Monday, 29 August 2011

Training by feel……..really?

Regardless of the fact that Jez Bragg had to pull out of this year’s UTMB the fact remains he is one of our best ultra runners if not the best. We hadn’t heard from him for quite some time after the Western States 100 where he came 4th and then just before the UTMB he posted ‘Catching up’ where stated that he had a good idea where he went wrong there, I quote:

“I won’t bore you with all the detail but needless to say I’ve made some changes to bring about improvements.”

I’m guessing that if blogging was a two-way process, many others in addition to me would’ve been silently shouting at their screens;

‘No please, there’s no way that info would bore us, we want, no, we need the details’.

Correct me if I’m wrong but many of us follow a training regime - with certain targets and goals in mind. Through time and experience we revise our expectations and make adjustments to how we train to reflect this, right? So we’ll all have slightly different approaches to training and I bet that almost every one of us would love to know if there is a golden ticket (so to speak) to superior performance? And where better to get it than from the very best? We may have to wait some time for Jez to come up with the goods.

Recently, however, no less than three other superior ultra athletes attempted to bridge this gap with blog posts of note.

Terry Conway, answered many questions in a post about how he trained to win this year’s Lakeland 100. A point he made, that stood out for me, was that he never wears a heart rate monitor and tries to train at a pace he is comfortable with i.e. a pace that feels right for that particular session. In his race report for this year’s Highland Fling, which he finished in a little over 8hrs, he explained that he got to Drymen in a 6:50min/mile pace but wasn’t concerned about that as the terrain wasn’t too taxing. Here’s what gets me; why was he not concerned about that pace - for a 53 mile race? I have not read too much about Terry but my guess is that not only is he very talented but that at some point in his life he has followed a regimented training programme. I believe that nowadays he is afforded the luxury of training to how he feels by being able to draw upon his experience.

Geoff Roes has his name firmly imprinted in record books throughout the world. The guy has won countless ultras and is always regarded as main competition at the start of any major race. Just before this year’s UTMB (where unfortunately he DNF) he posted a blog which he titled ‘Consistency’. My take on this post was that there really is no short-cut to reaching your ultimate aim so don’t get so stressed about missing the odd training run or trying to fit yourself into a strict running program. Instead you should do what feels ok at a time when it’s good to go and that by this process you will make the progress you desire. A quick root around Geoff’s blog and you’ll see that his approach to training over the years has been pretty full-on. Additionally, anyone that follows Geoff will also know that he isn’t chained to a desk for most of the day as he is one of the fortunate (deservedly so) ones to be sponsored full time.

Again, without taking anything away from him, it is my take that Geoff has had the luxury of saying what he did in this post because of where is now. For example, there are many occasions in the past when I (no-doubt like everyone else) have felt great and wanted to go for a run but that my work, studies, social life (who am I kidding), wife or kids demand I do otherwise. By the same token, there have been far too many other times where I have been fatigued but as it’s my only window of opportunity for a few days to get some training in I feel utterly compelled to go.

Stuart Mills, previous winner of the Lakeland 100 and all round elite performer, recently posted an excellent blog which at first glance appeared to give some advice on the physical training required to be a top ultra runner. In the end Stu, pointed out that for him the physical preparation required for an ultra was only a small part of the TOTAL preparation required. In fact if TOTAL preparation was a round block of Edam cheese the physical portion would be only 1/6th! The main thing I got from his post was that the brain plays a massive role in determining ones performance. I agree with this wholeheartedly. However, what puzzles me is that Stu seems to give so little importance to the physical part of training. Maybe I’m way off the mark but he was certainly not so forthcoming with advice on that front.

Again though, have a search through his history and you’ll note that he too has completed a vast amount of training from quite a young age. This is not something he hides. I get the impression he is almost quite pleased with the quantity and quality of miles he has amassed in training and races to date – almost as if it is this tangible evidence that allows him to have absolute belief in himself today.

As I’ve said before training by feel is one of my ultimate aims. However, to summarise my take on the advice of the three guys above (if that was how it was intended); training by feel is something which is or should only be attainable though experience.

This brings me to the reason I blog. I have never been a runner and display no obvious talent as a runner. I wonder if this is how we all started out or did the likes of Jez put some trainers on one day and become an overnight sensation. My blog is my record of progress. It will detail the experiment of training so that one day, I too can train by feel. The secondary aim of this is collaboration. So if I ‘make changes to bring about improvement’ I’ll be passing it on.

The way I see it is we have a very limited time to live life. How are expected to get where we want if we all keep secrets from one another. I concede though, there is the possibility that I will continue to be mediocre as a runner and will therefore interest no-one in my findings.

My next post will be about how my base training has gone - it has been my most specific to date. I have discovered a few things and have also had to deal with an unexpected and unwelcome situation. I still have a few weeks until I progress to my next level so there is the possibility of learning more. Wait out..................

Sunday, 7 August 2011

some more tips.......

This week’s volume of training increased 21% from last week. The intensity of some of my sessions also increased. Despite this step up in effort I have been surprised by one thing - my recovery. I put this down to one obvious thing; sleep.

I have been off work this week, doing a bit of family stuff here and there. But the main benefit in terms of training is the extra hour, on average, that I’ve had in bed each day.

Last week by the time I got to Friday I was zonked whereas this week I was refreshed every day and actually ready to fulfil much more than I had in my programme. My average RHR has even dropped to 44.

Whilst this is encouraging I am not getting carried away and will have what is essentially a recovery week this week. In my mind this will stave off potential injury by giving the body a bit of breathing space.

Besides, in 4 weeks I have my 3rd year exams and as I haven’t been arsed with studying recently it’s high time I pull my finger out. In other words, as I haven’t really got the time to reflect on this week’s performances, I’m just going to stick with my plan.

Lakeland 100 winner
Terry Conway has posted a useful blog re his philosophy to training. What he says makes a lot of sense to me. I am sometimes asked to write training programmes for those close to me; friends and colleagues. The caveat I always give with the programmes is that you should always find what works for you and build on this.

We are all very different and no generic training programme is going to work 100% for anyone. One example is my priority session of leg strength training followed by a hard 4 mile run with a weighted pack on. I love this session and for this reason it’s in my training programme. I can understand why some people might think this is nuts though.

A few tips here;
My current leg training weights session is taken from the Brianmac website. Until recently I had been doing these exercises for as much as 40 reps for 4 sets (without a weighted pack) and found that it was taking me a good 4 days to get any freshness back into my legs. Not good.

So now I have followed it to the letter and am in week 8 this week (I jumped into wk 6 as my first wk on account of being reasonably capable of fulfilling the load). Straight afterwards I go for my run as mentioned and then when I get home I focus on recovery.

So I’ll either have some quality food or a SIS Rego recovery drink with one scoop of Doctors Best Ribose, just 500ml. I also ice both legs – usually the buttocks and upper quads and then get the foam roller out for 15-20mins followed by stretching. The good news is that now I feel mild pain the next day and that’s it – something’s working!

I have also added another supplement to my modest batch of an omega 3 capsule and multivitamin every day – a glucosamine sulphate capsule. With my joint and tendon problems I hope this will help out.

Injury update
Two weeks into my programme and I can honestly say that my injury hasn’t prevented me from doing anything. Either my mind is so positive (ala Stuart Mills) that it isn’t being permitted the slightest attention or my mitigation measures are working. So far so good but I know there’s a long way to go. I still feel it though.

Future plans
All being well I want to be able to step things up, that’s why doing this basic programme is so crucial to me; ticking the boxes and getting through will provide me with a much better stepping stone than anything I’ve done to date. So although it’s early days I want to be able to get to a stage where I can comfortably train a min of 2hrs a day.

This will include walking/tabbing, cross training, running and upper body conditioning. I haven’t done any upper body stuff for eons but it’s something I used to really enjoy. Therefore it makes sense to reintroduce it.

I want to be able to change my long run strategy from an easy pace to whatever I feel like doing. I don’t own a garmin so this isn’t holding me back but it just doesn’t ‘feel’ right, running slowly all the time during these runs. Instead I hope to elevate my fitness to where I can run at a decent tempo.

I’m still toying with the idea of actually binning my planned speedwork sessions. However, I’ve never actually done any form of structured speedwork so it might be of use to give it a go and see how I get on. I suspect though that I will end up dropping this and instead incorporate speedups into some middle distance runs.

These plans are dependent on time commitments so unfortunately I won’t be able to put any of them into action next year as my 4th year distance hons degree coursework practically doubles!  I can’t put into words just how frustrating this is for me. This year has been a huge struggle in terms of finding the time to study especially as the motivation for it just isn’t there.

I don’t really know what I’m going to do after this build-up and eventual 44mile run on Christmas Eve. I may not even get that far but all being well I will and I’ll have a great run. Thing is, the plan should be to step things up if this works out but I can’t yet see how I’m going to manage with my proposed workload looming. I’m sure something will work out though as I’ve found that old saying quite true to date;

‘What’s for ye will no go by ye’