Another positive swimming experience

After Sunday’s swim, which went much better than any other swim in my life, I wanted to get back for another swim to see whether it was just luck, or whether I might actually be starting to get the hang of it. Either I’m now very lucky, or I might be starting to get the hang of it.

Today, I swam 750m, which I think might be the longest I’ve swam in a single session. I recognise this is not a long distance, and I didn’t do it all at once, but you have to start somewhere. This swim did have a number of major positives.

  1. I did sets of 4 lengths at a time
  2. The last set was 6 lengths
  3. I concentrated on my technique, not my speed
  4. I didn’t have any problems breathing, including when I half choked on some water; I was able to clear my throat and carry on
  5. I didn’t feel too knackered at the end of each set
  6. At the end of the last set, which was 6 lengths, not only could I have continued swimming more lengths without stopping, I actually felt sad that it was time to stop

That last point is pretty major for me. I usually can’t wait to get out of the pool. Today, I felt comfortable the whole time, and a couple of times when I was feeling a bit tired, I slowed down, and it became easy again.

Now, the main issue I have right now is I’m pitifully slow. I’ll be doing 25m lengths anywhere between 35 and 50 seconds, and I’m slowing down during a set. However, I’ve recognised that in the grand scheme of things, I need to sort out some form of technique, and not worry about speed. And I know my technique is getting better – today, for the first time ever, my Garmin Forerunner 910xt did not double count any laps. This happens normally when I swim, because my technique isn’t great, and I’ll occasionally half-drown during a length, and it’ll double count that length. Today, that never happened. Win.

Once I have technique vaguely under control, the speed will either come, or I can concentrate on going a bit faster. Right now, I couldn’t give a flying fuck if I’m not going very fast, I merely want to be able to swim 750m without stopping. Today, I stopped 6 times, so the goal is to try to do 750m stopping less; maybe next time, I should do sets of 5 lengths, and do 6 of them, which will involve stopping 5 times in total. Yeah, that seems fair enough. Goal set for next time.

Man alive, I didn’t think I’d see the day when I was looking forward to the next time I was in the swimming pool.

New Chain Required

Park Tools Chain Checker arrived today. Tried it on my chain, and assumed it wasn’t working, because it suggested my chain was totally wrecked. Tried it on a mate’s chain, and it said his chain was fine. Then thought about it for a minute, remembered that I hadn’t changed my chain for a while, looked up when I last did that, discovered it was in August 2012… whoops. Time for a new chain and cassette, it appears, as I’ve done about 4k miles since the last change.

If I’m going to Tri, I need to swim

Swimming has continued to be something I’ve struggled to get into. After the marathon, swimming was the next thing to do if I’m going to do a triathlon. But then 3 weeks ago, when I went swimming, I felt totally awful the moment I got out of the pool. I struggled to get home, then had to lie down for about 20 minutes, because my head was swimming (sic).

The wife got me some swimming ear plugs yesterday, however, and that gave me the final nudge to get back in the pool this morning. What a difference. Maybe it was psychological, but I don’t think it was; these things kept the water out of my ears, didn’t cause my hearing to be affected (not sure I understand how, but anyway…), and my head felt 100% all the time. It was amazing.

I’m following the Total Immersion techniques by Terry Laughlin. The main advantage for me with the 3 DVDs and the book I’ve bought is that it’s giving me a clue about what I’m supposed to be doing when I’m swimming, in various ways. For example, basics such as where to get the power from, and how to breathe; simple stuff like that. And today, I felt like I was cruising along without much effort and without much problem breathing. I’m not suggesting that I’m the finished article, hell I’ve now only been three times since I got the book and DVDs, but I felt a lot more confident in what I was trying to do today than ever before.

Also, the Garmin 910xt only double counted 2 of the 24 lengths I did today, so I figure my technique must be a bit better.

So, ear plugs and having a clue what I’m supposed to be doing – a good start. I doubt it’ll be 3 weeks before I’m next in the pool.

Cycling With Rollers: First Attempt

With winter setting in, I got myself a set of rollers to use when the weather outside isn’t conducive to slick 23mm tyres. Specifically, I got Elite V-Arion Parabolic Inertial Rollers, from Wiggle:

So the main thing that I knew about from reading the reviews on Wiggle’s site was that they take a bit of getting used to, especially stopping and starting on the things, and that falling off is something to expect the first few times you try them. They are not wrong.

First, though, unpacking was a breeze. Nothing to assemble, they came ready to go, just unfold, get the loop on to the rollers to link up the front and back rollers, and off I went. I suspect I have a “normal” sized bike, because I didn’t need to change where the rollers were, it was set up perfectly, but there’s massive room for differently sized bikes, especially smaller ones. The instructions to move the rollers are simple, and it looks like it can cope with much smaller wheels than standard road bike 700c wheels, as well as bikes which are a lot shorter. But if, like me, you have a recently purchased normal road bike, you will probably find you need do nothing.

IMG_3606Now, for the first ride, I can only suggest you make sure you are in a narrow space, such as the one in this picture. This is necessary because, unless you have some amazing abilities, you will fall off. So, to save me falling off, I put the rollers in a doorway, and placed it such that my shoulders and upper arm would hit the side of the doorframe when I failed to balance. Seriously, this happened a lot – in the 35 minutes I rode on the thing, I would have to say that I probably hit the doorframe about 20 times.

Not only that, I even managed to fall off outside of the doorframe when attempting to stop. So here’s the most important lesson for anyone wanting to use rollers for the first time – the way you use your brakes on the road is pointless on rollers. It makes sense when you think about it – you’re not going anywhere, so there’s no need to brake, but it’s a mind-fuck to get through your head. If you want to stop, you do not need to slow down or brake, you just put your foot down, on the handy slightly raised step on the left hand side (sorry, lefties; thankfully, I’m ambidextrous). So in other words, you pile along at 22mph, and you want to step off, so you do just that; step straight off, and let the wheels continue spinning. They will stop soon enough, especially if you have the inertia resistance set to maximum.

The inertia resistance unit, according to the instructions, is set up so that on its maximum setting, it’s equivalent to riding on the road. After about 20 minutes getting used to it on the lowest setting, I put it straight up to maximum, and it feels fine. The one thing that it can’t do is replicate the wind, so I assume you’re likely to go faster than if you were actually on the road, but so long as you’re not spinning with no resistance at all, which is pretty pointless, it’s a good start.

So, all in all, just be prepared to fall off a lot on your first attempt, and as I say, get yourself in a place where falling off won’t have you falling too far. I’m not convinced I’m ever going to clip in when I’m on the thing, but maybe after a few tries I’ll get the hang of it and have the confidence to give it a try.

Adjusting a Threadless Bicycle Headset

Almost a year ago, I collected my mid-life crisis vehicle; a top-end road bike, the one that was victorious in the 2008 Tour. When I collected it, the guys at the shop explained to me that the bars had two spacers below and two above the stem, such that I could lower it or raise it depending upon my preference. I understood the theory, but when they then explained how to go about doing it, I was utterly confused. Rather than just loosening one screw, swapping bits about and screwing it back in again, I needed to also deal with other screws in a specific order. They rushed through it a bit fast, I tried to understand and asked questions, but I still was pretty much clueless when I walked out the shop. There was also talk of drilling or cutting something once I knew what I wanted, and I had better make sure I knew what I wanted before I did that, otherwise… well, I wasn’t sure of that either, but apparently the consequences were not good.

It kinda scared me a little, tbh, so I put it to the back of my mind and tried not to think about it.

Fast forward 11 months, and I’ve had the bike out a few times. Not as many as I wanted to ideally, but that’s mainly because winter lasted 5 months, I broke myself completely rendering bike riding impossible, and then I was training for the marathon. But I’ve had it out a few times, and thus enough times to note that my back got sore very quickly every time I went out on it.

I wasn’t sure why this was, or what to do about it, but I did know that the guys in the shop had fitted me professionally for the bike, so if anything, my riding posture on the new bike was surely “correct” in comparison to what I’m doing on my commuter road bike, which I ride vastly more and never get a sore back.

Today, I decided to wash both bikes, which gave me the opportunity to get them side by side for the first time, so I could see where the difference was, because ultimately, I figured that there must be a difference, and if I can get them the same, then the sore back will disappear – right? So I put them beside each other, and they were exactly the same… except for the bars. On my commuter, they are higher than on my new bike. And then it became clear! I’m having to lean over more on my new bike, thus making my back sore. The saddle is in exactly the same position, as is everything else, so all I needed to do was raise the bars so that the spacers are all at the bottom.

And at that point, I remembered the confusing conversation that I had in the shop. So a bit of googling later, I came across this video, which explains what is going on with the headset, and why you have to deal with the screws on the stem. It all makes sense! And 15 minutes later, my bars are now at a decent height. Winning video here:

3 Years In the Planning, Marathon Completed

I did it – I managed to complete the ING New York City Marathon 2013. It wasn’t easy, but if it was easy, everyone would do it. And of course, many things made it far, far harder than it could have been. NYC Marathon Finishers KitBut instead of jumping straight to the end result, I figure now would be a good time for me to reflect on how I came to enter and run the marathon in the first place, because it’s been a long road to get there.

Where to begin; well, that’s difficult to say. I’ll briefly summarise the fact that I used to be pretty active, playing badminton 5 days a week for up to 3 hours a day when I was in my twenties, plus various other sports. Then I succombed to a fairly serious shoulder injury at the age of 30 which the physios said couldn’t be repaired, so I had to retire. That happened not long before my health started to deteriorate in 2004, following which I was told I probably had MS in July 2005, and I was finally diagnosed in July 2007. During that time, and up to the end of 2009, I stopped doing any real physical exercise, other than walking the dog.

The main reason for putting a halt on exercise was that my balance was one of the main things to go. As with many things related to MS, you have things that suddenly get worse for a period of time, and then get better, but the balance was something that was generally not that good, and sometimes got worse. I got a walking stick, and was starting to use it more and more often. I’d completely given up any thoughts on doing any sporting activity again, and to be honest, it didn’t seem that bad a scenario, relatively speaking.

But something must have happened towards the end of 2009 which kicked my ass a little. The only thing I can remember is that I discovered that I only needed my walking stick when standing still, and when turning corners, and to start walking. Once I was moving in a straight line, I didn’t actually need it. The legs were strong enough, it was the balance that was the main problem. So, with that in mind, I bought myself a Garmin Forerunner 405 with the intention of running. And towards the end of January 2010, I did just that. I went out for a run.

At first, it was pretty pathetic. Actually, drop the word “pretty”, because there was nothing pretty about it – it was just plain pathetic. It took me quite a while before I could go out for a run and didn’t want to throw up, but after a few attempts (5 to be exact), I clearly remember coming home and realising that I actually felt not bad. This was about a week and a half after my first run.

The ball was rolling, and the addiction was starting to take hold.

During 2010, I entered the local 10km run, the BUPA Great Edinburgh Run. It was my 25th run, and came 14 weeks after that first ever run, and I clocked 56:24. Later that year, I did a half marathon, although it didn’t go so well as I didn’t manage to train as much as I wanted to, and the last couple of miles were really hard. They felt, at the time, like one of the hardest things I’d ever had to do in terms of beating the pain. How times change… But I completed it, in 2:10:19. Painfully (sic) slow.

So then I started to get grand ideas about trying a marathon. I read about the New York City marathon, and how they have a lottery for entry, so I entered the lottery, but failed to get in. However, the Edinburgh marathon is typically in May each year, so I decided to enter that in 2011. Training seemed to be going well, I had managed an 18 mile run one day, and I ran the Edinburgh half marathon in a far more respectable time of 1:55:45. But then, around 6 weeks before the marathon, I was out for a 20 mile run and I ran out of gas at 15 miles. It was very odd, but I didn’t worry too much about it. I tried again 10 days later, and the same thing happened. And then I was hit with a medical issue that completely confused the doctors. To this day, they still have no idea what was actually wrong with me, because although I had clear symptoms that they thought pointed directly to something specific being wrong with me, the tests all came back negative. When the symptoms cleared up, I had one more go, but again came up short. So the marathon attempt for 2011 was abandoned for that year, with the intention of trying again in May 2012. I later ran the 2011 Glasgow half marathon in 1:56:21, mainly to put the psychological nightmare of the previous year to bed.

Into 2012 I went, running through the winter to make sure I had plenty of miles in the legs. And then in the springtime, I started to lose enthusiasm. My wife had started training for the Moonwalk so our training requirements were going to start conflicting, but the main issue was that I just couldn’t be bothered training any more. Fundamentally, I put this down to the Edinburgh marathon course. It’s unbelievably dull; you run in a straight line way outside of Edinburgh, get to a traffic cone, run round it, and run all the way back. I struggled at the best of times to keep my mind occupied when I was out running, and this was not a marathon I was looking forward to. So one day, while I was out on a long run, miles from home running along the Portobello Promenade, I realised that I was cold and bored, and I just couldn’t be bothered any more. So I literally stopped running, and got the bus home. I knew I’d made the right decision by the time I’d arrived home.

Now, before this, around the start of 2011, I had read that you could get automatic entry for the New York City Marathon if you entered the lottery 3 years in a row and failed each time to get a place; you would get a guaranteed place in the 4th year, assuming you applied again. So, since I’d entered the lottery for the 2010 marathon, that meant I could enter the lottery each year thereafter and be guaranteed a place in 2013. So that’s what I did. I didn’t get a place in any of the lotteries, so when the 2013 application window opened, I logged on, and got my guaranteed spot.

Running shoesSo that brings us forward to 2013. Over the winter, I didn’t do any running at all, I just cycled. Indeed, I had started cycling to work nearly every day from around April 2012, so I kept doing that over the winter to retain a reasonable level of fitness, with the goal of starting my running training 6 months before the marathon, which would mean around the start of May 2013. That worked out quite nicely in terms of when I managed to fall off my bike taking a corner a bit too aggressively; a broken left thumb, broken right wrist, dislocated left humerus, significant contusions on all four muscles of my rotator cuff and a deep puncture wound in my shoulder (as well as various other scrapes of lesser note). All of the plaster casts and splints were off by the end of April, allowing me to start running training on time. At first I could barely run 2 miles, but I quickly got up to 12 miles with little problem. Indeed, I got up to 19 miles a full 14 weeks before the marathon, so was a massive 10 weeks ahead of schedule.

And that’s when it all started to go wrong. That 19 mile run injured my right foot, I’m still not quite sure what happened but one of the metatarsals was quite badly hurt, which meant I could barely walk, never mind run, and when I finally managed to go out for a run once it had improved enough, I immediately injured the outside of my left foot by wearing a new pair of ill-fitting running shoes, on the basis of “internet advice” (lesson learnt). That prevented me from training for 5 weeks, but with 9 weeks to go, I was back into it again, and I did 3 hard weeks of running to get up to 20 miles. Another 2 weeks later, I did a 20.5 mile run, in 2:55:55, and confidence was very high, as I was 4 weeks away from the marathon. The next week, with only 3 weeks to go, I then did a training run half marathon in 1:47:52 to beat the PB of two friends of mine… but disaster struck, and again I had injured my left foot.

The next 10 days were extremely tough to get through. Not knowing whether I’d be able to run the marathon so close to the event was a massive concern, and although I could pull out and get guaranteed entry again for next year, the amount of money spent on flights and accommodation for myself and my family, not to mention getting authorization from their schools to pull them out during term time, was not something I was wanting to waste. I ended up going to the running shoe shop for advice, and they thought I’d be ok if I continued to rest the foot, which I had been doing, but also suggested I go to a physio just to make sure I hadn’t damaged it badly. So I did that, and he agreed that I should be ok to get to the start line and to continue resting. So, another 3 weeks without running, directly before the marathon. That’s taking “tapering” to a whole new level.

Opening CeremonyBut I did make it to the start line, and I even got a spot at the Opening Ceremony. Scotland were not given their own individual place in the march, but there were enough of us in kilts plus a couple of lads with large flags that we made it look like we’d got our own spot, as we marched separately from the UK people.

As for the marathon itself, it was freezing, and you have to hang around for ages at the start before you can begin. For example, I left the house in Brooklyn at 05:15, and I didn’t start running until 10:08. I had to leave at that time to get the 06:15 Staten Island Ferry, and I was at the start around 07:40. Waiting for two and a half hours in temperatures around 5°C with a 20mph wind, thus feeling literally like it was at freezing point, was not that pleasant, but surprisingly time did go fairly quickly.

The run itself was slow. 4:44:11 was my official time, and with 4 weeks to go, I had been hoping to break 4 hours. However, the injuries played a big part in that, but the huge number of people running the race also played a huge part. There were over 50,000 people running, and quite frankly there was not enough room for us all to run. The first mile of a race such as this is usually slow, but the first mile of this marathon was horrifically slow, over 11 minutes to get it done, and after that, we averaged 09:15 for the first 10 miles. It was truly terrible if you were going for a fast time. However, I wasn’t really too bothered, because I knew I had next to no chance of breaking 4 hours due to the injuries.

And that became crystal clear at mile 10. Normally, when I’m training, if I run further than I have done recently, the front of my thighs will start to ache around the point where I am into new territory. Ideally, if my training had gone ok, I would have expected that to happen around mile 22. Instead, it happened at mile 10. I knew I was in trouble. At mile 16, I had to tell my running partner to go on without me, because I was going to have to stop to try to stretch my legs to ease the pain, but it didn’t really do much good. I tried that at least half a dozen times, each time without much success. And with each passing mile, the pain got worse and worse. By mile 21, although I was now into new PB for distance territory, the pain was so bad, it really was a psychological fight to keep going; but it wasn’t a fight I was going to lose. There was no way I was going to give this up, not after 3 years of planning. So I kept going, and managed to keep running, aside from leg-stretching breaks and water breaks (where you had to walk, otherwise your water cup contents would end up over your face, not in your mouth), pretty much the entire way.

MedalThe end resulting time was not glorious, and is the only thing I could consider disappointing about the marathon. However, taking everything into account, it was only about half an hour slower than I would have run if training had gone well, because of the number of runners slowing things down, so not really that bad.

But overall, the main thing I’m most happy about is that 4 years ago, I needed a walking stick. On Sunday, I ran one of the World Marathon Majors. Not only that, but the running has helped my balance improve so much that I can play racquet sports again – not badminton, as my shoulder can’t cope with the constant overhead shots, but I can play squash now, which 4 years ago didn’t look like ever being possible.

What next? Triathlon. It’s time to learn to swim properly.

1 Week To Go

Yeah, I’m a day early.

So I went through about 11 days of not knowing whether I was going to be ok for the marathon, up until Thursday of this week, when I went, as advised last week by the running shop, to see a physio. He took the history of my health and injury, then had me doing a bunch of things like standing on my toes and hopping on one foot, all of which was quite comical because, let’s face it, my balance is pretty pish because of the MS. However, he was quite happy with things at this point, and said he thought this was good news.

He then got me to lie on the bed and he went to work trying to find the pain. Now, I couldn’t pinpoint whether there was a specific area that was sore, I just couldn’t find anything. He did. At this point, he said he thought it was a 5th metatarsal edema. And then quickly followed this up by saying that this was a typical injury when runners are going longer and longer, because although the body is getting stronger, at times it’ll break down a little bit and there will be inflamation, but what I’d done in terms of resting it was good. He suggested I should put ice packs on it 3 or 4 times a day, for 20 minutes at a time, to aid the recovery, which I was initially confused about because I thought there was little point doing this after a couple of days of sustaining the injury, but he reckons I should do it daily, up to the marathon.

And then he had me on a treadmill. I was concerned about this because I assumed it was going to be sore, just like when I tried to run last Sunday. However, after all of 3 seconds, I realised that it was all going to be ok. I’m not suggesting it was pain free, but it was the kind of soreness that goes away once you’ve warmed up, rather than sharp pains which I was getting the previous week.

View of the BridgesWhat a relief.

So in summary, the physio said there was no reason I shouldn’t be able to do the marathon, and said I should get back on my bike immediately to keep my cardio levels up. I’d stopped riding the bike this week because I was concerned that I was making things worse, but I got it back out on Friday to head to work, and this morning went on a fairly short 30 mile loop to get the cardio going. Chest feels awesome.

I might even try a short run in a couple of days, just to keep the legs remembering how to run. But I will be listening closely to my foot and stopping if there’s any sign of pain.

Let’s try to stay positive

Well, the past few hours I’ve been trying to stay a bit more positive about the current injury issue, the main thing being heading to the local running shop to see what they thought about the situation. Two main things:

  1. After describing the training I’ve been doing and the issue I have with my feet, I basically wanted to ask whether they thought it would be a real disaster if, for example, I didn’t run at all until the marathon, or whether that would make running the marathon pretty much impossible. Surprisingly, I got a positive response, far more positive than I thought would be the case, as the guy told me that he’d seen many people in my position, and considering the amount of training I’ve managed to do, he didn’t see it being a problem. That make me feel a lot better. He did recommend I went to a physio just to check out my foot injury just to make sure it’s nothing serious, and while I’m not wanting to not run at all until the marathon, at least I have the peace of mind that, if I remain injured for the next week and basically don’t really get out again, it’s not the end of the world. The marathon is still possible.
  2. I then went to a shoe shop (normal shoe shop, rather than a running shop) and bought myself a replacement pair of Merrell shoes. The last pair are, tbh, totally worn away because I’ve worn them to death. £90 later and I have a pair of shoes that actually feel like they have proper support, other than my running shoes. Win.

So ultimately, I’m feeling a little better about things. I shall attempt to get an appointment with the physio and see whether they think I’ve got a serious problem on my hands. I’m hopeful I don’t, because it’s not sore unless I try to run on it, and the running shop dude basically said that rest is by far the best policy, so I’m now more glad than ever that I didn’t continue running this morning. I think I might just park the bike for the next fortnight too, just to give the foot plenty of ability to recover.

2 Weeks To Go

The situation could be worse, but not by a lot. The left foot is indeed injured. During the week, I decided to skip the Tuesday night run since I could feel it was still a bit sore while walking around, then I skipped the Thursday night run for the same reason, deciding to just wait until Sunday. One week without running wouldn’t hurt, right? So today, Sunday, I go out for a run, and I get about 200 metres from the house and I have to stop. Shooting pains on the outside of my left foot with each step. These are not the kind of pains that are background issues which disappear after a few hundred metres of warming your foot up; this is shooting pains that I’m fairly sure would do damage to my foot if I were to keep running on it.

Now, it’s possible that continuing to run today might have been possible, that warming up my foot would have made it easier to run on it. But my major concern is that by doing that, I merely injure my foot further, making it harder to run next week and thereafter the same the following week, which is the marathon. So I decided to abort the run immediately, and come back home.

It’s pretty depressing, obviously, because I’m now having to consider the very real possibility that I won’t be able to run the marathon now.

One thing I think I will do with immediate effect is to stop cycling. I cycle to work 5 days a week, mounting up close to 70 miles each week, but I suspect that the pedalling might be preventing my foot from getting better. I honestly have no idea, but back in August when I was injured for the full month, I kept cycling to keep the fitness levels up. Now, with 2 weeks to go, I figure that I’m not going to lose that much fitness, so if I don’t cycle, but my foot can get better, then that’s a good trade-off. It’s difficult right now to know what the right decision is, though.

At least I can cancel right up to the day before the marathon when I’m in New York, to at the very least be able to run again next year; then all I have is the logistical issues of going with someone, since I can’t really justify taking the kids out of school again, like we’re doing this year.

The only other thing I can think of doing is heading back to the running shop to see if they have any opinions. The running shoes I got at the end of August definitely feel like they have helped, but my left foot has never fully recovered, so I’ll see whether they have any thoughts about what to do. I don’t think changing shoes is the way to go, but maybe they will suggest something else I could be doing to increase my chances of managing to do the run. Chances seem slim right now.

3 Weeks To Go

PBThe left foot is not 100% better it seems. It is a little sore mainly on the outside, only really evident when I run, and today it mainly disappeared by the time I’d finished my first mile. Not a major worry, so long as it doesn’t get worse.

I’m in 2 minds, therefore, about whether to do another 20 miles next week. I shall have to continue reading more marathon training guides to see what I can determine.

Today, I tried for the 3rd time to break 1:50 for a half marathon. A friend last week ran one in 1:48:26, so that was a secondary goal if things went well. And they did, 1:47:52 utterly destroying my PB by over 4 minutes.