Coach's Columns






Coach's Column - January 1996 - "Oxygen"

In my first Coach's Column in the current series in January 1993, I wrote that the three most important factors in determining ability in long distance running are oxygen supply, oxygen supply and oxygen supply. Stand by, calculators at the ready, for some meat on those bare bones, as follows:

1. Running speed depends absolutely on the rate of production of energy in the working muscles.

2. Energy is released by the (chemical) reaction between one or other, or both, of two "fuels" - glucose and fat - with oxygen.

3. Oxygen is made available for this chemistry by your breathing in air and having it transfer through your lungs into the blood stream where it gets attached to (iron-rich) molecules of haemoglobin.

4. For small increases, say up to 5% (rather than 50%), an increase in energy production is directly and equally proportional to an increase in speed. e.g. a 1% increase in energy release makes for a 1% increase in speed and, almost, a 1% decrease in the time taken to run the race distance.

5. Calculation number 1. You go to see "our" haematologist Dr M.Rajah and he tells you your haemoglobin count is, say, 13.0 g/dl. He treats you; eight weeks later, your Hgb count is 14.0 g/dl. 14 is 7.7% more than 13 : the following weekend, other things being equal (of course!), you run 7.7% further each minute so your 40 minute 10k is transformed into a 37:08 10k. Wow!

6. Calculation number 2. The amount of oxygen made available to your racing muscles per minute is the difference between the blood volume / oxygen your heart pumps in the race and what's required to keep you alive, awake and doing nothing i.e. your resting heart rate. So, if your resting pulse rate is, say, 44 beats per minute and in the race it's going at 164 bpm, you have made available 120 beats worth of blood / haemoglobin / oxygen for racing. But if through training properly over several months you have brought your resting heart rate down to say 40 - other things, including Hgb count, room temperature, how long after eating / taking exercise etc. etc. being the same - then that's another way of saying you have trained your heart to pump out 10% more oxygen per beat (because, all those other things being equal including the energy needed to keep you alive, awake but doing nothing must require only the same amount of blood now that your resting pulse rate is 40 as it did when it was 44). So, when you are racing after that, you have not only 4 more beats per minute delivered i.e. 160-40=124, but you also may have more blood / haemoglobin / oxygen delivered per beat. If the racing stroke volume has also gone up by 10%, then your previous limit of 164 now becomes the equivalent of 180 beats per minute. 180-40=140 to compare with the former 164-44=120. That's over 161/2% more. Wow!

7. A 161/2% increase in speed of racing would reduce a 40 minute 10k to a 34:15 one. That's, probably, another way of saying that a 10% increase in heart stroke volume when you're doing nothing won't translate to a 10% increase in stroke volume when you're racing. It does show, however, that there is a high prize to be gained, in road racing if in nothing else, by training your heart to be stronger, bigger, and pumping out more oxygen per stroke than it used to. Even if there were no increase at all in stroke volume at racing speed - which seems unlikely - the extra 4 beats per minute in the figures I used i.e. a difference racing to resting of 124 instead of 120 bpm, would reduce a 40:00 10k time to 38:43. Worth going for?

Maybe that's why (a) Ron Clarke - first ever under 13 minutes for 3 miles and that on the old White City Stadium cinder track; (b) Charlie Spedding - our president and medallist in the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984; and (c) Miguel Indurain, five times winner of the Tour de France - a race which is approximately equivalent in speed / endurance terms to running 100km in 7 hours, and again, and again, every day for 20 days in a row; all had / has resting pulse rates of 28.

Corrigenda to Max's column in October 1995 newsletter:

section 7 - instead of "tailwind exceeds 20mph" read "tailwind exceeds 10mph"

section 10 - instead of "minute banks" read "high street banks"



Coach's Column - May 1996 - WAT ER REVELATION

(from Max Jones, M.A.Cantab, since you ask)

{Copy of letter submitted to "Athletics Weekly", 13/4/96}

With half a dozen big city races in half as many weeks, the marathon year is about to start in earnest. We shall therefore be reminded each week of the need to "Drink Early, Drink Often". As this advice has been handed down on tablets of stone for so many years it seems like heresy to point out that it is not only incorrect, it may even be, at the margin, positively harmful.

All the advisers agree that the predominant method by which an exercising body loses heat is by evaporation of sweat from the skin, but, in articles about the perils of long distance running, this truth is never quantified. For the actual numbers, I had to turn to my old university text-book on the "Theory and Practice of Heat Engines": they are that heating up one gram of water absorbs 1 calorie per degree C rise in temperature - say a minimum of 10 calories, a maximum of 30 as it passes through the body when running - whereas the heat absorbed in turning that water into water vapour, as evaporated sweat, is, wait for it, 575 calories. So the so-called "Latent Heat of Vapourisation" carries away between 57 and 19 times as much heat than the transfer from the body's core to the water as it makes its slow and winding way through the body from the plastic cup at an aid station to its arrival at the skin.

Moreover, the time taken for plain water to get from mouth to skin has been shown, by research done for the isotonic drink suppliers, to vary, depending on conditions, between 30 and 40 minutes. Pouring it over oneself - head, shoulders, chest and arms - makes it instantaneously available where it's needed, for evaporating 575 calories per gram. So I've not drunk a drop of water in any of my last 20 marathons, even though I finish fully hydrated (and soaking wet!). And for the doubters brought up on the said tablets of stone, I should add that I've finished in the top 3 of the age group in 19 of those races (including a first place in the U.S. Masters M65 Champs in 3:07:44 - 86% age-graded, equivalent to 2:27:15 - so I'm not a jogger).

I said that, at the margin, drinking water may be positively harmful. That's because of the time delay which, at worst, leads to dehydration and collapse and because slowing a fraction to drink may cost the race. For instance, De Castella lost touch with the leaders in L.A.'84 when he went for a drink at 35km, with only 23 minutes to the finish; Ahmed Salah stopped to drink at the 40km aid station at Seoul in 1988 and that allowed Gelindo Bordin to close in on him and win; in London in 1989, three runners in the lead pack of 6 went for drinks, also at 35km, the string broke and Wakihuri, Monaghetti and, yes, Salah, who'd learnt his lesson from the previous year, got away to finish 1-2-3.

As a wise business acquaintance of mine once said at a trade gathering - he was the managing director of a very successful company supplying domestic central heating boilers in the U.K. - "Theory without practice is sterile, practice without theory is futile". So, don't drink the water, pour it over your head (and that goes for the 10,000 metres in Atlanta as well as the marathon runners this next week).

P.S. In the (abysmally bad) coverage of the Boston Marathon, events at only 3 aid stations were shown. At two of them, the Kenyan men took cups and poured the contents over their heads; at the third, the Kenyan woman stopped to find her bottle, took one sip and then threw it away. The Kenyans finished 1-2-3-4-5-7-8; Tecla Laroupe had the women's race won but blew up at 251/2 miles.

P.P.S. And this year's London was won - and lost - at the 35km aid station: Vincent Rousseau, who was wearing a cap(!), and Dionicio Ceron both grabbed bottles there. Rousseau drank his water, losing about 2 strides to Ceron as he did so; Ceron poured the water over his head, "broke the string" which had been tying them together, and went on to win by 26 seconds, even though Rousseau's PB was 1m11secs better.



Coach's Column - July 1996 - Training More Intensively

In London this year I completed my 75th marathon in 15 years (after my 75th different pre-marathon training plan!). This was unique, though, because I'd lost, through a bout of sciatica, five whole weeks at the beginning of the 13-week countdown - see Coach's Column October '95, item 2 for the set-back that caused, i.e. at least 40 miles/week training lost, equalling an addition of 3 minutes/wk, 15 minutes in total, to my projected race time - so I had only 8 weeks in which to recover the position. I had been looking for 3:15 again to defend my title as first M65 last year (not that London, Abbey Dash, etc,etc recognise the intermediate age-groups : I'm counting the weeks until I'm 70 and I can go pot-hunting again), but, by the end of February, and no training being done, I was seriously considering walking London with Les Smith, the Portland (Oregon) Race Director : he did that last year to keep 88 year-old Mavis Lindgren company and finished last in 9:02 (partly because, being right at the back of the field and all the spectators and marshals having gone home, he forgot to turn right on to Tower Bridge at 12 miles and they walked half a mile out of their way before realising they were lost as well as last!)

When I was writing the Coach's Column for last January's V.S. News, the one about the huge advantage to be gained by getting your resting pulse rate down from, say, 44 to 40 by (unspecified) "proper training", I hadn't elaborated on what that might mean because I'd forgotten how and when I had got my RPR down to 32. It was in 1984 - I'd been running competitively again for three years by then - and my low 40's RPR had been achieved, my training diary reminds me, by around 50 miles/wk of 8-12 mile runs, relatively fast, and a few short sprints. In the following three months, I had added fast runs at intermediate distances of 4 to 8 miles, which, I now guess, would have driven my training pulse rate well up into the 160s/170s (but I didn't have a heart rate monitor then).

So, I decided for the last two months before London to make every training session a tough one, while taking care, of course, not to injure myself again. For feeding into the calculations for predicting my London time - see Oct '95 C.C., item 9 - I counted not only the short hill and speed sessions but also all the non-stop longer runs which had been at a pace 4%-10% quicker than the marathon rate I thought I needed to be first M65 (i.e. 7:30 miling / 3:15 race time). Adding those 7 "new" sessions to the 16 "old" hills and sprints improved the discount rate from 5.10% to 10.2% : applying that to the handicaps of old age (2hrs + 69 (age in) minutes = 3:09) and low training mileage (add 55-27=28 minutes) reduced the forecast time from 3:37 to 3:15. Spot on!

Unhappily, I was also 4 minutes overweight - 2lbs per inch of height minus only 1lb instead of the par minus 5lbs - and that extra flab made the second half of London a mite difficult. So the revised expectation on the day was 3:19 and I ran it in 3:20:17. And 1st M65 after all.

So the mid-distance training blasts paid off. Not only arithmetically, as calculated above, but, more importantly, physically too by increasing my heart's stroke volume to deliver more oxygen when racing. And, hence, my resting pulse rate, 62 after my 5 weeks "resting" to the end of February, was down to 42 in London week. 20 down, 10 to go!

Moving on from the particular to the general, I offer these recommendations to anyone who is looking for a best-ever time in a race in the months ahead. With the October '95 C.C. Top Ten Rules and calculator at the ready:

As a guide, try to run/race half your intended target distance around 4% to 5% faster than your intended target race pace; a quarter of the target distance at 10% to 10% faster. So, if you want to run a 7 minute mile / 3:03 marathon, aim to run a half marathon in 87:30 (i.e. pace of 6:40/mile = 7min - 4.10%) or a 10k in 39:45 (6:24 pace = 7min - 8.5%). For a 6 minute mile / 2:37 marathon, the shorter distance clockings would be 75:30 for the half and 34:10 for the 10k. If you're not that interested in running a marathon, but you would like to get down to 5:30 pace / 34 minutes for 10k, aim to run 3 miles in 15:45 or a single mile in 5 minutes (equivalent to mile reps in around 5:08/5:10). To get below 40 minutes for 10k, go for 3 miles in 18:30, an individual mile in 5:50, or mile reps in around 6:02/6:05).


Coach's Column - October 1996 - How to Calculate Your Race Time - Version 2

What does "Family is 1st priority, Job 2nd, Running 3rd (or 7th)" actually mean for your marathon times? Consider four typical people: a 35 year old businessman; two not quite so busy 45 year olds; a retired lady with lots to do but without having to spend 8 hours a day in an office. With the "Top Ten Rules" - Coach's Column October 95 - as amended in July 96 C.C. for "tempo" runs - this is maybe how it works out:













Miles per week, of which






Hills: e.g. 10 x 200m , 10% slope






Long Run (marathon pace + 25%)






Speed: 10k race pace (race or mile reps)






Steady: Marathon pace + 30secs/mile






Steady: Marathon pace + 30secs/mile













20 lb



10 lb




Calculations of Expected Marathon Time:






(a) 2hrs + age in minutes






(b) women 10% slower






(c) mileage penalty = 55 - mileage






(d) weight penalty 1min per 1lb overwt.












(e) discount for hill session : 4%






(f) discount for speed session : 6%
























Half marathon : factor 0.48






Ten miles : factor 0.356






10 Km : factor 0.217






Fill in predictions for yourself using the rules above and the notes opposite.

If you like the answer, just get on with it. If you don't, then act now: next year you'll be a minute slower (unless you're Peter Pan). The parameters are:

  1. Weekly Mileage: Every increase of 1 mile/week, averaged over 13 weeks - e.g. by an extra mile on the long run, or just by running a half marathon instead of a rest day - knocks a minute off the marathon time
  2. Quality: Each hill session or sustained speed session in the 13 weeks is worth between 0.3% and 0.6% i.e. 30secs to 1 minute off a 3 hour marathon.
  3. Weight: 'Standard' weight is 2lb per inch of height minus 5lb for men or minus 15lb for women. Every pound over adds 2 secs per mile i.e. 1minute on to a marathon. But DO NOT EXPECT to run this off by increasing mileage. The numbers are quite clear and simple : it's fat you need to shed not protein (muscle) nor carbohydrate (which you need for running fast and, incidentally, you'll die without it because it's the only 'fuel' the brain can use) : every pound of fat, at 9 kilocalories per gram, has an energy value of 4100kcals. A 140lb runner needs 100kcals to run a mile (at whatever pace); a 170lb runner needs 120kcals. So, if you're running slowly enough to be using all fat and virtually no carbohydrate at all - 14 to 15 minute miles should be about the right pace - it'll take 41 miles extra for the 140lb person (only 34 miles extra for the 170lb person!) just to lose one pound. Worse, if your extra mileage is all speedwork, using 50% carbohydrate and 50% fat, it'll take twice that - 82 miles/68 miles - because the carbohydrate has to be replaced afterwards. Don't attempt to lose more than 2lbs per week, i.e. don't expect to see the scales showing any success for half a week at a time. It's the one for the long haul is losing weight, so don't despair. Just think of the pounds as minutes rolling off your marathon times and grit your teeth. Literally!



GOING ROUND IN CIRCLES from Max (October 1996)

I have to say that I was miffed (not to say vexed, sickened, disgusted or just sad and weepy, as suggested by Roget in the Thesaurus of 1852) when my 50 mile time of 6:51:22 last May in a 100km road race was not accepted as an M65 World Record to displace (American) Ray Piva's 7:17:46. Despite there being two timekeepers there at the time and a signed certificate from the race officials to the effect in my hot little hand afterwards, the guy who - as an unpaid labour of love, I should mention - is the keeper and guardian of the world's ultramarathon age group records only lists road times for the 100km (and the distance covered in 24 hours). I was, indeed, so miffed, sad and weepy, etc that I didn't even enquire the reason why such road courses as Holme Pierrepont, effectively a 4762 metre tarmac track, should be included for 100km rankings but not for any of the intermediate distances. So the thing had to be done all over again on a "proper" track whereon records become official for 30 miles, 50km, 40 miles, 50 miles, 100km, 12 hours, 100miles, 200km and 24 hours.

It's quite an undertaking to put on a track ultra so there aren't many of them : just four a year in the UK, one of which is "only" 40 miles. Last October, I went to claim "my" record officially in the Sri Chinmoy 24 Hour Race at the Tooting Bec track in London, but alas, for the first time in over 10 years, I got my carboloading wrong, I hit the Wall with a dreadful clatter at 24 miles and, after a jog/walk/stagger, managed to complete only 50km (which is 31 miles 121 yards in English).

I had had to scratch from the Barry 40 in March because of injury so I had to run in the Doncaster 24 Hour on May 25/26, despite its being a red shale track, which is a marketing man's way of describing what was, in effect, a concrete circle covered with tiny sharp particles of red grit. I had had a good spell of training from the beginning of March, clocking up 41 miles/week average and a couple of marathons in that - 3:20 in London and 3:27 in Sheffield the following Sunday - which would have to suffice for the ultra part of the Doncaster race if, as I believe, it's literally a waste of time, for marathon and ultra preparation, to run further than 16 miles in training. For the sustained speed part, I'd done enough hills and speedwork to sustain an 8-minute mile pace for at least the first 40 miles and my resting pulse rate was down to 37 on the Monday before the race.

There are several factors to take into account when running round in circles for hours on end but boredom is not one of them. Many shapes and sizes of humanity enter 24 hour races - the limit is set not by the numbers wishing to run but by the number of volunteers the Race Director can assemble to ensure accurate lap counting and recording over, typically, three 8-hour shifts - and the majority of the runners are attracted by the challenge of remaining vertical, uninjured, healthy and sane - well, relatively so, you understand - for the full day/night/day adventure. So, for those who are going for some more immediate goal, the problem is rather of having too much to do, to try and overtake the traffic on the straight bits of the track, than plodding one's lonely way mile after mile after mile, round and round and round again.

There I was, then, on the stroke of midday, oldest in the race and on the front row of the grid for a quick get-away to avoid being boxed in on the first bend! The first M65 record in the ultra book is for 30 miles and an Australian, Randall Hughes, had run that in 1992 in 3:57:35 : that's 7.55 miling, but I've decided I'm trained for 7:48 miling i.e. 1:57 per lap as 7:52 miling would be a bit close (3:56:00) for comfort and I can't cope mentally with fractions of a second per lap. It's actually a 400 metre track but, for any passing Americans maybe, the two inside lanes on the back straight have been coned off so we make up the extra distance to convert it into a 440 yards circuit by moving out into the third lane there each lap.

Doctor daughter Sue is taking care of me. Neither she nor the rest of my family is keen on my ultrarunning so she's there, primarily, to render mouth to mouth resuscitation and heart massage when, inevitably, stupid old fool that I am, I collapse. Meantime, I've equipped her with instructions for dispensing my Maxim carbohydrate drink - 5% solution with a pinch of salt I made up the evening before - 200 ml every 8 laps - and a list of all the fair weather / foul weather gear I've brought. She's not done this job before and she has the weekend's radio programme guide and a book to read : little does she know! We've parked the car on the grass outside the track at the 200m / 220yd mark and she has to time me at that point every lap, write it down, subtract the previous reading and write down the lap time. She's decided not to use the memory function on the watch so I tell her I'm not to a second a lap but do your best, dear. Anyhow, after the initial rush - 52 seconds for the first 220 in a 24 hour race! - I've settled into 1:57 laps or thereabouts : on the other side of the track there's the big digital clock and my checker, Kim. I've asked her to acknowledge me every time I go past and to tell me when every 10 laps have been done.

I can, just about, run and calculate in tens at the same time. Subtracting from 60 isn't easy, but, after I've gone through the first 10 laps in 19:33, it only takes me 100 yards to work out that I've gained 27 seconds on 2 minute laps / 8 minute miles, which, near enough, is the 1:57 pace I'd decided upon. After 20 laps / 5 miles, the big clock reads 39:04 so that's OK, too. My pulse rate has settled down at 137 to 141 : it was 135-139 last year when I was 8:12 miling for the first 30 of my 50 miles so I must be fitter now than I was then. Over the next few tens of laps, the second hand, as it were, of the race clock - I don't confuse myself with the hours or the minutes - comes down only 20 seconds a time, so I've slipped to 1:58 laps, but, at 15 miles, the minute hand does register 57 (i.e. 1hr 57min). All I have to do now, for the next 15 miles / 60 laps / 2 hours, is to make sure that it doesn't go back up to 58 and that the seconds, each lap, get down to and then stay below 35. My pulse rate at 138/139 is scarcely changing unless the wind gets up in the back straight, the rain pours down, the sun comes out, or I get caught in traffic. I'm lapping all the field bar one and some of the back markers seem to have met long-lost friends : they're chattering away, side by side, and I'm forced out into the third lane. When I pass the same pair three laps later, I restrain my road rage but suggest they run Indian file instead.

After 80 laps, i.e. 20 miles, the seconds on the big clock are below 20 (i.e. 2hr 37 20secs) but then they stick on 18 for several laps. I've just 17 seconds in hand for the record if I can maintain 8 minute miles / 2 minute laps for the next 30 or so laps but if` I go over the rate by only a stride and a half each lap, I've come a long way to miss the record by the length of the bar at Old Leos' Clubhouse. Although my pulse rate is now showing 142/143, a touch on the accelerator is required. 25 miles are reached in 3:17:17 but the pulse rate is now 145. Last year in the 100km at Holme Pierrepont, my wheels had come off after I'd gone over a pulse rate of 150, but that was at 50 miles (I tell myself). Another 10 laps; 271/2 miles done; 3:37:14; still (just) under 20 minutes for the 10 laps but my pulse rate is now 149.

I decide not to take the last two doses of Maxim, thereby saving 3 to 4 seconds twice and, more importantly, ignorance being bliss, I stop looking at the pulse rate monitor. With 4 laps to go, I realise I cannot see any timekeepers gathering so I tell Kim to make sure they're ready. 3 laps to go, still no timekeepers, so I tell Sue to see to it : while I'm coming round into the home straight again, she's zipping across the infield. Last lap and Race Director Ken is halfway down the finishing straight yelling "Drive on, Max : don't worry about the timekeepers, we'll do the difficult bit : you just do the running". Thanks, Ken, very thoughtful of you. In fact, of course, there is no panic because there's a little crowd of officials assembled at the finish line and I've at least 20 seconds still to spare. As I cross the line everyone cheers : Sue is there and she's beaming from ear to ear, proud of her old, albeit eccentric, dad. Thanks, Sue. She being there reminds me to look at the pulse meter : it reads 151, so maybe it was a closer call than I'd thought, after all. I ease off a bit for the next four laps and the top bend to reach the 50km mark in 4:05:56 - the old record was 4:07:35 - and my pulse rate is down to 149. That's the two records in the M65 age group that were sub 8 minute miles so I'll take a breather now.

That was a silly mistake. I knew in the back of my mind that the 40 mile record, although an average of 8:15 miles from the start, was only 9 minute miles away from the 30 mile record : that, I assumed without bothering to work it out, gave me ample time to attend to several "personal needs", as the old work study allowances used to be called. So by the time I'd de-gritted my socks and shoes, drunk three helpings of Maxim to make up for the ones I'd refused earlier, taken another dose of anti-diarrhoea mixture and been to the loo, over 10 minutes had slipped by more or less without my noticing. After the break, I found 8:40 miling kept my heart rate below 140 : Sue told me I needed 7:30 miling to get to the 40 mile record, i.e. no chance. The 50 mile time, however, was almost 9:30 miling away and the 100km time over 10 minute miling after that.

When I had first attempted these track ultras last October, I had enquired of Andy Milroy, guardian of the figures, what the M65 British records were, so as to have a Plan B ready in case I failed to make the WRs. He told me that he could find no trace in his papers, going back 25 years, of any M65 Brit putting in a claim for any of the track ultra records! So I picked up a BR for 40 miles in 5:38:26, eight minutes shy of the WR, and then continued on, at the same pace, to the 50 mile WR in 7:07:11, a good 10 minutes inside the previous mark.

Thereafter it was just a matter of eating enough, drinking enough and running inside 10 minute miles to the finish at midday on the Sunday. Except that I was getting more and more pain, physical and mental, from all those sharp bits of grit I was collecting in my shoes. As I jogged round in 2:20 laps, I thought of the damage I was doing to my feet, probably, and that Race Directors, however well-meaning, should not put on races, of whatever length but particularly not ultras, on grit-covered concrete. So I quit the race at 52 miles.

Back at the ranch, Sylvia mentioned that there's a track ultra at Hull some time in July. There is : it's on July 13/14 and it's a tartan track. So that's where I'll be when the Leeds marathon starts.