Friday, 30 March 2012

On the Road

Last week was gym, this week its running!

Over the next year I need to get prepared for multi day long distance running. But in actual fact I’m going to ease off a bit until mid year, then gradually build back with a few events in the second half year and increase the intensity in the first quarter of 2013.

I try to run most days – and let work determine days off. So some weeks I will run everyday – others that won’t be possible. Most work days I’m running after the gym (up to 1 hour)– but on at least one work day I try to get in a longer effort of say 2 hours. I will run “long” one weekend day (3 hours plus) and then be out for a couple of hours the other day, but that’s often in the Peak District off road with friends so it’s not a constant effort. 

Here are some of the things I believe in and believe will work for anyone: 

Event Specific Training – if you are targeting a hilly road marathon, then practice on hilly roads. If you are going for a flat road marathon then practice on the flat. Few assume that they can run a hilly marathon without hill practice – many assume if they can run up and down hills then a flat will be easy. It won’t be  - different muscle groups are used, and on a flat course you get no variation so the same muscle groups are recruited for the whole race and you won’t be used to it. 

Road or Off Road – I love running in the hills, dales and trails. But if I’ve got a road marathon coming up I will do a lot of training on the road. I don’t buy the impact injury risk argument. I do, however, believe that if you do most of your training off road and then suddenly switch to a long distance on road then you are at serious injury risk as you will simply not be used to it. You will also find that as you run more on road you will adapt your style to lessen impact and be more efficient. 

The absolute finest multi-marathon road runner in the world Steve Edwards, with over 500 marathons at an unbelievable average of 3:18, has refined his style to such an extent that you can hardly hear him run – whereas I’m afraid you can certainly still hear my approach! Something I will be working on over the coming months. 

Run by Time – I always go out for a length of time rather than a distance. It’s amazing how many people who train by distance underestimate it. It can also be de-motivating as it doesn’t allow for periods when you’re not at your best and you become acutely aware that it’s taken you longer to run your prescribed distance. You can also use time wherever you are and when you are on unfamiliar routes – it’s an easier measurement.

You do of course need some kind of indication how far you are running. I assume 10 minute miling – which is (only mildly) conservative for me but easy to use.

I have successfully prepared people for marathons using time based training. 

Simulation – the hard part of a marathon is the last 6/8 miles. I get good times not when I’ve run particularly faster but when I’ve faded least in the closing stages. So how do you train for these late miles? A question that professionals and the rest of us are continually trying to answer. The holy grail is to recreate the feelings, fatigue and muscle condition of the first 18 miles without having to run them – and then train the last 6/8.

The professionals tend to use sessions of really hard fast running over shorter distances with intervals before further big efforts. And then do a marathon speed or faster 10k.

This sort of session is really difficult to replicate and most marathon training programmes don’t even attempt it. They take you up to a couple of really long runs (say 20m) before the big day and hope that the accumulation of your training and the excitement of the day will carry you through.

This is where running after the gym comes in for me. I quite often finish on my leg routine and then go straight out for a run. Whilst the feeling doesn’t last, certainly for at least 20 minutes it’s the nearest I get to the last 6 mile feeling without actually having done the first 20. It simulates what it’s like to run on exhausted legs. It recreates even more accurately how it feels to start running again the next day after a marathon the preceding day. 

Tempo Yes, Speed Work No – if you are young and/or good enough to be at the sharp end of the field then speed work is an important part of your training. If you are neither of those (like me) then don’t do it! It’s all about risk and reward. The reward is an increase in speed. However, the reward has been shown to be relatively insignificant for older, slower runners where seconds and even minutes don’t make much difference. And even if they do, they will be more determined by how you hold up in the last 6 miles than how fast you can actually run.

The risk is the risk of injury. Speed work has a relatively high risk of injury – again more so to older, slower runners who tend not to do it properly, tend to do it when not fully ready to do it, and are less physically able to withstand the extra stresses and strains. You are looking at something like a 25 to 30% increased risk of injury for a 1 to 3% increase in speed. And don’t forget an increase in speed is not necessarily an increase in overall marathon time.

However – this doesn’t mean I don’t try to improve my times, I do! And I do it through tempo running. Tempo running is running at a slightly uncomfortable speed for decent distances. For at least one run per week of around 1 hour / 6 miles I will push it. It maybe that I can’t push it for the whole run so I will ease off for a bit and then go again. As you can see – not too scientific, but just getting myself used to running at a slightly faster pace.

Does it work? Well I ran my two fastest times ever last year at the age of 52. 

Treadmills – I do use one but no more than once per week. I think they are great  for improving your style, particularly if you can see yourself. They are good for tempo running – it’s like someone else setting the pace for you. They are also great for getting you aware of cadence. I tend to be a lazy longish strider. The problem with this is that it places more stress on knees. You can learn on a treadmill to take more shorter steps and still do the same speed – running in different styles on the same speed setting is great preparation for marathons and multi day where injury, tiredness, or simple repetition can mean that a change in style is necessary or beneficial just to keep going.

But it does not replicate running out there on the road – so use them, but not all the time.

That’s all on running for the time being. What I believe in works for me and has been built up over years of trying things. You have to find what works for you. Just be aware that a lot of “professionals” telling you how to do it may have no experience of running like you do. There are very few 3 hour runners who have any concept what it’s like to be a 4 hour runner and how to train as a 4 hour runner. It certainly isn’t the same but slower! As always I’d be delighted to discuss any of this with you. 

Back to some videos and real running next week!

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