Monday, 28 November 2011

The difficult bits

So there I was, out for a morning run, bouncing along thinking I was really working on the issues I need to work on in order to go faster- basically, looking at stride cadence. I thought I just needed to move my legs faster.
To a point this is true, however, when you are taking faster steps, it seems that the stride length just becomes smaller.

I was prepared for this and thought it wasn't really an issue. As and when, I'll pick up on the stride length. However, at one point today I thought I'd stretch out and give the long stride a bit of a go- lo and behold, I was knackered before I'd taken 20 steps.

Oh dear. This is a new turn in developments. It appears that what I thought was the obvious culprit for slow-ness, my cadence, isn't necessarily the issue. Thinking about it, at the end of a race when I put on a burst of speed, its the stride length that really makes things happen. Long strides, for me, appear to be anaerobic, or at the least, part of the lactic threshold- so I can sustain long strides for not all that long. I need to think about how I can break out of the anaerobic threshold and into the aerobic with long strides. Probably something that elite athletes have trying to perfect for years. Still, nothing ventured nothing gained, so its not just stride cadence that I need to think about now, its the length as well.

Out in the Baregrips again. As I run in them more, unsurprisingly they are getting better even on rubbly paths- more practice in them needed as well!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Run over Bleaklow

After that last post, I dont want to seem like I am going to become obsessed with numbers. The enjoyment of a sport can be dampened by the participants thirst for making the numbers better. How fast they are going, how many calories they are burning etc.
As soon as running and biking stops becoming the main priority- as soon as I am going out only for numbers, that is when I am going to stop using my watch. That is the point where it gets silly.
For the moment, I intend to use numbers as a guide, to show me when I am getting faster, but the over-riding principle is, the activity itself has to remain fun.

In that vein, I went out on my second run of the week today, up over Bleaklow, again not really looking at numbers, (I have to admit here that I havent started the Heart rate monitoring yet- I'm only using it as a retrospective tool) and just ran across the moor and back again.
It was misty and claggy, I saw no-one else, save a couple of sheep and a couple of Hares which are half grey and half white at the moment. Picked out a couple of trods that I've never seen or been along before and had a rather fantastic time. As I came back over the top, the mist lifted and the entire hill was in view, the sun was out in places, and there was a great atmosphere, I need to start running with a camera more.

I must hasten to add that I fell over 5 times, which wouldn't really have done a camera much good. It would seem that its got a bit wet and slippy for Roclites. If you are up on the tops in anything less than something with a ridiculous amount of grip- take care, and be ready to fall.
Baregrips are the way forward for the time being.
Unless I see my way to getting a pair of Mudclaws... mmmm. More stuff to break.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

An experiment for the winter

Looking at going into proper training this winter. Haven't really done it properly before, but doing a bit of research into what would be beneficial.
To begin with, the most obvious thing to do is to increase mileage. Its simple, but it has to be said, just increasing mileage works fine, but there must be more interesting and efficient ways to get better, rather than just running.

I've decided that my training is going to go on at S&P, working on strength and conditioning, but interspersed with that I will be increasing running distance.
I have a Heart Rate monitor and thats going to be incorporated into the training- interestingly though, just training on HR levels isnt perhaps the best way to do things, training at specific speeds is also a key thing to do.
However, when fell racing, its difficult to go at a specific speed at all times- youve got to think about changing gears, and so specific speeds over a long distance are more difficult to train at.

So I'm coming up with a bit of a plan for the next couple of months, to give me a fighting chance of being slightly competitive with a couple of the guys from Glossopdale next year. I know that there a couple of them who are out running a LOT. I need to train hard, but intelligently.

The first month is going to be a build up of mileage, but including a day of Hill training each week. There will also be a long, easy recovery day as well. Thinking about this, I might also include some road biking as well, if there are any good days... Im thinking they will be long days, but not too hard... rests from running, but keeping up the Heart rate.
Something else I'm thinking about is foot cadence. Speeding that up may well be a key to increasing general speed as well. My runs won't exclusively be about increasing foot pace (as it were), but it is going to be a bit of a focus over the first 4 weeks, just to see what happens.

After the 4 weeks, I'll see where I am in terms of mileage and ascent- and (depending on weather, of course) I might spend the next 4 weeks looking at sprints rather than hills- to increase sheer speed, and then go back to hills after that. At that point it will be time to reappraise and see what needs to be done next. I'm also going to start looking at what I can do in terms of diet- to see how that affects whats going on with my training.
(to be honest, I cant wait for snow.... hacking up a hill with boots on is going to do wonders for leg strength AND Heart rate threshold... but that will have to wait for the moment).

Anyhow, thats a bit of a plan, however, its NOT going to work without a lot of work and a LOT of recovery. That means foam rollers, that means Sports Massage and soft tissue work, it means looking after myself, stretching and muscle sling work. Its not about just making me faster, its about making me more efficient as a runner and an athlete.

Just as a bit of an experiment really, with me as the subject. Let me know what you think and I'll write about what I break in the process....

Friday, 18 November 2011

First proper run in a while

So as you may or may not know, my heel has been causing a bit of havoc recently. Not entirely sure what it was, however, after having a look at the general anatomy in a bit more detail, and also asking a couple of people, it was evident that the issue was certainly not Plantar Faciitis, nor was it achillies tendonitis, but it was something that was vaguely attached to the tendon.

It would seem that it was the attachment of the Achillies tendon to the periosteum on the calcaneus (where it connects to the heel bone). It could have been a bit strained or something along those lines.
I completely stopped running, and haven't run since the beginning of October. I haven't stopped walking, and have been out on walks up on the moors, but funnily enough, when I went out in boots it made the heel hurt even more than normal so the recent excursions have been in fell running shoes, but only walking, and only on paths.

The pain in the heel seems to have gone down, and I am progressively stretching the tissues more and more in order to get a little bit more order into them. It should be noted that I am not stretching into a painful stretch, not even so that it feels like it is "tugging", but just a slight stretch.
The other thing that is reall helping is icing it, and then providing friction over the area that was painful.
Although I used to use icecubes and just waited until they melted, I have been experimenting with an ice tube.
Sounds exciting, but really isnt.

You get a small plastic bottle, fill it half full with water and stick it in the freezer. Once the water is frozen, take out the bottle and cut it at the top level of the ice, and hey presto- you have an ice tube with a handy plastic cover so that you don't get frozen hands as you apply it to the afflicted area.
I sit there in the evening and ice and friction it for about 20 mins altogether. Seems to work pretty well.

Hopefully I'll be up and properly running in a couple of weeks, but the key is taking it slowly. I have more ideas than ever about training, and I can't implement them all at the same time... we'll just have to take it day by day and see where it takes us.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Garmin customer service

Well, I'm relatively impressed. A few years ago when I had issues with my Garmin Forerunner 305 I tried calling up the (somewhat expensive) call line, was kept waiting for ages, and then got through to a tech who had no idea what she was on about, took a while to get things sorted ... you get the idea. Eventually the issue was sorted, but the word to be used was "Eventually".

As you may have read in another post- my Forerunner had developed a fault, and I was dreading calling Garmin to get it sorted out.
However, I finally bit the bullet and did so about a week ago, and to my surprise and pleasure, its a normal phone number, not one of these 0845 jobbies. Bonus- something has changed.
Got through to a recorded voice menu... oh no.
Pressed the right button (only one needing to be pushed) and hey presto, I got through to a human being! Not only that, but someone who knew what they were talking about. I explained the problem and he admitted that he had never heard of the issue before- to be fair- it is a totally random one, so if he did say he knew what it was I would have been a bit skepical unless he explained it to in technicolour detail.

Admittidly the unit is a bit old- I've certainly had it for 3 years or so, so it is slightly out of warranty. It was agreed that I would send it back for it to be assessed, fixed if possible, or if it couldn't be fixed, another one would be sent in replacement. If it was to be replaced, I would be charged about £50, and it would be couriered straight back to me.
So if its crocked, I get a new unit, for £50. ok.
I handed over a credit card number (never use debit over the phone- if you get defrauded on a credit card its not actually YOUR money you are missing, with a debit card, it IS your money that is missing... but thats another story), and sent my Garmin off in a jiffy bag.

That was on Friday. Its now Tuesday the week after and I recieved a new (well, refurbished) Forerunner 305, delivered by UPS. Thats pretty much one working day turnaround.

I am impressed.
Thanks Garmin.
If you have had issues with Garmins Customer service before, especially in the UK, it seems that they have take the criticism to heart, and there is a new order in there. I would now be happy to recommend them to anyone.

(As an end note, it should be said that Garmin didn't say what the issue was- I suspect they still don't know.. would be nice to find out their findings though...)

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Injury sucks. It sucks Donkeys.

These aren't going to be used for a while...
Yes, being injured is really quite annoying. What is more annoying is that for all intents and purposes, I'm not actually *that* injured. At least with a broken leg or a snapped arm, you have a cast, and a visible reason not to go off and exercise, not to go and run in the hills, not to hoick heavy weights around. Not only can you SEE the fact that you have been injured, you physically cannot go off doing these things because of a bloody great cast on your limb.

I appear to have done something really bizarre and "pull-y" like to my right achilles, and thought that it would have cleared up by now with a little bit of rest. Admittidly the training in the gym on Thursday was not the easiest of "rest days" that I've done, but my heel didn't seem too bothered by it at all. No pain, nothing.
The DOMS yesterday and today was quite another thing, but I thought that was merely my muscles not liking something that they hadn't done before.
Best thing to do? Get out there for a bit of a walk, stretch the legs, see how things go. Lets not run on it yet, thats probably a bad idea.

We wandered up toward Kinder, got all of about 300 metres and had to go over a stile. All good, until I straightened my right leg, lifting the other one over and I felt what can only be described as a stretching/ripping/coming apart type sensation accompanied by red hot pokers and needles being jammed into the area around the outside of my right heel.
Needless to say I didn't get over the stile, but ended up on the floor, map in mouth, stifling a bit of a scream and a fair few unpleasant words. We stood around for a short while before hobbling back down the hill to the car. Dammit. I can't believe I'm injured for stuff I want to do, and yet, wandering around town, standing around doing nothing, I'm fine, and just look a bit bone idle.

Its very frustrating not being able to get out and walk, let alone run in the hills, especially with this episode of perfect weather we have been having. I keep looking at people training, and listening to things saying "the only way to get better is to train, train, train". But when you are laid up, icing your heel, and cursing, thats not what you want to hear.

The only thing to do is to wait. Read. Catch up on other things that need doing, not get disheartened by not being out on the hill and practicing what you enjoy most. I need to be distracted by other things to make me not think about what I can't do. Its a time to learn, to plan, to grow, but not to run.
There was me thinking I was injury proof. Evidently not.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Alpkit Gourdon rucksack

Gourdon 20 and 25. Both a bit battered and used
Realise that I have been keeping this one quiet for a while- no particular reason either, its kind of unique in the rucksack collection (!) that I have.
A few years ago I was bike commuting in London and had to get all my bits and bobs- which in those days included an ironed shirt- and once a week, a suit into work. All good except that when it rained, especially when it really rained, there appeared to be no way in which I could get stuff to work dry. Quite a big thing really when you're sitting around all day in a wet suit and drenched underwear. Not nice.

I tried the obvious- putting stuff in plastic bags etc. and it kind of worked ot a point, but I wanted a waterproof rucksack that I could just throw stuff in and take to work not worrying about whether the plastic bag was ripped/ not quite closed etc.
I looked around for a waterproof rucksack, remembering that Craghoppers had made one a couple of years before. The main issue with that one was the weight- well over a couple of kilograms if memory serves, and also, I've never seen it in the UK.

The best solution I could come across was an old drybag attached to a camelbak with gaffatape, which worked for a bit until the gaffa tape failed (obviously didn't use enough of it).

Surfing the web I came across the Alpkit Gourdon- a supposedly waterproof rucksack in a colour which meant that I might not get run over in London, for only £25. After selling kayak drybags for quite a bit more than than, and looking at the ortlieb range (which are fantastic, but again, involve somewhat more serious financial outlay) this seemed like a great thing, and if it didn't work, well, its only £22.50, and I'll have something else to moan about. Brilliant.

I ordered it and the rucksack arrived either the next day or the one after- massive credit to Alpkits efficient delivery processes. It probably came with a hand written note- but I can't remember now. I chose the Gourdon 25 in Orange. Its 25 litres, has a clear window in the back so you can see what you've packed without having to dig around in the bag, a fairly basic rucksac harness arrangement, and a small pocket down the back where you could put a camelbak if you so wished. It has a roll top closure system, a removable back pad, and, on this model, no external pockets. The Gourdon 20 DOES have a couple of external pockets and an elasticated compression/holding system on it, which is very useful, but doesn't have the clear window.

The Gourdon happily took a suit, shirt, shoes, underwear, lunch etc. and kept them all dry, even in the most vicious of downpours. It was comfortable on the bike and it did exactly what I wanted it to do.

I've used it in anger on the hill a fair few times, in the photo it very much matches my coat, but ignore the fashionista thoughts. I carried everything I needed for a day on the hill, the only stuff that got wet was the stuff I was wearing. As I wasn't travelling too fast with it, it was fine and stable. No issues with it as far as comfort or anything- though if I was carrying a heavier load, a better waist strap would be better.

defunct chest strap
A couple of issues with mine- I didn't like the way the chest strap was attached- it seemed a little flimsy, and I was constantly worried it was going to fall off/come off and it was almost a relief when it did- mainly because it meant I no longer have to worry about it falling off. (to be fair, I've just looked at Lynnes 20 and the chest strap on that is made of MUCH sturdier stuff than mine ever was, so I suspect that there have been changes- and if Alpkit have changed this then brilliant. If not, do what is now on my list of things to do and try to attach another chest strap.

non-defunct chest strap
Its a bit annoying that there are no external pockets for those little things that you want to be able to get to- and there is no internal pocket for things like house keys, so you need to balance them on top and hope they stay there, or dig around in a mass of stuff to find them. Apart from those minor details, the bag is brilliant. (you could always keep your keys in your pocket...)

I have tried running with the Gourdon but found that the 25 is a bit to "wallowy" for my tastes. If its not full of stuff, the stuff thats inside rattles around and drives you nuts, but when it is full, the action of running makes it bounce around a bit too much for comfort. If I'm running I have to go back to a running rucksack with waterproof pouches inside. (Its not too much of an issue now as I don't have to take a suit to work any more).
broken plastic bit- obviously snapped

non-broken plastic bit. it bends.
At one point I did overload the sack (in terms of volume) and I broke the plastic bit that runs across the top of the rucksack, which made me worry that I had broken the waterproofingness of it. Not a bit of it, its still bombproof. Used most recently for a weeks worth of commuting in London. Everything stayed dry. It was comfortable, but I still need to replace that damn chest strap.

For between £20- £25 for a bombproof waterproof rucskack, really, its a complete no-brainer. Buy one.

Alpkit Gourdon 20
Alpkit Gourdon 25
Alpkit Gourdon 30