Saturday, February 21, 2015

Back on track...

This week, in this part of Sweden it's been "sportlov" which has meant time off with the family for fun and sport activities and also provided an increased opportunity to train. The winter holiday in Sweden has it's origins in the so-called "kokslov" introduced in 1940 in order to save on heating of schools. The winter holiday lasts for a week during February or March, usually between weeks 7 and 12 with the Swedish municipalities allocating winter vacation over a three week period. It's been a really fun and varied week after a frustrating couple of weeks laying low with a cold. The children have enjoyed the outdoor activities as well as an opportunity to play with their lego and other toys which they rarely get the chance to when they're at school & dagis.

Alpine skiing, running, indoor rowing, indoor cycling, treadmill, bowling & swimming have all been on the agenda and I'm finishing off this week feeling really great!

Managed 3 good outdoor runs (including Sunday from last week) of increasing volume. 10km on Sunday, 15km on Tuesday and finished off today with 20km at a nice and steady pace. Makes a total of 49km for the week (should have run 1km more today!)

On Wednesday, Jon and myself took ourselves to Form as the weather sucked and did a mini-brick workout. This involved a 20min row (5km), a 30min indoor-cycle (~15km) and finished with a 20min treadmill run (4km). It was something different and really fun to break up what was just over an hour of training into 3 different sections to keep both the mind and the body fresh and interested. We'll revisit this arrangement and up the intensity somewhat to put the body under more stress.

The outdoor runs this week allowed me to explore the local area and by the end of the week allowed me to run on ice and snow free roads in my proper running shoes! I had to get a bit creative today to start adding extra loops and kms before I finally arrived home. For those of you who know either Jon or myself, you'll understand we both suffer a bit from OCD, there's just no way you can end a workout on 19,7km or 14,4km, you have to round it up :) It's always fun to start calculating distances in your head whilst running and I'm now armed with lots of useless facts on how far it is from one place to another...not overly useful in everyday life :)

I've also been trying out something new in the way of nutrition this week... BEET-IT Sport. This is a 70ml shot with a blend of concentrated beetroot juice (98%) cut with concentrated lemon juice (2%). The SPORT shot was developed specifically for the elite and sub-elite sporting world, and is currently being used by many athletes (including international rugby, premier league football and UCI Pro Tour cycling teams, as well as the GB, Australian, Canadian, US, Dutch and New Zealand Olympic teams).

The SPORT shot contains 0.4g natural dietary nitrate per shot which is equivalent to around 400ml of single strength beetroot juice, and provides the maximum intake of nitrate in the smallest volume of liquid possible. The SPORT shot is cut with lemon juice, which is designed to reduce the taste of beetroot making it more palatable for those that do not favour the taste.

I'm always up for trying something new and without first sampling the product I went ahead and bought 15 of them. My first encounter with the product was not pleasant and to be honest, the taste was something quite awful, however, subsequent shots have been much better (there was a leakage in the package and I suspect the first one I tried had been slightly opened and the taste damaged by air). It's certainly an unusual taste, beetroot juice is not normally something you drink I guess! so it takes a bit of getting used to. I'm going to be drinking these on the run up to CPC 2015 and see where it takes me. I won't go into the health and performance benefits here as I'm in no way qualified :) but if you're interested in the science and the reviews take a look on the Beet-It website or here.

Train fun & train smart!

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Saturday, February 14, 2015

What's coming up....

In January 2002 I ran my first half marathon in Egmond aan Zee, The Netherlands. This is a race unlike any other half marathon. It consisted of five kilometres around through the coastal village Egmond aan Zee, seven kilometres across the beach and nine kilometres through woods and dunes. What made it even more special was the day previous, I competed in the Egmond pier Egmond MTB beach race. This was a 36km race along the beach on a mountain bike....that was a leg sapper!

This was all training towards the first multisport races of my life in Åre Extreme Challenge and the Red Bull Dutch Extreme.
We took on many other challenges such as the Dijk tot Dijk MTB beach race, a duathlon and several other running races of varying lengths from 5km to 21km.

In a few weeks time on the 8th March, I'm returning back to The Netherlands to run the City Pier City half marathon which I first ran back in 2002 as part of that training. The direction of the course has changed slightly since then, but essentially it's still from the city of Den Haag, out to the coast (the pier in Scheveningen) and then back into the city once again. I'm really looking forward to it. Back in 2002 it was my first half marathon on a proper road surface (Egmond was mostly all sand!) and I thoroughly enjoyed it, although I do remember the last 3kms being those where my team mate Andy literally dragged me along with constant motivation ringing in my ears.

Living in The Netherlands, the winters are not like they are up here in Sweden. I was then able to put in plenty of runs on clear asphalt cycle paths and roads. Asphalt paths are something which I haven't seen since running before Christmas last year.
It's very early in the year for me for a half marathon and although my training started well, after a couple of runs in mid January I a developed an issue with my right calf muscle which stopped me running entirely. I managed through this period in the gym and nursed it back to recovery with weight training, rowing and indoor-cycling. Since then, things were going well again until I developed a cold last week which again has thrown a spanner in the works in terms of my running volume. It's always frustrating when initial plans have been thrown out but it's a good test and it just means I'm going to have to rely on base fitness and just enjoy the race. It will also probably be the first time I step out of my spiked IceBug Anima2's and into my road shoes other than on the treadmill. These next 2 weeks I'm going to try and get in some long slow runs and some speed work on the treadmill with some intervals and some tough tabatas!

In the meantime, the motivation hasn't waned and we've been waiting to secure entries to races throughout the year as their dates become finalized. Kolmården Extreme entry opens on the 15th Feb and we're excited to add this to our plans for the year. It looks a lot of fun, similar format to Åre with 12km kayaking, 12km running & 25km mountain bike. There's no mountain to climb over but looking at past pictures, there'll be plenty of vertical elevation to conquer.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Running stride analysis to find the right pair of shoes

In 2011, when I moved to Sweden, I'd never run 10 km before. Now, three years later, a 10 km run is a relatively normal training session, and in 2014 I ran over 600 km, according to my Movescount. Running has all kinds of health benefits (here are 6 of them), but it also can result in wear-and-tear on your body. Two years ago, I lost a toenail during the peak running season. (According to at least one article in the NY Daily News, this is common.) But last year, I started to develop a nagging pain in my left foot after runs. This pain was especially prominent the next morning after I got out of bed, and after a bit of research on the internet I started to think that I was developing plantar fasciitis.

After hoping that this problem would go away for several months, I finally made an appointment at a local foot specialist, Korrectio. These guys are not just foot specialists, they're more like foot enthusiasts. My appointment took about 30 minutes and consisted of first a discussion about my situation (why was I there) and my interests (what do I do). We then took a look at the construction of my feet using a special device which looks like a footstool with a glass top and a mirrored bottom. When standing on the glass, one can see in the mirror exactly what part of your foot contacts the ground when you are standing. For me, it was apparent that my left foot (the one that had been bothering me) had a slightly collapsed arch. (That is to say that my arch was in contact with the glass, rather than being raised.) Then, we looked at my foot stride, both while walking and running, using a treadmill and a video camera. The video camera was placed at ground level with the treadmill, and using the film we were able to look at the type of pronation in both my left and right legs. (If you want to learn more about pronation, read this excellent guide from Asics.)

Overpronation. Notice how my ankle is inboard of my knee,
forcing the weight to the inside of my foot.
From the video, it was clear that I have a tendency to overpronate with my right foot, while my left foot has a more neutral pronation. (This is probably due to the fact that I had knee surgery seven years ago on my right knee, which causes me to shift my body weight away from that joint.) The analysis also showed that I have a much more prominent heel strike on my left foot than my right, which may have aggravated the plantar fasciitis.

As a final check, we measured my legs, which revealed that my right leg is a bit shorter (almost 1 cm) than my left leg.

Using all of this information, we built a shoe insert using some standard parts to provide better support for my heel and arch. The plan is to build a custom insert that is made to fit my foot, but first I need to go see Niki at Form  to see if the difference in my leg length is real, or if it something that is caused by a crook in my back.

I also purchased a new pair of shoes that are better for my foot and stride type, a pair of Asics Gel Cumulus 15. These have been fantastic so far, so much so that I also purchased a similar pair of Gel Craze TR shoes as well for indoor use. The combination of these shoes, the inserts and a taping technique have helped a lot. The pain isn't gone after my runs, but it's improved to some extent and most importantly it hasn't gotten worse. Hopefully the custom insert will make the final difference, and I'll be posting some new PRs in 2015. 

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Monday, January 12, 2015

Ice skating on "long skates"

Team Form Multisport is always up for new challenges and this year David and I are toying with the idea of trying Vikingarännet, an ice skating race that runs from Uppsala to Stockholm (or Sigtuna to Stockholm if you do the half-version) covering 80 km of ice on "long distance skates". (The half-version is 35 km.)

"Fleet" skates made in Sweden by Lundhags. "Durand Mid WP"
boot made in the USA by KEEN. 
If you don't know what long-distance skates are, you are not alone. Called "långfärdsskridskor" in Swedish, these seem to be a piece of sports equipment that is quite unique to the Northern part of Europe. They are some sort of hybrid cross between a cross country ski and a skate, with a blade that measures nearly a half-meter long and a binding that attaches either to a pair of cross-country ski boots or to a pair of hiking boots. (See my picture to right.) The ones that use a true binding and boot system also come in two varieties--fixed heel and loose heel. I don't know if I'd want to try skating on a 50 cm long skate that is only attached to my toes, but according to other sites I've read this is all the rage.

Anyway, this weekend we set out to try our hand at this sport and to see if we might spend a good bit of January training for a debut run in Vikingarännet. Saturday we made our way to our favorite boat launch in Knivsta (where we always meet in the spring and summer for kayak training), strapped on our skates (we both have the non-binding type) and set off on the plowed path around Walloxen.

At the boat launch in Knivsta in May (left)
At the skate launch in Knivsta in Jan (right) 
What an experience! Having grown up in New Hampshire on a property with a pond, I've been skating for nearly as long as I can walk, but this was completely different than what I am used to. In hockey skates, you sort of push off and lift your toe behind you while gliding on the other foot. Attempting this motion in the long skates results in the sharp tip of the skate catching in the ice which sends you lurching forward in what must look like the world's least-graceful arabesque over the next 10 meters or so. Instead, the trick is to sort of push to the side and glide on the skate contacting the ice--much more like what you do when "skating" on skis. This is a hard motion to adopt after years of regular ice skating, and it also works some muscles that you're not used to using. But poles make it easier too (we both had poles with us), because you can take a break from time to time and just propel yourself forward on the ice with your arms.

Saturday we managed 11 km in just under an hour. Not exactly a stunning performance considering that the winner of Vikingarännet covers 80 km in just over 2 1/2 hours. But we had fun and tried something new. The 80 km track probably isn't in the cards for us this year, with only 3 weeks left to train, but the half-distance from Sigtuna is a real possibility. With cold weather in the forecast for the next week or so, the ice should be good and we'll have some more opportunities to practice.

Happy training!   
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Sunday, January 11, 2015

REVIEW: Skins RY400 mens long tights

"Recovery", something which many people ignore after a hard training session or a race then wake up the next day feeling sore and unable to train. Recovery is a very important part of our training and it's important to get it right, not enough and you won't train or perform at your best the next session or race.
Another of my go-to pieces of equipment throughout this year has been the RY400 series from SKINS. Wearing the RY400 men's long tights after training or competing has really helped to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and improved muscle recovery time which has meant I've been able to train again the next day with fresh legs rather than take a rest day.

I've never taken an ice bath (I don't consider rolling in the snow after a sauna counts) but this clothing is supposed to provide the similar effect. They really work! they make you feel more 'solid' after a long and hard training run, multisport competition or lifting session.

SKINS recommend to wear for at least 3 hours to get the best results. They're really comfortable, soft and offer a gradient compression in the all the right places. The waistband is not as firm/tight as the active range and they are very comfortable to sleep in or to wear under a pair of trousers or shorts in the daytime. There's even a pocket fly built in so you (as a man) can go pee easily (now that's attention to detail!). I have worn them many times whilst sleeping to speed up the body's natural recovery process and felt fresh the next morning.

They're not however the same as just wearing a pair of normal A400 compression tights for recovery. These feel much different (not as tight compression as a pair of A400 tights). SKINS research revealed compression needs whilst in the height of activity are different to when your muscles are in a relaxed state of recovery and these provide that different feel.
If you're in the market for a pair of recovery tights, then I can recommend you to make the investment in these to keep you feeling stronger for longer and enable you to get out and train more.

#trainsmart #recoversmarter
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Monday, January 5, 2015

REVIEW: Skins A200 Thermal

Don't let the weather stand between you and an outdoor workout!

The SKINS A200 thermal compression long tights & SKINS A200 thermal long sleeve compression top with zip mock neck have been my 'go to' gear throughout the autumn and now into the winter.

The fabric in both garments is twice as warm as SKINS standard fabric, giving you additional warmth when you train and compete in colder weather, ideal for the Swedish climate.

I've used them in a variety of scenarios and opportunities, walking, running, biking, kayaking, skating and even alpine skiing.

Weather you are highly active and sweat, i.e. running or simply want to keep warm whilst walking about outdoors, they fit the purpose perfectly. In temperatures of -5C and below though, I would recommend another layer of clothing between base and wind for wicking the moisture away from the base garment and keeping you warmer especially if you are prone to sweat more.

The A200 thermal gear is made from a scientifically advanced fabric, developed for SKINS to keep you warm out in the cold without overheating.

The fabric has excellent breath-ability and a soft feel against your skin. The brushed interior helps to release heat back to your body providing you a thermal advantage in cooler temperatures.

I'd advise you to size yourself exactly according to the size charts SKINS provide. I took a medium and although it feels snug, it is certainly not restricting in any way.

Combining SKINS scientifically proven compression technology with outstanding thermal properties, A200 thermal compression long tights & top will help your leg and upper body muscles perform better for longer whatever your sport.

There's no longer an excuse for not getting out and training when the mercury starts to drop!!

The tights feature a shaped crotch, and zigzag stitching at the ankle hems for strength and stretch. They also have a small internal pocket which is good enough for your house or car key but is a little small for a phone. They're easy to put on and take off. Personally I find there's nothing worse than having to perform a Houdini act to remove tights at the end of a long run and these certainly keep you free from that activity enabling you to hit the shower quicker.

The top features underarm ventilation and a silicone gripper at the waist to make sure everything stays in place...which it does! There's no riding up the body of the top, it stays perfectly in place. The neck zipper is also ideal to allow you to cool off some when you're really putting in the effort!

Whether you’re a dedicated sports freak or an active outdoors every weekend kinda person, there’s no need to let cold weather stand in your way.

A top tip to keep these smelling 'sweat free' is to rinse them off with clean water in the shower with you after a workout. In addition, I wash mine probably once after every 10-15 uses with a small amount of detergent in the washing machine on a delicates cycle. They smell as good as when I first took them out of the box and look as good too!

#trainsmart #trainwarm

Sizing charts:
SKINS A200 thermal compression long tights

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Friday, November 28, 2014

RACE REPORT: Stockholm Tunnel Run

The final race of 2014 was one of those which had been planned for the longest period of time. At Lidingöloppet in 2013 I saw the flyer for this unique race and decided to sign up immediately some 14 months in advance!
On 22 November 2014, one week before the "Norra länken" tunnel was opened to traffic, Stockholm Tunnel Run was held. A 10 km long race in the tunnel system and a race that can only be described as a "once in a lifetime experience!"
Before the start you could gather at one of two different venues (Arena Tallink Silja and Arena Länsförsäkringar) before being efficiently passed through to the start. As with all events hosted by the Lidingö organisation, everything was slick and well oiled. Once the starting gun went, it looked like a long coiled yellow snake making it's way off along the road down to the tunnel entrance. 3,000 runners took off every 10 minutes.
It was a pretty congested start with runners of all abilities grouped into the same starting pen. No seeding at this race made the first 1-2 kms more of a human obstacle course to navigate around slower moving walkers and runners. However, the first couple of kms were downhill into the underground cavern so didn't use up too much energy in the process.
The course made it's way towards  Norrtull before a 180 degree turn (3km), looping back east and north to Stockholm University before another 180 degree turn, this time outside the tunnel (5km), back south and west towards Roslagtull for a final 180 degree turn (7km) and then the final 3km push to the finish.
I never really considered the course profile before the race other than noting the 3 turns and their respective distances to try and get a handle on how fast I was running (GPS of course doesn't work under all that rock!). What I really failed to grasp was that each turn was of course either above ground or close to ground level and that meant hills!! 4 of them to be precise and they were long and leg sapping. The final km was on a constant incline with the last 200m punishing to the finish on top of the flyover.

The run was amazing, so good in fact, that once finished, I really wished I could go through again at a leisurely pace and enjoy all the amazing sights all over again.

As everyone had to wear the same 'day-glo' vest and gloves, it looked incredible whether with the UV lighting or the directional white lighting in the tunnel making people glow or shine.

At one point, the lights were off and you were only illuminated by scan lasers above your head (think pop-concert!) and the only sound was the pounding of feet on asphalt, an eerie experience.

I'm very pleased to finish the year strong with a 45:54 after the disappointment in Lidingöloppet at the end of September. I carry my positive outlook into the winter season and into 2015. Now a couple of months of strength training once again and begin preparations for a trip back to Den Haag, The Netherlands on 8th March 2015 to compete in the City-Pier-City Half Marathon, a very flat course!!

There was even a winter theme complete with fake snow and Christmas trees at one point! How Swedish :
Foto: Eddie Granlund                                                                

If you're interested in the massive engineering project which has been ongoing for the past 7 years, you can find further details of the Norra Länken project at Trafikverken's website and in the video below (Swedish):

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