Just when I think it is all going so well.

So I am feeling a lot fitter, managed a 10K PB and am feeling good.  

I decided to go out for a slow 10K on Tuesday night this week to stretch the legs and keep up the marathon training.  I ran the first 6km with no trouble, then I started to feel a acute pain above my ankle bone on the inside of my left leg.   

I have felt this pain before, but never as acutely as I did on this occasion.  I was 6km from home with only one real way to get back so I decided to push on and run with the pain.  My logic here was that at some point in both the upcoming marathon and the Ironman race I am going to have to run through some pain so this was a good opportunity to practice.

My pace slowed from 6min/km to over 7min/km and I laboured on, trying to keep my run form good through the windy, rainy conditions.  My ankle didn’t get any more painful; however it was already a solid 7 out of 10 on the pain meter.  The kilometers slowly and painfully rolled on and eventually I got home.

Having had a bit of time to think about why this injury might have occurred and what to do about it I have come up with the following self diagnosis.

My Lunas

  1. I pressed hard at Stubbington 10K and may have aggravated something.  This was then made worse when I went out running again only 2 days after the race.
  2. Running in minimalist shoes (in my case Luna Sandals) can hammer your Achilles and other tendons in that region if your calves / tendons are not used to the strain or strong enough.
  3. When other muscles in my body tire out (hamstrings, glutes, quads etc) my form suffers and this could compound any lower leg injuries.
How scientific this diagnosis is I cannot say; however the more I train and read up about training / injury prevention the more I am understanding my body and how it works.  Based on the above I have decided on the below as a solution.

  1. No running at all for a minimum of 10 days (give myself a good chance to heal up)
  2. When I do run again, start with only a couple of miles maximum and build back up slowly.
  3. Plenty of stretching / calf strengthening exercises to supplement the running.
  4. Go back to running in shoes.
Now of all the points above number 4 is by far the most controversial.  Most people think I am mad for running either barefoot or in the Luna Sandals; however when I took up barefoot running I could not even run to the end of the road without getting shin splints.  

The barefooting seemed to stop the shin splints from occurring and only now my distances have increased barefooting has started to cause alternative problems (eg this achilles/ankle tendon injury).  The only reason for this is that I have had to increase my distances too fast; however this was necessary in order to get up to marathon running distances in time for the Brighton marathon in April.

Running barefoot means you to land with a “forefoot strike”, which many running coaches promote as the best form for running. If you imagine jumping up and down on the spot barefooted you will be landing on your forefoot.  Running is essentially landing on one foot over and over again.  Modern running shoes make it possible to land on your heel when running as they are highly padded.  This is known as heel striking. It would be hugely painful to jump up and down barefooted whilst landing on your heels (try it if you don’t believe me).  The shock of this though your legs can cause all sorts of pain just doing it once, let alone again and again when running.The padding on modern running shoes allows you to run landing on your heels, and 90% of all recreational runners will be running using a heel strike.  

It is my opinion that regular heel striking in running shoes was sending shocks through my lower legs causing my previous shin splints.

Since taking up barefooting, I now land on my forefoot with a much softer landing.  This instantly reduced the load on my shins and the shin splints have not occurred.

The drawback from forefoot striking either barefoot or in minimalist shoes is that you put a lot of stretch through your achilles tendons and other tendons in your ankles.

If your calves are tight (which mine definitely are) this stops the tendons from being able to stretch and therefore they take a bit of a bashing and respond by getting inflamed and causing pain.

During short runs (10K or less in my case) this does not seem to happen to me unless I really push the pace.  Longer runs seem to cause these issues.  Building calf flexibility takes a long time; therefore I have decided to revert back to running in shoes to protect my tendons whilst at the same time making my calves stronger and more flexible.

The good running form that barefooting has taught me can also be applied to running in shoes; however there should be a bit less overall strain and I should be able to run for longer.

This is the plan and I am sticking with it.  It leaves me woefully short on time for getting up to speed for the marathon; however it does mean that I should be in fine form come the Ironman.

Fingers crossed this plan works.


Stubbington Green 10K – The Acid Test

It’s 7am on Sunday 18th January and my alarm has just gone off, must be time for the Stubbington Green 10K.

Now as this is my first event of 2015 I was understandably excited and keen to get going.  My reaction to the alarm going off was to set it to go off again at 8am and get back to sleep.  God knows why I was getting up so early for a 10am race start.  What was I thinking?

So, it’s 8am on Sunday 18th January and my alarm has just gone off (for the second time), must be time for the Stubbington Green 10K.

Up out of bed, shower, running gear on, bowl of porridge and I am out the door on the way to Stubbington.  The weather forecast was for it to be cold but the rain to stay away.  The look of the sky as I got closer to Stubbington said otherwise and as I parked my car I was hoping that the weather would hold and it would not rain.

Really, running in the rain doesn’t bother me; however I run either barefoot or in my Luna Sandals (picture on the right) most of the time and barefoot running in the rain is no fun.  Your feet get cold and the wet ground has a much more abrasive effect on your feet than when it is dry.  Deciding to stick with the sandals I put my rain jacket in my bag (just in case) and headed towards the main race area at the community centre.

Having already collected my race number, I only had to drop off my bag and then I was ready to go.  Now when I say it was cold it was cold.  Too cold for standing around in running gear, so after a quick trip to the loo I slowly jogged towards the start.

The start was set in waves, with me going in the green wave (second to last group) as my projected run time was around 60 minutes and the organisers would not want a plodder like me holding up the swifter runners.

It was my plan to meet up with Curry before the race; however he had given me the cryptic directions to meet him “where the closed Budgens used to be”.  Now I had now idea where this might be in the village of Stubbington so just decided to keep an eye out for him at the start.  Sure enough I spotted him whilst I was jogging on the spot and doing a bit of stretching to keep warm.  

Curry in his “short shorts”

Curry clearly does not feel the cold like I do, as he had on a pair of shorts that really did not leave very much to the imagination.  Have you ever heard that song “Who Wears Short Shorts” by The Royal Teens?  If you haven’t, allow me to explain.  In the song they sing “Who wears short shorts?”.  Well the answer to that question is that Curry wears short shorts.  I have enclosed a picture on the left to give you an idea just how short his shorts were.  

Anyway, after I got over the initial shock of just how short Curry’s shorts were, we had a brief chat before it was time for the off.  Curry jogged ahead to join his wave (as he is a quicker runner than I am) and I headed back down the queue of starters to join in with the fellow green wave competitiors.

Before the race I had two ideas in my head.  Firstly I wanted to try to get under 60 minutes, with a stretch target of under 55 minutes if I felt good on the day.  Secondly I wanted to run a negative split.

A negative split is when you run the second half of the race faster than the first half.  This is standard practice for most professional athletes.  Also it works brilliantly for each leg of a triathlon as you get time to adjust to the new discipline as you swap between swimming/cycling/running.  Practicing running a negative split is always a good idea.

Crossing the start line I start my Garmin running and set out at a comfortable pace.  Glancing down at my watch after a few minutes I noticed I was running at 5:15min/km pace.  This is a bit quick for me; however I felt good and my heart rate was around threshold so I decided to stick with it.

Quick note on threshold heart rate.  This is between 82% and 87% of your maximum heart rate and is an intensity that you should be able to maintain for an hour.  My maximum heart rate is 191, meaning that threshold occurs somewhere around 156-166 beats per minute. 

Running downhill, then up, I was quickly past the 2km mark and then the 3km mark.  I still felt good and was holding steady at around 5:30min/km with a steady heart rate between 155 and 160bpm.  Things were going well and I felt great.  It was superb to be running with such a large group of fellow athletes (2000 registered for the event) and I was even overtaking a few people.

Grabbing a bottle of water just before the 5km mark I had a couple of swigs, dropped the bottle in the bin then had a think about what I should do.  I was through 5km in around 27 minutes and felt OK.  It was always my plan to run the second half of the race faster than the first, but how much faster?  Kicking on I made a concerted effort to keep my pace as close to 5:10min/km as I could.  This was all going well until we got to the only major hill on the course.  Determined to get up this hill quickly and not let it slow my pace I pushed hard and remarkably my body responded well.  I flew past a good few runners and getting to the top of the hill felt fine.  My heart rate was up but recovered quickly and I was back to pace again.

It was at this point that a huge smile came across my face.  I realised that I can actually do this running business.  My race plan was working.  All of the hours I have spent in the pool, on the bike and running the dark cold streets of Pompey were paying off.  I couldn’t help thinking about Trevor (Triathlon coach) and the gang who I train with on Monday’s and Wednesday nights.  All of those evenings spent with Trevor putting us through punishing intervals were for exactly this.  There is danger of me becoming a proper Triathlete yet!

Pushing on past the 7km mark for the final 3km I felt brilliant.  My pace remained at around 5min/km and I was overtaking even more people.  With 2km to go I picked up my run rate determined to put in a quick end to the race.  With 1km to go I matched the very lithe and extremely quick fella next to me stride for stride right up to 50 metres from the line (where he finally put the burners on and lost me).

Over the line I stopped my watch and was gobsmacked as it read 52:36.  52 minutes and 36 seconds!  I, James “Iron” Snook, had run 10K in 52 minutes and 36 seconds.  This is a whopping 11 minutes faster than I had ever run 10K before.  To say I was pleased was an understatement.

My race plan had worked perfectly.  I ran a negative split, never ran out of energy and felt great for the entire run.  I attacked the uphills, relaxed on the downhills and really really enjoyed my race.  

As I sit on my sofa writing this I simply cannot wait for the rest of the 2015 season.  I will keep training hard, keep trying to eat right and hopefully go onto another personal best at the Arundel Lido Triathlon in May (my next event).

I hope that you and your family have had a great weekend.  Keep your eyes peeled for another blog update soon.



PS – If you are wondering about how Curry got on in his short shorts, he did rather well.  He also recorded a 10K PB of 51:33.  Perhaps there is something in these short shorts?  They really were so short!

Can I take the pace………..so far so good

All of a sudden I am starting to feel a lot fitter.  I am not entirely sure why but there is no doubt that I just generally feel fitter.

I mentioned this to my Tri coach tonight and he claims it is all down to him.  Perhaps he is right (though I would never admit that with him around). Trevor’s coaching that I attend on Mondays and Wednesdays is excellent and I love the sessions.  Bushy and I have started to do a bit extra too, going to the gym before and swimming after the Monday mobility sessions.  The Wednesday sessions are bike then mobility then swim and are 2.5 hours long so in total we are hitting about 5 hours training on Mondays and Wednesdays alone.

The view from my turbo trainer

What is most alarming is how much I am starting to enjoy my training.  When I am not attending the organised Monday and Wednesday sessions I find myself working out what I can fit on on that day. Be it a run, a swim or a turbo trainer session on my bike I am finding my drive to get on with training is very high.  

I managed just under 7 hours training last week (not including 2 hours of mobility work) which is getting towards my target of 10 hours per week.  If you are interested in more details about my training, I log everything on Strava and you can follow me here. https://www.strava.com/athletes/3133662?utm_source=top-nav

You could put it down to the fact that I have increased my training workload to my sudden feeling of increased fitness, but sadly I have only really done 1 week of increased workload and was incredibly lazy over the Christmas period so it can’t be down to this.  

Fortunately there is an acid test for all of this increased feeling of fitness.  On Sunday 18th Jan I am running the Stubbington Green 10K.  This is a local 10K race which I am competing in with a couple of mates and is my first event of 2015.  

As regular blog readers will know, running is by far my weakest triathlon discipline.  Over Christmas and through New Year I made a conscious effort to increase my running workload as I have now got only 12 weeks to the Brighton Marathon.  The unfortunate effect of this increased running is that I have picked up a niggling injury.  Is only a minor tendon strain and will go away with rest but it is slowing down my run training (in fact this week I have done no running at all).

So back to Stubbington on Sunday.  If my niggling injury holds itself at bay then it is the real test of whether I really have really got fitter or I just “feel” fitter.  My fastest ever 10K is 1hr 3mins, which was recorded at the end of a triathlon.  A stand alone 10K should be quicker than this as I have not had to swim and cycle first. IT is also worth considering that I have never run a stand alone 10K in a race before.

My fastest ever 5K is 26 minutes dead.  Logically a 10K should be double this plus add a bit on as it is obviously further so maintaining 5K pace for 10K would be challenging.  Using the Runners World Race Time Predictor, it tells me my 10K time should be 54 mins and 12 seconds.  I would be absolutely over the moon with any time under 55 minutes.  We will have to wait and see.

This is a bit of a rambling blog post with no real point so as I have jumped around all over the place it is worth mentioning one more thing.  I have launched my fundraising this week and now have a Just Giving page set up.  Please take a moment to have a look at the fantastic charity that I have chosen to compete for and the reasons why.  It would mean the world to me to hit my fundraising target and help a lot of unwell children and their families.

I think that about sums it up for this update.  My next update will be on Sunday after the race.  Fingers crossed that I am reporting a superb race and a quick time.

Take care all.


The fear of getting hurt

So the 2015 training is well under way.  With almost 4 hours of training already logged this week and a further swim and bike and long run to go onto the list I am going to be somewhere near my target of 10 hours of training.  The big question is, can I sustain this level?

The simple answer is, I have no idea.  It would appear logical that the more you train the more likely you are to get injured; however this is not necessarily the case.  Injuries are most likely to occur when you either increase your intensity too fast, or increase your distances too quickly.

Also it is logical that if I am going to get injured it will be whilst running.  When you consider run training, swim training and bike training the running definitely places the largest strain on my body.  Because of this it is clear that the run training is the one thing that I have to be the most careful with when it comes to doing more of it.

QE Parkrun on New Years Day

As part of my marathon training (Brighton Marathon is on April 12th) I am slowly increasing the distance of my”long runs”.  My last one was 10 miles, so this Sunday I have to do 11 miles etc etc.  As long as I keep the pace slow I should be able to complete the mileage without picking up any major injuries.  That’s the plan anyway 🙂

It is unlikely I will pick up any serious injuries cycling.  Cycling is low impact and as long as I listen to my body and keep a very close eye on any potential niggles I should be OK with increasing the weekly bike mileage.

Swimming is a bit of an unknown quantity to me.  It tires me out like nothing else and I do tend to feel it in my upper back and triceps when I have done a hard training session.  Whether I am likely to pick up an injury I just don’t know.  Guess I will just have to be careful.

The long and short of this post is that I live in almost permanent fear that I will get injured and be unable to train enough.  I spent most of last year with one sort of injury or another (especially the ongoing shin splints issues which have finally gone away) and am desperate for 2015 to not be plagued by injury so I can get in some quality training and a few good competitions, culminating in the Ironman in September.

That’s really it for this post, other than this very cool video from Strava showing my stats for 2014.  Is very quick and worth a look.  



New Year – here we go!

So it’s the 1st January 2015, the first day of the year that I will become an Ironman.  In fact, it is a mere 254 days until the race, so it is time to get organised.

It is fairly self evident that to swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles and then run a marathon you need to do a fair bit of training.  Pretty much everything I have read recommends trying to do about 10 hours training per week as a minimum.  This may sound fairly easy; however when you think about it 10 hours is more than an entire working day for most people.  It is a fair chunk of time to find and with a new baby Snook due in February it may prove tricky to fit the training in.

To combat against this as soon as I find a new job (I was made redundant on the 31st December 2014) I am going to hire myself a proper coach to help me along the way.  The man for the job is already lined up, all I need now is somebody to employ me.  I am open to any reasonable offers 🙂

So that takes care of the training part.  Next onto nutrition.  

There is no doubt in my mind that all the training in the world cannot fight against a poor diet.  I have never been one for dieting, in fact you could say that I have always been rather against the idea.  Food is delicious.  I eat almost everything (not keen on rice pudding or things like spotted dick, though I imagine I could eat them if forced).  Other than that I love it all.  

My wife and I are also partial to a take-a-way or 12 and I have always prided my self on being a good cook.  Nice tasting food is often not the most healthy (even when you cook it yourself) and for those reasons I have always pretty much eaten whatever I liked.

This has seen my weight rise from a svelt 13 stone (182 lbs – 83kg) when I was a teenager, to a much more portly 16 stone (224 lbs – 102kg) at the start of 2014.  Currently I weigh somewhere just over 14 stone (196lbs – 90kg), although I haven’t weighed myself post Christmas.

There is a lot of debate about what “race weight” people should compete at; however I have decided that whilst putting on my wetsuit in 254 days time I would like to weigh around 75kg (165lbs or just under 12 stone).  If I am being brutally honest I haven’t weighed this much since I was about 12.  That being said weight plays such a huge role in long distance triathlon that it is well worth my while to get the weight down and keep it down.

To do this, I am intending to follow a fairly simple mantra. 

Eat clean and make the right decisions 90% of the time.

“Eating clean” is a phrase that has been around in training for some time and simply refers to making sure that your diet does not have processed foods or an abundance of unhealthy fats or sugars in it.

I am also cutting out some things from my diet entirely.  This is going to be very tough for me, as the things I am cutting out are many of the things I simply love to eat/drink.  The list of these is below.

  • Alcohol
  • Take-a-way food
  • Crisps
  • Desserts
Some people might say that life without the above wouldn’t be worth living and in all honesty they may well be right.  As such I am not going to entirely deny myself the good things in life.  I still intend to eat an occasional bit of chocolate (especially when I have trained hard that day) and cake is a staple diet of most triathletes so will still have an odd bit of that when offered.  As my mantra says, I need to eat clean and make the right decisions on food 90% of the time.  If I have an occasional sausage roll or roast potato this is not going to kill me as long as I eat clean for the majority.

Other than that I will be cooking my own meals a lot more, utilising my slow cooker to make some delicious healthy stews and currys and eating a lot of porridge for breakfast.

The porridge worked well for me todayas I recorded a PB at the Queen Elizabeth Parkrun this morning.  Proof I actually attended is below (in the form of some muddy trainers)

So I think that is about it for my first blog update of the year.  I will be better at keeping this blog up to date during 2015 and will try to post on a weekly basis.

Fingers crossed I will find something interesting to talk about. I am feeling very confident about 2015 and cannot wait to get stuck into plenty of training and a few events.

Happy New Year to you and your family.  James