I noticed during the 2020 lockdown my speed and strength have been declining and, as I’m not getting any younger, I thought it would be good to try something different while I’ve still got the opportunity to maximise whatever talent is left.
I’ve been toying over the years with trying my hand at middle distance running – 800m or mile. Having always struggled at 10K and half marathons more than my training suggested I should, it’s been a slow realisation that maybe I’m built more towards middle-distance or even shorter. I met Iwan Thomas, the British 400m record holder at Eastleigh parkrun once, and noticed we’re of similar size and build at 6’2” and 13+ stone. (Obviously this isn’t to begin to suggest I could ever have challenged him). But I have all the hallmarks of being packed with speed-generating fast-twitch muscle – I build muscle easily, I sweat profusely, have high heart-rates when running at easy paces, start off too fast and love doing interval work. The only trouble is I was never fast at sprinting!
While I understand the principles behind training for 800m, I’ve never actually done it so I decided to use one of the plans from Jack Daniels’ Running Formula book. I wanted to get a sense of how he structures workouts and what volumes he uses. I’d been running forty miles per week through the autumn so went with the plan based on that mileage. I ran an 800m time trial on Dec 2nd to baseline where I was at and ran a lung-busting 2min58. Not great but a starting place.
The plan has been to run two workouts each week, on Tuesday and Thursday, and a long run on Sunday. While I’ve trained to the workouts scheduled, I’ve continued with a long run of 1hr30+ that I was doing through the autumn rather than Jack’s recommended one hour. He also recommends doing six to eight strides on two of the recovery days but again I haven’t done these. This is because I’ve found in the past it’s easy to develop my speed but, in doing so, I wipe out my endurance. I wanted to try and keep the aerobic side propped up with the long run. The six weeks of training I’ve done so far have resulted in 45 / 41 / 48 / 47 / 43 / 44 miles.
The first workout began with a total of 1,600m training (8x200m) progressing to 2,400 – 3,000m in most sessions with a peak of 3,200m. It’s been exclusively a mixture of 200m – 600m efforts with equal jog recoveries. I’m surprised at how low volume this is compared to what many runners do when training themselves.
|Target time||On target||Missed||Efforts||Fastest|
The first few weeks created an overload and the pace of my Sunday and other runs went backwards. This was to be expected as it takes 10-14 days to recover from a new stimulus. I found myself sleeping 8-10 hours the night after big workouts and experiencing more muscular tightness than in the past. As my running form has (hopefully) improved, I’ve found myself landing more on the fore and midfoot and my calves have been taking more load. I’ve had a few aches and pains in random muscles – the inside of the right thigh, below the knee, my left glute but none of them lasted long and the slower, paced recovery days allowed them to heal. I’ve been stretching more to keep everything loose.
Once or twice, I looked at the upcoming session with dread – not because of whether it’ll hurt, but whether I can be on-target for some of the bigger efforts. That’s a real ego thing and something that isn’t good to get too judgemental about. Ultimately there was only one interval I missed by a big margin and that was in the first session of the 400s. It started on an uphill section and I took it too casual – so I learned from it. When I was younger, I’d have beaten myself up about it but now I see a missed target as feedback to whether I’m on track for training. If you start missing targets regularly then there you’re trying to do something you’re not ready for. But once I got into the training I rarely missed target and was more likely to run them too fast. The silly thing is while you can feel you’ve failed for running 48.2s and only marginally missing, you think nothing of it when you run 45 or 46s. Certainly that’s how I would have looked at it when I was younger. But with a wiser head on my shoulders, I tried to ensure efforts weren’t too fast either, there’s no use in adding extra stress when the plan is calculated to give you an optimum loading to recover from.
One of the side-effects of training with all these short intervals – especially the 200s – has been that it’s given me a chance to practice my running form, or rather to play around with it. I noticed I run faster with lower knee lift, that my left leg wasn’t straightening ‘out the back’ and my right hip was coming forward and therefore dragging the trail leg. I noticed over the past week that my left knee was tracking from side-to-side but the lower knee lift gave it more power to push down and straight through. All little things I could only figure out and experiment with by training at faster speeds than a jog. Jack Daniels says in his book that Repetition training is good for improving efficiency but I’d never experienced it to be true until this block of training.
Overall I’ve really enjoyed this training. I’ve been lucky with the weather. It was icy around New Year but I ran at lunchtime when it was warmer and lighter. Some of the sessions have been 15-20mph wind but nothing gale force. Getting out and running fast is fun even when it leads to heavy legs and gasping for breath. It leaves you feeling stronger and better able to cope with running on other days. The next phase of the plan is geared towards supporting this with longer intervals but run at a slightly, slower pace.