Category Archives: marathon

An alpine reality check … Galibier here I come?

Mt Blanc from Le Bettex last year

After a day of hobbling around with the calf pull (or as I like to think of it, ‘calf tear’ which may be the same thing but sounds more dramatic) I did my turn leading the club Sunday ride. Probably not wise as I still couldn’t walk properly but it’s an easy and short ride (this one was 13 miles, 21km) aimed at families, new cyclists and those returning to riding.

I took a mountain bike and made sure I cycled with the pedal under the arch of my right foot to avoid flexing the ankle. Very much a case of do what I say, not what I do – on Wednesday’s training session I’d been telling the school children to ride with the balls of their feet on the pedals.

It worked pretty well – except that I had to take my right foot off the pedal when going over bumps as otherwise the shock through the leg rather hurt. We had a new chap cycling with us – he’s a relatively new cyclist but looks like a really good recruit for the Saturday rides too.

After reading up on matters on the internet, I think I’ve managed a grade one (or possibly one and a half) tear to the right calf muscle as I was able to run (slowly) back to the flat after I did it on Saturday. It was a real shame (to say the least) as I’d just run a 5:05 km before it went, which is quite quick for me.

The calf is both painful and swollen – if both my calf muscles were this size normally, I’d be a proud man.

It’s all a bit stressful – I never seem to injure myself cycling (subject to the very occasional falling off) but the running has given me 6 months of painful Achilles tendons every morning, an unhappy knee ligament and now a pulled muscle. The answer looks like stopping the running and going back to the cycling … but I enjoyed the Marathon last month, I do like running – and want to do another marathon. What should I do?

With our sons home over the weekend they helped in the garden and, once I had progressed from hobbling to limping (and with me wearing a very fetching green surgery-strength compression sock) we went for a couple of great (slow) walks before they went back to London on Monday.

Looking to the mountains

The annual cycling trip out to the alps is starting to loom large on the horizon. This year we are incorporating a night away from the apartment to open up some new climbs. My vote has gone in for the Col du Galibier and Col du Télégraphe duo. It’s a combined climb of 1859 metres over the course of 34.5km (6100 feet in 21.5 miles).

I think Galibier is the 6th highest climb in the alps and features a monument to Henri Desgrange, the man responsible for the creation of Le Tour, so it has to be done. The two Cols together are only just over a fifth of my ‘everest’ climb so how hard can it be … (I rather wish I hadn’t said that).

It’s made me realise that, since the Rotterdam Marathon in early April, I’ve cycled 5 times: 1×13 miles; 1×20 miles; 2x50miles; and 1x70miles. To put in an entry for the understatement of the month, it’s probably not enough!

Backside to saddle time – once the calf is up to it.

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Marathon training week 18/20: Run, lots of walking. New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town.

I love Central Park – I always wanted to run in it so that’s another bucket list entry ticked off

After last week’s training we went to London on Sunday where our younger son ran a half marathon in 1h 48m. I’m sure he’ll break 4 hours in Rotterdam, and show me a clean pair of heels.

On the Monday my wife and I did exactly what every training plan (almost) recommends – we went to New York for a few days.

I think it’s a glorious city – right up there with San Francisco, Barcelona, Rome, Paris, Berlin and London in my eyes. I’ve been a couple of times before and both our sons have been …. apparently that is grounds for my wife to insist that she also went for a visit. We walked a lot (I think that’s always the best way to see a city) and managed to take in a lot of stuff, including a Circle Line trip, the High Line, an off-Broadway play, the Empire State building, Ground Zero and the 9/11 museum, Central Park, Chinatown and MoMA.

Although we had a bit of rain on a couple of days it didn’t stop us doing anything and we had a great time in a city I love for its incredible variety and the feeling of general mayhem – not that I think I could live there. I particularly like the people, especially people in positions of any authority – so confident with, often, such little reason for that confidence … but charming with it.

It was a rare occasion when I was extremely pleased not to be driving – the grid layout with continual traffic lights is great for navigation but must be a real pain in terms of making forward progress (I guess mass stationary traffic is not called ‘gridlock’ for nothing). The city might be a happier place if NY drivers could be reminded that the motor horn is for use in cases of emergency, not cases of annoyance and frustration.

I really like Central Park but it struck me this trip that New York has rather put nearly all its green eggs in the one big basket as there are relatively few other green areas in the central part of the city – another drawback of the grid structure that doesn’t lend itself well to little squares with gardens like you get all across London. I guess it might be just a bit too expensive to flatten some entire blocks to create a few more Bryant Parks!

With luck, the walking will have counted for something in training terms but I did get out for a really enjoyable run on Wednesday: W40th, up 10th Ave, across at 58th, into Central Park, two loops round the ring up to the Lake and back via 9th Ave. Assuming it is permitted to run in kilometres in New York, in all it was about 10.5km (6.5m) in 58 mins. I even overtook more runners than overtook me (just).

Back to the UK on Saturday but (after 12 hours sleep) I decided not to run on Sunday. I’ll do the week’s long run (12 miles) on Monday, together with the week 19 runs.

The timing of the trip was designed to fit into the marathon taper period to miss the least amount of valuable training. That seems to have worked quite well (allowing for a one day shift in the long run) and I even managed to put on only about 1 pound (0.5kg).

Week Run Cycle X-train
1 16m  (26km) 10m  (16 km) 2:00
2 19m  (30km) 13m  (22km) 2:00
3 21m  (33.km) 66m (106km) 1:00
4 22m  (36km) 14m (22km) 1:00
5 24m (39km) 13m  (21km) 1:00
6 (Christmas) 13m (21km)    
7 26m (41km) 63m (101km) 3:00
8 14m (24km) 13m (21km) 7:00
9 (Skiing) 16m (25km)   12:00
10 (Skiing)     12:00
11 (Skiing) 7m (11km)   6:00
12 34m  (55km) 35m (56km) 1:00
13 38m (60km) 14m (22km) 1:00
14 38m (60km) 30m (48km) 1:00
15 39m (63km) 14m (22.km)  
16 42m (67km) 10m (16km) 1:00
17 33m (53km) 9m (15km)  
18 (New York) 6m (10km)    
‘Running’ totals 407m  (656km)   290m (466km)     50:00

Marathon training week 13/20: turbo, run, run, gym, (very long) run, velodrome.

After Sunday’s 17.6 miles, Monday should have been a rest day – but starting a week with a rest feels like a waste, so I treated my tired legs to 45 minutes on the turbo (15 minutes off for good behaviour).

They didn’t seem particularly grateful but managed 22.1km (13.7m).

On Tuesday I went out for the 8.4 miler (13.58km) I ran twice last week. In the spirit of trying new things, I used different shoes and kit – I’ll try various things over the coming weeks so I have a range of tried and tested options to cope with whatever the day itself might throw at me.

Planning and thinking ahead – whatever next.

Although not necessary for 8 miles, I tried some porridge for breakfast – which reminded me how important it is to practice in a way that reflects the likely experience of the event. I don’t normally eat breakfast and it left me feeling unpleasantly full – at least the marathon itself starts at 10 so I’ve time to digest on the day.

The run itself was pretty good – a little faster than the quicker of the two runs last week. Of course, I put that down, entirely, to the fact that these trainers are red.

I checked that running on Valentine’s Day would not prejudice the chances of getting to our 32nd wedding anniversary in June, and took a rest on Wednesday but Thursday was back to the now standard 8.4 miler.

I took off another 10 seconds per km. I’m now within 2 s/km of 4 hour marathon pace – but I’m having to push hard to get even this close for just 8 miles. I’m sure it was easier 20 years ago.

A week ago I was preparing to accept that I couldn’t get beneath 4 hours – now there seems to be the smallest glimmer of hope. It’s the hope that kills you!

An hour in the gym on Friday (all legs and core as the shoulder isn’t quite right yet) and all was set for the long slow run on Saturday ….

I had breakfast and took a little water (not enough) and some jelly babies with me. I had a run mapped out with a few escape routes if needed. In the end I didn’t use them but found it a real hard slog for the last few kms. I ran through the (psychologically important?) 20 mile barrier – 20.7miles (33.33km) but it wasn’t fast and it wasn’t pretty.

Sunday I spent a few hours being trained as a trainer for the cycle club’s initiative to get children and adults on bikes – then it was the Newport Velodrome in the evening (the Geraint Thomas Velodrome, no less).

I love riding on the track – the single speed has a great simplicity and the lack of any brakes is less of a concern when nobody has them. As always, I had a great time but there was little in my legs at the start and just about nothing two hours later – Geraint would have despaired at me.

Week Run Cycle X-train
1 16.1m  (25.9km) 9.8m  (15.8 km) 2:00
2 18.5m  (29.8km) 13.3m  (21.5km) 2:00
3 20.7m  (33.3km) 65.8m (105.9km) 1:00
4 22.2m  (35.8km) 13.7m (22.1km) 1:00
5 24m (38.6km) 13m  (21km) 1:00
6 (Christmas) 13.2m (21.3km)    
7 25.6m (41.1km) 62.7m (100.9km) 3:00
8 14.6m (23.6km)13.2m (21.2km) 7:00
9 (Skiing) 15.51m (25km)   12:00
10 (Skiing)     12:00
11 (Skiing) 7.1m (11.4km)   6:00
12 34.1m  (55km) 35m (56.4km) 1:00
13 37.5m (60.4km) 13.7m (22.1km) 2:00
‘Running’ totals 249.1m  (401.2km) 240.2m (386.9km)  49:00

Marathon training week 11/20: Ski, ski, run. Snow and Snow Patrol – but not enough running.

As the cars in the car park behind the apartment slowly sink beneath the snow …

We were back out on the slopes Monday and Tuesday – then it was packing up on Wednesday to drive back to the UK on Thursday.

It snowed solidly and, clearly, it was snow chains for the trip down the mountain. That wasn’t too bad as I could put them on in the underground garage – taking them off in the snow in the valley was another matter entirely.

We had about 550 miles to drive through France – and nearly all of it with a good covering of snow either side of the road. Despite that, the roads were excellent and clear. It began to snow as we got west of London and driving along the M4 at about 9pm it started to settle.

We saw one gritting lorry near Ashford (Kent) and not another for the whole 166 mile journey, despite constant claims that gritting was in process. At one point it seemed that we might be using the snow chains again but the snow eased and only started more heavily again as we got home.

A great holiday – 16 days, 1780 miles, a lot of skiing and the advantage of having both sons join us.

Three falls: one while standing still and tripping over my own ski pole (very cool); one on a black mogul field (very expected); and one entirely by surprise (but my wife says someone skied over the back of my skis which might explain it). I went over onto my left shoulder – after 5 days I don’t yet have full movement back.

Three falls is probably OK – too many falls would be depressing: no falls would suggest I’m not pushing hard enough.

In normal life I tend to shy away from potatoes, bread and cheese but those are the main staples of the Haute Savoie diet. Indeed, the wonderful dish ‘Tartiflette’ was actually created to promote sales of the local reblochon cheese. We ate and drank well but I came back still under 70kg which I will treat as a victory.

Some very enjoyable reading too – I managed to finish

  • ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (good but a bit weird in places, almost cartoonish). The cover quoted Salman Rushdie calling it ‘The greatest novel in any language of the last 50 years’ (I certainly couldn’t agree with that)
  • ‘Red Azalea’ by Anchee Min (very interesting, set in the time of the cultural revolution and well worth a read)
  • ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ by Amor Towles (generally excellent but, to a pedantic Brit, having a Russian Count in the 1930s use the word ‘gotten’ sticks out like a sore thumb).

We were supposed to be up to London for a Snow Patrol concert at the Wembley Arena on Saturday and that looked a bit unlikely to be happening as the snow fell for much of Friday – something like 8 inches of the stuff.

If we’d had to head to London then, I doubt we’d have gone, as the UK was again proving incapable of dealing with fairly modest snowfalls. Luckily, by Saturday things had settled a bit and we were just on the edge of the worst of the snow, which was mainly south and west of us.

We decided to give London a go so took the front wheel drive car. The biggest issue was (as ever) getting out of the village but we made it – just – and the rest of the trip was OK, taken cautiously. The rear wheel drive car would not have got out of the village.

Snow Patrol were excellent, but they had set the bar supremely high at the more ‘intimate’ concert we went to last November.

Luckily, in snow terms, London was much clearer than Oxfordshire so I took my running kit but only just managed to force myself out on Sunday morning – my first run for three weeks because of the skiing.

It was hovering just above freezing but was bright and clear I ran from West Kensington around the Serpentine (the lake in Hyde Park) and back. Altogether 11.4 km in under 1 hour 3 minutes at 5.30 min/km (7.1 miles @ about 8:52 per mile), despite the road junctions and the sore left shoulder. To my surprise, inside 4 hour marathon pace and it felt pretty good. Clearly, I should be doing more skiing and less running in my training ….

It will be interesting to see how the Achilles tendons react – they had better behave as there is a lot of running to be done between now and the Rotterdam marathon on 7th April (once the snow clears).

So, the training week ended with some skiing but only one run – a fairly dismal effort over the last 4 weeks as life has got in the way of the training. If someone were paying me to do the running perhaps I’d adjust the priorities but I can’t help but think that life first and running second is the right way round for a – very – amateur runner like me.

Week Run Cycle X-train
1 16.1m  (25.9km) 9.8m  (15.8 km)  2:00
2 18.5m  (29.8km) 13.3m  (21.5km) 2:00
3 20.7m  (33.25km) 65.8m (105.9km) 1:00
4 22.2m  (35.8km) 13.7m (22.07km) 1:00
5 24m (38.6km) 13m  (21km) 1:00
6 (Christmas) 13.2m (21.3km)    
7 25.56m (41.14km) 62.68m (100.86km) 3:00
8 14.63m (23.55km) 13.2m (21.2km) 7.00
9 (Skiing) 15.51m (24.97km)   12.00
10 (Skiing)     12.00
11 (Skiing) 7.1m (11.4km)   6.00
‘Running’ totals 137.3m  (221.1km) 178.2m (286.3km)    47:00

Marathon training week 10/20: Ski, ski, long walk, ski, ski. Am I supposed to do some running?

Lots of snow but not as much in some parts of the world – stay safe people

I took our older son and his girlfriend back to Geneva airport on Monday 21st January (after skiing in the day) and collected our younger son, Alex, who arrived a couple of hours later. The three of us skied on Tuesday (still terrific conditions) but I had to drop out on Wednesday and Thursday feeling very rough with a cold/flu bug. On Thursday Alex and I went for a long walk around the village in the snow – he missed skiing last year so was pleased to catch up with developments in a place he’s known for most of his life.

Friday and Saturday were spent skiing again, before taking Alex back to the airport for a Saturday afternoon flight back to the UK.

Both our sons ski extremely well. We started them at 4 and they cannot remember not being able to ski. I started just before I was 30 and I think that the later you start caps how good you can get (or, at least that’s my excuse).

I get by reasonably well but tend to do ‘proper’ English skiing: stylish on blue runs, competent on red runs, significant collapse of technique on black runs. I put that to good effect skiing with Alex on the Friday.

There is a black run in the resort which used to be beneath a chairlift so it was possible to see how difficult it looked before deciding whether to tackle it. In recent years that chairlift has been replaced with another starting from a different place so now only the top part of the run is visible.

Foolishly I agreed to ski it with him – the top bit was tough, as expected, but the bulk of it that had been out of sight was just a large and steep mogul field – very much at the extreme edge of my abilities. I only fell once which I regard as a minor victory but it was tough and I was happy to escape intact.

Sadly, we could not fit in a run during the week because the pavements were not clear enough of snow to provide a safe footing. That was a particular shame as Alex is the son with whom I’ll be running the marathon in April.

After a great time with our sons (and a girlfriend), and having dispatched them back to the UK, we took Sunday off skiing – not a bad decision as it snowed heavily. That is one of the great things about going skiing for a couple of weeks – you don’t feel guilty at taking a day off like you would if you were just out there for a week.

So, half way through the training for Rotterdam and three compromised weeks because of the trips to the Lakes and the Alps. On the plus side, I’ve still been physically active and have got in the long runs in all except the one for this week.

People say that if you cannot train for three weeks because of illness or injury, you should consider postponing the marathon. As my weeks have not been complete failures, I don’t intend to take that route but I’d better get back to the programme soon.

But (Sunday 27 January) I’m still in the Alps as I write this …

Week Run Cycle X-train
1 16.1m  (25.9km) 9.8m  (15.8 km)  2:00
2 18.5m  (29.8km) 13.3m  (21.5km) 2:00
3 20.7m  (33.25km) 65.8m (105.9km) 1:00
4 22.2m  (35.8km) 13.7m (22.07km) 1:00
5 24m (38.6km) 13m  (21km) 1:00
6 (Christmas) 13.2m (21.3km)    
7 25.56m (41.14km) 62.68m (100.86km) 3:00
8 14.63m (23.55km) 13.2m (21.2km) 7.00
9 (Skiing) 15.51m (24.97km)   12.00
10 (skiing)     14.00
‘Running’ totals 130.2m  (209.7km) 178.2m (286.3km)  43:00

Marathon training week 9/20: run, ski, ski, ski, ski. Heading downhill

Snow and interesting cloud formations – Haute Savoie, France

Having got back from the Lakes on Sunday I went out for the long slow run on Monday 14th January – knowing that the rest of the week was going to be a major training failure.

It was the third long run in 10 days so perhaps not too surprising that it felt hard, but I kept going and did 15.51 miles (24.97km) against a training programme target of 14 miles.

It was slower than my usual long slow runs – not particularly because I planned it that way, I’m just not sure I had much more in me. Pace is still a worry but perhaps better rested runs will be faster – and there are still 11 weeks until the marathon. Either that or I’ll be re-setting my targets and aiming to beat 4h 30.

I wasn’t ever more than a few miles away from home and so had to do a number of loops to make up the distance (six times along one bit of road). That felt mentally tough so I think I’ll have to look for a longer ‘out and back’ route for the remaining long runs.

The rest of Monday was spent hobbling about, as usual, and the same continued Tuesday morning as we left very early to get the Shuttle and drive to the Alps. No real problem with the Achilles tendons while driving but when we stopped I was certainly back to doing my impression of an 80 year old. It’s a depressing thought that I can do that for real in less than 17 years.

Although the drive is a bit gruelling – just over 12 hours door to door – I enjoyed it as it brought back happy memories of cycling the 550 miles (880km) out there, solo and unsupported, last summer. Although the route I took by bike was very different, save for the last 100 miles or so, I was surprised how much it brought it back.

Perhaps it’s just that Les Carroz d’Araches is such a special place for me – we’ve skied here for 20 years and I’ve cycled here for perhaps 10 , including my ‘everest’ in 2017: here https://theomil.wordpress.com/2017/07/24/so-apart-from-the-pain-exhaustion-and-mental-anguish-how-was-the-everesting/

Last year’s ride out to the alps is covered back in July, starting here: https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/104665289/posts/4529

I like to think of the trip as altitude training – but suppose others would simply call it a skiing holiday. To be honest they would be right as our resort is at only 1150 metres and the highest skiing is at 2500 m.

We had a domestic day on Wednesday and then collected our older son and his girlfriend from Geneva airport. With Germany and Austria having had dangerous levels of snow, it seems that France had just the right amount. The skiing (and the holiday in general) was spectacularly good for the next 4 days to complete my training week, with just the one long run.

It had snowed on Thursday so it was on with the snow chains on Friday morning. I was surprised just how we struggled to get up to the lift station with them on – only to discover that one had fallen off. I ran back, retracing our drive, only to find the offending chain just metres from the apartment block’s garage. I don’t think I will ever get tired of telling people how much I dislike snow chains – truly the devil’s own work.

Apparently two wheel drive with winter tyres is more capable in the snow than four wheel drive with non-winter tyres. Of course, our rear wheel drive car with ordinary tyres is completely useless in the snow, so it looks like a change of car before next ski season.

Sadly, while I’m not sure if fell walking had any significant benefits for marathon training, I’m even more doubtful about alpine skiing. The only really beneficial bit would be the going uphill – and that is very much the province of the chairlift. However, it must have some effect as, despite having fairly fit legs from cycling and running, I was able to get a proper thigh burn when pushing hard to ski the resort from top to bottom.

I’ll clock it as a discounted 12 hours of cross-training, without much confidence in its value.

Perhaps I can console myself that the Achilles tendons are getting a bit of a rest.

Week Run Cycle X-train
1 16.1m  (25.9km) 9.8m  (15.8 km)  2:00
2 18.5m  (29.8km) 13.3m  (21.5km) 2:00
3 20.7m  (33.3km) 65.8m (105.9km) 1:00
4 22.2m  (35.8km) 13.7m (22.07km) 1:00
5 24m (38.6km) 13m  (21km) 1:00
6 (Christmas) 13.2m (21.3km)    
725.6m (41.1km)62.7m (100.9km) 3:00
8 (Lakes) 14.6m (23.6km) 13.2m (21.2km) 7.00
9 (Skiing)15.5m (25km)   12.00
‘Running’ totals 130.2m (209.7km) 178.2m (286.3km) 29:00

Marathon training week 8: turbo, run, fell walk, long walk. Quite tough – but of what training value?

Grasmere from Loughrigg Fell

After hard exercise on Friday, Saturday and Sunday it was back on the turbo for 45 minutes on Monday to avoid starting week 8 of the training with a rest day. A slightly gentler 21.2km (13.2m) but still finishing in a pool of sweat.

Tuesday was blown out of the water for training by a combination of waiting for deliveries, a service for the alarm and a quick trip down to Bournemouth late on. The rest was probably a good thing after 4 fairly hard days of exercise.

On Wednesday I got out for the week’s long slow run – 14.63 miles (23.55km). It was cold and felt very hard, run at 30 seconds a km outside 4 hour marathon pace.

I don’t know why it was so tough but I’ve ruled out a Samson-syndrome, despite getting my hair cut in the morning. Perhaps it was being only 5 days after the last long run – but perhaps I’ve got to start taking nutrition and hydration more seriously. All my morning runs to date (including the 12 and 13 milers) have been done on just a cup of coffee.

This one, starting just after midday, was done on three cups of coffee, a small glass of water, a banana and a Nature Valley oat bar. I don’t take any food or water out with me. Perhaps that’s not enough for a later start and longer runs?

I was still hobbling on Thursday but we drove the 245 miles up to the Lake District for an excellent few days with friends, in Ambleside. We stopped on the way to see my father, a few days before his 95th birthday on the 13th.

On Friday we walked from Ambleside to Grasmere over Loughrigg Fell – about 6 miles with a maximum height of just over 1000 feet. Another 7 miles on Saturday but flatter in a circuit near Far Sawrey (if that makes sense) towards the south west corner of Windermere. No sign of Wordsworth and too early for daffodils but I wandered lamely as a cloud.

One good outcome is that the Achilles tendons held up well to the hills and might have benefitted from the rest from running for a few days.

Back south on Sunday.

I have no idea what the factor is for equating miles walking with miles of running – still less how that works for hill walking. So, I really don’t know if that has been good or bad training – or any sort of replacement for the running and cross-training I missed. Perhaps I’ll just count it as cross-training, accept it as ‘different’, and move on.

Week Run Cycle X-train
1 16.1m  (25.9km) 9.8m  (15.8 km)  2:00
2 18.5m  (29.8km) 13.3m  (21.5km) 2:00
3 20.7m  (33.25km) 65.8m (105.9km) 1:00
4 22.2m  (35.8km) 13.7m (22.07km) 1:00
5 24m (38.6km) 13m  (21km) 1:00
6 (Christmas) 13.2m (21.3km)    
7 25.56m (41.14km)62.7m (100.9km) 3:00
814.63m (23.55km)  13.2m (21.2km) 7.00
‘Running’ totals 129.3m (208.3km) 191.4m (307.5km) 17:00