Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Beaten into 2nd place at Clevedon

My Clevedon 4 Miles debut ended in defeat at the hand of up and coming Bristol runner Craig Peters who had just too much speed for me in the middle of the race. My time of 19.16 on this hilly course was quicker than I expected so at least a pleasing performance to end the year.

The race had over 800 finishers in its 31st year and was superbly organised by Andy Heyes and his team at Clevedon AC.

1. Craig Peters 19.06
2. Adrian Marriott 19.17

Full Results

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Preparing for altitude

By the end of the week I will be enjoying (if that's the right word) the rarified air of Kenya's Rift Valley. Well to be more precise, the top of the western escarpment which rises to 2400 metres (8000 feet) above sea level. At that altitude the partial pressure of oxygen in the air is significantly lower than at sea level and you notice its effect by gasping for breath even walking up stairs !

Altitude has long been used by endurance athletes for improving performance and while the precise adaptations the body goes through are still not fully understood we do know the basics which go something like this: the partial pressure of the oxygen in the air forces oxygen through the tiny membranes in your lungs to where it binds with the iron containing haemoglobin in your blood before getting carried to the muscles where it unbinds and gets used to burn fuel (carbohydrates and fats).

So with reduced pressure less oxygen gets bound into the blood and is available to the muscles. The body responds to this hypoxia by releasing hormones, one of which is erythropoietin (not to be confused with the sythentic version of EPO loved by drug cheats). The natural EPO stimulates production of red blood cells and over time you get more mature cells for the oxygen to bind to and running at altitude becomes easier. And of course when you return to sea level and normal partial pressure you have those extra cells which can transport more oxygen to the muscles and hey presto you can run faster. At least thats the idea.

An easy way to think about it is transporting goods on the motorway. If you want to move more stuff you can add an extra lane to the motorway, or make bigger lorries or put more lorries on the motorway moving closer together. The effect of altitude training is basically the last option ! And if you are thinking "surely too many lorries equals a traffic jam" you would be right. Abuse EPO and your blood can get too thick, the arteries grind to a halt and cardiac arrest can follow. However training at altitude is safe, your body regulates the production blood cells to a healthy level.

Many sea level athletes have had problems with anaemia at altitude as their iron stores quickly get used up in the body's rush to create new blood cells so for 3 weeks before going to altitude I take iron supplements to make sure that my stores are fully topped up. Waiting until arriving at 8000ft is too late !

The other advantage to training in a place like Kenya is that for a few weeks you can be totally focused on training and recovering in the company of top class athletes with near perfect weather conditions. This inevitably means that you train harder than you would back at home. So its also important before going away to make sure that any niggling injuries or misaligned joints are taken care of before going away which I did earlier in the week.

Friday, 21 December 2007

1000 mile 'service'

Since coming back to running in 2003 I've been fortunate to work with two excellent physiotherapists who know runners inside out. Mark Buckingham opened my eyes to how a top physio works with high level athletes. His experience as a team physio at 2 Olympic Games has been invaluable in keeping me healthy. And more recently I have been able to work at the Parade Physiotherapy practice in Bath with Claire Wheller who also works with the walks squad and junior teams at UK Athletics. Its no coincidence that with regular visits to Mark and Claire i've been essentially healthy for 4 years now.

So on wednesday I was in Claire's clinic to get checked over and straightened out. Invariably there is some mis-alignment of hips/pelvis/back which needs correcting. Nothing serious but if left unattended it will gradually cause problems as the training miles stack up. Its no different than driving your car if the suspension is slightly out of alignment - you quickly find that a tyre wears out unevenly ! And actually the body is in many ways like a car. You service your car regularly to ensure that it runs trouble free when you need it. So why do we ignore our bodies until they breakdown, invariably at the least convenient time like before a major competition !

If there is one thing I have learnt from Mark and Claire it is that regular preventative treatment is better
(and cheaper in the long run) then waiting for injury to strike.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Zurcher Silvesterlauf

Judging by this weekend's season ending Silvesterlauf meeting in Zurich the Swiss certainly know how to put on a great sporting event which bodes well for Euro 2008 ! This was the first time I have done a city centre 'criterium' style race in Europe and its certainly whetted my appetite for more of these races next season.

A whole afternoon of racing started at midday and took in a dozen races from 1km for the kids up to a flat 7 lap 8.8km. Using small laps in the city centre of around one and two kilometres with some tight corners and testing inclines each race was a multi lap affair which makes for great spectating and plenty of action as the races unfold.

Twice on each lap the runners go under temporary footbridges built across the course to allow spectators to get to the inside of the circuit where the food and bars are located. The whole thing is set up more like a motorsport meeting than a running event with the facilities, computerised lap times and near instant results. And with the later races taking place in the dark against a backdrop of the christmas lights in Bahnhofstrasse the atmosphere was maintained to the end.

Racing in sub zero temperatures meant more clothes than usual but with modern technical clothing this isn't such a hinderance. My 4 lap (with steep hill), 8.6km race opened with a fast first kilometre which left me well adrift of the young turks who were eager to exploit the presence of the TV cameras and local press to get some well earned coverage for their personal sponsors.

Once things had settled down I worked my way through the field and hit the front at the start of the second of four laps. It has been a while since I led a race with a lead motorbike and a big crowd cheering the athletes on so I made the most of it and just pushed as hard as I could. The last lap was a real challenge as a good number of slower runners had found their way into this race and lapping the backmarkers was a question of yelling 'achtung' and swerving between runners and crash barriers in blind faith. The runners were so tightly packed that the motorbike had to give up and I was on my own by the end. Fortunately the pursuers had the same difficulty and I was able to run out a confidence boosting winner before resuming domestic racing on Boxing Day.

Full Results

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Training in the rain: the value of training partners

While my Wells team mates Andy Baker (12th, U23 men) and Frank Tickner (37th, Senior Men) were in Spain for the European Cross Country Championships I was putting in some long reps through Nine Springs in the freezing rain with Frank's elder brother Ben. In fact this was the second time in three days that I had company for a hard effort in poor conditions, for on thursday I did a one hour progression run with Rob Whalley and Ewen Malloch. Both days gave me a timely reminder of the value of having good training partners to run with.

Its no coincidence that much of the success of east african running is built on a strong group culture (more in a future post from Kenya) and the recent revival in US distance running owes much to squads such as the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, Nike Oregon Project and Team Running USA Mammoth to name but a few.

Saturday was just the kind of day when you look out of the window in the morning and think "time to put the kettle on and hope this weather clears up later". But of course it doesn't and you end up with compromised training. With Ben scheduled to appear at 10am there was nothing to it but to get the session done. I cant pretend it was fun. A few minutes into the warm up we were soaked through to the skin but with each other pushing the pace on there was no chance of turning back. And as we warmed down (OK, so legged it back to the house for that hot cup of tea) there was the satisfaction of having got the long reps done on a day when we could so easily have cut training short.

Whether you are Paul Tergat or just preparing for your first London Marathon there will be days this winter when you feel tired or de-motivated and this is where training partners are like gold dust. So if there is one running resolution you are going to make this year, make sure it is to get a training partner or two. Why not start now, by pencilling in a couple of runs with them over the christmas break when you know your resolve is going to be tested !

Monday, 3 December 2007

Victory 5 Miles Road Race

For the second year running the superbly organised Victory 5 Miles was badly affected by the weather with 70mph gales blowing up the English Channel. While the times may have been rendered academic, the conditions made for an exciting race for a strong men's field including a host of internationals.

After last week's cautious return to racing in Leeds I decided to put myself in contention this week to see what shape I was really in and the result was a pleasant surprise.

A large group including Olympic finallist Mike East, Ben Noad, Scott Overall and Neil Speaight made the most of the tailwind in the first mile or so before heading into the grounds of the IBM offices where heavy overnight rain made underfoot conditions tricky.

By 2 miles I was still feeling comfortable and at halfway as we turned downwind I felt racey enough to go to the front and start to push the pace as I didn't fancy a sprint finish against a bunch of track runners !

It was great to be leading a top domestic race again and the mile I did at the front certainly broke the group up and it was quickly down to five contenders. Just before rejoining the prom Scott made his break and only Ben Noad could go with him. While I paid for my efforts Mike East also crept by me and opened a small gap. With a mile to go I was working hard with Toby Lambert to close the 10m gap to Mike but we just couldn't get there despite the strong headwind supposedly playing into the hands of the chasers.

By the finish Scott proved the strongest as he held of off Ben with Mike, Toby and myself finishing just a few seconds apart before the gap back to the bunch headed by Neil Speaight and Will Levett.

So a very encouraging run and I really enjoyed being in the thick of the action and actually racing again. This result has given me plenty of confidence as I head into a hard endurance block of training now to prepare for the cross country season in january.

Full Results
1. Scott Overall
2. Ben Noad
3. Mike East
4. Toby Lambert
5. Adrian Marriott
6. Neil Speaight
7. Will Levett