In need of some pumpkin seeds…

My last blog post on HRV got a great response and I’m grateful for that. Measuring HRV has been an eye opening experience but I still felt it wasn’t answering the question as to why everything was feeling so difficult with my running, why was it feeling like I was wading through treacle?

On a separate health issue I am scheduled in for an operation that will incidentally probably see me sidelined for a while afterwards. This week I had to go in for a pre op assessment, part of which involved blood tests. A few hours after leaving the hospital I received a phone call stating that my blood test results have come back showing me to be anaemic and also with a marginally low white blood cell count.

Slightly on the back foot I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask many questions as to how anaemic I am. However, I am aware that anaemia and running don’t make good bed companions. It would be plausible to think that this has been an issue since the turn of the year, and a key reason in my underperformance in training and racing. Running has been a constant upward learning curve and part of me wonders when I will have “everything in order” for a good prolonged period. It just feels too stop start so far. Everyone knows improvement is all about building sensible training over days, weeks, months, years…

The next steps are to talk to my GP about what is causing this issue and try to resolve. In the meantime I’ll be stocking up on pumpkin seeds amongst other things! Obviously with my operation on the horizon as well I’m of the mind that I need to take a break from running and build back up again when I am in a position to do so.

This is certainly not the end of my running. Although I wouldn’t expect to be competing or running for pbs anytime soon this has at least given me some possible reasons and answers. I am confident if I can sort these issues out I’ll come back stronger and faster.


Running goal: ON HOLD

I probably won’t be updating the blog as often over the next few weeks/months but I’d like to think I can set a target of competing again maybe in September, and something like the next cross country season would be an exciting prospect.

In the meantime, enjoy your running!


Training load, illness and Heart Rate Variabilty – my 2014 experience

Most regular readers of my running blog will know that 2014 hasn’t been a good year for me. I came out of the New Year a little run down (nothing new as I always go to London for NYE and invariably pick something up in the smog) and I have since had two further illnesses – a bug in February from which I probably didn’t fully recover and then a heavy head cold in March. The remnants of the head cold still remain as I have a problem with my right inner ear which I think was picked up on an aeroplane coming into land in Cyprus at the back end of March, probably due to the head cold and cabin pressure. I don’t want to make excuses, just merely understand whether the running could be a contributing factor to my having had more than the average incidents of illness this year. Throughout my life I have rarely been ill more than once per year and to be honest if my new running regime is a factor then it is that which would need to change rather than the various other stressors that can lead to illness such as work, having an actual life outside of training etc. Running will never pay my bills and therefore has “hobby” status. Me being me I may have become a little engrossed in it admittedly. I don’t think this blog will help to rubbish that sentiment. Running is important to me. The fact that I have even contemplated giving up completely on more than one occasion this year upsets me. I do not want to give up. I want to be as good as I possibly can be. But I want to enjoy the process, not fear it. I haven’t enjoyed running in 2014. And I have feared it, especially lining up at XC, just knowing I didn’t feel “there”. I do wonder how much of this is physical and how much is mental… Anyway, I digress.

The reason running could be a factor in my increased illness is I have completed more training mileage (all be it much of it at a slower pace than previously – Long Slow Distance or LSD) January through March 2014 than the same period in 2013. In Jan-Mar ’13 my training diary shows 153 miles logged versus 265 Jan-Mar ’14. That’s a 73% increase. In 2013 I had the same slight cold/sore throat issues coming out of new year following the trip to London but was able to recover by the back end of January and get stuck into some decent training and XC performances and run a 5k pb of 18m 53s by the end of March (bettered in May ’13 with a 18m 23s pb). This year, as I have blogged about before, my XC performances literally went down the toilet and at the end of March I was only able to put a 5k marker down of 19m 33s, 40s slower than a year previous. I don’t deny that I may be to blame this year for not listening to my body and taking rest time to fully recover.


Training volume – red bar = miles, blue line = 3mth average

To try to help with this aspect of training I invested a little bit of money in the ithlete heart rate variability (HRV) monitoring app. Usually this is considered a tool for elites and I’d probably agree as it requires daily monitoring (if only for a minute or two when you awake). However, it tells the story of 2014 quite nicely –


HRV – red line = HRV, blue line = HR, black lines = 7 day avg., green bars = training load (1-5, 5 being hard or race)

I only started monitoring in February so unfortunately I don’t have a good baseline but from what I know now my “normal” morning resting heart rate is around 53-60 and HRV around 90-95 when I am rested, fit and feeling healthy. So you can see the “double dip” where I fell ill ~20-26th February and my HRV was predicting this well in advance of me actually having to go to bed and ring in work sick. My HRV was down to the mid 60s. The black 7 day average line shows that I didn’t really fully recover until early April, the second dip back end of March depicting the head cold. Bearing in mind my Wrekenton XC pull out was 8th February (before I started HRV, in fact the deciding factor that I wanted to start monitoring) and poor Alnwick (1st March) and Wrekenton #2 (22nd March) performances I think it’s clear that I haven’t been in the best shape health wise to perform at the peak of my ability.

Apart from the health issues, I’ve been looking in further detail at my training diary and Garmin records to try to understand more what has changed this year versus last. Here is a list –

  • Training intensity or pace has reduced this year versus last (LSD) to accommodate the increased mileage. For example, last year I would class 7.15-8min miling easy (for right or wrong) and this year I have been running more like 8.30-12min miling. Note all my lower leg issues disappeared this year (which is a positive) but what impact has it had on my health and fitness levels? In other words, spending more hours trudging around slowly in the winter cold rather than just nipping out for a swifter 6k in <30mins etc…
  • This year I have tried to train more closely to heart rate, using the Phil Maffetone formula. Perhaps I have struggled to adopt or understand the approach but I think I have regressed as a result. In fact, you spend more time worrying about trying to train to 148bpm than anything else…
  • I have completed less cross training sessions this year versus last, again to accommodate the increase in running mileage (supposed specificity).
  • I have completed less strength and conditioning sessions this year versus last.

One particular 4 week block of training that has really caught my interest from last year was September 2013. I had returned from my two week summer vacation in Morocco (no training of any description for two weeks) and pretty much set about building back up to ~20 miles per week before starting a 12 week training plan with Luke Adams (which led to some of my best performances in the XC fixtures Oct / Nov / Dec 2013). During that month I trained only 60-65 miles (av. 16 miles / week). Around 70% of that mileage was what I deemed to be easy, say 7.15 – 8min miling (a pace I decided was too fast for easy later in the year). Other than that in Week 1 I did a 10*100m session in 20s each. In week 2 I did a 5*200m session in 40s each. I did one Cow Hill session in Week 4 which was a tough 3k circuit incorporating about 6 hills. Other than that I did 3 runs at more like marathon pace, say 6.40 – 7.20min miling. Week 3 was pretty much all easy as I had a work trip in Greece. Finally, at the end of the month (end of Week 4) I did a Newcastle Parkrun effort to put a marker down for Luke before we started the 12 week plan in October. Result was a fairly carefree 18m 36s time, 5.54min miling…my second fastest 5k ever.

The plan is to get back to this simplicity in my approach…