When I woke up this morning it was clear that winter is lined up in the starting blocks and has its arse in the air, ready for the off. The car was frosted white and there was that sense of sparkle I particularly associate with the first proper cold snap at the end of autumn.
The days are short up here, and the clocks have gone back, so although I rode to work (brrr! tepid!) I wanted to get out and enjoy the glorious sunshine at lunchtime.
I am currently in the base-training stage of preparing to go back to racing next year, after what will have been a two-year lay-off as a result of my foot injury. This means learning how to run again, and learning how to run differently — my foot cannot tolerate normal trainers any more, and so I am running in VFF Bikilas. This is proving remarkably successful, if my heart rate is anything to go by. I’m something of a fast-beater, and I’m used to running an easy 4km loop at an average heart rate approaching 175. As I can maintain an easy 10km/hr pace at a heart rate of 162bpm now, I can only assume the claims of greater efficiency are not exaggerated.
My new lunch run is a little over 3.5km, which is just long enough to feel worth it while not so long that it forces me to take more than a 30 minute break for lunch. Perfect. Not only is it the ideal length —when I start racing again I can always lengthen or double it— it is also the most scenic of any lunchtime excursion I have had in my working career.
Today’s session was particularly slow because the weather was so good, and the scenery so uplifting, that I kept stopping to take photographs.
While I don’t normally like the Beatles song referenced in the title, as the synaesthesia renders it yellow, which tastes horrible, I thought it most appropriate for this post. I don’t think the synaesthesia is cut-and-pasting from common depictions of the sun as Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun is a deep red, the colour of old blood, and I can think of at least one other song that is the same colour (it’s one of Frood’s Japanese pop acquisitions, but I’m not sure which one).
One of my extravagancies in life is being a member of what I consider to be a ridiculously expensive gym — David Lloyd in Newhaven. I joined this gym when we moved to Edinburgh and I was training intensely for triathlon. I used to be in there four or five times a week, and as someone trying to fit a lot of training into not much time, I figured the premium price tag was worth it for always being able to get the piece of kit I wanted, even at rush hour. Two pools, whirlpool, sauna, the latest exercise machines and plenty of them, light, pleasant, airy… When I was first choosing a gym and went along to take look, compared to the gyms I’d used in the past it was a little breath of luxury. For which, admittedly, I would be paying for the nose. At the time I justified it because this is what I do. I don’t go to the pub, I don’t go out clubbing. The important things in my life* are my friends and my sport, and I deserve a little luxury.
What has kept me coming back, however, is the fact that (a) it has a 25m pool, unlike any other private gym in Edinburgh; and (b) they couldn’t give a rat’s ass what toys I take into the pool with me. Local council run facilities tend to get a bit uppity if you try taking paddles and fins into public swimming sessions, for health and safety reasons, figuring that you might hit someone in the face with the sharp edge of a paddle or kick them in the teeth with a training fin.
With a view to saving money while still being able to train with toys I did once go along to a local triathlon club (who shall remain nameless) swimming session, but it was a quagmire of thrashing and stop-start waiting for the people ahead to get a move on, while not feeling confident an unknown swimmer would be welcome in the faster lanes. As well as that I felt like no one wanted to do more than exchange minimal words with me because I hadn’t proved I could swim a sub-12 minute 750m in race conditions.†
Besides, I didn’t like being pinned down to training sessions that didn’t suit my timetable.
So. David Lloyd at Newhaven it has been for several years. Last year, as you know, was a washout because of injury, so I was paying their extortionate fees for 8 months without being able to make use of their facilities — a fact that grated, as you can imagine.
Recently I decided that I was fit enough to at least get back in the pool‡ and retrieved all my training aids from their storage crate.
I have a silly number of toys. I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to sports kit, if you hadn’t noticed. For me a trip to the pool requires a bag so large that the folks on reception grin and open up the disabled access door for me half the time rather than have to rescue me from the turnstile when my bag gets stuck halfway through. I have fins, power paddles and Finis PT Paddles, as well as the usual suspects of kickboard and pullbuoy. I don’t currently have a swimmer’s snorkel, but trust me, it’s on the list.
When I get in the pool I leave all my kit laid out neatly where I can get at it easily for the various sets. The advantage of this is that I only get other serious swimmers sharing my lane. People who might otherwise have chanced it for 10 lengths of breast-stroke will use the other lane instead. Serious swimmers, on the other hand, have no problem sharing. You can always tell someone who competes, by the way: she will have excellent lane discipline.
All of which preamble brings me to my last training session. When I turned up there was no one in the lane but there were a pair of fins, a water bottle, paddles and a kickboard already at the end of the lane. Excellent, I thought. With two of us thrashing around in fins and paddles we should discourage anyone else.
I had just completed my 400m warm-up when the other swimmer appeared. He didn’t say anything, but took to the water, and for 600m we shared the lane in silence, passing each other at progressively different points in the lane that told me I was faster than him. As this was only my third pool session after a 9 month absence, and he was a swimmer serious enough to be bringing training aids, this gave me a warm, tingly feeling.
We had a coincidental break, in which we had a brief chat. He wasn’t training for anything in particular, he told me, he just liked to swim. Usually he swam for an hour every morning at 06:30, but he had the week off work and so he was trying an afternoon session. He donned fins and paddles. I donned paddles and pullbuoy and indicated he should go ahead. “You’ll be faster than me,” I told him.
“I should think so,” he replied. “I hope to be going quite quick now.”
I gave him a third of a length and then set off after him.
I was easing off to match his pace by the end of 50m, which was no bad thing. I enjoyed 200m at that lazy pace then removed all the training aids. He was still going, and after giving him a head start of a half length I set off after him again
And kept up. Easily. For the next 200m.
There is the wake effect, which means that swimming directly behind another swimmer is easier and requires less effort, but still. I shouldn’t have been able to keep up with someone using paddles and fins. So I stopped and watched him.
Every entry he was making with the hand on the opposite side of the shoulder to which it was attached; and he was hitting the water with the heel of his hand first, as if he were holding it up to say “STOP!” at the water, which, in a way, he was. He was slower with paddles, because he had more braking surface.
If he had been in training for anything I might have said something, but he wasn’t so I didn’t. He was swimming for the pleasure of it and didn’t need some uppity triathlete saying “LOL, U R DOIN IT RONG.”
On the run and the bike technique doesn’t become a significant factor until you are trying to save energy over the longer distances. In the swim, though, you have got to get that technique sorted. Correct technique is the difference between a fit swimmer who can’t get below 15 minutes for the 750m and someone who is blistering through the water at a pace that would make a Dall’s porpoise take notice.
I did offer him the use of my PT paddles, while we were chatting. He declined. It’s probably for the best. I suspect he’d have sunk like a stone.
My technique, incidentally, I owe partly to Zoe, who used to be one of the personal instructors at David Lloyd. If you fancy some personal tuition, Katerina is lovely.
* Other than, you know, obvious survival things like breathing, eating, sleeping and writing.
† I mean, my social skills are not the greatest, but I know the difference between politely friendly and welcoming.
‡ Another couple of weeks and I’m hoping to get back to weight training, but I’ve taken this year off triathlon completely in a deliberate effort to stop myself pushing too hard too fast to meet some arbitrary deadline. I know, I know. Who am I and what have I done with Sam?
I had just recovered from a two-month near-total lay-off brought about by acute ITB syndrome (that’s runner’s knee) when I ruptured the plantar fascia in my right foot. I talked about this in an earlier post.
We were due to hold Dumb Run IV last weekend — the 4th incarnation of the League‘s annual nocturnal coast to coast century ride. First one of our regulars pulled out, citing time trial commitments, the cheek of it. Then last year’s hero of the 86″ gear had a work emergency and had to pull out as well. I’d been in two minds as to whether I was fit for it and, with us down to three (because no one has heard from Tom in ages), we decided to cancel. This was a bloody shame, because I started on the weather gods early this year, and it was damn-near perfect.
Dumb Run IV shall henceforth be known as the Dumb Run of which we do not speak. Obviously in a full-on grump over last year’s success, the ride acted backwards in time to cause emergencies and injuries to stop us. That’s 3-1 to the Dumb Run, but are we broken? NO. Are we defeated? NO WAY.
Dumb Run V has been set for SATURDAY, 18TH JUNE 2011, 8PM DUMBARTON CASTLE. No excuses.
Sadly my ongoing injury means I won’t be competing in the Galway Triathlon this year, either. It occurred to me today that I’ve now been off proper training and racing for getting on for six months as a result of injury, which explains my foul temper, irritability and moodiness. Lack of exercise is affecting me the same way as really bad PMT, only with the additional joys of stiffening joints and loss of fitness.
I’m now faced with the awful decision of whether to enter Bala and hope for the best; or to scratch the rest of the season on the assumption that my foot will get better in time for next year, but not if I succumb to the temptation to train on it. While the latter is probably more sensible, I’m finding that my motivation to take part in the sport at all is waning the longer I’m forced to sit it out.
How long does the PF take to heal anyway, FFS? IT HAS BEEN 2 MONTHS ALREADY.
By some peculiar quirk of genetics I was born without some of the traits commonly associated with others of my sex. I don’t like gossip magazines, I see no good reason for television soaps to exist, clothes shopping is to be done only if there is no sane alternative, and Jimmy Choo sounds to me like a dogfood brand. (“Jimmy Choo to keep his teeth healthy. Because your dog is worth it.”)
I own two pairs of footwear that would be considered ‘proper’ shoes, and that’s only if you count the Lara Croft replica boots.
However I do own a lot of sports shoes (especially if you count the two pairs of fins, but let’s not go there). My current collection includes three pairs of cycling shoes (road, tri and offroad) and five pairs of running shoes.
The latter is excessive, I admit. But, you see, there’s the old pair of Asics I’ve had for about ten years and they’ve been retired from both racing and training but they’re still good for general purpose wear. There’s the old pair of Trabucos that I’ve trained and raced in to the point where the orange has turned muddy and the uppers are wearing through. There’s the new pair of Trabucos that I bought to replace them but they don’t fit as well because they changed the last and put a stone-plate in there. There’s the pair of Inov8s I use for lightweight hiking and will be used for running if I ever remain injury-free for long enough to get out into the hills.
And there’s the pair of Salomons. I bought these from Run4It on Lothian Road, to replace the Trabucos with the stone-plate when it became clear that no amount of use was going to break them in to the point where they were comfortable. Back in my competitive ski-ing days I used to wear Salomons and I have a pair of Salomon walking boots, as well as a Salomon Raid Revo running pack and some of their running tights. I like their stuff. It’s usually built well and thoughtfully and suits my needs.
In the shop there was a slight niggle in my left foot, but that was the one that had been playing up with the Trabucos, so I figured that it was just bruising. On the treadmill they felt fine. I ran 20k in them on the treadmill in the gym just to be sure. With some lace adjustments and the right socks they seemed okay when I finally took them outdoors. For about 100k.
Then the pain started. Excruciating. It felt like I was landing on a spike every time my left foot went down. Eventually I took them back to the shop and they sent them off to Salomon. Salomon said they’d found a slight flaw and sent me a new pair.
I was even more careful. I checked them in the shop. I checked them at home. I checked them in the gym. No niggle. They felt great. They felt like I had hoped they would feel.
For about 30k. Then exactly the same problem. It was, oddly, relieved either by removing my socks completely —although I ended up with the interior seams chewing the tops of my toes, so I had to race my first of the season with my feet decorated in compeed— or thick off-road socks. Nothing in-between.
During this time I developed acute ITB syndrome in my left knee. This cost me a couple of hundred quid in physio, three months off training and racing at Tranent. My second race of the year, in April, ruptured the plantar fascia in my right foot, which was probably compensating for the restricted motion in my left leg. More physio, not to mention podiatry charges, and more time off training (I managed 15 minutes on the treadmill yesterday and have spent most of the last 3 weeks with my foot taped).
After analysing the various factors that could have contributed, I can only come up with one thing: the shoes.
I’m a mid-foot striker, landing just behind the ball of my foot. What this means is that most trainers are ill-suited to my gait. They have too much padding in the heel and not enough at the front. I’m also a mild over-pronator, so I need late-stage motion control. These are things that competent staff at a good running shop should know about and it’s why I go to a specialist running shop instead of buying my shoes for half the price over the internet. I value the additional service of knowledgeable staff.
I shouldn’t have been sold these shoes. It’s not that the shoes are bad shoes: they’re just not suited to my style of running. Unlike the Asics, which have the built-up heel but also have a fairly generous amount of forefoot padding, the Wings save weight by reducing the padding at the front. This means that, not only is there insufficient padding to protect the foot at impact, the heel is about 50% thicker than the forefoot. In a mid-foot striker this limits ankle flexion through the stride, putting undue strain on the calves and the windlass mechanism in the foot. Because of the lack of padding in the front, eventual compression of the insole meant that when the ball of my foot landed on one of the knurls in the sole I could really feel it.
I’ve had to find out all this for myself by careful research and a lot of reading, which I’ve had time to do because I CAN’T BLOODY TRAIN DUE TO THIS STUPID INJURY.
I’m a bit grumpy from lack of exercise.
There have been suggestions recently that barefoot running techniques, including non-heel striking, increase the chances of plantar fasciitis. I’ve been running this way for five years now and this year is the first of me having an injury of this nature. While it’s true that barefoot running isn’t for everyone, because everyone is different and biomechanics are not generic enough for one technique to suit all, I can’t accept that my running style has caused this injury when I’ve been fine with it for a number of years and thousands of kilometres.
I think the problem is more that most shoes aren’t designed for these techniques, and mixing the two is what is causing the problems. If you’ve got a runner who has heard about these techniques and decides to give them a go in his ordinary running shoes, and those shoes are designed for heel-strikers, then he’s going to suffer the same issues as me: the shoes promote a heel-toe movement and he’s running with a toe-heel movement. Seems fairly obvious to me that this is not a good thing.
Although Run4It has the best selection of Hilly socks in Edinburgh, I’m not best pleased about the service I’ve received there and won’t be going back. I did go in and explain the situation, however their response was to thank me for letting them know and say they’d make a note of the feedback for future customers.
That didn’t help me at all.
I’m trying to look on the bright side: I am now far more knowledgeable about shoes, feet and running than I ever was before and am in a better position to assess whether the staff in a shop are able to offer me competent advice or not. I have finally found a good reason to spend the money getting a biomechanical assessment from a podiatrist and have external verification that my obsession with technique and stretching has paid off.
However, the shoes cost me the best part of 90 poorly molluscs, the combined physio and podiatry costs are in the region of £350, I may need custom orthotics to stop this happening again because of the weakness in the foot; and I currently have only a very slim chance of being race fit for the Galway Triathlon, which wasn’t exactly pocket change to enter.
And I still need to replace my trail shoes. At least I have a very good idea of what to avoid.
I won’t be running in the Salomons again. Size UK 6.5, ladies, blue, have done about 50k and look brand new. Any takers? I don’t have the gene that codes for “wanting to keep a pair of shoes that don’t fit me properly and I’m never going to wear”.
I have argued on numerous occasions that I am not a geek. Except, let’s be honest, it’s a lie. OK, so I don’t go into orgasmic quivers over the latest mobile phone OS, and the iPad release left me utterly cold. The thought of playing Arkham Asylum in 3D doesn’t give me goosebumps and I can turn off The Gadget Show as easily as I can turn off Iron Chef.
And yet, at the same time, I spent about half an hour obsessively comparing saddle-mounted hydration systems only last week and I have a shelf full of books that go into painfully anal detail about everything from wheel building to running technique.
I confess. It’s way past time. I’m a sports geek.
Not a nerd, not the sort of person who can recite which teams won what in which league in which year from the relative safety and comfort of an anorak: the sort of geek who makes it her business to know the latest thought on technique and performance and kit and gets excited about training aids that other people can’t even identify at first glance.
(I also like computer games, and I don’t mean Nintendogs. I mean The Darkness, Wolverine, Bioshock… you know. All those girlie games.)
So it will come as little surprise to those of you who understand the performance sports geek mentality to hear that I like my swim training aids. Of course I have the everyone-has-those pullbuoy and kickboard, but I also have other things, things that most people wouldn’t recognise. I own a pair of fist gloves. How geeky is that?
The latest toy to take my fancy was a set of the Finis PT paddles. PT stands for “Perfect Technique” and the aim is rather similar to the fist gloves: they are designed to force the swimmer to learn to use his entire body rather than just his hand for propulsion:
PT Paddles are shaped to deflect water around your hand, effectively removing the hands from the swimming equation. By removing the hand as a paddle, swimmers have to find other methods of generating propulsion.
Because your hand can no longer ‘grip’ the water, your body will need to adjust your stroke. The elbow is positioned higher, the hips roll a little further, and the forearm is activated earlier, allowing you to catch and pull yourself through the water.
Wearing the PT Paddles overtime increases your body awareness and muscle memory. Then when you swim normally without the paddles, you will feel stronger and faster in the water.
I thought I’d take to them like a duck to water (ahem), being a veteran user of the fistgloves. What I wasn’t expecting was for them to be buoyant, nor the effect of the additional weight. While fistgloves are not too dissimilar from simply making a fist when swimming, and make your hand slip through the water with alarming lack of resistance, the PT paddles somehow manage to keep the feel of arm speed through the stroke the same while still removing the hand from the propulsive effort. They are also an additional weight to carry through the recovery part of the stroke.
I didn’t find them as tiring as the fistgloves, which makes me think that I’m floundering less in the water and making better forward progress, despite the feeling that I’m not. That in turn tells me that the PT paddles are more about feel and I think that might work for swimmers who can’t cope with the loss of propulsion that comes from fistgloves. They might, indeed, be a worthy intermediate step for someone training on his own, without the benefit of coaching, who wants to try some of these more advanced techniques without resorting to fins.
In terms of construction they are fairly soft, so you might get away with them at the local pool, especially as they seem to be contained within the area of the hand. Adjusting the straps is a bit fiddly, even more so than normal swimming paddles, and it took quite some time to get them to the point where I felt they were workable. Comfortable is still some way off. They are certainly more robust than fistgloves (I’m on my third pair). Of course they are also good for anyone who has a latex allergy.
For what you get they are expensive, and I’m not sure they are worth the price. On the other hand, fistgloves are almost a tenner and are as fragile as a fragile thing called Little Miss Fragile from Fragiledonia, so if you’re as tough on gear as I am and want to try teaching yourself to use more than your hands for propulsion, give them a go. Or take a couple of squash balls into the pool with you — just don’t let go.
I’m entered in the Galway triathlon on the 25th and have been worrying about the lack of open water time I’ve managed to put in this year. After a couple of stressful days in court (as a witness, I hasten to add), I emerged today and realised there was no wind. It was utterly still.
I’d had the presence of mind to pack some training gear and so I had my wetsuit with me. I stopped off at Lower Largo on the way home to Edinburgh, just by Largo Bay Sailing Club (I used to be a member, when I was a whole lot younger), to go swimming.
Whenever you say to someone that you’re going swimming in the sea, unless he too is into open water swimming, the reaction seems to be one of absolute bafflement. Today was one of those days when I wish I could have dragged the naysayers along to see what makes it so special — only that would have meant sharing, and some things are just too good to share.
Visibility was in the tens of metres. The surface, after some initial chop left over from today’s electrical storms subsided, was glossy. The mirror finish was broken by a brief spell of rain, the sound of it hissing into the sea around me only making the experience more magical. The red lenses of my goggles brought a hazy purple, mystical quality to everything; and there were bright clouds of silver fish that drifted away in lazy formation at my approach, as well as crabs waving their armoured pincers like angry robots on the delicately rippled sand far below.
I love the sea. I’ve always loved the sea. They say it’s in your blood, and if that’s true then my blood runneth with seaweed and plankton. I would have stayed there until dark and beyond if it were not for my mum waiting for the safety call at 18:30 and the knowledge I had to make it across the bridge before the roadworks started. Swimming in the sea is a bit like riding a bike on busy roads: those who don’t do it think you’re mad if you do. Those who know how great it can be nod, smile and have that twinkle in their eyes that is the outward manifestation of happy memories.
You should try it some time. It’s one of the best stress remedies there is.
I went for my first ever spin class last night. Keiser cycling, it’s called. I figured I’d be fine: I ride fixed, FFS. Not only that but I ride fixed on the turbo, when I can’t be arsed going out. It’s just an exercise bike, right?
I went because I had a swim lesson with my coach Zoe (whose website is still broken) immediately after the class, and she was taking the class, so I figured what the hell. Turned up, having ridden there (fixed, natch) at a sprint because I was running late, found a few people already sitting on the machines pushing the pedals round. None of them gave the outward appearance of being super-fit. One guy looked about 65. They asked if I’d done it before. No, I told them.
“You’ve picked the wrong class then,” they chortled. “This is the hard one!”
That’s just great.
It took some fiddling to get the bike set-up acceptable (not right, just acceptable), which was watched with some amusement by the two guys either side of me (the old guy and a guy who looked about 50). I tried explaining that I am used to riding real bikes. They asked if I race. I mentioned triathlon, muttering a bit.
I really shouldn’t have done. They made a big deal about this. All of a sudden I was supposed to breeze through this airily, like a dandelion clock on a sunny summer’s day.
The warm-up was fairly hard. Halfway through the session I’d drunk nearly all my water and it had sweated out into a nasty puddle on the floor underneath me. The gents flanking me were merrily having a conversation over my labouring back, neither of them having so much as broken a sweat, while Zoe yelled at us to go faster and faster in bigger and bigger gears.
“Up two! Minimum 16! 110 – 120! Three… two… one… go!”
The man on my right was singing along to the music.
He was singing along.
It was just sickening.
The pair of them kept offering me a tissue to wipe off the sweat, and would lean over to peer at the electronic display on my cycle every now and again. If I wasn’t up to speed or had failed to select a high enough gear they would mercilessly point this out, as if I were cheating or something. The old bloke, having ascertained that I was wearing an HRM, occasionally asked in a conversational manner how my heart rate was doing.
Come the end my ladybits were rubbed raw from the dodgy saddle and I felt the same way I imagine a Fremen would if he tried to run 10k over dunes in a stillsuit at a 20 minute pace. Climbing into the pool with my core tempature through the roof felt like plunging into the Weddell Sea. Half of me was worrying about leopard seals.
Hmm. I wonder if there are any places left for Monday’s class. The one that’s on just before the running club Zoe thinks I should attend.
She’s a sadistic minx when she knows you can take it.
Sometimes it’s a wonder, in these days of Wiggle and other internet sports shops, that actual, physical shops manage to stay afloat. When you can buy sports kit so much cheaper online, why go to a shop with overheads?
I’ll tell you for why.
A couple of years ago I went to RunAndBecome in Edinburgh and bought my first pair of trail shoes. The staff were great. They spent a long time making sure I had the right shoes for my purpose, my feet and my gait. The shoes were the Asics Gel Trabucos, and I’ve been very pleased with them. They’ve done sterling service both in training and competition.
Finally, however, they wore out, as shoes are wont to do. I knew they were on their way out, and then I had a dream in which I got back from a particularly tough run and discovered the soles were completely smooth. My feet had been hurting of late so I figured this was my subconscious telling me to bloody get out there and replace them.
A copy of Runner’s World had arrived with a catalogue from an online retailer offering the Trabucos at half retail price, and money is kind of tight at the moment so I was sorely tempted. However, I like to support shops because of the service they offer, so off I went to RunAndBecome and told them I needed to replace my Trabucos. Size 39. I was expecting to be in and out in a flash.
But when I tried them on in the shop they DIDN’T BLOODY FIT. Asics, in their infinite wisdom, had decided to change the last for the 2009 model and they were now too tight. Several pairs of different and not quite right shoes later the lovely shop lady found a pair of 2008 Trabucos on offer, and they happened to be in my size, and also were made with the same last as the 2007 model. Hooray!
That, boys and girls, is why one should not buy such an important piece of kit as running shoes online, no matter how sure you are that you know exactly what you want. As for you folks who take advantage of shops by going in to try them on and then going away to order them cheaply online: boo sucks to you. That’s just taking advantage, that is. It’s practically theft. You are using their services and not supporting the shop. Keep that up and there won’t be a shop, and then you’ll be reduced to ordering unsatisfactory kit online and having to send it back.
I don’t really mind that the new ones are bright yellow. Even though it tastes teh nasteh. I’ll just not look at them.