Progressive Run

My favourite training run is a progressive run – typically a longish run in which I start slowly and increase speed gradually to a pace near the lactate threshold over the final few Km.  I believe this run enhances both endurance and lactate threshold – and most importantly, enhances the mental state in which a sustained pace near threshold when tired is more exhilarating than daunting.

This type of run appears also to be a favourite of Kenyan runners. In his interview with Akio  Harada which I have quoted several times before, Sammy Wanjiru described a typical morning run: ‘Other than that, I run about 15 km at 7:00 or 8:00 in the morning before I have breakfast. I’d say it’s like jogging, or a buildup to something like a pace run. I start around 4 minutes per km, drop it down to 3:30 in the middle, then end up down at about 3 minutes 5 seconds. I always want to finish thinking, “Aaaaah, that felt great. I had a good run.” ‘   Of course I would not consider 4 min/Km to be jogging.  I typically start around 6 min/Km and gradually increase into the upper aerobic zone, perhaps going into the anaerobic zone for the final Km depending on my current goal.  When training for a half marathon I typically aim to achieve a pace a little faster than my estimated half-marathon pace

This week has been a week of mixed fortunes in my campaign to get fit enough to run a half marathon in mid-December, having started from a very fragile base at the end of October.  During my long run of 25.5 Km last Saturday, my heart rate monitor had again recorded a chaotic heart rhythm similar to the recording a year ago that had raised the possibility of atrial fibrillation.   Subsequent investigation has not found any definite evidence.  The structure of my heart assessed by echocardiography, and several clinical ECG recordings, have proven normal.  During the 21 days when I wore a Spider Flash device designed to automatically detect and record any suspicious segments of ECG, there was no trace of significant abnormality.  However, during this period, my Polar monitor did not record any chaotic rhythms either.  However, last Saturday, the chaotic rhythm was back again.  I am still inclined to think that the most likely cause is poor electrode contact, but nonetheless, I decided to take things a little more easily this week, at least until I had established that my heart rhythm had settled.

I did an easy  low aerobic run on Sunday and a low aerobic elliptical session on Monday.  There was no evidence of the chaotic rhythm.  However, I was a little disconcerted to find that my morning measurement of heart rate variability showed diminished high frequency variability suggesting a mild degree of continuing stress.  After another easy elliptical session on Tuesday, HRV on Wednesday suggested I was a little less stressed, so I did a fairly demanding elliptical session on Wednesday evening, and then easy low aerobic elliptical sessions on Thursday and Friday.  I anticipated that by this morning (Saturday) I would be full of vitality.

So I was a little disappointed to wake with an ache in my much-troubled left knee, and a HRV reading that again suggested I was stressed.  I was not sure what to make of this.  Was I over-reaching even with my limited training; was there something else going on?  In an attempt to clarify the situation, I did a heart rate v power test on the elliptical.  In this test, I do a series of 7 x2 minute epochs at gradually increasing intensity spanning the aerobic range.  In the past this has proven to be a good measure of my aerobic fitness.  When I am reasonably fit, at the end of the final 2 minute epoch at 230 watts my HR is usually 140 or lower.  In my fragile state at the end of October, HR was 148 after the 2 minute epoch at 230 watts. Today it was 150 after the 230 watt epoch.  So all the evidence suggested that I was indeed moderately stressed, though I could scarcely believe I was over-reaching after such an easy week.

I had originally planned a progressive 15 Km run starting at 6 min/Km and increasing to 4:45 min/Km in the final few Km.  I decided that I would still set off on my planned progressive run, but if I was finding it effortful, I would ease the pace back to 6 min/Km.

So I set of a little more slowly than 6 min/Km feeling as ungainly as a wombat with a wonky leg.  It was a grey and misty day; most of the leaves are now off the trees and already losing their bright colours as they lie in soggy masses on the damp ground.  However, the still, mist-filled air created a quite enchanting late-autumn atmosphere: a mixture of mellow and crisp sensations.  I felt satisfied in my decision to run, even if I had to limit my pace.   Within the first few Km, I focused on lifting my foot briskly from stance, and carrying my swinging leg through reasonably high, while maintaining a relaxed but rhythmic drive from the shoulder.  By half-way I was starting to feel a little more fluent and my pace was comfortably under 5:30 per km.  I felt more like a wombat pretending to be a gazelle, though I suspect I looked more like a wombat trying to be a kangaroo.

By 10 Km. my pace was 5 min/Km and I felt as if I could maintain that pace indefinitely.   On the long ramp up to Clifton Bridge, the bridge that carries the A52 trunk road high over the Trent,  I eased off the pace a little to avoid too much stress, and I continued cautiously on the down-ramp to avoid upsetting my wonky knee.  However, once over the bridge and with 3 Km to go, I again got back into a good stride.  I covered the final 2 Km in 9:30 min with an average heart rate of 138 (661 b/Km).  When I downloaded the data from my Polar, I was pleased to see that I had covered the final 5Km (including the bridge) in 25:10.   Overall, I felt like echoing Sammy Wanjiru’s exclamation: “Aaaaah, that felt great. I had a good run.”

2 Responses to “Progressive Run”

  1. Ewen Says:

    Yes, that was a good run! It looks like you’re on track for a satisfying half marathon. A bit perplexing that the HRV readings indicated you were under stress. Could lack of sleep be a cause of that?

    I recall reading about those progression runs of the Kenyans. There was one article that said they start out at a very slow shuffle — barely quicker than walking pace. I remember de Castella’s long run in Stromlo being slow for the initial kilometres, such that ‘ordinary’ locals could keep up. Deek himself would often start at the back of the pack — after 23 miles though, he was way out in front.

    • canute1 Says:

      Thanks for that comment. It is interesting to hear that Deek’s long runs were progressive. He achieved some noteworthy strong finishes in his marathon career, including the famous victory over Salazar in Rotterdam in 1983. Salazar was much faster on the track, but Deek outsprinted him in Rotterdam. I understand Deek’s training included a lot of easy miles, and that in his long runs he focussed on running with a relaxed style. (I never actually knew Deek, I had been a contemporary of his predecessor, Derek Clayton.)

      With regard to the reasons why my HRV and HR measurements indicated I was stressed last week, I do not think it was my training. It was more likely due to work. Although my working week was no longer than usual, I had several demanding deadlines that put me under pressure. It is interesting that despite the bad omens on Saturday morning, including high HR during the elliptical test, I actually recorded a failry satisfactory beat per Km in the final few Km of my progressive run, suggesting that the adrenergic overdrive had resolved during my progressive run. This is perhaps understandable of the source of the stress had been pressure at work.

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