Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Berlin Marathon: Weeks 10 & 11 - Long Running Back in London

East Acton has never looked worse. After two weeks in California, the walk to and from and the tube has become more miserable than ever. I've spent my running hours over the last fortnight plotting my escape. A move west to somewhere nice on the river, more time in Norfolk, Christmas in Lanzarote. None of it will happen, of course, but it dulls the pain of motorbikes trying to break the land speed record when the lights go green at Savoy Circus, speeding left-turners careering through red lights at the pedestrian crossing on the Westway and Romanian squeegee abusers turning the central reservation of the A40 into a raft of empty plastic water bottles.

We got back after the overnight flight from San Francisco on Sunday, August 9. We cabbed it home and I dozed through the first Super Sunday of the season before heading out on my longest run yet - a fifteen mile loop via Kew Bridge and Putney Bridge. It felt good at a pace of 8:24 despite the jet laggy leginess.

Monday's rest day was boosted by City's 3-0 win at WBA and the rest of the week passed in a flurry of 40 mins, five miles, 60 mins and a Friday personal training session on the TRX ropes focusing on upper body strength. The DOMS from this one didn't kick in fully until Monday morning when I could barely lift my right bicep. Honest pain. We even managed to sneak in a welcome-home midweek family feast at the Monkey Temple with Cath and Andy.

It was a trip to Manchester for City v Chelsea on Sunday so I had to do my next long run on Saturday. Sixteen miles on the same loop as last time but this time starting and finishing from the gym. This one fizzed by in the sunshine. It was eight miles by the time I looked at my watch for the first time and I hit the jacuzzi after 2:11:59 at 8:14. I still think that's a bit fast for the marathon - PT Yasmine thinks I should be aiming for 9 mins per mile to go under four hours but that feels slow.

The City match was a welcome break after the first week back in the office. The 3-0 win helped but so did the bus ride home to see mum and dad plus a couple of pints with Mark in Oddest, a couple more with Vince at the ground and a couple more of Hyde's Manchester Star on the train home. I eased the guilty conscience with a quick sprint from the Etihad to Piccadilly Station at full time, comfortably making the 6.35pm rattler.

Another routine week of 40 mins, five miles, 50 mins and a PT involving kettlebells and polar bear push-ups was broken up with an unexpected bonus trip to the Oval on Thursday for the first day of the fifth Ashes Test. England had won the series and it showed. It turned into the slowest scoring, least wicket-falling day of the series. Old school 1976. The day may have been overcast but the ticket was free, the company good and the Marston's New World IPA flowed much more freely than it does in the office.

The week climaxed with yet another longest run yet - 17 miles.

This was the same loop as last week but extended with a trip into Wandsworth Park and back. I deliberately slowed the pace this time - 8:34 for 2:26:09. It was a straightforward, niggle-free run but as I was dripping wet and drinking a protein shake in the gym changing room it was difficult to envisage keeping that up for another nine miles and 90 minutes. That still seems a daunting distance.

I celebrated by watching City beat Everton 2-0 on the TV followed by a Sunday evening feast at the Monkey Temple with Deborah while her mum and dad kept the kids company.

So with under five weeks to go I was up at at 6.30am this morning after yesterday's rest day for another steady 10k along the Thames before work. The body's holding up well but I can sense the challenge is about to become more psychological. Better that than a physical injury at this stage, though.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Yosemite Valley 10k

Mirror Lake meadow at Yosemite

Friday, August 7

Nothing emphasises California's wonderful extremes better than the drive from Death Valley to Yosemite. The five-hour journey rises from the devil's furnace way below sea level to a stunningly beautiful landscape teaming with life from the valley floor skywards from 4,000 feet.

We made a detour to see the ancient bristlecone pines on the White Mountains on the way then yomped up to Lembert Dome overlooking the alpine Tuolumne Meadows near the eastern entrance to the national park. We did two more hikes the next day, the first five-miler a steep climb along the Mist Trail to the top of the Vernal waterfall and an easier five-miler through the woods to Mirror Lake in the afternoon. It was this route that we decided to jog the following morning.

Big Joe and I were up at 7am for the half-hour drive from Yosemite View Lodge to the car park at Curry Village. It was a lovely run around the traffic-free loop, up through the woods, across a butterfly meadow then splashing across Tenaya Creek for the run back. I left Joe in the car park to complete another circuit of the loop around a campsite to make it a satisfying 10k run at an altitude of 4,135ft in just over an hour. 

We rehydrated on protein shakes then headed back to the lodge before the long, long drive to our final Californian stop, Napa Valley. 

Friday, 14 August 2015

Altitude Training at The Grand Canyon, Arizona

Monday, August 3

I had never run at high altitude before and the reports I'd read about its effect on the body meant I approached the rim of the magnificent Grand Canyon with some trepidation. This was going to be an epic 14-miler under the Arizona sunshine.

The plan was to adapt to the conditions by keeping a close eye on my heart rate and making sure it hovered around the border of the cardio and peak zone even if that meant slowing the pace right down to cope with the lack of oxygen. We'd spent all of yesterday hiking around the Canyon so we were already getting use to the thinner air without even knowing it.

Research suggests a normal pace of 8 mins/mile becomes 8:45 per mile at an altitude of 5,000 feet above sea level. The there-and-back part of the rim trail I selected started at 7,133 feet above sea level, dipping to 6,800 feet along the way before climbing back to its starting level so I was expecting it to be tough.

But it was also exhilarating. Big Joe joined me for the first half-hour from the Mather Point overlook near the main visitor centre running west until the end of the very steep incline three miles later just after the Bright Angel trailhead. We started running under the Californian Condors at 7am to beat the heat and the cool conditions were perfect. The canyon falling away forever on the right made this one of the most memorable runs available anywhere in the world.

After Joe dropped out I was on my own as the paved path eventually ran out after five miles and the rocky trail tested the grip of my Brooks trainers to the limit. I knew my pace was slower than usual but I was enjoying the run and coping with both the distance and the steep undulations that added up to a 1,104ft elevation gain.

It was just me, a couple of startled rabbits, a mule deer, ravens, turkey vultures and the odd early hiker with one of the Earth's greatest views all to ourselves.

By the time I'd finished 2:16:01 later, equalling the furthest distance I'd ever run, I'd averaged 9:43 per mile, about a minute and a half slower than my usual steady pace. It was the most memorable training run I'd ever done.

After that it was back to Vegas for an overnighter at the MGM Grand and a dip on the rooftop pool before heading down, down, down to Death Valley.

Training Below Sea Level at Death Valley, California

Wednesday, August 5

Two days after the 7,000ft highs of the Grand Canyon we found ourselves two hundred feet below sea level in the furnace of Death Valley.

The temperature on the dashboard of the Dodge edged over the 100 degree mark as we drove through the high desert from Vegas to the Valley. Stepping out of the air conditioning for the first time at Dante's View was like walking into a hair dryer. We marvelled at the salt deposits at the bottom of the endless valley surrounded by steep Toblerone ridges.

Another stop at Zabriskie Point on the way to the Ranch at Furnace Creek revealed the start of interesting trail - the Badlands Loop. The terrifying sign at the trail head said it was a two-and-a-half mile loop through a mountain pass via the Gower Canyon but should not be attempted after 10am due to the extreme, life-threatening heat.

So we hatched a plan to get up at 6,30am and jog around the trail a couple of times before the sun was barely above the top of the mountains.

A bold idea and it started ok. Big Joe and I jogged from the car park to the edge of the rocky trail and descended at dawn into a spookily deserted gully. The silence was eerily deafening. It wasn't long before we stopped even trying to jog through the rocks and concentrated on just finding the sign posts that marked the scary route through the arid terrain. It was unusual and intimidating to be devoid of directions.

After about a mile we reached a post that had two arrows pointing in opposite directions - clearly the start of a loop. But at that point we turned round and retraced our steps. Without a map and when everywhere looks the same - sand, rocks, desert - the last thing we wanted was to end up lost in the valley as the sun was doing its worst.

A few days later I found this comment on hikespeak.comI managed to get lost on this trek. Ended up down there for 3 hours on my own and ran out of water and almost hope of ever finding my way back. Was close to death…literally..:-(

I'm glad we turned back. It was a memorable experience but no jog. I changed the status from "run" to "hike" in Strava later that day. We headed back for a buffet breakfast at the ranch and the long drive to Yosemite.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Las Vegas Gym Day

We stepped out of the air conditioned Dodge Journey and into the outdoor sauna of Las Vegas on a Friday evening. Only a fool would run in these conditions. The plan was to jog a circuit of the strip this morning but the intense heat meant I headed to the small and spartan fitness room of the Tropicana hotel for a body conditioning session. 
I lunged with weights, planked, squat jumped, calf raised, hopped and generally faffed about while Big Joe did some serious weights work not far away. No cardio but it was good to get last night's Pinks hot dogs and Sierra Nevada beers out of the system. Vegas is weird. Bright, brash, trying too hard. 

We packed up and headed to the Grand Canyon. It took more than four hours and was rewarded with a truly awesome sunset and an excellent Grand Canyon beer complete with an internal hop bomb. At 7.5%, it was a two bottle maximum. 

Los Angeles: Santa Monica Beach Runs

The road trip took us to the Best Western Hotel 20 blocks north of Santa Monica beach so Big Joe and I hopped on the Big Blue No 1 bus at 7.30am for the ten minute ride towards the Pacific. This was an easy six-mile run day and Joe's first 10k so the plan was to take it easy on a warm, overcast morning. 
We started with some dynamic stretches at the junction of Santa Monica Boulevard and Ocean then headed south to the pier and onto the concrete beach path shared by runners and cyclists. 
We took it very easy so it was four minutes until I hit the cardio zone but it felt great to be jogging along one of the finest beaches in California. We headed past the empty car parks and volley ball parks, past the beachfront cafes opening for business, past the hobos with their shopping trolleys full of nothing. One of them was proudly flying a tea towel print of the Ronald Reagan movie Bedtime For Bozo. Most had some version of the American flag on display, even the one shouting optimistically about how much everyone wanted to see his penis. Always amazes me how patriotic the U.S. down-and-outs seem to be. 
The graffiti art on the shop shutters heralded the start of Venice Beach, closed and smelly with dustbin carts doing the early rounds. The famous Venice Beach outdoor muscle gym, framed by a concrete dumbbell, was deserted. We made the halfway turn soon afterwards and saw it all again in reverse. It seems like a community. Dog walkers stopped to chat with each other, young skate boarders chatted to the older, hirsute pot heads. The sun broke through the clouds. 
We finished with a stretch on Ocean. We'd averaged just over 9 mins per mile, around my target Berlin race pace and it felt good. A good moment for Joe, too. We dashed across the road for the bus back and rehydrated on protein shakes before spending the day traipsing around smelly Hollywood. 

The next morning it was a solo 60-minute steady run. This time I went north to the Pacific Palisades. Not nearly as interesting. Just beach on the left and the Pacific Highway on the right under another warm and cloudy morning sky. 
We packed up and headed to Vegas.