Coach 2's


May 2000

Coach's Column 2 (from George Black)

George Black wrote to me in February "It has taken 12 years but I have finally written an article for VSNews. The idea of other guys' training logs should generate some new features and encourage other than the usual people who keep the magazine going".

Having apparently become accident-prone over the past 2 years i.e. falls as opposed to injury-prone I have had plenty of time in my retirement to review previous years' training diaries back to when I first sneaked out under cover of darkness to run a mile round the park with a rugby-playing pal in 1982.

It immediately became apparent that I have succumbed to the "less is best" scenario as my work load has decreased dramatically over the years both in volume and intensity.

This is partly due to my switching to cross-country and 10k races from my marathon days but even so I think the truth is in there somewhere.

Prior to my most successful racing season I put together 13 weeks when I averaged 128 mpw with a peak of 198 in 7 days (I resisted the temptation to run 2 miles on the Sunday night). I also experimented with 6 weeks of 130 mpw, 6 weeks of 85 mpw and a further 6 weeks of 130 mpw, which also gave good results. The first part of these periods were mostly steady state runs but during the last 6 weeks I took part in low key x/c, relays and short road races.

I trained in the morning prior to the races or ran over to the races which were up to 17 miles from my home. An example of this was running from Oakwood to Guiseley and running in the Chevin Chase or in the x/c league races which I did during my Strider days. This taught my body/mind to accept the fact that sometimes you have to race at the end of a marathon or indeed any distance race and certainly increases will-power (or bloody-mindedness).

I believe another key factor was my "double headers" when I ran 18/20 miles on a Saturday and did another long run on the Sunday. I can best cite Mike Evans who completed these weekend sessions, never ran the rest of the week, and still managed to go consistently under 3 hours for the marathon and ran a 55-minute 10 mile race!!

During a 6-week period my training group ran 20 miles each Saturday and a full marathon over the Glasgow Marathon course the next day and never went over 2 hrs 50 min, on one occasion running 2 hrs 42 min at the end of a 140 mile week.

The last occasion I managed to put together several high mileage weeks was in 1995 when I hit 3 figures on 4 successive weeks, Scarborough Rock and Rombalds Stride included thanks to Peter Lambert, Mike Henry and Bobby Henry. I do not think that it is a coincidence that shortly afterwards I was second in my age-group at the British Vets X/C Champs to the great Steve James, ran 56:36 at Pocklington (6th all time fastest for a 55 year old) and 1:58:06 at the East Hull 20.

(Editor's note - I considered changing some of the names to protect the innocent, but I decided instead to apologise in advance to the retired and/or long-term injured.)

I am sure that if Steve O, Keith C, Ron Pannell and Paul Briscoe examined their earlier training diaries they would find that they are also not training as hard as they used to. Indeed I would be very interested to see in V S News details of Striders "elite" runners training logs for the weeks leading up to what they consider their best performances. It would be particularly interesting to see Ron's as among all the "old guys" he has kept his very high standard (age grading percentage) going over such a long period. He is arguably Striders' best ever vet and the guy who sets the targets that I try to achieve (he is older than me).

The sad decline of British distance running since the heady days of Bedford / Foster / Stewart etc may be down to the decline in the work ethic.

While family and work are 2 parts of the triangle - Family, Work, Training - which must be kept in balance my suggestion is that you dedicate 9 months out of your life to see just how good you really could be. Those of you who cite "not enough time" should remember 6 o'clock turns up twice in 24 hours not once.

This is a high risk strategy as great care must be exercised in diet, rest and stretching. Pace control must also be rigidly enforced to negotiate the difficult period. Taking the analogy of the week's effort being like your weekly pay, blow it all at the weekend and you have nothing left for the rest of the week.

However if you are content to get to the start line, race the same group every time and finish in much the same time as last year then building the base is not necessary. But if you wonder how good you could be then try the Lydiard method this year (Mick W and the Pauls).

The aerobic base does not apply only to marathon runners, indeed Lydiard had Snell, a 800 metre runner doing 10 weeks of 100 mpw including very hilly 22 milers at a good aerobic pace with supplementary jogging bringing his weekly mileage up to 160 mpw.

Modern physiologists, including Costell, now state that there is no endurance gain in running in excess of 2 hours and that running beyond this time produces no measurable improvements only creating risk of injury and a drop off in the quality of the other sessions.

So I would suggest that you take a look at your old training diaries for the years that brought you your best results, Paul F 2:39 and Eric C 2:37 being 2 examples that come immediately to mind and ask yourself: "Am I still training as hard / consistently as I did then?"

Do we really deteriorate so quickly or do we just settle for less? What made you good then can make you good now.

There are many excellent books on the subject of distance running, Lydiard's being still very relevant. ("Running the Lydiard Way" is currently out of print but "Running to the Top" and "Distance Training for Masters" both by Arthur Lydiard and Garth Gilmour are recently (re)published and available - ed.) But the one I have recently read which reinforces my own training philosophy is "Road Racing for Serious Runners" by Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas (Human Kinetics website ). It covers multi pace training which I have always employed - one session of 20 to 40 minutes of threshold cruising which is similar to my favourite session of 20 x 400m at 10 mile race pace with 15 second recoveries i.e. 5 miles at 10 mile race pace a.k.a. cruise intervals. This sounds a lot harder than it is - ask Mike Henry; and Jon Willingham said he actually enjoyed it. Enough of actual schedules - I leave that to the book and Max.

So there you are. What I am suggesting is that after your current training cycle, if you have one, such as leading up to a Spring marathon, why not pick a race in late Autumn and begin building for it by building an aerobic base over a 10 week period before embarking on specific training for your chosen distance be it 10k, x/c or a marathon.

What have you got to lose, apart from your family, friends and minutes off your P.B. It is NEVER too late to begin and I only began running when I was 42, over 14 stone and had taken no exercise for over 20 years.

I am personally not a naturally talented runner like Mike Evans or Paul Webster so I will have to take my own advice as my most recent 10ks have been 41 and 43 minutes so I can hopefully only get better. To quote that well known Scots philospher "Mac" Nietsche: "That which does not destroy me makes me strong".

Editor's postscript: George wrote me another letter in March enclosing a diskette for me to copy the Age Grading program. He now has a marathon planned for the Autumn and has set himself some training schedules following the above advice. Providing he is still on schedule when the next VSNews goes to print, I will publish some of the detail.