TRAINING: Flat first…

One of the features I have introduced into the training programs of both hill runners I train and myself is to stay away from any severe hills for the first 4-5 weeks of aerobic training and focus solely on building good basic leg strength and keeping the heart operating at a steady intensity throughout every workout with few fluctuations.

The greatest benefit may well lie in the effect I am seeing myself at the moment: Much more quality in overall running. Week 3 terminated yesterday with another textbook “Out and Back” workout – 4.2% longer duration and 1.1% faster pace conspired to increase distance by 5.5%. Before you ask what’s this “Out and Back”, I’ll explain it below!

This workout represents the week in a microcosm: Fresh legs, no injuries, quick recovery and on-target performances. Heart rate keeps dropping slightly and the week saw me increase overall duration of running by 2.2% while average pace for the full week dropped by four seconds per kilometre.

The Lydiard program has your average pace drop by roughly 1-2 seconds per kilometre for each week and I am now very close to exact prediction. In reality, given the undulating nature of most of my runs, I am probably right on the money.

With week four having started today, the trend seems set to continue as my pace for the long run was already 3 seconds ahead of the average pace for week 4 and this time I left the run in much better condition. As I had run a bit too far in week 3, this run took only one more minute but was almost 5% longer. So all signs suggest I’ll get through at least four weeks of with nothing but success which must be a first!

Out and Back

Right, so time to talk about my Out and Back workout. This is a trademark Lydiard workout and like most of his brainchildren, it is simple in design and execution yet powerful in effect.

You set off at an intensity of around 5 (which should be slightly harder aerobic pace for you) which he describes as “Strong”. Your breathing should be deep but steady and talking should be difficult. For the scientists out there, you are probably running at around 75% of VO2 max.

To make it work you select a route that is slightly harder going outwards then coming back or entirely flat. It’s best if you are coming back over the same ground (e.g. no “loops” here). I start at my house and just run as far out towards Glenmacnass along the road as I need to.

At the turn, I up my intensity to “6” which means almost “very strong” intensity, your breathing should still be deep and now also somewhat rapid and talking will now be very difficult (in fact, I don’t find it that difficult yet, but my heart and lungs are much stronger than my legs). Again for the men in white coats, you are now approaching 85% of VO2 max.

Ideally, you come back faster than you went out or do even splits. The biggest mistake you can make is to force into real anaerobic running to try and make your targets – this is considered “cheating” (luckily, you will be punished for this in terms of training return, justice is immediately served in running).

I know, from experience, that my split from this route tends to be around 51/49% or 52/48% (yesterday I came out a bit slower and home a bit faster) and this helps me guess when is the best time to turn. Say if I am doing a seventy minute Out and Back, I know to turn around 36 minutes leaving me 34 minutes for the return journey.

When you miss, you don’t fail, but you do learn valuable lessons about your own pacing strategy. Go out too fast and you pay on the return, go out too slow and you’ll not be running as well as you could.

The exact design of the Out and Back depends on the runner’s focus. A middle-distance runner may run only 25 to 45 minutes but their pace will be slightly faster whereas a half-marathon specialist will do at least an hour and easily closes in on one and half hours by the end of aerobic training.

The Out and Back sessions lead naturally into ever faster “Progress Calibration Runs” when you move to Hill and Anaerobic training which are more similar to what runners traditionally recognise as “tempos” but they are a topic for another day.