Update on my 800m training – Dec 2022

I reached December after three months of training to boost lactate threshold and began tapering for Christchurch 10K on Dec 11th. My performance at Boscombe 10K on Nov 27th was less than desirable but I knew I was still early in my taper. As I reported in November’s update, I ran easy all the following week and my legs began to freshen up nicely. It was quite a change to be simply going out and not doing any thing extra where usually there’s some kind of workout or longer steady effort each week. Each run was limited to forty mins and in the week before raceday I began to reduce this further. On the preceding Tuesday I found myself running five miles in under 36mins which is better than my last five mile race in 2019!

Anyone living in the UK this month knows how bitterly cold it got. Reading the forecast I had doubts whether the race would be on and come raceday I drove there with the car’s external temperature gauge reading -3C while slushy rain, or maybe it was snow, hit the windscreen. Walking to get my number presented a hazard in itself with the pavements very icy. I sat in my car shivering despite being wrapped up and, in a rare display of negativity, hoped the race would be called off. It was. Ice is my one major concern when it comes to running and I felt sure with the temperature still around freezing that it wouldn’t get warm enough to melt any on the course. The organisers came to the same decision.

I went for a run later in the day, taking it carefully around local roads then next day went to the beach to do some interval work. I figured the one place that wouldn’t be icy was somewhere with lots of salt water and sand!

That same day I received an email from the organisers saying they were hoping to reorganise the race in early 2023. While this was great news it also left me in limbo not knowing when it might be or how to train so I just continued with the easy / steady runs. On the following Saturday with the intervals out of my legs, my early morning run just flew. My forty-one minute run covered 5.8 miles and I barely got out of breath. The last mile and a half was on the roads by my house and I was hitting 6:35/mile. It felt great.

A week later, with Christmas Day falling on Sunday, my usual long run day, I ran down to Poole parkrun. My legs felt good but seemed to lack another gear. When the parkrun began my glutes fired in a way I’ve never known and I was propelled forward yet I didn’t seem to have the pace to break twenty minutes. I managed to put in some surges to overtake runners but could never up the pace for long and finished in 20:25. Slightly disappointing from the perspective of being fifteen seconds slower than last year yet a feeling that the run was a breakthrough as I’d jetted along. The run home felt comfortable and I found myself able to run closer to seven minute miles as I approached home despite having already put in 10+ miles.  When I analysed my parkrun I found that while the kilometre splits reflected the small up and down gradients in the park, my mile splits came in at 6:31, 6:32, 6:33. A consistency suggesting I’d hit my lactate threshold but had nothing more to give. It identified the direction I now need to take training.


Looking back it’s almost six months since I did any dedicated speedwork. At the beginning of July I was passing my peak and finding my aerobic endurance starting to decline. All my training since then has been focused on rebuilding stamina and raising threshold. It seems I’ve been very successful at this but my fast-twitch have been deactivated in the process. This is very much expected and part of the periodisation process Arthur Lydiard coached his runners with back in the sixties.

The aim now is to start doing faster efforts lasting around a minute to rebuild anaerobic capacity and give me the speed to push harder at parkrun next time.  The session I’ve picked is three sets of 4x300m with 45secs rest and three minutes between sets. I’ve done two sessions of this workout and the results have been good. I’m aiming for around 66-67secs per effort and on the first session, only two days after parkrun, I averaged 66½. The course I’ve picked is straight but does have an up / down nature to it and it’s been windy this past week. I’m finding the downs are closer to 61-62 whereas the ups are barely hitting target. The second time I did the workout my legs were fresher and I averaged under 65s and was able to hold back on the privileged efforts.

The news has come through that Christchurch 10K has been rescheduled for Jan 22nd so that’s what I’m now working towards with these. I think I should manage two more full weeks of them and then take it easier in the week preceding the race. After that I’ll look to go back to winter endurance training and prepare for an April half marathon. I’d also like to get to parkrun and run a quick one at some stage.

Update on my 800m training – Nov 2022

Winter training continues with building the aerobic base. In October’s recap I detailed the nine weeks of solid aerobic and threshold work I’d done since late August. Now my thoughts turned to faster anaerobic training at 5K and 10K paces in preparation for two 10K races.

Each week I ran kilometre repeats twice. On Tuesday’s it was 5x1K with 3-min standing recovery aiming for 3:48; Thursday was 6x1K with 200m jog recovery aiming for 4:00. I returned to an undulating course which runs alongside a main road. In one direction it is net downhill which are the 1st/3rd/5th efforts while the uphill occurs on the way back. Despite November being full of high winds and rain, I couldn’t have had more perfect weather when I ran. Somehow every session was still, blue skies and sunny.

The sessions came in as follows:

DateSessionTotal timeAvg pace1st2nd3rd4th5th6th
Nov 1st5K-pace19:213:523:483:543:494:003:50
8th(3:48)19:103:503:433:513:483:593:49
15th 19:323:543:483:563:524:023:54
22th 19:463:573:474:013:534:054:00
    
 3rd10K-pace24:164:033:564:053:564:083:584:13
10th(4:00)24:394:063:554:093:574:114:084:19
17th 24:224:043:554:023:584:074:034:17

Alongside this I started doing some body weight squat work on Tuesdays and Fridays to try and strengthen up my quads and glutes. When I tried these last year I discovered my left glute was particularly weak; this time it was strong from the first session and I decided to build up my volume slowly. I even started doing a couple of minute’s worth of balance work on each foot to try and improve balance as well as taxing the kinetic chain up the leg.

The net result of all this was, as you can see from the sessions, my legs couldn’t cope with what I was doing and I started going backwards. “No matter” I thought as I’d deliberately planned a three week taper into Christchurch 10K on December 11th.

The taper started on Sunday 20th November when I ran a shorter (10-mile) long run on a flatter course than usual. It was the best time I’ve ever recorded on the route – under 1hr14 on a fasted run straight out of bed. It was a real confidence builder but in retrospect perhaps it was too much only a week out from my first 10K at Boscombe.

The first week’s taper included the final 5K session which, coming two days after the best ever long run, was a little disappointing. But I still had five days for the legs to recover before running the 10K on the Sunday. It turned out to a somewhat disappointing race as I clocked 42:49. I thought my legs were beginning to perk up when I ran in warm-up (I was amazed to see myself running 8:20 pace at 122 heart-rate) but the first kilometre of the race was only 4:07 and I never cracked four minutes. When I compare that to my training intervals I’d expected to have some sub-4s and be holding back in the beginning.


The question is why did I not run well? The conclusion I came to is my legs were carrying too much fatigue and muscle damage. Now that isn’t necessarily a problem as the whole point of tapering is to let the legs freshen up. The first kilometre of the race not being able to get close to what I’ve done in training really highlights the legs were under recovered.

Looking back over the past few years of running this has been something of a perpetual theme. Trying to run races or parkruns without a decent taper. Or to put it the other way round, doing too much training during the week which I’ve been unable to recover from. I’m always a lot more careful with runners I coach but my legs more often than not haven’t felt painful or tired by the time a race comes around so it hasn’t seemed like that’s the reason I’ve underperformed.

I think the biggest culprit has been pushing the Sunday long runs along rather than allowing the pace to come to me. It becomes a third workout for the week. When I was racing well a few years back; I never pushed the long runs just did them easy. Yet I’ve been arriving home and not feeling tired or hungry which suggested I hadn’t overdone things. I’m not some of the weekday sessions haven’t been too big either – I’ve been chalking up fifty miles per week and following the 80-20 rule and that’s where the limitations of using heart-rate monitors and formulaic training appears – there is no easy way to identify how much muscular damage you’re suffering other than by results.

Three years ago I started a run streak that lasted until April this year when I finally took six days off around the Bournemouth Bay half marathon. That’s another race that didn’t go well because my legs were heavy and fatigued. That was why I decided I needed a three week taper for Christchurch 10K.

But I also didn’t recover enough after the half marathon. The rule of thumb is to recover for a day per mile of racing yet a week later I was beginning my next block of training and doing hills for the first time in a couple of years, so I accrued more damage on other damage. It’s hard to look back and know when I last had a block of training where I wasn’t on fatigued legs. Maybe it was late October 2021 after an 800m time trial or the May before that. Whenever it was, it was a long time ago. If I go back to 2020 I did some very easy running when I started all of my 800m training.

As I said before, the point of tapering is to give the legs time to freshen up. Since last Sunday’s race, I’ve gone out and run easy for forty minutes each day. Genuinely easy or effortless runs as I like to call them. It’s felt lovely to arrive home from every run and feel like I could go round again. The avg. pace has gradually improved over the week – Monday 8:24, Tuesday 8:11, Wednesday 8:03, Thursday 7:47, Friday 7:31, Saturday 7:27. None of this has been forced, it’s just what happens as the legs freshen up. Yet I can still feel a little bit of missing oomph and spring from my legs, there’s still more damage to repair.


With the improvement I’ve seen over this past week the temptation is to believe the legs are ready to run and squeeze in one last training session. That’s the mistake I’ve been making in the past. My legs function best when I let the fast-twitch freshen up. I’d really wanted to go to parkrun and see where I’m at but I only get one shot at my 10K; whereas I can go to parkrun on any other week after the race so I’m just going to keep taking it easy next week and see how it goes at Christchurch. If nothing else I’ll learn a little more about the effects of my taper and how I can best peak for a race.

Update on my 800m training – Oct 2022

Offseason training continues. I’ve just put in nine weeks of solid aerobic and threshold work and it went both well and badly. The aim had been to improve my threshold from where I estimated it currently to be at 6:50 to 6:30 – so the plan was to do three weeks at 6:50/mile, three at 6:40, three at 6:30.  Each three week block would be a progression of 6×1 mile, 4×1½ mile, 3×2 miles with a jog recovery.

The results came in as follows:

DateSessionTotal timeAvg pace
Aug 30th6×141:116:526:506:466:486:496:557:03
Sep 6th4×1½40:556:4910:1310:1610:1210:14
13th3×240:526:4913:2813:4213:42
    
20th6×139:396:366:356:366:356:376:366:40
27th4×1½40:176:439:549:5710:1510:09
Oct 4th3×239:366:3613:0713:0613:24
    
11th6×138:376:266:226:236:206:246:356:33
18th4×1½39:136:329:409:479:489:58
25th3×241:116:5713:2713:5614:21

While there were ups and downs in there, I rated the first 8 weeks as having gone decently and there was an overall improvement from where I began to where I’d reached. Not perfect but a definite improvement. You can see the average pace improving over the weeks in line with what I was hoping to achieve.

Then came week 9, it was atrocious – overall worse than week 1. There was a good reason for this. It didn’t simply come down to having screwed things up, I caught something and spent the week blowing my nose hundreds of times each day and waking up through the night. Whatever it was, it raised its head on the previous Friday where I was inexplicably thirty seconds per mile slower than the previous week over my nine mile course.

It lasted for 4-5 days and knocked my fitness backwards. I’m hoping this loss is temporary as the body recovers and returns all its hormones and red/white blood cell counts back to normal. I seem to be okay now.

I’ve written a lot about Maffetone training and while I don’t rate low heart-rate training as a method, I agree with the idea of a strong aerobic system being important to health. It was certainly the case for me. While my running went backwards for a few days, I never stopped being able to do the things I need to do on a daily basis. Once I realised I was under the weather, I cancelled my supplemental training (core work, press-ups etc.) and avoided other unnecessary activities. Basically I took it as easy as possible while still running every day. It’s debateable whether it was worth doing that 9th workout? I wanted to give it a go and just decided to get the best out of it I could. I didn’t push to hit target once I saw how far off the pace I was.


The days of the training week have been building endurance to support this work. I’ve done an hour Steady run on Fridays and an 11.7 mile long run on Sundays straight out of bed. On week 4, I went to Sandhurst Memorial parkrun, where I ran a tired legged 20:48 in place of the Friday Steady run. The parkrun still came in around 6:40/mile which suggests my threshold is improving. Then my Sunday long run* was 12 miles up and down the Basingstoke canal towpath. The legs were naturally not up for a faster effort after an all-out parkrun.

WeekFriday 9milesSunday 11.7mile
11:07:457:32/mile 1:32:337:56/mile
21:07:177:33 1:34:318:05
31:04:267:13 1:30:547:46
4 1:38:54*8:16*
51:05:177:18 1:30:227:43
61:04:157:11 1:29:097:37
71:03:137:08 1:31:497:52
81:08:317:37 1:31:547:52
91:05:387:20 1:32:307:54

What’s strange is my Fridays haven’t been quite as good as they were six months ago when I was doing a similar block of training yet the Sundays have been really pleasing. Almost every week has been a sub-8 avg. pace which is a level of consistency I’ve never seen before. It hints that I’m finally building the base endurance to a point where the body is recovering quicker.


All in all, it’s been a decent block of training through September and October and I achieved what I set out to do. I feel confident I can crack 40-mins in the 10K for the first time since 2015 and then later run a parkrun PB. I’ve got four weeks to the Boscombe 10K and then a further fortnight until Christchurch 10K which is the more likely course to break forty on. These first four weeks are going to see me running kilometres intervals with shorter rests to boost lactate tolerance and clearance and fire up the fast-twitch muscles enough to get me on pace. It’s time to go anaerobic!

Update on my 800m training – Aug / Sep 2022

In my last update I detailed that I had gone back to endurance training as all the hills and speedwork of the spring had toppled my aerobic base. It was somewhat disappointing but also necessary if I’m to sort out my 800m. I now realise I’m done for this year and it’s going to be a winter of building endurance and stamina. The introduction of hills and sprints was great fun but also introduced way too much naturally anaerobic fast-twitch muscle. As I haven’t been near these areas in years, things toppled quickly. Hopefully by next winter, my base will be bigger and I’ll be able to handle the anaerobic side better.

Having restarted endurance training in early July I found I wasn’t making much progress; then in early August I realised I was beginning to get aches and pains of the sort when you’re training too anaerobically. I had to reset AGAIN. My focus became to ensure I set off on runs at a slower pace and built up to my aerobic limits. That reset did the trick as the pains dissipated and the endurance began to build. Even so I was still a good 30+ secs/mile down on where I was back in March. It was a surprise to me how easy it is undo everything.

Mid-August I did an all-out parkrun at Poole and clocked 20:25. Quicker than running there at Easter (20:40) but slower than last Christmas (20:11). I cannot tell you how frustrated I am feeling at not being able to get back under twenty minutes. Another parkrun at Sandhurst Memorial parkrun in late September was even worse at 20:48 but it’s a tougher course and my legs were fatigued so that didn’t concern me.


I’ve entered a couple of 10Ks – Boscombe on Nov 27 and Christchurch two weeks later. I’ve gone back to using the training system I used on my only ever sub-40 run back in 2015. Controlled threshold work on a Tuesday, a Steady run on Fridays and a long run on Sunday. This is the same as I was doing in February and March this year.

My plan is to do intervals at Threshold pace (6:50/mile) for three weeks, then up the pace to 6:40 for three weeks and again to 6:30 which will take me through to the end of October. After that I’m going to do shorter intervals at 5K and 10K pace which will hopefully see me breaking forty minutes again. It’s an aggressive schedule but so far the body has been holding up.


Endurance-wise it took me until mid-September to get back to where I was in February. That said, my fasted Sunday morning long runs have all been coming in at a decent pace, usually sub-8 average for 12-miles, no stops. For whatever reason, I seem to be running these quicker than in February.

Possibly some of the drop off I’ve been experiencing is down to a change in running form. Since last October I’ve been working on my form using drills at least once per week and somewhere around late June, combined with the sprints I was doing, I began to feel I was running differently. Less hip rotation and more power from the glutes. Of course, using muscles that have never been involved in my running, meant they needed to be trained and quite possibly they had a lower lactate threshold due to this. Whatever it is, the form change is beginning to feel powerful at times and I just have to keep working at it.


Behind the scenes I’ve been wondering about whether I’m cut out for training like this. For all the miles and effort, I’ve put in over the years; my improvements have been sporadic. I’ve decided this winter will be the acid test. Hopefully when spring arrives next April, I will see a decent improvement in my half marathon time.  If I don’t then I’m scrapping the endurance focus and putting my training time into working on speed and to see whether I can get my 200/400 times down, even if it’s at the expense of longer distances.

I’m going to give it a fair crack of the whip and train the best way I know how to. The one sticking point is I entered the London Marathon ballot yesterday not realising the race is in six months’ time (April). If this were to be the year I get a place then my training would have to look at lengthening my long run out to twenty miles. Even so I’d expect the training I’ve got planned, to fit in well with how I would need to train. We’ll see when the ballot results are announced at the end of October. I’m currently doing just shy of fifty miles per week and have been for the past two years so the base is there for whichever direction I need to go.

Update on my 800m training – July 2022

The intention entering July had been to get the final six weeks of 800m training done, using JackD’s schedule as a basis, then run a 800m time trial. It didn’t work out like that.

I did the first week and was a bit sluggish on a 3-mile tempo – aiming for 6:40/mile, I ended up averaging 6:54. Not great given I was running 6:48/mile average on similar session in mid-June but I had done sprints two days before so figured that might have left some fatigue in the legs. Two days on, I did 3x600m and only ran 2:05, 2:05, 2:12 where I’d been hitting as fast as 1:58 in training last year and was expecting to go faster – closer to 1:50.

The following Tuesday I did some 200s that came in around 5:20/mile whereas I’d been hitting as quick as 4:50 in April and then immediately went into a couple of individual miles. It was one of the hottest days of the year but I didn’t feel bothered by it. The first mile came in at 7:02 then a 2-minute standing recovery and my legs were like lead and I could only hit 7:28 in the second mile. I’d overcooked it. Peaked too soon this summer.


So that’s it, since mid-July I’ve gone back to recovery work and hour-long tempo runs to rebuild my endurance.  The first run I did I covered 7½ miles at 7:46/mile pace. The fastest individual mile was 7:18 even though that was predominantly downhill.  This really highlighted how much aerobic fitness I’ve lost. At the end of March, just before my half marathon, I was running 9 miles at 7min/mile, now I couldn’t even run one mile at that pace.

This has been the focus for the rest of July and will be through August – rebuild endurance. By month end, I’d reached the stage where I could average 7:25/mile and my legs were begin to run better but I’m still finding it a struggle to run faster aerobically.

But the focus of the last few months has been to recruit more running muscle and build my speed, I think I achieved and now I have to train some of that muscle to be more enduring. It’s somewhat frustrating to see myself go backwards like this but it’s what all elites go through. It’s difficult to build and maintain a peak for any longer than twelve weeks, I’d say I got 8-10 weeks.


The other thing I’ve been working on is strengthening with various exercises, including one legged chair squats, and my glutes seem to be firing and my core stabilising better during runs. I feel like I’m gliding over the ground more than I used to. In the short term this may also be a source of my problems – using muscles that have never been used before and needing to train them more aerobically. Hopefully as the body adapts to their introduction I will speed back up. Whatever it is, I’ve learned that the only way through this is to up the aerobic work.

One legged chair squats

With my speed improving over the past month, I took another read of Pete Magill’s Speedrunner book to see what extra I could learn. One of the things I’ve found with learning is that rereading stuff is helpful. The first time you read something it may seem to go in and be understood. If you then begin to apply what you’ve read and grow, a reread brings a different perspective on the same material.

Among the exercises listed in the book are one-legged squats. These are nothing new to me and last November I started doing exercises as I wanted to be able to do a pistol squat which is a full one-legged squat to the ground and back up. I did exercises for about six weeks which were beneficial but when combined with the faster running I was doing, my left glute got sore and I decided to put them on hold rather than get injured.

Reading Speedrunner as I sat in my garden last Monday, it was one of the rare sunny days we’ve enjoyed this summer. The front half of the book is an explanation of the concepts of maximum velocity, acceleration and sprint mechanics while the second half details exercises that will help to improve these.

A variation to the one-legged squat was also detailed. Begin sitting in a chair (as I happened to be doing at that point) and raise yourself up out of it on only one leg. This allows you to go with a smaller range of motion plus the security of not falling backwards or collapsing on the floor. I gave it a try.

My right leg was just about strong enough to do five reps, it was a struggle but I got them done. The left leg was not so easy. Almost immediately on trying the hamstring muscles in the back of my thigh were crying out in pain with the difficulty. I could do it but it was on the edge of a strain. Fortunately I know my body well enough to know when to keep going and when to back off. I did the five reps and that was it.

In the following days, I continued to do five reps each leg, each day. The left leg still strained at the effort but subjectively I knew the pain was reducing, so the muscle must be getting stronger. Plus the exercise itself is also an improver for balance and coordination. It’s worth noting that for all the technology we have, there is nothing that could tell me I was improving beyond a subjective assessment.

By Saturday, after five days of this, I was feeling strong enough to do ten reps on each leg. The left leg was still a little grumbly about this, the right leg strong but actually not quite as good at balancing when up out of the chair.


On Sunday I went for my long run and with the combination of miles and a decent pace (rather than recovery) it’s the sort of run where any new form can begin to be ingrained. I didn’t particularly notice anything different with the left leg starting to strengthen up but in the last mile or so, I found my right shoulder dropped and began to swing a little easier. They may not seem connect but the arms and legs working in opposite pairings, so the right leg / left arm swing together in time as do the left leg / right arm.

Fixing form issues is quite often a case of looking at the whole body as a system, not simply focusing on the body part you thing is an issue. A good example of this is when you have a runner who heel strikes. The instinct is to get them to run on their toes more but quite often I find it is happening because their hips or glutes aren’t working properly. And I reckon this is what happened to me this past week. I got the left glute-hamstring area stronger, it worked better and consequently that led to the counterbalance from the right shoulder correcting itself.


I’ve continued with the one-legged chair squats this week and they are getting easier and easier. The reps of standing up onto the right leg are now beginning to feel as easy as it does when standing up as normal onto two feet. The left leg is still a tad weak but it will strengthen up. I’ve noticed the right shoulder seems to be dropping into place more often when running and during sprints my form felt great.

One of the surprises is that I need to do this strengthening work. While I do press-ups, corework and dumbbell curls to keep my upper body in shape, I had always considered running was enough for my lower body, particularly in recent months where I’ve been doing hills. Apparently it wasn’t and while it is difficult, if not impossible, to find a set of tests to identify any weakness; it certainly highlights the benefit of doing a range of activities outside of pure running.

Update on my 800m training – June 2022

Last update I mentioned improving top-end speed is the priority this summer even if it comes at the expense of other parts of training. I’ve been doing weekly sprint sessions which alternate between hills and on the flat. The general process has been one of starting with a small amount of sprint work and gradually increasing it. Back in April my first session was 6x8secs – a total of 48 seconds effort. The next week it went to 8x8s (64s), then 10x8s (80s) followed. This morphed into some 60m flat sprints which came in at just under 9-10secs each but only four of them to avoid overloading the body with the new type of effort.

The hills then lengthened to 10secs (x8 reps) that still totalled the same 1min20s of volume before pushing up again to 10x10secs (1min40s). On the alternate weeks, 80m flat sprints were taking around 12s and then a 100m in 15s. Back on the hills, a single 20s effort replaced the final two efforts of the previous 10x10sec and oh my, that was hilariously tough. I was good for the first 15secs but as I entered the new territory of the final 2-3 seconds, my legs became jelly and could barely propel myself. That set the stage for adding a 150m sprint (22+ secs) on the flats and then hills went all-in with 2x25sec. This was my biggest session to date at 2min10 of hills and they won’t get bigger. On the flat, the volume is topping out at 700-800m which fits nicely with trying to be 800m runner.

The latest session was 2x60m, 2x80m, 1x100m, 1x150m, 1x200m as it begins to tip towards speed endurance. The shorter efforts now barely tax me but the 150 and 200 were tough. Ideally I would have taken longer recovery times. A sprinter would usually be taking fifteen minutes recovery before attempting the 200m, I took six minutes. Woefully inadequate and I began to pay for it at the 80m mark as the legs tied up and co-ordination went. My hopes of a first recorded sub-30 sec were dashed.

The setting for these efforts are my local roads. There’s a couple of hills nearby, in fact it’s hard to find a decent straight flat stretch off the main roads. There is one round the corner from where I live which has a slight gradient in the middle so I’ve used that. Unfortunately because it gets busier later in the morning, I’ve been out at 7am doing the sprints which isn’t the best time to go with all-out efforts. With it being mid-June and the longest days, I was up at 5am for breakfast a couple of times to get something in before my sessions. I should add I followed the sprints with some other fast threshold-paced type running.

The results from the speedwork seem to be bleeding through and I certainly feel I’m getting more push in the first steps and technique is improving. While the GPS isn’t accurate on the shorter efforts – it takes around 15-16s to get down to the faster paces – it has recorded me running at 3:35-3:40/mile on a couple of occasions which is scarily only as fast as the world record pace for the mile! But go back a year and I was struggling to run much quicker than 4:45/mile pace, so there is improvement.

The only downside of these sprint sessions is they take 3-5 days to recover from. Quite often my Wednesday sessions were a letdown and off target pace; eventually I ditched the Friday interval session in favour of a Steady run.


Nominally I’m following JackD’s plan and I finished off the 3rd phase of training with one of my favourite sessions … 600m effort in 2:03, 30s standing recovery, 200m in 37secs … three times over with a 7-min jog recovery in between.

When I did this session six weeks ago near the end of May my legs were simply too tired and I couldn’t get below 2:10 / 39s for the 600 / 200 split, I totalled 8min39 for the 2,400m.

This time around my times were 2:02 / 39 … 2:05 / 37 … 2:07 / 36 – 8:06 total time. Unfortunately the scheduled day saw me running into a hefty headwind for over half of the 600m efforts. I think they would have been on target on a calmer day, but it did give me an advantage on the 200s although I think I’d have been hitting those numbers anyway.


All in all, it’s been a good month with fitness improving and the goal of improving speed beginning to take place. I can’t believe I’m already down to the last six weeks of training before I attempt another 800m. It’ll be almost a year since the last one by the time I get around to it. I’m not expecting miracles but I am looking for a decent improvement over last year’s 2:49.

Update on my 800m training – May 2022

Was it the hills?  I entered the month feeling positive after some very quick short intervals in April but throughout May my legs have struggled. I started doing hills in April to build speed and they’re certainly feeling stronger but they also tend to take a few days to fully recover.

I’ve never been a decent sprinter but I think I probably should have been. Firstly because I find it easy to put on muscle, and secondly because I’ve never found it easy to be good at distance running. Once I got on Strava I began to see how often quicker runners are able to get better results despite training half as hard as I do. I seem to lack the natural aerobic capacity that many distance runners have.

This is all behind the reason why I decided to give 800m running a try. It’s an event that still needs decent sprint speed backing it up. But when I started following a plan by Jack Daniels eighteen months ago, it didn’t do much for speed recruitment and I made a deliberate decision not to overdo things as I found it easy to run quicker than expected. This again is another reason why I think I’m better suited to short distance racing.

Even so I felt my top-end speed was missing as I could barely get my peak speed below five minute mile. Last February, I started looking at how to improve cadence in the hope this would improve my form for sprinting and top end speed. Six months ago I started doing ten minutes of sprint drills twice per week to clean up my technique. It’s made a huge difference.


So here I am doing Summer Training to build speed and peak for my next 800m attempt. With my aerobic base enabling me to run seven minute miles for an hour in the winter, I decided it was time to introduce hill and flat sprints on a Monday to recruit more running muscle and get faster at the top end. It seems to be working.

Six years ago, I was doing the same set of workouts and my times then for 60m, 80m and 100m approx. were 10½ secs, 12 secs, 16½ secs. Admittedly I tended to do these after another session but this year I’ve recorded times of 8.75s (60m), 11.5s (80m), 14.6s (100m). A definite improvement and fairly good considering I’ve barely done anything like this in the past half-decade and I’m now in my fifties.

I also found on the most recent block of flat sprints I was hitting some high cadences with the two highest values coming in at 262 and 278 on different efforts. I’m slightly wary of whether the cadence monitor is wholly accurate but if it is these are genuine sprint numbers. Again this backs up the belief my form is improving.

The rest of May’s training was something of a slog to hit target paces. Quite often I missed my faster targets but the legs always seemed sluggish after the sprints. This resulted in a decision – I’ve decided though that working on speed over this summer is the priority so if other sessions are a little behind because of that, so be it. Overall my numbers are still an improvement over where they were a year ago.

On into June. This is the hardest block of training. I’ve felt tight and slow on recovery days but hopefully I’ll get through it!

Update on my 800m training – Apr 2022

April has been a month of weeks! Following on from Bournemouth Bay 1/2M on the 3rd, I took a few days break. That was the first week. Then I started training and it was a heavy-legged slog culminating with a not-too-great parkrun. That was the second week. It was followed by three workouts in a week and the legs finally beginning to lighten up. That was the third week. And finally, last week I’ve begun to feel back to where I was in March aerobically.

I’ve been wondering how to approach this block of training. While I liked the structure of JackD’s 800m training plan which I followed for two cycles last year, I didn’t feel I improved enough off of it. Having worked on my endurance all winter, I felt I would be safe to begin working on speed and wanted to use some of the concepts which Steve Magness talks about in his book – The Science of Running.  Most notably this would involve hills and breaking the interval work into sets of 800m.

Hills

Mondays has become hill sprint day. These are the tool espoused by Magness for improving speed and recruiting more muscle. It’s all about short, all-out efforts lasting only 8-10 seconds followed by long recoveries. By working as hard as possible on each effort, you maximise the speed and recruitment without having the legs tie up with fatigue. The long recoveries then allow the energy systems to recharge for the next effort.

My legs have lost a lot of muscle and size over the past ten years. When I was in my early twenties, the gym report states my quads were around 26”; these days they’re 23” at most. It’s no surprise my legs were so strong because every sport I played I went at full-force. Playing squash was lunging two or three steps in each direction. Running round a football pitch or basketball court was accelerations of 5-10 metres to close down an opponent. Playing volleyball gave my legs a good workout with constant jumping at the net or squatting down in the back court. When I went for a run, I started off at a sprint and held on to puff my way round. All of that is the antithesis to how I’ve been training for the past five years.

I followed Magness’ plan back in early 2016 but they were usually done on tired legs, after an hour effort run along the beach promenade. My training progressed during those months but I was doing other good effort sessions at the same time so I can’t quantify how effective they were.

I’ve certainly felt good on this year’s efforts and they have combined well with improved running form from the sprint drills I’ve done since October. The following day is always a little slow but that’s to be expected with the muscle fibres recovering.

Short intervals

My intention was to do my own version of speedwork on Wednesday and Fridays. For the first two weeks I decided to follow Jack’s plan of 200s and 400s until I was ready to implement my own ideas.

The reality is when I started doing these sessions, I found my pace was off-the-charts compared to last year. Having not run a recent 800 time trial, I had nothing to base my training on so I estimated, based on my half marathon training, that I was likely in around 2:36 form and therefore should be running efforts at 43secs per 200m. The first session of 200s all came in at 39-41secs despite having tired legs. The following week I was aiming for 1:26 for 400s and found myself running a couple at 1:17 and a couple at 1:22. This was a huge improvement over the same session in training last year when I was hanging on for 1:30-32. The previous cycle it was 1:35-36 hanging on.

Last year I would feel tired after sessions; this time I’ve been running far quicker than expected but not feeling torn down afterwards. Given I was so far ahead of my intended pace I’ve decided too stick with Jack’s plan and not change anything around in terms of the efforts and splitting it into sets. The only change I have made is not to adhere so stringently to the warm-up and cooldown durations.

The final session of April was two sets of 6x200m with 10-min jog recovery between. The first effort of the second set came in at 35.2 secs which is the fastest I’ve done. Compare this to the 48-secs I was running when I began 800m training in December 2020. It wasn’t just one fast effort, all but one effort was sub-40 and the average came in at 38.16sec.

Near disaster

Despite my success, I’m slightly concerned I may be overdoing these. At parkrun after the successful 200s session, my left Achilles ached and then popped on the Sunday long run. My first thought was “oh no” but I could run without pain and have just seen it as a warning sign. I’ve probably been doing these efforts closer to 800m pace than the intended mile pace and during May, I’m going to focus on pacing these at around 41½ sec per 200 (5:30 per mile).

Actual disaster (minor)

On arriving at Poole parkrun in mid-April, I cinched on my watch and the strap broke. I had to carry it all the way round. That evening I went away to a birthday party and danced until midnight. Next morning, waking early at 5:40am in a strange bed I went for my long run up the Basingstoke Canal. I intended to do my standard 10-12 mile run lasting 1hr20-40 and popped the watch in my back pocket. I didn’t mind running without the numbers but I had no indication of how fast or how far I was going. My legs were so tired from the all-out parkrun and a night of dancing that it was a trudge. The final miles back I gutted through, working mentally hard to avoid the urge to stop and walk. When I arrived back and pulled the watch out of my short’s back pocket, I was stunned to see I’d run for 2hr05 and 14+ miles. No wonder it was tough – that’s my longest run in time and duration in almost two years.

Can’t decide whether to change both parts of the strap!

I carried my watch around in my hand for the next two weeks. It’s impossible to know when to start or stop efforts in an interval session if you’re carrying it in your back pocket. What I noticed is the outsides of my shoulder aching towards the end of runs. I’m not sure if it’s down to carrying the (very light) watch with arms/hands locked in position or whether it’s just the effort of the sessions. I have had shoulder aches at other times when I’ve run fast. Nonetheless it got me wondering about those people who carry bottles which are much heavier.


It’s been a great month of running. I’m not sure whether it’s the hills or the winter training but something has improved about my running since the last cycle. I’m sure it’s down to improving my aerobic system over the winter and closing the gap between the fast paces and my general runs. Where last year the gap was the better part of 3-mins (9-min mile vs 6-min mile) now it’s closer to 2-mins (7:30 to 5:30).

I’m certainly finding it easier to recover between intervals and be ready for the next effort. But I also wonder if that’s partly because they’re being run quicker! Running an effort in 1:17 compared to 1:30 a year ago may not seem much but it’s 15% less time. Friday’s intervals, for example totalled around seven and a half minutes, a minute less than last June and ninety-seconds less than six months before that. While the individual efforts may be using as much concentration and energy, overall there’s less to recover from. This is why elite runners end up doing bigger workouts, they can do more as they get fitter. I could theoretically add a couple of more efforts to be doing the same volume of work as last year.

I’m looking forward to May’s training. My focus is on getting the pace right and ensuring I get enough recovery to avoid any injury.

My Last Marathon

I’ve only completed four marathons in my life. All of them were back in the days when I wasn’t a committed runner. It seems I was following, what is now, a familiar box-ticking approach to running. My first distance race was a 10K as parkrun didn’t exist then and 5K races were rare. But the sequence is standard – run a few races at a short distance then move on up to eventually do a full marathon. Now I realise training for, and successfully running, a full marathon is a big commitment if you want to do it well. Although I knew then you should do six months of training beforehand, I was only focused on getting the long run done. Again this is a familiar story of modern runners.

On the New Forest paths

My last marathon was way back in 2010 and, for the first time in my life, I was beginning to train more regularly. I began the year by entering a twenty mile race which, when the train had demoralised me enough, I downgraded to ten miles. I followed it up a few weeks later with the Bournemouth Bay 1/2M in 1hr38+ at the beginning of April. To that date, it was the best race I’d ever done and knocked 12-13 minutes off my old Personal Best.

In the weeks following the half I began to lose interest in running and it was by entering the New Forest marathon, scheduled for late September, that I found motivation to get out and train again. I was in decent shape and with five months training, it should have been easy. In fact by early June I’d completed the twenty-mile run leapfrogging from fourteen to seventeen to twenty. I spoke with an experienced runner and he suggested there was no need to do the twenty miles every week and my records show I only did a fourteen mile run after that before disaster struck and I pulled a calf muscle. I lost the whole of July and it was early August when I could run again.

Suddenly I only had eight weeks until the marathon and I’d gone from having over three months to improve on my twenty mile long run to needing to rebuild entirely. Still believing in the necessity of the twenty mile long run but also recognising I couldn’t do it the week before the marathon I squeezed training into six weeks – 9, 11, 14, 17, 18, 20½, dropped to 9 miles and then ran the marathon the following week. I often say the reason it worked so well for me is because I didn’t have time to overtrain or under-recover!


On the day, two non-running moments stand out in my memory.

Firstly I arrived to collect my number which my racepack said was something like #1600. In the sportshall, I saw two collection desks one with a sign saying “Marathon 1-999” and “Half Marathon 1000-2000”. I was confused as my number suggested I was running the half but I knew this wasn’t the case. What most surprised me is how devastating this was to my psyche. I’d prepared for the longer distance, so if I had to run half the distance it would surely be no trouble. I could see it would be a problem if you’d only trained for a half and then found yourself expected to somehow do double the distance but, not when you knew you’d run over seven miles further in training. Somehow it was devastating.

I talked to the organiser adamant that I’d entered the full marathon while he said I couldn’t have; fortunately he was willing to move me into that race anyway. Once I’d got my sub-1000 number I felt calm about what was ahead.

The second issue was forgetting my new running shoes. Of course I knew you don’t run a marathon in a new pair of shoes, so I’d broken them in before the race. But I forgot to bring them along and ended up running the marathon in the old battered pair which had lasted me all through training. Oh well. I didn’t get any lasting injuries so no harm, no foul. Not good race day preparation though, yet not the first time it happened to me!


The race itself went well. Classic autumn day and decent conditions – sunny, warm and not too humid. I’d borrowed a Garmin from a work colleague and watched the miles tick by. I’m not sure whether I went into it with an intended time – I suspect I did as I’d begun to discover the online race calculators. Whether I did or not I found myself running around 8:15/mile and with the help of the Garmin I was able to keep on track. I don’t remember much of the run other than it was scenic and all around the New Forest. I’d bought five gels, which is the only race I’ve ever used them in and on advice took one every forty-five minutes thereby consuming the 4th at the 3-hour mark. It worked well and when I finished in 3hr40min59, I still had one left.

As with any marathon the running got tough in the final miles. I’d covered the first twenty in 2hr45 and the final 10K in 55mins. It was slippage that cost me perhaps five minutes and had I gone into it better trained maybe I’d have achieved a sub 3hr30 time but I was happy with what I’d achieved. I still am.

Most important to me was I’d done the whole run without stopping or walking – the only one of my four. I started running in the early 1990s when races were still predominantly filled by club runners. The sub-4 marathon was the benchmark for any aspiring runner and while it was accepted you might run out of steam and need to walk at some stage; running all the way was a badge of honour.


Incidentally when I arrived home and checked my emails, I found had entered the half marathon five months before, back in April. I’m not sure how I mixed it up but there’s no doubt from the training that I always intended to do the full 26.2 miles.