I have always said running is about filling in the gaps, by which I mean, there’s usually something missing from your training, stopping you from running faster which needs to be addressed. After I first ran sub-20 at parkrun, I quickly zoomed on down towards nineteen minutes and, while I was flat out on the runs, I always walked away saying “there’s a lot more to come yet”. My legs felt strong and my breathing never felt top-end laborious, so I was super-confident that breaking nineteen minutes would be easy, and yet it took almost a year before it happened.
This came back to me earlier this week during an 800m training session. I did a twenty minute warm up then I ran a 600m as fast as I could. The previous week I’d run 600m in 2:07 in 20mph wind. I’d been gasping for breath after the first minute but managed to push myself on. This week the weather was better and I clocked 2:05. It never felt as difficult as it had been on the windy day yet I ran it as fast as I could. Some kind of limitation had built up. My legs were far from aching so they weren’t tired, my heart-rate was still below 170bpm and I was barely gasping for oxygen but something unknown was limiting me. What it was doesn’t really matter to this story.
I was happy enough with what I’d done as I was on target with that effort and the rest of the session. It was as I jogged to warm down I thought about this idea of how the limitation isn’t necessarily what you expect it to be. It would be easy, and I’m sure many runners do this, to believe that because I wasn’t gasping for breath throughout, the way forward is either to, do more repeats, do them faster, give myself less recovery or some such idea.
But what I began to learn all those years ago in my early days of parkrunning is that you have to find out what is limiting you and then fill in the gap. I didn’t have the understanding then to see where the issue lay. I can spot it quicker these days Sometimes it’s about building a bigger aerobic base, other times you need more lactate clearance, maybe to improve lactate tolerance, or simply to go out and build more speed. There are many things that could be limiting you and obviously if you don’t do much running then there are lots of gaps waiting to be filled in. But once you’re training regularly and frequently, working out exactly where a limitation lies is often the toughest part.