July 2000


In reply to last month's Coach's Column 2 (from George Black):

Looking Back At A Training Diary (from Paul Briscoe)

It was good to read the article from George Black in the last newsletter (Coach's Column 2), although it made very sobering reading for most Striders - I doubt that any of our active members today approach the sort of weekly mileage that George was discussing. One of the main points George was making was that it is hard work in training, far more than talent, which leads to good performances. People (not mentioning any names!) should not assume that just because others have always beaten them in the past they are necessarily more talented. It is far more likely that they have simply been prepared to put in more training. It just depends on how much you want to succeed and how much time and effort you are prepared to put in - most good runners train every day!

George said he would be interested to know how we trained when we were at our best Ö

I was probably at my fastest in the late 80ís when I lived in Dundee. During this period I won the Dundee marathon and a couple of half marathons and had several other notable performances. At that time my mileage during a build up phase averaged around 70 per week - running mostly on the road at that time, I found that my back complained seriously if I did much more than this. Virtually all of my running was at 6 min/mile pace or better (even long runs) and I suspect that this compensated to some extent for my "low" weekly mileage. I generally did 2 speed sessions per week. Sometimes I would join the track men but I found that I raced better when I did my speed work alone on the road. My favourite session was 4 or 5 x 5 mins at 10k pace or better with 2 mins recovery. I interspersed this with sessions of shorter intervals (generally 2 mins) run virtually flat out. Also, every 2 or 3 weeks, I did a time trial over one of two measured courses to assess progress: the first was a hilly 7.2 mile circuit on road and parkland - I would expect to run this in under 38 mins if I was going well; the second was a 5.1 mile road loop on which myself and some friends continually tried to better each otherís times - I ended all argument on my 29th birthday when I ran it in 25-47 before promptly throwing up in the university car park! Those were the days Ö!

Arguably my best performances of all were in the period 1995-1997 when I placed in the top 5 in the Three Peaks for 3 consecutive years, each time getting well inside the 3hrs 10mins elite standard. The key to this was a change of job in 1993 when I was no longer able to run at lunchtime and so started getting up early to have a run before work. After the initial shock, my running benefited as I found that training in the morning caused me to lose weight (presumably due to an early kick-start to my metabolic rate) and the new mostly off-road routes brought about a dramatic improvement in my cross-country performances (including 11th in the Yorkshire XC and 37th in the Scottish National). Having discovered this extra off-road speed, I decided to have a real go at the 1995 Three Peaks and trained like never before. My mileage for the build up that year averaged around 80 per week over 9 sessions, nearly all off-road and run at a good pace: over 2 hours every Sunday (longest run about 23 miles); 3 morning runs per week of 11-12 miles; 2 speed sessions per week (similar to above but run on grass) with a shorter morning run before each speed session; Saturday was my only "easy" day with just a steady 6/7 miles. Iím sure it was the mid-week long runs which made the real difference because I invariably ran them quite hard against the watch. The result was that my weight dropped even further and I developed the strength to hold a good pace like never before. This was also the first time that I had found it possible to run twice a day without breaking down. The following year I lost my job and therefore trained even harder still, averaging over 85 miles per week for the couple of months prior to the Peaks - I was going even better in training and Iím sure that I would have run under 3 hours if I hadnít started with a cold just before the race.

As George hinted, since 1997 things havenít gone so well. Each year either injury or illness has spoiled my X-country season leaving me with a poor fitness base to start my build up to the Peaks. I have, however, still persisted with the same training regime and each time it has at least brought me some respectability. Starting brewing at the end of 1998 may not have helped either (no I donít drink any more beer!!) - it is a far more physical job than I used to do and I find that I can no longer manage the extra morning runs before my speed sessions without getting over tired. My average weekly mileage has therefore dropped to around 75, but I have retained the quality training so Iím convinced that the effort is the same. Just to prove this, last summer I did manage to get fit again for the Edinburgh marathon Ö only to be struck down by a virus just days before the race.

Of course, some elite distance runners perform extremely well without resorting to ultra high mileage, although they probably compensate, as I do, by running a high proportion of their mileage at a faster pace. Iím sure I heard somewhere that Steve Moneghetti only ran around 70 miles per week at his peak. Sarah Rowell certainly subscribes to the "work ethic" but I donít recall her doing more than about 90 miles per week, even at her best. Any of the Striders men who have tried to keep up with her on a long Sunday run will vouch for the fact that she runs quite fast in training! Sarah herself seems to be of the opinion that all of her best performances, both in international marathons and in off road events, have come when sheís been able to run her intermediate training runs (10-12 miles) "hard", which I guess for Sarah means close to race pace! This equates very closely to what worked so well for me in the Three Peaks.

In my experience, it has been fast continuous running over distance more than mileage alone which has brought out my best performances. The key seems to have been to do sufficient miles to bring my weight down to ideal racing level, since weight has a pronounced effect on my performance. It also has to be said that my best races have all come after periods where I have remained injury free for long periods and have already been racing fairly well over shorter distances at the start of my build up.

Interestingly, I find that even in recent times, once I achieve my racing weight, I can still do most of my training runs at the same pace I used to at my best. The problem is that I can no longer come close to my old times when I run flat out. I havenít yet decided whether this is simply the years catching up with me, lack of a training base due to injury problems or just being unable to push myself as hard as I used to. If I can stay fit next winter, perhaps Iíll find out! Thanks George Ö and best of luck with your efforts too.