National 6 Stage Relay, Birmingham 6th October

The Tyne Bridge Harriers men qualified 2 teams to the National 6 Stage Relays for the first time in it’s history at the Northern Relays in Manchester. It was a great achievement and I was keen to take my place in the B team in Birmingham.

And so it was back on the bus for an early morning drive to Sutton Park.

This was going to be my first time running in a top quality national field. In many ways out of my depth but certainly guaranteed to be an excellent experience.

We arrived at the park in good time and luckily the worst of the rain had passed and the wind also didn’t seem too bad.

The club tents were set up cross country style on the grass and before we knew it the race was getting underway at 2pm.

I was due to run 3rd leg for the B team and I figured that I would be setting off around 14:40. So I made sure to get my warm up done around 14:00-14:05. Like Wednesday at the mile race I didn’t feel great. I’ve gotten into the habit of doing my warm ups in a lot of layers which is probably unneccesary and leads to excessive sweating.

My warm up was just a jog and I decided to leave strides until nearer the off.

Getting to the start it was fairly crowded with both men and women and I didn’t get a proper set of strides done. As I approached the pen I saw our mens A team coming through with Carl Smith handing over to Mark Fenwick.

With the benefit of hindsight I should have done a more thorough recce of the course and as it was I only had info from chats with a few of the guys who had already ran the course. The main message I took on board was to not go too hard on the early downhill section as this would be promptly followed by a decent drag. I had been told that this could be made up later in the course with a decent downhill section. However, I wasn’t sure how close that downhill section would leave you to the finish which was a slight drag. That said, when you can see the finish line it’s always possible to pull something out of the bag.

The officials told the men to separate from the women to help smooth the handovers and no sooner had I got across the other side of the road I saw Paul Turnbull who was running 2nd leg coming up the final stretch to the finish.

I got into race position and waited until I was given the good to go.

Rather surreally, as I looked up to settle into my rhythm I recognised Rotherham Harrier Hayley Carruthers who has made the headlines in running circles for her excellent recent performances – most notably finishing first British lady at the Great North Run.

I decided to settle in behind her down the opening straight but then, after a left hander onto an even steeper downhill, my natural momentum took me passed her and to the sharp right hander which had to be very carefully negotiated due to the wet leaves on the course.

I felt like I was getting into my stride and then came the main uphill climb. I was pretty conservative up that knowing I didn’t want to burn too many matches.

I could still hear Hayley following and at this point I’d forgotten that the ladies don’t run the same course as I was thinking to myself she could be a good person to work with. Having recently run a time at least 5 minutes faster than my HM PB I would not be disgraced running with Hayley. Before we knew it we had reeled in Elle Baker who seemed to struggling somewhat.

Part of me wondered where the men were until I was taken by one (Sale Harriers I think?) who promptly cut in sharply in front and seemed to be surprised when I clipped his heel.

That broke my momentum a little. I tried to stay on his heels but he picked up. I heard the Rotherham coach barking encouragement to Hayley behind and it was shortly after this that the men went onto the out and back section and the ladies back downhill for home.

I was able to take a struggling male on the downhill section of the out and back but truth be told I was starting to feel the effort even on the downhill. I couldn’t help but notice the men coming back the other way, working hard up the hill with pained expressions. This was clearly a tough part of the course.

I started to wonder how long this downhill section would go on. The further it went down the further we had to come back up!

Approaching the traffic cone turnaround I hadn’t made that much ground on the struggling runner I’d passed at the top of the hill! He’d obviously dug in on my heels. However, he was gone not soon after as he failed to match me going back up.

I was quite pleased with how I dealt with this section. I gritted my teeth and got it done. I had reached the downhill section and now I know the course this is the section where you simply have to try to “bury yourself”. Apart from a short “false flat” it is all downhill taking you to the final straight.

I was working hard but I was struggling to keep the cadence consistently high. I needed to get the cadence up and the stride length opened up in unison. But I just couldn’t seem to do it. Although I was passing a number of slower female runners I wasn’t making ground on any men.

I’d checked my watch just after the turnaround and I’d only been running for about 11 minutes. This panicked me. Not only because I felt like I’d been running longer but also because it made me think that there could be more uphill stretches that I needed to conserve energy on.

I was grateful to receive some support at this point from the TBH ladies and also Coach Dave Tune. I was looking for signs of the finishing straight and I finally got there with a sharp right hander.

Coming round the bend I spotted a male runner about 5-10 metres ahead and I tried to summon something to get passed him. At first I felt like there was a strong chance of doing so but then he picked up somewhat and I felt like I was wading through treacle. I tried to put every last bit of energy into it and finally got across the line in 20:23.

I was instantly disappointed with the time and felt quite angry at myself. I felt like I hadn’t ran a smart race and certainly hadn’t capitalised on the fast downhill sections. Overall the very undulating nature of the course didn’t suit my style of running although I do feel like I could improve next time on the course simply by knowing it better.

My disappointment was compounded by the initial results showing an incorrect time for my leg of 20:30. Although only 7 seconds difference I was annoyed at that but fortunately it was corrected to the 20:23 as per my watch timing.

In terms of the team results the A team finished an excellent 23rd and the B team 63rd out of 76 teams. This was a great result for the club and with the benefit of hindsight I was able to reconcile my own performance as being decent enough to take heart for the future. I certainly cherish the experience and put it in the bank for future races. It was a tough race both physically and mentally. And if someone had told me back in May that I’d be running the National 6 stage relays in Birmingham in October I would have laughed out loud! So I have to stay strong and patient.

Next up for me will be the first XC fixture of my season which is the third of the NEHL 2018/19 campaign. Indeed I need to complete all 4 of the final fixtures to count in the Individual Grand Prix.

The race is in a couple of weeks at Gosforth Park which gives me some time to focus on a couple of good training weeks. I will be keen to complete some quality threshold running and also some 10k/5k pace interval sessions as well as getting a regular long run of around 90 minutes done.

Thanks for reading.

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Life is about seeing what you can do…

Tonight I raced the classic mile distance for the first time.

My goal was to tuck in behind the leaders and then go as hard as I possibly could the last 600-800m.

With about 35mins until the off I had a recce of the course.

Although there wasn’t much breeze the first 400m was a little draggy and into a slight headwind after all.

The backstraight was into a slight headwind as well. The pavement was also pretty uneven and with the dark nights descending that would require some concentration.

But then hallelujah. With about 600m to go there was a sharpish right hand turn to a downhill ramp maybe 100-150 metres and then leading onto the finishing straight. I was convinced that should be with a tailwind but I couldn’t feel it.

So the plan was set – to follow the leaders and then give it everything down the ramp and into the finish.

I was keen to post a good time to build on the recent Northern relays and also as a tune up to the Nationals in Birmingham. I was disappointed to withdraw from the first XC fixture of the NEHL season on Saturday but I felt it was the right decision. And I still felt a bit throaty from the head cold.

Indeed, during my 2 mile warm up I was sweating up somewhat and overall didn’t feel great. I persuaded myself that was normal and I always feel groggy before a race. I knew what the effort would feel like but overall I think the shorter the distance the better for me.

Getting underway I found myself in 4th with two Tyne Bridge clubmates in the top 3. We negotiated the early ramp and headwind. Sparrow Morley (who knew the course well) took up the lead and injected a bit of pace leaving me and Leodhais Macpherson trailing. Jevan Robertson was just behind.

I was keen to not let Sparrow get away too far and so put in a 50m effort to keep him within a decent gap. That had me running at a pace that felt more honest for the mile. I refrained from checking the watch for another minute or so and felt like I was keeping the gap in check.

I finally glanced at the watch approaching the right hander to the downhill ramp where I planned to go as hard as possible. I didn’t really register what I saw and so definitely it was counterproductive.

Coming down the ramp I felt I was closing somewhat on Sparrow (but not going eyeballs out yet) and coming into the last 400m or so maybe I could at least breathe down his neck a little.

I think he sensed that and was able to pick up quite rapidly. At this point I had noticeable heaviness in both arms as the lactic had built up and I would say I started to panic somewhat. This manifested itself in me looking at my watch on at least two occasions and, perhaps worse, looking round to see not one but two runners finishing stronger.

Unfortunately I would describe myself as tying up and looking for the line. I didn’t have another gear or the will power to grit and pull something out of the bag. As a result I gave up two places finishing 4th in 4.49. Sparrow won in 4.41.

On reflection I am pleased overall and my time represents a 61.9 VDOT (VO2 Max) rating and predicts perhaps 16:35-6 shape for 5k.

So in my mind this is a good first line in the sand for the mile, especially given that I haven’t really completed any specific mile workouts. That’s something I plan to work on as I want to nail a mile in 4:37 which is an excellent proof point for my ultimate target of a sub 16 minute 5k.

But first up onto the bus to Birmingham for what will be an excellent experience running in the National 6 Stage Relays for Tyne Bridge Harriers.

In the meantime I’m pleased I just got out to see what I could do…

Thanks for reading.

Northern 6 Stage Relay, Manchester 23rd September

One of the main reasons for joining Tyne Bridge Harriers earlier this year was to compete for the senior men in some more challenging team events such as the 6 and 12 stage relays.

So finally after joining TBH in Jan/Feb I was on the team bus down to Manchester for the Northern 6 Stage Relays.

I was to run Leg 5 for the B Team which meant a decent wait once we arrived at Sports City in Manchester. Each leg was around 4 miles taking in laps of Manchester City’s football stadium and also a nice start/finish on the neighbouring athletics track.

TBH had assembled a strong A, B and C team (18 men total) and certainly the A team was expected to qualify comfortably for the Nationals. Also the B Team had a chance of a Top 25 placing and potential entry to the Nationals.

The weather was good – bright with a little breeze. The men’s race was underway at 14:00. I knew I wouldn’t be starting until 15:20ish at the earliest so I tried to keep relaxed. I planned a warm up at 14:40ish which came around quicker than expected.

Shout out to Coach David Tune from Blizard Physiotherapy for the catch up and words of encouragement just before the off.

It was great to finally get in the starting pen and wait eagerly for Ryan Holt who was running a stormer in Leg 4.

My plan was to run strong and relaxed early on and try to build as I ticked off the KMs. I knew the track start can be deceptive and lead to a faster opening than optimal. I’d also been told by a few people that it was windy out on the course but you can only control the controllable and really there is nothing you can do in preparation for that.

I had taken the decision to not refer to my Garmin during the run as I did not want to be influenced by any pace readings. I wanted to run on feel and use my race brain to judge effort.

That said approx 4 miles is a strange distance and not one I’d ran before. I knew I didn’t want to be running out and out 5k pace but I didn’t want to get a little lazy running 10k pace either.

Ryan handed over in 32nd place overall which meant there was a challenge on to move into the top 25.

Moving round the first corner of the track I could only see one runner ahead (a Chorlton Harrier I think) and generally I felt like I wasn’t really gaining ground on him. That created a theme whereby I felt like I was isolated with nobody ahead and nobody behind. I basically assumed anyone I was passing was being lapped or obviously in the women’s race. I’d find out later that I was making up a few places overall. In essence it became a time trial and I just focussed on taking lapped runners as quickly as possible.

I felt pretty strong and like I was moving well on the first lap. It was good to get the course clearly in mind so I could start thinking about how I would attack it on the 2nd lap. Also, the hill that people had mentioned was more a ramp and nothing to be concerned with.

The main concern was in fact the aforementioned wind on the 2nd lap as tiredness became a factor. I’d gone through the first 2 miles in 10:53 which was just a little slower than 5k PB pace (approx 10:46 based on avg. PB pace 5:23/mile) but the 3rd mile slowed to 5:40. I passed the 5k mark in 17:09 versus PB of 16:44.

It was around this point that I started developing a stitch on my right hand side. I remembered how I used to strangely enjoy a stitch as a youngster running cross country at school. Maybe it’s because it gives you something to focus on! I tried to remember how to get rid of it. Deep breaths I thought. Unfortunately it was there for the remainder of the run.

The section just before the second passing of the extra gravel circuit for the senior men was probably the toughest part of the race as I battled the slow down due to both the wind and my persistent stitch.

Some support out on the course from my fellow Tyne Bridge team mates was a welcome reminder to keep plugging away. I still had the ramp to negotiate for the second time and I knew once I’d crested that I’d have the run into the athletics track and I felt like I’d be able to pick up towards the finish.

I was pleased with my work up the ramp although the section back into the running track felt into the wind and I was almost upended by a few spectators who weren’t looking where they were going as I tried to glide back down the ramp onto the track.

The atmosphere back onto the running track was great and I was able to pick up to the finish. Pleasingly I’d maintained pace quite well for a 5:31 4th mile and then finished strongly to handover to Paul Turnbull who was running the final leg.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, I’d managed to pick up 3 places and taking the team into 29th overall.

Paul managed to maintain that position to the end. The A team finished an excellent 8th and qualified easily for the Nationals. The B team missed out but overall showed the strength in depth at the club. *Late update – it seems the B team has in fact qualified for the National relay in Birmingham in a couple of weeks!

So this being only my second race proper on the roads in 2018, I’m very pleased with the performance and certainly something to build on. I was happy with how I judged the race and feel like I can come on quite a bit for the experience.

Overall I probably had a little more in the tank in the middle part of the race and mentally just need to find a way to channel more effort. I also need to get to the bottom of the stitch issue which I believe is due to poor breathing and something I need to work on in training as I tend to be a shallow breather.

Next up is the first North East Harrier League fixture of the season on Saturday 29th September at Wrekenton.

Thanks for reading.

Running Proof Points – so how do I stack up?

In my last blog post – read it here – I introduced the concept of Running Proof Points.

As a reminder, Running Proof Points is a way of assessing both your current running ability and also your potential by looking at 3 key areas –

  1. Basic running speed (plus utilising Frank Horwill’s 4 second rule to assess potential over the key distances up to full marathon);
  2. vVO2 max or velocity at VO2 max (plus using Billat methodology to assess predicted 3k speed or speed at 100% VO2 max);
  3. Heart rate response at “Maximum Aerobic Capacity” Pace versus optimum (plus using Dr Maffetone MAF methodology to assess).

The aim is to establish a benchmark, gain an understanding of potential and also set a programme of improvement. The Running Proof Points can then be repeated at regular intervals (propose no more than every 4-6wks) to assess progress.

So how did I stack up?

Well, let’s take each one by one.

Firstly basic running speed – I tried running 400m as hard as possible on two occasions. On the 30th July I ran 63 seconds dead (pace 4:14/mile). Initially I was a little disappointed with this as I was hoping to run 60s dead. However, the 400m sprint is a hard discipline and relies on excellent speed as well as great running economy. Having only had my groin operation in May I clearly had to be a little careful going full tilt. I was sure I could run better with another effort. Indeed the body can adapt quite quickly to a task and execute better with experience.

So a couple of weeks later on the 16th August I attempted the 400m sprint again. This time I ran 60.3s which translates to 4:03/mile pace. This is much more in line with where I need to be basic speed wise to run a sub 16 5k. How do I know this?

Well, using Frank Horwill’s “4 second rule”, if I can run 400m in 60.3s I should be able to run 5k in 76.3s per 400m which is a pace of 5:07/mile or 15mins 53.75secs for the distance. There is of course an obvious caveat that adequate training is completed for the 5k but the basic speed should be there.

To explain further, Horwill’s 4s rule states that as distance doubles from 400m you should be able to run each 400m around 4s slower than previous distance. For women this could be 5s per 400m and for elites it could be less than 4s/5s respectively.

So for me –

400m = 60.3s

800m = 64.3s per 400m, i.e. 128.6s for 800m (2m 8s)

1600m = 68.3s

3200m = 72.3s

5000m = 76.3s

This methodology can be continued for 10k, HM and full Marathon.

So the upshot is I feel confident that I have the raw basic speed for a sub 16 minute 5k.

Some further thoughts on this… The logical next step could now be to work on nailing an 800m in 2:08 and a mile in 4:37. This would further underline my capability to run the sub 16min 5k. If I am unable to do so this points to a lack of speed endurance and running economy.

You may be wondering how you can use running proof point #1 yourself?

My advice would be this –

  1. Write down your wildly important running goal. Lets say its to run a HM in 1hr 30mins.
  2. Work out the pace per 400m to run a 1hr 30m HM. It should be around 1m 42s or 1m 43s per 400m.
  3. Use Horwills 4s rule to calculate pace per 400m for the key distances from 400m to full Marathon. For 400m  – it should be between 78-79s.
  4. Assess your capabilities. Are you capable of running those paces? For HM it will be critical that you can run the 5k and 10k times as these are critical background distances for HM whereas for my 5k target 800m to mile/2mile capability is more foundational. To give an idea you would be aiming for a sub 20min 5k and a 10k between 41-42 minutes.

Moving onto point 2 which is velocity at VO2 max (vVO2 max for short).

VO2 max (the rate at which oxygen can be utilised during exercise) is clearly a critical factor. VO2 max does reduce with age but also can be improved with targeted exercise. Staying with Frank Horwill, he was known to regularly reference the work of exercise physiologists such as Per-Olaf Astrand and underlined that training above 80% VO2 max was the best way of advancing VO2 max. At this point I will state that any runner keen to improve must grasp the following –

  • 100% VO2 Max is 3km pace
  • 95% VO2 Max is 5km pace
  • 90% VO2 Max is 10km pace
  • 80% VO2 Max is Half Marathon pace
  • 70% VO2 Max is Full Marathon pace

So it can be seen that training at or above HM pace is the best “bang for your buck” when seeking to give VO2 Max a boost. But it is actually the work of Veronique Billat that I draw on for Running Proof Point #2. Billat proposes a running test to assess velocity at VO2 Max (vVO2 max). The basis of the test is a 6 minute maximal running effort. The distance in metres that is run in the 6 minute test can then be divided by 360 (6 minutes is 360 seconds) to give a speed in metres per second. This is effectively vVO2 max and based on the above list is therefore a figure that can be “extrapolated” for 3k pace which is scientifically proven to be 100% VO2 max. In other words, whatever pace you achieve in the 6 minute running test should be sustainable in a 3km race situation although obviously this depends on the conditioning of the athlete. Note that vVO2 max can also be used for future training sessions to boost VO2 max fitness levels but that is for a future blog post. For those who can’t wait study Billat, there are some easily digestible articles online.

So on the 4th September I attempted the 6 minute test. This is not for the faint hearted and certainly doing the test alone is not easy. It takes some mental determination and, depending on your ability, you know you will be going through a hard mile and more.

I had done some “fag packet” calculations and I felt I should land in the 1900-2000m zone. In all honesty I did not expect to get to 2000m as that is obviously 3:00 per km or 15:00 minute 5k pace.

The effort did prove difficult. I felt like I ran well through the first few minutes. I was very keen not to look at my watch but that got harder as I passed through halfway. I conducted the test early morning before work. I have to confess I am not a fan of early morning running, not least because I seem to get stomach issues (I will spare you the details – you get the picture) but also because my legs always feel a bit dead. So I felt like I was slowing somewhat in the last minute or two (the “where did that headwind come from?” syndrome!).

I was relieved when I saw the clock hit 6 minutes! On review in Training Peaks I had progressed as follows through the run –

  • 400m in 1:09.2 (4:38/mile)
  • 800m in 2:22.3 (4:46/mile)
  • 1km in 2:59.7 (4:49/mile)
  • 1 mile in 4:58.2 (4:58/mile)
  • 1,931m in 6:00 (5:00/mile)

This translates to 5.36 metres per second as my vVO2 max rating. I prefer to focus on the 5 minutes per mile reading. Actually I find this interesting because more common convention would be to perform VO2 max boosting sessions at more like 5k pace. But as we saw earlier 5k pace is 95% VO2 max whereas this test gives us a reading of 100% VO2 max.

That said, another more sobering way to look at this is to use a VO2 max calculator to establish my current VO2 max rating. Anyone familiar with the legendary coach Jack Daniels who wrote the running classic “Daniels Running Formula” will be aware of his VDOT calculations which are basically in line with VO2 max ratings. If you calculate VDOT for a 15:59 5k (my dream running goal) you will note that this translates to a VO2 max of 64.7. If however we calculate the rating of 1,931m ran in 6 minutes we will see that VDOT is only 60.6 which suggests around 16.54 capability for 5km (my PB is 16:44). This is a more sensible reading of my current fitness. Extrapolating for the future – if I could improve the distance I can run in 6 minutes by 5% over a reasonable amount of time (say 6-8wks) then that would mean a distance of 2,028m which would translate to a VDOT of 64.4 and very close to what is required to break 16 minutes for 5k! This therefore becomes the target!

Moving onto the final Running Proof Point #3 – aerobic power or efficiency is critical to running success. You need a powerful engine and that is something that can’t be developed overnight. In this regard I like to reference the work of Dr Phil Maffetone. I would say Maffetone is somewhat of a controversial figure in the fitness/running community as many people would argue against his methods (being too one dimensional perhaps?), however the success of his best known athlete – Ironman legend Mark Allen – cannot be ignored.

Maffetones main advice was to train at what he called “Maximum Aerobic Function” or MAF. A formula was proposed to calculate MAF using heart rate. I won’t go into details here but basically the formula is 180-age regardless of gender. There are many potential caveats and adjustments depending on past illness/injury history but lets just say my current MAF heart rate is 180-37 = 143 beats per minute (bpm). Maffetone would prescribe all training at this heart rate level (or within 10bpm lower to provide a range 133-143bpm) whether it be running training or cross training on the bike or in the pool for example.

So the critical aspect for the runner is – what pace in miles per minute can you run at your MAF heart rate? This is important and the key is obviously to make it as fast as possible. Most people have the same experience when they first try this as they get a shock at how slow their MAF pace is! Indeed, many people struggle to keep their heart rate below or in line with MAF which Maffetone suggests is due to a weak aerobic system. He advises patience and discipline to ensure the pace/heart rate is stuck to. He also advises a “MAF Test” every 4-8wks to test whether the MAF pace is improving as a result of the careful training plan. The MAF test would involve a warm up then a 4 mile run at MAF HR and then a cool down. The average pace at MAF HR would be recorded and trends over time analysed.

It would be perhaps logical for Running Proof Point #3 to simply be a MAF test. However, I was more intrigued by a pace table Maffetone includes in his seminal work “The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing” that indicates how MAF pacing translates to 5k times.

Below is an excerpt from the table –

MAF Pace/5K Pace/5K Time

  • 8:00 / 6:30 / 20:12
  • 7:30 / 6:00 / 18:38
  • 7:00 / 5:30 / 17:05
  • 6:30 / 5:15 / 16:19
  • 6:00 / 5:00 / 15:32
  • 5:45 / 4:45 / 14:45
  • 5:30 / 4:30 / 13:59

It can be seen above that, theoretically, for me to run a sub 16 minute 5k I would need to have a MAF pace (the pace I can run at an HR of 143bpm) of between 6:00 and 6:30 per mile pace. Therefore my approach to Running Proof Point #3 is to run 4 miles at 6:30/mile pace and record my average HR. I will then compare the average HR to the required MAF HR and measure that over time.

So on the 28th August I performed the 4 mile test. This was my first run following a 2 week holiday in which, although I did get some running done (including incidentally the 400m run test where I ran 60.3s), I knew I would have lost some basic running fitness.

In the end I ran 4 miles in 25:59 (6:29/mile pace) averaging 166bpm. This is a full 23bpm above my MAF HR of 143bpm!!! For me this is clearly the weakest of the 3 Running Proof Points and one that I certainly need to see improvement on over the 2018/2019 winter season.

So, in summary…

I believe I have the raw basic speed to run a sub 16 minute 5k. That said, any improvement in my 400m time below the current 60.3s would clearly feed through to longer distances. My vVO2 max was pleasing but short of the distance required to suggest a fitness level to run anywhere near sub 16 5k. I must improve my VO2 max and I would argue that a minimum of 5% improvement needs to be targeted. Finally, my aerobic power seems woefully short if the Maffetone method and field research is to be trusted. I will be looking for a consistent training cycle to help with this, critically in terms of running volume in particular. I also believe “bread and butter” lactate threshold running – starting with 20 minutes straight and building to 2x 20mins and even 3x 15mins – will be critical.

I hope you have found these Running Proof Points interesting. Perhaps they have provided you with some food for thought for your own running.

In the next article I will move onto how I plan to train to improve in all 3 areas. The eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed all of my Proof Point tests were conducted in August/early September and therefore I will be planning re-tests in late September/early October. However, these will need to be carefully built into my training schedule as I now move into the race season and particularly cross country.

Looking ahead I have the Northern 6 stage relays on Sunday 23rd September and the first North East Harrier League (NEHL) fixture on Saturday 29th September.

As I mentioned in the first post, I would love to hear from you – what are your goals? How do you plan to achieve them?

Thanks for reading and happy running!

 

Running Proof Points – a methodology for assessing current running ability and pinpointing key areas for improvement

So far 2018 hasn’t been the greatest running year for me.

Readers of my Blog will know that I’ve had a few unfortunate injuries back to back. I tripped and broke a rib in November 2017 then, after building my way back up to a 10k PB (35:23) in February, had another accident (bizarrely in a place about 100yds from where I broke my rib) leading to an eventual groin operation in May.

That said, most setbacks turn out to be positive depending on how you deal with them mentally as much as physically.

I chose to handle my latest setback like any other athletic endeavour. To tackle it head on, take the rough with the smooth and come out of it stronger.

Anybody who knows me will know I’m a thinker. Some would say I maybe think a little too much!

The time out for the operation certainly gave me a lot of time to think about my running (and life for that matter). Not only that, it gave me time to study running even more.

Although I’ve always studied the sport of running pretty much since I started jogging around the streets of Newcastle upon Tyne in 2011/12 I’ve probably not always fully absorbed the info I’ve read. Or indeed stuck to task on a methodology, probably chopping and changing methods and approach too much.

But this time I really studied, particularly Frank Horwill and Jack Daniels. Coach Brad Hudson based in Boulder Colorado has been inspiration, not least his Instagram account showing close up the training his athletes do in pursuit of their goals. I’ve also been inspired by the scientific research on VO2 max conducted by Veronique Billat in France and I keep Dr Phil Maffetone in view as building a powerful aerobic base (and taking care of your body) simply can’t be ignored.

Everything that you need to know about running and how to improve has already been written. I am a strong believer that anybody who jogs or runs would enjoy it more the better they are (myself included). In this regard knowledge is power.

Sometimes to get better at something doesn’t simply mean doing more of it mindlessly. Science shows that there is a cap on how much fitness gains can be achieved from simply increasing mileage. Certainly running is a skill of that there is no doubt. The brain and body will work together to improve and you will become fitter/more skillful the more you run.

However, by increasing your knowledge whilst practising the art of running you will surely improve more quickly.

That’s why I have put together what I call “Running Proof Points”.

Running Proof Points is a way of assessing both your current running ability and also your potential by looking at 3 key areas –

  1. Basic running speed (plus utilising Frank Horwill’s 4 second rule to assess potential over the key distances up to full marathon);
  2. vVO2 max or velocity at VO2 max (plus using Billat methodology to assess predicted 3k speed or speed at 100% VO2 max);
  3. Heart rate response at “Maximum Aerobic Capacity” Pace versus optimum (plus using Dr Maffetone MAF methodology to assess).

The purpose of the above 3 metrics is to understand current ability and potential and establish the benchmark from which a training plan for improvement can be developed.

Suffice to say, improvement in these 3 metrics can only mean one thing – better race performance and, ultimately, the achievement of personal bests.

Indeed, I am using Running Proof Points myself in my continued goal of running a sub 16 minute 5k.

What I know is the following: to run a sub 16 minute 5k (my #1 running goal) I need to be able to –

  1. run 400m in approximately (and perhaps no slower than) 60 seconds (note: this assessment is on the basis of Frank Horwills “4 second rule”),
  2. I need a VO2 max rating of ~65mL/(kg·min) (based on Jack Daniel’s VDOT) and
  3. I need to be able to run comfortably (aerobically) at around 6:30/mile pace or slightly faster at Maximum Aerobic Capacity (taken from Dr Phil Maffetone Maximum Aerobic Function methodology).

These 3 criteria form the basis of Running Proof Points.

Why are these metrics important?

Well to run well over any distance you need to have good basic speed and economy (how much oxygen you consume when you run), you need to maximise your VO2 max (how much oxygen you can consume) and also maximise your efficiency below anaerobic threshold (your aerobic efficiency). This also relates to lactate threshold, the point at which the body can clear lactate acid at the same rate as the body produces it. This is a key indicator for what type of pace an athlete can run for 1hr and also is a good guide to half marathon potential in fitter runners.

As I said, I am using this template myself and I have tested myself on each of the 3 criteria over the last month. The results are encouraging on the one hand but also, and perhaps more critically, help me to pinpoint where I am weak and where I need to improve on the other.

In my next post I will explain exactly how I tested myself on the 3 Running Proof Points and also what my results mean and how I plan to address my training over the next period.

I hope you have found this article interesting and also perhaps thought provoking.

One of my aims though this blog is to help and inspire any runners out there who have the aim of simply improving their running. I strongly believe most everyone has a tendency to underestimate their potential.

If you want to improve but feel like you need some help, perhaps in the form of a running mentor, I would love to hear from you.

My email address is kevin.richardson3910@hotmail.co.uk

Thanks for reading and I will post the second article in this series next week.

Rising Sun Parkrun 21st July

Well it’s been over a month since I posted on here. I’m not sure why I haven’t posted as I do enjoy blogging.

I guess I was worn out with the “Gillmore Groins” diary through May and June.

I’m glad to say that all has gone to plan with the operation and I have been gradually getting back to some running. That has been supplemented by a good background of cycling which I must say I’ve been enjoying a lot.

I’m now pretty much commuting to work on the bike everyday which is about a 13-14 mile round trip. And I’ve been doing a longer ride on a weekend. So in total I’ve been been doing about 70-80 miles cycling per week. I remember reading that Frank Horwill suggested 1 mile of running is like 6 miles of cycling. But I’m not so sure.

What I’ve noticed is the cycling is keeping me very lean. Perhaps too lean. So lean that I’m always now around what I regarded “race weight” of approx 73kgs. Indeed a few people have commented that it looks like I have lost weight recently. That despite an obscenely low running mileage.

Once again the key takeaway from my injury and operation issues over the last few months has been to not get sucked back into the running addiction. Perhaps addiction is too strong a word but it is easy to get sucked into a mentality of just running running, running.

Yes I have running goals (I don’t have cycling goals – maybe why I’m enjoying it so much! No pressure etc.) and logic would say to achieve those running goals I need to do as much running as possible. However, I am adamant I need to find my own way. What I do know is my way will never be to run 100 miles a week. It won’t happen and I don’t want it to either.

I have decided to focus solely on 5k, 10k and XC. Any HMs will mainly be for training and fun. I still have no desire to run a marathon although I love watching them.

So I feel I need to find that running sweet spot and maintain the cycling supplementation to the point where I reach a high fitness level without injury or illness setbacks.

I also want to focus on quality. I want to hit some good sessions in training and translate that to racing. At the moment I feel like I train quite well at times but don’t transfer it to racing.

My recovery has been good enough so far to warrant a return to Tyne Bridge for my first club training session since March.

It was good to be back and to be running in a good group again after what felt like an age of walking and going to the gym alone.

Those were lonely days but I also look back on them with fondness. It was a challenge. A challenge I tackled head on. I proved to myself that I have the patience, discipline and determination to get through the programme required. Now I need to continue that discipline as I get fully tuned up for my next challenge.

My key goal now is to have the best ever XC season of my life here in the North East of England. And then translate that into a sub 16 5k.

I was keen to not overdo my first club session but I felt so good. The session was a structured pyramid Fartlek with the shorter efforts at 5k pace and the longer at 10k pace. I was planning on 5:20ish and 5:40ish respectively.

I didn’t get the session up on the Garmin before hand so I can’t really report on my paces but I felt like I was completing the 10k pace sections in more like 5:30-35. I was surprised my “engine” felt powerful. If anything I had to hold myself back, reminding myself to not overdo it.

This weekend was an ideal opportunity to get out for a parkrun. I was keen to find a run with a nice bike ride from my home, similar to my work commute. So Rising Sun in Wallsend suited nicely.

I set off at 8am and the 6 mile ride was enjoyable and I was there a little early. I warmed up for 10mins and it was quite warm when the sun came out.

The course itself is excellent. I had decided to run to heart rate, keeping my effort around threshold of 180-181bpm.

The first section is pretty fast until you hit a wooded section. Strangely there is a fork with an option to go left or right. Having not run the course before I was unsure which would be best so I instinctively opted right. This was undoubtedly a slow section of the course until it wound down back onto the gravel tracks.

Coming out of the woods I was sitting in 3rd place with two guys well ahead although 2nd place seemed to have been dropped.

I tried to focus on working back to 2nd and I did feel like I was making headway. That said my heart rate had increased to 184-186bpm which was pushing into 10k effort.

I had no idea where I was in relation to the finish and I must admit turning a corner to be disappointed to realise I wasn’t as close to the finish as I thought! But that’s understandable given how long it’s been since I’ve tried a decent effort solo.

I did feel like I was slowing. Second place was looking around a lot and obviously slowing too. Had this not been a training run I would like to think I could pick up and take the bait but I kept it controlled into the finish.

In the end I was a significant 10 seconds behind 2nd, crossing the line in 17:53. The Garmin measured the course at 3.16 miles and as a result Training Peaks indicated that 5k was complete in 17:34.

All in all pretty pleasing given the last few months…

On Sunday I got out for a 10 mile long run with Michael Hedley and rounding off the week with approx 31 miles of running and >100 miles of cycling. In total I’ve exercised >10hrs all in and I believe that’s probably a record. Even at the heights of my running (completing approx 50 miles a week) I’d probably only be exercising approx 6hrs per week so I believe this balance of running and cycling could be the key to unlocking some faster running over the next 6-12mths.

Watch this space!

Thanks for reading.

Gillmore’s Groin Diary – days 13-18 – trying to move to Phase 3 of rehab and some jogging on the horizon…maybe!

Things were getting easier and the time felt right to make a return to work after two weeks off.

It would have been good to have been eased in gently but life being life I was straight back in the deep end!

I’m still not able to comfortably wear jeans or work trousers so the “Primani” tracksuit bottoms were the only option. Actually by the end of the day rushing around meeting after meeting I felt pretty hot and bothered and heading back in the car afterwards I felt physically and mentally drained…

Still I managed to get out for a couple of walks before and after work but now the Phase 2 part of rehab was calling for some upright cycling at the gym. But I couldn’t face it…

Tuesday (day 15) was much the same although I felt slightly less irritable around the operation area. Again though struggled to get the full routine in. I stayed with my beloved 2 mile walking route that has served me well.

Wednesday day 16 was much the same but Thursday involved no exercise at all due to work meetings in the morning and trying to sort some stuff in the house in the evening. This 3rd week of rehab was going down the drain…

On Friday I was able to make amends at the gym after work as I finally embarked on Phase 3 of my rehab. I had been to see Kevin Bell physio on Wednesday and (despite my lacklustre rehab Monday/Tuesday) he was very happy with how everything is going. I received some ultrasound treatment and also got the go ahead to move onto the next stage.

Phase 3 involves increasing the bike to 30mins and introducing some light Elliptical Trainer work at 25% resistance. I also need to continue with the walking (one per day 30-40mins) and the general stretches and exercises.

I was also delighted to here Kev say some jogging could commence next week if all goes well between now and then.

So the plan is to continue with Phase 3 until my next Physio appointment on Wednesday 13th June and from there I’ll be hoping.

Thanks for reading and hopefully I’m closer to closing the chapter of this Blog that is and has been the “Gillmores Groin Diary”.

I am planning my first “normal” blog after this as a discussion on why I still feel capable of producing PB performances and why I am still very confident I am capable of a sub 16 5km, as well as explaining what I think I need to do to achieve it.

Watch this space.