimped out – yet again – and resorted to the turbo trainer. I did just 45 minutes (well, it was Sunday) watching some of the France v Italy rugby, for 23.13km @30.8kph (14.4miles @ 19.2mph).

The storm had largely blown over by Monday, but it was still wet and windy. I was struggling to find the enthusiasm to get on the turbo trainer again so I went for a run instead. Strangely enjoyable despite 20mph winds and intermittent rain – and all the better for being finished just before the hailstones started. A gentle 4.4 miles, but it was an actual run.

As with most runs, I had twinges in knees, feet, ankles on the way round but nothing severe or lasting – and I even remembered to stretch my calf muscles after it.

Some of Tuesday morning was spent wheelbarrowing hard core for a soak-away at the cycle park, until a hydraulic leak on the mini bus tail gate put a stop to that. I took the remainder of the day off exercise but ran on Wednesday – 10.2km (6.3miles), not quick but a few miles under my belt.

It’s a bit of a labour at the moment – I guess I’m not enjoying the running as much as usual because it’s hard getting back into it and I’m worried about a recurrence of the knee ligament problem. I’ve probably also overdone the turbo trainer a bit in the last few weeks.

The ultra in July, and even the 90 mile sportive in April seems a long way away so I’m a bit short of inspiration. Still, I’ll keep at it – improving weather, getting out on the road bike (eventually) and more running without knee trouble will improve it all, I’m sure.

Turbo, turbo, run, turbo, gym (in four days – this is probably kill or cure. I make the odds 50/50)

My wife seems to think I spend more time here than with her. Not sure if she thinks that’s a good or bad thing

Mixed results from Sunday’s return to running after the knee ligament sprain. The knee felt tight and ached a bit but both calf muscles hurt a lot.

Now I remember that I’d experienced calf muscle problems back in early December and had vowed to make sure they were well warmed up before, and well stretched after, any running – and to use the compression socks. That was a vow I’d completely forgotten.

Of course, the problem is what to do now for the knee. Do I assume it simply needs more time to recover (although the 7 weeks I gave it should have been enough) or is this just the result of running for the first time for a while – or is it something else completely?

I decided to go easy on the running this week, replacing running with sessions on the turbo trainer. I know that cycling does not really help with running faster but, at the moment, running faster is not the key aim. The turbo helps in terms of keeping the cardio-vascular system going – and for now that’s a worthwhile outcome by itself.

Accordingly, it was on the turbo on Monday evening – 45 minutes for 22.3km @ 29.67kph (13.8 miles @18.4mph).

With improving calf muscles and a pretty reasonable left knee it was turbo again on Tuesday (45 minutes for 22.25km @29.66kph, 13.8miles). Reluctant and lacklustre but almost identical to Monday’s effort. I can’t help but feel that exercise should count double when you really have to force yourself to do it.

A gentle run with my wife on Wednesday morning, just 4.6km (2.8 miles). Her first run since my injury.

I went for my first ‘double up’ day since the turn of the year and followed the run with a turbo session on Wednesday evening. Oddly, it was faster than recent efforts – 45 minutes for 22.85km @30.5kph (14.2 miles @ 19mph).

Weights in the gym on Thursday morning, which made it 5 training sessions in 4 days (and 11 in 11). None of them very long sessions – but sessions nonetheless.

I know I can’t make up for all the training I’ve missed recently and it would be mad to try – but it’s still tempting. I feel the need for a rest day coming up.

Turbo, and the first run for 7 weeks post ligament injury

I said I’d resume running in February, post knee injury, but ducked out on Saturday. I guess I was putting it off as I’m worried it might not have healed.

Instead I did an hour on the turbo (29.9km – 18.6 miles). I think the turbo is good rehabilitation as there is no impact on the knee and keeps the movement nice and straight, but, to be honest, the running would have been preferable. It was hard pushing on beyond the 45 minutes that I’ve been doing recently.

Sunday was fairly unpleasant and blustery but I’d been putting it off long enough. I took Lady Macbeth’s advice, screwed my courage to the sticking place, and went for a run.

It was my first since spraining the knee ligament 7 weeks previously, so no heroics. I ran for just 6.77km (4.2 miles). The Garmin says I was running at just under 6 minute/km pace. I’m not sure it was really that fast.

Post run, the knee feels a little tight but everything bends where it should and doesn’t bend where it shouldn’t, so I’ll take that as ‘so far so good’ and wait to see how things are tomorrow.