TRAINING: Power of the Familiar 2 – Final Test

I’m currently compiling an article on all my Singaporean running adventures. Cramming in two very high mileage weeks (needless to say, high mileage for me, not the pros) in the sweltering 32 degrees and 90% humidity of Singapura is not easy and I’ve been inventive as well as explorative meaning I got plenty of material (and pictures!) from this magical place which truly is the Pearl of Asia.

Before that, though, I wanted to round enter another instalment to my “Power of the Familiar” topic. As mentioned in my earlier article, my main test of aerobic (indeed hill-specific aerobic) ability is a 13.44km loop of Clara Vale. I have recently started using Garmin Connect again which now features Elevation measurement and with its inclusion of the MB Gravity correction technology, the true elevation for the route is only 235m instead of 326m (older readers will remember I was scathing in my review of Garmin Connect, I am preparing to post a much more favourable on the current status of the website: Credit where credit is due). I am hoping the climbs will now feel easier.

The Longest Run

The “Longest Yard” movie has always been a favourite of mine (the original Burt Reynolds one, although the Adam Sandler version was less horrible than expected), so thought a modification of this title would suit the final, and most testing, of the long runs during my aerobic build-up.

In order to truly measure myself I will harness the power of the familiar and intend to run three loops of Clara Vale totalling 40.32km. Optimally, I should be able to run this at an average pace of 70 minutes per loop giving me a time of 03:30:30, or equivalent to a 3:39:47 road marathon.

These parametres are not set in stone like the Ten Commandments, however, the cost of this run can run (no pun intended!) much too high and I will evaluate my physical state as the loops progress and will pull the plug at any sign of excessive fatigue or injury (note the term excessive, fatigue is desirable to a large degree). Others attempting a similar feat should do the same. This run is intended to put the final brick in the foundation for the season, not tear down the house before it’s built. Never be dogmatic about design only principle and purpose.

If anyone considers this unnecessarily punishing (luckily most among my readers will not recognise the word “unnecessarily”), it’s not really once you’ve done a good aerobic conditioning. When you read Blogs like “Riding the Wind” clearly those types of mileages are far from unusual in training.

More importantly, overdistance has worked well for me in the past and it ties in with a training philosophy I put great faith in, one used by both Seb Coe and Kenny Stuart. Both professed that races were often just a reward because their training was harder (Seb for instance did sessions such as 40x200m at very hard pace which obviously made running just 800m or the mile seem like a brief moment of pain!).

For long-distance runners it’s much harder to achieve overdistance (and it’s debatable how effective it is for running fast marathons, because the recovery needed after ultra-distance training runs can interfere too much with the quality of your other marathon-specific training). For an 800m runner doing an 8000m session means you are doing 10x your race distance in training. Most hill races take about 40-50 minutes so even a 3:30 run is only 4-5 times the distance (not much if you consider how far below race effort an aerobic run is mostly done compared to a hill race).

Remembering that my great 2008 season came after my 5.5 hour run over the Dublin Peaks route with Bob Boles (which had come on top of several very long run in the weeks before), this is a training stimulant I believe works for me because it puts the body out there for so long that even hard racing feels like a break in comparison and that’s the point I seek in my training. It will take years to truly be able to train in a way that makes a Leinster League race feel like a relief, but it can be achieved.

This doesn't mean I recommend this to everyone. If you are already struggling to recover properly from shorter runs (say 1.5-2.5 hours) then you're physiology is either different from mine or your aerobic conditioning not as developed. In that case, you will be better off putting the final touches on your aerobic conditioning by slightly increasing the quality of the long run you are currently comfortable with (or if you are not yet ready to run harder over the whole distance, up the ante on the last half or the last few miles, don't go anaerobic though). Finally, if you are undeterred (or want to run longer!), make sure you drop you pace to a very conservative pace. Training runs over this sort of distance will be very draining if run at anything approximating race intensity which should be avoided. You want that energy when there's something real at stake.

So one last big aerobic push over familiar terrain this weekend and then racing can commence next week (indeed with two races lined up). Next up “Hot Night in Singapore” (and no not that kind!!!).