With our new club Glendalough AC up and running, I knew I had to get back into the fray. Despite the greying hair and my newly acquired veteran status I am too young to be a ‘sideline coach’ or as Arthur Lydiard used to (politely!) phrase it ‘a big fat coach standing with a stopwatch on his belly’.
Having spend the period since last May stabilising the most important thing for any athlete: the environment around me, I had found myself in a good position to begin a patient build-up and with the club entering a team into the Wicklow Road Race on 22nd of April, suddenly it became very urgent to get back into some sort of race shape.
It takes the human body two months to fully replace every single blood cell within it. So that is the minimum time period to expect large jumps in fitness, at least as far as oxygen transport is concerned. While oxygen intake, transport, distribution and combustion are incredibly important adaptations for an endurance athlete, they are far from the only ones.
Without going into a long boring list of technical terms, such as ‘myelination’ (the laying down of new neural pathways) or ‘mitochondrial biogenesis’ (creation of more mitochondria, tiny organelles which act as energy factories for our cells by producing ATP),
My first goal was to normalise the simple act of running as much as possible as far as my body and mind was concerned and I decided to take a leaf out of Dr Ernst van Aaken’s book, along with Newton he was the first to propose the ‘endurance method’ of training as we know it today (Cerutty and Lydiard would later refine the basic concept, somewhat independently, into methods more similar to what runners recognise today).
One of Van Aaken’s simple observations was the children can easily run up to an hour (on/off) or 10 km during a day. This matches pretty well with what we know about the activity patterns of ancient man. So there is nothing unnatural or heroic about that level of activity. It is both natural and normal but, of course, many of us today cannot safely run 1 hour day in and day out without breathlessness, injury or other symptoms of our modern malaise.
Whatever training you embark on the most important thing is the process. So my first goal in restoring my former, and long faded, powers was to manage 6 weeks (42 days) consecutive running 1 hour or more and 10 km or more without any incidents such as niggles or overtraining.
During this process I wanted to see several things including my running form improving, recovery times improving and heart rates and perceived effort levels dropping in relation to speeds. Mentally it was a challenge in the early weeks as my training paces are far from where they were. Its hard to motivate yourself to climb back up a mountain you’ve travelled to death but it is necessary in order to proceed to the bigger tops beyond.
Race training suggests my current level is around 50 VDOT compared to the 60 I was delivering during my best spell of competition 3 years ago, so I suppose I could say I am back at 85% of my old self. Of course, this time I am starting off an infinitely better technical foundation. So far I am 38 days in of the 42. Progress has been clear and it is now just a routine to tick off an hour or more every day. Once our upcoming Kerry Weekend which features a few big runs is over, this first period will be complete and I will allow the body the rest it is beginning to tell me that it needs. I am travelling back to Denmark and as part of this will find time for 3 days of complete rest and rejuvenation ahead of the second stage.
Next steps and the coming of the Borg….
I will begin seeing the adaptation of these first six weeks fully only in the month to come and during that period I am going to remove the focus from simply ‘attaining relaxed daily running’ and onto beginning to restore quality paces into the longer endurance runs and to work on upping my power and speed more.
For that period of training the very restrictive rule of 1 hour or 10 km will cease as it will at that stage become counterproductive. Rather I will be varying (or modulating to use the in vogue term) my training further. Monotony levels have been very high in the first six weeks even with the inclusion of some interesting Fartleks, few very long runs over rough mountain and plenty of variation of trail and road. But 25 days out of the 38 run have featured a run of just over 10 km (with the average daily run for the period being 11.7 km).
In the second period a few recovery runs will be shorter will which allow for greater recovery. This then allows me to increase either the pace, distance or both of the intertwining runs which is a necessary step to get back to true race specific training (the third and final phase).
The second period will also take me six weeks leaving me hopefully ready to begin ‘proper’ training for the 18th of May. Incidentally this is close to the time of arrival of Baby Borg so I will have a chance to fully test my ‘tireless’ state come that date as well…