Coach's Column - May 1997


from Max Jones

It is rightly said that a man learns more from Failure than from Success - I'm just quoting from a recent news item which I read, Sylvia : I wouldn't know if that applies to women as well - so I've learnt a lot in the last year about 24 hour races. The score so far is : Started 5, Finished 0.

Everything had gone well in training, though, after my inglorious exit from the Sri Chinmoy run - I hadn't thought to check that my usual sweat loss of 1 pound for every 3 miles on an autumn morning would not also be correct for running at 10 minute miles in the middle of an October night and I had collapsed due to overhydration, when a clear second in the race overall, after covering 91 miles in 15 hours - and my 90:59 in the Brass Monkey ½ had put me on course to go under my age in minutes plus 2 hours in London (see Coach's Column Oct '95). But then I'd suffered a slight hamstring strain in winning the Northern Vets M65 title in 2:26 in the Rochdale 20 in mid March and, coward that I am, I didn't go to submit myself to physio Maureen's powerful thumbs until a further week and another ½ marathon later, by which time it was a calf and an Achilles strain as well. So by the time I was lining up for the inaugural George Littlewood 12 hour challenge in the Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield on April 26, I had, in effect, lost 5 weeks training : at a marathon pace of 3:40, I hit the Wall at 24 miles, and, within a couple of laps, both the 100km and the 12-hour M65 world records I was attacking proved to be beyond me. Again.

So, since my Success in picking up the 30 mile, 50km and 50 mile WRs in Doncaster last May, Failure has struck in Hull because I set off too fast in 90oF and over trackside temperatures ; in Portland, Oregon, when I had barely got to the start after a bout of bronchitis for the month beforehand ; in the Sri Chinmoy because I drank too much water (on the Wednesday after the race, the excess fluid had "pooled" into my feet so that both ankle bones had disappeared from sight) ; in Sheffield, my pre-Rochdale resting pulse rate of 43 had crept up over the intervening five weeks to 48, a 10½% reduction in heart stroke volume both at rest and while racing so that my observed pulse rate on the track of 138 had been the equivalent of 154. End of Record Attempt at 24 miles.

It's this latest failure I want to dwell on for this Coach's Column. If you follow the line through, there's a direct link from the speed of a fit long distance runner, equipped with muscles developed for the purpose, to the resting pulse rate (RPR) that runner has : the lower the RPR, the faster the runner. And vice versa. The key to faster long distance racing, be it over 10km or 100miles, is in lowering one's resting pulse rate below what it was previously : as described in the previous paragraph, it makes all the difference whether last year's record breaking 138 racing heart rate delivered the same amount of blood/oxygen to the working muscles as 138 did this year or did I need to run at an, er, impossible 154 heart rate for 75 miles instead.

It's easy enough, after all those failures, to identify the objective. The difficult bit, in the absence of published information, is to find out the combination (of training sessions and races) to get the lock in the combination so that the key will open it to such an increase in heart stroke volume / reduction in RPR which will knock minutes, never mind seconds, off your 10k to marathon times. Starting from first principles, again, consider:

1. As distinct from other training, e.g. enduring long runs builds up endurance capability; speed work builds up speed capability; hill work builds up leg strength, resting and watching TV from a couch won't bring down your RPR.

2. It's probable that the increase in stroke volume at rest, which is directly proportional to the increase in stroke volume when racing, is most affected by the physical growth of the heart induced by the stress of hard training and racing. It's possible, I suppose, that the heart doesn't get bigger, but merely gets more flexible so that one wall gets closer to the other at the end of the stroke. I read that, after he died at a good age(70!), the 7 times Boston Marathon winner Clarence DeMar was opened up : his heart "was found to be 25% larger than normal for a man of his age" (he had run his 33rd Boston, only five years before his death, in 3:36).

3. Just like other muscles need to be stressed to grow bigger, e.g. hill reps for legs, it is likely that the heart must be stressed by demanding more blood / oxygen from it than it can currently supply (and not just for 5 seconds at the top of the hill reps hill). This means running the equivalent of 10k racing pace, i.e. 90% of one's estimated maximum heart rate for at least 4 miles, at least twice each week in the three months prior to the race you have chosen to run your PB of the Year, so that the heart reacts to meet the need by growing. For those of you with heart rate monitors, that's the point of putting it on in training as distinct from keeping your heart rate down below a (lower) limit as advised by Polar and the running mags to prevent "overtraining". What nonsense! As described, "overtraining" is far more likely to be undereating - running 60 miles/week requires you to eat 10 days worth of food every week to avoid losing weight - but I digress.

4. To find out what speeds you should be running in training (and racing) to secure that desired PB, use the WAVA Age Graded Tables. Suppose you want to run a sub-3 marathon. On page 22(men), page 24(women), the WAVA "standard" is 2:59:24 for a 75 year old man and 2:59:10 for a 64 year old woman. That's equivalent to a ½ in 1:25:13 (i.e. 6:30 mile pace), 10k in 38:53.6 (i.e. 6:16 miling), and 5k in 18:47.9 (6:03 miling), which you find by putting a straight edge on the M75 line and reading off all the figures; do the same for the F64 line, but getting slightly different times.

5. For my next trick, turn to page 16 (for men), page 18(for women) and, against M75/F64, read off what you should be aiming for a single mile, i.e. 5:31.2 (man) or 5:35.9 (woman) (NB these times also illustrate, incidentally, that women middle distance runners slow down proportionally less than men do when graduating to the marathon). Now add on 15-17 seconds per mile and that will be your target speed for all 5 of the mile reps.

6. The race / tempo runs / mile rep times in paragraphs 4 and 5 are what you're to aim towards. Don't expect to be able to run like that next Tuesday, because hearts don't grow that quickly! You should see an improvement in stop watch times within 4 weeks, though. And remember that running in trainers for your tempo runs will add about 10 seconds a mile - because trainers have carbon-rubber soles and the extra weight will slow you down (which is, of course, why you race in racers, isn't it?)

7. Then, in 3 or 6 month's time, having run your sub-3 marathon, sub-39 10k, or whatever, it will then be time to look another 12 months ahead. Ask (1) can my family stand this? (2) if so, can I? (3) if so, let's try for er, 2:45 in London in '98 (2:30 for you, Alan, after this year's stupendous run). Find 2:45 on pages 22 or 24 - 2:44:24 for M68, 2:44:16 for F56 - and read off and write down the target times you'll be working to at any intermediate distance. (And, incidentally, the "standard" M68 50km time, 3:18:04 is less than 45 seconds outside Don Ritchie's M50 World record, but I'll not trouble you with considering that. Yet!)

This all points to the fact that the most important training session each week could be the one when you spend the whole morning, after eating a light breakfast, sitting down reading the papers, watching last night's videos, writing a few letters AND taking your resting pulse rate every hour on the hour between breakfast and lunch. And, of course, recording the figures each month in your training diary. Only this can tell you what progress, if any, you're making towards that PB of the Year.

Samples from tables (full set available on request from Bob or Max):

    Age    Marathon   ½marathon  10km       5km        Mile
    M68    2:44:24    1:18:03    35:36.4    17:12.7    5:02.8
    M71    2:50:19    1:20:53    36:54.1    17:50.2    5:14.0
    F64    2:59:10    1:25:53    39:23.5    19:05.5    5:35.9
    M75    2:59:24    1:25:13    38:53.6    18:47.9    5:31.2
    M80    3:13:37    1:32:01    42:01.2    20:18.5    5:58.3
    M84    3:28:34    1:39:10    45:19.1    21:54.1    6:26.9