Friday, 31 December 2010

Motivational music

Tonights topic on my mind is how much things like music can have an impact on our mindset and subsequently on our training.  I am a firm believer in the power of music and what it can do to our state of mind.

Imagine for instance you are sitting there in a peaceful and yogic state and then suddenly heavy metal comes on the radio.  Do you stay in your peaceful and yogic state - I doubt that very much.  Either you will go and turn it off and maintain your state or you will leave it on and your peaceful state will disappear and at best you will be in a neutral state and at worst in an agressive state.

Choose the right selection of songs on your ipod and I am sure that can egg you on at crucial points in the race when your lactate levels are rising and the fatique is setting in.  In Switzerland they often play music along the closing miles of a race, and this really spurs me on.  It is almost as if I go into a trance like state and the pain is gone and only the music remains.

When I am getting very fat and lazy I always watch a Rocky movie - either the original where he comes from the streets and fights every step of the way or when he is fighting the russian beast in Rocky IV and uses old versus new techniques to conquer the Russian.  Running through the snow and staying in a chalet in the middle of nowehere with a burning log fire and dragging things behind me to increase my power would appeal to me anyday over a posh hotel and spending hours in the gym and injecting myself with steroids.  The movies make me want to go straight out afterwards and beginning shedding the pounds and getting back in shape.  Even if I am watching it late at night I often get my gear on and head out in the dark to pound the pavements.  The accompanying soundtracks are great and I love getting myself all pumped up to the sounds of Eye of the Tiger.

Old fashioned graft versus modern machines and steroids

I would love to know what movies and soundtracks get you all pumped up.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Getting longer and longer

No I am not being rude for those of you with impure minds.  I am talking about my running.  As some people have been fattening up, trying their best to look like Father Christmases, and drinking themselves silly, I have been observing moderation with regards to food and drink and have been fitting in regular runs.

I recognise fully the fact that I am prone to overtraining.  It is like a disease but at least if you can recognise you are prone to the disease you can do something about it.  So each time I do a long run the following day I am taking a rest day.  By rest day I don't mean cross training or taking an active rest day, but a complete rest day.  As the weeks go on I will have some days where I will be training several days consecutively, but it is too soon to do that so far.  My muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints are not tough enough yet to withstand all the pounding forces of the road and they need time to adapt.

At the moment I am up to running for one hour or more without any problems.  Tomorrow I will try to increase it ever so slightly.  But for each run I take on the road I am taking several off road.  Actually the other day I was running in the snow and that was a great work out.  Obviously you need to be careful not to slip over, but I was running across a field so at least if I fell I would get a soft landing.  And the extra resistance that the snow running gives really makes you work hard.  It isnt even necessary to go as far or for as long as you do on your normal non snow runs.  For the marathon des sables, snow running and sand running will be great preparation training.  If I am still living in Switzerland I guess snow running will be much easier to find.

I am still in the UK at the moment but when I get back I think its time for a second weigh in.  I could do it here but I want it to be on the same scales as before.  Even if I havent gained any weight over this festive period it will be a success, but I feel like I may even have lost a few pounds.  Let's see.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Publicising my MDS 2012 entry. Success!!!!

Today I received a very exciting email from Concept2, one of the most if not the most well known manufacturer of rowing machines in the world.  Although they already support various charities directly and are not able to sponsor me, they agreed to feature me in their monthly newsletter which goes out to 20,000 people.  That is a much larger audience than I could have hoped for in terms of potential sponsorhip sources.

I now have to start thinking about what to write in my short summary and what kind of photo would be most appropriate.  I was thinking about taking a picture of me sitting on my Concept2 rower with a sign which reads in big letters "MDS 2012 for Mencap", and wearing one of those khaki desert caps with the fabric that covers your neck.  What do you think?  I was also thinking to add a link to my blog so people can follow my progress, but that got me thinking that maybe I need to set up a website of my own with a blogging section on it.

Some of you may have noticed by the way that I have monetised my blog and enabled GoogleAdsense.  Any money that I do get from Adsense I will be putting towards my fundrasing target, at least until my minimum fundraising target of 9,500GBP has been achieved.

I would like to add that I am now on holiday for the next week so I will have more time to update my blog with new and informative posts.  But that's all for today folks. 

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

To indulge or not to indulge? Christmas time is here again.

Tomorrow I will be taking the Eurostar from Paris to London, and I am hoping that this year my train does not get stuck because of "extra than fluffier snow", which was Eurostar's official explanation for last years fiasco.

Last year I was on one of the trains which reached the tunnel and then decided to turn round and head back to the outskirts of Paris.  Two days of being herded round like a sheep ensued for me and my fellow passengers.  Had Eurostar given me the option of getting out and running through the tunnel I think I would have accepted it in retrospect.  Fingers crossed this year will be better.

If I do manage to get back to the UK then it will be a xmas of nice food, family and wine, but also a xmas of training.  I can already feel the base fitness improving.  Once a week I do a lunchtime run with a work colleague and usually I am quite happy with the distance we cover.  But today I was feeling in great from and decided to extend it by an extra kilometre.  Now that I have been given a conditional offer of a place in the Marathon des Sables 2012, subject to completion of the documentation and a medical declaration signed by my doctor, the training will have to become ever more a part of my daily routine.

Actually though it is easy to incorporate some fitness into your daily routine even if it is a small amount.  For instance walking up or down the stairs instead of taking the lift, getting out of the tram one stop early and walking the last bit, using a powerball or handgrip whilst watching the television or whilst taking a coffee break at work and so on.  If you don't know what a powerball is, I highly recommend it.  It is a lot of fun and improves your grip strength at the same time.  Also if you get the one with the counter then you can take it into work and compete with your colleagues to see who can achieve the highest rpm.  Here is the link

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Massage - luxury or necessity?

What do you think of massage therapy?  Is it something you can do without or do you think it is an important part of a holistic approach to being healthy.  I personally tend to lean towards the latter, regardless of whether you are a sportsman/sportswoman or not.

I first started getting regular sports massage when I was weight training.  My muscles would become so tensed up after several hours of pumping iron in the gym and a sports massage was the perfect antidote.  The massage therapist that I used back then seemed to be believe in the "No pain no gain" approach.  He would use his thumbs to dig deep in my muscle and then apply his full body weight to it.  It wasn't pleasant at all but at least it prevented the cramps.  Then I moved to Switzerland and stopped the weight training and no longer felt that I needed the regular sports massage.

Time went on and then a few years later I was completing in my first Marmotte cyclosportive (a one day cycle race with 5000m of vertical climbing), when my knee started to cause me a lot of discomfort.  I managed to complete the event but as the days and weeks went on the pain stayed.  I could barely walk up or down stairs.  I booked an appointment with a sports therapist here in Zurich and when he examined me he said that all the pain was down to incredible short tight muscles which were locked up.  With regular weekly massages I recovered well.  His approach was completely the opposite of the first masseur and he told me that there is no need at all for the sports massage to be painful if it is done correctly.  He would always start by using ultrasound to work deep within the muscle.  I would have kept up regular sports massage with this guy but the problem was that he only had day appointments and it was hard to go to him during my working day due to my workload.

My next encounter with massage was following a very tough initiation to x-country skiing (skating style).  I went with one of my friends who was already accustomed to the technique and we covered a decent distance, but my technique was very bad and I was using my upper body strength far too much.  The next day I had an incredibly painful headache and the pain was over my right eye.  My friend had a suspicion that tension in my back had caused the headache and she was right.  When she pressed certain points on my back the pain would go away momentarily.  From this point onwards I decided I would take regular massage to address my muscle tension and indeed I have.

I am very lucky as at UBS we have our own on site massage service.  We do have to pay, but despite that it is still great that we can fit it so easily into a working day.  The other wonderful point is that the company offering massage services has many masseuses who offer different kinds of massage.  So over the last year I have experimenting with various massage techniques.  I would like to summarise my experiences as follows (but please remember that this is just my personal experience and other people may find for them another massage technique is their preferred choice):

1) Classic massage with ultrasound - this gave good recovery but I didn't feel any effect from the ultrasound part of the treatment.  Maybe it was working silently but it would be hard for me to tell.  At this point I was going for specific treatment and wasn't looking at the effect of the massage on my headaches.

2) Classic massage alone - this gave me quick temporary relief from my muscular symptoms but I didn't notice a really progressive improvement over time in terms of reduction in my tension headaches.

3) Shiatsu massage - this one I really like.  The masseuse used her elbows to apply pressure to various points on my back.  My back ached less as the weeks went on and although I still had some headaches the frequency was slightly reduced.

4) My personal favourite - acupuncture and classic massage combined.  There are 2 masseuses at UBS who offer acupuncture and both are very good.  The sessions begin with classic massage on my back, shoulders and neck to assess the problem points and to start to warm up the muscles.  When specific problem spots are found they use needles to activate the site and leave them for some time to do their work.  In addition they insert needles at various other points in the body such as the foot or the hand or the head to stimulate the body's own immune system.  Since I started this combination the number of headaches I suffer from has reduced drastically and I no longer get backache.  In addition touchwood I seem to have a healthier immune system.  It is probably not only the acupuncture/classic massage which is improving my health but the combination of this plus yoga.  However I had also been doing yoga during the period I was receiving Shiatsu and didn't notice quite such a powerful effect as with this combination.

Monday, 20 December 2010

MDS 2012

Dear friends, Romans and countrymen

I don't know if you know what MDS is, but it has been deemed one of the toughest footraces on the planet.  Running through the Sahara desert in searing heat, and completing 5.5 marathons in 6 days.  Only crazy people attempt it.  But I want to be one of them.  There is a certain camaraderie in these events that you can never forget afterwards.

Entries for 2011 and 2012 are full via the non-charity routes, but a few of the charities still have places for 2012.  I applied to do it for Mencap and they have said that I have a high likelihood of being chosen as long as I submit a detailed fundraising plan in the next few days.  In order to go I need to commit to raising 9,500GBP for Mencap.

I will of course be putting up a significant amount of money myself.  I haven't decided exactly how much yet, but I am thinking of 2,000GBP or thereabouts.  So that leaves me with 7,500GBP to raise.  It won't be easy but with all of your help, however big or small I am sure I can make it.

I am not sure the best way to do this yet, but I will probably set up a website with a payment link on it so that people can contribute.  As soon as I have sorted that part out I will post it here on my blog.  But in the meantine if you would like to contribute please let me know and it will give me a better idea of how realistic it is for me to achieve the fundraising target.

A big shout out to you all

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Body awareness

One of the things that really doesn't help me to stay in shape on a constant basis is that I think I am slightly deluded.  When I am buff, I look in the mirror and think "Hey, how you doing....".  Then the exercise routine slows down, I continue eating enough for an entire family (and their extended family too) and the slight bulges and droops start to come.  But I still look in the mirror and think "Hey, how you doing...".  It continues like this until someone asks me "Paul, are you the world's first?".  The world's first what I say.  "Oh the world's first pregnant man I mean".  Thats when I realise my six-pack has become a six-saggy-sack.

I think a good body awareness is key to staying in shape.  One way to keep body awareness is to dress in Spandex.  As you may remember the whole Spandex craze started because of Mr Motivator.  He was a classic.  You soon realise if you are bulging that way.  One of my friends Scott insists on wearing Spandex.  I am not sure if he is slightly deluded like myself, but he always seems to think he looks great in it.

How many ladies do you see too, wearing narrow waisted skin tight jeans, with a good generous portion of jello pouring over them.  I believe if I have got my terminology right that they are referred to as "muffin tops".  I mean please, try wearing well-fitted jeans.  They will make you look so much more attractive.  

Now for some amusing photos so you can see I am not exaggerating when I mention words such as pregnant and buff.

Not looking bad
Beer barrel with legs and arms
Bun in the oven

Strength training

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Run Forrest Run!

Too much thinking can be a bad thing.  This morning I was thinking that July 2nd (the date of the Marmotte 2011) still seems somewhat in the future and not yet something tangible.  Plus I wont be doing much cycling over the winter, so I need another target and something earlier in the year.  Crazy thoughts did flash through my mind, like signing up for a X-country skating-style ski marathon, but then the reality kicked in that I have only had one lesson and am still falling over from time to time at the moment, so maybe thats not so realistic.  Next year maybe though.

Then I decided I will do a running event.  I was browsing through all the half marathons in April and May, but I had at the back of the mind the fact that although I have done various half marathons I have never yet had the guts to go for the full event, the killer marathon.  So I went for it, and I am now on the start list of the Zurich marathon taking place on April 17th.

There are so many training plans out there to follow, but I was looking for something aimed at people running their first marathon and something that would fit in with my work and personal schedule.  I found just the one I wanted on Runnersworld - a 16 week beginners marathon training program.  Here is the link in case you are interested to check it out,7120,s6-238-244--6946-2-3X5X7-4,00.html

Pushing it too hard
When I used to run half marathons I never really followed a structured training program.  I think that this was a huge mistake as I would frequently overtrain and end up injured.  Two years ago I had a period where I was running a half marathon every couple of weeks, and it was just too much for my body.  During the Frauenfelder half my knee started playing up, and after finishing I realised it needed to be checked out.  I went to the Sports Clinic in Zurich and they told me it was an overuse injury and suggested a relative new form of treatment where a small device is placed on the knee and it pulses rapidly, delivering a series of small taps.  The taps don't hurt but it is certainly not comfortable.  The idea is that the soft tissues response to the small but firm taps by strengthening themselves.  After 5 sessions my knee was almost back to normal.  Since then I haven't really got back into the running scene properly, but running scene here I come with a vengeance.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Yoga is not only for women

Before I started doing yoga back in 2009, I thought it was just about stretching.  I had no idea how much core strength and balance it takes to maintain the poses for longer than one or two seconds.  At the beginning it was very tough - years of bad posture, pumping iron in the gym and no stretching had made my muscles so taut that you could have played them like guitar strings.  I couldn't even touch my toes, although I could see them at least.

Attempting to perform the dancer pose on a beach in SA
As the weeks passed, I could once again touch my toes.  My overall flexibility increased, and the lunchtime yoga gave a perfect escape from the stress of work.  Each day after the class I would be aching all over but it didn't stop me putting in even more effort the following week.  It paid off as my core strength increased and my posture started to improve.

The thing that I really underestimated though, is just how much yoga can assist your performance in sports.  For the 2008 Marmotte cyclosportive I had put in a fair amount of training, but the race was tough and my back ached from about 50km onwards.  Back then I hadn't yet started yoga.  Then, in the 2009 Marmotte despite the fact I had only done about half the training of the previous year, the race went much smoother and all I had was a dull muscular ache in the closing kilometres.  On top of that I even managed to knock 3 minutes off my previous time.

Yoga will definitely form an important part of my training, and I would recommend anyone who hasn't tried it to give it a go.  Even if you don't enjoy it there will be plenty of eye candy for you.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Oops!... I Did It Again

Today I just happened to be looking at La Marmotte 2011 website, and somehow my hand slipped and I was signed up for it.  Oh my goodness.  Why does this always happen to me?

What is La Marmotte though?  La Marmotte is not just a cute alpine creature that makes whistling noises, but also a cyclosportive in France that covers 174km and 5000 vertical metres.    It is one of the toughest one day cyclosportives there is.  The route starts in Bourg d'Oisans and then climbs over Croix de Fer, Galibier and then finally Alpe d'Huez.

Struggling up the final climb in 2008
It wont be the first time that I have participated.  I also did it in 2008 and 2009, but it never gets any easier.  In 2008 it drew around 8000 participants and since then they have had to limit the number of people that can sign up for safety and logistical reasons.  I remember in 2008 as I had a late starting position, by the time I reached a lot of the drinks stops they had run out and so packed up and gone home.  By the last climb some people were so desperate for fluid that they were drinking out of the stream that runs next to the road on Alpe d'Huez.  I guess they didn't see the people higher up the road that were relieving themselves right next to the stream.

The route starts off with a flat section before the climbing begins.  It's amazing how many people sprint off, somehow forgetting they have 5000m of climbing ahead of them, get to the first hill and then realise that the sprint start really wasn't worth it as now they are knackered.  Then you have the people who didn't train for it - the people that go round telling their mates how fit they are in the pub and that they are going to do a ride with 5000m of climbing, but never actually putting in the miles.  Somehow they thought that lifting a pint glass up and down, up and down would give them the necessary stamina.  These ones can be seen struggling up the first hill, getting half way up and then turning round and heading back.

Then there are the rest of us that did some training at least and we struggle through it but we do finally make it.  Both years I completed it in a shade under 10 hours.  The winners finished a long long time before that.  It's a great event though, and somehow brings all the participants together.  You look at your fellow two wheelers experiencing the same pain and effort as you are and it makes you feel somehow connected. After all, your average Joe Bloggs can't complete this event - it takes a special sort, albeit crazy sort.

Looking around at the bibs (race numbers), there are so many different nationalities that take part.   The nationalities that dominate in terms of numbers are Dutch, British, French and Swiss.  How on earth the Dutch train for the hills I will never know, but they are there en masse.  It's interesting to see the difference in mindsets between the nationalities.  The Swiss in general take the downhills at a decent speed but not exactly breakneck.  The French on the other hand bomb it downhill as if the roads were closed, frequently using both lanes, despite the fact that the roads are still open to traffic after the initial stage.  You always see a couple of near misses, but luckily to date I haven't seen any bike car bonding sessions (a.k.a. collisions).

At least by entering La Marmotte 2011 I have a more immediate target than something that is still almost one year away (the South America tour).  The 2011 Marmotte will be taking place on July 2nd.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's a superfood!

With nutrition being an extremely important part of any half-serious training program, today I want to write my first nutritional post on the subject of "superfoods".

What is a superfood I hear some of you ask.  Well I myself didn't have a clue till recently either.  But a couple of months ago I attended a workshop entitled "Yoga and Superfoods" to find out more.

The workshop was enlightening to say the least.  Most of the topics were perfectly within the realms of science, but a few topics touched upon were ones I would put in the same category as UFOs and aliens.  There was mention for instance of people who claim to live off just air (without the need for food in order to survive), although the instructor himself just had an open mind and wasn't proclaiming that it was indeed possible or true.

Before I get into what superfoods are and which kinds of foods have the honour of calling themselves superfoods, I want to touch on the subject of "earthing" or "grounding", as this was also covered during the workshop.  There have been many studies on this subject and the basic idea is that by being in direct contact with the earth (for instance barefoot walking), rather than being insulated from it by our shoes, we can somehow limit the impact of electromagnetic radiation on our body. This makes perfect sense to me (as a former physics undergrad) as when wearing shoes we build up static charge in our bodies, but if we walk barefoot then this can be harmlessly discharged.  You only have to try it to notice how good it feels.  Some scientists even go as far as to suggest that the fact we no longer walk barefoot may be just one of the many contributors to diseases such as cancer which seem to be much more common nowadays.

Wait, I hear you ask.  I am not a hippy and don't want to go to work looking like one so how is this relevant to me?  Well there are various modern day gadgets that can help you to achieve the same effect whilst sitting on your chair or sleeping on your bed.  Mats for instance that plug into the socket and make use of the earth socket terminal.

Now back onto the main point, superfoods.  There is no legal definition of the word, but superfood is a term commonly used to refer to food with high phytonutrient content that may confer health benefits as a result. There are many foods in this category but the following are ones that I currently have in my apartment and will be experimenting with over the coming weeks and months:

1) Maca (Peru) - Maca is a root and is known as the viagra of the Andes.  Some reported benefits include memory improvement, improved function of neurotransmitters and increase in libido.  I was already taking this before I went to the workshop and I do believe it makes me feel more alert and energetic.  As for increases in libido that's information that I am not at liberty to disclose unfortunately.

2) Raw organic cacao - chocolate in its processed form may make you fat and rot your teeth, but raw unprocessed cacao beans are actually an appetite suppressor.  They also contain lots of magnesium and sulphur and even better they contain 20 times as many antioxidants as red wine and 30 times as many antioxidants as green tea.

3) Goji berries (Himalayas) - these berries from Tibet are bursting with vitamin C.   They are widely used to reduce sugar cravings, contain 15% protein, 21 essential minerals, 18 amino acids and extremely high levels of beta carotene

I will let you know how I get on with introducing these superfoods into my diet, but as I mentioned before Maca does seem to have a positive effect on me.  The key though is letting your body adjust to these new foods, as the first few times I took Maca I took far too much and felt a little nauseous.    What with having been on holiday most of November I haven't taken it for a while, but I will be starting again as of tomorrow morning.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Dog tired today...

Well the X-country ski lesson went well, but today I feel so sleepy.  It has been a struggle dragging myself out of bed to reach the laptop and write this post.  I am not at all surprised they say that X-country skiing is one of the best all round exercises.  But when I looked up "best" in the thesaurus, surprisingly enough I didn't find the words "painful" or "tiring" which are my alternative versions of the word.

The instructor started us off by using only one ski, which was great for me, as my problem last time was using too much upper body strength.  By taking away the poles we had to focus on the legs and that was great for helping to improve my technique.  After the one ski exercises then it was two skis, followed by two skis and holding the poles (but not using them) and then finally both skis and the poles combined.

We took our little doggy with us, dressed in her new supercool winter jacket.  It turns out though that Negrita isn't really a cold weather dog (well mini Schnauzers were never bred for that anyway) and was shivering almost the whole time.  I am sure I saw one of the husky dogs sniggering at her as he passed.  At one point she was shivering so much I decided I would pick her up and stuff her inside my coat.  She was quite scared though, and thanked me by warming  up my leg with a strange yellow liquid.  I believe this is the same strange yellow liquid that some of us scuba divers use to warm up our cold damp wetsuits at the beginning of a dive - ewwwww.

I have quite a few ideas for my next post, but I will leave it as a surprise for now.  As Forrest Gump said, life is like a box of chocolates and you never know what you are going to get.  Although as my father rightly pointed out, you only have to read the label and then you know exactly what you are going to get........

Friday, 10 December 2010

It's XXX tomorrow...

X as in X-country skiing that is.  Anny and I have booked a private half day X-country ski (skating style) lesson tomorrow afternoon in Davos.  That should help kick start the lazy muscles into action.

I have tried the classic style X-country on several occasions, but only once have I tried the skating style, and that almost killed me.  Towards the end I just wanted to lie on the slow and sleep for a couple of hours before continuing.  Then the next day my back muscles decided to make a late protest and locked up, resulting in an excruciating over-the-eyes headache - ouch.  My analytical brain decided it couldn't possibly have been that I wasn't fit enough for the activity and that it must have been a problem with technique.  Hence the lesson tomorrow.

Of course my main training should be cycling, but with all this ice and snow around my wafer thin tyres on my racing bike don't give me too much reassurance.  So I have decided if tomorrow goes well then X-country skiing will be one of my winter training techniques.  Of course I also have the option of indoor rowing on my Concept2 or going out jogging, but X-country seems the most fun of the trio.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

My very first post

I am truly a blogging virgin and I am hoping that by starting this blog I will have a reliable way to record my progress towards my ultimate goal - the Tour D'Afrique "Vuelta Sudamericana 2011".   Covering around 6,000km in two and a half months may not sound that challenging, but this ride will be right over the Andes and I for one am not underestimating the effect of altitude.  Although I am sure I will be chewing copious amounts of coca leaves to reduce the effects, I think I also should make an effort to put in the necessary physical training.

I am by no means a stranger to hard graft and training and have previously cycled from John O'Groats to Lands End in y2k.  But this one I am sure will demand more training and combined with the fact I am no longer a university student with ridiculously long holidays, planning here will be the key.

I usually have a sporadic approach to physical exertion - in summer like a bee on speed and in winter like a sleepy bear.  As we are now in winter, I am already part sleepy bear.  Time for that bear to come out of hibernation.