Saturday, 28 July 2012

From Training to Racing: Four Unknown Variables

I’ve now run over 350k in training since April. I’ve run 9.6k in 55’ and 11.8k in 76’, allowing me to at least contemplate breaking the 60’ barrier at the Sheffield TenTenTen. But that’s all I’m doing: contemplating. Hoping. I know there are at least four things I don’t know:

I’ve looked at all the diagrams. I’ve tried to figure out how those climbs compare to those on my training route and still aren’t sure, not least because the maps suggest they are harder than Cousin Nats does… but then she is a marathon runner, with different standards to mine! Anyway, no map or diagram can provide a true feel: only your feet treading those grounds can. Cousins Nats and Ollie are doing that every week: the best I can do is look at this here screen…

I’m still sticking to asphalt in training. I don’t think I can count those hundred metres or so on grass verges. I did run a couple of laps on the field across the road but am reluctant to do so regularly: I can’t help feeling that would be like a running track and I’m trying to avoid such repetitiveness… In a while I may add a lap or two to my 11k training route, we’ll see. As for trail… I’m reluctant to go there on my own, that’s all. And asphalt is just too convenient… hopefully I won’t live to regret this. Although if I ran down, through to that field, right onto Valley Road… (hmmm… Just had a thought. Not for the first time, mind, and I’ve done nowt about it yet)

Each and every one of my steps has been as a solo effort. My next-but-two neighbour has offered to run with me, but I’m enjoying the flexibility too much to take him up on the offer. I set off when I want, don’t have to panic if the kids take an extra half-hour to go to bed; and I go where I want at the pace I want, not having to consult anyone if I want to change my plans mid-run. Saying that, I rarely do now: it’s just nice to have the option.
Come September 23, I’ll have plenty of company. People overtaking me, people stepping in front of me, people whom I overtake… and I have no experience of that. The organisers group racers (what a word!) based on target times: I can’t even remember what I entered! Will I be surrounded by people targeting 60’, will I be able to use their pace to settle in at my target pace? Truth is, I don’t know…
…as an aside, I’m still not wearing my stopwatch. On the one hand, that leaves my legs do the pacing without my mind interfering: if they can do that to get me to a 60’ pace, great. On the other (the left one, as it happens), it frees another wrist for a sweatband! I expect I’ll start wearing it again soon: it’s only a basic thing, but it may come in handy once my legs are settled. We’ll see…

I know there’ll be people cheering and encouraging. I am not entirely sure how I’ll react.
As long as things are going smoothly, it won’t be a problem. If I were to encounter a problem, will I feel exposed to the masses, even if they are genuinely supportive?
Cometh the hour, I’m sure I’ll be fine. After all, this is Sheffield folk we’re talking about. I’ll be amongst my people. I’ll be alreight. I’m always fine in Sheffield. Hey, I've had epileptic seizures in Atlanta, Barcelona, Bristol, Dublin, Portishead, Rapallo, Reading, Santa Margherita but never Sheffield*! It’s as if my mind knows 
* well, apart from that very first one which landed me in a coma at six months, anyway

Friday, 27 July 2012

Good times, bad times

Feeling good. Got into a nice routine which does not bore me, settled on an 11.5k route to get ready for my 10k… with scope for both a quicker 5k and a slower 15k every week. Both times and weight going down, so all’s well. Or is it?

For the past two days I’ve had to cut my running sessions short. Yesterday I was merely aiming for a lunchtime 5k, but pulled up after one and a half due to stomach pains. Spleen? Nah, I know spleen pain… this was higher, not as acute but equally not as easy to shift with a rest. Walked a while, tried getting going again but there was just no point. Tried later in the day but still to no avail: around a mile in I gave up and headed home. Then, earlier today I was hoping to clock 10k but again had to stop… similar pain but not as bad, but legs just not with it… in the end, after walking for a few minutes, I was able to run for the latter part of second lap, heading home but still only totalling 7k, foregoing the final lap of my regular 3-lap route.

So – should I panic?

I’ve decided not to. What I omitted above is that, hours before nipping out for a 5k run, I’d done a 20k cycle. Felt good there, albeit not so much when, along the flat stretch of the route, I was overtaken by a fellow rider. Bike seemed OK and he had one of those proper cycling tops with pockets on the back. He even had a bottle of Lucozade in there. But his demeanour still looked a bit too casual… yet those RPMs exceeded mine, and I was in top gear… what was going on? Weren’t I at the peak of my fitness by the standards I’ve set myself in recent years? And this guy, wearing casual shorts, just overtakes me? And has he got cycling shorts underneath those or is he going to ache later? I did not allow my mind to question that last matter unduly.
As we turned up to face the climb, I knew I was facing a moment of truth. If I couldn’t keep up with him, I’d been kidding myself and still had more work to do than I thought. As it happens, I was perfectly able to stand up on my pedals, overtake him and leave him in my trail. The flat track bully… we can all do it on the flat, pal, but it’s not as easy when there’s a climb, eh? It’s not nice seeing someone standing upright overtaking you when you’re puffing your way up the hill, eh? And where did you end up – I didn’t see you for the rest of the route, not even from half a mile ahead!
Such comments are obviously grossly unfair and exaggerated for what limited comic effect I can muster. I would not have been able to do that a few months ago: based on loose recollection and on-bike speedometre, I was a good 30% faster on that uphill stretch yesterday than on my previous outing. Some of that extra 30% was undoubtedly adrenalin, of the type the male body produces when one’s status is challenged. I was able to maintain a good pace and complete the 10k ‘lap’ twice, in a time of 57’ that compares favourably to the 30’ it took me to complete just the one lap a few months back. Heading in the right direction…

…but for my running problems over the past 24 hours. To some extent these may have something to do with the heat, but I am extremely reluctant to overplay this excuse. When I was in Italy, I’d play tennis at noon in July, go out on 40k cycles at 2pm in August… my body should cope with North Somerset’s 24°C. OK, our bodies acclimatise over time, but not this much – surely! Besides, I ran 10k in similar temperature on Tuesday, feeling really good about how I’d overcome the heat… so yes, whilst that may be a factor (and one of declining impact as the weeks go by), I’m not blaming it on the sunshine.

Far easier to blame it on my body, to be fair. I’ve not trained this hard in years. A day’s rest should sort it. Otherwise, I’m in serious trouble. Besides, I’ve still already clocked 31k so far this week, so a 5k tomorrow and a 15k on Sunday would still see me over that 50k line for the first time. Whether that’s good or bad, I don’t know. Too much? Well, if it feels so I’ll just reel back. I am still comfortable with September’s challenge. Just like I am aware there are four key unknown variables. More on those next time.

Friday, 20 July 2012

It's The End Of The World As We Know It... and I'm sure I'll feel fine

During the recent footie Euros, something amazing happened. For me, anyway. I stopped supporting Whoever Played Italy, which for years had been my second team after England. That’s not to say I started supporting Italy, but I recognised that their success would make a lot of friends of mine happy and therefore wished them well. Now as it happens they lost the final 4-0 to Spain, but I did not derive the same sense of pleasure that wins by France (1986), Argentina (1990), France (1998 and 2000), South Korea (2002) and Slovakia (2010) had given me. Childish but true, to the point that from 1998 onwards I bought the shirts of whoever knocked Italy out of the World Cup and wore them on holiday out there! I sold my France top to a French housemate within weeks of the 1998 World Cup, but my South Korean top still has pride of place in my wardrobe…
… and no, I didn’t forget 1994: I just didn’t derive pleasure at their penalties defeat against Brazil, not least because Roberto Baggio was my favourite player and it’s his sky-high kick that’s remembered, in spite of the fact that Baresi and Massaro’s earlier misses meant Italy were behind the eight ball anyway. Nor did I forget 2006: nobody beat them that year. It all started in 1982, when Italy won the World Cup in Spain and I, a British Citizen, was dragged onto the streets to celebrate… it got better in 2006, my ‘dislike’ turning to ‘tolerance’, when I wasn’t teased as much as I deserved following Italy’s win in Germany… and ‘tolerance’ of my Italian roots turned to ‘pride’ in 2012, just before the Euros. Don’t worry if none of all this makes sense – it’s all a bit odd. And then some.

Anyway, where was I going? Yes… My schadenfreude about Italy dealt with, I’m now approaching another, similar hurdle. My Dad’s a lifelong Genoa fan. According to my Mum he introduced himself as an AC Milan fan when they first met, to increase his chances, but there was no substance behind that. Since they first met, mind, he’s also been a Blade – and a true one. He obviously supports Italy but also wants England to do well and has been spotted cycling and running around the Ligurian hills in many an England top. We never fell out over my ‘issues’ with the Italian football team. Not that they were limited to football, mind: I had to pull myself away from England-Italy rugby matches just to stop cheering when an Italian player was sent crashing to the floor! Anyway… as I said, that was never an issue. He dismissed it as stupid, childish and irrational, so we never really spoke about it. Wise. As for the next hurdle…

…as I said, Dad’s a Genoa fan. As a kid he took me to the Marassi stadium on many occasions, the most vivid one in my memory being the first one. It was Brazilian legend Zico’s debut for Udinese and he played a different game to anyone else on that pitch, or any other pitch, that day. How such a legend ended up in Udine, with all respect for a club for whom I subsequently acted as interpreter and that has since inhabited the upper echelons of Serie A, but that back then was mid-table at best, is anybody’s guess. But he did: and I was blessed with the privilege of seeing him.

In spite of being given a cotton replica shirt whose weight doubled at the mere sight of rain, as a kid I never really took to Genoa. And that’s in spite of the fact that, as a club founded by English expats, their full name is actually Genoa Cricket and Football Club. Childish rebellion? Probably. I just developed a dislike which defies reason, the sort of dislike that I reserve, but with far more logic, to United’s neighbours in S6 (with whose name I shall not this blog tarnish). This sat less comfortably with my Dad: I didn’t fall out with him, but there were some less enjoyable exchanges, all fuelled by my stupid rants.

As for whom I did support in Italy, initially I was changing by the week. You’re born a Blade and you die a Blade, but when you’re not born anything… I ultimately settled on AC Milan when Ruud Gullit landed in 1987. His personality was like nothing that I’d never seen before, that Serie A had possibly never seen, and I was mesmerised by it. And that was before he was joined by fellow Dutch magicians van Basten and Rijkaard, as well as many Italian stars whose purchases were bankrolled by a local boy done-good called Silvio Berlusconi, laying the foundations for Italy’s greatest ever club side. Can you imagine a time when Barcelona would lose a European final 4-0? Well, that’s what Sacchi’s AC Milan did to them in 1994… and Barcelona weren’t that bad back then, either!

These days, I don’t support anyone in Italy. ‘Calciopoli’ took my love away. I can’t get excited about something whose legality I cannot take for granted, or at least think of as likely. Sure, there probably isn’t a league that is 100% clean: but Italy’s been taking scandals to another level. Far better focusing solely on the Blades whilst keeping an eye on the beauty of FCBarcelona, if only to compensate for the heartache that goes with that first bit…
So, I don’t support any team in Italy. Would it really hurt that much to drop my dislike for Genoa and at least wish them well for my Dad’s sake?

The rational answer to that is pretty straightforward. And you know what, I may just be able to do that. He’ll tell me all about them on The Sunday Catch-Up Call anyway (although, during my running training, this is becoming The Monday Evening Catch-Up Call – Sunday is Long Run Day!), so I might as well swim with the tide and be happy for him…
…now, when I wished Italy well against of the Euros final on Facebook, one of my best friends saw it as proof that 2012 really will see the end of the world, as per the Maya’s prediction. It doesn’t bear thinking what people would make of me dropping my dislike for Genoa in the name of my lifelong love for my Father. Heck, some may fear we might not even get to December.

p.s.: I saw Baggio twice at Marassi. The first time was a dull 1-1 between Genoa and Juve: nothing to report. Then, on August 10, 1997, one of those meaningless Summer tournaments where three teams all play two 45’ matches against each other was set alight by this.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

I'm still here!

Blimey… I’ve not written for a while, have I?

Well, it’s not for lack of activity. Since returning from Paris on July 6th I’ve been out running seven times, clocking up 63.3km. I’ve also started spending some time in the garage… not sorting it out (and boy does it need that!), but making use of the weight bench therein.

…oh yes, the weight bench. Don’t worry, I hear the murmurs. Why would Squintani own a weight bench? A garden bench, just about – but… a weight bench?

Fear not, I never bought the thing. I never ventured onto a website thinking, “I know what, I’ll order a weight bench today!”. I’m not even sure I own it… Basically, a couple were parting ways and we were asked to host the weight bench in our garage for a little while. We have a double garage and only one car that never enters the garage anyway, so, even with the useless junk that needs taking to the tip (all of one mile away from our place) knocking around, we can usually fit the odd weight bench in. And we did. And we do. I’m not sure the bloke (whom I’ve never met) has any intention of ever coming to look for his weight bench, and over the last two weeks I’ve finally sat on it and started to acquaint myself with it. Our relationship is still in its infancy, but with the so-called summer we’re having we find each other’s company bearable. Plus everywhere I read it tells you to not overdo it on the running, so I might as well expand the scope of my activities. As McCabe probably said at some point when buying another club somewhere in the world… but let’s not go there. That (amongst other things) is what A United View is for!

The old weight-loss thing’s going alright, too. I’m 4.4kg down on three weeks ago and, more importantly, probably some twenty kilos down on when I had my op last November. I’m now at a level with which I’m comfortable, so much so that my fear of having to buy new jeans because my current ones are too small has being replaced by fear of having to buy smaller ones! Not in any great hurry, mind. Anyway, losing another stone (in a switch to imperial!) would be nice, but we’ll see. The less weight I have to cart round Endcliffe Park in a couple of months’ time, the better!

On the whole, though, I’ve not felt the same urge to blog about my little runs. They’re becoming increasingly normal, even my 15k ones. OK, so I’ve only been on one of those since my previous post, but still… This, of course, is a good thing. It means that what used to be a spectacular achievement is now less so, that my standards of what is achievable are rising. Running 10k is no longer daunting. My next challenge, mind, is to up the pace a little. I’m fitter but not faster and I want to bridge that gap a little. I’m trying to do this on 5k runs first with a view to upgrading to 10k in due course, but I know it won’t be easy. I also know that all my runs, even the 5k ones, feature hills – which is great for building stamina but not necessarily so for improving speed, much as I am consciously trying to do that. Last but by no means least, I know that the 101010 route will be different to my practice ones: what I don’t know is how that will work for me. So predictions are hard. And pointless. All that matters, right now, is that I keep getting fitter and feeling better. Hopefully some speed gain will ensue.
If not
ah well. No worries.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Parisian Runways (and a cracking little run once home)

Right… quick update on the week just gone. To keep it short, I’m going to use my Facebook status:
“My week in one status: Breathtaking city (Paris), mind-blowing concerts (Springsteen - night 2 was the stuff of legends), the best of friends (can't tag you… but you know who you are!) and an awesome weekend with my wonderful family: the one and only Mrs S, my soul-mate and my lover and the incomparable, relentless, sweet, cheeky and adorable Big'Un & Littl'Un double-act. One very lucky man. Anyroad, work tomorrow!”

As an addendum to that, some running stats:
before flying out to Paris, I managed to run 15.5k. Took me 1h43’, but still an achievement for someone who can’t stand running and who, until April, couldn’t even run to the nearest post box (and we’re not that isolated!). I never stopped!
I did run in Paris. Such a sight, in my glo-yellow top and shorts! We were staying in Bagnolet, to the East of the city: I just headed out of the hotel and ran for around half an hour on Wednesday and Thursday morning. On the Wednesday, I got downstairs to find students clogging up the entrance – got some strange looks, to which the locals of Bagnolet soon added theirs… On the Thursday, having run along a park with views across the City, I actually stumbled across a running track and detoured onto it for a few laps. Now, when running near home I wear glo-yellow for safety on country roads. This felt somewhat redundant on the safety of a track, whose users included Asian women walking backwards and doing Tai-Chi… so again, some weird looks. And I’m sure that, en route back to the hotel, some young schoolchildren walking in the opposite direction pointed to me and asked their teacher what I was!
(n.b.: I flew back on Friday. But getting in from the concert at 3:30am and having no intention whatsoever of packing a sweaty, stinky shirt meant there was no danger of me running that morning!)

Now, for some real running stuff…
…last night (wearing a shirt in a more boring shade of brown/grey, but still in yellow shorts), I ran one of my more usual routes, three laps of an downhill/uphill route totalling 8.5k. I had last run it on June 18 in 58’56”. I’d not run it since in so far that I had added a flat detour in between laps to reach the 10k mark. I was going to run three laps on Saturday but just felt generally tired, more because of my trip to Paris than from a strictly running perspective, so cut it to two but really went for it on the second. Anyway, again yesterday I made an effort to “go for it” on the uphill sections, and ended up coming in at… 51’34”. That’s 7’22” less than sixteen days prior, with 77 days still to go before race day. There’s hope for this old codger yet…
…indeed, this old codger is now fully comfortable with the notion of a 10k run. Heck, he’s done 15.5k! What he needs to do is try and improve his speed. So I expect to run this particular 8.5k track in this fashion more regularly, really giving my legs a workout on the more brutal uphill section.

(As I’ve said before, I don’t really have a target time in mind for the 101010. I have no precedent, I’ve not sat down to look at my race tempo, splits or owt like that. But to finish in less than one hour would be cool. It just intuitively sounds good, right? But I have no research to back up my likelihood of doing so away from North Somerset and on the unknown route of the 101010. Still, can’t do any harm to work towards that… that’s what the scales suggested this morning, anyway! To have been away for three days last week and still manage to lose weight did make me smile a little, I must admit.)

Enough for now – expect another post later in the week about my trip to Paris. Some things, some experiences just demand to be written about.