20 February 2014

from a guy who don't know nuthin' about nuthin'

being still what i would consider a novice runner (having started into this in my late, late 30s) there's so much that i know that i still don't know.  i make all of the rookie mistakes (e.g. going out too fast in races, not recovering properly after training runs, spastic breathing patterns, a stride cadence of who-knows-what) and feel like i'm a sponge every time an article comes out in competitor magazine.  

with that in mind, from time to time i realize just how many insights and tidbits i've picked up since developing this running obsession.  one of my strengths is connectedness, which i understand to be an aptitude for understanding links between events, experiences and information.  

in one way that means that i'm a walking treasure trove of trivial knowledge.

but it also means that if you need it, i can direct transfer some of that knowledge your way.

case in point:  my friend lewis is prepping for his first ever half-marathon race this april.  this week he decided to share with me something of his homebrewed training plan with an invitation to comment on it.  to his credit it had the right mix of variable workout elements:  long runs, speed intervals, race-pace runs and recovery days.  i know that the first plan that i used for half-marathon training simply laid out distances to be covered on any given day without any real description or prescription as to intensities appropriate for that workout.

my first bit of feedback to lewis was about the fact that he was plotting hard workouts (e.g. race-pace runs and tempo days) back-to-back.  here's how i responded to that:
i think that putting a race pace workout back-to-back with a tempo workout is either (a) a recipe for injury or (b) an almost guaranteed less-than-optimal tempo workout.  i think that almost any workout plan that you can find prescribed by a coach or a training program will not put key workouts like this adjacent to one another - the idea being that your body needs an easier day between speed-focused runs to recover and build on the gains from that workout.  also keep in mind that the tempo workout should be at 10-20s/km faster than race pace - if you can pull that off after a decent race pace day, then your race pace might be too generous.
i followed up that bit of sage advice (anybody familiar with sarcasm?  anybody?) with a question about his end-of-week workout which simply denoted "Run-Intervals".  when i inquired about what distance he was using for intervals - wondering out loud whether or not he might be using 800m or 1km - he came back letting me know that he was thinking more like 80-100m.  once again my fountain-of-misinformation mouth decided to spout:
so here's my challenge - to stretch out those distances so that you get a true 'interval' session. what speed training does is to (a) improve your running form as form tends to break down when running at slower speeds; (b) develop fast-twitch muscle fibres which are important for later stages of a race; and (c) aid in mitochondria development (both in terms of volume and density) which is important because it's mitochondria which help your body convert carbs and fat into energy.

the 50 or 100m sprints are more what i would consider as 'strides' - short bursts of speed which help to loosen/stretch the leg muscles but do little in terms of grander-scheme development. i would recommend trying at least 400m but optimally 800m intervals (with 90s-120s jog/walk breaks in-between sets) to really get some benefit out of the speed training.
i'm about 85% confident that what i'm sharing is accurate from a science/exercise physiology standpoint - and 95% confident that these comments can be helpful to him as he reviews his progress and the path to the start line.  but the fact that i've no formal education in science (unlike my friend stan - now there's somebody who knows what he's talking about) and that i fumble about in my own training makes me worry that i'm just offering a load of balderdash. 

i don't purport to be a coach of any kind.  

i hope that i'm not leading my friend lewis astray.   

all i can say is that the running community (online and otherwise) as i've experienced it is incredibly generous with their sharing of information and trial-and-error stories.  i know that i've benefited from tales told on the run, and i want to be part of that pipeline rather than behaving like a bottleneck or a blocked valve.  

please feel free to correct me (especially since i can pass it along to lewis!) if my advice seems askew - and let me know how you've maybe helped to encourage/coach/inform somebody else on their own running journey!



  1. It sounds like good advice to me Patrick...you've put Lewis on the right track.
    I'm a fairly newb runner too, started almost two years ago to the day...my first "plan" was just a distance for a day without any focus. Lewis should see some real gains with his plan!

    1. thanks for the encouragement mike! i didn't realize that you were so new to this - you've accomplished some remarkable feats in that short of a time!

  2. aw Patrick, you flatter me too much. Good advice you provided to Lewis and best of luck to him in his race.

    The pattern of hard-easy-easy running is certainly a template used to great effectiveness by a large number of runners.

    For the intervals, I suggest also stretching (or changing it up) to as long as 5:00 or even mile repeats on certain days. There is evidence that 3:00 - 5:00 intervals are extremely effective in improving lactate threshold. Shorter intervals use too much of the anaerobic system while longer ones might push the body too far to recover properly.

    Last thing on 50 - 100 m strides...they can actually help tremendously if applied properly...like doing it up a steep hill at the end of easy runs. This is something Hudson uses a lot in his program. Steep hill sprints (6 - 10 secs, which is roughly 50 m) help strengthen muscles as well as add power and efficiency to a runner's stride

    1. just speakin' the truth bro! and i hear you on the strides - i usually do six sets of strides prior to my interval workouts to help ready me for high-level exertion, but i also have one workout each week that uses strides at the end of a run - alternating between 6x30s hill strides after an 60min.+ aerobic run or 10x60x strides after a 90min.+ run.

    2. one more thing about strides and I was amazed when I tried it (based on Hudson's book again of course) is that doing hill sprints at the end of the easy run the day before a scheduled hard run (intervals or otherwise) is a good indicator of how well the hard run will proceed. On the days when my hill sprints were exceptionally strong, my intervals the next day felt incredible.