Tuesday, May 26, 2015

On buffs...

Do you wear at buff at every race? When I first wore one, in the desert in Jordan (I still have it, I've worn it at every ultra, and only during ultras - until my DNF at the UT4M last summer, it was my "lucky buff"), it was really handy, even though I didn't really know the name for it. This was also quite a few years before an international body was created to give out points and establish some form of world rankings in what is now universally known as "trail running" (i.e. running anywhere but on concrete), basically attempting to regulate an activity that has existed since before humans discovered agriculture, and which people have been doing in its modern, recreational form for decades... Before ITRA starts regulating runners, it should require that every race director have run his own course at least once (how about even just one ultra?). That would at least mean that the UTMB would change hands... What next? An Olympic sport?

Different rant... I have nothing against race directors, on the contrary - only the utmost admiration and gratitude. And almost all, certainly the few I know, are passionate about long-distance running. I've often considered - and on one occasion explored the possibility of - organising a race. It's a daunting task and a labour of love... It's just that there are some races now cropping up where the desire to benefit commercially from the explosion in popularity in trail running...

Anyway, back to the buff: I didn't actually use that first buff much to keep the sand out of my eyes and mouth, but I found it somehow very comforting to have around my neck. Thing is, during all those years of alcohol and drugs, it made me feel like part of this nebulous ultra running community when I put it on. Otherwise, for the most part, I felt like a fraud. I kept to myself, particularly at the beginning of races, for that reason, a bit like at parties when I was a teenager around girls, afraid that others would see right through me. I still do for the most part (keep to myself, I mean; I don't go to many teenage parties any more). I enjoy the atmosphere (well, at least at lower-key races), but not the banter so much. What am I really going to banter about? When I tried that at the UT4M during the race, I ended up mainly asking the other person whether they had "done anything like this before", really just so that I could answer "I have, but that was 15 years ago" not so much to brag about how long I've been running - there's probably some of that, I just hate to admit it - but really to reassure myself that I could get to the end of the race (that obviously didn't work - in fact I'm quite sure it had the opposite effect). Then again, since 2006, I haven't done many races without my friend Cyril - so no real compelling urge to "make new friends". Only once, at the Défi des Jubilés: I started chatting to a guy just after the start, and we ended up running for 9 hours together. Probably my best race every in terms of time and how I felt thoughout. I didn't know him well enough to whine and complain like I've done at most races with Cyril.

Oops, off track again (bad pun intended). Now buffs have become such popular race gifts that I have almost as many as race shirts. Not sure what to do with them all, so I've started wearing them on my wrists like a tennis player. I might start using them as leg warmers, with a few spare in my backpack to use as a tourniquet in case I or someone I run across ruptures an artery.

So now we have hydration packs, shoes (for some) and other amenities, minus the spear since we're not hunting anything anymore... And I'm such a sucker. I'm not a fan of barefoot running, wearing a pack makes me feel like I have batteries strapped to my back like the energizer bunny. And I do love my buffs. I feel naked without at least one somewhere on my body.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Feels good to feel beat - a personal experiment

After all the injury time-off, it feels good to feel my legs and feel beat...

I have to say, all my training comments and recent cross-training ideas are really just work-in-progress, or actually rather a personal experiment, which is the whole fun of it. I plan out these very structures training programs, because a)  I have fuck-all else much to do at work, b) because I haven’t been able to run much and it’s fed the illusion that I’m actually preparing for the events ahead, c) it helps me plan lunches so I actually feel like I’m not sacrificing friends to exercise. But then, I stick to the plan only because I can change the plan in Word every day. Which means effectively I plan – and then toss the whole thing out the window when faced with day-to-day reality. But I’ve learned a few things along the way, such as what can lead to injury (e.g. no kick-boxing after a long run followed by hill sprint reps…)

My idea now is to pummel my body into “submission”. Exercising every day is a new thing for me. I’ve gone from 3 runs a week to 3-4 runs, 1-2 bike rides and a swim. I figure I’ll get used to it. I figure my general fitness can only go up. Though I’m a bit hypochondriac and can easily imagine over-training and burning out, the truth is I love to rest and relax too much for that to be much of a concern. I’ve read that training effectively is nearing your limit but not going over it – but while I might imagine or at least fear edging up to the brink, the reality is that I’m probably miles away from the cliff with no risk of falling over at all. Besides, I think over-training (not injury) is more a factor of stress and intensity than actual volume - getting all uptight about "achieving"...

As long as you're having fun... And the main thing is I’m really just enjoying the whole process, this experimentation, and looking forward to seeing where it will lead.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

What a long strange trip it's been

I suppose I could be talking about my twenties and thirties, or the past 15 years of running, but I'm actually thinking about the past three and a half months that really have been a long strange trip, characterized by a similar rhythm and atmosphere to the Grateful Dead's Truckin' - frantic undertones to a relaxed façade...

After the last encouraging post, I had a few decent runs of 20-40 minutes then blam! 25mn into my first morning run in two and a half months I felt a searing pain above my left ankle. I thought I might have re-torn the calf muscle but after several aborted attempts to run, the last of which didn't even last a minute, I finally found a physio who told me it was the Achilles heel - and put me on a regimen of eccentric calf muscle strengthening exercises that some Swedish study has shown to be highly successful in solving the problem.... And seemingly it works, because I am now once again - finally - up to 30mn running without a problem.
(Watch me jinx myself with this post...)

In the mean time, I've discovered the interest of cross-training. Primarily biking - I thought I'd be training for an ironman mainly focusing on the running, for my 100km, but it looks like I'll be training for the 100km with a load of biking... And the benefit I've seen has been to maintain my level of fitness so that while I can sadly feel 30mn of running, after over three months of almost no running, in my legs, there doesn't seem to be much cardio or endurance impact.

The other part of this long strange trip: unable to run, I've found myself constantly projecting training schedules and upcoming races - sometimes into 2017 before I put an end to the insanity. If this injury should have taught me anything, it is that plans must be flexible...

Finally, it's definitely been a long strange trip in the fact that I've come to appreciate swimming. Oh, not doing laps in a pool - but yesterday, when I was able to go swimming in the lake on my lunch break having heard that the temperature had reached a manageable 14°C, which it was at Alpe d'Huez two years ago, I had a magical time flopping through the water in my wet suit, watching the runners along the bank as I turned to breathe on one side, snapshots of the Jura mountains when breathing on the other side, the sun glinting on the water... Returning to work afterwards seemed surreal.

I was a little afraid of the swans, however.