It was 10 years ago. I had just turned 60; I had only discovered Veteran Athletics three years prior to that, too late to make any impression in the M55 category, let alone the M50; I had decided to go pot-hunting. I ran 10 marathons that year : I finished 1st M60 in half of them, 2nd in another three, and my lowest position in the age category, albeit my second fastest time (3:02:02), was 5th in the WAVA World Championships down in Melbourne Australia (the week after that I ran 3:10 in the Honolulu Marathon, second to Keizo Yamada's 3:05 : he had won the Boston Marathon in 1953 in 2:18:51, but that's a story for another day). Then, in October 1988, I ran 3:00:56 in the Minneapolis/StPaul Twin Cities Marathon, running quicker than 2hours plus my age in minutes for the last time (as yet).
It was based on that splurge of activity, together with a detailed analysis of my training diary in the weeks prior to those races, that I began to formulate my Top Ten Indicators to probable race performance which, eventually, became the topic of the October 1995 Coach's Column in V.S. News. I didn't do any hill or tempo work in those days, other than racing, mainly, over Yorkshire's "undulating" roads, reasoning that injury would follow hills and intervals as surely as night follows day, but I did discover that I had to add a minute to my marathon time for every mile per week I averaged below 55mpw and for every mile per week I averaged above 60 mpw. When the courses were flat and the weather was kind, i.e. beyond Yorkshire's Immigration Control border points, I had run in the mid-80's percentage in the (not yet published in 1988) WAVA Age Graded Tables, equivalent to just under 2:30 for a man in his 20's.
New Zealand sheep farmer Derek Turnbull, though, six months older than I, had run the 1987 Adelaide Marathon in 2:38:45, the first M60 ever below 2:40. He had also run 2:15 or so for 800 metres and around 4:25 for 1500, as well as equally ludicrous times for 5k and 10k - I couldn't run one mile in 6:03, never mind 26 of them back to back - so I started doing hills and intervals and incorporating those (not injury provoking after all) workouts in the calculations. Hence I derived the 12% discount, i.e. 2:38:45 to 3:00:00 in the Top Ten.
I have been happy, all these 10 years, with these Rules of Thumb, Guiding Lights, Formulae, call them what you will, but for one tiny doubt. How come I could run the equivalent of a 2:29 Open Class marathon without any hills or tempo runs which, if I included them, would calculate to 2:11 if I factored in the 12% discount, with only 55 miles of training, whereas the real 2:11 marathoners were - and are even now - insisting that nothing less than 120 miles/week will suffice to run sub-5-minute miles for 26 miles and 385 yards?
I now know the answer. I'm right and they are wrong. Three articles in recent journals solve the puzzle:
- First, Tim Hutchings - Athletics Weekly, October 22 - has been looking back through his diary in the months prior to his silver medal in the World Cross-Country Championships in 1989. In the four weeks Oct 3 to Oct 30 1988, he trained (or raced) a total of 324 miles (81mpw) in between 10 and 13 outings per week. He raced three times, twice in course records over 8km - right in the middle of my (now) recommended 4 to 6 miles tempo runs! - and once in a mile race in which he ran 4:00. He had two track (intervals) sessions each week, all of which were 200/400/800m reps apart from two 4 x 1km. Of the remaining 33 sessions, one was described as "10 miles fast", another "7 miles fast"; there was a "13 miles steady" and an "11 miles steady" and a "13 miles, steady first half, fast second half" (that was the Sunday when there wasn't a race); all the rest were described as "steady", "easy", or shock/horror, "jog" (and nearly all of them were just for five miles). On any rational analysis, he was running about 15 mpw in quality training and racing, another 5mpw of good muscle/cardiovascular maintenance work, and the remainder of 60mpw can best be described, as the (few) anti-megamileage coaches in the USA do, as "junk miles"
- Second, Hal Higdon, former US Olympic athlete, a senior writer for Runner's World, answering a question about training load in the June '97 US Edition, tells how he surveyed 100 different coaches in the USA and "they pegged 55mpw as optimum for marathon success among non-elite runners. That sounds about right to me", says Higdon.
- But he didn't go on to say why elite runners have to do more than twice that amount. I have a hypothesis to cover that, too, based on Yobes Ondieki's "typical week's training" set out in the (US) "Running Times" in late 1995 when he was preparing for his inaugural marathon (which he never ran; he was injured). He was running 130mpw in 19(!!) sessions, two of which were interval sessions on a track, the other 17 were all "easy" or, a few, "steady", none of which was for more than an hour. Could it be that wife Lisa, formerly Commonwealth Games marathon champion Lisa Martin, simply told him: "Listen to me, Yobes, you're a professional runner whose job it is to run, not to hang about in the house and get in my way. I'll cook the meals : you go out and train. Now!"