Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Olympic Challenge Review

On the 27th of July, the first day of the London Olympics, I embarked on personal Challenge to run, walk, swim and cycle 205 miles, one mile per country, during the 17 days of the Olympics.  This meant covering an average of 12 miles per day, more than double the average of 5 miles per day I'd done in during the rest of 2012.  Clearly it was going to be tough on my body, but just how tough in reflection?

Lets start by looking at the logs of my various bits of exercise that I did, below is a screen grab from my sportpal.com account where I upload all my GPS traces recorded from my phone during the 17 days:

Key items are that total distance was 205.27miles, so I achieved my Olympic Challenge with a tiny bit to spare. The single biggest chunk of exercise I did was running - 101.47 miles in 15 hours, which equates to a rather sedate 8:53 pace, and my average HR 146.  This was a key part of my original plan - to keep intensity down to minimize the chance of injury.  Averages don't tell the whole story though...

Grand plans

Part of my original plan was to do four big days:
  1. Entering the Callander Highland Games Hill Race on the first Sunday (29th July)
  2. Trail Marathon run to honour the Womens Marathon run on the second Sunday (5th August)
  3. Olympic Distance Triathlon to honour the Mens Triathlon on the second Tuesaday (7th of August) on
  4. Trail Marathon run to honour the Mens Marathon on the final Sunday (12th of August).
For the log above and my blog accounts you'll be able to see that I completed the 8 mile hill race, coming 8th, but then as consequence had niggling foot injury that I had to nurse along during the subsequent week.

This had mostly calmed down for my first marathon and had an epic yourney around the Trossachs.  My left arch of my foot was pretty sore at the 15 mile point though, but this eased off a little in the second half, but my right knee began to ache a little in the last few miles.  A little discomfort in my right knee had been around for a couple of weeks after running Ben Ledi so it was a case of aggravating previous niggles rather than introducing a new one.

I was expecting a slow recovery from the marathon but the day after felt fine, pretty well no aches and pains even in my feet and knee and had plenty of energy and completed a four mile recovery run with ease.  I had been expecting to struggle going into the Olympic Distance Triathlon just two days after marathon but now felt confident.

The day of Triathlon arrived while I struggled a bit to get up early after a bit of broken nights sleep felt good physically and mentally and was all set for a 1500m swim, 40km cycle and 10km run.  Getting up a bit too late meant that I rushed a bit to get out to the swimming pool in time and forgot my how made energy drink and lock for the bike, so back I went and collected them.  This made me ever later arriving at the McLaren and when I got there I got told I had only 20 minutes till the pool was being used for a group that I just didn't have the time to complete my 1500m.  I returned home with the intention of trying again on the Wednesday.  An early start put me in good position but in getting myself ready I knocked the scab off a small surgical wound just below my eye (I had a mole removed back in June).  I couldn't swim with goggles sitting over an open wound so had to can the Triathlon.

Grand Plans... come undone...

Three days after the marathon and totally psyched up for a Olympic Triathlon I felt EPIC, EPIC like in the moneysupermarket.com advert way!  I couldn't believe how much how energy I had and how loose I felt.  To burn off a little of this energy I headed off on a 8 mile tempo run up to Loch Venachar sailing club. Originally I had planned not fast runs except for the Hill race as I knew with doing so many miles any fast running would be a high injury risk, but I just felt so good I just went with the flow.  At the half way mark I was cruising comfortably along at 7min/mile pace with HR in low 160's and just couldn't bring myself to turn back on such a glorious sunny morning so I continued on to complete a half marathon course.  I was totally in the zone for the first 10 miles, keeping up the tempo race was effortless, no aches and pains, no heavy breathing, just gliding along.

For the last three miles my body began to complain a little, keeping 7 min/miles began to be a bit taxing and I had a few twinges from my left foot.  My foot was no worse at the time than it had been on previous days so I thought nothing of it.  And for my efforts I had run a half marathon in 1:32, my second fastest ever and I wasn't even pushing hard, it was just plain incredible to do it just three days after a marathon.

That afternoon after the run and subsequent days proved to be a bit different though, my left underside of my foot was sore even when walking.  Clearly doing a quick half marathon so close to a marathon was fool hardy, and I was now paying for my over enthusiasm.  I had felt Epically fit and now I felt Epically stupid.

Managing injuries

Often when training you get injury niggles that fade with subsequent training runs, other times niggles turn into long term injuries that require resting or at least a change in training to avoid over using a injured part.  Knowing which side of the line an injury niggle is hard, get it wrong you injury yourself good and proper, get it right and you maintain your training, with experience I've got better at this.  I've found that self massage/using foam roller and gentle active recovery have all pushed where up where the line is.

The 17 days of my Olympic Marathon would a good test of my ability manage injury niggles and first half did well with niggles fading away and troubling me less.  However, one misjudged run at too high intensity for too many miles tipped me over the edge.  It was really down to following my heart and not my brain, I just wanted to soak up the pleasure of running fast through beautiful country side, heart pounding senses alive, I felt invisible, but I knew full well that it was foolhardy but couldn't bring myself to slow down and do a shorter run.

The subsequent days after the fast Half Marathon I was nursing the left foot arch, and my right foot arch was also a little uncomfortable my using trigger point massage so both feet were obviously still a bit overused, and my right knee was a little bit uncomfortable as well - I suspect the hard downhills of Ben Ledi and the Hill race over stressed it a little.   With my left foot slow at healing I had to keep all my runs to short, and use cycling and walking to make up the miles for the rest of the Olympic Challenge.

Common sense prevails in the end

On the final day I only did 6 miles rather than the Marathon I had planned, I'm sure I could have pushed on and done a marathon but it would have been a huge risk for aggravating the foot injury.  I would have love to have ticked off both the Triathlon the final marathon but common sense won over bravado.  A 9 mile cycle and 2 mile walk with Gwen and Ellen rounded off my 17 miles for the day and the whole 205 mile Challenge.


A week on from the fateful half marathon and three days after completing the Challenge I still have discomfort in my left foot and right knee but have been able to run OK for short recovery runs. I can sense I'm still right on the line though, things are improving slowly but not quick enough to warrant returning to normal training.  Avoiding injuries when upping the training stimulus is always difficult, I would have achieved it if only I had stuck to me original plan of all easy paced running.  This aspect I failed, but I learned a lesson - listen to ones head not heart when undertaking a big challenge.

My general fitness markers such as calories used per mile (around 80 cals/mile on flat routes) when running haven't changed significantly through the big increase in aerobic exercise during the Challenge.  The amount of running I did per day was in the end was around the weekly mileage I was doing prior to the Highland Fling and the my fitness markers are around about the same now as then - so the big addition of time walking, cycling and swimming doesn't seem to have made a difference.   This could mean that I've maxed out my aerobic fitness, or perhaps cross training isn't that important to a runner with already pretty good aerobic fitness.

I weighed myself at the beginning of the challenge and at the end and my weight hasn't changed - so for all the 880 calories/day I was burning (based on SportyPal's estimates for my weight and exercise undertaken) I must have eaten just the right amount to keep things balanced.  This is something important to take away - exercising lots doesn't mean you'll loose weight, it just makes you more hungry...  Something I don't mind as I LOVE food!

Doing a physical Challenge is just about physical fitness though, for me it's been a great tonic for a stressful summer.  As you'll see from the photo's of the various cycles and runs I've done the Trossachs is an absolutely stunning place to be out and about.  The weather doesn't have been perfect for the mountains, lochs, forests and wildlife to be glorious.

I can't recommend getting out into nature and doing some exercise more, it beats sitting on the couch in front of telly or running on treadmill any day. There's a whole world out there, go explore it and have fun getting healthy!

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