Category Archives: bikes

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.

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.

All going downhill from here?

One of my favourite places – Les Carroz d’Araches, in the Haute Savoie, France

If there is a list of things not to do just after hurting a knee ligament, I expect skiing is towards the top of it. So, 4 weeks after spraining mine, I went skiing.

The drive to the Alps was trouble-free (but 13 elapsed hours which is a bit of a pain in general, and a bit ache-inducing for the knee). We could fly but we were being joined by our sons and one of their girlfriends so we drove and took a car load of our and their stuff while they were able to fly, a couple of days later, with just hand luggage.

I was reasonably sure that the knee was going to be OK to ski on – it’s just that I was equally sure that if I fell and twisted it, I was in for a very painful experience.

I considered loosening the binding on my left ski so it would come off more easily if I did fall – but it occurred to me that loosening the binding made it more likely that I might fall in the first place, so I didn’t.

Losing a ski because you fall is one thing, falling because your ski comes off feels much worse.

Of course, the falling over bit would not be a big issue for an expert skier – but nobody has ever accused me of being that. I am a reasonable skier for a 64 year-old Englishman who didn’t learn to ski until he was almost 30 – but that does not set the bar very high.

For me the conversation is more likely to go ‘why do you ski so fast?’ to which the correct answer is ‘because I’m not good enough to ski any slower’.

A good skier flows down a piste, embracing it, rather like water. Me, I rather wrestle it to death.

We took a day off on the Monday after Sunday’s dive out there and sorted out the apartment – but then had two glorious days skiing under clear blue skies. The snow was a bit thin on lower slopes but was in very good condition. We collected our sons (and a girlfriend) from Geneva on the Wednesday evening and had two more great days skiing on the Thursday and Friday. On Friday we were even the first on the slopes – although I’m not terribly keen on having to set an alarm when on holiday (or when not on holiday, come to think of it).

It snowed Friday afternoon and evening, which made Saturday’s skiing spectacular – although the weekend was rather chilly and a bit busier. After years of the misery of fitting snow chains I got winter tyres for the new car. Although they weren’t needed all the time, they worked fine when they were.

Older son and girlfriend also skied on Monday morning and then we took the three of them back to the airport for afternoon flights. For them, 4 and a half days skiing for just 3 days off work – an efficient use of their holiday entitlements.

We drove home on the following Saturday, after a few more excellent days on the slopes.

I skied reasonably sensibly and managed to have no falls – they say if you don’t fall, you’re not skiing hard enough, but I can live with that.

The knee worked OK and must have been helped by the knee brace but ached on and off throughout the holiday – especially if I tried to be more aggressive on the slopes – but without ever really hurting. One good thing about wearing a knee brace – it introduces a new highlight of the day ….. taking it off when you finish.

So, now back to training for this year’s cycling and running, injury permitting – but from what sort of fitness base will I be starting?

Another four books read during the holiday:

The Keeper of Lost Things – Ruth Hogan (a fairly simple but entirely charming book, well worth a read)

The Neighbour – Fiona Cummings (an enjoyable crime/murder/thriller)

The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion (a very enjoyable and different novel with some fascinating insights)

Dark Water – Robert Bryndza (a pretty decent thriller, in my opinion)

Once or twice a day?

Stop sniggering at the back. Prompted by going to the gym Thursday morning and using the turbo in the evening, this is about whether two exercise sessions in a day is a good idea.

I expect I’ll look it up on the internet at some stage but no doubt there will be contradictory advice, so I thought I might actually form my own view first – like we all used to before the web was invented.

Starting from the assumption that exercise is good for us, I suppose it seems logical that exercising twice a day must be better as it means more of it (genius thinking so far). Pro athletes are more than likely to do more than one training session a day, so it must have some credibility. Done properly and safely, exercise can help with the heart, lungs, circulation, muscle, bone, flexibility, mood, balance, agility and many more – and I’m keen to sign up for improvements in all of those.

Ultra marathon training plans seem to incorporate back to back long runs at weekends ‘to get used to running on tired legs’. I’d assumed that was more of a mental conditioning thing but I wonder if it helps with the legs as well?

With weight training I’ve often seen it said that the last couple of reps before muscle exhaustion are the most valuable – I wonder if multiple sessions in a day has an echo of that too?

I’m sure there is some science here somewhere – but do I need to understand it to benefit from it?

For many people time will be a big factor – work rather gets in the way but if you exercise early to energise the morning, a stressful job would probably mean that you’d benefit from exercise in the evening to flush the stress out of your system?

For me, that working stuff is a thing of the past (although having time to train is the only thing I have in common with pro athletes). Not only do I have the time but, to be honest, I could probably do with more really beneficial stuff like exercise to spend it on.

On the downside, the biggest (aside from yet more smelly kit to wash) seems to be risk of injury. I can understand that and I’m aware that, in my mid 60s, I’m probably more prone to injury. However, it’s not like I’m doing incredibly long sessions at the brink of my capacity – my weight training is on machines, my running is at a modest speed, and I’m (almost) old enough not to be stupid. Injuries are something to be very aware of – I’ve had enough of them already.

One other thing I keep hearing is the risk of ‘overtraining’. I understand overtraining as a precursor to injury – but I’m not sure what it is by way of a risk in its own right. Is it just mental tiredness and general fatigue?

Unlike pro athletes, I make all this stuff up as I go along. While I’m sure that more training is, generally, a good thing, I’m equally sure that it’s perfectly possible to get it wrong. Unlike pro athletes, I don’t have a coach or a support team to tell me when and how to train – or, I guess, just as importantly, when to stop.

What I’m going to do is try this gently. For now, I’m thinking of doing days with two sessions, a couple of times a week. I’ll try to make them different sessions, typically a session in the gym in the morning and a run or blast on the turbo in the early evening. That should give a bit of variety, a sensible rest between sessions and a total exercise time of under 2 hours.

With a focus on hydration, nutrition, stretching, rest and being sensitive to niggles and early signs of tiredness, what could go wrong?

Seems sensible?

Getting back to it all – and the magic number is 15.44

Back to the gym for the first time in 4 weeks. No one had missed me.

With four weeks of no running, cycling or gym sessions, and Christmas over-eating, the only thing that’s moved forward is my weight.

It got to an extra 7 pounds or so – not huge in empirical terms but, for a member of the slightly scrawny brethren, that is getting a bit close to 5% of bodyweight. However, if it goes on quickly it (usually) comes back off a bit quicker and I’m back heading in the right direction.

Getting back to exercise will help, and I managed another half an hour on the turbo on Tuesday for 15.44km @30.88kph (9.6 miles @19.2mph). I’m grateful that it is just the turbo for now – I’d notice the extra weight and the lack of fitness if I was trying to ride up any big hills outside.

The knee now bends, twists and takes lateral pressure without any issues so on Wednesday I ran up to the postbox in the village and back. No great distance but, more importantly, no weakness or pain in the knee – but with a certain amount of wheezing through lost fitness.

The intention is to keep to my plan of not running until February but I needed to know if it was possible now – and it is. I can’t leave it beyond February as I need to be capable of running 31 miles in the first of the 16 weeks of training starting in March.

Back to the gym on Thursday, for the first time in 4 weeks. I managed the whole routine with the usual weights (save for taking 5kg off the leg curls and extensions, and 20kg off the leg press, just to be cautious). It was tough because of the recent inactivity but no adverse reactions from the knee so all is well – and I trust that is the last time I mention it.

Doubling up on exercise for the day I did 30 minutes on the turbo in the evening – 15.44km (9.6 miles). Interestingly, exactly the same as Tuesday when I rode it in one gear lower – purely by chance, the slower cadence perfectly compensated for by further travel with each revolution.

I wonder whether one ride was better for me than the other. I’ve always thought that high cadence was harder on the cardio-vascular system and a higher gear harder on the muscles. I expect the answer as to which is better is the usual ‘It depends’.

I say ACL, you say MCL – let's call the whole (injury) thing off

At last – no longer just a decoration

I’ve decided (from the internet so it must be right) that what I tweaked was probably not my ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) but my MCL (medial collateral ligament).

The two bits of good news are that I wouldn’t have been doing anything different in terms of rehab if I’d got the information right in the first place and, secondly, that the MCL tweak is probably the lesser injury anyway.

Although they say knowledge is power, I’m not sure any of this knowledge takes me forward much – it’s a ligament, it’s in the knee joint and I gave it a tweak. I’m fortunate that I didn’t do anything severe that might have needed medical intervention – I was pretty sure it didn’t by the fact that I could complete my run after first feeling it. One thing about running (even more than cycling) is that you get used to minor niggles and tend to know when they need nothing more than a bit of rest.

Thank goodness I didn’t tear it – that’s almost certainly a surgery case and could mean months out of action.

The knee continues to improve to the point where I got on the turbo on Friday evening. The turbo doesn’t involve any twisting, turning or impact but will start re-strengthening the muscles around the knee. It felt really good to be back doing some proper exercise, even if it was only 30 minutes for 14.87 km @ 19.74kph (9.24 miles).

Saturday morning revealed no adverse reaction to the turbo session – in fact, the knee was better so I did the turbo again that evening. The aim was more for the time than to go faster but I did manage another 30 minutes for an improvement to 15.69km @ 31.38kph (9.75 miles). Interestingly, much harder on the cardiovascular system than the legs.

Again, no knee issues on Sunday morning, and I declare it healed. I could run on it now – but won’t, just to be cautious. My ultra training plan says I start in March with a 31 mile week but I might not begin running again until February in order to build up to the big finish start.

Sunday we went out for supper with friends as we and 2 other couples take it in turn to host evenings to get through the first three series of Peaky Blinders.

Monday we left early to get up to Wigan. First to pick up our sons who took the train from London, then on to the crematorium and finally to the church service. I liked doing it that way – get the potentially miserable crematorium bit over with first and finish with the much more enjoyable, uplifting, service of memorial. As it was, both services were conducted by ministers who knew my father and, clearly, held him in high esteem. I come from a family of church goers (and am the black sheep on that score) and it certainly makes a difference when the minister knew the deceased.

My sister and I did a double act for the eulogy and then it was back for a bun fight at the place where his branch of the Rotary Club had their meetings and meals. The whole thing went extremely well – I think our father would have loved the whole day, and to me that means we did him proud.

I took some pleasure from the fact that the order of service revealed that he had 17 letters in his name – and 20 ‘qualification’ letters after it.