Before I have to rename this blog to “The Sound of Silence”, I wanted to check in with regular readers and assure them that news of my demise is much exaggerated. I’m putting the finishing touches on my diary from Aoife and my training holiday in Portugal which I hope to post here shortly for inspiration and reflection.
In my previous post I mentioned I had taken myself through the high-risk training strategy known as “shock periodisation” – essentially just applying a very sudden and high training load that leaves little change for recovery and not enough time for super-compensation (the effect of your body bouncing back stronger than it was) to occur.
It was a very tough period with paces getting slower and slower and runs getting harder and harder. I had not quite emerged from this lethargy by the time our feet hit Portuguese soil, as I had hoped and planned, but nevertheless managed 107 km in the seven days we were away, doing 10 runs and 4 training workouts including 3 quality runs – a fartlek, a track session and a 5k time trial.
Since then I have continued my strong start to the year easing back to ~ 80 km in my first week home from holidays before bouncing back to 100 km. This is more or less the level I plan to stay on in the first half of 2014 as I will not be training for a marathon.
The last time I ramped up to this type of volume I still relied on the artificial “support” (the term is somewhat misleading) offered by cushioned runners. I had to give all these runners away when it became clear they damaged my movement to a degree that crippling injury was never far away when I trained – even as little as 60 km per week.
Without the cushioned footwear to deceive my brain about what’s going on underneath me, the worst I can now expect is 2-3 days with a somewhat sore body or a tiny niggle. Cause: if I lose my form or my perception of good movement or simply overdo a single workout through bad programming. Another risk is a few weeks with a stone bruise if I don’t run properly on trails and slam my heel down clumsily on a rock – this can happen when you get tired and are still learning optimal technique but these bruises heal quickly, are only mildly annoying and the bone comes back stronger and denser. To contrast, in the past most injuries took me out for 3-6 months at a time never allowing any true progress. I lie awake at night sometimes thinking about how many athletes we have lost this way who could have gone on to greatness.
Despite the quick mileage ramp-up, my puritan approach to minimalism has paid off – I’ve run an average of 14.5km per day since the New Year and last week was the fastest overall so despite not yet having super-compensated there are signs of progress.
Some work remains though: the natural style of running requires very well conditioned hamstrings and postural muscles, powerful hips, and very elastic lower legs – components I have only begun to build in the last 2.5 years – and components lost to a majority of our modern population.
Thus my training paces are currently progressing very gradually – partly because I introduced very high volume from the beginning. A lower volume of 40-80 km would have seen my paces increase more rapidly. I wanted to develop endurance, fuel efficiency and structural strength first however – and needed to spend more hours practicing the new stride – so more time on my feet. The coming months may need to some small drop to support increasingly fast running and more work at race relevant paces – I’m hoping to cap out at 7.5 hours per week as opposed to the 9 to 10.5 hours I have spend so far but to keep the mileage much the same.
Long-term I need much more volume than this but in any given year it’s my philosophy that you should achieve the maximum with the minimum required (to put a modernised paraphrase to the great Arthur Newton).
The downside of my approach so far is that my planned entry into the Ballycotton 10 mile may come to soon – I am not seeing any evidence at the moment that I am “ready to race” although I am very much “ready to run” and “run everyday”. But I’ll have to make call closer to the weekend. Next up is the big 25 km recce of the Wicklow Way Trail on Sunday. Again, I had hoped to contest the race, but will only do so if training shows me that I could better the time of 1:55 and the 7th spot I claimed in the 2012 incarnation of the race. Nature abhors a vacuum – I abhor regression – so tend to only do races when there is clear evidence that I will progress on past performances. I suppose that makes me an “unfun runner”!