A stunning turn-around in my fortunes have occurred so far in training and the magnitude has been so surprising to me that I felt it worth talking about on the Blog so others can harvest the fruits of the experience.
About eight weeks ago I had serious doubts whether I would have what it took, physically and mentally, to become a competitive runner. Having finished my second week of “Hill Training” I can look back on a remarkable week that grew step by step: More than 140km (87 miles) completed. My ultimate goal of 100 miles are now less than a half-marathon away and this in a week that featured some 3000m of ascent, three hills session, one long run and a hard fartlek.
What’s so surprising about this? Well, the variables I have changed are seemingly quite small: higher caloric intake, more sleep, and some iron supplementation. There’s another thing, though: I applied Lydiard’s aerobic phase “by feel” within the skeleton he suggests and have phased in more and more morning jogs over the final two weeks.
My morning jogs generally take place over Trooperstown Hill. I started out with about 30 minutes/5k and moved to 60 minutes/10k. This is very slow even over hilly terrain, but I’m fine with that. These jogs don’t show up in my schedule anywhere. They are an addendum; the real work is scheduled in addition to this. When I set out I look for two things: Reduction in my heart rate and a loosening up on my legs.
This is generally achieved and I can only say that the more of these I have done, the faster my recovery is speeding up and the better my afternoon sessions turn out which may seem counter-intuitive at first. A point in case: One of my fartlek’s this week was a little bit too hard. I practically staggered through my cooldown completely glycogen depleted. By the morning my rest heart rate was elevated to 49 bpm (12 over normal) but as my morning run progressed, I started to feel steadily better and by the evening time I completed a very comfortable 5 mile ascent of Camaderry. The next day, I felt fresher and before undertaking my long run my resting heart rate had dropped back to 41 (4 beats over normal).
If I feel in any way sore or terrible, I slow down further, or I may even stop a few seconds and look around, take in the landscape. These runs are purely therapeutical although they undoubtedly still confer aerobic benefits to someone as new to running as I am.
So, morning jogs, you shall never leave my side again!
Running by Feel
What does running by feel mean? I think that’s a fair question to ask because it’s easy to be a hypochondriac and pull out at the merest sign of discomfort and call it “being sensible”. Frankly, part of my “training rebirth” has been mental. All excuses were finally purged in Singapore but already before then I had realised that a lot of my caution was really a deep-rooted laziness (and fear).
Once you’ve set a rudimentary set of goals and you know what you are going to achieve, I found it easy to adjust my training day by day. Following my schedule I’d take an extra notch whenever I felt like it (which was the case 90% of the time. This was not throwing endless extra miles on top, but rather “ah, let’s take this kilometre as well, or “let’s make it 2 hours, its 1:50 now”).
But the objective is always kept in mind. When I pushed it too much during the fartlek, I toned down the anaerobic component of the following hill session (by running a long steep climb of Camaderry rather than a Lydiard Hill Circuit). Premature anaerobic stimulation leads to too early a peak so I addressed this risk while still bringing in a significant strength stimulus during the climb (as a lot of my readers will appreciate first-hand, even the long approach to Camaderry is fairly steep).
Analyzing my mileage is an interesting study in fortune. For the first ten weeks of the year, I had scheduled in 518 miles (52 per week). Due to my injuries, I ended up running barely a shade over 30 miles per week. During one week, I didn’t even make 2 miles; I was in such a bad state.
I regrouped, once healed, and created a 20 week countdown for Snowdon. Starting cautiously I just about missed the 40 mile mark in my first week but then suddenly the program took on a life of its own. In the following 7 weeks my average would rise over 63 miles per week and as the week’s progressed it just seemed easier and easier. Yes, I suffered in the heat of Singapore, but physically I was alright after. I did not push through this program as much as I was pulled through it. In terms of annual volume I am still far behind the 1020 miles I had planned in for the year so far, but the latter weeks are starting to move significantly ahead of my training projections.
Having gone about 87 miles for this last week alone, this is clear proof that properly applied aerobic training is by no means detrimental but rather fundamental both for your health and fitness. At this stage I am not fatigued, my muscles are slightly tight but not truly sore by any means, and I feel healthy and positive. I don’t feel like I’m stretched, rather I feel like I’ve arrived at my natural training level at long last. And so I should, because even this week, the pinnacle of my own performance, is paltry compared to the elite and basically what Eoin Keith could do in a day’s work.
Would Quality Suffer?
An obvious question and a very pertinent one: Mileage must never come at the expense of quality once it’s time for quality. My hill training is now the key, not blind mileage, but the extra miles I’ve done are so far supplementing rather than sabotaging my efforts. And with Snowdon still far away, it is too early to drop off serious aerobic development. Even Arthur’s lads would generally only drop from about 100 miles to 90 miles during hill training. Ok, I have increased my mileage from the previous 60+ mile weeks, but this has been mainly through doubles and morning jogs.
I would imagine I would need to drop down to around 50 miles once serious racing and anaerobic training starts.
To gauge what’s happening, however, I performed my “Power of the Familiar” test doing my Clara Vale loops as my long run (I scheduled in two for my pretty standard 26.8km trail run). Aoife paced me around the first loop in 1:11. This was faster than the majority of my earlier runs this year, even when I’d run just the one loop. I was then let off on my own for the second lap. I focus on keeping it steady as pushing it would be “cheating”, as in not a steady aerobic effort, and lo and behold with 01:07 I took about a minute of my best performance for the year and with significantly less muscle damage. In fact, the recovery was so swift that I will need longer runs (2:30-3:30) in order to get the full training benefits of a long run. The current two loops no longer trigger the same stimulus they did earlier. This does, however, make it a very good “maintenance run” in the meantime.
So what to take from this? Well, I think that putting together a basic Lydiard schedule and applying it by feel and to keep doing it until you start to feel unbreakable is the first step. The impact on my legs feel less, my muscles get less sore and heal quicker, and everything seems easier. This is what you would be looking to get out of your aerobic phase.
There are other things that contribute, though, I believe: firstly, my weekly sprints. These maintain good form, build muscle, and subject the body to controlled bursts of dealing with 5-6 times your body weight of impact. I think this is crucial to adapting to long period of subjecting yourself to 2-3 times your body weight during long runs.
Interestingly, I’ve almost stopped stretching. I stretch something if it feels tight (which it rarely does now) and otherwise I leave it alone. It’s possible I was aggravating muscular micro-trauma but pulling apart healing muscles. I do still eagerly conduct my calf-dips to keep the calf lengthened. This is consistent with what Arthur wanted out of the hill phase (flexible ankles) and just my way of dealing with a known weakness. But I’ve stopped jousting imaginary foes. While I feel great and enjoy my running, I also need rest time in between to make it possible and the first to go are things that may be unnecessary fluff.
Finally, it’s important not to get carried away this latest training success. At the end of the day, I’ve had eight good weeks of training which is as much as at any stage since October, but it is still only eight weeks and it takes lot longer than that to create a good runner.
This is the beginning of the journey and I think I now have the aerobic conditioning down to a tee. If I keep the lessons from this phase in mind and repeat it in the future as I slowly progress my mileage and my aerobic pace further, I should enjoy many injury-free conditioning phases.
But you cannot become a competitive runner solely on aerobic mileage. The true key to Arthur’s program is balance between all the energy systems. He just realised that by far the greatest gain is to be got from the aerobic system and thus it should be prioritised. Soon I have to enter anaerobic training to become truly race ready and then sharpening to address all outstanding weaknesses. This is a different, although less important, art form, and I now have to prove that I can apply these stimuli with the same wisdom as the aerobic. It will not be an easy journey and I will look forward to sharing my thoughts on anaerobic development here in two weeks’ time when I move into this next phase.