Blog Move: http://www.runningmatters.me.uk

Hi folks,

This blog has moved. I’ve made a small investment and gone self hosted.

You can follow me here: http://www.runningmatters.me.uk

Cheers,

Matt

Greater Manchester Marathon 2016: Week 6 of 18

Week 6 has been somewhat of a milestone week. Not only is it the end of the first Mesocycle of the training, and not only is it the first recovery week, or the point where it marked being exactly  one third of the way through… But we were finally able to announce that we are growing a new little runner!

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We’re 12 weeks pregnant, and have had our scan. It was a truly magical experience which I’m sure every parent goes through the first time. What you don’t expect to see in the scan is the baby moving – I assumed it was still pictures – Imagine my surprise when our little one kicked out and had a ride around Jodie’s uterus! This of course means that Jodie will not be running the Manchester Marathon this year, but she is continuing to run to maintain fitness and hopefully she’ll be fine to run in the Cardiff world championships!

The recovery week in the plan has obviously been perfectly timed. My legs felt battered all week right up until Saturday so I deliberately went out to run at the slower end of all of my pace zones.

Tuesday saw me on an easy 8  miler with 8 strides. The weather was miserable and my legs were knackered. I also sufferedf romt he fact that I needed a poo. At some point I realised that everytime my runs are interrupted by a such an event, its normally a Tuesday! Without wanting to get too graphic, I suspect that as my biggest meal of the day is on Sunday, that Tuesday’s GI problems are simply that the food has finally digested! So I need to try and shift that event to happen pre-run!

Wednesday was a straightforward recovery run. Legs still feeling a bit dead, still miserable weather.

Thursday was another easy 8 miler with no strides. Heavy legged but did a reasonable amount of climbing too. Heart rate looked better though, and I knew Friday was a rest day.

Friday of course is weigh day, and it seems the hard work has paid off, I dropped 4lbs this week, most of it in fat and increased my muscle mass! So just another stone to go til my pre-race target.

weight progress

I’m a little unsure how much stock to take in the body composition analysis of these things. It said that I was 25.1% body fat, 50.3% water, and 28.3% muscle – that’s over 100% and doesn’t include bone any everything else! But I guess its designed as a guide and a way of tracking progress rather than a zero-sum game.

On parkrunday we avoided Ham Hill again to continue our tour. A group of us went to Blandford parkrun instead. I was scheduled for 4 miles recovery, but I was tempted to “have a go”. Its a fast course and could have had a pop at sub 20, but I figured if I run this hard it would affect my sessions next week. I felt quite self righteously smug at my self control! It was a good controlled effort and finished feeling refreshed.

Unfortunately, the next 18 hours consisted of bad food and several cans off Thatchers Gold. Which meant Sunday turned into a bit of a mare… Still, I figured a bit of a blowout wouldn’t hurt. Struggled through the first 6 of my 12 miler slowy, and had to make a pub stop to use the facilities, after which I felt significantly better. Managed lots of climbing too which was a plus point.

Next week is a bit of a big week (not as big as the following week though!), with 52 miles scheduled (It’ll go over that with warm up/cool down) and will be the biggest week for ages. Another tempo run is on the cards (Which I struggled with last year) and my first 20 miler of the campaign, which I’m going to part run with the group – carefully considered after my 18 miler a few weeks back caused me to want to cry!

12 weeks to go – which emans only really 9 weeks until the taper…. this time is disappearing fast!

 

 

 

 

Greater Manchester Marathon 2016 – The Plan

It’s been a while since I posted last. Tom asked if the blog was officially retired when we were having a post-parkrun coffee the other day, and my reply was that I didn’t really have much to write about. Nothing really interesting anyway, as the following paragraphs will prove…

Catching Up

Training has been going OK, I’m injury free and I seem to be back on the improvement curve. I ran the Great Birmingham Run (Half Marathon) in 1:34:35 which is about 4 and a bit minutes slower than Reading in March, but I was happy with the time as summer (running wise) was less than stellar. Coming back from injury, illness and a mojo deficiency meant my times had suffered so to post that time was quite pleasing.

I followed this up with the Great South Run a week later. 1:09:32 was the finishing time, a minute quicker than last year, but the conditions were perfect compared to last years atrocious wind. I took heart from it though, it seemed to indicate I was in slightly better shape than the same time last year. And looking at my training logs since then, it does seem to be the case.

I’m still frustrated with my 5k PB. I feel I should be able to set a faster time, and this time next week I’ll be about to race and hope to finally break the sub-20 goal I set around this time last year. Slow progress maybe, but I feel fitter and more confident than this time last year, and I am running well despite carrying some extra bulk at the moment.

I always intended to run a spring marathon in 2016, and with London unceremoniously rejecting me again, I plumped for Manchester again as the timing works out quite well for me. I have a score to settle there. Despite finishing in a time I am immensely proud of (3:20:32) I missed out on my goal by 33 seconds. Up until 20 miles I was on for sub 3:15 and fell apart in the last 10k.

My mission this year, is to run sub 3:15 (And actually as close to 3:10 as I can) as a stepping stone to an Autumn marathon in Bournemouth (As Berlin also rejected me in their poxy ballot!) and try and get as close to 3:05 as I can.

You see, 3:05 is the “Good for Age” time for London. If I run a sub 3:05 I can apply for that and don’t need to go into the ballot! Unfortunately next Autumn is too late to get a qualifying time for London 2017, but it will be within the qualifying period for London 2018. And if I don’t make it next autumn, I have another chance in Spring 2017.

Yes its long term, and yes relies on a lot of factors, but its always good to have a goal. Step 1 is Manchester 2016.

So, time to get training for it. Unfortunately though, one of the best motivational tools around, Jantastic, is not running this year. I’m a bit gutted. It was great to participate in and made for good banter amongst our local team. It also helped me retain focus and consistency. Thankfully I still have SOME self discipline though! As long as I have a plan, I have a chance.

I’ve spent the last month or so building up my base mileage in my legs and I’m comfortably doing around 50m a week now, which I am confident will help me with this years plan of attack. Once again, I am using Pfitzinger and Douglas Up to 55m training plan. I have made some modifications to it in order to address some of the lessons I learned during last years campaign. Many of them are answers to the following question:

Why did I fall apart at the 20 mile mark? 

  • Bad pacing. During sections of the race I was exceeding the Marathon Pace I trained at as I had “Goal Creep” during the weeks before the race where I thought I could go faster than I targetted at the start. This time around I have a fixed 5 minute window I am going for and sticking at.
  • My longest long runs I built around races, usually half marathons, where I’d run 7 miles first, then run a half race (At long run pace). Some of them I had long (30 minute plus) breaks between them though, which I think meant my legs were not doing enough continued endurance. I am not going to be doing this again.
  • Not enough endurance. I want to do more 20 milers. Last year I did 4, and this year I want to do 6 (3 x 20m, 3 x 22m). One of the reasons for building my base mileage now is so I can get my long runs up to 20 miles sooner. When you see the schedule you’ll see how they fit with the cycles and I’ll be doign my first 20 miler before the new year.

What else would help me improve?

  • Weight loss. I’ve not been strict enough to lose weight. My intention is before the race to drop well below the 14st mark, which will mean I’m at least 7lbs lighter than I was for the 2015 race (I’m about 7lbs HEAVIER at the moment than I was for the race)
  • Better preparation. I had a once in a lifetime opportunity for an expenses paid trip to Dubai in the week before the race. I landed on the Saturday before the race after taking a night flight with no sleep after spending the week indulging in fine food and drinking beer. I won’t get the opportunity again and this time around I will make sure that week is stress free and restful.
  • Tempo runs weren’t fast enough. I tended to opt for “downhill” routes for my tempo sections which means I wasn’t training efficiently enough. I am going to run all my tempo runs on flat terrain to make sure my body adapts properly to the training as the plan expects.

What did I do right last time?

  • The tweaks to the plan were well researched and calculated. I have followed the same principles this time around.
  • I stuck to the plan. Simply put, the plan worked. So i figure if I stick to it with my adjustments and lessons learned, I should come close. I have calculated my training paces using the faithful McMillan Calculator and all my workouts are on my Garmin to tell me how fast and how far to run.
  • I wrote the blog regularly keeping my accountable. And this is why I’m back writing it again. Even if no one reads it, it helped me to be accountable for my actions. Writing about my experiences also helps put bad ones to bed and work identify what went well and why.

The Plan: 2016 Edition

Based upon P&D, here is the plan I’ve put together. This isn;t quite as is prescribed in the book, I will highlight the changes I have made so no-one misinterprets it.

I have thought very carefully about the changesd made to this, in line with the teachings of the book. If you just pull the training schedule from here or even the book without reading and understand the key principles then it won;t do you any good. Go buy it, read it, follow the plan, and bag yourself a PB.

Mesocycle 1: Endurance

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  • You will see I have a 5k race on Wednesday of Week 1. The original schedule calls for a rest day here, but I have been training for a 5k PB and this is the target race for it. I am happy to include it here as I have already built good endurance and I don’t feel missing this rest day would hurt as it is still a low mileage week compared to what I’ve been doing. I may need to adjust my training paces after this race.
  • The long runs jump up right from the start. The first one is 18 miles, because I’ve been consistently running 16 milers on Sundays for the last 5 weeks so its not that big a step.
  • There are extra parkruns on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. I’ve added them to the schedule but I’ll be running them as recovery runs and not running the extra mile or two the schedule says I should the day after (Saturday/normal parkrunday)

Mesocycle 2: Lactate Threshold + Endurance

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  • As per mesocycle 1, the long runs here are different to the main plan.
  • During the “cutback week” I have schedule a race. This will either be a 10 mile race or a 10k race. This is primarily to see if there is a training improvement and if I need to adjust my training paces. But also, because the Saturday tuneup races in the next mesocycle are all 5ks and think I would benefit from something a bit longer.

Mesocycle 3: Race Preparation

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  • Longer long runs
  • I have changed the way I am going to do the Interval sessions. last year I did the intervals in the middle of a longer run. This year, I am going to do them at the start of a longer run. This is because my legs will be fresher and will (hopefully) maximise the quality of the session.
  • Much like last year, my “tune up races” will be parkruns. There are no local races on Saturdays here. I should be able to set a 5k PB here if all is going well.

Mesocycle 4: Taper and Race

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  • The only difference here is the presence of the Cardiff Half Marathon. This is the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships and there is a mass participation race I’ve entered. Ideally, my warm up half would have been 2 weeks previous, but it is where it is. On the schedule, its supposed to be an 8-12k race on Saturday, and 16 miles on Sunday. I think I have compromised nicely, I just hope that my legs recover enough!

 

 

The Sweatshop Experience: Gait Analysis

Following my departure as Yeovil Montacute parkrun Event Director, the team surprised me by awarding me the “parkrunner of the month” for my services to the event, which I was chuffed as nuts about! The prize was a free pair of professionally fitted trainers.

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This past weekend I finally got a chance to redeem the prize and visited my “local” (45 miles away) Sweatshop in Bristol, where I fully intended to make the most of the gait analysis and fitting experience.

My first “Gait Analysis” took place some time after my first half marathon. I visited Go Outdoors in Basingstoke, and it wasn’t the most thorough experience. Quite literally the bloke just looked at the sole of my shoes and decided that I should wear Salamon GTXs. Hardly scientific, no treadmill running at all to look at my gait cycle, and it felt a bit like I was being rushed or not treated seriously. Either way, the shoes themselves didn’t do my any damage, and I continued in them until I ran the Paris Marathon.

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Paris turned out to be their last outing (I went through 2 pairs), as they’d all but fallen apart by the time I got back to the hotel, and I left them in the room on departure. I would have liked to have kept them but they really smelled and needed the room in my case… so much for sentiment!

After Paris and after a week off running I thought it was time to get re-analysed. I’d progressed a lot as a runner, and thought I’d best get checked out at my most local store, Tri UK. This experience was much better than it was at Go Outdoors. I actually ran on the treadmill, they showed me the video and we tried out various shoes to correct my overpronation. The downside here was they were exclusively Asics. Not a problem really, they are a great running brand, but due to the limited options there was no real way to check the ones I tried on really were the best across the market.

Either way, I’ve been wearing Asics Gel Kayanos for the last 18 months, and I love them. But I wanted to make sure the shoes I was wearing were the right ones and weren’t causing my underlying injuries, so the visit to Sweatshop would have been well worth the visit, rather than just buying the same old pair online.

It was a bit odd walking into a David Lloyd Leisure Centre in order to find the shop, but once inside it was just like any other Sweatshop. In fact it actually seemed a bit better stocked than Reading, and has a wide range of brands, unlike the Nike exclusive shop in Exeter. Finding it wasn’t easy, as there was no signage for the shop itself at all. If I hadn’t checked on the website, I would never have known it was actually inside the leisure center.

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The chap that served me was extremely knowledgable. He asked me all about my running background, if I’d had any injuries etc before getting my on a foot analysis machine. The purpose, it seemed, was to sell me custom insoles – obviously a value add/upsell service that they are trying to punt to customers in order to help prevent foot related injury.

What he was saying made sense. As a species we evolved as front foot walkers, which meant the foot arch and plantar fascia were stretched and exercised while walking and running. Nowadays, we are heel walkers and (generally speaking) runners, so the foot arch doesn’t get stretched in the same way which leads to your foot rolling inwards – overpronating. This can lead additionally lead to tension in the Plantar Fascia which can also lead to other problems in the achilles and calf, and of course then you overcompensate in the other leg. It was a pretty compelling argument. The long term cure was to run with your toes in an elevated position. This should, over time, stretch the muscles in the foot to counter the tightness and correct your pronation and be the cure to all of your running ailments!

The sale itself was for custom insoles moulded to your foot with the toes elevated that you slip into your trainers. But at £45 quid it seemed a bit steep and I figured I’d go and research them a bit (which I’m sure I’ll get around to at some stage… maybe). He did mould the soles anyway (Apparently they can get remoulded) so I could see what it was like running in them during my analysis.

The lad in the shop when to get me a pair of neutral shoes to run in and came out with some adidas Ultra Boosts. WOW. They were so lightweight and so comfortable running in them felt effortless (Well, as effortless as can be given my awkward running on a hangover on a dreadmill).

He then showed me the footage, as well as explained each stage as we cycled through my stride and showed me where my foot was rolling in. It was clear as day that I am definitely still an overpronator!

We then looked at the stability shoes on the market which are typically recommended for overpronators and we looked at the Nike Zoom Structure (I think), adidas Sequence Boost, and the newest model of my old favourite, the Gel Kayano 22. These were largely my own selections, purely because I a) liked the Nike brand and wear Nike clothing all the time, b) I’d heard great things about the Boost technology. I’m sure I would have been able to try Brooks, Mizuno, New Balance if I liked but I wanted to try these three.

The Nike’s were so comfortable and looked fantastic. I loved them, however I made the decision going into this process that I’d go with the shoes that made the best correction to my overpronation. They did a very good job but there was still a small roll to my foot. The guy said that they looked pretty good, but said we are best to try all three, which I agreed with.

We then went to the adidas. Even lighter than the Nike’s and even more comfortable, but noticeably less support than the Nike’s.

Finally, we went to the Gel Kayano 22s. After going through the 20s and the 21s with barely a change between them, the 22s are a big departure from the norm. A completely remodelled upper, different material and different build to the structure of the upper too have made them hug the foot much better and also seem to be a lot lighter (10 grams according to the literature). They look much more modern and seem to have learned from their competitors who have similar technologies in place. But the most important thing was the treadmill test. Bang. it was immediately obvious that this totally corrected my pronation.

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So I ended up with the same shoes as I always get. But I wear them now with a renewed confidence that I am in the right shoes for the job, and confidence as a runner can do wonders from a psychological point of view.

I have to applaud the chap who served me who was patient, knowledgeable and experienced and know exactly what he was doing. It was an incredibly pleasurable shopping experience, made even better by the fact that I wasn’t paying!

If you need a gait analysis, I recommend Sweatshop. Great range, great service, great knowledge. Thank you for a fantastic experience.

 

 

 

 

Great North Run – Not worth the hype!

Yes, I said it. I don’t think the Great North Run is ‘the worlds favourite half marathon’.

I just don’t know by what metric it can be considered even close?

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We traveled up from Leeds, where we stayed with family, on the morning of the race and parked at the recommended Metro Station as listed in the official booklet – Heworth. It’s about halfway between the start and finish so should have been easy access to both. No problem parking, but lots of problems getting on the metro!

We queued for the ticket machine which isn’t a problem in itself, but just as we were getting our tickets, they closed access to the platform. It remained closed with no explanation as to why, and the station was getting more and more filled with anxious runners worried about getting to the start on time. After an hours wait, we eventually were allowed on. Turns out the trains coming from South Shields were unsurprisingly full. More, frequent trains needed and much better communication required.

When we got to Haymarket station, we followed the swarm of runners beelining to the start. The baggage buses closed at 10.05 apparenty – No problem I thought. Jodie needed the loo so I said my farewell and wished her luck as I took her bag to the baggage bus. Just as I got there I heard an announcement… ‘The baggage buses will close in 5 minutes’. No worries – I was just about in time.

Unfortunately the police on their horses had different ideas and I was told in no uncertain terms that the buses were CLOSED. I got a bit angry… The Metro being rubbish and the announcement telling us contrary information made for an unhappy Matty! I got the bag on the ‘late baggage truck’ (even though we weren’t late) but this meant that at the end we had to wait for 25 minutes for them to unload it!

Anyway, Jodie was at the start safely – or so I thought. Despite her being there on time, they closed the start pens early and she was told to go to the very back – despite there being plenty of room! People were climbing and ducking the fence, doing anything they could to get in. Surely that is more unsafe than keeping the pens open longer and letting people in the right way? Anyway, Jodie saw an opportunity to hop in the Orange start (she was in the White wave) and took it. And off they went.

I should mention here that I wasn’t actually a participant in the race. I was there to support Jodie and get my own long run in – I figured the best way to do this was to run to the end! There was a perfectly good course laid out after all. Just to clarify, I did not set a single foot on the course except to cross the road. I ran on the footpaths and pavements next to the course, as if I were any other supporter – I just happened to be running. I did not take any water, supplies or use any facility other than a toilet, which are fair game for supporters anyway. So I got a good, different view of the race.

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I started at about the same time as the female elites, and was able to give Gemma Steel a quick cheer. Then I potted along the course at my long run pace. I tracked and supported some of the blind/guided runners – one of the guides thinking I was James Cracknell – until I heard the chopper coming, so I pulled over and watched Mo and company run past.

Mo Farah – Great North Run 2015 from Matthew Warr on Vimeo.

He made it look so effortless, tucked in among the Africans. And I even made it on the telly!

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I continued on my merry way as the faster runners came along and eventually, a steady stream were just flowing past.

The positive side of the Great North Run is that the support is FANTASTIC. But course wise, it’s not a lot to write home about. The Tyne bridge is good, and Jodie was lucky enough to be on it when the red arrows did their fly past (we think this is her below on the telly). But there is nothing else to get excited about other than the finish.

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The goody bag, for the price, was disappointing. A bag of crisps, non technical tee, craisins and some waterproofing and that was about it. For such an expensive race you expected more. The medal was similar to all the other Great Run medals.

After the race, the Metro is about 2 miles walk away it seemed. By the time we got to it we found the queue. Apparently it was a MILE long. And I’m not even using that term figuratively. We weren’t up for the wait and I’d have paid a taxi driver ANYTHING to get bag to the car – so we went to find one. it was only by sheer luck that we stumbled across a bus that happened to be stopping at our station. Sure, it took a while to get through the traffic, but rather sat on a bus than stood in a queue for hours to get on a cramped Metro.

Getting out from Heworth station was a straight forward affair, and we even got a glimpse of the Angel of the North. We got on the motorway and started the long journey home.

I just don’t think the infrastructure is there to take my pain points away from the event, and people keep going back regardless of the problems. But in my view many smaller events like Bristol (if 10,000+ people is “small”) has good support and relatively few problems. The course isn’t much there either but the organisation is superb. Cardiff is another excellent example of a smaller event, but the curse at Cardiff has a lot to see too. The Great South Run, same company, is an EXCELLENTLY organised race. So it doesn’t really make sense to me.

I don’t know, perhaps our woes aren’t a fair assessment of the event. It must be hard organising something of this magnitude.  There are plenty of other brilliant events to try without the chaos and long travel.

We agreed we are glad we experienced it – but we shan’t be going up again. Jodie has the medal, but I won’t miss not having it. We’ll let a couple of others have a chance in the ballot.

 

Patience is a virtue (that I don’t have)

Have you every tried to explain to a child that if they perform “action x” then the consequence will be “consequence y” which will usually result in tears?

That could be a metaphor for my injuries…. Only I am both the parent and the child.

I know that its a bad idea to increase intensity and volume at the same time – So why did I ramp up the mileage and run sessions at speeds in excess of my current fitness?

I know my body reacts badly when I don’t have 2 rest days a week – So why did I insist on running 20 days in a row?

Answer to both: Because I am one impatient bastard!

All I’ve wanted since getting back from Honeymoon is to be back to where I used to be, so I’ve been trying everything I can to regain that fitness. What a stupid idea.

My insistence on running further and faster to try and some how shortcut the route back to fitness unsurprisingly resulted in injury.

There just are no shortcuts. Lesson learned.

In positive news, my runs have been coming back together. Sure, I’m way behind where i want to be, but I think I may be able to just about be back in line with where I was last year, thanks to looking at my Strava Training Log.

Last nights intervals were a little slower than McMillan thinks I should be doing but I’m a little “speed rusty”. I finished feeling tired but not too shattered today, so I do have a bit more to give there.

With any luck I’ll be able to run the Great Birmingham Run at a pace similar to that I ran Bristol Half 2014.

I also hope to lose a good few more pounds (It’s heading in the right direction) which should equate to a few extra precious seconds per mile come race day.

If I manage some time around that I’ll be pretty happy.

On The Injury Bench

It was all going so well…

6 weeks post wedding and honeymoon and I’d built my milage up nicely, things were starting to click again and I’d finally gained some traction in my weight loss.

Then my foot started playing up. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I did know it was uncomfortable, but didn’t seem to affect my gait.

Then Saturday came and off I went on my long run, 16 miles around sunny Basingstoke, taking in the pleasures of Basingstoke parkrun with no real problem – until I finished.

Once I got out of the shower, any sort of movement in my left foot was painful. Twisting, flexing, walking… stairs were a nightmare. Any sort of movement which applied pressure was painful.

No idea what happened but somehow its all become a bit sprained at the forefoot. I immediately Googled the symptoms and self diagnosed it as Metatarsalgia (As I have an infinite wisdom, clearly!) but its more likely just a mild sprain.

It seems to be better when I’m wearing shoes than when wearing flip flops probably as they offer some support.

Needless to say though, I’m gutted!

I’ve been resting it a few days now and it seems to be a bit better and will try and run again on Friday with a gentle recovery plod. But it’s not only me, Jodie is injured too. She can’t manage more than 4 miles without her knee becoming painful and she may have to defer the Great North Run 😦

We are trying to remain motivated and pragmatic about it – it’s better to rest now and avoid long term damage, but its hard when all you want to do is go out and have a blast round the streets.

It’s already reached the point where I want to throw stuff at runners as I drive past in a fit of jealous rage.

The moral of this story?

Don’t get married.

(I’m kidding! I have no morals!)

 

 

Why Strava is Awesome – A Brief Guide to Analysing Your Training

A lot of people I know use Strava. Either directly on their mobile devices, or by linking their GPS running watches so their activities upload there, and it is a fantastic way of tracking and recording your runs.

But it’s so much more than just an app, but you don’t really know it until you sign into the website rather than the app.

It’s a great social networking tool for runners. I no longer post run information on Facebook, as no-one really cares that I did a 5 mile recovery run. But your “followers” on Strava do.

Some people say its like Facebook for runners, though I think its more closely resembled to Twitter. You aren’t “Friends” with people, you follow them. You can comment on posts they make, but can’t post on a “Wall”, and you can give people “Kudos” which is like a “favourite” (or a “like” I guess).

Your “tweets” are your activities… and that’s where the real power comes in. Strava is EXCELLENT for data analysis.

I’ve heard “But it just means I’ve got to upload my watch there too which is twice the work”, but you needn’t worry. You can set your Strava account to automatically pull data from all the main GPS upload sites like Garmin Connect, Suunto, Tomtom, and Fitbit.

Activity Log

In it’s most basic form, its a training diary and gives you a summary of your mileage on a day by day basis. But it uses subtle little visual aids to help you understand it.

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The circles are sized depending on the volume (time/distance) of your activity, so you can see which days you did the most volume – which is one way to identify hard and easy days (Along with any rest day’s which of course appear blank).

The other way is through the Tagging system. When you upload your runs you can tag them a “Run”, a “Workout”, a “Race” or a “Long Run”. From the screenshot above you can see these are represented in different colours. An ordinary standard easy run I tag as “Run” which is light green. Any “session” I do which I’d consider a “quality run” such as an interval session or tempo run I tag as a “Workout” which is Orange. “Races” are red, and “Long Runs” are Dark Green.

Hovering your mouse over the circles gives you the ability to have a quick overview of the activity, a link to it’s details, and you can quickly re-tag it too. I use the “How did it go” box for all of my runs and type in how it went so I can always check to see how I felt after the run – it can be more useful than looking at pace/heart rate data.

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How does this help? Well lets say I had a terrible race. I could look back on this screen and see that in the build up to the race I didn’t have enough rest days, didn’t taper my mileage enough, or ran back to back hard sessions. It’s quick and easy. I can then hover over the circles and spot where I write in “What a horrendous run I had no energy and I think this is because…”.

Athletes worldwide keep training diaries, magazines publish their importance on a monthly basis… Strava is your training diary… and so much more.

You can then scroll back to look to see how your weekly and monthly mileage increases and decreases to see if you broke the 10% rule, you can see how much elevation you gained in a week compared to others too, which could also explain why some weeks feel easier than others – it may be you climbed a lot less!

Workout Analysis

The feature I found most recently is the “Workout Analysis”. When I tagged my run as a “Workout” and looked at the activity, I saw a screen I’d never seen before.

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Its a brilliantly graphical way to view your sessions. Distance is the horizontal access, pace is the vertical axis. The darker the blue, the faster you went. So looking at the above you can see exactly what the session was. Most importantly you can see how consistent you were. In the example, the session was 2 x 500m at 5k pace, and then 300m at 1m pace. So the first 2 intervals of the 3 should have been consistent, but they weren’t, and you can see clearly every 3rd interval is slight shorter but slightly quicker.

You can also use a neat little tool Strava has called “Grade Adjusted Pace (GAP)”. If you are out road running, chances are that the road isn’t flat and therefore as you rack up the miles you’ll ascend and descend, so your split times will naturally be slightly faster on downhill, and slightly(!) slower on uphills. By toggling the GAP, you can see how all of your splits equate to on the flat. Brilliant for long tempo intervals/runs on the road so you can make a more accurate analysis, especially round ‘ere (in my best west country accent).

Race Analysis

Toggling your run as a Race gives you a brilliant little Race Analysis chart instead. It takes your usual pace/elevation chart and overlays some great information such as your wider split times dependent on what distance the race is.

For example, over the marathon distance it gives me my 5k split times – which brutally shows just how badly I detonated at Manchester. I can see that my 5k splits were pretty even up until 30k where I started slowing. What I deduce from that is that I should have gone out slower, as though I was consistent I just didn;t have any juice at the end. A slower long burn would have hopefully resulted in a more even and complete race. It also highlights my fastest and slowest miles, and I can see in the middle there was a mile where I was much faster than target and also would have jeopardised my race.

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When I look at the same view for a 5k race it breaks it down into my 3 x mile splits.

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I can see here the same thing I saw at Manchester – I faded badly at the end! Again, I can see here I went out too quick and had nothing left by the end and needed to walk, which is that lovely dip in the curve!

Pace Distribution

There are a few golden nuggets of advice I’ve followed over my time running. Firstly, run most of your miles easy. Secondly, run within your training zones, which I always calculate and use from McmillanRunning.com. Using both of these rules you should (In theory) avoid burning out through overtraining in zones your body isn’t ready to reach.

Although Strava doesn’t use McMillan Running directly (That I can tell) to identify these zones, I think it uses a very similar method. Enter a recent race time/distance and it gives you the various zones you should be working out in. Then when you look at an activity, you can see how much time you spent in those zones.

Here is an example of a recovery run. Most of my time is spent in the Active Recovery zone and the Endurance zone. There is some anomalous information but some of that could be attributed to speeding for short periods of time (For example, to cross a road), or that I just was not focussing on keeping my pace down.

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Also, this uses “GAP”, so whilst I know I was maintaining my pace at a solid clip, because I did some climbing the GAP slants this a bit. On the whole though, I am happy with the above as a recovery run. What I could do to improve this or to work at a lower effort level (Which is the purpose of a recovery run), is next time I run the same route to take the hills much slower.

By looking at the activities in this way (Along with the usual elevation chart) you can start to see a bigger picture of your activity and tweak what you are doing accordingly to make sure you really are taking your easy runs easy, and in turn make sure that you are running your hard runs hard enough to obtain the maximum benefit!

What would be really nice is if I could set my pace distribution levels to match exactly what my McMillan pace zones should be, but as they tend to have a degree of crossover it wouldn’t really work – perhaps they could let me set them manually like they do heart rate?

Heart Rate

I use a heart rate monitor, and one of the things I always look at to see how hard I’ve worked is the heart rate stats. Admittedly, sometimes it seems more accurate than others, but that’s more a measure of my ability to wear it properly than anything else. Strava gives you some great ways to see how hard you are working and scores them.

This heart rate chart came from the same recovery run as the Pace Distribution chart above.

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It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to say “Hmm, if this was meant to be a recovery run, surely the heart rate should be in the upper half of that chart rather than in the ‘Tempo’ section“… and that’s absolutely right. If I was recovering properly my heart rate should have been much lower. So I clearly worked too hard, at least according to that chart.

There could be many reasons for this. Maybe you need to consider that your pace zones need adjusting – are you really still fit enough to be running that race time? (This was my diagnosis!) Was it a really hilly route? Were the contacts on your monitor suitably moist? Were you hydrated enough? (Being dehydrated means your blood is a bit thinker and needs to pump more to get the blood around the body). Ultimately, though, did you feel you were running as hard as the HR monitor says is usually a good enough indicator.

If that’s all a bit complicated though, you can get away with just looking at your “Suffer Score”.

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The higher the suffer score, the longer and harder the activity, based upon your heart rate. Your “Points in the red” represent the amount of time you spent at your “threshold” zone or higher and represent really tough running. For your usual “run of the mill” runs you may find that you don;t get a named score. but if you’ve worked hard (A long amount of time, or a high proportion of points in the red to suffer score) you may get rated “Tough”, “Extreme” or “Epic”.

The only “Epic” I’ve had was during the Manchester Marathon, but I have had a few extremes, usually after a very long run or a race, and regularly get a “toughs” after a session.

If you get a “Tough” score after a recovery or easy run, it wasn’t as easy as you think!

Overview

I started out writing this post to evangelise how cool I think Strava is because of its great features, and its turned into a bit of a how-to guide. Please be aware this is how I use it and I’m no trained coach! I’m not advising anyone to do anything, but this is how you could use it.

If you aren’t on Strava, get on it. It’s worth it.

10 days back in the groove… and it’s bloody hard work

Note: I wrote this last week, but WordPress post scheduling seems to have ignored it! So posting now. 

As the title suggests, Its now been 10 days since  we arrived back from honeymoon and I started training again in earnest. Its been a pretty brutal shock to the system.

Physically its been tough. But I expected that, as after a break you can’t reasonably expect to be at the level you were… especially after a hefty weight gain… but I still can’t reconcile that knowledge against my frustration when looking at my times. But then again, that’s what getting all of this out in blog for is for… my own personal catharsis!

I’ve had 3 key sessions since my last post.

Firstly, a set of 8 x 600m Intervals. The first bit of speedwork I’d done for 7 weeks, and that was a virus/PF riddled failure.  It was HARD. My reps were nowhere near where I wanted them to be. Last time I did a set of these I averaged under 6 minute miling. This time around it was a struggle to stay under 7 minute miling!

Secondly, a set of 6 x 2 minute hill repeats. Looking back through my activity history, the last time I did similar reps was a year ago. The distance up the hill I got averaged 0.26m, the same as my most recent session. Thinking that through in my head I can’t stop thinking “I’ve lost all the progress I made over the last 12 months”.

Thirdly, a set of Tempo Intervals, 3 x 7mins. I should have been doing these at around 6:45s if I was at peak. I just about managed sub 7s. But considering last time I tried this session before the wedding I wanted to curl up and cry, it wasn’t so bad.

But analyzing the results now, I can identify signs of encouragement already. On Thursday I could barely hold 7 minute miling for a 600m rep with 2 minute rests. But by Tuesday, I was sustaining the same pace for over a mile at a time with 3 minute jogs between.

Next week I’ve got my first tester, the Yeovilton 5k. From there I’ll see where I really am and how far away I am from where I want to be. I just hope the next week goes well so I can give it a good effort!

 

Opening Weigh In

Well, that wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought…

I weighed in this morning for the first time since the wedding and I was 15st 4lbs. So a “holiday gain” of 12lbs. OK, that’s still a lot, but I had feared i’d come back over 16st, so that’s a real bonus.

Contextualising that for me, is that I am currently around the weight I was for the Paris Marathon last year. Not too shabby!

Now, doing what I do best (Putting together whizzy spreadsheets to make things easier for me to track)

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I can see that in order to reach my target, I need to lose 2lbs per week every week, and need to have a 3lb week too. Its ambitious but acheiveable.

No doubt I’ll lose a lot quickly and then plateau, but I am motivated to succeed and have set myself some interim goals to get some “quick wins” and stay on track.

Time to finally “finish” this weight loss thing!