Sunday, 27 December 2009

Comment: UKA Qualifying standards for 2010 European Championships

The marathon runners have known for a while what we have to do to qualify for Barcelona next year - well sort of anyway. The standard will be 2.18 for the men and 2.38 for the women though how many runners will actually get selected is anybody's guess - the policy becomes artfully vague at that point stating "UKA are able to select up to six men and six women ... the first three eligible UK athletes in the Virgin London Marathon... will be selected". My bet would be that this means teams of 3.

With a similar standard being used by England for Commonwealth Games qualification and Scotland and Wales using 2.19 there are plenty to opportunities in 2010 for the marathoners to aim for.

The qualifying standards for the track were published before xmas and remained broadly the same as for the 2009 Worlds. This produced howls of protest from the endurance folks. 13:20 and 27:47 are stiff targets for the 5000m and 10,000m. Indeed if that standard was applied across Europe you would have about enough qualified athletes for half a final !

So what is going on here ? I don't normally write about 'politics, selection and governing bodies' but I'm going to make an exception in this case because actually there could be a serious 'training' point hidden in all of this.

It occured to me that perhaps the folks who are in charge of endurance at UKA have come up with a stunningly cunning plan that goes something like this:

  1. Set the qualifying standards for the track so high that they become unrealistic for most of our current endurance athletes unless they are already world class i.e. Mo.
  2. Make the marathon standards appealing (2.18 should be a lot easier than 27.47).
  3. Athletes (including the younger enduros) forgo the track and train like hell for the marathon over winter 2009/10.
  4. In London we get more guys sub 2.18 but the real benefit comes later ...
  5. Folks have raised their training volume, improved their endurance and start smashing their track PBs in summer 2010 (there are planty of precedents for athletes moving up to the marathon then improving on the track later).
  6. Realising the impact of high winter mileage, long runs and long tempos they repeat in 2011 and track times continue to tumble ...
Well it sounds great and its certainly cunning, lets see what happens !

The magic of group training

One of the great things about the holidays down here in the west is that people 'come home' for christmas which means a good sized training group and competitive local races. Its a complete contrast to when I lived in London when a mass exodus made training a pretty lonely experience at times.

So last tuesday we were on the track for the first time in a while (too icy and dangerous on the grass). During the winter we would normally do about one week in four on the track, the rest of the time we use a variety of grass circuits for our tuesday club workouts at Wells. This helps us avoid clock watching and trying to race the sessions which is always a danger on the track.

And we had a great evening. There were 8 of us running between 12 and 20 reps of 400m with just a 100m 'float' recovery. Its ages since i've run in a group that size on the track - I probably have to go back as far as a BMC 5000m race at Solihull in summer 2007 for the last time. The beauty of the group is several. Its warmer for a start on freezing winter night ! But seriously, getting to share the pacemaking duties means that you only have to lead a few reps when you can be totally focused on the pace. For the other reps you can sit in and concentrate on keeping relaxed - and the key to racing really fast is to be able to run relaxed at speed. And you also get the experience of running in close proximity to other runners, a skill which seems to be sadly lacking in many races these days.

Of course many runners want to do their own session and hate the thought of compromise to fit in with others and the reality is that at this time of year being flexible with your workout isn't really a compromise at all. The benefits far outweigh any perceived loss. For me on tuesday it was simply a case of running an extra four reps when the main group was done. You have got recovery, rep length and number of reps to play around with if you keep the speed the same as the rest of your group - thats plenty of scope for creativity !

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Gwent League return

After a couple months of not knowing if I would stand on the start line again I managed a muddy 10km round Hestercombe Gardens in the Gwent League last weekend. Nothing spectacular, just a brisk start and 3 steady laps on the undulating course before picking it up in the last mile to come home 4th overall and 2nd in the Somerset Championships behind Wells team mate Ben Tickner who is flying at the moment.

In fact the club as a whole had a great day with wins in a number of age categories including Oliver Fox and Laura Parker dominating the u13 boys and u20 women respectively and the men winning the Gwent League combined for the first time I think ?

Hopefully this marks the start of a solid block of training to get me in shape for the bigger XC races after xmas and then enable me to prepare properly for the London Marathon in April. Clearly time is running already and ideally I would like to be in much better 10k shape than i'm in at the moment. But you start where you start and at least in my favour I have years of aerobic training which gives me a good base to build from. Its going to be a fun 20 weeks ...

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Charlie Spedding and Richard Nerurkar podcasts

The day after the Endurance Seminar at the World Half Marathon Championships England Athletics launched of their National Coach Development Programme.

For the endurance folks their were two sessions hosted by Charlie Spedding/Lindsay Dunn and Richard Nerurkar which focused on the transition from 10k to marathon.

The sessions were recorded and are now available on the UKA Coaching website.


Thursday, 29 October 2009

Racing on ice

Funny how three words and four syllables can have such different meanings.

While it may be entirely plausible that i'm taking my racing career to the South Pole Marathon and racing on ice (and snow) i'm not. The cold is no friend of mine though good winter clothing makes training in sub zero conditions tolerable. And now I think of it the Yak Trax are a great running shoe version of car tyre snow chains which I tried out last winter in Pontresina. I was amazed just how much grip I was able to get on the cross country ski routes.

Even less plausible, at least until Andre Agassi's recent confession, would have been an evolution of the beer mile into the crystal meth mile - racing on ice. Running a lap of the track in Paris at the CRIC student relays after a few cold ones was difficult enough, I can't imagine trying to run eyeballs out after anything stronger than Kronenbourg !

So that leaves my racing plans on hold starting with the World Trophy 50k on Saturday. Its deeply frustrating not to be able to race have done a good build and being in excellent shape. The reason ? Well as many of you know since 2004 I have run with a pace-maker as a result of an irregular heart rythmn. And that rythmn has been giving me some trouble again so discretion has been the better part of valour and I need to get it fixed again.

Hopefully back racing again soon and able to focus on the 2010 Virgin London Marathon.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

World Half Seminar Part 4 - Conditioning and Peaking

So for the final part of my write up from last friday's endurance seminar and some thoughts from the panel on conditioning and then peaking for races.

George Gandy was one of the pioneers of strength work for middle distance runners. His Lougborough circuits in the 1970s were legendary and Seb Coe gives much credit to George for the impact of his strength programme on his performances. Interestingly George said that Seb did the strength programme until the end of the 1981 season and then basically stopped, and never ran faster over 800m again !

One of the key exercises for George's athletes is the full squat and the goal is to build up to 2 sets of 6 reps with 1.5 times body weight. He used to have the women working with less weight and is now convinced that they could handle the same as the men. And concerns about them looking like east european discus throwers could be banished - slim middle distances runners stayed slim middle distance runners !

Albertos athletes spend 90 minutes a day on supplementary exercises to build core strength and other capabilities. He also talked about passive stretching vs dynamic exercises. During his running career Alberto spent quite a lot of time stretching and still when it came to running fast he had a terrible style and looked incredibly tight. He referenced the dynamic exercises that east africans do and Wilson also talked about these and how they help make the body move effortlessly at speed.

When I asked Richard Nerurkar the next day what he would have done differently when making the transition from 10 to the marathon he said spending more time on conditioning so that he could better handle the stress of the extra marathon training was probably all he would change. You can't get away from a strong platform if you are going to run a lot. George used the analogy of putting a Formula 1 Car engine into a Formula 2 Car - the extra power would cause it to fall apart because the gearbox, suspension etc couldn't handle the power.

When it came to being in top shape when it matters the panel had plenty of thoughts. Wilson Kipketer said that to get the best from yourself you need to focus on the main goal race for the season. He said that you need to know at the start of the year what this target is and prepare for it. (It sounds so simple and obvious and yet for many people the main goal gets lost amongst all the other races). Performances in the other races were not so important and you need to arrive at the start of the last 4 weeks in good shape. Then it is just a question of sharpening up and resting so that you are fresh for the big race.

In the first part I wrote about how George Gandy likes to see progress every week and reckons you are never more than 6 weeks from a PB. He told us about how Lisa Dobriskey, 10 days before a major championship (I don't remember whether it was Melbourne or Beijing) ran a 1500m race in a pretty mediocre time. And for a while he was debating whether to give her some more hard workouts or just rest up. They went for the 2nd option and a week later when Lisa was running the race that really mattered whe was able to perform.

I asked Alberto about the workouts Kara Goucher had been doing in the last 2 weeks before the Berlin World Champs marathon (I had watched a few of them in St Moritz and they seemed pretty fast to me). Alberto commented that the most important thing was how hard they felt, the effort needed to be controlled and as the athlete was backing off she could run fast with less stress than when in hard training (and of course his other data about the use of altitude tents explained why 6000ft probably isn't so tough for Goucher).

There was also a good question about the improvement in Galen Rupp's finishing speed (not technically a peaking question I know but closely connected to racing). Alberto had watched Lagat running and realised that he was so efficient at speed that 5000m race pace for him was easy.

So he took this idea and applied it to Rupp. The goal was to be able to run 9x300m in 39secs before races. As part of preparation for this he had Galen doing the 30/40 workout where he runs 200m in 30secs then cruises the next 200m in 40secs. And they also spent some time racing 800m and 1500m this year. He felt that paying this attention to speed had helped Galen improve his ability to close races (and of course the endurance that came from lots of miles at a good pace provided the foundation so that he could be in position to use his new found speed).

A couple of other perspectives on peaking were provided the following day by Charlie Spedding and Richard Nerurkar, England's two fastest marathoners. And they had quite different approaches to the final 2 weeks. Richard was happy to run a fairly hard workout 10 days before the marathon. In his case 5x2km at marathon pace with a steady km to recover. Charlie on the other hand felt the need to keep in touch with his speed and would run something like 5x400m in about 62secs with a few days to go. One of the things that seemed to make a big difference to Charlie was the realisation that he took a long time to rebuild his speed and lactate tolerance and that by keeping that faster work going all year he was able to have a better control over his peak.

Liz McColgan talked about race tactics and how improtant it was to understand your strengths and race to them rather than just sitting and waiting for a sprint finish like so many athletes seem to do. (Two of my hazy memories of Liz are of her being outkicked by Bondarenko at the end of the Seoul 10k and then crushing the field 3 years later in Tokyo with a relentless display of front running - definitely her strength !).

Alberto talked candidly about how he had overtrained during his career, in particular when trying to get himself into top shape for the marathon and a theme from most of the speakers was the importance of being rested for the major competition of the season and the need for athlete and coach to trust in the work that they had done. At that stage it was definitely a question of less is more.

Monday, 12 October 2009

World Half Seminar Part 3 - Altitude

Part 3 of my write up from the weekend covers Altitude Training. I've stitched together materials from several parts of the evening and felt that it was worth doing this to present a coherent picture of what the panel thought about the use of altitude.

Ian Stewart mentioned at the start that he believed altitude was a critical ingredient in endurance success and to that end would be setting up altitude camps in east africa and europe for attendance by british athletes (it would be great to get some more detail on this so if from someone at UKA is reading feel free to add more ...).

Ian's belief was in part based on his personal experience. He trained at St moritz duing the 1970's and told the audience about the pre-Munich camp when he was training with Brendan Foster and Ron Hill. Ron had a bad time in Munich and in part this was blamed on altitude by the press and Ron himself. Ian was clear that Ron was running badly when he got to altitude and continued running badly at sea level. The point being that altitude is no magic bullet to get out of shape athletes fit.

Alberto agreed with this and went further saying that you needed to be in very good shape before going to altitude to get the most out of it. He talked about the effect that altitude has on the body and focused on two main changes that impact running performance. The first was the increase in red blood cells (presumabley size as well as quantity) and also the improvement in lactate buffering capability.

Then it started to get interesting. Prompted to comment by 'MC' Geoff Wightman whether there was any truth about Alberto training himself wearing a facemask and respirator device to reduce the flow of oxygen to his lungs he revealed that indeed he had. And that it didnt work though at the time he didn't understand why. (This was one of several examples Alberto gave where his experience as an athlete has led him to do something quite different as a coach). The bottom line was that it takes the body about 90 minutes to start responding to hypoxia by producing extra EPO from the kidneys. So the length of time he wearing the mask for wasn't long enough to produce a response - but was long enough to tire him out.

So what was the best altitude for training ? Again Salazar dominated the conversation hear with a point of view (probably backed up by a load of research from Nike at a guess) that you need to be at 7000feet to get the benefit of increased blood volume and red cell count while lower levels were sufficient to get some of the lactate buffering benefits. And it was living at altitude more than training there that brings the benefit. Pushed for an ideal scenario alberto would live at 7000-8000 feet and train at 4000ft. His group were able to do something similar to this in Utah where they stayed high then came down to Salt Lake City to train.

I asked him about racing after coming down from altitude because I had observed Kara Goucher leave St Moritz 4 days before the Worlds which confused the hell out of me. His response surprised me to say the least. she continued to use an altitude tent until 48 hours before the race ! And Dathan would be doing the same in Birmingham before the World Half (clearly it worked). That left me curious as to whether they were using an altitude tent even in St Moritz to sleep higher than they were training at (6000ft). My guess is that they were.

So does altitude work for everyone ? Certainly not for Liz McColgan. While Liz was able to train OK at altitude she said that she had real trouble racing afterwards and couldn't seem to find any form. She hit on an alternative, hot weather. And she meant hot. Florida was a favourite destination for her and she found that training in hot, humid conditions provided a similar boost. Glenn Latimer chipped in by recalling how a supposedly washed up
Steve Jones spent the summer of '88 training in a hot and steamy Illinois before going on to win the New York Marathon that autumn in 2:08.20. The consensus seemed to be that altitude works for the vast majority and you need to be in good shape already to get the most out of it.

When it comes to measuring the effects of altitude Salazar was pretty blunt. Measuring Haematocrit and Heamoglobin are really just measures of hydration and therefore useless for measuring whether you actually got more red cells (Note: both measures are a ratio of solid matter to the liquid part of the blood so clearly any increase/decrease in plasma volume will have an impact on the ratio). He meaures the total red cell mass though didnt explain how or how frequently.

The altitude discussion wrapped up with George Gandy explaining how after a spell of training in Boulder, Colorado Jon Brown struggled to adjust to sea level race pace and had a disappointing London Marathon. And then he promptly turned to Alberto to ask if he had any insights into what might have gone wrong ! Top coach, always wanting to learn more. And the willingness to share experiences and lessons learned was a feature of the whole evening - and a stark contrast to what I often see with UK coaches trying to protect their precious knowledge from each other.

The topic of altitude came up again on saturday at the England Athletics seminar on 'Tranistion from 10k to Marathon' which was the warm up act for the launch of the National Coach Development Programme (all event groups). Both Charlie Spedding and Richard Nerurkar trained in Kenya and America during their careers and felt that altitude was a key part of an endurance runners development though Charlie's advisor, Lindsay Dunn, had a different take on how to use altitude focusing on faster pace training with plenty of recovery rather as opposed to the bigger volume blocks that many athletes go for.

Part 1 - Reviving distance running
Part 2 - Progression

Endurance Seminar - Part 2 Progression

Its been great to see just how many people have been reading the first installment. It makes it worth the time and effort when that happens. And if there is anything I missed then please leave an update in the comments area.

So on to part 2 and progression.

This discussion came off the back of the first part when most of the panel were talking about developing a big aerobic base off the back of plenty of miles and targetted faster running. And how the culture of the 1990s had got us away from building this big base in search of quick fixes.

Alberto talked quite a lot about Galen Rupp's progression during the 7 years or so that they have worked together. Most of us know that Rupp has now run a mid 27min 10k and took the NCAAs by storm this year in last year of college eligibility. According to Alberto this year he will have been running 95 miles a week (what we didnt find out was if this was his 52 week average or what sort of variation there was from week to week - and more on Rupps workouts later). What he did say was that he has been increasing his volume by 5 miles a week or so over a number of years and clearly as a guy in his early twenties there are many more years of increase to come. Kara Goucher was a similar picture with a progression year on year as she built her aerobic fitness.

And interestingly Dathan Ritzenhein was the opposite ! So Alberto pointed out that as a marathoner Dathan had been up at around 120mpw in recent years under Brad Hudson's training but this season he backed down to more like 100 and focused on doing more faster running with an eye on the track again. The results are there for everyone to see with his sub13 5000m in Zurich backed up with a fantastic bronze at the World Half this weekend. And just in case the 'low mileage' guys started to get too excited Alberto pointed out that when Dathan goes back to the marathon then they will build up his volume again.

Editor's note - the athletes Salazar is now talking about are the second wave of athletes in the Oregon Project - more talented and with a bigger background than his 13.30 brigade of a decade ago. Clearly have the right raw materials help !

So back to progression and an interesting view from Liz McColgan - indeed one of the few areas that the panellists disagreed on. Liz reckons we should be identifying at a much younger age where an athletes strengths are and therefore their likely best event. The british mindset is to start with the shortest track race and keep moving up throughout our careers until eventually we get to the marathon. Of course Liz did race a pretty handy 1500m in her day but she was a 10,000m Championship runner as early as 1988. Ian Stewart shared that he was always a 5000m runner, as a junior and senior. That was where his talent lay and he stuck to it. (The day after I asked Richard Nerurkar about when he knew he was a marathon runner. He made his marathon debut in 1993 and age 29 but revealed that during 1988/89 he had been training in Boston with Pete Pfitzinger and other marathoners and had handled the long runs very well and knew even then where his future lay. Of course he stuck with the 10,000m for a few years to take 5th in Tokyo '91 and then run the final in Barcelona '92. He is also one of those athletes like Dathan who ran faster over the 10k after moving up to the marathon but thats a topic for another day).

Alberto took a differing opinion. His approach is very much to maximise his athletes potential at shorter distances before moving them up (as their aerobic base develops) as he explained through his examples of Rupp, Ritzenhein and Kara Goucher. I suspect there was some nuance lost in the big panel discussion and if you actually dug deeper both sides of the argument probably had the end goal event in mind and just a slightly different approach to getting there.

So for a completely different take on progression we had George Gandy. Talking about Lisa Dobriskey's ability to pull championship medals out of a compromised season (she won Commenwealth Gold and World silver in injury affected years) George talked about how he looks for progression every week in training. Not year to year, mesocycle to mesocycle but week to week. This certainly caused a few furrowed brows from the other panellists and as he explained because Lisa was used to that sort of progression they could handle a 6 week block knowing just how far they could her fitness. In fact he said that you are only 6 weeks from a PB, a comment met with a few sagely nods from Salazar. (What he didn't say is 'if you are in very good aerobic shape already' - which has to be implied from the earlier discussion on volume. Lisa had mentioned that during the winter she is running about 70 miles a week and has built up to this over a number of years - so clearly her aerobic base is pretty good now).

There was some interesting detail behind this - and George is good at detail :-) He explained how athletes often progress very quickly in the first couple of months after their end of season break (i'm sure many of us have been there - i was on fire from dec 98 to feb 99 without really doing a lot other than having recovered from the previous season). So one of the things he does is look to hold people back in that period by adding more miles, more reps or less recovery. Basically by keeping them tired during the winter he can control the evidence of the progression so that when he starts to reduce the load as the competition season approaches then continues to be a visible improvement. He used the metaphor of running with a sack on your backand adding or removing weight from it to control the speed.

George also talked briefly about how after 10 weeks or so with a particular stimulus performance can start to plateau and how that is a sign for him to change the direction of the training in some way. And if you are in to seriously long term evolution of training ideas based on evidence then his recollections of the Loughborough circuit sessions were fascinating if a bit long winded. The abridged version is 'from 13 stations in the 1970s when Coe was there the programme has evolved to 16 stations today - and he is less convinced of the need for conventional sit ups...'

The final word goes to Salazar who said that endurance performance is a 'culmination of years' of training.

Part 1 - Reviving distance running
Part 3 - Altitude
Part 4 - Peaking and the other bits and pieces

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Notes from Endurance Seminar at the World Half

I've got a ton of notes from the various seminars and presentations this weekend around the World Half Marathon in Birmingham. Over the next few days I will try and write up as much as I can.

The expert panel on Friday night comprised (left to right in photo) Wilson Kipketer (800m World Record holder), Alberto Salazar (Head Coach of the Oregon Project, 3x NY Marathon winner), George Gandy (Head Coach at Lougborough University), Lisa Dobriskey (World Silver 1500m) and on the other side of the room out of camera shot were Liz McColgan (1991 World 10,000m Champion), Glenn Latimer and Ian Stewart (now Head of Endurance at UK Athletics). Its fair to say that most of the time was spent with the folks in camera shot ...

The first big topic was about how to revive distance running in the UK (and Europe) so Alberto gave us some insights into the American experience. After the high point of the 1980s in the US standards dropped alarmingly in the 1990s. One of the measures he used was the number of high School runners clocking sub 9minutes for 2 Miles. For many years there would typically be 30 or so but by the low point it was down to just a handful each season. And given that producing successful endurance athletes is a numbers game then having a small pool of talent coming into the college system was going to have an impact further up the pyramid. This was a theme that both George and Wilson agreed with. You had to have a large number of young athletes coming through to give you a chance to produce the Dathan Rizenheins and Galen Rupps. Encouragingly the number of sub 9s is now back to close to an all time high - although we didn't get to hear what had made running sexy again for amercian school kids.

The Oregon Project was kicked off a decade ago as one initiative to try and revive fortunes. Alberto's first experience at raising standards turned out to be a chastening one. His plan was take a bunch of mid-13 minute 5k runners, speed them up a bit and then move them up to the marathon. By recruiting guys who had competed well and had good track speed he reckoned his chances of success were high. As it turned out he only managed to get one guy into the 2.10-2.11 range and the insights were revealing. Alberto's assumptions were based on the fact that during the 1980s he trained with a bunch of guys in Boston at the GBTC who were running sub 2.09-2.12 marathons with far less speed than the guys he was planning on moving up in Oregon. Where the plan fell apart was that the 2000's generation had been running far less volume than their eighties counterparts and while this wasn't a problem at 5k when they moved up it caught them out big time. When pushed for some numbers he reckoned that the GBTC guys were probably doing 120mpw + while the Oregon guys came from a background of 90mpw plus or minus. Thats a big difference over several years training and the cumulative effect on aerobic development is huge.

He developed this idea further with a story about how kenyan kids at age 18 have 15,000 more miles in the bank than the average american high school athlete. While the numbers mights have been rough and ready the point certainly hit home. We need to run more and sooner. And expect that our athletes will peak at a later age than their east african counterparts because they will be behind in their development.

George had an interesting take on why athletes weren't running enough. Back in the 1970s and 80s there were fewer major international events. So although athletes raced a lot in low key events they really only had to peak once a year so spent the whole winter and spring just running and racing tired. These days you have the Euro Cross, Indoors, World Cross and then a summer track season where you need to make some money and try and perform in a major championship against fierce competition. So athletes are spending a lot more time preparing for races instead of just getting aerobically fit. This is a reality of a fully professional sport which we don't seem to have come to terms with.

So some big lessons for Alberto from that first experience which could be summarised as: if we have fewer runners available we need to train them smarter (and the Oregon/Nike version of that will be developed in a subsequent post); identify the talent at a younger age and start to build its aerobic capacity with progressive volume (more on this later as well with some examples).

The other panellists were in agreement on one big theme which was the need to train in groups. Lisa talked about doing some of her runs with up to 60 athletes at Loughborough under George's guidance and how that helped her to improve. Ian Stewart revealed that UK Athletics was setting up two altitude bases, one in Font Romeu and one in Kenya as well as using Loughborough as the permanent centre for endurance in the UK. A change from the previous regime was that he was keen to encourage non-funded athletes to also use these venues to start to re-create the large group concept of yesteryear.

And its not just the US and UK thinking along these lines. Outside the conference I bumped into Michel Boeting who used to work with Jos Hermans at Global Sports Communications and gave me my marathon debut opportunity in Amsterdam in 2003. One of Michel's recent projects has been to set up a privately organised group in the Netherlands with Dutch and a few Belgian runners. At present they have about 30 athletes including the likes of Michel Butters and results seem to be picking up already though funding is still proving hard work - this seems to be a difference between Europe and the more entrepreneurially minded US where a number of groups have sprung up outside 'the system'.

In the next few days look out for: Managing the volume progression, Altitude and Marathon Preparation.

Part 2 - Progression here

Friday, 9 October 2009

Al Sal et al at pre-World Half endurance conference

This evening should be fun. UK Athletics have put together a star studded line up for an evening coaching conference before this weekend's World Half Marathon in Birmingham. With Lisa Dobriskey and her coach George Gandy, Liz McColgan and most intriguingly Alberto Salazar there should be something for everyone.

Earlier in the summer when I was training in St Moritz I got to see quite a bit of Kara Goucher's final preparation for Berlin and then after watch Ritz recovering from his 10k and sharpen up for that historic 5000m at Weltklasse. Some of what I saw made me really curious, especially Kara's timing of descent from altitude and the intensity/duration of her last few workouts. So perhaps some insights.

And then tomorrow morning there is a marathon seminar with LA Olympic Bronze medallist Charlie Spedding, his advisor Lindsay Dunn and World Cup Marathon winner Richard Nerurkar.

Watch this space next week for some insights ...

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Record Breaking day at the Burnham Half Marathon

Another week, another half, another course record. This time at Burnham on Sea in Somerset (photo left by Keith Gough).

I have a love hate relationship with this place. As a kid we used to run lots of cross country here and the course was close to the sea. And this meant that it had a tendency to flood and when you a are a short, skinny, 12 year old running through shin deep icy cold water with a freezing wind coming in off the sea is not a lot of fun. And I had some great races on that course when it wasn't flooded.

Anyway 25 years later and Burnham is still flat and a little bit closer to the sea thanks to erosion and global warming. Just under 300 runners turned up and after a steady start and a 5.30 opening mile I soon found myself out in front and able to run as I liked which today meant rolling of a series off miles in about 5.18 which is a nice marathon tempo for me at the moment. At the 11 mile marker it was time to put my foot down and the final 2.1 miles to finish was covered in just over 10mins 20seconds so I was certainly moving a bit quicker at the end and I reckon that last full mile was about 4.50.

Behind me were a string of PB's as women's winner Ami Yetton ran 82 mins and Andrew Orr, preparing for the Florence Marathon knocked several minutes off his best. Indeed all through the field PBs were being set on what is a very flat course (unless the wind blows) and without a dount one of the fastest in the West.

All in all a good hard workout with 4 weeks to go until the World Trophy 50km in Gibraltar and things are looking good knowing that I have a turn of speed available in the closing miles.

1. Adrian Marriott (Wells) 68:57 (record)
2. Jon James (Wells, M40) 73:27
3. Andrew Orr (Serpentinie RC) 73:38


1. Ami Yetton (Ply H) 82:20

Full Results

In the news
Burnham On Sea dot com
Ironbridge Runner

Monday, 14 September 2009

Chippenham Course Record

Its been a few months since I laced up my racers so it was great to blow away the cobwebs at the Chippenham Half Marathon on Sunday and come away with the win and new course record having taken 39 seconds off Dave Mitchinson's time from last year.

Racing half marathon's during a marathon build up is always a tricky one for me and probably the main reason why my half marathon PB is totally out of line with my 10k and marathon times. Invariably I'm running on tired legs and in the groove of marathon pace as that's what i'm actually training for. And yesterday was no exception. The first few miles felt as if my legs were going to fall off they were so stiff and tired from a really hard 10 day training block. It was good to have some company for those first 5 miles before I was able to ease away and settle into a nice rythmn. The last mile had the benefit of a few hundred metres of downhill which made for a nice fast finish which I'm sure will have been welcomed by most of the runners.

The event itself was really well organised. I would say that this is the best medium sized race I have been to in the UK in terms of organisation and the race 'village' on the cricket field was excellent. With a bonus for a course record and a pair of Saucony running shoes from local sports store Sportzform it was also a profitable morning's work.

The women's race was won by the fast improving Helen Taranowski of Coventry Godiva and in the vets categories the evergreen Zina Marchant of Bath ran away with the V55 prize in 1hr 35 mins.

Photos: Diane Vose, Wiltshire Gazette and Herald


1. 69:36
Adrian Marriott
2. 72:41
Stephen Paterson
3. 72:59
Martin Shore
4. 74:34
Tom Fisher
5. 75:24
Darren McNeely

Full Results

In the news:
This is Wiltshire
Chippenham Half Marathon

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Autumn marathon plans

Berlin ? Chicago ? Amsterdam ? No to all of the above and yes to 50km round Gibraltar at the end of October. Its not April Fools day or a typo, I just fancied something different this autumn and believe it or not there is some method in the apparent madness of racing 50km around the 'rock'.

The race is the IAU World Trophy race and i'm lucky enough to have been selected off the back of five consistent marathons in recent years. So why this one ? Well most of my marathons have been pretty lonely affairs. Its a harsh reality that if you are running the pace I do then there are not many folks for company these days. To be in a group you have to be ready to run 63 for halfway in a big marathon and even the small races will tend to go out in 65 even if the winning time ends up around the 2.15 mark. Last autumn I tried to be clever and run a smaller race in Geneva so that I could actually be competitve and even that turned into a burn up after a steady first km. So with an extra 8km, a testing course and some warm weather I reckon I should have a better chance of being in a decent sized group for at least half the race. And i'm looking forward to the prospect of racing out the second half.

As for preparation, well 50km is fairly similar to 42km so I'm following a normal marathon build focused on being in about 2.17 shape and putting in a couple of longer runs just to get the feel of being on my feet for close to 3 hours. then come race day just run a bit slower to conserve fuel and see what happens in the last 10km ! Training is going well and last week I hit my first long MP session at 3.14/km and felt good which is always encouraging.

Come spring 2010 I will be back to 42km in London and the trials for the Europeans and Commonwealths which should both be wide open with a qualifying time of 2.18

For now my next race will be the Chippenham Half Marathon this weekend which I'm looking forward to.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Live High, Train Low - in Europe

I've just got back from a couple of weeks training in the alps and things went pretty well. After numerous trips to altitude over the last 5 years i'm now at the point where acclimatisation happens very quickly so I can basically continue normal training as soon as I arrive, with a few adjustments to pace. Even this only amounts to about 5 seconds per km at this altitude. This rapid adjustment makes a hug difference in a two week trip whereas once upon a time I would have spent the first week taking it easy and acclimatising.

St Moritz is my favoured location (below, in the distance as viewed from Muottas Muragl) for the same reason as many others use it as a summer base. Plenty of trails, easily accessible track and reasonable cost at this time of year. We were particularly lucky with the weather this year. After a miserable July that included snow August turned out to be stunning with blue sky and temperatures in the 20s most days. You really couldn't ask for more.

With the Worlds on during my first week there weren't too many top athletes around though Kara Goucher and Adam were around until 3 or 4 days before her race which I found interesting. Not many mzungu runners can race well coming straight down from altitude - i've tried it several times and only had one good run (15km XC), the other efforts have been woeful. Clearly they had worked something out that was good for her and i'm guessing it may be something to do with sleeping in an altitude tent most of the time which would make the 6000 feet of St Moritz feel OK. After the championships the rest of the Salazar group appeared and american readers would have been dribbling into their Gatorade at the sight of Rupp, Ritz and Teg on the track.

Anyway back to the title of the post and the Goucher bit was a weak attempt at a link to 'live high - train low'. While in St Moritz we paid a visit to Muottas Muragl, a 2500 metres (8000 feet) bluff overlooking Pontresina and the inspiration for Bloefeld's lair in Ian Fleming's 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' (although the movie was filmed in the rotating restaraunt on the Schilthorn). Perched on top of the cliff is a hotel (left) and heading out into the mountains behind it are a number of trails on which you can do easy runs. The hotel is used by a number of Swiss athletes, especially triathletes and marathon runner Viktor Rothlin who was in residence with his wife and 'rabbit' when we visited. while the 10 minute funicular railway ride to the valley floor is a bit of a pain of you were doing it several times a day it is manageable and their are plenty of trails from the bottom of the railway in both directions along the valley floor at 1800m.

First week back at sea level has gone really well, after a couple of days feeling flat the legs have felt good and I'm really looking forward to racing again and testing my fitness in advance of my October marathon.

Monday, 31 August 2009

A night at the Weltklasse

What a night at Weltklasse on Friday. A great stadium, fantastic presentation and some enthralling performances on track and field. Where to start ? Well as an endurance runner Dathan Ritzenhein's 12.56 in the 5000m seems like as good a place as anywhere.

Coming into this race off the back of 6th place in the 10k at the worlds 'Ritz' seemed to be on a hiding to nothing. Tired legs from Berlin and a stacked field of east african's with PBs beginging 12 minutes. Clearly there was more to it than that. Last week I passed Dathan a few times while training in St Moritz. OK, when I say passed I mean going in the opposite direction but that said he was taking it easy, clearly making sure that he had recovered from the 10k and just keeping his legs turning over. Its the first time i've seen the guy up close and he moves really smoothly, its almost effortless and there are not many europeans who look like that.

Like many spectators I was more than a bit apprehensive for him when he opened up running 62s and was quickly at the back of the field and looking uncomfortable. Compared to the africans he looked to be overstriding a little and running flat out to maintain that pace. While the pacemakers hammered away at the front and Bekele covered everything Ritz was getting further and further behind. Indeed every time he passed an african they seemed to step off the track ! Through 3k I reckoned he was the best part of a whole curve behind Bekele who was now at the front laying it on the line big time. And then something strange started to happen - as the field tired Ritz kept bashing out his 62s and started picking people off. Inside the last kilometre I guess TV started to get excited and in the stadium it was obvious that he was reeling in Kenny B at a rate of knots. Another lap and who knows what might have happened. Inspiring stuff.

So what's behind this performance ? Those of you who've read the thoughts i've posted previously won't be surprised to know that my view is that the endurance work done in his recent marathon attempts are now paying off big time. You just can't get away from developing a massive aerobic base if you are going to sustain that kind of speed on the track. Unfortunately the mindset has become that you move up to the marathon at the end of your career whereas many athletes have run 10,000m (and 5000m) PBs after starting out their marathon careers. If I can do a 10k PB at age 35 after my fourth marathon cycle then anyone can ! The key here is doing the right pace training, its not just about big miles run slowly. But running fast enough to get aerobic development and then running the easy running slow enough to reccover. From my observations there are still too many europeans who run their steady and easy running at too similar speeds. Anyway back to Weltklasse...

Football coaches talk about 'bouncebackability' or some such twaddle and Yelena Isinbayeva showed it in spades with a stunning WR which looked to be miles clear from where we were sitting at the end of the runway overlooking the 100m start. Which brings me to Bolt. The speed out of the blocks of those guys was amazing, a real eye opener. Not surprisingly the winning time was a bit of an anti-climax after his Berlin efforts but no wonder really. And to top off the sprint story Jamaica won a good quality 4x100m relay which saw the Swiss team set a National Record and take a well earned lap of honour with the crowd going mental.

For me though what really stood out was the whole presentation. This was athletics as theatre, real entertainment. The main show was packed into 2 hours of tightly choreographed action. Frankly it made the bloated London Grand Prix look like school sports day without the drama of the egg and spoon race. The new Letzigrund is a 'hole in the ground' design like the London Olympic stadium and the 30,000 spectators in the steep sided stands produce a great atmosphere.
A look at the spectators confirmed that these weren't die hard athletics fans, just ordinary Zurich folk who know a good evenings entertainement when they see one.
To round out the night was a mixed 3000m wheelchair race to say au revoir to Swiss legend Heinz Frei. The women in effect had a one lap head start which made for a great race with a near blanket finish.
And at the final whistle the stadium was plunged into darkness for 15 minutes of live music and fireworks in the late Zurich evening. Great stuff, why can't all meets be like this ?

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Saucony Shoelab returns to Somerset

On Saturday 12th September the Saucony Shoelab will return to Somerset at the TRI UK store in Yeovil. There will be free video gait analysis from midday and special offers on shoes and kit throughout the afternoon.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Funny thing endurance (2)

Watching the swimming world championships at the weekend I was struck by Jo Jackon's comment when interviewed by Sharron Davies about her Silver medal in the 800m freestyle. Reflecting on the race and her future ambitions she said that the 800m was good for her 400m and 200m. Here was an athlete who really gets the value of overdistance racing and the impact of endurance on her shorter events.

It got me thinking about a few other things I had seen during the summer where endurance had been the difference between first and second. Remember back to that epic Men's Singles final at Wimbeldon ? Federer v Roddick. Its 2 sets all, deep into the 5th and Roddick is yet to drop his serve in the whole match. Federer has been broken a couple times in earlier sets and has relied on great tie-breakers to keep in the match. Your money has to be on Roddick to break at some point.

So what does Federer do ? He keeps cool, keeps the ball in play and keeps making his opponent run around a lot. There has been talk in the run to Wimbledon about how Roddick's new coach Larry Stefanki ordered him to drop some kilos earlier in the season in a bid to improve his condition. And Roddick keeps on running. Then somewhere about 12-12 in the fifth Roddick visibly starts to tire. And this is a great view of what happens when fatigue kicks in. You can see that his skill level drops - he is unable to repeat the muscle movements required in the same way as before. Whether its hitting a tennis ball or running this is what endurance gives you - the ability to keep on repeating the same muscle movements time after time with the same quality. And eventually this fatigue in Roddick tells as Federer breaks for a 16-14 win (how brutal is that ? Imagine if in Sydney 2000 when Haile and Tergat were neck and neck after 25 laps of the 10,000m the rules said "sorry boys but there needs to be a 5 second margin between first and second, do another lap .."). So at the end of it the guy with the best endurance won.

The other example that sprung to mind was the UK Athletics trials and in particular the women's 800m. To simulatre Berlin (sort of) the women had to run 3 rounds in 3 days. Going into the championships the fastest athletes were Maz Okoro and Jennie Meadows. Both runners who started life as 400m specialists and have made big efforts to build an endurance base over recent years. The dark horse was the fast improving Jemma Simpson who has a 1500m background and now trains in Oregon with wily British coach Mark Rowland.

The rounds were fairly uneventful with the 3 class athletes qualifying comfortably. Come the final and the anticipation of an epic duel was high. And it never materialised. Simpson hit the front and pulled away effortlessly in the closing stages with Maz and Jennie trailing. For Jemma a 3rd race in 3 days was no problems with her endurance but for the the 400m types it was a probably a race too far. It takes me back to the Coe/Ovett/Cram/Elliott days when the 1500m runners did particularly well in championship 800m races where there were many rounds. And of course who can forget Peter Snell, the 'slowest' man in the Rome 800m final based on 400m speed but with an awesome endurance base from his winter miles. (And incidently another 1500m specialists Hannah England went sub 2.00 for the first time this season at the European Team Championships).

So love it or loathe it you just can't get away from endurance whether you are middle swimmer, tennis player or 800m runner.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Course Record at Crewkerne 9 Mile Road Race

Another week, a bigger test. This time it was the Crewkerne 9 Mile Road Race, one of the gems of west country road races and now in its 29th year. While the likes of the Alweston 10 long since disappeared this race has kept its place in the fixture list thanks to the hard work of Crewkerne Running Club who organise the race.

Although the course has changed a bit since the early years to cut out the town centre loop with the requisite road closures the basic format remains the same. A hilly 3 miles out to the stunning village of Hinton St George, a 'rolling' 3 mile loop through Dinnington and back to Hinton followed by the first hilly 3 miles in reverse to the finish in the Market Square.

And for good measure the weather is usually hot, unless its 2008 in which case its wet. Today was no exception. With clear blue skies and the thermometer climbing what little shade there was in the country lanes was taken with both hands.

My weeks training has been OK with no after effects from last Saturday's Egdon Easy. After such a long period of injury you always have in the back of your mind that things might flare up again and racing is the only way to really test the body (and mind). Fortunately my legs felt fine the day after Egdon and so today was the next step on the road to my next marathon.

The first 3 miles were more like a fartlek as things settled down at the front and we were through the marker in 16.45 as I pulled clear of the pack. The loop through Dinnington was all about settling into a nice rythmn and really feeling the effort. A 16.10 for the next 3 miles including the big climb back to Hinton was the warm up for the final assault. In the back of my mind was the course record and with a couple of miles to go I really put my foot to the pedal to try and get under 48 minutes. As it turned out I had left just a bit too much to do and came home in 48.10 though still with a new course record.

In second place was young Minehead runner Mark Hopkinson who is improving with every race. If he gets to put in some miles with Andy Baker during the summer then he will surely make big strides comes the autumn.

In the women's race my Wells team mate Jenny Moore returned to racing after missing London with an achilles problem and took a well earned win.

Looking at the winners trophy and reading the names of previous winners is a bit of a roll call of west country runners from the likes of Steve Walker and Gary Eagle through to more recently Ben Tickner. When I ran the fun run here in 1984 I never imagined I would be winning the main event 25 years later.

Fingers crossed that the body has survived the hills OK. The downhills are particularly stressful so a nice easy run in the pool with the aquajogger is the order of the day for this evening ! now its time to dig out the fixture list and look for some more competition.

All photos courtesy of Mike Shead.

Leading Results

1 Adrian Marriott (Wells) 48:09 (record)

2 Mark Hopkinson (Taunton) 50:29

3 Lee Turner (Torbay) 51:01

4 Billy Sheppard (Clev) 51:57

5 Gerry Hogg (Troll T, M40) 52:21

6 Paul Rose (YTRR, M40) 54:17.

M50: 1 Jonathan Goodland (GWR) 56:02

M60: Colin Williams 66:36

Teams: 1 Clevedon AC (Sheppard, Alan Baker, Nick Hides, Stuart Hancock)


1 Jenny Moore (Wells) 58:15

2 Kate Britten (Clev) 61:47

W35: Lynda Faulkener (Dorset Dod) 66:45

W45: Judy Davey (Honiton RC) 69:31

Teams: Crewkerne Running Club

Full Results

In the news
Yeovil Express

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Return to racing at Egdon Easy

Well its been a while since I put a number on the front of my vest and stood on the start line of a race and it was good to finally race again last night after more than 5 months since my last outing at the Portsmouth Victory 5.

The lay off was down to some big trouble in my left thigh. In particular the vastas lateralis (the outside of the thigh muslces) had been rubbing up against the ITB (which passes over it). Over time the muscle because inflamed and frayed, the ITB was sticking to it and every time I ran again those adhesions flared up. Its taken a combination of accupuncture and some skilled massage using a technique called myofascial release from Simon Morris at Bath University to get everything moving again. The return to training has been a slow process with a couple of flare ups but last week I managed about 80 miles and felt healthy enough to tow the line last night.

The Egdon Easy is mixture of footpaths, gravel trail and road just behind the sea front at Weymouth. Before the start I was as nervous as i've been for some time. Some of my club mates were a bit surprised, after all a 29.47 guy shouldnt have too many problems in a local race. But as we know it doesn't work like that. A race is a race and after so long away from racing you need to know if its still there ! The first half of the race was pretty comfortable and I was in position to be able to put my foot down for the last 15 mins and push hard to the finish. The leg felt fine though the legs felt rubbish and I was blowing pretty hard by the finish. Still, 1st place, body intact and mission accomplished. Next stop the Crewkerne 9 Miles in a weeks time and one of the toughest road races in this part of the world.

Full Results

Monday, 13 April 2009

Course record falls at Yeovilton 10k

It is not often that a Somerset road race sees three GB internationals on the start line so when marathon men Richie Gardiner and Nigel Leighton were joined by cross country ace Frank Tickner the 11 year course record was living on borrowed time.

The early pace was set by Cardiff's Mike Johnson with the big guns tucked into the leading pack along with Pete Grist, Simon Anderson, Ed Knudsen and evergreen Gordon Seward.

By halfway the field was stretched out with Gardiner and Tickner side by side through 6km in 18.23 before heading out on to the flat final section which is part of the summer 5k course. With just under 2km to go Gardiner opened a 10m gap with a last big push. But despite his best efforts Tickner closed the gap and pulled away in the closing stages to cross the line in 30:30 to shave 3 secs from the record. A few seconds back Gardiner posted his best 10km result for some time which will give him great confidence as he starts his taper for the London Marathon on 26th April.

Holding on to 3rd place was Johnson after a lonely run. Pete Grist came home 4th ahead of Nigel Leighton and rounding out the top 10 was home club Yeovil's Tim Hawkins who knocked an impressive 33 seconds off his PB to clock 33.36

First lady home was Bath ACs Sarah Urwin-Mann with local road race specialist Jenny Moore taking 2nd place as she seeks to crack the 3 hour barrier for the first time in London and in 3rd was Royston's Michelle Maxwell.

Cardiff AC romped to the team title with 3 in the first 4 places.

Leading Results

1 0:30:30 TICKNER, Frank Wells City Harriers
2 0:30:41 GARDINER, Richard cardiff ac
3 0:31:29 JOHNSON, Michael cardiff ac
4 0:32:50 GRIST, Peter cardiff ac
5 0:32:56 LEIGHTON, Nigel Bristol
6 0:33:13 ANDERSON, Simon plymouth harriers
7 0:33:28 HOPKINSON, Mark Taunton AC Senior
8 0:33:29 KNUDSEN, Edward langport runners
9 0:33:34 MOSLEY, Philip bournemouth ac
10 0:33:36 HAWKINS, Tim Yeovil Town Road Running Club

Full Results

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Super Fast Yeovilton 5k series returns

The annual summer 5k series returns to the super quick Yeovilton course on Wednesday 8th April. The series, organised by Yeovil Town Road Running Club, takes place on the second wednesday of the month throughout the summer and in recent years has seen race winners such as Frank and Ben Tickner, James Thie, Toby Lambert, myself and course record holder Rob Whalley. With conditions invariable perfect on the flat 1 lap course its no surprise that the course record stands at 14.04 and that many athletes have run 14.something over the years.

For athletes looking for an extra edge for this years series there will be a selection of Saucony race shoes on sale at the first event - ideal for 5k and 10k races !

Monday, 23 March 2009

Heat Acclimatisation for spring races

With the first hint of spring in the air it is time to give some thought to what impact warm weather could have on your spring race plans, especially if you are planning a late April or May marathon.

In recent years the London Marathon has been affected by unseasonably warm weather on a couple of occassions. Warm weather has several affects, most of which are performance reducing for endurance athletes. The bottom line is that warmer weather makes our body work harder to keep cool. That means pumping more blood to the skin rather than the muscles and losing more fluids and electrolytes as sweat which in turn reduces blood plasma volume and the hydration levels of the cells. So sticky blood and badly lubricated muscles. Imagine a car engine with sludge in the fuel tank and no oil left in the gearbox and you start to get the picture.

The good news is that there is plenty you can do to be prepared. The starting point is to know what weather to expect in your target race. A look at one of the weather websites such as Wunderground can show you historical data and seasonal norms. Something to be wary of though is 'average' temperatures. Far more important is the range of temperatures you can expect. For example in March 2008 London had a range of -2 to 14 degrees whereas Amman in Jordan had only a slightly higher average but a range of 0 to 32 degrees. Clearly if you got caught out with a 'hot' day in Amman it would have a much bigger impact on your performance than a 'hot' day in London !

So how can you acclimatise for warm weather during a european spring ? Well the extreme version would be that practised by a former british olympian who put a cycle machine in his bathroom, turned the heating up full blast, filled the bath with hot water for added humidity and then in full tracksuit proceeded to pedal to exhaustion. Its not something I would advocate though ! For some athletes a spring warm weather training camp is part of the answer. The Algarve, South Africa, Tenerife and Cyprus are all popular locations at this time of year. But if this isn't an option there are a few practical solutions at home.

Make the most of the warm days when they occur. Last weekend was warm and sunny and I went running in the early afternoon when the temperature was at its highest. If that doesn't fit with your schedule then doing some runs indoors on a treadmill can work, especially when the local gym is at its busiest (and warmest). Adding some extra clothing also does the job. Although contrary to popular opinion you don't need to be wrapped up like a Michelin man. A hat and gloves are enough to fool the body's thermostat and give you some heat acclimatisation.

And if you are concerned that you have left it too late the good news is that the body adapts to heat stress relatively quickly. Athletes going to race in hot conditions often report that 10 day acclimatisation period is enough. So some carefully planned easy training sessions in te gym/sun/with hat and gloves can give you just the boost you need and leave you well prepared in case of a warmer than average day at your big race. And a final thought is that recent research from the Australian Institute of Sport showed that heat training stimulated an increase in blood plasma volume which could result in improved performance in normal conditions.

Updated July 2011
Running Times article on heat

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Engadin Ski Marathon

A change is as good as a rest, or something like that. With the clock on this injury of mine now up to 10 weeks it was time for a change of scene and a visit to my summer training haunt of St Moritz in the middle of winter to take in the annual Ski Marathon. A 42km cross country ski race which takes in much of the route use by the 27km Engadiner Sommerlauf which I've used as part of my marathon build ups. Given that I can't ski and still have some aches and pains spectating was the most I was up for but what a sight.

There are 11,000 athletes starting in waves and the speed at the front is impressive. Under 1hour 40 for the leaders. There are two types of skiing. Classic and freestyle, which is in effect skating on skis and is much the quicker method. With the arms also working hard to provide power I can see why these guys have routinely produced VO2 max readings in the 90s - they are using more muscle than runners and as we know the lungs are not the limiting factor in oxygen uptake in athletes.

We were spectating at Punt Murgal at the bottom of the Muottas Murgal mountain. The mountain has a hotel on the top at about 2400m and the truly hard core marathon runners sleep there and train in the valley below during the day. Its a strategy that doesn't seem to have done Viktor Rothlin any harm the last few summers. We were at the top of a short but steep incline and the momentum of the leaders was such that they were able to skate up and over the top with ease. In fact the lead groups were just like a big city marathon. With a lead vehicle and camera bikes (well snowcats) and the TV helicopter up above. The whole thing was very well organised and the pre-event expo was treasure trove of skis, boots and all kinds of go faster wax, gel, glasses etc.

Running on snow has been fun. The paths in the forest which I'm used to blasting along in summer are well maintained and the snow is compacted so it is much like running off road in winter in the UK. There is some nice give under foot without disappearing up to your waist in powder. In fact even cranking up the pace to threshold was no problem under foot. And whether it was the change of scenery or surface my aching leg seemed to be much better and i'm finally through the hour mark again and able to do some drills. I'm hoping that the remaining discomfort is simply a legacy of relative inactivity since xmas and will soon shift as I get some more drills and strides into my programme.

While this length of layoff is far from ideal I suppose there are a couple of good things to come from it. For the first month or so I was sleeping like I was in hard marathon training and gradually I've been sleeping less as my body has recovered. I guess 5 years hard training with only routine breaks after marathons had led to a lot of cumulative fatigue. I also noticed a whole number of aches and pains start to emerge and regular massage has helped to get my body moving well again. And finally I have been able to pay much more attention than usual to conditioning work to the point of also starting a regular pilates class. And I really felt the benefit doing my drills yesterday. So much more control and power. Hopefully all this means that when i'm restored to full training there are a good few years racing left in my legs !

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Saucony Shoelab returns to Yeovil

On Saturday 28th February 2009 the Saucony ShoeLab will be returning to the Tri UK store in Yeovil.

There will be some great deals on shoes and other products for the spring. The action kicks off at midday.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Yeovil Times Marathon Training Articles

This series of articles appeared in the Yeovil Times over the winter of 2008/9

Part 1 of 6 ‘Getting started’

Inspired by the heroics of our Olympians and the sporting soap opera that is Paula Radcliffe record numbers of people are taking up running and setting their sights on completing famous races like the London Marathon in April, or closer to home the Bath Half Marathon next March. Whether you are aiming to raise money for a local charity like St Margaret’s Hospice or just want to challenge yourself to get fitter and achieve something new, running is a great way to go about it.

Over the coming months this column will cover the basics of running. From getting started through constructing a simple training plan, nutrition, preparing for the marathon and finally to some top tips for race day itself.

So whether you are sitting at home looking at your London acceptance letter or just thinking that some fun, cheap exercise is a great way to beat those credit crunch blues then read on.

Getting started really is as simple as putting on some trainers and heading out of the door. And to increase your chances of being successful here are four steps which all aspiring runners should follow.

1. Set some goals.
Dream big. We have so much more potential than we often realise. So dream big. What do you want to achieve in six months time ? Imagine yourself having just completed that goal. How does that feel ? Now write it down. Looking back at this piece of paper through the winter will help remind you why you are doing this.

2. Get some proper running shoes
While you can run in almost anything, and famously Zola Budd ran the L.A Olympics in bare feet, a good pair of running shoes is the only investment you need to make to run. Getting the advice of a specialist retailer like Tri UK in Yeovil is worthwhile to ensure you have an appropriate pair of shoes. Of course, if you want to buy lightweight waterproof clothing and GPS devices to measure how far you have run there is no limit to what you can spend !

3. Start running
That first step can often be the hardest, especially if you have never run before. So here is a great way to start. Get out the door and walk for one minute.

Easy ! Now run for one minute. The speed should be comfortable, so that you can talk while running. Walk again and keep repeating up to 30 minutes total exercise. 3 times a week would be ideal. After repeating a few times start to increase the length of the running segments. Before you know it you will be doing 30 minutes continuously and ready to start a training plan.

4. Run with a buddy
As with any change we make to our lives the most difficult part is keeping momentum. We’ve all seen it before with New Year’s resolutions. They go great for a few weeks then we slip back into old habits. The same can be true with running, with enthusiasm dropping off as the dark nights take over and the Christmas party season hits full swing. The best safeguard is to find a running partner. With two of you on the journey together you are far more likely to succeed. Its no coincidence that the worlds top runners train together in large groups. Running is also a great way to meet new people and local running clubs such as Yeovil Town Road Running Club cater for all standards of runner.

So there you have it. Lace them up and get started.

Part 2 – the challenge of the marathon

Judging by the numbers of you I am seeing running round the streets of Yeovil at the moment plenty of you have taken the plunge with starting training for the London Marathon. If you got rejected from London then a great local alternative is the Taunton Marathon on 5th April. This month we are going to look at the basics of a successful training programme and a few tips on surviving the festive season.

So what makes the marathon such a challenge and how do we best prepare for it ? You may have heard about the mythical ‘wall’, that point in the marathon where people slow down dramatically. This happens because the human body stores enough fuel in the form of carbohydrate to cover between 15 and 18 miles. More than enough for your average iron age hunter-gatherer to pick some berries and snare a wild pig but not enough for modern man to
complete a 26 mile marathon. So the training for a marathon is all about making that fuel last longer.

We do this in two ways. By running regularly our muscles get stronger, we lose some body fat and so our bodies need to burn less fuel to cover each mile. That ekes out our reserves to 20 miles or more. And then the best bit. By doing long training runs we teach our body to burn fat, lots of it. Fat is something that even the leanest elite athletes have enough stores of to run several marathons and this gets you to the finish.

So there are 18 weeks until London which looks like a lot and will fly by so here is how to use the time wisely. The last 3 weeks before the race you will be reducing your training in what we call the taper and the March article will be dedicated to this. That leaves 15 weeks for training. You need 12 weeks to do the long runs required to prepare you for the challenge of the marathon which means just until another month to get into the habit of running regularly before the real marathon training starts. And that month includes the pitfall that is christmas and new year.

The holiday season can be a time when those good habits you have started to build up during november go out of the window. Whether its parties, visitors or having the kids at home from school you need a strategy to keep running. So a good place to start is with some negotiation. Agree with the important people in your life when you are going to be running and stick a list of times/dates on the fridge.

The holidays also give you a great opportunity to run in daylight and that means being able to get off road and run in some new places such as Nine Springs and Ham Hill Country park.

And there is still time to put in a word to Santa for some help from the professionals. If you want a good book which tells stories about many different marathon experiences culminating in training plans for all standards from 5 hours to 2hours 30 mins then go for Marathon Running by Richard Nerurkar, the last British man to win a championship marathon. If your preference is to start from the theory of training which links into detailed training plans then Daniel’s Running Formula by Jack Daniels (the coach not the whiskey maker) is the book for you. Both are very readable and widely available.

Next month – the marathon long run, how long ?

Part 3 - the marathon long run.

If your holiday season was anything like mine then your marathon training didn’t go quite according to plan with chesty coughs and too much food getting in the way. If you did manage a trouble free period of training then you are ahead of the game so well done.

With 14 weeks to go until London now is the time to get down to serious training and that means focusing on building up your weekly long run.

Remember from last month that the marathon is all about making the fuel last long enough to avoid hitting that infamous wall.

The long run is the most important training run you will do because it teaches your body to burn fat which makes your precious carbohydrate reserves last longer come race day. The second effect of the long run is that by ‘emptying the fuel tank’ your body actually learns to store more fuel if you eat properly when you finish the run – more about this in a minute.

So how do you go about the long run ? After all, even for experienced runners, the prospect of running 26 miles in just over 3 months time can be quite daunting but the good news is that there is a tried and trusted approach which will get you there. Remember the last 3 weeks will be saved for the taper so 14 weeks training is actually 11. Keeping a couple of weeks in reserve in case of illnesses, family weekends etc means that you actually have 9 long runs and here is how you can approach it:

1. Focus on ‘time on your feet’ and follow the principle of adding a bit at a time. So starting with 60 minutes you add 15 minutes each week and by the beginning of April you will be able to run for 3 hours, the maximum recommended training duration.
2. Keep the speed manageable. If your goal is 4 hours for the marathon that is 9 minutes per mile. So your long run should be between 11 and 10 minutes per mile. You want to finish tired and hungry rather than completely exhausted.
3. Run with other people. Both Yeovil Town Road Runners and Crewkerne Running Club have organised long runs some weekends so check out their websites for details.
4. Drink water during your long run. You may want to run several loops or have a family member meet you at pre-arranged points with water and spare clothing – this is also a great way of getting the family involved as part of Team You !

So you have finished your long run what now ? The most important task is to rehydrate and refuel. The body best stores fuel immediately after exercise has finished. So get some complex carbohydrates into you within the first 30 minutes e.g. wholemeal bread, potato, pasta. If you have run on Sunday morning and need to wait a while for Sunday lunch then still have a snack in that first 30 minutes to start the refueling and repair process. Trust me you will still enjoy your lunch an hour or two later.

While a long soak in a hot bath may seem appealing the long run does microscopic damage to the muscles which heat can make worse. The choice of professionals like Paula Radcliffe is a dip in an ice bath. While this might be taking things a bit far a few minutes of cold shower water on your legs can prove remarkably invigorating.

Part 4 – Speed training

You know that marathon time is approaching when the days are getting longer and you can start your evening run with the last of the daylight. The excesses of Christmas are just a distant memory and you are starting to feel fitter from the consistent training that you have been doing this year. Last month we looked at the Long Run, vital for building the stamina required to tackle 26 miles. This month its time to turbo charge that new found fitness with some speed training.

Why do speed training ? After all the marathon is all about endurance. Well, running considerably faster than you need for the marathon will do several things. Clearly it will leave you gasping for breath and quite tired if you run fast enough. This is because you can’t get enough oxygen to the muscles to maintain speed. Your body responds to this embarassment by making your heart bigger and stronger and increasing the amount of blood in your arteries.

The outcome, more oxygen going to the muscles which means a fitter, faster runner. This is the human equivalent of adding more horsepower to car’s engine !

Speed training needs to be approached in small bites. A great way to start is by running fast for 1 minute. This should be about the speed that you could maintain for 10-15 minutes continuously before having to stop. After the fast minute, jog slowly for 1 minute. Then repeat until you have run 6 fast efforts.

By the end of this you should be breathing hard. The human body adapts quickly so you need to add more fast running each week. Once you can do 10 sets of one minute fast increase the duration to 90 seconds and then eventually 2 minutes, remembering to take an equal time of easy jogging after each fast run.

If you are looking for an extra challenge you can run some or all of the fast segments uphill. Mudford Road, Bunford Hollow, Lyde Road are all great for adding this extra twist.

A few weeks with a weekly speed training workout and you will feel a different runner, literally. Your other runs at normal speed will feel so much easier than before. Which leads us into the second type of speed training, Marathon Pace training. On your long runs you should be running slower than you plan to run in the race. So you need to educate your body what race pace feels like and teaches it to burn your precious sugar stores economically.

If you are aiming for 4 hours that is approximately 9 minutes per mile. So to practice race pace, warm up and then run for a mile you goal pace. Then take 5-10 minutes of easy running before repeating. As with the fast speedwork the idea is to add more miles at race pace each week as race days gets closer.

On Saturday 28th Feb I will be holding a free coaching clinic at Tri UK, so pop along after midday and get your questions about speedwork and other training answered.

And finally a great way to simulate the marathon experience is to run a half marathon during march. The idea behind this is to give you some confidence by covering half the marathon distance at your target pace knowing that you still have time for more training. There is the added benefit of running with people around you and getting to practice taking drinks on the run. Indeed, if big running events are new to you getting one under your belt before London is a great idea and will make you feel more relaxed on the big day.

Part 5 – the taper

If there is one part of preparing for a marathon that causes endless confusion and heartbreak it is the taper. In fact taper is a slightly misleading word, I prefer to talk about peaking for the marathon. This means taking a very different approach to your last 3 weeks training before race day. Gone are the long runs and hard speed training and everything is focused on producing a peak performance on the 26th April. That means reducing training, rehearsing race pace and fueling up.

The biggest error made during these last few weeks is to test your fitness. I’ve seen people do a 20 mile run the week before their marathon to ‘test themselves’ and feel great. Then 7 days later they struggle round the marathon and wonder what hit them ! Read on and all will become clear. So why do we peak ? The months of hard training for a marathon leave us with microscopic damage in our muscles. Small tears which take more than a few easy days to repair. And while racing with this level of damage might not compromise a 10km race it bites you in the later stages of the marathon.

So 3 weeks of reduced training allows you body to fully repair itself.

This principle also applies to getting the full benefit of your training. Remember, training breaks the body down, recovery is what actually makes you fitter.

And generally it takes 10 days or so to get the full benefit of a training session. So hammering one of last month’s speed training workouts in the few days before a big race is only going to tire you out, not make you fitter. This could also be a good time to get a massage from a local sports masseur like Hannah Manton though leave at least a week between massage and racing, especially if you are not used to it. And finally after all the hard training the body will be depleted of carbohydrates and probably a bit dehydrated too. So easing back allows you to re-stock the stores. You can even measure this by seeing a small increase in your weight during race week. I usually add a couple of pounds as my muscles load up with carbs and water. That's a good sign !

Peaking principles in the last 3 weeks:
1. last long run 3 weeks before the marathon
2. 3 weeks to go run 75% of your usual weekly training mileage.
3. 2 weeks to go reduce this to 50%.
4. race week run 25% plus the race.
5. ensure that your running shoes are worn in rather than worn out.
6. rehearse your race pace - short repeats of say 1km are good for getting used to the rythmn.
7. eat/drink as normal, the decreased training will mean you are topping up your carb stores.
8. practice drinking on the run and if you are going to use the official sports drink then buy some and practice with that as well. The same goes for energy bars/gels.
9. practice your race day routine at least once (wake up time, eating race day breakfast, warm up, running at race start time wearing race day kit and plasters/vaseline to stop chaffing).
10. practice visualising success, whatever that means for you.

So how can you expect to feel as you come to a peak ? For a start, be prepared for some aches and pains to emerge when you reduce your training load. This is the cumulative fatigue of your training kicking in and with 2 weeks to go you may feel very tired. And then by the last week you can enjoy the anticipation of race week when you are like a caged lion, prowling round the house and ready to go.

Next month – race day