A year in preparation

I mentioned in my Dublin marathon race report that I’d show some data from the year of training leading up to that race. What do you have to do to run a 2:46 marathon?
Let’s start with the year before I started preparing, i.e. from November 2007 to October 2008. Here’s a graph of all the running I did during that period (the blue bars are km of running per week):
Running And Weight, 24-12 Months Before Dublin
You can see that I started running regularly in September 2008. Before that I was playing a fair bit of golf, cycling to work and running occasionally for fitness’ sake. I logged 403km of running for the whole year, and most of that was done in September and October.
Look at all my training for that same period:
Time, Cumulative 2-1 Year Before Dublin
This is a graph accumulating time so hours for each week are added to the grey columns, and I was averaging 3 and a half hours a week of mostly cycling to work with the odd run. I logged a total of 171 hours for that 12 month period, and the increasing steepness of the “curve” towards the end of the year reflects that start to my run training. The gap in December 2007 and part of January occurred just after Annabel was born. She was in the neonatal unit from her birth until Christmas and I spent that entire period with her, Kim and Jack and doing what they needed. I didn’t cycle to work as I was ferrying Kim and Jack around by car, and the neonatal unit is at the hospital by the university. You can also see a drop in sleep hours (green line) between the start and end of that period, but I doubt I recorded much data during that period at all. I was on coffee and Red Bull to try and maintain brain function.
Let’s compare those data with the 12 months leading up to the marathon then:
Running And Weight, 12 Months Before Dublin
That’s quite a nice, organised chart. You can see the increasing volume with each week (blue bars are km run per week), with recovery periods every 4 weeks and a few easy weeks in places for mental and physical recovery. I went from running the occasional 5km in 2008 to a big week of 122km, which was actually a total of 143km in 7 days from Sunday to Saturday (I raced a half-marathon in Pembrokeshire on the Sunday and then ran 122km over the next 6 days). I logged 3294km over that 12 month period. The marathon week is at the far right of the chart, and you can see the taper weeks leading to it.
That’s a huge and potentially dangerous increase in running volume, and I was only able to do it with the help of Gareth Davies at the Swansea University Sports Village who looked after my legs. As a sports therapist he picked out my weaknesses and gave me strength training programmes to fix them, and massage to help me repair. With time the long runs got easier and became normal runs, and the long runs got longer. When I started running it was with the thought of running a sub-3 hour marathon, but I still remember finding 7-minute/mile pace really tough and thinking, “26.2 miles of that?!”
I had never competed at half marathon distance before. I don’t think I’d ever run more than 7 miles before.
So I’ve suggested that I was doing more than just running. Let’s look at my training hours for everything (running, cycling, swimming and strength work):
Time, Cumulative 1 Year Before Dublin
Compared to the previous year that’s a monster chart. It’s another cumulative chart adding hours onto hours. I logged 656 hours of training and averaged 12 hours a week. As I got used to the volume 12 hours became a damned easy week. I’m still training for around 10 hours a week now in the off season when I’m just doing what I feel like. Clearly, early in the season I was still getting used to training and running again, and as the volume increased I began to average 15 hour weeks later in the season. The blue line is a measure of exertion (taken from heart rate data) and the peaks indicate races or particularly hard training sessions. If you look closely at each week block you can often see a small peak mid-week (tempo run) and a taller peak at the end of the week (long run). The biggest peak of them all at the end of the chart is the marathon.
There’s a big difference between the 2 12-month periods. I think I’m probably on for a 650-hour year for this calendar year, and with the swap towards cycling I’ll probably have a 700-hour year next year. That’s about as much as I can fit in at the moment (with some serious time management).
So what does it take to run a 2:46 marathon? Well, it took me around 650 hours of training, with almost 3300km (2063miles) of running, 2 hours a week in the gym, 5 hours a week on the bike and a couple of swims a week for a year. Volume did wonderful things to my legs but without the other work to strengthen my legs and core I wouldn’t have managed it.
There are far too many important factors in all of this to list, but being aware of my fatigue and recovery was crucial to me this year. Also, following training plans from the Runner’s World Smart Coach pushed me and showed me that I was capable of more than I would have expected. Reading as much as I could also helped me understand what I was doing. Joe Friel and Peak Performance have always been awesome sources of information. Inevitably however, much of training and racing is finding out what works best for you. And that’s part of the fun.

Google Wave, aha, I get it

Logo Preview
There’s been a lot of chatter about Google’s new product, “Wave“, for the last couple of months. Looking from the outside it’s difficult to see what it does, what it does different, and what we can really use it for. It’s in beta at the moment so only a limited number of people are able to actually use it.
I was kindly given an invitation to try it and as soon as I got into the preview it was clear how hugely beneficial this could be to people like me with organisational nightmares. To teach anatomy we have 2 main lecturers, 3 technicians and dozens of clinical teachers. We need to co-ordinate the teaching of 450 learning outcomes, a shed-load of exam questions, and the use of a varying number of prosections, models, bones, projectors, laptops, and rooms among a different group of people every week. Try doing that through email. Luckily Jo’s brain can cope with much of this but we still make mistakes.
So imagine something that’s easy to access that looks like email. Except that we can all edit, add to and delete our plans live (we can all edit the same stuff at once, and see those edits in real-time) and talk about it while we do it. This is all well organised in itself and we share these waves among those that need the information and keep the others to ourselves.
I can see who will be teaching which learning outcomes, have a discussion about how to link my bits in with other people’s bits, lob up images for the other teachers to use, and Greg (our technician) can suggest the materials we have available and we can all argue about who gets to use the plastic model of the arm with the nerves on it and who gets to use the prosections. Good stuff, eh? I can argue with a surgeon that he’s better suited to teaching part of the abdomen, and I can amend his assigned learning outcomes and he can suggest additions and take away stuff that’s not important. The history of this development is all recorded – nothing is lost and we can all see who did what.
The discussions we need are far more likely to take place in this environment than face-to-face. We’re all too busy and most of the people involved need 6 weeks notice to get help with clinics if they’re going to spend a morning with us. Try getting 4 or 5 of those people in a room together. It’s not easy.
The key here is that it’s very easy to use. People are scared of wiki’s but they won’t be scared of this. The whole School of Medicine could take advantage of this.
Take a look at this long preview video and see if it makes sense for you. You can use Wave with me using samvwebster@googlewave.com.

Week 110 – anatomy of the elbow (well, movements & muscles)

On Monday I spent most of the morning flexing my guns and poking my cubital fossa. Our aims were to look at the movements of the elbow joint, the muscles involved, and the important structures passing through this region, with particular regard to the cubital fossa. That video makes me feel a little bit ill. And I’m an anatomist.
We talked about the major movements of flexion and extension of the elbow joint, which you all were aware of, and mentioned pronation and supination of the forearm. I didn’t talk about the bones or the articulating surfaces in much detail as my clinical colleagues had pinched all the skeletons, and I’m sure they did a far better job of talking about the osteology than I would have done. Focusing on flexion and extension we identified the three main muscles involved: biceps brachii, brachialis and triceps brachii.
The biceps brachii muscle has 2 heads. The short head arises from the coracoid process of the scapula and the long head arises from the supraglenoid tubercle (lumpy bit above the glenoid cavity of the shoulder joint). The long head must pass through the shoulder joint, change direction and then run through the bicipital groove (or intertubercular sulcus) in the humerus. Have a brief look at the humerus and scapula in the anatomy lab to be clear on where these bony bits are.
The fibres of the biceps brachii muscle come together distally to insert into the radial tuberosity (another lumpy bit, on the radius). This means that not only is the biceps muscle a flexor of the elbow joint, but it can also powerfully supinate the forearm when the elbow joint is already flexed. Try this out next time you’re turning a screw or a bolt – feel biceps contract as you supinate the forearm and tighten the bolt. This also explains the different biceps flexing poses that bodybuilders may use to show off biceps (i.e. it’s bigger when the forearm is supine – get posing in front of the mirror to check this).
Bicipital aponeurosisThe other thing we talked about with regards to biceps was that you can palpate not only the tendon inserting into the radius but also a weird, flat tendon medially. This is the bicipital aponeurosis (see me poking mine in the photo to the right), and connects the biceps to the deep fascia of the forearm. Clever, eh?
Don’t forget that as biceps brachii also crosses the shoulder joint it is also able to flex the glenohumeral (shoulder) joint, although it’s not great at this.
Deep to biceps we found the brachialis muscle arising from the humerus and passing across the elbow joint to insert into the tuberosity of the ulna. This muscle is flattened, and is the most powerful flexor of the elbow joint. The musculocutaneous nerve runs between brachialis and biceps brachii, innervating both muscles.
To extend the elbow joint we use one muscle: triceps brachii. By it’s name this must be a muscle of the brachium (upper arm) with 3 heads. The long head comes from the infraglenoid tubercle on the scapula (on the other side to the long head of biceps brachii), the medial head comes from the posterior surface of the humerus and the lateral head also comes from the posterior surface of the humerus, but a little more laterally. There’s a groove between the medial and lateral heads, and in this groove we find the radial nerve. This is the nerve of the posterior compartment of the arm and it is innervating the triceps muscle.
All of the muscle fibres of triceps come together to insert in the bony, sticky outy bit of the elbow (very sticky outy in my case, as some of you noticed): the olecranon. The olecranon is part of the ulna, so contraction of the triceps muscle pulls the olecranon and extends the elbow.
2009-09-11--BrachioradialisThe next bit to look at was the cubital fossa. We had to find the brachioradialis and pronator teres muscles to find the lateral and medial borders, and add an imaginary line between the epicondyles of the humerus to add the proximal boundary. Brachioradialis is pretty easy to find on the lateral edge of the anterior supinated forearm, running from the humerus to the radius as the name implies. It is also innervated by the radial nerve, and when we lifted the brachioradialis muscle at the border of the cubital fossa we found the radial nerve twisting around the humerus to get to the anterior side.
Pronator teres was a little trickier to find, but it was clearly running diagonally across the proximal part of the forearm. Structures within the cubital fossa looked as though they would be protected by the biciptial aponeurosis.
What did we find in there? We saw the median nerve running (medially) alongside the brachial artery within the fossa itself (i.e. superficially to brachialis but deep to the fascia and skin) and noted that the median cubital vein, from which blood is commonly taken, was a superficial structure here. You remembered, of course, that this was where you listened to the brachial pulse when taking someones’s blood pressure.
After chatting about funny bones, we realised that we could now find all the major neurovascular structures of the upper limb at the elbow. The ulnar nerve is where we bang it (that made more sense during the discussion), the radial nerve is deep to brachioradialis, the median nerve is on the medial side of the cubital fossa with the brachial artery, and the musculocutaneous nerve peters out from between the biceps brachii and brachialis muscles as a cutaneous nerve, having done it’s “musculo” job.
Not bad for 25 minutes work.
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Dublin Marathon – race report

4053615216 8Bde6B14B6 OFor the biggest race of my running year I really don’t have that much to say. I’ll post some stats, data and training histories soon to show my build up.
Kim and I wandered to the start with 13,000 other competitors and I got settled into position near the front nice and late after a very brief warm up. My heart rate was very high at 120bpm when stood in the crowd of runners behind the start line, although I felt relaxed & ready. The wheelchair athletes started about 5 minutes before us, and then we started at the same time as the elites at 9am.
The first mile was fast and downhill, so even keeping my effort easy I ran the first mile in under 6 minutes. My race plan was 6:30min/mile pace to halfway, 6:20 pace from miles 13 to 20, and expecting a fade to 6:30 pace for the final miles but hoping for a strong, hard finish. I felt that this plan was a little conservative, based on my running and progression rate this year, but I intended to stick to it for my first marathon.
The second mile, as must all things that come down, went up, still through thick crowds up and out of the centre of Dublin. I ran this mile in 6:58, I think, HR fairly steady, effort level feeling on target. I was happy for runners to be swept along around and ahead of me, but by the third mile we’d all settled into our paces, more or less, and I was onto 6:30 pace before we got to the park.
Phoenix park is lovely, and the miles started to tick by as I warmed up. Water, gels, miles, steps – this was easy running. I hit the 10km mark at 39:46, and at the time remembered that was my finishing time for my 10km race in Margam Park a year ago! So my pace was a little up on 6:30min/mi, but my effort level was easy and this was backed up by my heart rate. It felt as though a lot of the first half of the race was downhill and I picked up a lot of places and time with efficient technique rather than effort. The miles kept ticking by.
At halfway I crossed the timer at 1:23:11 and started doing the maths in my head. I felt that to even split this race (and smash my original target of 2:49) I was going to have to work bloody hard to run the second half in another 1:23. The first half had been easy but I had little idea of what my legs would be like beyond 20 miles. If the first half of the race truly had been a little downhill, then the second half certainly wouldn’t be.
From the halfway mark I began to race, and so did the guys around me. We were all working harder, running faster, but with respect to one another there was little change. Every few miles I moved through groups, mostly leaving runners on the descents & sticking with others through flats and climbs. In small groups we picked off fading runners and the occasional elite in difficulty or female elite. Miles 13-20 were starting to feel hard, as I had expected, and parts of the course out there were not as pleasant to run through as the park had been. Mile markers were often placed at water stations and in the focus for getting water I often missed the markers, missing my split times and annoyed that I wasn’t marking my progress. I had started to run for the markers, counting up the miles to mile 20. It was getting harder, but I was keeping pace.
I grinned at the mile 20 marker. I hit this marker at around 2:06 or 2:07, so had to run my final 10km in under 40 minutes, just like the first 10km, to hit 2:46. I could do that. The mile markers started to feel further and further apart though, and my legs didn’t take much advantage of the downhill running of miles 22 & 23, back towards the city centre.
From the mile 23 marker onwards my brain and legs were strongly suggesting that I should stop, and that 6:30 pace really wasn’t on. “Shut up, brain. You haven’t run this distance before, so this fatigue is an unknown. My legs can do this”. Keep pushing. For a little while I had been running ahead of a guy called Ben, with his name written on his shirt. I could hear the shouts of, “G’wan Ben!” and, “Keep going Ben” getting further and further behind me. I knew I was still running strongly, I was still tall, and I was putting distance between me and my competitors. I really wanted 2:46. I really wanted 2:46.
4053618610 08B4Df3DcdA couple of small bridges really challenged my pace, but I blasted hard up them and pushed forward down the other side. As I recognised the scenery from training runs and got closer to Trinity College I got a bit emotional, which really does make breathing difficult. This was the culmination of a year’s hard, hard work, and I was going to smash a target I was really unsure that I could meet. With a mile and a quarter to go I was safe, and I pushed as hard as I could. The crowd was thick, loud, and got narrower and narrower as I curved around Trinity and hit the 26 mile marker. I saw Kim in the crowd as she and all around her shouted at me and for the first time this year I couldn’t even muster a smile. All I had was pain. Pain and seconds ticking away. It felt great.
I crossed the line at 2:46:45 by my watch and 2:46:51 by the big clock. Stopping after running so hard for so long was a weird sensation as the world rushed past me, rather like when you get off a treadmill. I almost vomited, was almost caught by a finish line attendant, and almost walked into an interview, but I held myself up and shuffled around as my head cleared. Satisfaction, happiness that it was over and at what I had achieved, but no buzz. That elusive buzz – I thought I might get it again from this.
The walk around the square to meet Kim was endless and I had clearly destroyed my legs. Walking was pain. When I eventually got to Kim she helped me sit down & change into warm clothes. My legs didn’t want to bend, flex, or move themselves. They were done. That is probably what I am most proud of – that I paced this race so well, and gave everything to it. There’s no such thing as a perfect race, they say, but on a personal level this was as close as I’ll ever get. I’ve got as much time as I want to recover now, and my legs will be well looked after to let them repair from all the horrible things I’ve done to them this year. And then they’ll be learning how to ride a bike hard, again.
Race data: (ignore the dodgy altitude data of the first 2 miles)
Dublin Marathon 09 - Dodgy Altitude
Results: (dublinmarathon.ie/results.php)
Dublin Marathon 2009 Result
Flickr photos: