Sunday, October 23, 2016

First 10 km in France

This morning the weather conditions were ideal for a 10km running session in the field just opposite to the building I live, apart from a chilly northern wind. I put on my black running suit and there I went! Unfortunately during the previous weeks I didn't have the chance to train, so I was a bit uncertain about my endurance. All in all, everything went fine. At the 8th km I started feeling a slight pain in my legs and it was hard to keep the 5m/km peace, but I decided to bite the bullet and complete the session, with an encouraging last lap concluded in 90 seconds (tot time: 49:30). Not bad!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

400 meters challenge

Since I've been training in a running track (as I told you, I was lucky enough to find a "piste d'athl├ętisme" just round the corner) I tried different distances. Among them, I timed my performance in the 400 meters. The result? 1 minute and 15 seconds. I would like to improve by 5 or even 10 seconds, as I remember that when I was a kid I managed to run a lap in 55 seconds...but I am not 100% sure about that, because it was so long ago and I do not have any proof of it. I only remember that at the end of the run I felt like I was dying. 

My task will be a hard one, as last week I officially started my job, which will occupy a big part of my day. If public transports are not late and if there's no extra work to do at the office, I'll be able to start my workout in the evening between 19:00 or 19:30, which could be an effective way to relax after 8 working hours. I am just a bit upset about the French winter: will I stand zero temperatures while running? 

Saturday, October 1, 2016

First 5km in France!

On September the 26th I moved to Neuilly-sur-Marne, a small town 15 km away from Paris. I was really lucky to find a nice flat to share, which is just close to a wonderful public circuit. This morning I had my first 5km session after one week stop and my time was not that bad (23:15). It was a real pleasure to run among children, teenagers and adults jogging and practicing different sports. I expect the French northern weather to be less sport-friendly in the next months, but as long as the sun will shine I am gonna keep on running!

Monday, September 19, 2016

New PB on 10K!

Summer is about to end and I am proud to say that I've made the best of it: during the period starting from May till August I ran almost every day (I had only 15 days of rest out of 120) and I improved my PB on the 5K distance, thanks to interval training. Then I decided to have a long break (2 weeks) during which I stopped doing any physical activity, besides walking (and getting a new job, a performance that can be more exhausting than any running session). 

When I started running again, I was convinced that I had lost all the benefits I had strenuously achieved all over the last months. Like Sisyphus, I feared,  I was doomed to start all over again. But I was wrong. The hard summer training proved to be more long-lasting than I thought, as confirmed by my new PB on the 10K: 47:10 (4:43min/km). During the first 5 km I felt light and vigorous, filled with renewed energy. Conclusions: after a long period of training, it's always beneficial to stop for a week or two, in order to recharge the batteries and start again faster than before. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Last blood check: tryglicerides keep going down

Three days ago I had another blood test and this morning I picked up the results. No relevant changes to mention, except a decrease of the triglycerides level, which makes my HDL/Tryg ratio even more reassuring. LDL and total cholesterol figures are still high, but running mostly every day (after a break in March and April) has kept my HDL level quite high. All and all, that should mean: keep on running and eat healthy food! Regarding this last point, I have to give in that in August I indulged a little bit too much on tasty (and unhealthy) food, but it is really hard to resist to Claudio's lobster linguini (Claudio is a member of the family and fantastic chef) or to say no to "cheese cake ice cream" on the coast! 

To wrap up, after 18 months of running, physical activity and adopting a moderate diet, I have achieved the following results (without using any medicament):

Triglycerides:       - 30%
LDL Cholesterol:  - 13%
HDL Cholesterol: + 15%
Total Cholesterol: - 9%

Here below two graphs: the first is the usual overview of my blood values, the second shows the kilometer I've run so far (starting in May 2015).

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Interval training: it really works!

You can call me an "instinct runner". I never cared about schedules, methods, programmes...until this summer. Back in 2011, I ran 5 km in around 22 minutes and since then I've always wondered if that was my limit. Was there really any room for improvement? After 5 years, I finally made up my mind: it was about time to try interval training. 
Yes, it's boring. And yes, it requires discipline and commitment. But it works. In my case, it took three weeks to improve my 5 km pb by 1 minute. Unfortunately I had to stop because of job reasons (meaning: I got a new job and soon I am going to move to... more info soon!). Here below you will find a detailed schedule of my interval training in a 400 m track field. After completing each 400 and 800 m run, I jogged 400 more meters (very slow), whereas after the 1 km run I jogged 600 meters. Each week, I included a 10 km or more session (running at a 5 min/km pace or faster). As said, the results are satisfactory: if last year I could not run the 5 km distance faster than 4'30'' per km, now I improved my pace by 14 seconds, running 5 km in 21 minutes and 21 seconds (4'16'' / km). I think that I can break the 21 minutes barrier, but unfortunately the summer is over and I doubt I would be able to run 40 km weekly in winter...anyway, I will keep you posted!
2 August
5 km, track
22'24'' (4'29'' / km)
4 August
10 km, road
5 August
2 km jogging, exercises

6 August
Repetitions: 400 m. 7 times (tot: 5 km)
1'30'' (400 m)
7 August
2 km jogging, exercises

8 August
Repetitions: 800 m. 4 times (tot: 5 km)
3'12'' (800 m)
9 August
2 km jogging, exercises

10 August
10 km, road
11 August
2 km jogging, exercises

12 August
Repetitions: 1 km 3 times (tot: 5 km)
3'57''(1000 m)
13 August
2 km jogging, exercises

14 August
5 km, track
21'52'' (4'22'' / km)
15 August
5 km jogging, road

16 August
Repetitions: 400 m 7 times (tot: 5 km)
<1'30'' (400 m)
18 August
Repetitions: 800 m 8 times (tot: 7 km)
3'05'' – 3'12'' (800 m)
19 August
12 km, road
20 August
2 km jogging, exercies

21 August
Repetitions: 1 km 3 times (tot: 6 km)
4'00'' (1000 m)
22 August
4 km jogging

23 August
5 km, track
21'21'' (4'16'' / km)

Friday, August 5, 2016

Back on track

Summertime, and specially August, is a period of big choices: either you kick back all the time, doing nothing but eating, laying down on the beach (if you're lucky) and watching sport on TV (by the way, watching people sweating won't make you lose weight); or you can get back on track and use your time at best to improve your shape (or, if you are an ambitious runner, your personal bests). I made up my mind for the second option, literally. After many years of absence from an athletic track, three days ago I set foot in a 400-meter ring to run the 5k distance. I had forgotten how great it feels to run on tartan, even without spike shoes. The track is actually in poor condition (see picture below). I found it by chance inside an old structure, now abandoned and attended by a few local sprinters. However bad, it has an advantage: it is situated 5 minutes away from my summer-house and it is always open!

As said, I wanted to try running at first a 5K, as so far I've timed all my previous performances on a 500-meter circuit which is not completely flat, therefore my PBs cannot be considered "official". Moreover, a doubt has always been nailing me: how fast could I run in a real track? This month I have finally the chance to find it out! I concluded my first 5K in 22:25, not bad. But I can do better. My task is to run 5K in 20 minutes in a track by the end of August 2016. Will I make it? I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

New 10K PB!

In March I set a new PB in the 10K distance, breaking the 48 minutes barrier. It took me quite a lot to reach that task, so I couldn't believe what my watch showed me today, after concluding the last 100 meter sprint: 47 minutes and 33 seconds! What surprised me most: this time I didn't "suffer" so much, apart from the first two kilometers (run at a 4:26 m/km pace). Actually I decided to adopt a new strategy, designed by long-distance runner Benji Durden (more details here). In a nutshell, the training is based on long runs, even at a slow pace, that should improve stamina and speed. So, beginning last month, I've been including longer sessions in my training week (once a week, 10 or 12 km), and as a matter of fact I've realized that I can run faster and more relaxed now.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Second personal best in the 5K

Maybe it is to be ascribed to the optimal weather conditions (25°, light wind) or to my new summer outfit and shoes. Maybe I got inspired by the great Steve Prefontaine (I wrote an article about him two days ago). Who knows. The fact of the matter is that today, at 19:00, I almost equalled my record in the 5000 meters, running the distance in 22 minutes and 10 seconds (4:26 minutes per kilometer), only one second more than my PB set last year in October.

Food for thoughts: all over the last months I haven't slept well, due to a problem which I will describe in another post. I need to research more on the matter, but it seems that the lack of sleep might increase stress, but also efficiency and physical performances, at least in the short term. But never forget: I am not a doctor!

Till the next record!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

New Reebok shoes

Just in time to celebrate my 1-year running activity, this morning I received the new Rebook shoes I had ordered online some weeks ago from the English eBay (at a cost of 30 pounds, plus 10 pounds shipping costs). All in all, I'm satisfied with this price: the ones I longed for (electric blue color) are still available on the Internet, but they cost more than 80 euro, so I think these nice grey Reebok I bought are a good bargain. 

The model is the V62609, very light, elegant and breathable. Compared to the version I am currently wearing, the single shoe is 20 grams lighter, a factor that should increase my running speed. Moreover, I think that my foot will sweat much less during the summer season. Of course I am looking forward to trying them on! I will write a longer review in a couple of months, but my impression is that they will perform quite well in the near future!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

1-year evaluation: running and exercises

On April 2015, after checking my blood values, I decided to take up running and physical activity. Regarding the first, I alternated jogging and intensive running (at a 5 minutes per km pace and below), as regard as the second, I focused on crunches, push-ups, chin-ups and pull-ups. Starting from May, the 18th 2015, I kept track of each performance in a small agenda, so now I can have a 1-year overview about what I have achieved all over the last 12 months. Here below you can find the results:

Period: from 18 May 2015 to 17 May 2016
Distance: 1217 km
Distance at 5min/km pace: 634 km
Running days: 228 / 365 (around 4 days a week)
Exercise days: 133 / 365  ( around 2/3 days a week)
Pair of shoes changed: 2 
Longer distance: 14 km
Longer streak: 19 consecutive running days (twice)
Longer stop: 18 days (due to tendon inflammation) 

And what about the achievements? Well, as you can see reading my previous posts, my LDL cholesterol and triglycerides levels have decreased, the HDL value has increased, my weight has been stuck to 62 kg for the  last 6 months and after the first injury suffered last spring (probably due to an exceedingly demanding running plan) my body feels quite well now. So I can say it clear and loud: running is really beneficial for you body, your health and your mood!

Friday, March 11, 2016

The power of music

Records are made to be broken. After 4 years and 5 months, this afternoon I finally managed to run 10 km breaking the 48 minutes barrier: my new PB is now 47 minutes and 57 seconds, which improved my 2011 and till today still unbeaten personal best of 48:07 by ten seconds. No need to mention that I am particularly satisfied about this last performance, because it confirms that hard work pays, no matter how old - or young - you are (on Eastern I am going to turn 40).

I guess that my new record is to be ascribed also to the mp3 collection I prepared just before going out today: 9 songs from the late '70s and early '80s, including Rocky's soundtrack and similar yes-you-can-do songs. Mostly at the beginning of the running session, the drum beat gave me the right mental strength to increase the pace, whereas at the end, when my stamina started to decrease, the music provided me with the energy I needed to cover the last two kilometers.

Here are the data of today's historical session:

Distance: 10 km (20 laps of a 500-meter circuit)
Time: 47:57:93 (manual)
Average: 4:47 min/km
Speed: 12,51 km/h
Temperature: around 10° Celsius, partly cloudy
Wind: 15/25 NE (quite annoying when running south)
Progression: 3 km: 14:13 - 5 km - 23:42; 7 km - 33:35
Heart Rate average: 178 (max: 191)
Kcal: 793

PS: let it rock and let it roll!

Friday, March 4, 2016

The bold is not beautiful

Read this paragraph below:

"There are two types of lipoproteins, the 'good' protective high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and the 'bad' harmful low-density lipoprotein (LDL). Cholesterol can increase the risk of atherosclerosis, heart attack, stroke and TIA."

And now read it again:

"There are two types of lipoproteins, the 'good' protective high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and the 'bad' harmful low-density lipoprotein (LDL). Cholesterol can increase the risk of atherosclerosis, heart attack, stroke and TIA."

Probably, when reading the lines a second time, you might have focused more attention on the words highlighted by bold characters. Now think about it: it was me, the editor, who decided which words to stress, in order to lead your attention (and thus your opinion) towards a definite direction. This is the reason why I don't like the new trend of using bold characters in articles and in the news (unfortunately this system is spreading also in the newspaper). 

Today's readers are used to be taken by the hand while reading: in a way, it's much easier, it requires less time and energy to understand a concept...but what about personal and free interpretation? Or, more importantly, the critical approach to a text? What if the great writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky had scattered words in italics and bold characters throughout the pages of his masterpiece "Crime and Punishment", in order to lead the reader's opinions as he liked? Horrible. 

Reading, like seeing and hearing, is an act of interpretation. Do not accept to be passive while reading: always ask yourself questions and think with your own brain!

PS: I know, this post has very little to share with running, but once in a while I like to go off topic, just for a change!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Unexpected results! Or maybe not...

As promised, here they are: the results of my last blood test, taken on February 29th, 2016, after more than 1000 km of running. First surprise: my total cholesterol level increased again! Am I worried? Not at all, because my HDL cholesterol value (the so-called "good" one), made a jump forward as well, so now my total cholesterol/HDL ratio is below 5 (4,2), meaning that the risk for heart disease is now lower than in the past 12 months. This is the reason why I can put up with my high total cholesterol level (set off by satisfactory triglycerides values), even if I have to admit that I would like to see it going under 200. But maybe this is impossible, considering my genetic predisposition (see this post here). 

Let's have a look at the values, compared with the last two blood tests I took in April and July 2015.

 I highlighted the last two numbers at the bottom end on the right side of the chart, as they prove the progress I made on the last 12 months. You might say: "you shouldn't be so happy, as your total cholesterol level increased!". Well, I remind you that this value includes also the HDL value, which changed from 49 to 62 (and this explains why the tot-cholesterol is now higher ), whereas the LDL level (the "bad guy") decreased. Now some basic conclusion: it seems it's very hard to make HDL raise and the total cholesterol level drop at the same time (a question for a real doctor: is that actually possible?). Anyway, what keeps the smile on my face is the fact that the two ratios on the chart in fact decreased, and that my HDL level corresponds now to the value of a "real" long-distance runner (athletes' HDL is usually above 60). 

And here some more "advanced" charts I made. Honestly, their scientific value is very poor, nevertheless I enjoyed a lot collecting these data and turning them into graphics.

 Chart 1
The yellow columns, that represent the total cholesterol levels,   refer to the range of the Y axis on the right, whereas the kilometers I ran refer to that on the left. Every week, I kept track of the distances I covered, specifying how many kms I ran keeping a pace below 5 minutes per km (a running style that, according some study, produces effects on the HDL level). Unfortunately I was not able to take a blood test in October, so I couldn't  detect the potential benefits of my summer performances, which were quite intense.

Chart 2

Here come the good news (and some food for thoughts): if the moderate physical exercise I did in spring 2015 didn't have any significant impact on the HDL level, the August and September performances (see especially the red line) seem to have produced a considerable increase of this value, which is now above 60. Possible conclusion: increasing your mileage and your speed (meaning: running 10 km under 50 minutes 2/3 times per week) has an impact on your HDL value. 

 Chart 3

 If you have doubts about it, this chart shows how physical activity and a junk-food free diet help decreasing the "bad" cholesterol level, even if in my case the change is not that sizable. Actually, in the last months the LDL value didn't drop as I expected, but at least it did not increase either, which is ok for me. Thanks to the new lifestyle, the drop since April 2015 to now is an encouraging - 14%.

 Chart 4
Having a look at this chart, I can see that my triglycerides level has slightly increased: I have to admit that I am less strict than in the past months when it comes to food, and I indulged myself in occasional "escapades" that might have influenced the current value, which is however quite good. 

Chart 5
 This chart is a bit messy: the columns show the Total, LDL and HDL cholesterol levels, plus the Triglycerides, whereas the dotted lines represent respectively the total amount of kilometers I have run all over the last 10 months (blue line) and those I've run fast (< 5 min/km pace, red line). Let's turn all this into a working hypothesis: an average of around 50 km (fast) and 100 km (jogging pace) monthly running might contribute to a drop and then to a stabilization of triglycerides levels and a decrease of LDL cholesterol values. HDL values might improve, but only if the monthly mileage increases considerably (see previous charts).


As I always say, I am not a doctor, so the interpretation of the data above are completely unscientific. However, throughout the last year, I've learned many new things about cholesterol, running and healthy lifestyle, and today results are an incentive to run longer and faster, even if I am getting older and outside the cold wind keeps blowing. But this will not discourage me: as the Boss says, we are born to run!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

And the winner is...

My dear 25,376,987 (imaginary) friends,

I am proud to inform you that, with the 28 km covered this week, I've reached (and surpassed) the 1000 km target! Starting from May 2015, I've kept track of all the distances I've run all over the last 10 months and tomorrow I am going to the hospital to check my blood values again. The last time I did it was in July, when I "achieved" my goal: my total cholesterol level decreased by 10% without any medicament. Now I am curious to see the new results (I expect a further 10% decrease) after 8 more months of running, healthy life style and junk-food-free diet, with limited consumption of alcohol and pizza. Stay tuned, as the best is yet to come: I promise to post graphics about my last 10 months performances and up-to-date cholesterol values (total, HDL, LDL and triglycerides).

Sunday, January 31, 2016

A document from the past

The other day, searching through the documents stored in a drawer, I found a "relic" dated April 1992: a paper with the results of a blood test I took when I was 16 years old! Let's check it out together.

My total cholesterol level was 195 (23 years later - and before starting running: 282), my HDL value was 52 (the same) and the triglycerides value was 60 (110 in 2015). It is surprising to notice that in this old document there is no mention of LDL cholesterol, whereas the risk range for triglycerides is set between 10 and 170. At the time being, doctors consider risky any value beyond 150. And what about total cholesterol? In 1992, a value of 200 was quite ok, as the risk level was 220, but now the range is 80 - 200. Only the HDL value has remained unchanged.

This brings us to the points I raised in my post about the misuse multinational companies make of such values, in order to maximize their profit spreading panic around this issue. We can ask ourselves: a person with a total cholesterol level of 210 in 1992 had more chances of incurring a heart disease than a person with the same blood level in 2015? 

Second point: the value of 195 is a proof that I suffer from familial hypercholesterolemia (as you know, I am not a doctor, so this is my personal diagnosis), meaning that my cholesterol level is and was high because of genetic reasons (am I looking for alibis?). Back then I used to make sport almost every day (at school or with my basketball team), I ran as only a teenager can ran (sometimes just for fun) and I didn't drink any alcohol (I started a couple of years later), nor I ate junk food. 

My April 2015 high values were the result of two decades of "dietary anarchy", during which I kept on practicing sport but at a very moderate level (and never regularly) and I discovered the pleasure of drinking high quality German and Belgian beer. Three months of intense and regular physical activity, matched with a diet based on fruit, vegetable, fish and carbohydrates, produced a decrease of 10% in my cholesterol level. I booked a further blood test, that I intend to make in some weeks, to monitor my (potential) progress. I am very curious about the result!


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Yes, I'm still running!

I know, I haven't posted many articles over the last weeks, but I want to reassure my fans (do I have fans?) that I am still running. Unfortunately, due to the Christmas stop, my old companion (the numb foot) has reappeared, so I cannot run longer than 7 km at the moment, but I am working on it. A few days ago I bought some winter equipment for my winter running, which is going to help me face the cold weather: gloves, neck-warmer and ear-warmer. Last but not least, soon I am going to check my blood levels again. I am very curious, as last time I checked them (July 2015) my values had improved, and in the mean time I covered around 600 km. I will let you know about the newest development.