Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Endurance Running - the best training for modern air travel

I enjoy running for hours in the hills.  It's what keeps me sane (relatively).  But little did I realize that it has the added side affect of improving one's ability to cope with the modern air travel experience.  My latest trans-Atlantic journey wasn't going to be easy, but it was scheduled to take less than 24 hours door-to-door, including stopovers, security queues, and all the usual guff that surrounds flying.  For the sake of an easier trip back and an affordable ticket, the outbound leg included an extra few hours via Amsterdam.  But, we would get in at about 21:30, giving a good night's sleep and minimal jet lag.  Alas, had it been so simple.

The main leg of the trip was from Amsterdam to Atlanta.  A long-ish flight, but nothing too strenuous.  The KLM Airbus was comfy with plenty of legroom (even in the back row of cattle class, where we were).  The food was palatable and the crew were very attentive.  Unfortunately, just as we were preparing our descent into Atlanta, the heavens errupted with what would have been an awe-inspiring display from the ground.  For us, it was the cue for a diversion to Memphis to refuel and wait for the Atlanta airport to re-open.  Three hours on the tarmac and we were back in business, flying into Atlanta to see what waste had been lain to their flight schedules.

When we arrived, we confirmed that we'd missed our flight to Austin, TX and joined the long queue to re-book.  As it turns out, the plane we should have joined left at about the same time as we got our new boarding cards for the 21:30 flight, delayed to 01:00.  It had obviously been delayed a couple of extra times, which meant we probably would have been able to join it anyway.  Tip to airline groundstaff:  when tired people show up at your desk after a series of delays, including nearly an hour waiting to talk to you, it's really stupid to say "oh, your flight just left 2 minutes ago".  We'd rather have assumed it left hours before and we'd had no option to board.  As it is, we just had to wonder why on Earth the transfer hall can't have a departures board that shows us our flight so we can get to the gate on time.

So, what's this got to do with endurance running?  As background, let me say that Nic and I heartily dislike long trips, being in someone else's control, or repeated changes to the schedule.  Well, the 01:00 time became 01:20, then 02:00, then 02:30, and finally 03:00.  That meant arrival at 04:00 in Austin, with our car rental available from 06:00 (or, 05:00, if Avis had bothered to have a sign saying their little shed by the cars opened an hour earlier).  As the hours passed, we passed through "The Wall" (around the time we were informed that our intended flight could have been possible) - shaky, wobbly, ready to throw in the towel and lie on the floor. A drink of water later, and we entered that sort of dead zone where your body is moving, but you don't know how or why.  Then, following a short death-like sleep, all felt fine. It was easier for me to see in Nic, but I know I was the same - we were drawing on the mental and physical benefits of our training.  We had the same withdrawn focus on the back-up plans and next steps, keeping our bodies fuelled as though we were doing a long run (plenty of fluids when possible given the various security rules, enough food to keep going, but no overloading), and reached the eventual resigned peace that as long as we kept going, we'd get to the end.  In previous years, we would have driven each other crazy with the tension and frustration boiling over.  Instead, following 18 months of learning to push on regardless, we arrived with a relieved smile, no tension, no lashing out, and the ability to recover quickly with only a little rest.

So, thank you to trail running!

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Evesham Asparagus Run 5k - a final experiment in coffee management

Another week, another 5k...  As I mentioned last week, I don't really like the distance, but it provides some much-needed speedwork.

The race today centred on the paths along the River Avon, about a mile from home.  The party atmosphere for the balloon festival (hot air, rather than helium) was great.  The organizers had a live music stage, plenty of things for people to see and do, and a random 5k fun run to raise money for the local air ambulance.

Nic and I popped down a bit early to drop off some forms for our club's 10k at the club's table, took the chance to socialize, and enjoyed the celebratory mood.  Then, as we completed our warm-ups, the official news came that the celebrity starter (Countryfile's Adam Henson) was stuck in traffic, so we would be delayed by 30 minutes.  It turns out that the county council, who are kindly destroying the town's main street as part of a renovation and rebuilding plan, put signs along the bypass saying "road closed" at all entry points (about 1/4 mile is actually shut).  So, all the people trying to get to the festival were driving around to find an open road.  Glad I walked in...

Eventually, we had the official warm up (where the official warm-up leader kindly got the crowd moving and then led them into some nice cool-down exercises...  obviously he's not keeping up with the latest advice on warming up and stretching).  Then, the race started and I went hard off the line to get past the mini-runners who can put on a mean sprint and then stop in front of you after 50 yards.  I settled into my rythm and watched the front 5 pull away. From there it was a nice hard run down the river, turn around at the sports club, and then run back trying hard to keep from slowing down too much.  Along the way I reeled in 5th, then 4th place.  With a kilometre to go, I checked behind and it was all clear.  So, I tried to push a bit harder knowing that if I blew up I could at least keep hold of 4th.  In the end, the final push wasn't up to much and I finished in just under 20.5.  A good, hard speed session, but not my best race.

For today's race, I again experimented with a nice espresso before the race - as it turned out, an extra half hour before the race.  But I needed the boost after a nice dinner and drinks evening with friends last night.  So, during my warm up I was easily getting my heart rate into the high 170s - a little too easily.  I felt more on edge than I would have liked, and a bit tight in the chest.   So, the coffee hit before a run is back on the shelf - I'll stick to guarana for my caffeine buzz, and coffee for the recovery.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Warndon Villages 5k - another team win for Evesham Vale

The Warndon Villages 5k & 10k is basically a fun run around a neighbourhood in Worcester to raise money for the local community centre.  It has a nice 1k downhill start, an unpleasant 1k uphill finish, and some nice flat tracks in between.  Last year it was my first sub 20' 5k that I can remember (anything from before I was 18 is lost to age and good whisky).

My running calendar doesn't include many 5k races.  I don't really like the distance (it hurts, but not really for long enough to come out the other side), there aren't many around, and I would usually rather be in the hills on a Sunday.  But, in June, there are a few 5ks to be had in the area, and I like to support our local races when I can.  I had a sub 19' finish in my head when I put the race into the diary.  Over the last 2 weeks, it became apparent that knocking 50 seconds of the previous year was never going to happen.  I dropped all of my speedwork in March and April, trying to just stay fit for my marathon.  Added to my traditionally slow cardio recovery time (1 day per mile just doesn't cut it!), this meant that I would struggle to get a PB.  I've been able to do the 800m reps as desired, but maintaining pace for more than 1k just isn't happening yet.

Knowing all of this and feeling slow, I knocked back a cup of cold coffee with 20 minutes to wait, warmed up, and headed for the starting line.  I managed to avoid the rush of pre-teen boys sprinting away from the line and headed down the hill.  I didn't feel as fast as last year, but I felt more in control of where my body was going.  As expected, the second mile hurt and had me breathing hard.  The third mile was a bit of a blur, really, as I spent two or three steps in ten with my eyes closed trying to push the pain in my chest out of my mind.  I saw the finish line approach but didn't have the oomph to put in a surge for the line.  Result: 5 seconds slower than last year. 

I was pretty gutted with the time, until I looked around.  Because the 10k race is two laps and the 5k only one, and I was a bit off the pace at the front, I couldn't tell how many of the top 10 went on for the second lap.  My team-mate Mark (3rd overall) was waiting for me, and he said he hadn't seen any completed teams finish yet.  We waited, and another Evesham runner turned the final corner.  Sheila pushed for the line and finished 1st Lady.  Unfortunately, she was the lead on the "B" team, so her time didn't count for us.  Luckily, our third runner, Paul, had been pacing off Sheila and wasn't too far behind. So, for the second race in a row, a painful run that felt slow and laboured was greatly improved by being part of the team win.  Thanks, guys!