The training of Yoshihisa Hosaka

At high school Yoshihisa Hosaka was a champion track athlete. After several years devoted to surfing, he began running again in his mid-thirties, focussing on short road races, but did not seriously contemplate the marathon. At age 42 he won a 7 Km race that earned him a trip to compete in the Honolulu marathon.  He completed it in 2:31:19. In an interview with Brett Larner, editor of Japan Running News, in 2009, he described the way in which he developed his training over the next few years, achieving a marathon personal best time of 2:25:28 at age 45, an impressive performance but appreciably slower than the time of 2:20:28 achieved by Jack Foster at age 50, and well outside the world M45+ record of 2:14:16 set by Jackson Kipngok Yegon of Kenya. Hosaka continued to develop his training and settled on a consistent routine of two sessions daily, both including 5x1Km intervals within a daily total of 32Km. In February 2009 at age 60 he took nearly two minutes of the world M60+ record with a time of 2:36:30 at the Beppu-Oita Marathon.

His best performance in the past 15 months was 2:46:14 at the Gold Coast Airport Marathon in July 2013 at age 64, though this was over three minutes outside Clive Davies’ single-age world record for a 64 year old of 2:42:44 set in 1979. At the Toronto Waterfront marathon last November Hosaka started well but his leg muscles tightened-up during the middle stages of the race and he finished in 2:50:44. At the Gold Coast marathon this year, he won the M65-69 age group in a time of 2:52:13. But he still has his eyes on breaking Derek Turnbull’s M65+ world record of 2:41:57 in Toronto in November.

Hosaka’s peak performance deteriorated by 11 minutes in the 15 years from his personal best at age 45 to his world M60+ at age 60, and by almost 10 minutes in the 4 years from age 60 to his 2013 Gold Coast marathon at age 64. According to WAVA, the deterioration expected for a runner at the highest level would be 20 minutes from age 45 to 60, and 6 minutes 15 seconds from age 60 to 64. Thus, Hosaka deteriorated at only half of the rate predicted by WAVA between his PB at age 45 and his world record at 60 but he has deteriorated at almost 70% more than WAVA would predict from age 60 to his best performance within the past 15 months. One should not base too much on his recent races slower than 2:50 in Toronto in November 2013 and the Gold Coast in July 2014, as the marathon is an unpredictable event in which sub- peak performances are not usual, Nonetheless these two races do provide a further hint at the possibility of a more rapid deterioration in his mid-sixties.

To what extent has his training contributed to his outstanding improvement relative to WAVA prediction in the period from 45 to 60, and might this training have actually led to a faster deterioration than that predicted by WAVA in the years since age 60?

Hosaka’s Training

In the interview with Brett Larner, shortly after he had set the M60+ world record in 2009, Hosaka provided a detailed account of his unvarying daily schedule. The morning session begins with a 1.5 mile jog through mountainous country from his home to a tree-lined riverbank path where he does five 1Km repetitions at a gradually increasing pace, starting at a relaxed 6:25 /mile (about 25 sec/mile slower than his marathon pace at that time) and increasing pace to 5:20 /mile, which is the estimated 10K pace for a 2:36:30 marathoner. In isolation, this would be quite an easy session, gently progressing from a relaxed initial pace to the fifth Km repetition at around 10K pace. He jogs home, and works in his own business from 8:30am to 5:00pm. After work, he drives to a park where he does some strength exercises and then a progressive 12Km warm-up starting at 9:30/mile and increasing pace up to 8 minutes mile. He then does another 5x1Km interval session on a long downhill stretch of a nearby road. He does the first 1Km at marathon pace and gradually increases to estimated 10 Km pace for the final repetition. He finishes with 5 x 100m accelerations on soft earth in the park, to help maintain his speed. In isolation, this session would also be fairly easy, though the day’s total of 32 Km is substantial, and the cumulative effect of repeating this day after day would be appreciable. He races quite frequently, and usually races at least two marathons per year

The key features of Hosaka’s programme

  • The unvarying daily schedule of two sessions, each of which would be only moderately demanding in isolation, allows him to monitor how well his body is coping with the training much more effectively than a program that alternates hard and easy days.   In similar manner, Ed Whitlock, whom I discussed in my previous post, follows a consistent program of daily long runs, though Hosaka’s schedule provides greater variety within each day. While the human mind craves variety, the body adapts very well to a routine. I consider that the doctrine that the body needs fresh challenges in order to improve is over-rated. Consistency is of greater importance, though it is probable that the best results are obtained when demands of training increase gradually over a long period. Frequent racing also adds spice.

There are two occasions in my own running career when I did daily doubles with very little variation over a period of many months. The first was as a youngster when I ran to and from school at a comfortable pace each day for several years. I did not find this irksome, and believe that it laid the foundation for what success I later enjoyed as a distance runner. Then in my early twenties, I ran 10 miles twice daily for several months, guided by a fragmentary knowledge of Lydiard’s recommendation of running at least 100 miles per week. I ran at what I assumed Lydiard meant by a ‘good aerobic pace’ though I ran many of those miles not far below the second ventilatory threshold, which was probably somewhat faster than Lydiard would have recommended. Again I did not find the routine irksome, though at the time I was working very long hours and eventually became increasingly tired. Nonetheless, in the following summer season I ran the best 5000m races of my career and also achieved a memorable victory in the only 10,000m I have ever raced.

  • Both of Hosaka’s daily sessions were gently progressive. Although he ran about 10 Km per day at marathon pace or faster, these moderately effortful segments were only 1 Km in length, and in the evening session, they were downhill. He did not do sustained tempo sessions – which evidence indicates are disproportionality stressful. He himself reports that he finds his body copes better with interval sessions in which the demand for effort comes in small chunks, than with sustained running near lactate threshold. In the interview with Brett Larner he stated: “Most people can’t keep race pace up for a long time as they get older. Doing it in intervals lets you keep your speed without getting hurt.”
  • Perhaps the most surprising aspect of his training is the absence of long runs. However, as indicated by Dudley’s well-known studies of rats, there is little evidence that runs longer than 40-50 minutes are an efficient way to increase aerobic capacity. It is however probable that long runs are effective in developing the ability to withstand the sustained pounding of the legs that is inevitable during a marathon, though it is possible that downhill 1 Km repetitions at marathon pace or faster, are even more effective for developing the required resilience. The other main marathon-specific benefit of long runs is the psychological preparation. But Hosaka considers that his daily routine is well suited to the sustained mental demand of the marathon.   He told Brett Larner: “Early on it’s easy, but after a few days it’s harder and you think, ‘Ah, this is like the 30K point in the marathon,’ then it gets even harder like at 40K. Every day’s training becomes like part of the marathon. Most people run a hard day and then jog an easy day, but the marathon is constant and you have to train yourself to handle that constant.”
  • Although he is not finicky about his life-style, he eats a balanced diet and believes it’s important to let the body use its natural healing processes. He employs strength exercises and weightlifting to prevent and treat injuries. He trains in relaxing surroundings. Although his work as a businessman no doubt creates some pressure, as his own boss he has the opportunity to regulate his own stress level.

I consider that Hosaka’s preparedness to identify a training program that suited him well and enabled him to train consistently were the key features that allowed him to make substantial improvement in marathon performance between age 42 and 45, and then to slow the rate of decline over the following 15 years. In his consistency and his care to avoid undue stress, Hosaka resembles Ed Whitlock. However, while both of them have included a small amount of fast running and frequent racing to maintain their speed, in other respects the content of their programmes is dramatically different. Hosaka focusses on gradually progressive 1 Km repetitions but no long runs, whereas daily 3 hour runs at a slow pace are the key feature of Ed’s programme. Both have been phenomenally successful over a period of a decade or more, confirming that there is no single way to train in order to achieve outstanding marathon performances. Does our understanding of body physiology provide any clues as to which approach is likely to offer the greater prospect of sustained elite performance over several decades? .

Catabolism and anabolism

Training produces benefit by creating a stress that provokes the body to react in a manner that enhances the ability to withstand stress in future. The mechanism of the stress response is only partly understood, but current understanding does provide useful guidance for planning training.

The first general principle is that stress generates a two-phase response. The initial response is the catabolic phase in which the body’s priority is breaking down of tissues to supply fuel for energy production. Glycogen is broken down to release glucose and if the stress is sustained, protein is broken down into amino acids which in turn can be used as fuel. The catabolic hormones adrenaline and cortisol plays a cardinal role in regulating these metabolic processes. In addition, physical trauma, such as the eccentric muscle contraction at foot-strike, produces microscopic tearing of tissues.

After cessation of exercise, the level of adrenaline falls within minutes while the level of cortisol returns to baseline over period of an hour or two. However, a second bout of exercise within 3 hours produces an even greater surge of adrenaline and cortisol, compared with a similar second bout of exercise after 6 hours. This indicates that even after cortisol has returned to baseline, signalling molecules circulating in the bloodstream are a marker of residual stress. This sustained marker of stress diminishes markedly by 6 hours. However other markers of stress such as a fall in blood levels of lymphocytes, which play a role in protecting against infection, can persist for 24 hours.

The second phase is the anabolic phase during which tissues are repaired. Various different processes are involved. Anabolic hormones stimulate the re-synthesis of protein. A complex set of chemical messengers including various cytokines, trigger an inflammatory response. Capillaries become leaky allowing fluid containing scavenging white blood cells and materials required for repair, to reach damaged tissue. The scavenging white cells remove cellular debris, while the deposition of collagen fibres strengthens tissues. Satellite cells, which are a form of stem cell found in muscle, promote regeneration of muscle.

If there is repeated stress before recovery is complete there is a risk of a third phase. Sustained elevation of cortisol can occur, causing continued suppression of the immune system and inhibiting anabolism. Paradoxically, sustained elevation of cortisol can promote chronic inflammation by blunting the body’s response to cortisol. Chronic inflammation leads to disorganized deposition of collagen fibres in body tissues, impeding the function of these tissues. .It is even possible for collagen deposition in the walls of coronary blood vessels to promote atheroma that might eventually increase the risk of heart attack. It is noteworthy that sustained moderate elevation of cortisol is not uncommon in distance runners, and is related to both volume and intensity of training. While there is little compelling evidence that even quite intense training produces harm that outweighs the benefits of vigorous training over a period of several years, I suspect that if one wishes to train at elite level over a period of decades, it is crucial to maintain a healthy balance between catabolism and anabolism, and to avoid the potentially harmful third phase.

It is likely that training programmes that carefully avoid excessive stress, have enabled both Hosaka and Whitlock to remain at elite level for at least a decade, and in Whitlock’s case, for even longer. I see no reason to propose that Hosaka’s carefully calibrated interval sessions are more likely to produce sustained stress than Whitlock’s frequent 3 hour slow runs. However, there is one respect in which I think Whitlock’s approach is safer. Although his programme is not deliberately periodized, by virtue of various circumstances, including arthritis and accidents, he has been forced to cut back his training from time to time, and whenever he does so, he builds up the duration of his long runs very gradually. I suspect that gradual adaptation is a key feature of his success.

Future prospects

Hosaka’s own comments reported in another interview with Brett Larner in Toronto in November 2013 suggest he is considering a change. He acknowledged that he was finding it harder to maintain his daily interval sessions, and perhaps might even change to Ed Whitlock’s high volume, low intensity approach, though maybe this was simply an expression of Japanese politeness while he was a guest in Ed’s home town.

In 2013, Hosaka missed the single-age M64 world record, after capturing M59, 60, 61, 63 world records in the previous five years. It is interesting to speculate that he might be beginning to experience the accelerating deterioration that many runners experience in the mid to late sixties, but only time will tell. Whitlock had also shown slight hints of a stutter in performance for two or three years after his superb 2:52:50 in the 1999 Columbus Ohio marathon at age 69, but he came back with a tremendous improvement to achieve 2:54:48 in Toronto at age 73. Although Ed has slowed appreciably in the subsequent decade, nonetheless in his early eighties, he still breaks world records at distances from 1500m to marathon with remarkable regularity. Undoubtedly his training regimen has combined with his apparently inherited predisposition to longevity to delay the inevitable deterioration of performance with age, whereas the effectiveness of Hosaka’s regimen beyond the mid-sixties remains un-tested . So it will be very interesting to see how well Hosaka can hold his form over the next few years, and in particular, to see whether or not he moves to lower intensity long training runs. But whatever he does, the records that Ed set in his early 70’s are going to be very hard to beat.

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14 Responses to “The training of Yoshihisa Hosaka”

  1. Seth Leon Says:

    Another excellent post I found very informative. I completely agree that there is sweet spot on the eustress/distress continuum that when found has system wide benefits. Here are a couple links you might be interested in.

    http://nautil.us/issue/15/turbulence/fruits-and-vegetables-are-trying-to-kill-you

    and

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23079624

    The first one details how the benefits of eating veges may not come from the anti-oxidant content but instead from the stress they place our systems.

    The second describes some ways in which brain health depends on imposed challenges such as those we get from exercise and proper diet.

    Many Thanks 🙂

    • canute1 Says:

      Seth,
      Thanks for those references. The paper by Rothman and Mattson on optimal brain health and resilience throughout the lifespan is especially interesting. They emphasize the role of the neurotransmitter, glutamate, which transmits excitation between nerve cells. Many years ago the psychologist Donald Hebb proposed that the concurrent firing of neurons strengthens the connection between them. We now know a lot about the molecular mechanism by which this strengthening is achieved. The release of neurotransmitter not only transits an electrical message to the down-stream neuron but also triggers gene expression and the synthesis of new proteins required to strengthen the connection. But glutamate can be toxic and if firing of neurons is excessive, the excessive release of glutamate can damage the connection. Thus, neural activity itself is crucial for shaping the pattern of connections between brain cells, but excessive activity can be toxic.

      Rothman and Mattson also discuss the ways in which stress acting elsewhere in the body can be beneficial or harmful. In particular, sustained cortisol (generate din the adrenal gland) damages brain cells especially in the hippocampus. Severe sustained elevation of cortisol is likely to damage many functions including memory, but even at a mild level, it can produce depression. I believe this is why the Profile of Mood States is one of the most reliable markers of the over-training syndrome. .

  2. Ewen Says:

    Thanks for this post Canute and also the previous one.
    I like the constant repetition of Hosaka’s plan (which is similar to Whitlock). I’m doing something similar, although much smaller volume, and find that doing the same effort and time each day lets me closer monitor how I’m recovering from each day. I think scheduled “easy days” tend to mess with the benefits that come from a constant work load.

    There’s also the benefit of not being stressed about upcoming training or workouts. Every day is the same, which is kind of relaxing. Even I expect for Hosaka with his daily “easy” intervals. Only race days take up nervous energy.

    One interesting thing about Whitlock is how his 1500m rankings have improved as he’s aged – perhaps another endorsement for his approach. http://www.mastersathletics.net/fileadmin/html/Rankings/All_Time/1500metresmen.htm

    • canute1 Says:

      Ewen,
      Thanks for your comment. Yes it is very interesting to see how Ed has moved up the world 1500m rankings. This is not only due to the expectation that a former top ranked runner will slip down the rankings as the general standard improves with time. Ed would never have been higher than 4th in the M70-74 category yet he is top of the M75-79 and M80-84 categories. This certainly suggests that his training is helping to sustain his inherent gift of middle distance running.

      It is also interesting to see how many of the world leading ‘ancient’ marathoners are high in the 1500m rankings. Derek Turnbull is still second ranked for 1500m in the M65-69 age group, and would have been top of that age category in 1992. He is currently 4th in both the M60-64 and M70-74 categories but would have been top of the M60-64 category in 1992 & 1993 and top of the M70-74 ranking in 1997 & 1998. Turnbull still holds the M65-69 world record for the marathon, indicating that he reached a peak relative to his age peers in both the 1500m and the marathon his mid to late sixties. Turnbull was a New Zealand sheep farmer with an attitude to training similar to Jack Foster.

  3. Robert Osfeidl Says:

    Another interesting post Canute, please keeping them coming there are really insightful.

    I wonder if there might be a factor of repitition of the same thing everyday removes the thought processes associated with deciding what training to do each day, and by removing this possible thought process you also remove a little bit of the mental stress.

    This might work at a sub-conscious level too, the body clock knows when it needs to be ready for exercise, what will happen during and and after exercise so it can anticipate the various hormone levels to support that training load.

    Form a personal level I like being able to look at the weather and choose a different route or training run, time of day to make the best of my time outside. Living in Scotland this invariably means that there will quite a be variation overailed upon my rough week plan of doing a certain number of recovery runs, long runs, tempos/interval works etc.

    One thing I have found is I have got used to going out most days and when I don’t feel the need to get out and burn some pent up energy. Perhaps this is evidence for my suggestion in my paragraph 3 above – that the sub-conscious prepares the body to handle the exercise that you might throw at it.

    As I’ve introduced more recovery runs, sometimes when I’ve done one in the morning in the afternoon I get the itching pent up energy feeling and find myself fancying another run.

    I find this encouraging development, I’m sure I wouldn’t be tempted by a second run in the day if my body was struggling to adapt to training.

    • canute1 Says:

      Robert

      Thanks for your comment. I agree with you. I think there are many ways to train well. Provided there is consistency but avoidance of cumulative stress, there is likely to be continued improvement (or in the case of an elderly runner, less age related deterioration). I think that Lydiard summed it up with his remark to Heather Thompson as they ran together through the New Zealand bush land: ‘You have just got to keep it at a pleasant effort’, in the film ‘On the run’.

      Your training sounds rather like that of two other great New Zealanders, Jack Foster and Derek Turnbull. I think that an especially interesting thing about Turnbull is that in training he ran purely for pleasure, yet set many age group world records at distances ranging from 1500m to marathon..

  4. Seth Leon Says:

    Hi Canute,

    Just thought I would add one more comment since you are currently marathon training again. I have an Oct 4th marathon (St George) coming up that has substantial downhills. I decided to try out a new shoe (Hoka One One Clifton) thinking it’s light weight combined with excess cushioning would make it a good marathon race shoe especially for a downhill race.

    I took them on an 18 miler Saturday with the middle hilly 9 at just below marathon pace. It felt as though the extra cushioning kept my legs fresher than expected in the last few miles. Could be the placebo effect of a new purchase, but also got me thinking that this might be a good shoe for older runners maybe allowing certain physiological systems to get a good stimulus with less overall stress/cortisol release for the same workout.

    • canute1 Says:

      Seth
      There is evidence that transient damage to leg muscles is a major factor that leading runners to slow down in the later stages of a marathon. There is also evidence from Roger Kram’s team in Colorado that even for young runners running shorter distances than a 10mm layer of padding under the sole produces increased efficiency that compensates for the increased weight. The optimum thickness for younger runners running short distances is less than the thickness of the Hokas. However I think it is plausible that an older athlete will benefit from thicker padding, especially during a hilly marathon. Good luck with your marathon next week..

      • Seth Leon Says:

        Thanks for the good wishes, but Oct 4th is still 5 weeks away 🙂

        I hope your training and recovery is going well. When is your marathon?

    • canute1 Says:

      Seth
      I appear to have been nibbling the year away faster than necessary – definitely not a good thing to do when each week is a treasure that should not be squandered.

      Unfortunately I suffered a quite troublesome gluteus maximus injury when I dived headlong to catch a ball during a ‘team-building’ game of rounders with my research team. This has set me back quite a long way. I am now re-building slowly but will defer my marathon to the spring.

      I will do 2 more posts on ‘ancient marathoners’ and then do a post on my plans and my progress.

      • Seth Leon Says:

        Sorry to hear of your injury, at least it seems to have a heroic effort behind it. Hope your research team appreciated that 🙂

        I always appreciate your posts and am about to check out the latest. Good luck in the slow rebuilding process.

  5. How Do World-Class Old Guys Stay in Shape | The Athletic Time Machine Says:

    […] The Training of Yoshihisa Hosaka (August 18) […]

  6. The longevity of the long distance runner | Canute's Efficient Running Site Says:

    […] have described Hosaka’s training in some detail in a previous blog post. Like Turnbull and Whitlock, he had been a champion at regional level in his student days, but gave […]

  7. Micheal Twiddy Says:

    This is very satisfactorily written. The blog post was informative to subscribers who exactly have a good worth for articles. We look forward for even more of the same. He has described each and everything very well and briefly.

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