I’ve had a great start to my half-marathon training. After my Monday recovery run, I did a 38 minute marathon pace run (at 4:17min/km pace) with 4km of normal running around it. I followed this up with a 12k hill run in the Devil’s Glen (a good 525m ascent and 9.9% grade) and then I was ready to the real feast of the week: I had said yes to join Jason Kehoe for one of his hockey team’s physical training session in Bushy Park on the Thursday.
Other pluses this week was that i have dropped back from 70.2kg to 69kg and have finally dropped my internal fat stores from a factor of 4 to 3 (the lowest yet). My overall fat percentage was a worrying 9.7% (a long shot from the 6-8% range where I need to be) but my muscle mass was an unchanged 45.5% meaning I could have been dehydrated during the weighing.
I also noticed that 3 weeks ago I had crossed the 1000 miles run this year barrier and am now only only a month away from 2000km done. I have scheduled a total of 3337km this year (9k/day) and 4473km (12k/day) next year, so will be interesting. (before anyone is worried about the size of the 25% increase, it’s worth noting that i started my year with an artificially low mileage to allow myself to recover from injury and this also factors in that my pace at any intensity keeps increasing, so I can run longer for the same effort).
Laps of Bushy Park
The team started off with a leisurely jog of one of the laps they use for their approx. 1 kilometre of “all-out running”. For most fit runners it’s just about feasible to run 1000m at your max pace (non-sprint) but for most any longer than 30 seconds is actually too much, so I was curious what the pace would be like and decided to try and use the session to do my scheduled 3k pace training.
At the current stage of the season I should be running 3:36min/km (5:48min/mile) for a 3k workout (36min 10k). I was told we were doing 3 laps and I had measured it the first time as being 1120m. The full team went off very fast, as you would expect from a group of hockey players who would rely on explosive speed more than endurance runners. The question was how much they could keep it up.
I was glad to see Jason leading the line on all three laps as I suppose it shows they only send their fastest into the hills! After about 400m, the group was stretched and it was just me in lonely pursuit with Jason and another player. They put in a good sprint fight (which I think Jason took) and I finished about 4 seconds later in a good time of 3:59 (3:32min/km pace). Now that I knew the pace, I set off the same way again, easing into the first 400m before deciding to attach myself to Jason’s back as he was now leading alone (the other runner seemingly burned out by his first lap). We quickly got a big gap and coming into the last straight my legs were good and I upped the pace for the last 300m finishing first in 03:50 (03:25min/km pace). On the final lap the same scenario played out, starting slow, sitting on Jason’s shoulder, but this time I decided to try and “kick” later to see how my short sprint compared to my long sprint. Not surprisingly it was less effective and I couldn’t get away from Jason with just 100m to go, instead we swooped in in the same time of 03:54 (03:29min/km).
All in all, a very nice and tough session with an average pace of 03:29min/km (5:36min/mile) or 7 seconds ahead of target. I think this is a fair reflection of effort as I believe I could just about hold up this intensity for 3000m in a race at my current level of fitness (giving me an expected 3k time of 10:27, my current PB is 11:13).
But the session was far from finished.
Next was sprint training: I obviously expect to be horrific at this as an endurance runner. It was a classical setup with three lines of cones arrayed in front of us: Run out to the first set and back, then to the second and back and then to third and back.
The more sprints we got the further up the pack I could finish and I went from back-of-the-pack to front-of-the-pack pretty quickly despite noticing how slow I was on the turn (braking and changing direction seems to be a poor quality of mine).
A variation was thrown in when we had to run first forward, then backward, then sideways and then with criss-crossed legs and all in the same sprints! Then this was repeated a few times. What of the most interesting things to notice was just how far up the heart rate was put by this compared to the steadier effort of the laps.
Personally, I was happy to see that the raw pace you build up as an endurance runner does transfer into raw speed that you can use to compete effectively against athletes in team sports who would be more specialised towards this type of running.
Once again this was not the end and we went down to a small grassy hill (about 30-40m from top to bottom). We had to start out with 3 backwards sprints up this!
This was my worst exercise and I was among the slowest of the group for all of these. This became an interesting realisation later: We had to do 3 sets of 10 hill sprints and then do another 3 backwards hill sprints. We’d do these in pairs, matching each other uphill. I started slow on the first, but then got into a really got set of sprinting. On the final set, I got to run against Jason, and again I was happy to be able to follow him until the last when we decided to go even harder which caused a short spasm in my calf which set me back a bit.
What was fascinating about this was that clearly I was among the strongest climbers in the group, yet I was one of the worst running upwards. This suggests a disparity in strength on the exact muscles employed in uphill backward running (or lack of technique as the others in the group had done this drill in the previous weeks). Especially my calves found it hard although the hamstring should be the primary move for backwards running: Certainly worth looking into and practicing more.
Death of Shoes
I finished off the session by stretching while the lads played soccer for 20 minutes and did a few laps of the field (about 1.2k) in my bare feet on the grass. It was enormously liberating and I don’t understand why anyone would consider wearing shoes on a nice grass pitch.
I’d be increasingly confident than anyone who carefully wean themselves off Be careful about being measured towards a certain shoe. Remember that shoe stores often only look at 1 or 2 small details of your stride and by proscribing a shoe or an orthotic to attack this area they still have no control of the potential chain reaction this change my cause in other places of your body.
At least when you run in minimalistic shoes or bare-foot you’ll be running the way that causes the least discomfort to you. So I’ll repeat again the lesson from “Born to Run”: Cushioning in shoes does not stop impact, it merely blocks pain. You should welcome the pain, the pain tells you when you’re doing something wrong, by depriving your body of these signals you can’t adapt your stride to its optimal function and you atrophy your feet while you’re at it.
Once the game was over we started an interesting core session: First we did 3 planks of 1 minute before doing 100 very fast “bicycles” and then turning into another plank with alternated lifts of your opposite legs and arms.
To wrap it up we did a pretty fun exercise where one person lies with his head at the feet of another person and sticks his legs straight in the air. The person standing then pushes your legs first straight down, then right and then left, before starting it all over again for 15 repetitions.
This exercise really tires out your core and you upper legs by the end and after doing this twice each we were all well ready to call it quits and the coach agreed. More than 2 hours of training was done and I took quite a few things away from it.
What to steal
Firstly, I think I’ll implement some kind of core programme after each key workout every week as there’s really no reason not to and the extra time is well spent and it means you don’t have to worry about this on your recovery days.
Secondly, it confirmed to me that you can always combine a sprint session (uphill or flat) with any normal session without over-exerting yourself and without jeopardising either session. With proper recovery in between, the modalities are too different to interfere overtly with each other and it’s a good way to always keep you top speed or strength honed while you work other aspects of your endurance.
Finally, some of the exercises were terrific. The fast bicycles and the leg push exercise really work the area of your abdomen used in movement and is fun at the same time. The plank remains an old classic that I know from circuits, so while it wasn’t new, it stays a very valuable exercise.
What not to forget
Sometimes it’s easy to get too negative about one’s performance in the hills and otherwise, but when I ran yesterday with the team I remembered how I always used to be one of the worst in PE back in school and how I’d be among the last to be picked for any team until my later years when I could use my head and my endurance to at least be one step above hopeless.
In the hills we can only compare ourselves to other hill runners and that comparison can often reflect unfavourably on ourselves. So being able to compare yourself with a different type of athlete gives you a taste for just how well-developed an overall fitness and physique a top-20 to top-30 hill runner has, even in the Leinster League. In terms of overall running ability, max heart rate, ability to recover quickly from workouts, and core strength (simply from having to keep good posture while running), I would wager that we mountain runners would rank among the strongest athletes on all counts on average (normal runners undoubtedly too, but while the top road and track athletes are undoubtedly as fit, or fitter, as the top mountain runners, I suspect the average works out in favour of the mountain runner). Of course, other athletes have to develop many wholly different aspects of skills while we can focus solely on generating fitness and speed, so in a way it’s natural that we have an advantage in purely physical workouts (we’d be wash-outs in some such as push-ups, bench press etc. naturally).
And that’s something to be proud of and encouraged by. I certainly am. So thanks to Jason and his crew for showing me this, it’ll be put to good use!