Wednesday, 2 January 2013

A new way to train

Around 6 months ago I penned a rather frustrated picture of myself in the curse of a novice runner. It was here that I acknowledged once and for all that four years of trying just wasn’t working out. I had been training hard (too hard) and was on the receiving end of set back after set back. That effort bred inconsistency and ultimately confusion.

I had been training via programmes I had built myself. They were based on military experience, the books I had read, an over-inflated ego and more recently the vast array of blogs I had been following.
The first mistake was the books. Until the last year or so I had only ever read books that were designed for marathon training and alike. I took the parts I thought to be important for ultra running and simply over-cooked them to form an ultra training programme.

The second mistake was allowing my ego to have a say. I believe that some people probably battle with this for a while (whilst others are oblivious) and very much like ultra running, this is a journey you-alone-must go through to bottom it out. I’m not out of the woods yet but I think I have a much better handle of it now.
The third mistake was studying blog after blog. This process really was like panning for gold. For every 50 or so blogs read I would probably find a tiny morsel worth holding onto. Don’t get me wrong, reading blogs is a great pastime but when you’re searching for answers against a backdrop of life’s issues and getting little in return the process is simply frustrating. I don’t tend to read anywhere near as much as I used too.

I understand that we are all different and therefore do not share the same intentions when writing; what might appeal to me will not to others and vice versa. For example, I know that some people find me to be too serious and yes that is one side to my personality.
However, I’m now in a position to share all of those tiny morsels and everything else that I have recently learnt as part of my Four Pillars of Ultimate Performance series; this, for example, is intended as a chapter within ‘Physical Conditioning’.

In the curse of a novice runner I stated that I had been training wrong BUT as it will be shown, I was doing nearly everything that I should’ve been. It just wasn’t structured properly and of course there was too much of it. I’m not talking about mesocycles and macrocycles – I’m on about the specifics of what to do during the week. I also concluded that post by saying I felt I needed help before I resumed training.
This is how I found it; a short time afterwards, and without consciously looking for any advice, I read Steve Q’s post about different types of coaches and how they should match the athlete. This had never occurred to me but made perfect sense. I followed a link from that post to Carilyn Johnson’s blog and from there followed another link to Olga King’s blog.

Olga speaks from the heart and is a straight-talker; consider the name of her blog. When I read that post I was spellbound and immediately felt a connection – one that led me to believe fate had crossed our paths. I acted upon that chance encounter straight away by emailing her.
In the end, the programme I received didn’t look all that different from what I was doing but it had subtle differences, was less time consuming and contained one new thing;

I’m still doing weights. Now however, I’m not trying to kill myself and set the bar higher with every session. This is probably a male thing (or and ego thing), I love doing weights but now I’ve come to realise its true purpose. Running is an all body exercise, just as rugby players must be bulky (to be robust), we must be robust (but in a specific way) to mitigate the continual rigours of running.

I will detail my weights sessions in future posts – like I have said previously though, Olga provided the basis of this new understanding, I have simply revised her workouts given to me.

I’m still cycling on my turbo trainer. This is used primarily as a cross training recovery session. When your running muscles are in need of some time off it is important to realise that you should still train the ventilating muscles – which account for up to 15% of your effort expenditure when exercising.
I’m still doing plyometrics. They’re not as explosive as the type I was doing beforehand but they’re at a good level of intensity and provide the right balance of what is required during my early phases of training.

Now for the big change; the running. This is devised around the McMillan method of running which essentially means that throughout your cycle (e.g. a week) you should run at varying intensities. No longer am I just running easy for most of the week with one lung buster thrown in for good measure.
Instead, this part of the training is incredibly structured by using a heart rate monitor. So for example, weekly (or cyclical) running volume should be calculated on the following basis;

·         Recovery sessions are done at between 65 and 72% of Maximum Heart Rate (MHR).
·         Base (easy) sessions are done at between 72 and 79% of MHR.
The above should be 45% of your weekly total

·         Marathon paced sessions are done at between 79 and 90% of MHR.
90mins or 12% of weekly total

·         Threshold sessions are done at between 88 and 92% of MHR.
60mins or 10% of weekly total, track 800-1600m

·         Interval sessions are done at between 93 and 97% of MHR.
8% of weekly total, hills or track between 3-7mins

·         Repetition sessions are done at >95% of MHR.
5% of weekly total, 200-400m track
Clearly, this can get a bit technical for some people but you know there must be a good reason for its existence as a method of running training. And besides, if you’re leaving a coach to work it out for you all you need to do is follow the plan.

Please note this isn’t an argument for which method of running training is best. I’m aware there are different ways to train (Lydiard, Daniels, Cavona, etc) but this is my first taste of structured and specific running training. I’m also aware of the differences in training by perceived effort, heart rate range and pace range. For now, I will stick with the heart rate. Training by feel is my ultimate goal as I have acknowledged previously.

Obviously, one would not try to fit all of the zones (above) into a weekly cycle. I follow a process of 1 week recovery and three week progression where each of those three weeks gets incrementally more challenging. And each of these four week blocks are designed with a goal in mind too e.g. strength, endurance, speed, taper etc. So some cycles have more intervals in them than others.
One key thing to remember here though is that speedwork is included in every week. As I  said to the Pirate previously, this fact alone rules out any argument as to whether ultra runners should do any speed training or not.

In terms of physical conditioning, there is only one thing I have not addressed in my lead up to 2013. That is a proper base training phase. Olga has told me that would take 6months to do; therefore I do not have time. My intention is to get the Triple Crown done, take some time off (for my operation – referred to in the previous post) then build back up with said base training in preparation for my as yet undecided goals for 2014.
One other specific, I try to do all of my long stuff off road, on trails.

So I suppose all of this will only make sense if my performances pick up and I become a lot more consistent. Although I have been injured for the last 8 weeks, I am quietly confident that 2013 will be a good year.
Up until I received that hip injury I had been running stronger and more efficiently than ever. For example, I did a 1.5mile time trial on a treadmill and got a pb (sub 8mins) and was noticing finishing my long runs feeling as though I could do the same again i.e. not feeling washed out and ready for a rest.
For now though, I’m taking those nuances with a pinch of salt. Treadmill running for example is done predominantly with the hip flexors whereas natural outdoor running (at speed) can be dominated by the hamstrings (thanks to my mate Chris for this insight). My hip flexors are way more powerful than my hamstrings and always have been. Also, I have seriously addressed my nutrition and mental strength in preparation for 2013 – something else I wish to share as soon as I have the time to do so.
One of the benefits of this new training regime is the aerobic fitness consistency. Almost 2 weeks ago I was delighted to realise that my hip injury had cleared up. However, during that 14miler I pulled my right hip flexor.

I did what I always do and carried on running for another 4 days before I told myself to screw the nut and revert to cross training until it cleared up. As I’ve been following the principles of injury prevention and mitigation (recently penned), I hope I will be clear as of tomorrow’s 4 mile recovery run.
Anyway, by the time I had done that run 4 days after I pulled my hip flexor I was already back to my previous best running pace (at base pace). Beforehand, it would’ve taken me between 5-6weeks to get that fitness back. Needless to say, my confidence is good.

My confidence has also taken a surge recently having read Brain Training for Runners (BTR) and The Winners Brain (WB). I’m doing many of the things suggested in those books and ironically have been for a while now. For example, whenever I have been running within the last 12months my thoughts are focussed on my technique (BTR). More recently, those having read this blog will understand that I have been delving deep within to truly understand myself too (WB). I will write more about these books in future posts but if you want to cover every facet of your own running, I strongly suggest you get them for yourself.
I have essentially missed my strength build up phase (running wise) in my lead up to what is to come. But nothing is ever perfect and I’m fitter now than I would’ve been had I done what I was used too and taken a few weeks off – to recover!

From now until the fling I have two 4-weekly cycles of endurance build up, then a 4-week speed sharpening cycle before a taper. If I could work out how to put the programme on here in an easy to read format I would but I’ve not got the time to re-teach myself photoshop. Perhaps another day, just not this year I’m afraid.
What I might do is summarise a weekly or 4 weekly block in subsequent posts? I will also pen the specific workouts i.e. the nuts and bolts of what makes this thing stick together. As stated, I also really want to share what I’ve learnt about nutrition (Advanced Sports Nutrition, edn 2) and mental strength. But there’s only so much time in a day.

Here’s to later then……….


  1. Just read this while sitting on the big before going for a run. Just thought you'd like to know that ;-)