The coach on my wrist

On August 31, 2011, in Heart rate, HRM, running, Suunto, by Alf

My Suunto T6 (not the “comfort” version, but the original!) is a star and has taken my training and racing to a new level.  It doesn’t matter what lies I tell myself about how hard I am working, the speed I am doing or the distance I have done.  The T6 tells it like it is, and benchmarks are established.  More than that, targets can be – and normally are – set beforehand and on most occasions they are achieved.

One important aspect of the captured data is the ability to identify points of weakness and strength during a race.  If you are in the habit of running the same race over the same course then you can set simple targets: for example a response to a previously weak km split might be to dig in a little more and push a little harder over that section. Doing this for maybe 3-4 of the weaker
splits in a 10km can deliver significant improvements by providing a focus and simultaneously removing the ability for the course to throw up a surprise.

My initial interest was in getting a device that would allow me to measure speed and distance. I considered GPS solutions, but at the time I was doing a lot of my training on treadmills – especially in hotels on business travel – and elected for a foot pod solution rather than GPS.  I very rarely run on treadmills now – much less business travel – and there would likely now be a strong case for a simple GPS device to cover my needs.

What I will say about Suunto is that they deliver what you might expect of a Finnish tech company – good quality product and great support. You can actually speak to a friendly and helpful specialist. Repairs (e.g. worn out straps and expired heart rate monitors) are handled very simply under a slick returns process. I have previously found myself receiving a replacement (and upgraded) heart monitor at no charge.

I record all my cardio except swimming – I don’t risk my precious watch to immersion and also don’t relish the thought of wearing a heart strap on my chest in the pool – compression socks with socks are already further than I would like to venture sartorially.  I am motivated by data and targets. When I work out on a rower or a bike I set myself a target that constitutes a reasonable workout to avoid me falling into a comfort zone. I normally set a goal based on average heart rate (HR) over the workout. The benefits of this have been marked. If I know in advance that I am not in the zone for hitting a specific goal then I take a rest day from cardio and perhaps just stick to weight training.

I have recently added a bike pod to my kit. This allows me to mount the watch on the handlebars of my hybrid bike and monitor speed, distance, HR etc. Having my bike rides recorded along with all my other exercise is a nice touch and it is encouraging to see the calories that you burn during a couple of hours out on the bike.

Many will not be able to relate to the same goal-driven workout, it all depends on how you are wired. Even so, I would thoroughly recommend a running device of some type to at least present you with speed and distance during your running.

Suunto now support their products with an online training utility to replace the previous desktop client training manager. From some Garmin posts that I have seen posted, I strongly suspect that Suunto are playing catch-up in this respect.  The Suunto client is called Movescount (www.movescount.com), is simple to use and allows for easy access of the results. Again, as a motivational tool I find it very beneficial. A quick summary page shows the total distance covered in the last 30 days and you can
drill down to all the data (splits etc.) for each individual workout.  An example of the data collected on my long run at the weekend can be seen at: http://www.movescount.com/moves/move2683014.  This is a relatively simple run with no splits, but it does indicate some of the data that is collected and presented.

Regardless of the brand/type of device you choose, I would recommend that you take a look at http://www.heartratemonitor.co.uk/.  They tend to be competitive, offer good delivery service and also supply all the little items that wear out like straps, pod sleeves etc.  In addition,
there are a lot of product videos available online to let you check out the different devices.

 

 

As previously posted, my first race was more than 28 years ago and to this day remains my personal best for a half marathon.  In my twenties I focussed on this distance and became more thorough in my preparation. Despite this, the PB that I set in 1983 has never really come under any threat. That said, the PB set that day was 1hr 25min and this remains a time I am quite proud of.  I would however be more proud of it if it related more to my condition today and my current age.   I put this novice PB down to a mix of youthful exuberance and a mental state untainted by the foreboding of the discomfort that comes with race experience. I remain convinced that the young legs, adrenalin surge and lack of pre-conceptions mean that you go for it up until the point where the muscles start to protest.  Even then, the lack of mapping between pain and the brain seems to allow you to push through.

Another reason that the PB has never really been re-set is largely down to the fact that I hardly run half marathons at all.   For many years now my preferred distance has been 10k with the odd 10 miler thrown in as training.  The shorter distance seems to fit my training regime better and I enjoy the fact that I can sustain a level of performance and concentration to make for a more intense and satisfying experience.  No sniggering at the back – I am still talking about the running.  As a result, more recently I have been geared towards 10k races almost exclusively until my recent discovery of the parkrun 5k.  I am pretty sure that I have only taken part in one half marathon in the last 20 years.  This was around 6/7 years ago and I still vividly recall how little was left in the legs in the last few miles.  The time of 1hr 35min hints at a trend where a new PB is unlikely, and there is nothing I relish more than a challenge.

My training has changed to an enormous degree in the last few years.  I now happily – I mean that – mix longer endurance runs of 12-20km with hill repeats and track intervals for speed work.  I enjoy training and genuinely look forward to every run.  I also have a real drive to hit targets and the acquisition of my Suunto T6 transformed my workouts, even the non-running cardio cross-training.  Since all the elements came together forme I have seen a big improvement in my fitness, much greater running confidence and significantly improved times (5 minutes off my 10k time in only 2 years).  I now feel that I know what it takes to drive an improvement.  In fact, I often feel that my biggest challenge is to push the training while avoiding the injuries that have plagued me over the last 2 years. Time is marching on for me and while I understand that much of my running is in part to prove to myself that I am not getting older, if I intend to achieve my goals, some of those will have to be hit relatively soon.

Therefore, the next main target is clear:
- Time: Sub 1hour 25min for a half marathon during 2011
- Event: Jedburgh Half Marathon, Sunday 30th October 2011

 

The parkrun convert

On August 22, 2011, in Parkrun, running, by Alf

I had been aware of the parkruns for some time but somehow was not drawn to them.  Normally focusing on 10k I think I was initially put off by the shorter distance and also because I perceived them as the one thing I normally avoid – organised fun!  A good friend suggested that I take a closer look, and when the parkrun folks set up a local event in Falkirk I went along with relatively low expectations.

I turned up for the first event, secretly miffed at the whole barcode concept – did I mention I don’t like change? – and ran the event.  This was in fact my first 5k race of any type. Within minutes of the end of my race I was hooked, committed to race #2 and figuring out when I would volunteer.  Quite a turnaround in such a (relatively) short time.

The event draws in a great cross-section of abilities and is actually something of an inspiration. The organisation is simple yet highly effective.  For a 9.30 race I can turn up at 9.15, warm up, get in a great run, and be home and showered before I was usually even thinking about a work-out.  The more talented club runners mean that you can always find a target that will stretch you so you get the benefit of speed work over a distance that is not too demanding.  In the particular case of the Falkirk event, it also features a modest incline at the start, with a more threatening hill nearer the end.  It is almost like it was designed with training in mind.

Being data driven I love the results and stats that are available to feed my hungry motivation appetite.  I want the faster time, higher placing, greater points, points position and number of runs.  For the more serious runner, I genuinely cannot praise it highly enough.  For those runners out for a bit of fun and exercise, the event is relaxed and non-threatening – apart from that hill!  There is a great sense of inclusion at the event and it all gets done early on the Saturday and costs nothing except your time.

There are now plenty of events scattered all over the country.  Find more details at www.parkrun.org.uk.

 

P.S. The barcodes work great!

 

A long way from The Rover

On August 10, 2011, in racing, running, by Alf

I have always been interested in technology and am now borderline obsessive about my running, so it seems like a natural development to combine the two in blog form.  I don’t live in any vain hope that I have anything remarkable or even especially interesting to say, but wanted to dabble in the world of the blog and simultaneously submit some of my running objectives to the wider world.  It is much harder to shirk something when it is a matter of public record.  If only one person is motivated by this then I will have succeeded, though I do expect that one person is most likely going to be yours truly.

Having never partcipated in any running at school – other than the obligatory “cross-country” runs around the playing field in your gutties – I suddenly found myself aged 18 and naively entered for the local half marathon at that time in the 80s when full marathons were vogue. After a few weeks of haphazard training I was able to take advantage of a combination of innocence and youthful legs to get around in 1hr 25min.  Almost 30 years later this remains my PB for the half marathon, despite numerous attempts at improving this during my early twenties.

Since that first half marathon I have continued to run, with only a few short periods when it was not part of my life.  Around a decade ago I discovered that I really enjoyed racing.  Previously I had been “running” but now found that I was taking on both the clock and people around me during local 10k races.  Slowly but surely I have been transformed from someone who ran to get fit to someone who focussed on how I could get faster and stronger.  One encouraging performance would have me searching for my next target race and trying to figure out how I could improve my time.

Things clicked for me a few years ago with diet, weight, motivation and training all coming together and I then found that I was actually enjoying my races, almost always now of the 10k road variety.  A demanding schedule during 2009/2010 resulted in a huge boost with a handful of 10k PBs.  Life likes to deliver some little nudges here and there and during the same period I managed to pick up numerous injuries and spent many ££££ on physio to remind me that a balance needs to be struck.

I’m convinced that I have another 10k PB in me and plan to prove it.  There is also that small matter of an almost 30-year-old half marathon record to be dealt with……..