Thursday, April 29, 2010

Cross Training

Wednesday 28th April

GPSies - Aime, Montgirod, Hautcoeur, Moutiers, Notre Dame du Pré, Maçot, Laundry, Bourg, Vulmix, La Cote d'Aime, Aime.

2000m vertical on the bike today – and 80km distance. Went slow to ensure the legs would last. They were tired from the running problems. Despite the calves being almost too sore to walk with there was no pain at all on the bike. This is why cross training is so good.
The sky was blue and it was warm all the way – great weather but not to last apparently so it is important to make the most of it. Took some photos today with my crap LG telephone camera but didn’t manage to get the max resolution set up correctly. Might get a clone “Iphone” from China for 100 dollars (Would never buy any Apple crap – even Adobe is dumping them due to restrictive practices – YES!!!!).
Legs still started to hurt after about 4 hours – don’t know if it’s the distance, amount of climbing or time itself that has the largest impact on the legs. Was drinking and ingesting carbs.

This is a view of Hautecoeur, a beauty spot hidden above Moutiers at 1200m altitude. Moutiers is at the bottom of a direct descent to 500m altitude.

Have decided to persist with the forefoot strike in running despite the pain it generates in the calves. It just feels right. Several times since age 18 I’ve flipped over on my ankle when running, badly spraining the ligaments and I’m certain this due to heel striking. Landing on the forefoot definitely stabilises the entire foot/ankle structure and feels much safer. The foot has 26 bones (more than ¼ of the body’s bones are in the feet), 33 joints and over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. It seems like we try our best to forget about our feet instead of learn about them. Jean Claude Killy was quoted, when asked why he was the best skier of his epoch, saying, “It’s the intelligence of the feet”. Thick cushioned soles and heel striking appear to deny this intelligence in running. This is certainly the case in skiing where people are often clamped into tight fitting boots with orthotic footbeds and even foam injected liners. Skiing is much better when the feet can move and make shapes, using the muscles actively. Yes, I teach the use of heel pressure, rocking of the sub-taler joint to roll the feet, but only as an elementary phase. Once you know how to make an active arch with your feet muscles, strengthening the ankle support and strongly working the anterior tibialis muscle up the outside of the lower leg, then with the heel slightly off the deck the control is much better. I notice that it is popular to refer to “riding” skis now. Real skiers don’t ride skis, the ski is part of their body. They ski! Only morons “ride” skis – so, yes that does include all BASI trainers! (Enough ranting though.) It would seem that rather than take forever for the calves to either adapt to this way of running, or to get injured, a program of strengthening might be more appropriate. I’m going to try to use “heel dips” to try to get the calves more robust. This requires standing on a step and letting a heel drop down towards the ground and raising it back up to neutral. It is an eccentric contraction – just like running itself, but not with an impact. Meanwhile I’ll do some running with thicker heeled shoes than my low profile Mizunos and accept the heel strike until the calves are stronger – just using forefoot striking over reduced distances to build up gradually. I did spend an entire nine months patiently trying to adapt the calves through running itself but it didn’t work and that’s why I went back to the heel strike. Initially I blamed the heel strike for the injury that sidelined my running all winter but on reflection I think it was due to dramatically increasing running mileage as winter set in and cycling became impossible. I went from almost nothing up to running 20k several times a week.
Why do both running and cycling? Well when Lance Armstrong retired from cycling he started marathon running. In his first marathon he ended up with stress fractures in his tibia. It appears that there is a direct correlation between leg bone density and training mileage for runners. If you train a high mileage for years then your legs will have a high bone density and strength due to the impact of running. Armstrong probably didn’t have this accumulated level of protection. I’ve seen legs blown apart in skiing and I definitely advocate good leg bone density – so running is useful. Armstrong by the way did his second marathon in an amazing 2hrs 46mins which for any “non runner” is amazing. Runners and cross country skiers have higher aerobic fitness than any other sports because the entire body is used, including arms and torso. I noticed my resting heart rate was clearly lower when my running levels were up and the opposite when running levels were down and cycling up. There is then a clear advantage in cross training.

Discovered the car of my dreams on this workout - near Notre Dame du Pré.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Running into trouble!

26 April 2010

GPSies - Aime

First 10k run since the 5 month injury layoff. VERY SLOW – 58’48”. The legs had plenty of energy but sticking with a forefoot strike made for sore calf muscles right from the start. When this happens it’s impossible to increase pace. I tried the “soft ankle” advice but it actually seemed to worsen the contraction of the calves. There seems to be a lot to this process. When the ankle is soft – as I interpret it – the foot tends to flick back at the end of the stride and this causes an even greater contraction and subsequently more pain on the next contact with the ground. The best result seemed to be when the focus was on pulling the leg forward from the hip, keeping the foot high up behind the knee and bringing the knee forward. Focusing on this seemed to make a more natural forefoot strike and generate less pain.

It’s so tempting to go back to a heel strike but last time I did that it led to 5 months of injury under the foot. You can feel how the forefoot strike activates all the upper foot muscles by reflex – and it’s a good feeling – very much like can be done in Alpine skiing with skillful use of the feet. Shame about the calves protesting so much. They don’t feel injured though – just hammered – so perhaps they will adapt. I’m using low profile Mizuno Rhonin lightweight shoes which have very little cushioning and help to make it easy to land on the forefoot. There is still a ramp angle in the shoe and you have to wonder if trying to land a shoe on the forefoot is bound to stress the calf too much just because of this additional ramp angle. Perhaps this is why there are barefoot running enthusiasts. There is so little knowledge out there on this subject. Even the studies I’ve read about don’t appear to take this ramp angle into account. They report 84% of elite marathon runners landing midfoot – but if you subtract the shoe ramp angle that puts them clearly all on their forefoot. I find that if I try to a land midfoot it’s a slippery slope to landing on the heel again and even midfoot I can’t feel the protective foot muscles being activated - same as in skiing.

Ran the usual course alongside the Isère river on the Aime/Bourg cycle path. It was raining but there were a few others out running and a few early season canoeists on the rapids. Yesterday’s tough day on the bike didn’t seem to have much effect on the legs. I know now that the main difference between running and cycling is that running causes “eccentric contraction” of the muscles in the legs – that is the muscles contract while extending at the same time. This is what causes the pain in the calves and the “DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness) when increasing your workout distance or speed. It’s odd that cycling is usually prescribed as an exercise for skiing and running isn't. The eccentric action of running is much closer to” flexing under load” that happens in Alpine skiing. Anyway it’s good both run and cycle as they really do work the muscles differently and running ensures good maintenance of bone density and bone strength. I can feel that skiing and cycling alone leave you with quads and thighs that are strong but very inflexible. This is a problem when running with a forefoot strike as the leg has to extend further behind and this requires flexibility at the hip which is definitely compromised in cycling and skiing. Time to get working on stretching the hips out.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Col de Tamie

Sunday 25th April

Chris called this morning suggesting a long workout on the bike. Impossible to say no, my immediate response was to make a pot of filter coffee to try to wake up properly. It was actually about 10:30, but the tiredness was due to still recovering from the last monster workout on Thursday. My bike is white. I had wanted to order a mat black carbon one due to it being even lighter but they were out of stock so I ended up with white. Disappointment soon vanished because the white looks great and of course now I could upgrade to wearing loads of white gear to look really professional on the bike. This did not slip past Chris unnoticed and provoked a suitable and well deserved commentary when he arrived. All through this I was doing my best to hide my belly which hopefully will not be an issue several weeks from now.
Today’s objective was the Col de Tamie circuit, Chris starting in Bourg St Maurice and connecting with me at Aime. The route is here:
From the outset my legs felt tired but OK for a moderate pace. We started out pretty easily and it was just a steady pace on to Aigueblanche until we noticed that a mountainbiker had tagged along with us. This of course is an emergency situation. Every mountain-biker out there wants to think that he can beat the road rats and they will often go all out to prove it (put me on a mountain bike and I’d do the same). Conversation dropped to a minimum and Chris started to pull a bit harder. I’m of course being towed myself due to not feeling too great and the mountain bike is drafting behind me. The mountain-biker was a young lad and the bike was set up for the road with skinny tyres, so it isn’t that much different from a road bike in performance on the flat. When Chris started showing signs of tiredness by slowing slightly against the strong headwind I decided to do my part and take over in front. To my surprise it wasn’t too bad and I could keep up quite a strong pace for a while, giving Chris time to recover. The mountain biker was still hanging on but panting strongly by now. This process continued for a while until Chris decided to really put the pressure on up a long incline. It was hard work holding on to his wheel even though he was taking the headwind full on, but the mountainbiker was still there, panting harder than ever now. He was getting his free tow into Albertville but at least we were making him work for it. I turned round to wave to him as we parted company after 20km in Albertville and as he returned the wave he looked pretty whacked out – but for us it was still only the beginning of our self imposed torture.
A brief passage through the town saw us ready to climb the Col de Tamie which is about a 500m climb but on a wide and not too steep road. At about 4km from the top I just let Chris disappear ahead. I don’t know if I was capable of a higher pace or if it was just an unconscious decision to preserve some energy for the long day still ahead, but my pace was much lower than I would normally climb. Chris probably had two or three minutes to wait for me at the top, but as there is a fountain for drinking water it was a good place for a pit stop anyway prior to the descent to Faverge on the other side of the col towards Annecy.
At Faverge we stopped for a sandwich and drinks at a small bar. This is the best part of the long outings – getting to stop for lunch. It’s amazing how the legs recover when you have a break. The weather was holding up and it was getting warm. I’d just descended the col in a tee shirt and didn’t feel cold even though it is a north facing descent. It’s this climate that makes cycling around the Alpine countryside so pleasant. It’s still only April but it’s hot. My new Nakamura white shorts were performing really well. The layered gel pads were protecting the bones of my bottom very well so I felt much less discomfort than usual. The shorts were not expensive – only 49 euros, but Nakamura seem to be breaking new ground with technology all the time and give great value. My helmet is also Nakamura – very lightweight and instead of the usual polystyrene it is made of deformable polyurethane, making it more compact and durable as well as lighter and inexpensive. My carbon racing shoes from Decathlon weigh in at only 290 grams each and have proved to be great value also. It’s pretty clear that the big stores are now making products of their own that can match expensive brand names very closely.
The return from Faverge began on the impressive cycle path which goes from Ugine to Annecy. At Ugine we took the empty road alongside the dual carriageway and eventually crossed a bridge and soon found the continuation of the cycle path into Albertville. I was a little worried about whether or not my legs would hold out as there were some signs of deep pain starting to develop. The return up the valley from Albertville is a progressive climb from 350m altitude up to 500m at Moutiers, but this doesn’t count a few steep climbs and descents along the way. There is a vicious climb just before Aigueblanche and I was resigned to letting Chris go and finding him waiting at the top as usual. This time though when the climb kicked off I just looked down at the ground and kept my eye on his back wheel. The effect was weird, it’s like the climb seemed to disappear. I was managing to hold on to Chris on the climb, but then at one point I looked up and saw it was getting even steeper. This sent a wave of anxiety through me with inner voices all chorusing “slow down” together. Immediately I looked down again and felt comfortable again. I knew when the top was approaching because Chris started his usual mountain top acceleration but by this time I knew I could last out the distance. Right at the top I glanced and my heart rate monitor and saw 183 registered. This pretty much confirmed for me that 183 is my max heart rate on a bike – a figure I’ve been trying to ascertain for some time now. I’m pretty sure that Chris was slowing down due to tiredness from doing the vast majority of the pulling in front, and that I was spared a lot on the return journey by drafting, even though wind was not so much of an issue this time. Still, I had absolutely not anticipated being able to work the legs hard towards the end of this trip, so it was a very good feeling. The effect from looking at the ground was pretty clearly a case of being “in the present moment” and not thinking ahead. This state allows you to just concentrate on your effort and not to be overwhelmed by the size of the task ahead. There were several more climbs up to 700m at Aime and Chris dragged every last drop of performance out of me. When we approached Aime I had an attack of the “channels” and basically had to call a stop there. The “channels” is a naval term for a condition experienced by seamen who have been sailing the world’s oceans and happen to be passing through the English Channel. They experience an overwhelming desire to get off the boat and return home. By law the ship’s captain must permit the seaman to leave. By law Chris had to let me leave this ship and return home in Aime. Chris still had to climb up to Maçot and then on to Bourg, about another 30 minutes altogether, but I was well and truly done. Total distance was 128km with 1425m climbing and 5100 calories burned.
There was a moment shortly after stopping when I was drinking water that I found difficulty breathing in. This isn’t like asthma which causes trouble breathing out – but it’s an unpleasant feeling which I only had once last year after a hill climb race. It passed over quite quickly but I need to look into what the cause is.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Getting started again with Summer training

Off-season training (or madness depending on your view point) is now in full swing – encouraged by that great big friendly nuclear fusion furnace in the sky.
Running commenced after an enforced 5 month break due to “plantar fasciitis” – basically a swollen tendon under the foot. Seems like a silly injury but it’s really inconvenient – I mean trying to ski every day with a sharp pain directly under your right heel is not much fun. Winter running was totally out of the question so there were no days this year of sweating profusely into thermal insulation, rendering it sodden and ultimately frozen. Perhaps I’ll try to get plantar fasciitis next year too. This also delayed the temptation to buy a massive and expensive indoor running machine, subsequently permitting the deviation of funds towards a MUCH better carbon bike! Who said anything about “saving”?
Used the “pose” technique for running – forefoot strike and keeping the centre of mass above or ahead of the feet. This still feels a bit unnatural for me – a reformed heel striker – but there was no pain and a great feeling of freedom and speed from the first time out. Payback however is swift – calf muscles descending into “doms” (delayed onset of muscle soreness) rather rapidly.
Main plus is that the foot is healed and as I suspect that an attempted return to using a slight heel strike caused the injury last year I’ll be avoiding that totally for the time being. Have just learned that a key to avoiding calf pain when using a forefoot strike is to keep the ankle soft and avoid reaching downwards with the forefoot and contracting the calf prior to ground contact. I’ll work on that.
Well, all the high mountain passes are still closed for snow, but at +27°C in the valleys it is impossible to keep the bike indoors and unused. Let the real torture begin...
Actually, the cycle training began sporadically a month earlier in March. My first climb up the local mountain climb time trial was a horrendous affair, commencing with a greasy chorizo pizza as a pre-workout snack. Bad start! Two attempts later and the body had somehow switched back to “normal” and the 45minute climb was now a 35 minute climb. It’s amazing how fitness returns so quickly. Ok, I did ski all winter but honestly skiing makes you fat and lazy. More energy is spent eating Tartiflettes than skiing with or teaching clients. This was however a good time to ease back into more serious exercise, but one troubling issue was coming to the fore consistently now. My heart rate was “spiking” at up to 212 bpm – which is a bit worrying – especially as one family member recently suffered a minor heart attack and both parents are dead from the same cause (heavy smokers). Even more troubling was the heart was spiking during descents – when it should be resting and the signs were consistent. There was no signal dropout from the digital chest transmitter. I was using contact gel for the electrodes and all the equipment appeared good. Older analogue equipment just has complete dropout or lockup at a fixed frequency if there is a tech problem, so the signs were a bit troubling here. In the end I discovered the problem was due to a loose chest strap – as simple as that. Once the strap was tightened all the weird reading s stopped and that included my heart rate lowering as effort reached a maximum – very weird! One useful thing came out of all of this. Until now I had believed that a formula had to be used to determine maximum heart rate and that it should be something resembling 220-age. I knew that there are many different versions of this formula but it seemed that aging produced an inevitable drop in max heart rate. When going through my panic I stumbled upon a website by sports author Sally Edwards (I already have a book she wrote 20 years ago). She makes it very clear that you are born with a maximum heart rate and age does not change it. If you train all your life this rate remains the same. Max heart rate only changes in sedentary people – the changes are caused by being sedentary not by age itself. This changes the playing field a bit. I will soon be doing a maxed out test to establish my REAL max heart rate. I know it used to be around 192 when I was in my 30s but I think it might now be about 183. We will see. My resting heart rate in recent years has been down to 33 bpm, but oddly, cycling more seems to have raised this a bit to around 44 bpm.
Following on from this I have created my own formula for “cadence” for cycling. Cadence is linked to cardiovascular effort and you can shift the load when cycling from the legs and muscle force at a low cadence to the cardiovascular system at a high cadence. It’s accepted that cadence is slower when climbing – around 70 for a good rhythm – though I’m around 60 if I use the granny gear on steeper climbs and when the legs are tired. My formula is that cadence should be 120 –age. Going by this at age 50 you are down to 70 average cadence and by age 110 you would be at 10 rpm. At age 119 you would manage to turn the pedals about once per minute. That sounds about right!
Thursday’s workout (22nd April) was the first serious solo effort on the bike (did a big one in March being towed by Chris Harrop – with a pizza stop in the middle – so that was not a great example even though my legs felt like they’d been put through a wringer after 3.5 hours at 95% max heart rate effort. No I could not sleep properly that night. ) This workout took in two big climbs – up to Hautcoeur descending into Moutiers and then up to Natre Dame du Pré, descending all the way to Maçot and then looping along the “flat” around Bourg St Maurice and returning home to Aime. All in all 73km with 1600m vertical. When I reached Bourg at about 3hrs 20mins my legs just went – nothing left. When this happens it comes in the form of a deep non localised pain that makes you just want to get off the bike and lie down. I had been contemplating a third climb but this was now out of the question and a U turn at Bourg was required returning home for and easy spin downhill along the cycle path beside the Isère river all the way. After about 15 minutes of an easy pace much of the pain had subsided – which was very encouraging. This then tempted me to make a final attack up the last short steep hill just before home. Mistake! Upper thigh cramp is not very nice! This was definitely a workout taken to the limit and very satisfying indeed. I had consumed carbohydrates at a rate of about 60g per hour with 500ml of liquid per hour – so the physical issue was unlikely to be a management one – just pure muscle fatigue. Cramp is apparently caused by fatigue – not sodium loss or anything else.
Workout route
If you download the Google Earth KML file from here you can do a 3D fly through of the path in the mountains - quite impressive if you are new to this!
The aftermath of all of this is frozen calf muscles and dead legs. The hope is that the 6kg of fat gained during the winter is going to start to melt away along with the snow and that the body will rapidly adapt to cope with some much bigger climbing days during the summer. If the legs are currently dying at 1600m of climbing how will they cope with 5000m? To be seen...