Jasmine and Spreadsheets

I was a bit remiss with my running last week, managing only one run and one bike ride, but I am not beating myself too much about it. The weather was hot and sunny and I ended up spending a lot of time in the garden, clearing away half a tree that had fallen (narrowly missing our conservatory), repairing the outside taps, attacking the small patch of grass which sits nestled between our plants and the canal moorings but most importantly of all planting a jasmine plant under our pergola!

It is a small thing, and not the only plant we planted over the weekend, but for me it was an important step towards turning our new house into our permanent home: I have always loved the scent of jasmine (who doesn’t?) and as it’s become much rarer for me to smell it in the past fifteen years or so (scary thought!), it has become a throwback to bygone summers spent in Greece… It will be lovely if it thrives in our garden (we went for a hardy, resilient variety of jasmine, but still very fragrant) and the scent of jasmine becomes as much a part of Philip’s childhood as it has been of ours!

Great expectations…

And I think Dash too appreciates the importance of this little plant: it might be our impression, but since we planted it he has become a bit more boisterous in his defence of our garden from the dogs walking on the towpath across the canal and from the narrowboats sailing past!

So with a lack of much running to talk about, and not wanting to turn this into a gardening blog (a subject on which I would be even less qualified to write than running), this is an opportunity to catch up with some loose ends which I have meant to cover for some time now:

1. Can the Altra One 2.5 run a full marathon?

That was the one unanswered question from my review of the Altra One 2.5 in February. For anyone who hasn’t read it recently, I had loved them and found that they succeeded in being a very light and fast shoe for speedwork and racing, while delivering enough comfort and cushioning for long runs. Following my review I heard from another runner who had just ran the Sevilla marathon in them, in theory at least it can be done. But each runner is different, and just because they worked for one, it didn’t necessarily mean they would work for me.

So I wore them on every long run of my training and my warm-up race (Ashby 20) and they felt as comfortable over that distance as any shoe I have worn. Come marathon day, I didn’t even hesitate to pack them in my kit bag as my race shoe, and they didn’t disappoint! They remained as nibble, bouncy and comfortable over the 26.2 miles as they have been on every run since I first put them on! I have tried a number of running different shoes from different manufacturers over the years, but I can honestly say I have not come across anything as comfortable as the One 2.5, which manages to be as fast over 5km as it is over 8 times that distance! They have certainly become my go-to road running shoe!

The One in flight!

The only downside to wearing them on every run, is that they wear out faster – measured by time, not mileage: at 600km run in them the uppers are as good as new (but not as clean!) and the soles still have some decent mileage in them. But with thoughts of replacing them, I have come across mixed reviews of the updated 3.0 version. Some people see them as an improvement on a very good shoe, while others bemoan the stiffer sole and their heavier weight. I’d love to form my own opinion, although I am a bit afraid of being let down… has anyone out there tried them yet? What do you think?

2. There are some really great running blogs out there!

What as good as this one? Errmm… some better I am afraid!

(although please don’t leave me kind reader, my readership will halve if either of you do!)

The best thing about being followed by other bloggers, or having them like a post I have written (second only to the warm fuzzy feeling the notification invariably stirs!) is the fact that it brings their blog to my attention: I have discovered a number of bloggers like this recently and every time it is like a window opening onto a different running life: My post about free running in Bradgate Park for example led to me reading about a blogger running with her husband in the Brooklyn half-marathon; another runner’s experience of the London marathon (it’s always fascinating to read someone else’s account of a race you’ve been in); travel-runner blogs and so on!

It sometimes gives me the impression that we are a group of runners exchanging stories of about our runs and lives around a virtual campfire! I just wish I had the time to read everyone’s story! And do all my training in the week… and spend more time with Demi and Philip… and…

3. Some geeky stuff.

Some time ago I mentioned I was following the 80 : 20 approach to training. I have been doing so for a while now, either following the sample training programmes given in that book or constructing my own based on those principles.

I’ve been very happy with the results, certainly in terms of running performance: my London marathon time was within 30’’ of my PB and that was me just out to enjoy the run! And within the space of a month of that time, I recovered and came within touching distance of my 5k PB, set 3 ½ years ago, when I was at my very fittest. But more importantly I enjoy my running much, much more than I did when every run had to be a struggle, when I felt I wasn’t doing enough unless I was going as hard as I could every time.

The one thing I will say however, is that constructing a training plan along the principles of the 80 : 20 methodology is only half the story. The other (and arguably the more important half) is how this training is applied and whether the 80 : 20 principles (essentially that 80% of training volume should be done at low intensity and 20% at medium or high) are upheld in practice. I know from myself that the low intensity, easy runs are the ones most likely to be sacrificed when time is short, and that often even though I aim to run at low intensity I easily gravitate to “cruise speed” which is actually closer to medium intensity; to say nothing of the effect of hills, fatigue etc.

So, armed with a working HRM belt (each one tends to last just over a year before becoming erratic and soon later dying), these days I am concentrating on sticking to the programme: I have developed a spreadsheet to track my runs by effort against the plan, and assess the impact of a missed run or one which for whatever reason was not run as prescribed on the overall plan. Apart from monitoring my training intensity levels against the plan, this helps me visualise exactly the actual intensity composition (i.e. the proportion of the workout ran in low, medium or high intensity) of each workout (LR, LR with speedplay, hill reps, recovery runs…) and its impact on the plan as a whole.

So I’ve added to the “input data” (i.e. what goes into my training) that I have at my disposal (apart from the plethora already presented to us through our running watches, Strava etc such  as Ground Contact Time and Balance, Suffer Score, Weight, Fat Percentage, Heart Rate…), but I am also trying to identify some relevant output data (i.e. that show how effective my training is: weight, fat percentage, 5k race time, Garmin estimate of VO2 Max, Strava Fitness score…) to understand what really matters, what it actually tells me and what I can do differently as a result…

For example, is there any correlation between Strava’s Fitness or Freshness and my Parkrun time? Or my weight? I feel that if I can somehow understand the relationship between the effort (quantity but also quality) I put into my training to the outcome this effort has, I will be able to make better decisions about how to train to achieve the twin goals of increased performance and enjoyment.

This is a huge subject, the surface of which I am only beginning to scratch, and one which I think will keep me busy with my spreadsheet for a while! But in the process I hope to understand myself a bit better as a runner, and to be able to make better decisions about how I train in the future! I’ll let you know if it leads to any insights worth reporting!

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