DIARY: Reading the Warning Signs

I had promised myself some time ago to reread Tim Noakes definitive running resource "The Lore of Running" to remind myself of things I have forgotten since last autumn and cross-check my current training practices against the almost unassailable theory presented in Noakes' tome. You could call it a "health-check".

Recently I've been slightly worried by the almost perpetual swing from reasonable fresh to knackered that has characterised my waking hours since April. My legs have held up very well apart from a few hard sessions and the period of doing 80-90k weeks in May and early June so I started to fear the lack of muscle soreness was masking other signs of overtraining.

In summary, I found what I feared: From the overtraining signs in the "Lore of Running" there are some clear indications that while I probably haven't crossed the line, I've hovered just under it. Looking back at my training, I can also see that while I have indeed remained relatively sensible in regards to effort in each quality session, I have probably bit somewhat overzealous with increasing my Target Pace Levels for workouts (although I rarely followed them slavishly). I won't bore the reader with all the signs I found but it included such trivial ones as perennial thirst in the evenings, the constant fatigue and regular colds.

I'll be revising my training plan for the remainder of the year to try and combat my perpetual fatigue and re-emerge rested from 2009. While I'm fresh enough to complete most workouts, I spend too many days dreaming of nothing but the next nap and that's not right. I have actually forgotten how it feels to be really fresh until reading the "Lore of Running" reminded me. There were times early in my training year when I was ready to rip the head of a lion and this feeling has not really returned.

6th Law of Training
It may also be no coincidence that I ran my best race of the season (Wicklow Way Leg 7) on the back of Looks like its time to adhere to Noakes' 6th Law of Training: "Achieve as much as possible on a minimum of training."

Noakes also asserts that 2 months out of every 12 months should be easy recovery months if you wish to build a long successful career. Indeed, the Kenyans operate on this model and they do reasonably well with the running lark. My system allowed only 4 weeks out of 52 which I have promptly changed.

I started to notice the issues with my system once injuries and illness began to disrupt my session. To salvage quality sessions I moved my recovery weeks to the periods when I was sick or injured and moved the quality weeks back in to the future. The result is that I will arrive at the end of the year and have only one week's rest to look forward to. I can feel clearly now that this isn't sufficient to recharge for the long build-up and the racing season 2010.

To faciliate I dropped 4 of the 16 intensity weeks in my 52-week system. I'm fairly happy with this change as it gives me four weeks of only minimal running where I can do what I want and focus on weight training (something I just don't do enough during periods when I run). Losing the 4 weeks intensity shouldn't play too much a part. I'm starting to feel that I peak reasonable quickly after I start hard training, so this may actually work to my advantage by not prolonging any period of hard training more than necessary.

Overall, this should lead to me being more race-ready next season where I should also reap all the benefits of this year's consistent training once my body get's a good 5 weeks from the 23rd of November to rejuvenate itself.

Slow Down!
In retrospect I also believe I have fallen foul of running a bit too much in the infamous "middle zones". A very common problem for runners is that they run their long workouts too quick and their fast workouts too slow.

I'm a great believer in running at Race Pace to prepare for competition, but next year I'll watch closely that I keep this to a minimum. I will also slow down the rate at which I increase my TPL targets. I got a bit carried away by the early progress this year where my speed literally increased by the week. This was easy, of course, as I was wholly unfit in January and February and my body was just rapidly returning to normal fitness levels.

Another piece of sterling advice form Noakes (and many other famous coaches) is that you should increase your volume or your intensity, but not both. This year I have been guilty of both on several occasions. Avoiding this is not wholly desirable as you'll normally have gotten faster after the base training and be ready for higher mileage as well, but later in the season it needs to be managed carefully. I made some strange decisions such as returning from resting periods at higher TPLs simply because increased them every 4 weeks regardless of what I was doing.

The Tragedy of the Progressive Runner
Common-sense tells us, of course, that after a resting period, you are probably marginally slower than when you started your rest, so it makes sense to return one TPL lower than when you took your rest and then rebuild. Long-term training is a game consisting of "two steps forward and one step back". I had, invariably, risked moving back on the fast-track that doomed me to injury in 2007 by striving for a continual progression.

One of the most tragic examples of what happens when this is attempted ruthlessly is given by Noakes in the story of Leonard "Buddy" Edelen. On June 15th 1963 he set a new world marathon record of 2:14:28 after a period of training 220km per week. He had run 5 marathons in the 3 years preceding this, the pinnacle of his career.

After the race he felt so good that he concluded: "The way it's geared and the amount of mileage I do per week seems to indicate that I can bash out a marathon and recover in a matter of a few days." Before this Buddy had thought it would take at least 6 weeks to recover.

The flaw in his conclusion started to become apparent in the following year. He set a new record for the Kosice Marathon (2:15) and managed to win the Olympic Trial in impossibly hot conditions (2:24) but in the 5 months leading into the Olympics he suffered persistent hip pains and could only finish 6th at the Olympics. Early next year, he won another marathon in 2:21 and set another fantastic time on the Polytechnic course where had had set his world record (2:14:34). The pain would not let go, however, and while he continued to train 200km per week, there was to be no more glory for this gifted athlete, to quote Noakes: "Thirteen months after running 2:14:28 for the Polytechnic Marathon, Edelen finished the Denver Marathon in 2:51:00. His career was over."

So, I will be tweaking my programme a bit (I'll talk more of the details later) to make it a tad more cautious.

Programme Changes

In the meantime our Crusaders men's team for the National Half has unfortunately disintegrated and I've decided not to take the long trip up to Ballybofey on my own on a Sunday. Instead I'll probably run the Carlingford Mountain Half-Marathon and try and replicate a performance like the Wicklow Way Leg 7 there. A time of around 93 minutes should see me secure a good finishing position.

Then on the 26th of September, I plan to do the Adidas Half-Marathon in Dublin. I don't like the big crowds of such races and would prefer a more low-key one, but this is the only other date that really suits me with the Lakes 10k coming up mid-September and the cross-country season starting in earnest in October (my cross-country season this year will only take in October and November but I plan to do a lot of races and have a lot of fun there).

I'm still looking for potentially a second 10k and a 5k to do before the year is over but then it's time to put my feet up, lift some weights and think about next year's plan. This year has certainly provided me with invaluable experience.