Reality check

In the past 10 weeks I have run about 3 times a week on average, covering a total distance of about 280 Km in runs ranging from 3 Km up to 15 Km , across a variety of different types of terrain.   The most strenuous of these runs were on mountain tracks in the Sierra Nevada (in southern Spain, not California).  Mainly I have maintained a pace around 6min/Km, except in the mountains.  On a few occasions I have progressively increased pace to around 5:30 /Km along the riverside path near home.   I have kept my heart rate mainly in the range 75-80% of maximum.    Although my joints have felt rather clunky and my ligaments have felt stiff, my muscles have not complained too much.   So I decided today that it was time for a structured session with a specific target.

My major short term goal is to get some speed back into my legs.  My medium term goal is to run a reasonably fast 5Km, but because I have clearly lost a lot of fitness as a result of the misadventures of the past year, it is not clear what would be a reasonable goal.  However observation of my heart rate indicates that at a pace around 5:30/ km I am already in the mid to upper part of the aerobic zone, suggesting that a 25 min 5 Km would be a challenge at present.

For the next 4 weeks I will aim to do 5 sessions per week, including two moderately effortful sessions: an interval session (short or long) and either a tempo session at around 5:20 min/Km or a progressive run aiming to reach 5 min/Km pace for the final few Km.   The short interval sessions will be 400m repeats aiming for a pace around 4:15 min/km and in the longer interval sessions I will do 1000m repeats aiming for 5 min/Km.

Today, I was eager to see if I could sustain 4:15 pace during 400m repeats, so I decided on 4x400m.  Beforehand I used Google Earth to locate two trees 400m apart on the fields beside Fairham Brook.   However when I got there, it was not absolutely clear which of the many trees lining the brook were my 400m markers.  I set off on the first estimated ‘400m’, into a slight head wind across a grassy surface that was easy on the legs, though a little bumpy in places and definitely not ideal for fast running.  I was dismayed to find that my time was 112 sec.    I was already in the anaerobic zone,  and it was clear that running any faster would be unreasonably stressful.   After 3 minutes of easy jogging my heart rate had fallen from 95% of maximum to around 75%; I had intended to get it down to 70% before the second 400m, but even after 5 min of easy jogging it remained at around 70% so I set off, with the breeze behind me this time, but again was disconcerted to find that my time was only marginally less.  Once again I was well into the anaerobic zone.

I completed the four  ’400m’ runs, each in a time in the range 110-112 sec, and on each occasion, well into the anaerobic zone.   On each occasion my heart rate settled to a level around 75% of max after 3 minutes of jogging at a pace which would normally produce a heart rate around 60% of max.  It was clear that I was accumulating a substantial amount of lactate during the 400m runs.   It seemed that I was even less fit that I had anticipated, and that a 25 min 5K would be out of reach for the near future.  After a careful look at my ‘400m’ marker trees, I set off for home at a gentle jog, but the continuing elevation of heart rate and respiratory rate demonstrated that I still had appreciable acidity in my blood stream.

When I got home I made a closer inspection of the trees on Google Earth.  Marrying the Google Earth aerial view with my ground level observations, it was clear that I had misidentified my intended marker trees.   In fact the markers I was using were 445m apart, so my true times were in the range 99-101 sec per 400m, corresponding to 4:10 min per Km.   I had achieved a pace slightly faster than my target pace of 4:15.  However it had been quite effortful.  Most noticeably, my ability to clear acidity from my blood stream is very poor.   Fortunately, that is perhaps the most readily trainable of the various metabolic adaptations required for 5Km racing, so all in all, it was a good opening session of my campaign.  A few hours afterwards I did a bit of bouncing on the trampoline and my legs felt reasonably springy, so I do not anticipate appreciable DOMS tomorrow.  Next week’s interval session will be 4x1000m aiming for 5 min/Km pace.  That will give me a clearer idea of just how near or far I am from a 25 min 5K.

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3 Responses to “Reality check”

  1. Thomas Says:

    To be honest, I think you’d be better off forgetting about speed workouts and do as much easy paced, aerobic running as your legs will let you instead.

    • canute1 Says:

      Thomas, you raise one of the most controversial issues in distance running.

      There are runners who have done well with lots of slow running , most notably, Ed Whitlock. There are others who flourish on faster running and/or lots of hill running, for example protégés of Renato Canova, such as Wilson Kiprop, Paul Kosgei, Abel Kirui and many others. It is clear that various different training programs can work. However it is probable that different individuals require different training to achieve their peak performance.

      In my younger days I trained mainly for the 5000m. The majority of my training sessions were tempo runs at a pace around 5:30 – 5:45 minutes per mile (I used imperial measures in those days) together with some interval sessions, occasional fartlek sessions and some hills. I was aware of Lydiard’s ideas and occasionally did some longer runs, but I rarely ran slower 6 minutes per mile. Running was only one of the many things I tried to cram into my life at that time, and it seemed a waste of time to run slowly.

      Ironically, despite this fairly intense but relatively low volume training, I was only a middle-ability 5,000m runner and in fact I have never won a 5000m race in my life. Meanwhile, almost by accident, with this training I turned out to be a sub-elite level marathon runner. In one of my few marathon races, I won the South Australian state championship. I think the explanation for this apparent paradox is that I am by nature endowed with more endurance than speed. Fortunately, despite lacking natural speed, I enjoy the exhilaration of tempo running. Therefore a program based largely on fairly fast tempo running suited my temperament while helping compensate for my lack of natural speed. At that time I was also a keen mountaineer, and I suspect that carrying a heavy pack up mountains augmented my natural endurance.

      Now, over forty years later, I am still better endowed with endurance than speed. During my recent holiday in the Sierra Nevada, I had no difficulty in running in the mountains for several hours at a time, at a very slow pace. While I enjoy running slowly in the mountains, I really long to be able to run at a reasonable tempo pace again, though I suspect I will have to be content with a tempo pace nearer to 5:30 per Km than 5:30 per mile.

  2. Ewen Says:

    Canute, happy to hear you solved the mystery of the ‘long’ 400 metres. I often use Google Earth myself and find it very accurate (more accurate than my Garmin) for measuring distances.

    On Thomas’s point, I have to agree with you. I think it’s very important to match a runner’s physical and mental ‘skills’ to the type of training. A some-time training partner of mine, Kathy, is set to break the Aus record in the 3000 for W55 and runs about 40-50 km per week but with 2/3 high intensity sessions. She says she can’t now physically cope with high mileage and ran ‘high mileage’ in college, including 2/day sessions.

    For myself, I’m finding the MAF effort runs and tempo runs are enough to hold a high level of aerobic fitness. My heart-beats/km on this training at 60k per week are equal to when I was doing slower running at 100k per week. The faster running is also more exhilarating (and I think) better for muscular strength and co-ordination.

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