Wednesday, December 17, 2014

All Clear

So ... I went to see the cardiologist after he'd had a chance to look at my data from the 3 tests I'd had done last week. He was impressed by what he saw and declared me healthy. He also sanctioned me running the 24 hours championships. Oh, and apparently I am very fit.

I'm kind of wondering what I just spent several hundred Euros on, after all I already had a certain inkling that I'm reasonably fit, but then again it's a lot better to be told that you're fit and healthy than to be told that you're sick and wasting away. I am healthy and I am still able to run, and 2 weeks ago I would gladly have given away every single cent I own to get such an outcome, so what's a few hundred quid!

Having said that, no sooner had I found out that I am a scientifically certified picture of health that I started developing a sore throat. Once more that's not entirely surprising as Maia has been coughing a lot recently and a 7 year old isn't always aware where she is coughing at, so somebody was bound to catch it and it happened to be me. But I am very much aware that my heart scare 2 weeks ago was most likely triggered by some viral infection that I had caught from my other daughter and obviously I'm not particularly keen on a repeat. I was a bit anxious before my run this morning because while I was feeling reasonably fine I definitely was not 100%, which is pretty much how I had felt before that episode but I got through 12 miles just fine, despite the wind and weather.

Running at Maffetone intensity is becoming easier, though I think that's mostly down to me getting used to it rather than the body adapting to the training. I can now run up most hills without the alarm triggering. This morning was very windy and while I had it on my back for the first 6 miles I kept wondering how I would get back home fighting against the headwind while trying to keep my HR down, but when it finally came to it I found it surprisingly easy.

My initial plan for Wednesday had been to do an evaluation but the weather had me change my mind; evaluations just don't work very well in windy conditions because that plays havoc with my HR. I considered running it on Tuesday but decided that I should see the cardiologist in a more rested state (in the end it wouldn't have made any difference). The forecast is for a few more days of high winds and I decided that it's better that way anyway, I'll do strict Maffetone training for another week before breaking it for an evaluation - the HR for the 4 miles of the evaluation is 20 beats higher than the Maffetone threshold!

15 Dec
10 miles, 1:23:01, 8:18 pace, HR 133
16 Dec
10 miles, 1:23:30, 8:21 pace, HR 134
17 Dec
12 miles, 1:38:46, 8:13 pace, HR 132

Sunday, December 14, 2014


The good news is that I have been feeling pretty good over the last few days. After hitting rock bottom on Friday I have been feeling a bit better every day and by about Wednesday I felt completely recovered. The bad news is that I find running with a HR alarm at Maffetone effort very frustrating.

Obviously I realise that after a heart scare the good news is far more important and everything else pales into insignificance. It doesn't, however, mean that I am entirely happy about the situation. I should be grateful that I am still able to run at all, so this is probably me being greedy, but I'd much prefer running a bit faster than that.

I have been reading enough reports from people using the Maffetone method to know that this can test the patience of a saint, and in fact compared to a lot of other runners I'm still doing pretty well. I don't have to walk up every incline and my pace is reasonably close to 8-minute miles, but still, this just isn't all that much fun.

Ok, ok, I'll stop whining.

So, I've been running with the alarm programmed into the watch and the little **** keeps beeping at me every time the effort goes above anything faster than a gentle jog. Actually, that's not quite right. When running up a very steep incline, like I did today (Sunday morning), even crawling pace has the thing beeping and there's not much I can do about it. On the other hand, running down a steep incline means I can hammer out the pace until my quads turn to jelly and the HR is still beneath the alarm threshold. HR alone is definitely not the sole measurement for effort but it's all I have.

I have increased the distance of my runs every day; tentatively at first as I did not want to stress my heart but it all went well and I felt good so I got more confident. The other factor was that the slow pace and exceptionally easy effort meant I would not get tired at all, not even after running further than usual. The downside, obviously, was the slow pace; I sure had hoped my pace would be closer to 8-minute miles.

Saturday was the one run that went reasonably well. Conditions were good, no wind, clear skies and temperatures around the freezing point but without icy roads, perfect. That day I came reasonably close to averaging 8-minute miles, which was a lot nicer than crawling around at 8:30-ish.

On Sunday I went back on the loop around the lake for the first time since my hamstring started hurting, which seems like a very long time ago. I quickly realised that it is basically impossible to run slowly enough on the steep slope to satisfy the watch, but I was not going to walk, beep or no beep. However, the low effort meant I reached the top not even out of breath when usually I struggle towards the end if I'm not in climbing shape. Running up the steep road is usually a very good indicator of my fitness, so I was surprised to find it so easy. On the downhill I could run as fast as my legs would spin and the alarm still would not go off, but I found it hard to settle back into the slow effort once I reached the flat.

Despite this being my longest training run in a while I couldn't feel any fatigue at the end. In fact, I was slightly tempted to add a second loop, despite the wind and rain, but decided against it (for a start, Niamh would go apeshit if I disappeared for 4+ hours without telling her first). This leaves me with a rather modest weekly mileage total, but, as said, I should probably be grateful for being able to run at all.

11 Dec
8 miles, 1:06:20, 8:17 pace, HR 135
12 Dec
10 miles, 1:23:52, 8:23 pace, HR 134
13 Dec
12 miles, 1:36:53, 8:04 pace, HR 136
14 Dec
15 miles, 2:06:09, 8:24 pace, HR 139

Weekly Mileage: 57

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


I got some tests done on Tuesday at the hospital and will see a specialist next Tuesday once he's had the chance to look at the data. In the meantime I'm still allowed to go running, in fact they very much encouraged me to go running on Wednesday morning wearing their own HRM so that they would be able to see what's happening to my heart under those conditions.

After feeling pretty damn awful on Friday morning I seem to have mostly recovered but I don't know if that very slight discomfort in my chest is a figment of my overworked imagination or real, and if it's real if it's significant.

I went out for a very, very easy 5 mile run on Monday morning, did not run on Tuesday because I knew I would be on a treadmill doing a stress test just a couple of hours later in the hospital and did another easy run on Wednesday, this time wearing both the HRM from the hospital (with awkward cables sticking out) as well as my own HR strap.

Apparently I broke their record for the longest time on the stress test treadmill, but since they asked me to stop BEFORE I was going all-out I'd guess they just never had a runner on that thing, so that's not much to boast about,

Assuming that I get to go running properly again I will fall back to a Maffetone-style program. I wrote yet another quick app for the Suunto to give me a HR alarm (btw, any other GPS watch I've ever seen has this built into it from the start - the lack of such basic features is definitely the Ambit's biggest drawback) which I tested out this morning and which seems to work very well. I fully intend to stick with this protocol for several weeks. It's definitely not the most exciting form of training. In fact, I unsuccessfully tried to talk myself out of it but lost the argument with my more logical self because I know that it can achieve spectacular results for long endurance athletes of the very patient kind.

I've been feeling a little bit better every day since Friday and 5 days later I'm pretty much back to normal, assuming that the HR monitor that's still attached to me hasn't picked up anything abnormal. Since they never told me to stop running I'll keep doing just that; probably a bit paranoid at the beginning but hopefully a little bit more confident every time.

One lesson I learned is having your heart acting up is pretty scary.

8 Dec
5 miles, 42:07, 8:25 pace, HR 130
9 Dec
Stress test on treadmill (Bruce protocol, I think) for 19:10
10 Dec
5 miles, 40:48, 8:10 pace, HR 134

Sunday, December 07, 2014


I was really happy with the results from Wednesday's evaluation and was still determined to take it rather easy in training. So when I got up on Thursday morning I expected yet another easy, slow, mundane 10 mile run like I have done hundreds of times before.

I started at a very easy effort, as always, gradually warmed up over the first mile or two and by mile 3 I was well within my stride and just gliding along when all of a sudden my chest started feeling restricted and breathing became laborious. It felt like I had something heavy sitting right in the centre of my chest and I thought that it felt like a mild asthma attack. Lola has just been sick for 2-3 weeks with a virus infection that had kept her coughing and feeling weak and I was fairly sure I was fighting off the same bug. I kept on running; I might have felt a bit uncomfortable but nothing major. Right at the end I tested how my breathing would react if I upped the pace; the answer was, it almost knocked me out.

Still, I didn't think too much of it until I uploaded my run onto the computer and had a look at the HR graph. That's when I almost fell off my chair with shock.

The spike at mile 3 is the most shocking thing but the flat line afterwards is just as unusual. I ran over several hills and the HR should have had a few ups and downs, just like you can see in the first 3 miles.

I uploaded that image onto facebook to ask some more experienced friends what they thought of it (it only occurred to me afterwards that posting medical stuff on FB isn't the smartest move, probably). A few dismissed it as a malfunctioning HRM, but I knew that was not the case because I know I had felt "something" at mile 3; this was real. The feedback from the ones that took it more seriously was mostly reassuring, but I was worried enough to see my GP straight away. She took a few measurements (my systolic BP was rather high) and gave me a referral letter for a cardiologist, though what really struck me was the rather worried look on her face. She did not tell me to stop running, though.

I did feel like crap for the rest of the day, and in fact thought I was about to faint when driving home (taking deep breaths got that under control), which is obviously highly dangerous and not something to take lightly. The next morning I decided to test how I was and started my usual pre-run preparations. That included gently bouncing up and down for a minute and after that I was so exhausted and felt lightheaded I had to sit down on the kitchen floor to avoid keeling over. Not good. Not good at all. I went to work and hardly made it through our stand-up meeting without collapsing, so went home again and into bed, which is where I should have stayed all along.

I gradually felt better again after lunchtime, and almost back to normal in the evening. I wore my HRM for a while, and my resting HR was at 80 initially but dropped to 50 by the end of the day. I still took another rest day on Saturday but was okay for a long day of music lessons, Christmas shopping and other errands, so on Sunday morning I got out my shoes once more and started running. I was perfectly fine at first, if a bit paranoid and kept checking my HR, which I normally never do. After about 2.5 mile I thought I felt a bit off so turned around. I got home without any incidents. My HR was a bit high but nothing out of the ordinary, and after 2 days of not running it always is a bit elevated, so that's okay.

Chances are you won't get rid of me so easily and I'll be okay. I will take it very easy for a while and forget about training for a World Championship. I still suspect that virus from Lola has something to do with it, but I will have to wait and see until I get my appointment with the cardiologist to get some more professional feedback. I've had some HR spikes before, on an almost annual basis in fact, but nothing for over five years. I read through my blog entries from those happenings and felt rather reassured; they had felt very similar and did not stop me from running or developing into a more serious runner.

4 Dec
10 miles, 1:22:03, 8:12 pace, HR 147
5 Dec
6 Dec
7 Dec
5 miles, 38:48, 7:45 pace, HR 143

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Evaluation Surprise

After feeling a crash coming on during the second half of Sunday's run, I knew I had to take it easy. It wasn't just potential overtraining that was on my mind. I also had a bad headache on Sunday evening, and with Lola having been sick for almost 2 weeks I pretty much expected to wake up coughing and feeling like sh*t the next morning.

Even though I didn't sleep very well, that turned out not to be the case. I definitely did not fell 100% on top of the world but there was no sign of coughing or the muscle pain that goes with most sicknesses, so I did my normal 10-mile morning run, though I did make absolutely sure I was taking it very, very easy.

That went well, and I repeated the same on Tuesday morning; I still wasn't feeling all that great but once again the run was fine. I was a bit shocked when I saw just how slowly I had run, but that was a good thing really. Your easy days should be easy, something I'm guilty of neglecting at times as much as most runners.

My hamstring had started hurting again after the fartlek workout last week but gradually improved again, and those two easy runs seem to have been just the ticket. There was not a beep of discomfort left in the hamstring on Wednesday, so I went ahead as planned and did an evaluation workout.

I presume you know the format by now, otherwise you can read back on all the other evaluations I have done over the years. The numbers in brackets are adjusted pace, 3 seconds for every beat off the 161 target.
        Mile 1    6:31   HR 160    (6:28)
        Mile 2    6:36   HR 160    (6:33)
        Mile 3    6:39   HR 161    (6:39)
        Mile 4    6:42   HR 161    (6:42)
        Recovery to HR 130: 28 seconds

The numbers are nothing short of spectacular. The one fly in the ointment is that I'd prefer the pace to be more stable, but apart from that! Not only was I running over 10 seconds per mile faster than last time round (20 days ago), my recovery time is in fact the fastest recovery in my entire evaluation history, which is made even more remarkable by the fact that it's still only 17 days ago that I ran a double marathon at a fairly competitive pace.

It wasn't all happy and sunshine; my left calf felt very tight, uncomfortably so, though obviously that did not interfere with my running. The 4 miles of cool down felt a lot longer than usual, due to the calf as well as some fatigue, and was unusually slow at 8:12 pace. I've jogged home at 7:30-ish pace on occasions.

My Suunto Ambit has a "recovery time" feature, and it accumulates if you train again before your recovery time has expired. After Sixmilebridge it was up to 120 hours, from that race alone. Following an easy recovery week, it was down to 40, but after last weekend I was back to 80 again! I don't know how this is calculated (HR is involved, I know that much) and I would certainly never let a generic feature on some watch dictate my training, but the jump in recovery time did have me worried, alright. However, I prefer the feedback from tried-and-tested things like an evaluation workout, which has the added bonus that I know where the figures are coming from and is also subjective to me (because I compare them to my previous history).

All in all, this is going well.

P.S. Since I do have an evaluation workout programmed into my Garmin but not the Suunto, I wore both watches on Wednesday. The evaluation mile paces are from the Garmin. the Suunto would have had them about 5 seconds per mile slower. Also, the Suunto gave me 11.7 miles at the end compared to the Garmin's 11.8. I always suspected the 310 to slightly over-report distances (and thereby displaying a pace that was a bit too fast), ever since I started using it 3 years ago because it generally tended to report slightly longer distances than the 305 I used to have before. However, I'll keep using the 310 for evaluations, solely to make comparisons with historical evaluations easier, and the Suunto for all other runs.
1 Dec
10 miles, 1:20:58, 8:06 pace, HR 134
2 Dec
10 miles, 1:21:53, 8:11 pace, HR 131
3 Dec
11.7 miles, 1:28:32, 7:34 pace, HR 144
   incl. 4 mile eval: 6:28, 6:33, 6:39, 6:42, 28 sec recovery [cleaned up paces]

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Too Much, Too Soon

The mileage this week was back to normal, but I could feel the effects of it all today and the signs are that I have to stop getting ahead of myself. Since Wednesday there has been a slightly longer run, a fartlek session and then a tempo run as part of a back-to-back weekend; looking at it now, it's no wonder today's run wasn't great.

Friday was reasonably easy, just the standard 10 miles at my "natural pace". That was fine. On Saturday I ran 2 slow warm-up miles followed by 8 miles at a faster pace, (mostly) keeping the same HR limit of 155 the coach had given me 4 years ago. That went pretty well and the pace was easily under 7-minute pace, which did please me - not that pace means anything at this point in training.

I did ponder what to run on Sunday. The original idea was to run 18 miles, including the very hilly loop around the lake, but then remembered that Sixmilbridge had only been 2 weeks ago and my hamstring had started hurting again after fartlek, so I ditched the idea of the hills altogether and also decided to run only 16 miles.

The run started well. It was a really lovely, sunny morning (it had been a good while since I had to bring my shades along again), but after 12 or so miles I seriously started dragging and hanging on and decided to take the shortest route back home which gave me 15 miles for the day; only 1 less than planned, but I was glad to be home.

So, the plan for next week is to take it a bit easier again. I am planning on doing an evaluation on Wednesday, otherwise I'll just be running easily. I will take stock at the end of the week and decide what mileage seems appropriate for the weekend. Any faster running will most likely be shelved, unless I make an unexpectedly quick recovery.

There could be something else at work. Lola has been feeling sick for almost 2 weeks now, the doctor says it's viral and she just has to recover by herself. I do have a headache today, which has me worried, though of course I can't say if I caught whatever is affecting her. So far my heart rate data indicates no sickness; I'll see what tomorrow brings. I rarely pick up the bugs the kids keep bringing home, but sometimes it does happen. We'll see.

28 Nov
10 miles, 1:18:31, 7:51 pace, HR 141
29 Nov
10 miles, 1:11:55, 7:11 pace, HR 149
   incl. 8 miles @ 6:57 pace (HR 153)
30 Nov
15 miles, 1:15:58, 7:43 pace, HR 140
Weekly Mileage: 77

Thursday, November 27, 2014


Wednesday morning, stupid o'clock.

The alarm was set for 5:45 but, as usual, I did not need it and naturally awoke a few minute before that (I don't know how that works, but it does). I got up, got dressed, and even before 6 o'clock was out on the road.

It was one of those crispy clear cold mornings that I love. Not even the moon was out, it was just me and a million stars on the dark Kerry night sky, but I had enough light to see the road. Not one car, and in fact not any other creature was to be seen until I got into Killorglin, over 30 minutes later. Killorglin itself was an island of light that I left behind again soon on the road towards Ballykissane, once again entirely on my own. I reached the turnaround point and headed back for the lights once more, but this being the end of November it was still dark when I emerged on the other side of town once more, and I still had the road mostly to myself - I only encountered 2 cars on the remaining 5 miles home.

My breathing was calm and fully controlled, 7-minute miles were passing effortlessly and my running motion was so smooth I felt like floating over the pavement rather than pounding it 190 times per minute.

It was one of the runs I live for. Even when I will no longer be able to run competitively, if I still get to run and experience mornings like that every now and then, I will be a very happy and content old man.


On Thursday it was back to Earth. It was a cloudy and windy morning and I ran 5 easy miles on the way out and then used/tested a little app I wrote for the Ambit to do a "Kenyan fartlek" (60 seconds fast/ 60 seconds easy), though since this was the first run of that kind and I am still a bit worried about my hamstring I didn't exactly kill myself on the fast bit (6 - 6:30 pace, recovery was 8-8:30 pace). This explains the slightly higher HR on Thursday's run; overall I'm very happy with how training is going so far.

24 Nov
10 miles, 1:18:58, 7:54 pace, HR 140
25 Nov
10 miles, 1:18:39, 7:52 pace, HR 136
26 Nov
12 miles, 1:31:24, 7:37 pace, HR 141
27 Nov
10 miles, 1:16:17, 7:38 pace, HR 144