More Than A Ealing

Last Friday I raced The Ealing Mile. It’s about as different from my target races as it’s possible to get in that it’s flat, short and on pavement. My inexperience and lack of speed over the distance really showed and that slightly metallic feeling was still slightly there at the back of my throat a few hours on from the race.

I’ve signed up to next months race already.

My key focus when planning my calendar for the year tends to be defined these days by Ultras and when they are. This means that my summer is entirely centred around long races and preparation for those. That doesn’t mean I’m only training endurance but psychologically endurance is always on the top of my mind. Thinking about long distance nutrition, hydration, strategy and performance is top of mind and all my metrics and targets are based around ultra races.

That season has finished now and the traditional thing to do would be to start building for next year by doing the standard endurance athlete thing of long winter base miles as the first phase of my ultra prep for next season but, as any athlete I’ve coached will know, I intend to do the very opposite.

The first reason for this is that I prefer to use a reverse of the traditional long base winter miles system common for a lot of runners and almost all cyclists. I prefer to build speed and work on my lactic threshold over the winter months then maintain those while I build more endurance in. It’s acknowledged to be better to place your race specific training close to the racing and my racing is definitely endurance and hill based.

Psychologically this is important for me too, I want a renewed focus, a new and interesting goal I can take through the winter which will contribute to my goals for next year but keep life interesting. Often, I take experienced marathoners through a structured approach to racing through 5km – 10km – half marathon – marathon and despite my end goal being longer than a marathon I’ve started much shorter than 5km.

After the one mile I will move on to trying to really smash my 5km PB before getting back to the serious business of really applied training for trail running and marathons. This has the benefit of renewed focus but also focusing on shorter events will enable me to get more racing experience which will help a lot in the long run (yes, I’m leaving that pun in).

 

Enduring The Long Run

The Sunday long run is an institution amongst runners, the importance and prominence of which is rarely questioned amongst marathon runners, despite it having been brought into question by legendary coaches such as Jack Daniels and the Hanson Brothers (no, not the MMMBop guys) for over two decades.

The thoughts of this  Hanson  on long runs for marathon training remain tragically unknown.

The thoughts of this Hanson on long runs for marathon training remain tragically unknown.

Why Do We Do Long Runs?

The physiological reasons:

Fuel

You can train the body through experience to be more effective at using both sugar and fat to create ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) which is directly made into energy with the musculature. There are two things which longer training runs do to improve this; reduce the body’s need for sugar by being more efficient at oxidising carbohydrate and creates extra capillaries to move fatty acids into the muscles to be used as fuel (although this latter aspect is somewhat limited).

 

Heart

You’re increasing the size of muscular component of your heart (most of it) – this is more effective at slower speeds because your heart goes faster in the tougher runs but it only beats harder up to a certain point at about 60% of VO2 max.

Musculature

You increase the size of your muscles, the bigger the muscles, the more glycogen you can store in them (admittedly, the amount of this done by slow running is minimal). The more you use the slow twitch fibres in your legs the more they repair, grow and improve. You can’t change the ratio of fast/slow twitch fibres you have in your body – that ratio will be with you for life but you can improve the fibres you have.

The newest marathon training book by the Hanson brothers advocates for a 16 mile (that’s 25km for those of us who live in the modern world) longest pre-marathon run but to set up this 25km run so that it simulates the final, rather than the first 25km of a race by building up the days prior to the long run.  

Those of you who know me could well accuse me of hypocrisy towards this since I regularly run 50 to 60 kilometres on Saturdays just to get between coaching appointments. You would be right to do that if I was running at marathon pace: I’m not, I’m running on average about half a minute per km slower and crucially I’m taking regular breaks to chat to runners, stretch, drink coffee, eat Soreen with jam, pop in to McDonalds to use the toilets and on one memorable occasion, wrestling a friendly but insistent Rottweiler off my poached eggs and avocado toast.

The neglected aspect of this, which I often encounter with athletes is the psychological aspect, people need to know that they can run the marathon, so need to have run a certain distance to be able to know that, this is important and I absolutely accept it. There’s a lot to be gained from understanding the importance of the way athletes feel going into a marathon, confidence is not measurable but it is crucial.

 

Fatigue is the negative side of long endurance runs. All runs build fatigue to some extent but racing a marathon will create a level of fatigue which takes a month to fully recover from, this means that if you are to run 75% of a marathon at marathon race pace it will render your training for the next couple of weeks meaningless and you will lose fitness as a result. There is also a much greater risk of injury and I think those are what Jack is talking about in the video just below…

My compromise for this is to allow a training run of longer than is advisable physiologically for psychological reasons, at slower than race pace, well back from the event to minimise the cost of fatigue on race-day and to reduce the chance of injury effecting the race prep. I also don’t incrementally increase distance on a linear basis week on week because you’ll get to a point where you’re only just recovering from your last long run in time to run another one, rendering your crucial midweek speedwork pointless and painful. At the very most I’d schedule two very long steady state runs per month (most likely one) alongside shorter runs at race pace and rest weeks.

No Country For Cold Men

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The temperature has dropped and the clocks have changed.  For weekday running, this leaves us with the options of either early and cold…  or dark and cold. It’s OK though because I have tips, yey, tips.

1. Put More Clothes On

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Seriously, you don’t get any points for running in the least number of clothes and the chances are, if you’re going out half naked in sub-zero temperatures, you’ll skimp on warming up or cooling down. It’s harder to warm up your tendons, ligaments and musculature in the cold anyway, so you’re making a lot more work for yourself by wearing less and risking injury.

Also, ever find that your joints hurt when you come into the warm after a cold run? Well, that’s because those joints are based on liquid, and you’ve made them contract and expand.

 

2. Move From Park to Street

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Look, if you run in the woods in summer there’s a chance you’ll interrupt a picnic by some delightful teddy bears … but if you run through the woods in winter, there’s every chance of things either getting spooky or fall-overy. There are ways of making the street a bit more interesting; my personal favourite is pub intervals (a form of fartlek where we run from one pub to the next), although admittedly this is much harder if you don’t know the area very well.

 

3. Run Fast

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Again, this is not complicated but running quickly is going to keep you warmer so consider moving a speed session to midweek. Speed sessions are more interesting than long steady-state runs, so it might take your mind off how cold your extremities are.

 

4. Go down t’mill

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Perfect for doing intervals at a specific pace – no need to self-regulate. If you have the means and technology you can use Zwift for a more interesting experience.

Freedom From Marathons

Running as a participation sport is all about challenges, go further, higher, faster or muddier etc.. This is great, a strive to improve is what keeps us moving forwards as athletes.

I recognise that as an athlete I’m suited to efforts of between about 30 mins and 2 hours – I’m an endurance athlete who can complete - but not compete - at the much longer challenges. The marathon is where I’ve come unstuck in this as a concept. Despite knowing my limitations and preferences I knew that I had to race a marathon, just to set a PB and so that I could say I’d run one. As a coach, people ask me for my marathon PB and before today it was almost 4 hours – my only 42.2km runs were part of training runs for, or competing in, Ultramarathons.  

As of Sunday I’ve run a marathon, my time was OK but most importantly I’ve completed the challenge – it’s out of my system now and I’ll never ever run another one. I’ve learned a lot from the experience of running a large participation marathon and that’s knowledge I can pass on to my athletes so it’s been a really worthwhile time for the me as a coach. But for me as an athlete it has been nothing short of revelatory because now I’m free. The things which are expected of me as a runner – or that I perceive are expected – have been fulfilled adequately and now I can do what I want.

So I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want: to go faster rather than further. There are loads of great races for me, Maverick trail races, road races from 10km to 21.1km, 5,000 on the track, parkrun, cross-country or even fell running. I love everything about these types of shorter races, the training, the speed, the higher volume of races on my calendar, the pain of running hard…

Me, running a half-marathon, smiling.

Me, running a half-marathon, smiling.

It’s easy to believe that the ultimate goal for an endurance runner is to be running marathons. We’re endurance athletes therefore we must endure! But I think it’s fine to resist that pressure and in fact it will be beneficial physiologically and psychologically to specialise in events that you’re good at. Running should be fun, we literally pay money to enter these races so do the ones you enjoy.

So, over winter and next year, I’ll be concentrating on speed, I’ll go properly quick and when I break 80 mins for a half marathon and 17 mins at parkrun* I’ll feel absolutely incredible.

 

*times can get slower as well as faster, Andy is not getting any younger, please read the terms and conditions.

Ginger & Lemon Granola

Granola so tasty my tiny son will try to steal it despite the wolf-guard.

Granola so tasty my tiny son will try to steal it despite the wolf-guard.

Ingredients

2 tbsp olive oil

125ml maple syrup

2 tbsp honey

1 tsp allspice

1 tsp vanilla extract

Thumb sized piece of ginger – finely grated

Zest of 1 lemon

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300g rolled oats

50g sunflower seeds

30g sesame seeds

50g pumpkin seeds

100g roughly chopped almond

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75g dried cranberries

75g dried Blueberries

50g desiccated coconut

1 tbsp olive oil

Method

This recipe is my amendment to this one: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/1590/goodforyou-granola

Preheat oven to 130 (fan) / 150.

Combine 2 tbsp olive oil, maple syrup, honey, allspice, vanilla extract, ginger and lemon in a large bowl and mix well.

Add the oats and nuts (but not the coconut) and mix so that they are all coated by the liquid then leave for 20-30 mins to cluster.

Spread out over a couple of large baking trays so that they get evenly roasted.

Put into the oven for 15 mins.

Take both trays out of the oven then add the berries, coconut and olive oil and mix everything up again before spreading out and returning to the oven for 12 mins.

Once out of the oven, leave to cool for a couple of hours before keeping in an airtight container.

I’d recommend eating this with Skyr Honey Yoghurt for a bit of extra protein.

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