Thursday, July 16, 2015

Running, Science and Mileage

Sport (or at least sports journalism) has become dominated by science. Every issue of Runners World that you pick up is primarily filled with tid-bits explaining how the latest study has proven this and demonstrated that. By the end of the magazine you're swigging down beetroot juice, disappearing off to the garden for tabata intervals every other hour and enjoying a big bowl of quinoa (or this month's wonder grain).

There's also an odd obsession with food with half of most running magazines dedicated to recipes for your next meal. I'm not sure when running and food became inextricably linked in the mind of the running editor but I guess it's an easy page filler. But I digress...

My issue with the overwhelming abundance of scientific literature from exercise physiologists is that it seems unescapably short-term. When you need to control all of the conditions surrounding the study and introduce a small change to properly analyse the results you will rarely get a holistic view of what leads to overall improvement. Not least of which improvement in race times is rarely used as a marker in the studies (as it can be affected by so many other factors) - leading to the use of physiological paramaters.

(Yes - I'm aware this does not exactly support my point - but anytime I can bring Bradley Whitford and Matthew Perry speaking lines written by Sorkin into a blog I will do so...)

An increase in your VO2 max is fantastic but does it actually mean you will race faster? On the balance of probabilities - yes, it should do. Will it improve them by more than a corresponding improvement in the lactate threshold? That's a bit more uncertain. How about running economy? Running economy to me remains a bit of a catch-all - an improvement means that you can run at the same pace for a reduced requirement but I have seen articles stating its improved by doing strides, by running at race pace, by running more total miles...

Will science get to the point where it has a perfect model written out for endurance training? Maybe one day. Unfortunately the headlines are driven by recent studies, quick studies, looking at small changes. If more of the media talked about studies and reviews like this one which attempts to look as holistically as possible over a number of years then my view might be a bit different. 

New runners to the sport (and coaches - especially where their experience is primarily from EA coaching courses) can get obsessed with the science of how to optimise the work-outs to the nth degree. They want to do it perfectly, to maximise the gains, and in the process miss the wood for the trees. Convinced that they are training as hard as possible, doing the perfect work-outs, eating specially selected meals whilst missing the very fundamentals of improvement in the sport set out over 50 years ago when Arthur Lydiard had an 800m runner running 100 miles a week. 

How did that experiment end? Well....

This isn't a new concept (the obsession with the little things) - as this passage from one of my favourite books - Once a Runner by John L. Parker Jr illustrates:-

"What did he eat? Did he believe in isometrics? Isotonics? Ice and heat? How about aerobics, est, ESP, STP? What did he have to sayabout yoga, yogurt, Yogi Berra? What was his pulse rate, his blood pressure, his time for the 100-yard dash? What was the secret, they all wanted to know in a thousand different ways the secret. And not one of them was prepared, truly prepared to believe that it had not so much to do with chemicals and zippy mental tricks as it did with that most unprofound process and sometimes heart-rending process of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough soles of his running shoes."

Which incidentally gives me a chance to include this trailer...

So over the next few weeks I'm going to try and get a few runners to tell their tale of how increasing their mileage transformed them as a runner. Some may be quick, some won't be - but they'll all be far quicker than when they started. For me? It knocks minutes off my 5k time. 

A fair number of you reading this blog will already know "the secret" and I guess the secret is that it's not a secret. Not at all. Just going back to the most basic of activities - running. Just going out there and putting them in on a daily basis. The trial of miles; miles of trials.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Training June 2015

So... how was June?

The numbers:-

  • 299 miles over 30 days (10 miles / day near as dammit...)
  • 96 miles in the biggest week
  • 30 miles in the smallest week
  • 19 miles in the longest run
  • 5 total rest days
  • 4 or 5 races depending on how you count it
  • 3 short interval work-outs
  • 2 tempo sessions
  • 2 long runs
  • 1 race win
  • 0.4 miles in the shortest run
The month began with me recovering from having just run a 33 mile trail run with the fabulous Jasmine Sandali in prep for her running the NDW 100 and following it up with an 18 mile run at a decent pace (sub 8mm) the next day. My legs were very tired but as part of my new "do everything fun and don't worry about it!" attitude I found myself lining up for a 2 mile race... I blasted out at approx. 5 minutes per mile for the first mile before slowing drastically to clock a respectable 10:17 just watching the rear of club-mate Max Lovell disappear over the second half. Sub 16 5k pace for a 2 mile effort after a tough week? Result. 

The rest of the week was a fairly easy one at approx. 70 miles with a respectable tempo effort on the Thursday doing 20 minutes at 5:33mm before my hometown Henham 10k. Now this one was a big deal - I'd lost two years ago the last time it was run forfeiting my title and I wanted it back! Luckily there wasn't any really fierce competition and I was clear within the first km and could enjoy my run chatting with the marshals - although I did dig a bit deeper when I checked at 5k and could still see someone behind. It was nice to win in front my parents!

The race did make it clear I needed to add a bit of speed so I took advantage of my lunchbreak on Tuesday to clock a session of 5 x 3 minutes hard off a minute - I really like fitting sessions in at lunch if I can. You just get on with it rather than fretting and in Southwark Park it's really simple to get the session done on fast and flat traffic free paths. I followed this up with a really strong tempo of 2 x 20 minutes averaging 5:37mm with the last 20 minutes at 5:29mm. This is worryingly close to my current 5k pace but it felt under control so I just enjoyed it and finished off the week with a good 19 miler along the Towpath with Mike and Gideon making it feel like easy work.

Week 3 was my "rest week" having averaged 75+ miles for a month and I ran a paltry 30 with two rest days. This did however include 2 legs at the Bridges relays on slightly tired legs after doing a "half" session of 5 x km off 45s the night before at 10k pace with a 63 second last lap for the final rep. I ran a solid 12:12 on the first leg after hanging on for dear life against Harold Wyber who narrowly edged me in 12:11 - I then promptly had 25 minutes to recover before I was off again running for my company team (who had been led off by Harold) where I clocked a 12:51 after spending the whole first mile feeling sorry for myself (particularly after a temporarily unretired Kev Skinner sped past me on the way to clocking a 12:01 leg).

Both times were respectable but I very pleased to keep the second leg so close). Finishing second club team to the international Run-Fast team was a great performance by Chasers (mostly driven by Andy clocking 3rd fastest leg of the day) and EY finished a respectable 4th LBH team with me running my second leg and missing secret weapon Max Wolke who ran for his club team. There was a great Chaser turn-out and I never cease to be amazed by the numbers we get out for these sort of events.

This easy week was a week of three races though. I enjoyed my rest week a BIT too much and was definitely not in the shape to run well at the Richmond 10k. To be honest I was thoroughly miserable, didn't want to be there and definitely didn't want to be racing (clearly the lower endorphin levels were affecting me...). After stumbling my way through a paltry warm-up I decided I had to give it a go despite every inch of me wanting to DNS.

I got out well and after going through the first km in 3:20 decided and my lungs feeling really strong I decided I could basically just hang tight and get a reasonable clocking. I thought I might be in mid-33 shape and going through 5k in 16:47 I knew I had a shot. Unfortunately I ended up having to take the pace on for most of the second half and really wasn't in the mental state to really push on hard and hurt myself. Fellow former Teddy Hall relays organiser Phil Killingley is rapidly returning back to form and proceeded to run away from me over the final km and I crossed the line for a reasonable 33:53 with Max's rear once again about 10 seconds ahead of me! 

One of the odd things about being a runner (and about being one that can finish in the top 20 in most road races) - is that you can clock a time which is better than you've done for a while (or even a PB) and be really disappointed with it. It's an odd one because everyone around you congratulates you but you can still be unhappy or even angry with yourself. My friend Matt told me last week on our long run that when he clocked his first sub 1:52 (maybe it was sub 1:51... I wasn't listening that much - he was pushing the pace on a hill...) that he threw his spikes down in anger at his PB as he knew he could do better. I think lots of runners can sympathise. I was content at the result - but no more. I was pleased my fitness let me clock a time I was... let's say "okay" with - but I knew I'd left way too much in the tank and hadn't gone to the pain cave.

Week 4 was back to the mileage... 96 miles and that mean a limited number of sessions. Just good, simple steady running. On the Saturday I went over to Burgess Parkrun and helped pace new Chaser Katie around to a new sub 20 5k PB (I really like pacing people to PBs and through training sessions... it feels like one of the few things that the "skill" or ability of being able to run relatively fast actually helps you contribute back). She stormed around in 19:40 so job absolutely done and it was nice to see a new part of London.

 I followed this up with an afternoon session of 10 x 3 minutes off a minute on the grass. I really enjoy doing my hard sessions on the grass and this is an absolutely bread and butter one. Simple hard work and by doing it on the grass the impact is hugely reduced and I have far fewer Achilles problems and ankle stiffness. It's also nice to not know exactly how fast I'm going - I can just zero-in on the right effort.

With a final long run around Richmond Park at an easy pace with Matt and Lee the month was basically over (at least after I stopped and grabbed a can of Monster energy drink on the way back as I needed a pick-me-up). 

So - lots of races in the month and some decent results. At the end of the month I'm left really pleased with my training (especially the mileage) and feel I've put the work in and it just hasn't necessarily had the chance to really show itself yet in the race results. My head hasn't been in the game properly when racing which is an issue. I've reduced my alcohol intake significantly over the second half of the month and that seems to be helping with focus - let's see how July finishes up!

If you're interested in seeing the training each day - follow me at

  • If you're fit enough you can sometimes race well even if you're not in the mood to.
  • Just don't expect yourself to be happy about it.
  • Keep sessions simple and don't worry about exact paces. 
  • Helping others feels good. 
  • Winning trophies feels better.
  • Avoid Matt if you see him holding his spikes after a PB. 

Bryn Running

Training diary and musings on running in general.