Back in the saddle……… and hating it!

Although the only running I have done in the last 6 weeks was the 5K Irish Jog last week, that doesn’t mean I have been siting around doing nothing the whole time. That was the case for the first 3 weeks, but the last 3 have consisted of breaking out the bike and going for a few miles on that 3-4 times a week.

As a kid I used to love going out on my bike, I would watch the Tour De France on TV and then jump on my racer and pretend I was time trialing like Greg LeMond. I then got into Mountain Biking, and I still enjoy going off-roading when we are back home in Scotland. I am not as fearless as I once was, but it is still a lot of fun and a good workout.

The same cannot be said for the last few weeks of road riding. It hasn’t been terrible, and if it was all I could do because of injury or for some other reason I am sure I would get used to it. However, there is just something about cycling in Cayman that makes it an unpleasant experience.

It isn’t just the nutters you find driving the cars that pull out in front of you, cut you up, don’t give you enough space, knock your handlebars. You have to deal with them when you are running, albeit at a slower speed, the main problem is other cyclists!

There are a lot of them in Cayman, probably nearly as many that are serious about it as there are serious runners. There is a big difference between the two communities from what I can see though. Maybe it is the same everywhere, but the cyclists here are all ultra-competitive, they find it impossible to go on a training ride without it turning into a race. I am only talking about those that go out hunting in packs, there are lots of very pleasant people that wave and say good morning/afternoon/evening to runners that are out cycling on their own.

I had a particularly unpleasant experience with a bunch of these people last week. I was out for my long ride, and had just set off up through George Town, as I went past the port there was a group of about 10 riders who were just setting off, barely moving so I went past them. At the time I did think maybe I should just wait for them to go, or even turn around and head in the opposite direction, but decided to just carry on and do my own thing.

I pedalled on up towards West Bay, but it soon became apparant that I had made a mistake. The group had attached itself to my rear wheel. I wasn’t going exceptionally fast, 18-19mph, but they were sitting right behind me. I couldn’t understand why, as I wasn’t part of their group, I had never ridden with them before and I had gone past them and had quite a gap when they set off. Obviously they had decided they needed to chase me down.

The major problem occured as we reached the next roundabout, a car was pulling out onto the roundabout from my right as I approaced it, so I started to brake, unfortunately the numpties behind me weren’t paying attention at all so one of them crashed into my leg which then caused another to go over his handlebars and all hell broke loose as 3-4 of them went down.

I was shocked as it was the last thing I expected to happen. Surely they would have been paying attention to the junction up ahead, and would have known that a car was coming out? Obviously not! If I was shocked about that, I was dumbstruck when they all picked themselves up off the floor and started giving me abuse and telling me it was all my fault! According to them I either braked too soon, too much or too late. They couldn’t exactly get their stories straight, but the sentiment was that I should never be allowed to get on a bike again!

I thought this was out of order, but kepy my mouth shut as there were a lot of them and only one of me, and I was pretty sure I couldn’t outrun them on the bike! Although having said that, about half of the group were of the “more money than sense” cyclists we have a lot of here. These people spend 3,4 even $5K on their bike, have all the latest gear, but they weigh 250lbs+ and eat Burger King and KFC for fuelling.

The whole incident has left a very bad taste in my mouth, I do know some people that cycle here that are actually regular cyclists, they are sensible and level-headed and do just enjoy cycling for the actual act of cycling. The majority, though, especially those that ride around in packs like it is the TdF give everyone else a bad name.

It is the biggest difference between runners and cyclists that I can see. When I am out for a run I have my own pace and do my own thing. If there is someone in front of me I don’t instantly think “I have to beat them”, in fact I get quite embarrassed if I do have to overtake people! What makes cyclists like this I don’t know. All I do know is, once I have completed the bike section of the Duathlon I am competing in this week I won’t be getting it out again for a long, long time!

Training: What was I thinking?

The final week of real training is now done. This weeks workouts:

Monday: 4M

Tuesday: 6M

Wednesday: 4M

Friday: 6M

Saturday: 10M

Everything has been reasonably fast this week. Only one 4M run was close to 9min/mile pace. There also wasn’t really anything to report from any of the runs until the weekend. I had been out for 6M on the Friday night, and had averaged just over 8min/mile pace which was what I had planned. Once last race(ish) pace run before cruising through the last few workouts to the start line.

However, for some reason, and don’t ask me to try and explain why, I set off for the 10M run extremely pumped and just wanting to run hard and fast. I know, I know, these are the urges you have to resist during tapering, but normally I am feeling run down and tired during tapering, so I wasn’t used to it.

I let my legs off the leash so to speak and away I went. What I managed to do was set a 10K PB (47:24), before the wheels came off and I needed to walk at about 8M and then finishing strongly to get the average down to 8min pace again.All I can say is, it was actually a good thing, as for the first 5 miles I was thinking of getting close to Boston Qualifying times when I was putting in the < 7:30 miles. Once the reality of my real fitness level kicked in and I needed a rest and walk a couple of miles later I actual realised that I do need to be sensible on Sunday and not just set off at a pace that I hope I can keep up!

Just 3M and 2M shakedown runs before the start on Friday morning at 6:30 in the Epcot car park for the 5K, but that’s another story.

Training: Taper? What Taper?

This week was the first week of tapering for the upcoming races at Disney, I was expecting to have the usual grumbles and complaints from my body as it normally disagrees with tapering and I generally feel terrible. Not so this time it would seem!

The weeks workouts:

Tuesday: 4M Easy

Wednesday: 6M Race Paceish

Thursday: 4M Easy (Turned into tempo run)

Friday:6M Easy

Saturday: 13.1M Race Pace

The values for the Tuesday and Wednesday runs are only approximate as RunKeeper let me down on both of those runs (more on my displeasure with them in a later post!). Thursday was meant to be an easy recovery run before the longer runs of the weekends, and with it being Christmas, my long run was moved from Sunday to Saturday so I didn’t have to fit it in before present opening like last year. This left me running 5 days on the bounce. My legs disagreed with the idea of an easy run, however, and they decided to take me for a 10K pace run instead!

Friday was a much more relaxed affair. The same cannot be said for Saturday though, I actually set off with the intention of running a reasonably fast time, I thought I would be able to get something averaging 8:10-8:15 per mile based on how I was feeling. Knowing that I was still only 3 weeks from my last marathon, and the previous weekend had been 30 miles, add in the fast pace run on Thursday and the accumulation of it being the 5th day out running and I felt I was maybe a bit delusional about my abilities.

That definitely appeared to be the case for the first 5 miles. I set off at 8:10 pace, and after a couple of miles I was struggling to hold that pace, then I got to 5M and decided that it was $hit or bust and put my foot down a bit to try and do some 8 minute miles. Remarkably my body actually responded and let me do that, it actually let me go even faster for the remainder of the run. The end result was a 1hr44min29sec half-marathon, which is 2 minutes quicker than I have ever gone over that distance in this kind of heat, and less than 40 seconds outside the PB I set in October in cooler conditions. I am sure I could have bested my PB if I had known what kind of effort my body was going to allow, but I am happy with what I did.

As I said at the beginning, my body normally disagrees with tapering, but I am guessing that because the training is different on these 5 weeks between marathons I have been in recovery mode for the last 2 weeks and is now coming back to its best. I am feeling stronger and stronger, which is good, but also potentially bad as I could start to have delusions of grandeur on times etc. that I could attempt!

Nutrition: Rediscovering “Bad” Carbs

At this festive time of year it is easy to become acquainted with the empty carbs that make up a lot of the traditional holiday fare. Waking up on Boxing Day I had an unfamiliar feeling, my stomach was rumbling and I was rather hungry, this was despite having eaten more food the previous day than I had done all year! I also felt sluggish and tired. I wouldn’t profess to have the healthiest diet (we do go out for burger and chips every Wednesday night!), but I am sensible enough to recognise when my diet has affected me.

Mine Pies and Coffee Mmmm, Mince PiesIt shows just how easy it is to become stuck in the circle of eating those empty calories. Despite eating in the region of 3000 calories one day, I was starving the following morning having derived barely any nutritional value from the previous days gorging. The empty calories leave you feeling hungry, so you eat more of the same c$*p and the cycle continues.

As with most things related to your health, moderation is the answer. It’s fine to have the odd day, like Christmas for example, where calorie counting goes out of the window, but then it is time to get back onto the healthy wagon and fill up with something a bit more nutritious.

Let Christmas be the exception, not the norm.

Training: Bring on the Taper (Again!)

The hardest week of the “2nd time around” marathon plan is now complete and it is all downhill to Disney. Workouts for the week:

Tuesday: 3M Easy

Wednesday: 6M @ Race Pace

Thursday: 3M Easy

Saturday: 10M 3/1 Run

Sunday: 20M Long Run

This was the only really tough week of the 5 week “sprint” to Disney, and even then it was only the weekend that was tough. The two midweek easy runs were unenventful, and the 6M on Wednesday was only interesting as it was at 5AM on a School day and done in the wind and rain.

The weekend was a 10M 3/1 run where you do three quarters of the run easy and then accelerate for the final quarter. Unfortunately my maths let me down and I did thirds instead of quarters so did 3.5M instead of 2.5M at race pace. It wasn’t all that hard, especially with the weather being even cooler than it was for the marathon 2 weeks ago.

Sunday was another 20M+ effort, but it was pretty relaxed, and I was surprised with the relative ease that I managed to complete it. There was a bit less wind than previous days, but being out before 4AM meant that I was done just after the sun came up before the temperature climbed too far.

Training: Recovery? What Recovery?

After the relative high of last weeks marathon it was only just over 48 hours before I was back out on the road again!

Tuesday: 2M Pretty sore

Wednesday: 3M Less sore

Thursday: 4M A tiny bit sore

Saturday: 6M

Sunday: 12M

It was definitely a bit of a struggle for the first half a mile of the first run, trying to work out which bits of me worked, and fashion a running stride that was as efficient as possible without stressing my stiff bits.

The biggest change this week to a normal weeks running (other than no speed work and the reduced miles) was that I didn’t take my Garmin watch or HRM out with me. I tracked everything using RunKeeper on my phone (which is why every run has a slow first mile as I spend 30 seconds wrapping the phone back up in its waterproof bag and stuff it in my running belt). It was actually very refreshing to not be a slave to the little Dictator that normally sits on my right wrist. It meant I was able to just go out and run with a clear head, and concentrate on getting a good run in than try and hit some arbitrary goals. Running at speed is not going to help me get ready for the Goofy Challenge over the next 5 weeks. The main goal is to just recover and not lose any fitness.

By not having the watch on, my run on Sunday was a proper slow, long run, I let my body go at the pace it wanted to, so I was a good 90 seconds or so down for most of that run, and I felt good when I finished. There was no soreness, and I wasn’t tired like I thought I would be.

All in all it has been a good “active” recovery week, I think I am going to enjoy this more relaxed training for the next few weeks.


Experiment: Training for a marathon as a single parent

For 10 days recently I had the chance to experience what it is like to try and fit in a marathon training schedule around the routine of a 19 month old toddler on my own.

My wife was back in the UK for a trip. Originally my Mum was going to be coming out to help, but unfortunately that just didn’t work out. So the following is my experience and what I have learnt.

Being Flexible

Please come home soon Mummy! Please come home soon Mummy!The thing about toddlers is, they don’t like change. They like their routine and they don’t want to deviate. If you do try to make them fit in around you then there will be tears and tantrums, and in the end it will just end up not being worth the trouble.

The upshot of this is, you need to fit your training in when it is convenient for them. This has meant for me that all weekday runs have had to be completed at lunchtime, (half of them were anyway). The knock on effect of that has been needing to get in to work a bit earlier to allow me to have extended lunch breaks.

The weekend runs were moved to the evening, and required a babysitter to come round after Max had gone to bed while I pounded the roads.

I am in a slightly unique situation living here (we live in the Cayman Islands); I don’t have any family I can call on to step in and look after Max while I go out. This means that if I was doing the full 18 week plan as a single parent then it would be worthwhile looking into investing in a decent treadmill for ~$700 rather than spend $40-$50 a week on babysitters. This would also allow me to do some of the weekday runs in the evening and free up some lunchtimes to do a few of the other things that need to be done around the house.

Stamina Workout

As well as finding the time to train, there is also the motivation and fatigue factor to think about. This is especially prevalent at the weekends when the long runs normally take place. You are up and about chasing after a toddler for 12 hours and then it is time to put your shoes on and hit the roads for anything from 10-20M. I have only had to do 6M and 12M as part of the first week of tapering and the 12M was not enjoyable at all. I was tired before I went out and it caused my pace to really drop off in the last few miles.

You also need to remember to fuel correctly, you can’t just put your kid to bed and go straight out for a 10-20M session if you haven’t eaten. Luckily Max is at the stage where he can feed himself, kind of, so there is an opportunity for me to get some food down while he is having his tea which is perfect timing to be able to then run a couple of hours later.

Late Nights

As well as no family to help out, living in the Caribbean means that long runs have to take place either before dawn or after sunset in an effort to avoid the heat of the day. If there were family around and I lived in a more temperate climate then it might be possible to deposit Max with a family member for a couple of hours in a morning or afternoon.

As it is though the babysitter cannot/won’t come out at 4AM (understandable!) so it is evenings for runs. I finished the 12M around 9:30 but it would have been 10:30 or maybe even 11:00 if I had been on a 20M run, and I have to cool off, get some food inside me, shower and then make sure everything is ready for the following morning. It could be after midnight before I get to bed with no guarantees that Max won’t wake up at 5:30 and want to play with Daddy. I caught a break after my run as he had a lie in until 7:45 which made a big difference.

Even after just a single weekend of this I was exhausted. I am sure if this were a regular thing then it would become more of a routine that I would be able to optimize.

Trying to do 55M+ weeks at the height of training and still have enough energy and time to be a full-time Dad would be burning the candle at both ends, especially with the limited support network I have here. I would have to set my expectations a bit lower with regards training and racing to ensure that Max got all the time and care he needs from me. For example the current training plan calls for running anything up to 10M on a Saturday and then 20M on a Sunday, I would definitely be looking at a plan that only required one long run at the weekend if this were a more regular occurrence.

I would say if you are the type of person that also wants to fit in strength training as well as a spot of yoga and still run 6 days a week then you need to either be Superman/Wonder Women, or maybe you have a family or a helper that can come in and help out all the time you are out training. I just couldn’t find time to relax all that much once I had completed the chores in the evening (washing, cleaning, getting everything ready for nursery the next day), not if I wanted to go to bed at a reasonable time.


All in all it was an eye-opening experience. Anyone who actually manages to do this full time has my utmost admiration, even without the marathon training. I coped for 10 days without too many big issues, but I was certainly happy to see my wife when she got off the plane!  I can’t personally imagine having to complete 50M+ weeks with 20M long runs, not to mention back to back long runs at the weekend and also keep up with a toddler that just wants to play with Daddy the whole time he is awake.

The main points I did learn were:

  • Have a plan and be organised, this applies to training and also keeping household chores under control as well as time with your child.
  • Have a plan B. If you have a toddler then you know things change quickly. If Junior decides to cut some teeth and is up in the night then be prepared to adjust your training accordingly.
  • Be sensible with the training. Don’t try and do too much. If, like mine was, your partner is away for a short period try and adjust the schedule accordingly, maybe have a step-back week.
  • If this isn’t just a short term thing then pick a plan that works best for you as a parent, not necessarily you as a runner. Maybe go for the Intermediate level instead of Advanced!
  • Remember your nutrition. Moving long runs around and accommodating your child’s needs means running at different/strange times so ensure you remember to fuel correctly to account for it.
  • Child comes first! Kind of obvious, but some of us get very obsessive about training and doing everything perfectly (I can raise my hand to that!), embrace the new experience of just being able to get out when you can and do whatever you can.