Warp speed. Thoughts on speed and strength.

Warp Speed

A selfie on the move – Mr Sulu would be proud

I had a good run to work this morning. The weather cleared up overnight but the temperature was still rather low. The sun was just coming up. A cold and crisp Spring morning. Perfect for running if you have enough layers and a pair of gloves. I had a couple of random thoughts during the commute.

I decided to try my 5K route. I haven’t run that one in a while and I need to start upping my mileage ahead of the Pony Express Half Marathon coming up in May. My initial thoughts were mainly on how slow I felt. This is a constant thing for me when I run. I feel slow. I feel like I’m making no progress in the speed department. It didn’t help that I had the traffic lights conspiring against me as well. It seemed like I had to stop at almost every one of them, making my average pace drop. Interesting then, that the selfie I took on the run makes it look like I’m flying along :-).

My thoughts also veered in the direction of the Crossfit Games Open. We’re 4 weeks in with one more workout to go. What an experience this has been for me. Up to now, I’ve only competed in events like half marathons and triathlons. A couple of cycle races. I’d never considered taking on anything which tests your fitness in the manner that the Open does. From the Crossfit Games website, it is described as follows:

The CrossFit Games events are made up of a broad range of functional movements. Functional movements move large loads, long distances, quickly. These movements also form the basis of our exercise program. Make no mistake—the CrossFit Games are designed to test, not train, fitness. The goal is to find the fittest athletes, not to produce an easily replicable workout program.

Is ‘replicable’ a word?

The Open is the first installment in the Games. Competitors from across the globe log onto the Games website every Thursday at 5PM PST to find out what the workout of the week will be. They then have until the following Monday at 5PM PST to submit their scores for that workout. The top athletes move on to the regionals where they compete for a place in the big event, the Crossfit Games.

I’ve never considered myself strong (still don’t) and have tended to focus on my cardio training rather than strength training. I’ve been doing crossfit since the beginning of September 2015 so I didn’t think I was ready to enter the Open. After a bit of convincing by the coach, however, I signed up along with 17 other box members from the I Will Crossfit affiliate here in Dublin, California. I’m so glad I did. The workouts have all been tough but I’ve enjoyed all of them. I’ve learned some new skills along the way (double unders and muscle ups) and identified loads of things I need to work on (general strength and hand stand push-ups to name two). I’m excited to find out what the final workout will be. I now have a benchmark for next year – yes, I’m already planning to enter the 2017 event.

So how do these two random thoughts link? Well, I started crossfit in the hopes that gaining extra strength would translate into gaining extra speed and endurance. In the California International Marathon in December last year, I felt that my endurance had definitely improved. My finish time was a new PR so I guess the speed was there too. However, I’m not sure I’ve maintained that speed. This is all part of my nervousness as an event approaches. I’m looking forward to the half marathon in May. I haven’t run one in a while. I can’t wait to test myself. I’ll let you know how it goes.

What are your tips and tricks for increasing speed? Fartleks or Yasso 800s? Do you do any strength training?

 

The Hot Gates (of hell)

Team WOD at I Will Crossfit on Saturday was dubbed ‘The Hot Gates.’ When the coach wasn’t looking, someone added ‘of hell’ to the title. The workout was tough as always.

WOD 16.2.20

We were divided into teams of 4. I worked with Tom, Sandy and Marylene. We decided to start with the tire flips. I always enjoy these and having a strong guy like Tom on the team helped a lot as 700 pounds is not easy to lift and flip. From there we moved on to toes-to-bar. We each did 10 at a time for what seemed like forever. I started out with strict toes-to-bar but my pace was a bit slow so I switched to knees-to-chest. My memory becomes a bit hazy from this point – probably induced by exhaustion and blocking the pain. I think we moved on to the burpees. Again we did 10 at a time. Sandy and I did this together and we pushed each other to keep a good pace going. She was quicker to the floor and I was quicker back up so we were always chasing each other. That may have been my best set of burpees ever. My technique must be improving. Yay, burpees! Improved burpee technique ahead of the Open start today can only be a good thing.

The rope climbs were cool. In the past, I’ve done the modified climb which involves lying on your back and pulling yourself upright, then lowering yourself back down. Three of these counts as 1 rep. On Saturday I decided to try the proper climb to the top. I managed to do it for the 8 reps which made up my share of the team’s 30. Another positive step forward in my crossfit journey We finished with push-ups. Twenty at a time to begin with and then down to 10 as we tired. Again, Sandy helped me keep pace. Time ran out before we could finish the sit-ups. I think this was a blessing in disguise because the teams that chose to do the sit-ups earlier in their rotation said that was the toughest round.

All-in-all, a challenging but fun work-out. Highly recommended as a team WOD. Give it a try and let me know how it goes. What are some of your favourite team or partner WODs?

 

Holiday Fitness

I recently spent two weeks on vacation in Cape Town, South Africa. It was my first visit home in a while and I had a ton of catching up to do. Family and friends I hadn’t seen in 5+ years. In addition, my folks were moving house and the main reason I was back was that my brother was getting married. So I was expecting a full schedule. My biggest concern was that I wouldn’t have time to train. I didn’t want to lose all the fitness and strength I’d worked so hard to gain.

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Bird’s eye view of Cape Town

In order to ensure that I stayed fit, I made some plans.

Ahead of the trip I contacted Cape Crossfit to inquire about drop-in classes. Thankfully they did have them and I signed up for a morning class two days after I arrived. The members of this box were extremely welcoming and the two WODs I participated in were great. I bought a T-shirt and wear it proudly to my local box.

My brother and I worked out together at his gym. We focused on pecs and ran on the treadmill.

I packed in my speed rope – I suck at double unders and thought I could practice while on holiday. On one of my quieter afternoons, I spent some time whipping myself on the arms and legs and cursing the world in general. I think I did get a bit better but it’s certainly not perfect yet. My sister’s dog, Ringo, must’ve thought I was crazy – he kept his distance throughout.

My running buddy, Craig, invited me to join him on some training runs with his club, Spartan Harriers. I enjoyed two runs with the club – the routes were nice and it was cool to train and catch up with one of my best friends. I wanted to run some routes I used to do when I was still living in Cape Town. Newlands Forest was an old favourite – amazing scenery and challenging hills.

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Views in Newlands Forest

Another favourite was a route through the Constantia suburbs which included a green belt stretch. I used to run with another good friend, Anton. The route was close to my sister’s place,  so it worked out well.

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Views in Constantia. Elephant’s Eye cave in the top left hand photo. I used to hike there with my wife.

When I was at university, I spent a lot of time on the squash court. I played competitively for a few years and the campus had two courts. Robbie Samuels is a legend on this campus when it comes to squash. He plays 4-5 times a week and has been doing so for more than 20 years. I joined Robbie for a session on the courts. It’d been a while but it was a fantastic workout and loads of fun. A trip down fitness memory lane.

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UCT Medical School squash courts

So all-in-all, I managed to continue training during my vacation. I feel I maintained my fitness and strength levels and came back home ready to move forward towards my goals. The keys for me were prioritizing my training and using the time as an opportunity to reconnect with friends and family.

 

2015: The Training Awakens

Hi Readers

force choke

The Force has not been strong with this blog but I believe it was strong with my training in 2015.

It’s been a long time since I last posted anything on this blog (March 2015!!!). I just had a look at the stats and was surprised to discover that I’ve still had a few views despite the lack of activity. Thank you! I plan to blog more regularly this year and I also plan to focus the blog more on running, triathlons, fitness and martial arts and less on just general ‘remarkable’ topics. That’s a nice big clue as to what I’ve been up to in 2015 and what my plans are for 2016. 🙂

In 2015 I changed the way I approach my training. It started in 2014 already when I used my commute to-and-from work for my training runs and cycles. Instead of just having one workout or training session a day, I was now doing two on many days. It was tough to begin with and I struggled most evenings. However, as I stuck with it, things did improve. Then I started thinking about the training regimens that pro-athletes and elite age-groupers follow. These fit folks spend 6-8 hours a day training. Even with two sessions, I was still only doing 1-1.5 hours a day with longer runs on weekends. I reckoned that it was conceivable that I could up the daily sessions to 3 or 4. So towards the end of May 2015, I started doing 3 or 4 workouts on 3 or 4 days of the week. Again, it was tough to start with but it was manageable.

At that point, the training mix consisted of running, biking and martial arts. I started doing Kuk Sool Won twice a week for an hour. More on this martial arts system in a future post but you can find some insight into the practice from the point of view of another student (my lovely wife) in the posts on Junbi. The running was still mainly my commute and weekend long runs. I started cycling more often – substituting some of my runs with a bike to work and also going on weekly lunchtime rides with a couple of colleagues. As my body adapted to this increased regimen, I started seeing a general improvement in my endurance in particular. In June and July, I added 9Round training to my workout mix. This is a 30 min workout based on kickboxing where you move from one station to the next every 3 min. There are nine stations or rounds. It’s a high intensity workout and definitely boosted my fitness level. I feel that it took me through a plateau. I had bought a two month membership on a deal website and didn’t renew afterwards.

KSW family

It’s a family affair

In September I started crossfit of all things. There is a fantastic crossfit gym close to my home and they have a 5:30 am class – perfect for someone with a busy schedule trying to squeeze in a workout. I Will Crossfit has definitely taken my results to another level. I’ll write more about the classes but the workouts I’ve been doing there have benefited my running through heightened strength and endurance.

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Saturday Partner WOD – me in the Green Lantern Shirt

Event-wise, I took part in my first triathlon in the USA – the 29th Annual Tri For Real event held in Pleasanton. This was a shorter triathlon consisting of 700 yard swim, 19 -mile bike, 4-mile run. I also completed the Berkeley Trail Adventure half marathon course (the toughest half marathon I’ve ever done). Just look at the course profile!

 

BTA

After you’re done climbing, let’s climb some more

The California International Marathon held in Sacramento was my final event of the year and my first marathon since 2013. This, for me, was the true test of all the training I’d put in over the year. I had three goals depending on how the race progressed.

  1. A new PR (my previous best as detailed in my last blog post was 4h28)
  2. A sub-4h15 race
  3. A sub 4h race

I managed 1 and 2 – I finished in 4h11. My training came through – I managed to run the full distance (no walking) and I recovered faster than expected (I had a 1.5 hour drive home following the race but was nowhere near as stiff and sore as I expected to be). I definitely felt stronger.

CIM

We’re all wearing the same colours!!

So all-in-all, 2015 has given me hope for further improvements in 2016. I have entered the San Francisco Marathon  which promises to be incredibly scenic and incredibly grueling. I have plans to try a Spartan Race and/or a Tough Mudder and I’m eyeing the Ironman 70.3 in Santa Cruz. In crossfit this week we started with our baseline check. We were doing 1 rep maximum testing. It’ll be interesting to see our improvements in 12 weeks time. I’ll keep you posted. If I’m feeling brave, I may post some before and after photos.

I look forward to sharing my training journey with you.

What are you goals and events for 2016?

 

My 2nd marathon: race report

I remembered that I had written a fairly extensive race report after my 2nd ever marathon. I’m thinking about doing a third, and decided to share my report here.
The Brighton Marathon in April 2013 was my 2nd one. In 2012, without the proper preparation, I had completed my 1st one. I managed 5h10 then and wanted to finish sub 4h30 this time around.
The race was really tough. Physically and mentally. Most of my training had been at temperatures of 5 degrees C or lower. On the morning of the race, it was overcast and cool ~ around 9-10 degrees. During the run it heated up to ~15-17 degrees and less cloud cover with a slight breeze. Perfect racing conditions, you’d think. Well…read on :-).
I started the run with my training buddy, another Robin, and he’s got one of those cool RB Garmin WatchGarmin Forerunner 910XT watches. He works in miles and min/mile so I had to keep trying to convert. He set it at a 9.46 min/mile pace which would have given us a finishing time between 4h15 and 4h30 depending on how closely we were able to stick to that pace. We were both aiming to break 4h30. It was a reasonable pace which we’ve maintained easily for 20 km training runs. I just had my Timex stopwatch and planned to run to how I was feeling. At the start, the pace was going ok for me. Around the 15-16km, however, I felt like I was losing energy and starting to struggle a bit. This bothered me because I have gotten to the point where 21km is a standard long run on the weekend. I’d even recently managed a 21.1km training run in 1h58 and my focus was always going to be on getting through the second half of the marathon. I took stock and realised that I was getting that sweat sediment on my forehead…something that rarely happens if I’ve not run for longer than 2hrs (at 5 degrees or lower temperatures though). At this point I had already had about 250ml of Gatorade and one energy gel so felt I shouldn’t already be getting dehydrated or losing energy. Anyway, I carried on for another km or so at this pace. When I reached around 19km, it wasn’t feeling too much better and I felt like my legs were starting to get sore. That’s when I really took notice.
ASIDE: I’d just recently read an article about lactic acid build up during marathons. The take-away from the article, for me, was that you’ll only get the lactic acid build up if you’re accessing your muscles’ carbohydrate stores. If you exercise/race at a pace below that level, you’ll continue using energy from your blood. As you get better, you’ll be able to go faster for longer without accessing the muscle stores. But, if you can keep at or below the muscle-accessing level and you keep replacing the used carbs in your blood with whatever nutrition is available, you’ll be able to keep going without lactic acid build up and the associated pain and cramping. I know most runners are aware of this but the way the article described it somehow just stuck with me during the race.
So, after taking proper notice of what my body was telling me, I decided that what I was hearing was that I was going too fast and I was accessing my muscles’ carbs. Not good. But why was this happening so early?? I was taking on gels and water, my pace was right. Why was I dehydrating and getting sore legs already?? The weather!! That’s why!! That’s what I concluded anyway. I was racing at 3x or more the temperatures I had been training at. On one of my last runs, there was snow falling during the run! My body just wasn’t used to the ‘high’ temperatures. So, how to respond??
I eased off on the pace. I took another energy gel and at the next water station emptied a cup of water over my head and drank another 300-400ml. My thoughts were that if I slowed down for a bit and let my nutrition catch up again, I should be ok. I felt that I had gotten ahead of my nutrient intake because I was using what worked during training but with the conditions being so different, I needed to adjust. I passed the halfway mark in 2h10. Not too shabby despite the concerns. On track for sub 4h30. At around 24km I started feeling better and I picked up the pace. I made up some of the lost time. I kept up that pace for about 2 more km.
In 2012, I hit a massive wall around 29-30km. I was determined to run through the wall this time. Because my strategy of slowing down and taking on more nutrition was working, I continued ensuring that I took water and Gatorade at each stop. Also, I kept emptying water over my head to keep cooler. I also modulated my pace so that I didn’t reach the lactic acid threshold. I wanted to reach 32km before 3h30 because then I felt that a sub 4h30 was still on the cards. I made that mark at around 3h20. Game on!
My next challenge was going to be from 32-37km. This section of the race is through an area where there is little crowd support and it’s where I gave in the year before and started doing serious walking because I started feeling serious pain at this point. At 32km, I had a Gatorade and an energy gel and steeled myself mentally for what was to come. I just kept saying that if I could get through that section, I’d be fine. The last 5km is all along the beachfront and with the finish being next to Brighton Pier it means you can see the finish line all the way. What a bloody struggle this section of the race proved to be. I wanted to stop so many times. I distracted myself by watching the passing runners as the route loops back on itself here. I tried not thinking about my legs so much. I was feeling ok but there was definitely lactic acid build up creeping in and just general tiredness. Also, the supporters who did stand along this section were shouting all the time and giving encouragement. Eventually, I made it to the beachfront but the finish line looked sooooo far away. Again, I was seriously tempted to walk.
Are you still with me or have I bored you to death by now? This is a marathon read after all :-).
The last leg. I had a little around 35-40 minutes left if I wanted to finish sub 4h30. It was going to be close but there was no way I could slow down appreciably. I was really tired, my legs were complaining and I would rather have stopped. I decided that I needed to up the pace a little to put some time in the bank in case I couldn’t help but walk. I managed to do that for about 1km. Good. Only 4 left. I slowed down a bit here and let the crowd support (which was fantastic on this stretch) carry me for the next kay. 3 left. Man, I wasn’t sure I going to make this. My mind started bargaining with me – even if you walk now you’ll beat your time from last year; you’ve done well to get this far; just walk; there’s always next year. I looked out at the sea, up at Brighton Pier, around at the crowds and kept running. I was looking out for the 40km marker but it didn’t come or I missed it. I think this may have helped because I thought I was falling behind and that I needed to speed up to break 4h30. I increased my pace, telling myself that if I hit 40km I could see what time I had left and potentially slow down considerably for the last section. I knew I must’ve missed it but paranoia was setting in and I didn’t want to risk slowing down yet. The next marker I saw was the 800 metre one. I probably spotted it from about 200m away so I knew I had only 1km to go. I was on 4h22. I knew I could do it if I didn’t cramp or trip or something like that. I was so excited I actually managed to up the pace again. I finished the last 200m very strong. Crossed the finish line in 4h28m19!!!
I was totally elated. What a fantastic feeling. I was also really chuffed because I hadn’t walked once.
What an experience. My dream is to be fit and strong enough to complete a sub-4hr marathon one day. Thanks for reading.

To run faster, you have to run faster.

Glenn Driver at the Barns Green Half Marathon in Sussex, England

Glenn Driver at the Barns Green Half Marathon in Sussex, England

One of my friends, Glenn Driver, is a super-fast runner (and as the link will show, a brilliant landscape photographer). Last time I asked, his half marathon time PB was around 1h17 and his marathon time PB was around 2h48. He’s been speeding up, though, so these might be out-of-date. He runs at a blistering pace and I always joke that I want to be like him when I grow up. The first time I spoke to him about improving my race times, he had the sage advice: ‘To run faster, you have to run faster.’

I laughed initially but then I realised that he was serious. I stopped and thought about it a bit more and had to admit that he was right. Often, I find myself settling into a rhythm and a steady pace for my runs. Particularly if I have a route I’m running regularly. I am so used to the scenery, the terrain, the changes in gradient that I don’t focus too hard on my pace. I just run to reach the end. When I think about it more I include some intervals or some fartleks but that’s rare. Then, a month later, I look at my average times for the route or my average pace for long vs short runs and I begin to wonder why I’m not any faster. I feel fitter and stronger but I don’t seem to have made any gains in pace. Recently I’ve been lamenting this slowness. The short answer is that I didn’t remember to run faster.

If I want to run faster, I need to run faster. Simple but great advice. It works. Go try it.