Archive for January, 2011

James Brown said it well*

January 25, 2011

High time I wrote something. Sorry for those hanging on my every word. Yes, I mean that however you want to read it!

I’m glad to say things are going well for this particular Masters athlete. Funny, but it’s taken me all these years to realise that the path towards progress is not linear. It’s an old truism that you don’t get fit from training, you get fit by recovering from training. I never used to take that in the right way. Surely resting/bunking off sessions etc won’t get you fit? Correct, of course – the saying says “…recovering from training”. It presupposes the existence of appropriate quality training, in sufficient volume to require rest.

In the period from mid November, despite the heel injury mentioned in my previous blog (and of which more shortly) my training regime began to click into place. Now, given the amount of snow around, that might not be an experience everyone shares this winter, but much of my own training is done in a well-equipped and spacious gym. I coped almost without interruption. But what did work particularly well was rest.

Now, I regard myself as a bit of a slob, able when necessary, to sleep for England. That isn’t how I am perceived, I know. Not being able (owing to snow etc) to rush around everywhere, and in the slight pre-Christmas lull of work commitments, I spent more time than usual just sitting, reading and writing.

And it worked. My regime (bear in mind I am almost 57) is one session, followed by two days off. This gives a neat three sessions a week. I’ve been good at maintaining this for the last three months or so, and fitting real life around it. However, there was also a secret weapon. I’ve been using an iPhone app called “ithlete” and the radio dongle that works with it.

“Ithlete” looks at heart rate variability, rather than just heart rate. You use it for a minute every morning, and it builds a chart over time of your changing fitness, need for rest, readiness for hard training, etc (see diagram, which is mine for the last month). Not going into the technical stuff here, but the graph clearly showed me that increasing fitness was a case of improve, slow down or drop back a bit, and improve some more.

The makers of ithlete also make an iPhone heart rate monitor, which is good, but a little less convenient to use than a wristwatch one. I have written a review of some apps like this for the SCVAC “Southerner” magazine, to which I will post a link as soon as I have computers working again (just in the middle of going Mac)

My other secret weapon relates to my left heel, which has been plagued for two months by plantar fasciitis. See last blog. When I got the night splint I ordered from these people, I wondered what I’d taken on. Pretty it is not, and it took several nights to get the tension of the straps right. The splint works the theory that some plantar conditions are exacerbated by the tendency of your feet to point downwards while you sleep. Relief comes from the splint stopping that, holding the foot level, and slightly stretching the calf muscles in the night. Loads of adjustment in the one I bought. I hoped that this was my problem.

And it was, and it worked – almost immediately! I lost the intense pain I’d had walking about the house first thing in the morning within a couple of days. Over a week or so, much of the persistent daily pain lessened too. My calves became the focal point for some deep massage again from Mike, my brilliant sports masseur. While not yet tested at full speed, things are almost back to normal, I think. I have to add a plug for my Vibram FiveFingers shoes too, which I am now wearing at every opportunity. The Bikila model of these that I now wear in the gym have proved perhaps to be the biggest boon to my leg strength and fitness for some time.

As I write, I am about to start indoor racing. First race in a few days from now. I have sadly decided not to do the Scottish Championships and defend my two titles from last year. To do so would have meant racing four weekends in succession, and I’m just not ready for that sort of assault on my body. Could just be a little too much for my build up for the Europeans in March.

Many of you who read this have been kind enquire how I am coping with my depression. I’m happy to say the answer lately has been “very well, thanks”. Christmas in Siena in Tuscany really helped, but I even feel some days like I’m getting better. How very different to this time a year ago!


* The “James Brown” reference is, of course, to his song “I Feel Good”. But you’d worked that out, hadn’t you?


Heel or Heal?

January 1, 2011

Ok, what passes for normal around here resumes.

I can’t grumble about the break. Part of it involved spending Christmas in Siena, in Tuscany. Apart from being a dream place in its own right, Siena is slap in the middle, between Chianti country and the southern Tuscan paradise containing gems like Pienza, and Montepulciano. For overload, San Gimignano is close by, too. A better break from training, I could not have asked for.

I’m firmly convinced the break did me good. My figures on the ithlete iPhone app that I mentioned in my last blog look to be going in the right direction, and I feel more relaxed about life in general than has been the case for quite a long time.

The only fly in the ointment at present is my heel. Diagnosed as a form of plantar fasciitis, I am in a quandary familiar to many Masters athletes. My preparation for the indoor track season, including the European Masters Indoors in Ghent, in March, requires that I start to crank up the work rate around now. My needs to get shot of the heel problem require this to be a period of rest. A bit of both is a recipe for improving neither health nor performance. Catch 22.

So what does the Masters athlete do? I’m about to resume full training and crank it up. That’s because it doesn’t hurt when I train. It’s just bloody painful first thing in the morning, and when I walk about a lot. Excruciating, in fact. However, it is “just” pain. There’s no impairment of function. So, counter-intuitive though it might be, the recipe is regular massage and manipulation (actually the most painful thing about the whole episode!), an ice-bucket, and the right shoes. Good by-product is that we’re drinking more white wine. Last of my case of 1996 Montbazillac sweet Burgundy has almost gone. I also get to spend serious time in my Vibram Fivefingers shoes, which continue to be absolutely brilliant.

I’m also adjusting to every night spent in a night splint for my left foot. This is a bit like a cut down, calf length ski boot, designed to prevent my foot from flexing downwards (ie pointing) at night. Weird to begin with, but the improvement in my heel pain first thing in the morning was instant. This has convinced me that the condition is curable in the long term, and manageable in the medium term, even if painful in the short term.

Amazing how well you can convince yourself, isn’t it?

Training-wise, I was quite pleased to finish my pre-Christmas sessions with my first 10,000 kg weights set. 2x5x10x100kg on the leg press device, if you’re interested. My quads and calves were singing for a bit, afterwards. That’s a pretty big weight altogether, when you think about it – around 22,000 lbs. and it’s going to go higher soon!

New Year Resolutions? Nope. Making it to 31 December would be good.

See you next time.