Short sprint – Streaking on

Somehow, I’ve created a run streak that goes back into the 2010s. Admittedly it’s only just a decade ago as my last rest day was December 7th 2019 but it’s still a streak of over eighteen months. It’s been 5K every day often more.

It sounds impressive to anyone who isn’t a runner.

It sounds impressive to people who are runners.

No-one has asked me about it but I imagine the sort of question I’d get is “How do you motivate yourself to keep getting out there?”. Well, motivation has rarely been something I had to think about. I have running goals and to reach those goals, I have to get out and do the training, but equally I make it manageable so it never becomes a strain.

My seven day week splits into three workouts and four recovery runs. The workouts are the exciting part of the week where I get to do something that’s different, that’s exciting and which I know will progress me towards my goals. How can I not be motivated to go do those?

The recovery runs are more mundane but they’re usually only around forty minutes long. Once you’ve been running consistently for a while it’s the sort of run that seems to be over before it’s started. If I were a less experienced runner, I’d probably only do twenty or thirty minutes until the fitness expanded to make them feel achievable.

But it’s the pace of the recovery runs that makes them, and therefore the streak, achievable. I always keep them very easy. Some of them have been closer to ten minute miles even though I can run much, much quicker. I focus on my breathing from the beginning and never put in any undue effort on the hills. I never try to speed up, I just let my body take me along at the pace it wants to go. Sometimes there are days when I have to stumble through the run because the legs are feeling hollow but, more often than not, it’s a chance to get out, look around and think about life.

It wasn’t always like this. When I trained a decade ago, I pushed myself harder on every run but that then lowered my motivation for getting out there frequently. Your body is good at telling your mind when it’s had enough but, while people hear it, invariably they don’t act compassionately towards themselves. Some days I turned round after a mile because I knew my legs couldn’t handle the run. It’s just not possible for a poorly trained runner to run hard every day and not need the occasional break. I haven’t been taking rest days but that doesn’t mean I have been taking a break.

Fast and furious

A decade ago I was simply someone who ran to keep myself active and occupied. The majority of my runs were completed quickly. Under half an hour. Occasionally I’d enter 10K races or half-marathons and put in more training to get ready but when I wasn’t racing, it was mostly short, fast runs.

As an eighteen-year-old, my first attempt to take up running was to go out of the door, run to the bottom of our road and then back as fast as I could. It was a 1½ mile round trip with a long uphill finish which, I think, took me around seventeen minutes. I tried to run every day but contented myself with doing six runs each week and kept up the regime for six weeks until other activities (like drinking, Christmas and training for the local Swimarathon charity event) distracted me.

In his book, Running to the Top, legendary coach Arthur Lydiard states:

“The stranger to jogging or running will follow his medical check by running easily out for, say, five minutes and then turning for home … That five minutes out-and-back routine should occupy a few days to accustom leg and arm and body muscles to the activity. The beginner can then start adding time on his/her feet … When you can do 15 minutes every day, at least every other day, step up to 30 minutes, followed by two days  at 15 minutes, another 30, another two 15s and so on.”

Now I’ve paraphrased and left out bits but what I find relevant is that he’s telling people to start out with ten minutes running and to get out doing it almost every day.

In my first job at Chase, when they opened an onsite gym I joined because it was a good deal at £6 per month! Other people recognised that too and its membership quickly grew to the point where they expanded the size of the gym by knocking down a wall and building into the restaurant. During busy periods we were limited for how long we could use the cardio equipment; so my treadmill runs were no further than fifteen minutes. More often than not, it was only as long as I could last running at full pelt. The machine would whir away at 9.5mph, I’d gasp for breath and push myself to hang in there for a nice round ten minutes. My best ever performance was putting the treadmill at full speed and running three miles in 18:10. Those extra ten seconds were spent getting it up to full speed.

Eventually I tried a 10K race which was a big step up and had me going out to do some overdistance training in the lead up but then it was back to short runs. If I was bored at home, with nothing decent to watch on TV, a quick run round the local streets was often a solution and I’d only be out for 20-25 minute.

It was a few more years before I started entering half marathons and to complete those I went through a period of doing longer runs from Bournemouth pier to Shore Road and back. But once my interest in those died down I was back to the 20-25 minute runs round the block.

Off this relatively low level of training I could run 10K in 47-48 minutes and half marathons in 1hr50. I was getting decent results off 10-20 miles per week.

All of this is counter to what I see among the modern influx of runners. Most of them have graduated from the Couch25K so have a mentality of goal-setting for distance. Once they can do 5K, they set their sights on 10Ks and then onto half marathons and marathons. There’s nothing wrong with this per se, to an extent I did it myself, but my earliest beginnings were to start with runs that simply lasted as long as I could run. If I ran round the streets, I ran a route I knew was only going to last twenty minutes or so.

There now seems to be a mindset that every run has to last the better part of an hour; the idea that anything less than a 6-8 mile run isn’t worth doing. This turns it into something that needs scheduling rather than being fitted into the day wherever it can.

No planning’s needed to nip out for fifteen minutes while dinner is cooking, twenty-five minutes during lunch hour, twenty minutes round the block in the morning before a shower. A quick run boosts fitness and keeps everything ticking over between more meaningful workouts, sessions and parkruns. It’s a lot easier to get out more frequently when the runs are short.

I’ve been as guilty as anyone of promoting this mentality. In my “How to Improve” series I say one of my running rules is to make runs last thirty minutes. But I’m beginning to rethink things. If you’re committed to improving then aiming for a minimum of thirty minutes is a good idea but I suspect most people are struggling to commit in the first place, and I suspect it’s because they don’t have the time or haven’t found enough joy in running.

One of the ways you find joy is by getting fast and clocking decent times. Another is by blasting out the door for ten minutes, hammering round the block and arriving home feeling reinvigorated. This sort of run triggers all sorts of positive hormones and changes in your fitness. Shorter runs equal less to dread, less to go wrong and less to plan. The hidden benefit is there’s also less recovery needed. I reckon the more you do them, the easier it becomes for running to become a habit and you to stay motivated. Secretly you’ll discover you’re building the fitness in the background that filters down into your longer races.

Short sprint – Tappity-tap

A while ago I wrote about how noisy I am as a runner – it’s been a lifelong trait. So you can imagine my surprise when a few weeks ago on my long run I suddenly noticed an absence of heavy plodding.

It was 5:30am on a Sunday and being so early in the day there was an absence of traffic. I’ve come to love getting out early in the summer at the crack of dawn. I actually woke up an hour earlier because my curtains are thin, but I elected to have something of a lie-in. Eventually I recognised I should get out there while it was quiet, before it got hot, so I could be home by 7am and still have the whole day ahead of me.

Running this early is so peaceful and quiet. Sometimes the sun is just rising, there can still be a slight chill in the air but you barely notice it once you’re off down the road. The birds may be singing their dawn chorus and there can be fog in the fields or, as you cross over the bridge into Wimborne and look up the river.

But I digress. I was about twenty minutes into my run and began to go up the hill at the back of Merley and suddenly realised all I could hear from my feet was a tappity-tap. Each footfall was noticeably quieter than usual. I continued on and didn’t think too much more about it. My focus was on keeping the run genuinely easy and not kicking up into a higher gear.

I ran up Lower Blandford Road into Broadstone and, with the final few metres hitting a steeper incline, I found my legs go a little wobbly from the surge of lactate it manifested. On into The Broadway I went but now my feet were noisier. It was highlighted by two guys outside the papershop noticing me before I reached them.

I thought nothing more of it until I reached home. After uploading my run to Garmin I noticed the cadence graph had many blue dots in the first half of the run. They turned to green as I reached Darbys Corner and began to run up into Broadstone. Blue dots indicate a cadence of 174, green indicate it’s lower.

While I’m not someone who gets tied up about running at certain cadences, I have been working on improving my form over the past decade. Ten years ago my cadence was usually 150-155, maybe topping out at 160. This morning it was heading for the mid-170s when I was light on my feet and barely make a noise.

The latest form work I’ve been doing has been to use some sprint drills to improve knee lift and get my glutes working better. It would seem these may now be beginning to have an effect.

Update on my 800m training – May 2021

In April’s update I talked about the surprise of seeing no improvement in my 800m time despite seeing myself get fitter, faster and leaner over the course of training. After the time trials, I slipped into a six week block of endurance training taking me through to the end of May.

At the height of training back in January and February my weekly mileages were in the 40-45 range. As the April time trials approached I eased off to let the legs freshen up and recorded a couple of weeks in the high thirties. With the return of endurance training and the bigger runs midweek, the totals for the six week totals were 49, 49, 50, 52, 47, 48.  May alone comes in at 220 miles.

My schedule for this block of endurance was:

  • Monday – 40min recovery run
  • Tuesday – 8-mile Steady run (with warm-up / cooldown)
  • Wednesday – 40min recovery run
  • Thursday – 40min recovery run
  • Friday – 8-mile Steady run (with warm-up / cooldown)
  • Saturday – 40min recovery run
  • Sunday – 11.7-mile fasted Long run

I adapted it once or twice, threw in some strides occasionally but always two Steady runs in the week with a Long run at similar effort level on a Sunday. Recovery runs on all the other days.

Steady improvement

Across the six week I did twelve Steady runs. May was unseasonably poor weather so the conditions varied from complete calm to 20mph winds. All but one was done at the beach where the wind doesn’t always blow in the same direction. I have a 9-mile out and back route from Durley Chine to near the end of the prom at Hengistbury Head. I always just allow the runs to get faster but the first half mile is taken carefully and I discount the split for this, then run four miles out, four miles back and run the last half mile back as a warmdown. This eight-mile exertion takes a little over an hour which is perfect.

Here’s a table of those eight mile runs at the beach. For ease of reading I’ve ordered the miles from fastest to slowest for each run as it allows you to see how the quickest are getting faster.


You can see in the first week I couldn’t even break 8-min mile pace on these runs whereas by the final week, every mile was faster. If you track across the fourth mile row, you can see it was beginning to consistently be around the 7:30 mark a solid improvement from the early weeks. The final run was a backslide but I suspect the legs were tired from the excellent 7:38/mile paced Sunday long run preceding them.

This table also highlights how improvement isn’t a linear thing. It can be two steps forward, one step back while you recover and consolidate but if you can stay injury-free there should be an improvement over time. Some of the ups and downs in the table are due to windy days!

Changing run form

In April, I began thinking about my form again. I’ve probably been looking at aspects of my form since 2013 when I bought a cadence monitor and started improving that. It’s a real work in progress and last year when I was doing hill sprints and bounding I began to feel some sense of how to get quicker. In the summer when I strengthened up my core I found it made a difference to my running but I still feel there’s been something missing from my sprint speed.

I reread some of my books which talk about technique and watched some Youtube videos of sprinters and how it is something of a difference action to how most distance runners run. I found some drills and exercises that began to improve my knee lift and instantly I could feel more drive when my feet hit the ground. At my coaching sessions, I do these drills as part of the warm-up to try and help the runners to improve.

Over the course of this training block, I’ve slowly been integrating this new knee drive action into my running and when it’s going well I feel like I’m running on air. My upper body seems to become almost still (other than armswing) and my lower body begins to feel like it’s doing all the work. It feels like I’m running from the hips and every step is driving me forward. My cadence is slightly up and I’ve even begun to notice quieter footfalls at times.

I still haven’t seen this translates to increased speed in my sprints as I haven’t done many strides but I think it may be responsible for the increased pace on my steady and long runs. I’m looking forward to when I get back to the speedier portions of 800 training as I’ll be hopefully be able to further ingrain this new action.

One small downside is that the outsides of my shoulders have ached towards the end of runs. I think this is because as my armswing is becoming freer and driven by running it’s causing muscles that haven’t previously been used to get involved.

Another time trial

Coming off the six week block of endurance I knew I’d speeded up on my easy runs and hoped it would transfer to my 800 time. It didn’t. At the start of June I did another time trial this time clocking 2:53 – so overall five seconds quicker than in December.

It’s possible that my legs weren’t ready for this recent time trial. The final week of the endurance training saw the paces pick up noticeably and this can sometimes lead to what I call a VO2max lull; a 10-14 day period where the body is adapting and takes a step back.

Truth be told I’m somewhat frustrated by the lack of significant progress in the 800 time, especially as I feel fitter and faster but also because I’ve been quicker following my own methods in the past.

I’m going to stick with JackD’s plan for a second go around and throw in the strides he suggests doing to see if this improves my top-end speed. I suspect there’s a missing link waiting to be filled in that will connect my general endurance to my speed and ability. Let’s see what happens.

MAF Training review – Part 2 My Experience

Today I continue my in-depth review of MAF training with a look back at how it went for me in the summer of 2014. In part 1 of this series, I explained most people promote the Maffetone Method as low heart-training, but it’s actually a holistic system including re-evaluating your diet by taking a two week break from refined carbohydrates. I too was in the heretic camp and went with the low heart-rate training only. I didn’t change my diet or try any of the other things Dr Phil Maffetone recommends, partly because if I gave up carbs I wouldn’t have anything left to eat. I read a copy of his book while I was doing the training and was trying to make sense of it as I was going along.

This wasn’t my first experience of low heart-rate training, that occurred over twenty-five years ago as I recounted in this post about John Douillard’s Body, Mind and Sport book. Using “Darth Vader” diaphragmatic nose-breathing, while running to a sub-130 heart-rate, I saw no success at getting faster or achieving the effortless flow state he promised but I kept trying. It was only when I got good at running through pace-based training that I began to see the low heart-rates promised by Douillard. But the idea of low heart-rate training stuck with me and somehow I read about Maffetone training and when the opportunity arose I decided to give it a dedicated shot.

My first two years of committed running (2011-13) saw me recording personal bests at all distances raced but something was missing which was stopping me from hitting the heights I hoped for. I didn’t quite know what it was but the combination of The Redgrave Paradox, a return from a winter virus and wanting to try new things led me to give MAF training a try.

The winter virus knocked my training back for two months and while, I’d missed the half marathon I was aiming for, I was still running capable of running twenty-one minutes at parkrun. With the virus over I began to bulk up training with four mile runs in the morning and another thirty minutes of barefoot running in the evening.

In early May I clocked forty-three minutes at Lymington 10K. A week later I jogged round Bournemouth parkrun in 25:43 with heart-rate averaging 141bpm but hitting a max of 155bpm. I’m not sure why but, that evening I decided to try MAF training. I was 42-years-old, the formula gave me 138bpm and in the past I’d always found my running felt very comfortable at this level. When I was building my first aerobic base three years earlier it was where my heart-rate naturally seemed to fall on easy runs.

Beginnings – May and June

I followed the MAF low HR regime religiously. The first Sunday long run was hellish because I picked a hilly route. I must have stopped and walked thirty times to keep my heart-rate down on the hills but I managed the twelve miles without going over the limit. It was slow at 10:24/mile with the fastest mile being 9:40 and the long uphill into Broadstone taking over eleven minutes. The following week was even slower but I stuck with it. Like all spiritual adepts there were times where I unintentionally fell off the pew and I did have one deliberation exception; at the end of some runs I would do a 150m sprint back to my house. It sent my heart-rate soaring and those moments are not included in any of the stats that follow.

In the first six weeks of training I ran, on average, for eight hours and fifteen minutes covering fifty-five miles yet only spending 1min35 above my MAF-HR of 138. I’m doubtful it’s possible to do any better than this. By the end of June I’d accumulated fifty hours of training but less than ten minutes of it exceeded MAF-HR.

Total time8hr 18min8hr 44min7hr 18min9hr 23min8hr 48min8hr 36min49hr 34min
Above MAF-HR1min071min013min272min193 secs1min289min25

Most days I was running morning and evening yet what’s incredible is, while I was accumulating all this, I still took Fridays off as a rest day. I’m sure that helped parkrun to feel good on a Saturday morning. Monday to Thursday mornings were a shoed run with a barefoot run round a local field in the evening. At weekends, the evening run was shoed. Here’s a sample week from this period.

Time runMileageAvg paceTime above
Monday00:41:414.5Morning run9:22 / mile
00:30:383.6Evening (barefoot)8:31 / mile
Tuesday00:41:064.5Morning run9:14 / mile7 seconds
00:31:033.6Evening (barefoot)8:38 / mile
Wednesday00:41:354.5Morning run9:21 / mile
00:30:273.6Evening (barefoot)8:27 / mile
Thursday00:43:104.5Morning run9:42 / mile8 seconds
00:30:523.6Evening (barefoot)8:34 / mile
Saturday00:31:154.5Bournemouth parkrun9:42 / mile11 seconds
00:34:393.6Evening recovery9:36 / mile
Sunday01:59:5111.7Morning long run10:16 / mile35 seconds
00:34:283.5Evening recovery9:50 / mile

Going further – July into August

In July I decided to change tack. I was still going to train to MAF-HR but the arrangement of my week would be different. The barefoot running had to come to an end. It was a long, hot summer and through June the ground began to harden up. It eventually became like running on concrete and my body simply couldn’t handle it. One thing I’ve haven’t yet been able to sort out in my running is not being a loud and noisy runner who hammers their feet into the ground. I know one guy who can run half marathons comfortably in a pair of Vibram Five Fingers on tarmac but I can’t do it for more than a few yards.

Part of my experimental mindset also wanted to see what would happen if I ran longer distances so rather than splitting my training day into two runs, I usually only ran once but much further.

Below is a training week which totalled 67+ miles and 10+ hours while only exceeding my MAF-HR for nine minutes. This particular week, my Bournemouth parkrun time scraped under twenty-seven minutes compared to the thirty-one minutes when I started. This was as fast as it ever got during MAF-HR training and it stabilised in the twenty-seven minute range in the following weeks.

Time runMileageAvg paceTime above
Monday01:15:478.1Daily run9:18 / mile1min 23secs
Tuesday01:50:4411.7Daily run9:30 / mile4min 15secs
Wednesday01:14:228.2Daily run9:07 / mile12 seconds
Thursday01:52:0911.7Morning run9:37 / mile
00:36:374Evening recovery9:09 / mile12 seconds
Saturday00:26:525.7Bournemouth parkrun8:39 / mile2min 15secs
00:32:383.8Evening recovery8:35 / mile
Sunday02:11:5914.1Long run9:22 / mile44secs

Many people who try low-HR training say they can’t run slowly. Part of it is they go off too fast but sometimes it’s their ego complaining. I never cared if people saw me running slowly. If anyone asked why I was jogging round at the back of parkrun I’d patiently explain the MAF training system with its focus on improving fat-burning over sugar-burning and then get on with doing my thing.

One of the reasons I stayed motivated was I knew the general approach of the elites is to do a block of ten weeks building their base. Sometimes they do this for longer but either way, the idea of replicating this helped me to overcome any doubt I was feeling when results weren’t showing up plus I had a reward in store to delay the gratification. When I’d completed three months of MAF training, I’d go to Poole parkrun and run all-out.

Even though I was completing Bournemouth parkrun 3-4 minutes faster, over those three months there was barely any improvement to my average weekly pace – it was always a few seconds faster or slower than 9:15/mile. The graph below shows this and the one notably slow week was when I totalled 77+ miles!

The reading I’d done suggested it would take three months for the aerobic base to be built. Not knowing better and not seeing any gradual improvement, I took it to be a timeframe where new speed or pace would appear at the end of it.

It therefore came as vindication when I ran Poole parkrun in 19:52 and I was very pleased to break twenty minutes. I’d been running twenty-one minutes before I started and I’d knocked a minute off with training. I now had the encouragement to continue on and see where this system could take me.

Peak experience – August into September

In the week following the parkrun my average pace improved to 8:51/mile – almost thirty seconds quicker. And it stayed there for the next three weeks. I thought I was finally beginning to see the promised gains and even put in occasional barefoot runs around the field again. These were proving quite efficient and I could run nine minutes with heart-rate averaging 115bpm. At my best I ran a sub-25 5K barefoot round the field without exceeding MAF-HR.

My Sunday long runs to Pamphill and back, which had originally been over ten minute miles, were now breaking nine minutes and I was even seeing a sub-8 mile on the downhill into Wimborne. The MAF training all seemed like it was going in the right direction.

Part of my year’s plan had been to do my UK Athletics coaching courses and I’d become a Leader in Running Fitness in May. The next level up, the Coach in Running Fitness course began with a full weekend in Exeter and meant I wasn’t going to be able to do my usual MAF training runs but I wasn’t too concerned as I figured a short rest would help. Over the two days we did many short practical sessions, both coaching and being coached by our partners but nothing extensive. We weren’t sent on one hour runs or anything, just technical drills, jogs and sprints and while my heart-rate was higher on the Sunday morning I thought nothing of it. I couldn’t get out of doing the practicals but I thought it would also be a test of MAF training’s effectiveness, no runner should have to be so perfect in their training if a system works.

Collapse – September into October

On the Monday morning I woke up … eventually. I’d slept for twelve hours, 10pm – 10am, and still felt exhausted. I played it safe and took the day off from running and resumed the next day. While the first couple of miles were ok, by the end of the run I was slowing my pace drastically to avoid breaking the MAF-HR.

Over a weekend I’d gone from being able to run over eight miles in 1hr10 to barely more than seven. In pace terms it had dropped by a minute per mile (8:38 to 9:40/mile pace). It clawed back slightly over the next four weeks but never back to where it had been. It was still an improvement over where it had been in June and July but not at the late August peak. I was still putting in the effort with weeks of 65, 63, 59 and 58 miles but the pace was often the wrong side of 9min/miles.

Enough – October into November and December

I was beginning to lose faith and needed to know where I was at, so in mid-October I went back to Poole parkrun. I’d run 19:52 nine weeks earlier but now I could only achieve 20:39. It had all fallen apart with one weekend of non-MAF training. I felt disheartened and ready to give up. I’d never truly seen the improvement that seems to be promised by low heart-rate training and I couldn’t see myself shuffling through months of my watch beeping at me.

I was scrabbling around for explanations and diving back into the Maffetone book I began to wonder if the increased heart-rates I was seeing were due to overtraining. It can be one of the signs and MAF’s recommendation for overtraining is to cut your training volume back. So this is what I did. All that happened was it became increasingly harder to run to MAF-HR off less and less training.

I was left wondering whether the previous winter’s virus had flared up again even though I otherwise felt fine. I took more and more rest days logging only 55-60 miles in each of November and December; mileages which had once been my weekly exercise had now become monthly. I was done with MAF training. I’d started it in May, shuffled around for months and not got anywhere closer to the best running I’d done in the preceding years. I felt like I was always waiting for it to come to fruition and it never did.

Looking back

Within this post, I’ve tried to sum up my training for people to understand what I experienced while avoiding getting bogged down in the details. Even now I feel it’s quite stat-heavy. Every run I did that summer is recorded in Garmin and on spreadsheets. So many of the runs are virtually identical in their splits, heart-rates and times that there’s little to be gained from reproducing them, a summation seems enough.

I’m split between saying MAF-training worked and saying it didn’t. Unfortunately I didn’t have an outright benchmark to compare between when I started training and the all-out August parkrun that clocked in at 19:52. I think it was an improvement but I’d been capable of running this sort of time in February before I got hit by a virus.

The first question mark is when you look at my average weekly pace over those first three months it doesn’t change. It’s always somewhere around 9:15/mile. It’s hard to make a perfect comparison because I changed routes from the beginning of July but whenever the opening miles were along the same paths, the splits were very similar. It suggests I wasn’t getting any improvement from the MAF training.

It was after the 19:52 Poole parkrun that things picked up. The pace of my Sunday runs were notably quicker than they’d been in May when I was trudging up hills taking over eleven minutes for a mile.

The trouble is the fast parkrun seems to have been the trigger for this improvement and that isn’t part of the MAF training. The whole theory of MAF training is that you will get quicker simply by running below MAF-HR. [It should be pointed out the book allows you to add in some Anaerobic Intervals from time to time, but if you follow what the Youtubers say it’s simply about low HR training. Once you start mixing aerobic and anaerobic work you’re heading back towards conventional training methods.]

The second big question mark about my MAF training is what happened after my run coaching course. I went backwards and never reached the same heights of the 19:52 parkrun again. If you look at it over the whole five months of training there was no improvement – I was capable of running 21-mins at parkrun before, I ran 20:39 after.

I believe I adhered to MAF training as well as anyone could or should be expected to. I logged hundreds of miles in over 200 hours of training at slow paces. In almost six months I only totalled 4½ hours above a heart-rate of 138bpm and that includes two 20-minute parkruns where it was averaging high 160s. The graph below shows the time running with the yellow blocks representing the small percentage of time spent in excess of my MAF-HR. You can barely see any yellow in the first six weeks which reflects how well I was following the system.

What my stats don’t include are the occasional 30-second sprints I did at the end of training runs two or three times each week, or what occurred on my run coaching course. If this were a true scientific experiment they would be question marks against the validity of what I did, but with over 98% of my training as MAF expects I don’t believe they should be the difference maker to its effectiveness.

The biggest disappointment of having followed the MAF training system for all those months is that any gains I did make, didn’t last. I ran 1,345 miles to try and build the fat-burning system as Phil Maffetone suggests. By the time I ran parkrun on Christmas Day I was only able to achieve 21:45 with notably higher heart-rates than they’d been in August. Where I’d averaged 165 then, now I averaged 169. Where the maximum had been 174, now it was 181. In a matter of months, I’d gotten slower and my fat-burning had got worse. While I trained less in November and December, I’d have hoped the conditioning would last for longer.

But perhaps more importantly, whether I think my experiment proved MAF training works or not, here’s how I felt about it.

My overriding memory is of how much I grew to hate it,

I grew to dread the watch beeping at me to slow down.

Many hours were spent each week trudging along at paces close to 10min/mile. There was never any chance to break out and run fast, I was always trudging along barely lifting my knees or opening my stride. I was always waiting for the watch to beep. Not just a single tone but an irritating diddle-iddle-eee like a demented doorbell from the Seventies.

I enjoyed the evening runs much more but that was more down to the novelty of running barefoot laps round a field and feeling the ground fly beneath my feet. The lack of footwear reduced the energy-cost of running and my heart-rate stayed lower so I got to run faster.

But too many hours were spent trudging along in the mornings; automatically slowing down to trudge up hills; forever aware and vigilant for the beep of the watch ordering me to slow down.

While I was highly motivated to give MAF training a good shot, grasping for any sign of improvement, the slow pace meant my legs barely got out of first gear and I was repeatedly trashing the same muscles day after day. Running so many miles left them feeling hollow and lacking spring, and the lack of variety just made it unenjoyable. The only redeeming factor was that this all took place in the warm of the summer months. I’m doubtful I could have stuck with it through a cold, windy, rainy winter.

The one bright spot was the 19:52 parkrun at Poole and that was it. I believe you need more intrinsic feedback and enjoyment when you’re training hard to stay motivated through the tough times. If, for some reason, you aren’t getting that feedback then this is where having a good coach helps out. They will reassure you that you’re on track to achieve what you’re aiming for. They find ways to say “Don’t worry, it’s going to work out”, to point out any successes you haven’t noticed, or explain why the slump you’re experiencing is normal. In this respect, my years of coaching enabled me to self-coach and keep giving positive messages and reinforcement.

Knowing how my running improved in the years after, I realise I’d never use MAF training again. Its monotony and the age-related MAF-HR meant it didn’t work for me.  Becoming a slave to the beep of a watch and heart-rate monitor sucked the enthusiasm out of me.

I know, as I can show to anyone I coach, there are better ways to train. Endurance miles are an important part of the equation but not the only one. It’s possible to mix up bouts of fast and slow running in ways that allow you to get the best out of yourself and see intermediate improvement while the training comes together.

In part 3, I’ll talk further about what I believe the pros and cons of the MAF training system are. When it can work, what you can learn from it and what the issues are.

Update on my 800m training – April 2021

April arrived and I was excited, after four months of following a Jack Daniels 800m training plan, to see how it had paid off. I know I’ve been feeling fitter, faster and stronger but how would it affect my 800m time?

Back in December I ran 2:58 with estimated splits of 39sec followed by 45, 45, 49s.

My fastest 200 in training has been 37.45s, which multiplies to 2:30, so that gave me a cap to what my top end could be. There’s no way I was going to run all four at 37½ so any thoughts of hitting 2:30 were out.

At the other end, I’ve been feeling fairly comfortable running 200s at 44-45s in recent weeks so figured this would be the pace I’d slow to before the final sprint to the line.

This was my realistic range for what I might achieve – 2:35-45. I was hoping I might break 2:40, as that seems like a nice round number. Here’s what happened …

Time Trial #1 – Friday 9th April 2021

I had two recovery days after my last workout and, on the morning, I went for a 1½ mile run to loosen up. It didn’t feel that good aerobically but my legs felt ok.

I had a light lunch, earlier than usual, to ensure it would be digested by the time I ran at six in the evening. I’d selected this day and time predominantly based on weather. My original plan had been to run on Saturday morning thereby giving me three recovery days but the forecast was for it to be 15mph windy by 8-9am. Friday evening’s weather was only 5-6mph and gave the added bonus of having the day to eat and hydrate going into the run. I usually find my body is happier in the evenings.

While I know the 800 is all about effort, and I’d advise anyone to go out at about 90-95% top speed; I was no longer sure what 90-95% would feel like after all the training. I’m now going faster in sessions, even when legs are tired, than I was in December. Unfortunately I didn’t do any prediction workouts and even if I had I probably wouldn’t be able to pace accurately. I decided to just go out reasonably hard and hang on.

On arriving at the park, I ran warm-up and my legs/breathing felt ok. I did three sets of strides and while I felt I put a decent effort into them, my watch was suggesting they weren’t that quick but I put this down to my Garmin being unable to adjust quickly enough so I remained confident.

I gave myself an eight minute break between warm-up and the time trial to let any waste products get out of my legs. But it was a cold, grey evening and I felt a few spots of rain; so I didn’t hang around as long as I might have liked.

I went with the standing split start I’ve been learning, which makes it harder to start the watch, but I was away.

Oh my word, my legs felt unbelievable.

The first time I’ve run hard in months without any lactate in them. They felt so quick and unhindered that it surprised me. I was almost stumbling. I got to 300m and began to start breathing harder but it didn’t feel as tough as it did last December.

Further on my shoulders began to ache. A lot. This only happened to me once in training but apparently also on the last time trial. My legs began to tie up and stumble but I kept going and overall I was feeling confident that I was cutting through the air at pace.

I reached the final stretch, jumping into the empty road and then back onto the path because of walkers and then gave it my final sprint.

My time was astounding …

I could barely believe it …

Two minutes fifty-five seconds.

Only a three second improvement over last time.

It’s so far below expectations that I couldn’t even feel disappointed about it. Four months of good hard training where I’ve felt fitter, faster, stronger and leaner yet no notable improvement.

Perplexing is the word I’d use about it.

Before the next time trial I did recovery runs. On the Sunday I went for a 10-mile long run and began to wonder whether I was really getting the hip or knee extension required to get full force. I started looking at videos on sprint mechanics. Youtube videos and internet articles, the bane of all self-coached sportspeople, but for once I did glean some information that changed how I’ve been thinking about sprinting.

By the time I ran on the Monday, my legs felt like they’d recovered from the time trial and my mechanics were feeling powerful in a way they haven’t in years.

Time Trial #2 – Wednesday 14th April – five days after the first time trial

I decided to start off slower. The first time trial had estimated 400m splits of 1:23 / 1:32 – which are too far apart – ideally there should only be two or three seconds difference. I decided to go out slower, aiming for around 43s on the first 200 (it was 39s on TT1), and if I could replicate that for the second 200m it would take me through halfway in 1:26. In truth, I expected the first section still to be too quick but hopefully by not putting in as much effort, I would be closer to a decent pairing.

It didn’t work out anything like that. I started with less effort but once again my splits for the first 100-200-300 metres each came in at 20 / 40 / 60 seconds but by the 400m mark I was at 1:24 (compared to 1:22-23 on TT1). Once again I started to struggle with the lactate build-up in my legs and arms, and I began to feel my stride ebb away and become uncoordinated. I went through 600 in 2:12-13 (4=5 secs slower than TT1) and finished off with a somewhat lacking sprint to clock 3:00.  Eke!  Worse than my original time trial.

What to make of all this?

While the three second improvement between December and TT1 is technically quicker, to me it’s a negligible improvement, TT2 shows this. I feel there’s something I haven’t unlocked because as I said before I’ve felt fitter, faster and stronger as the months have gone by.

Thinking back on the training, I’ve struggled throughout on the longer intervals of 400 and 600 metres, which points to an endurance issue. I’ve definitely improved it but perhaps not as much as I needed. My Sunday long run has improved from around 8:35/mile to 8:10/mile but that’s still a long way from my 800m pace of 5:50/mile. I’m hoping the upcoming phase of endurance training will bring them closer together.

With regards to following Jack’s plan, I’ve been 95% faithful. I’ve done every effort of every session as he defined them. I’ve not dropped any workouts, swapped days around or changed any of the parameters of workouts. Admittedly my long runs have been longer than his suggested 1-hour but I don’t think that diminished anything.

The one omission that may have been crucial is not doing strides on two of my weekday Easy runs. That might have dug out more speed for the Time Trials but I deliberately didn’t do them as my running history has shown my endurance goes backwards when I do. Even without them, I have found my top end pace is registering as faster. Back in December I couldn’t break 5min/mile but when the time trials rolled around I hit 4:38/mile.

The next six weeks

I decided there wasn’t any point in doing a third time trial, after the second one came in slower, but to begin the endurance phase immediately. It was noticeable that in the following long run, my easy run pace had dropped.

My new schedule through to June involves running eight mile Steady runs on Tuesdays and Friday with a twelve mile long run on Sunday. The rest of the week will be recovery runs and I’ll slip in strides occasionally to keep all the faster muscles involved.

Week 1 – the Tuesday steady peak with an 8:10 mile and the last four miles were all run closer to 9min/mile. Three days later I was hampered by strong winds on the outward leg and pushed home with a peak 7:55 mile for a two-minute improvement.

Week 2 – the first Steady run of week 2 brought calm conditions and a decent improvement. The fastest mile came in at 7:29 and all the miles except the last were under eight minutes. Seven minutes taken off the previous Tuesday’s run. The Friday Steady was relatively calm but my legs must still have been recovering as the last five miles all came in at about 8:05/mile. The Sunday long run, straight out of bed and fasted at 5:55am, was a season’s best on a hillier route via Gravel Hill and Broadstone averaging 7:58/mile

Rounding up my thoughts and feelings

Overall I’m not too unhappy with how this went. As I’ve already said, I know I’m fitter, faster, stronger and lighter. I’ve lost about half a stone in weight since the beginning of January as I began to fire up some of the muscles fibres I’ve stopped using over the past few years. Simply from that perspective, the training has been worthwhile.

I am slightly frustrated though. I’ve done everything by the book and got no result from it. I’m questioning whether Jack’s plan is right for me as I know I’ve self-trained to run whole kilometres at quicker paces than my all-out 800m. I have one or two thoughts on how I could adjust things but I’m going to stick with it for another round of training. I have a suspicion that the endurance training I’ll be doing through May will actually lead to a faster 800 in June.

It became clear to me in February that, entering this training plan, I had a big gap between my easy pace and my 800m pace that needed to be closed up. I hadn’t run faster than 7:30/mile in the build-up and there was nothing to bridge the gap to my 800m pace. While the training did that to a good extent, I believe I now need to cement over the gap and then I’ll start making progress in my 800 time.

I’ll follow the plan again, which will take me through to September and then see where my 800 is at. But parkrun is due back in June so I may find myself attending one or two of those. If I do so, then I’m going to have to go off Jack’s plan somewhat but so be it.

Update on my 800m training – March 2021

Things are coming together at last. I’m in the final two weeks of the plan and tapering towards a couple of 800m time trials in April to see whether the training has paid off. I already know it has and it’ll be good to see it quantified in my time trial, but that’s for next month’s update!!

Although I began following Jack Daniels’ 800m training plan at the start of December, I actually consider training started back on 21st September when I went back to a steady diet of gentle runs at ten minute mile pace, subsequently introducing strides and a faster session midweek.

So really this has been six months of consistent training. I wanted to write “hard work” but apart from putting in big efforts during the twice weekly workouts, and a difficult spell around the start of February when my body was struggling to adapt, compounded by atrocious weather, I don’t believe it’s been hard work. I’ve looked forward to the training, enjoyed it and it’s not felt like a burden at all.

I realised over this past month my body has begun to feel fit and strong again. I hadn’t appreciated a lack of regular fast running over the past 3-4 years has allowed muscles to weaken. That translated in my day-to-day living as minor aches or pains walking up the stairs, or pushing with my hands to get up off the sofa. Nothing drastic, just minor little things that most people put down to the effects of ageing. In some ways they are the effects of ageing but not irreversibly as those people would have you believe. The takeaway is if you stop using it, you lose it. I actually now feel as strong and fit as I did ten years ago, and would like to believe I’m as fit as I was in my twenties although I know that’s not quantifiably true. My running still isn’t as fast it was when I started parkrunning at forty but I can see it’s getting back there and I believe it’s going to surpass that because of what I’ve learned since then.

March’s training has been focusing on what Jack calls T- and FR- pace running which stand for Tempo and Fast Rep. After adjusting for the expected improvement in fitness, these have been mile repeats at 7:12/mile and short intervals (200-600m) at 5:38/mile respectively. To put this into perspective when I began in December the Fast Reps were 44½ secs per 200m, now they’re at 42secs. Training has been going well enough that I’ve been overcooking these with some coming in at sub-40! I even managed a 37.45s effort (5:01/mile).

One of the problems I faced for T-paced sessions is ideally needing somewhere flat where I could keep pace and effort consistent. In other years, I would have gone to the beach or Poole Park, but with lockdown ongoing, as well as the possibility of sand on the prom or people out for a walk; I decided to look closer to home. The roads right outside my front door are fairly flat and quiet, but I’ve always resisted doing intervals on them for no explicable reason other than I always think of warm-up as taking me away from home. Circumstances led me to conclude this would be the best place for the training. Maximising the area available to me, I created a loop measuring 900m which had no sharp turns and only minor ups and downs. On some sessions, it meant I ended up doing a good 10+ laps of the same roads which, I suspect many people would find boring, but I hardly noticed as I was focused on my breathing, pace and sometimes trying to reach the end without completely falling apart! This ‘track’ worked well apart from, where I run in the road my early morning sessions brought me into conflict with people driving off to work.

Around mid-month, my legs began to feel strong and, the walking up the stairs with ease I talked about, came into my awareness. I could tell a step change in my fitness was about to come through and when it arrived my easy running pace improved by 20 secs/mile. It felt wonderful and that improvement then fed into the next session of T-pace running coming in at sub-7 min/mile rather than 7:10. In turn it made the fastest intervals feel a lot easier although not necessarily faster!

I’m not going to do my usual breakdown of successful / failed repeats until next month’s post but my attention was drawn to a bizarre set of times on last week’s 200s. I run these back and forth along a road which I’ve come to realise, has slight undulations to it, and these result in one direction being marginally faster than the other. The four efforts in the slower direction were 41.66 / 41.66 / 42.20 / 41.66 secs. I’m sure you can see the bizarreness of the fastest three being exactly the same time to one-hundredth of a second, it simply cannot be a coincidence. And if I then tell you the first effort on the previous session was … yes, you’ve guessed it … 41.66secs; there’s some kind of limitation going on somewhere in all of this! I’m not sure what it is, my legs were fatigued that day but in the other direction I ran 41.77 / 40.05 / 39.33 / 37.45 secs so it was possible to go faster under the right conditions. Bizarre numbers aside, it’s been a good month’s training.

I’ve got two more workouts to do in April, then the time trials begin. I’m only intending to do two mid-month but this will be weather dependent. If I feel I’ve underperformed I may slot in a third. Analysing my training times, I’m hopeful I can break 2min40 but I’ll report back whatever the fruits of my harvest are!

Short Sprint – Listen very carefully, I shall write this only once

My Sundays orienteering were spent with my best friend, Malcolm. On a couple of occasions our friend Steve joined us but it didn’t last, I suspect Malcolm’s parents didn’t want the responsibility of all three of us. I was enough to handle as the add-on and Steve had kind of self-invited himself so he got the boot. One thing I recall is him pointing out how noisily I ran, I think his words were “sounds like a baby elephant” and in fairness he wasn’t wrong about it.

I’ve never been a quiet runner. Sometimes I’m aware of this more than at others. I noticed it on my Sunday long run a few months back as I ran up into Broadstone Broadway and my feet were slapping so loudly on the pavement that an old woman looked round and commented that she’d been expecting a herd of runners to come through!

Another morning, as I was warming up on the way to my 800m speedwork session, I was hammering down the road closing in on a slower runner. She looked round well before I reached her, I assume because she heard the commotion, so as I passed I could only think to comment “Yes. I’m a noisy one, aren’t I?”

The problem with being a noisy runner isn’t so much being embarrassed by other’s opinions (although it can be); it’s that making a loud noise implies there is a big force going straight into the pavement rather than being used to propel you along. It’s said that a group of Kenyan runners will go past with a light tappity-tap sound. Of course it would be useful to be able to see this “noise as ground force” quantified in the lab but that’s the realm of university departments which few of us have access to.

After all these years of running I’d come to the conclusion that perhaps I’m simply a noisy runner, but it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m doing anything wrong. But then one Sunday morning my legs were relatively fresh and I noticed I wasn’t as noisy as normal. I thought about it for the first mile or so, noticing what happened on the first incline (stayed relatively quiet) before my attention shifted to rising breathing and heart-rates.

Three miles into the run I’d reached Gravel Hill and bumped into Mike and Nigel from Poole AC. Naturally I tried to look relaxed with good posture as we passed each other. But once past, with the road empty at that early hour, I noticed I’d become noisy again. I was on a downward stretch so I wondered if that could account for the difference, Realising I was stretching forward for each step, I experimented by tilting my pelvis back slightly and the noise disappeared. I returned to the lighter tappity-tap which I’d begun the run with. I also noticed that my left glute began to ache as it became more engaged.

I tried to maintain this feeling of pelvic tilt and glute engagement through the rest of the run. By the time I reached mile eight, I started to get a pain in my core muscles to the right of my belly button but it disappeared after a minute or two. I pushed through the rest of the run concentrating on my form.

Now I should point out that what worked for me is not an instruction for others. It may be useful but it depends on what they’re already doing. When I say that I tilted my pelvis back, it may be that it was already tilted too far forward (“posterior pelvic tilt”) and needed to be tilt to get more neutral. For another runner, making an adjustment from neutral would give them an undesirable anterior pelvic tilt.

The important thing to understand is I did two things which both revolve around awareness. Firstly I was listening to how noisy and slappy my feet had become so I played around with my pelvic tilt. Doing that I was then able to find a position which reduced the noise and where I could feel more engagement of my left glute. Using awareness in this way can be a great way to improve your running. It remains to be seen how this affects my running in the longterm but I’m hoping I can get the swiftness and lightness of a gazelle rather than the baby elephant!

Weather to run

I’m a big believer you can train in all weathers. There’s only one thing that stops me and that’s ice, mainly because it’s too easy to get injured but anything else I’m willing to get out there. My resolve has been tested recently with a bitterly cold wind and driving rain alternating for what seems like the past month. But I suspect my body is trying to convince me to have a little break. I certainly don’t recall it being as tough this time last year.

I remember in the first winter after setting up Poole parkrun, I got in the car and its temperature gauge said -6C, or it may even have been -10. Whatever it was, by the time I arrived at the park it had risen to -2 degrees but with no wind it was a calm, still day. Not even a breeze. Wrapped up warm with thick leggings, long sleeve running top, t-shirt over it, plus obligatory hat and gloves it was a surprisingly pleasant morning run. The lack of wind chill made all the difference.

All layered up for a cold morning

At the other extreme I suffered heatstroke one summer. Or at least that’s my self-diagnosis of what happened. I’d planned a ten mile run at the beach on the prom – five miles out, five miles back. The outward leg went well but what I didn’t realise was the breeze on my back was pushing me along. It was intended as an easy-paced run and I found myself ticking along nicely at 7:45/mile but when I turned around the breeze hit me. I immediately began to find running harder. It was the height of summer so it shouldn’t have been a surprise but I’d done the same run the day before without incident. By seven miles I was slowing to nine minute miles and stopped to stand in the shade of a beach hut. Hands on knees, head down, not feeling great and my heart-rate only recovered to 115bpm – a good thirty or forty beats higher than I’d expect. I tried running the eighth mile and could barely struggle along at ten minute mile pace so eventually decided it would be safest walking the last two miles back to the car.

I’ve run in heat before without issue but the temperature registered as 26C which is higher than I’m used to. Normally I avoid running in the heat of the day, I either go early morning or in the evening. There’s no point running at the beach on a sunny day, I’ve tried it and you encounter walkers, the pushchair mafia three or four abreast, dogs on leads, as well as other exercisers running, cycling or roller-blading. It’s too crowded to have an enjoyable session and impossible to do a workout on target.

Running in snow is fine when you’re the first one out there. Sound is dampened, all is quiet and it feels fantastic. But Poole has its own microclimate so snow is a rare thing. In a lifetime of living here I can remember decent snowfalls in only six or seven winters. Most times it’s melted away within a day. I don’t think I saw a decent snowfall from 1993 to 2008; it’s that rare around here. This year the news outlets warned of the second coming of the Beast from the East hitting large parts of the country – the picture below shows the snowfall that hit us. So my snow running experience is limited and certainly never been tried in knee deep drifts.

Typical Bournemouth snowfall!

We did have two days of snowfall in March 2018 although it was barely a foot deep. The first morning was a Saturday so I ran to Poole parkrun and was highly disappointed to find it was called off even though there’d been no notice on the website when I checked at 8am. The great thing about the first day of snow is everything shuts down and no-one else goes out other than to sled, build snowmen or throw snowballs. The fresh snow is easy to run on and the council is good at getting the main roads gritted and cleared. Without traffic, the roads become the perfect track for running on. But the good times rarely last and by the second evening of our snowfall, everything was melting, turning slushy and the pavements packing down, turning to ice. Unfortunately I came a cropper only a few hundred metres from home after running five miles in the morning and five in the evening. I lost my footing and went straight down spread-eagled. I believe that may have been the cause of a groin injury that came on over the next month but I’m not sure as I was running big mileage during that period.

Rain is never fun to run in unless it’s warm rain on a hot summer’s day but that’s pretty rare. Most rain really isn’t that bad to run in. If you look out the window and it’s absolutely pelting down, just wait and it eases off within ten minutes. When it’s not pelting down, it looks worse than the reality of being out in it. Often I’ve looked out pessimistically at a rainy day before stepping out of the backdoor to find it’s not torrid at all.

A few years ago the big man-up phrase was “Skin is waterproof”, but my logic is slightly different – you’re going to get sweaty and shower when you get home so getting wet first doesn’t make much difference. Some like to wrap up with layers and rain jackets to keep from getting too wet. I take the opposite approach – the less wet kit there is clinging and weighing me down, the more enjoyable it stays. It’s easy for wet kit to become cold, uncomfortable kit. On arriving home a pair of shorts and a t-shirt can be thrown on the radiator, and it doesn’t take long to towel off dry.

I remember getting stoned one lunchtime along Baiter Park. I’d started off in bright sunshine in Poole Park but as I came round onto Whitecliff Park ominous black clouds were forming and then the rain came. My biggest concern was getting caught by lightning as I’d have nowhere to hide. But while it never struck, hail did. It only lasted five minutes but it was painful. Stinging with every hit, the wind blowing me back and the rain soaking me through. I found myself running bent over, head turned down to protect my eyes from getting haildashed. It was an occasion when I considered quitting the run but some part of me wouldn’t quit. Anyway what was I going to do? I’d still have had to get back to the car, so I might as well run back. Then just like that, the hail stopped, the rain ended and the clouds parted so I was back to blue skies and sunshine.

Windy days are my least enjoyable. At 6’2” with equivalent reach I bear the brunt of a headwind in a way smaller people will never understand. There’s too much surface area creating drag which in turn slows the pace to a crawl. But it’s the wind on cold days where the wind chill ramps up that have begun to do for me. Leaving the house with leggings, long sleeve top, gloves, hat, even a buff to try and cover up every piece of skin I’m like an Arctic explorer fearing frostbite if any part is left exposed. Captain Oates springs to mind on these days “I am just going outside and may be some time.”

I suffer with cold hands and feet, always have. I’ve even run with two pairs of gloves in the past and had my hands go numb. Feet going numb is something weird I’ve experienced on a few occasions, it’s very disconcerting not being able to feel how your foot is striking the ground. Generally I warm up once the blood gets pumping but if I forget gloves I’m in trouble. One September, I misjudged an unseasonably cold morning. An hour into my long run I’d lost half the feeling in my right hand. Two fingers, a thumb and most of the palm were numb. Returning home I could barely hold the door key and certainly didn’t have the dexterity to unlock it. I had to employ a two-handed, childlike manoeuvre with my palms pressed either side of the key to create enough pressure to turn it. Having gone through the pain of hands getting cold, I then had to endure the pain of them warming back up, tingling as the blood flowed into the constricted veins.

I recently ran at the beach during the cold spell. The wind was 20+ mph and the chill had it feeling like -4C. Sand was whipping across the prom, a danger of getting it in the eyes, and I only managed a mile before turning round. It was meant to be a recovery run so my legs weren’t at their best as it was. By the time I got back to the car, the tips of my fingers were numb, even in gloves, and the layers of clothing weren’t enough to stop me shivering sat back in the car. It reminded me of the Saturday morning two days before my run streak reached a year when it was a howling storm and pitch dark. So close to the goal I had to run but went out in shorts, t-shirt and no gloves; arriving home I was chilled to the bone. I stripped off my wet clothes, put on my dressing gown and went back to bed where it took over half an hour to warm back up.

I never used to be a big reader of weather forecasts. After all if you’ve planned to do something, you can’t control the weather, just get out there and do it. However in recent times, I’ve begun to look at what the weather will be like during the day to see if there’s a best time to run. Should I get out early at 10am, wait until midday or even the evening? Is the wind picking up or dying down as the day goes on, are the chances of rain increasing or decreasing? What is never in question is whether I’ll do a session. I don’t look at the weather forecast and use it to talk myself out of running. I only look at it to see when the best time to run might be. That’s been more applicable with pandemic lockdowns, but once we return to normal and life regains its own schedule the runs will have to be slotted in wherever the rest of life dictates. It’s just a case of making sure I wear the right kit for the conditions.

Update on my 800m training – Feb 2021

What a block of training this has been! You’ll recall from my previous update that I’ve been following an 800m plan written by Jack Daniels and in his notes he said this phase would be the most demanding. He didn’t lie. In the previous update, most of my workouts were short intervals at paces between 5:30 – 6:30/mile to get the legs used to running faster. The rest of my week was easy running to recover. It never felt too bad as my legs have always liked faster running and coped very well with it.

What I hadn’t appreciated about my fitness was … the huge gap in it. Before starting this training I did three months of easy running where the majority of it was 8-10 min/mile. My long runs for example were averaging 8:30/mile in November. Along the way I clocked a few miles close to 7:30 (but only a few) and this is where the gap opened up. I had nothing to connect me between those autumn runs, at 7:30 or slower, to the 800m speedwork at 6:30 or quicker. Bridging the gap is what this phase aimed to do as you’ll see when I explain JackD’s T-pace and I-paced running.

To begin the recap let’s rewind to mid-January and the start of this phase. The first thing was to up the paces to account for (hopefully) improved fitness coming off of the previous block of training. This meant where I’d been running 200s at 48secs they were now expected to be run in 47 secs. Faster 200m repetitions quickened up from 44 to 43s and the other short interval distances were all increased using equivalent paces to these.

The sessions focused on what JackD terms I-pace training which are longer intervals at your predicted 5K pace. These began at three mins (where I managed 700 metres) and incrementally stretched out to five minutes (1,200m). I like what he says on p.108 of his 3rd edition book about how this “adds an aerobic stress but not any faster running speeds, which would be an additional new stress for the body to deal with.” i.e. you only add one stress, not two.  My I-pace has been 6:50/mile (4:15/km).

The T-pace (Threshold) running should have been around 7:20/mile but I’ve found myself running them at 7:10-15 fairly comfortably. I think my recent years of endurance training probably made this easier to achieve than expected. There was also one 40-minute run at M-pace (Marathon) which I ran at 7:45/mile but could feel myself flagging in the last 5-10 minutes. Another gap filler.

There were still lots of 200s, 300s, 400s and 600s being run at fast paces but not the 100+ efforts of last time. Once again I’ve summarised it all in a table below and you can see, while the shorter efforts were generally successful, I struggled on the longer 400s and 600s. I think this is because my legs were often still recovering from the I- and T-paced sessions which totalled well over 45km.

Target timeOn targetMissedEffortsFastest
Stats for those who love them!

What’s been most interesting is Sundays have alternated between doing a Long Run one week, and a workout the next. By the time I’d run warm-up, efforts, jogged recoveries and warmed down home; the Sunday workouts were close to ten miles – not far off my standard 11-12 mile Long Run.  Some of the midweek workouts have also been in the 8-10 mile range.

The first couple of weeks had their usual slump as the legs got used to the new regime. There were some aches and pains occurring especially in my left knee and right calf but these disappeared about three weeks in. My body began to feel comfortable with the training but I fatigued after a heavy fourth week. I found myself sleeping more and the fifth week of training was the toughest I’ve encountered so far. Thursday of week 5 was the workout where I physically couldn’t run fast enough on a set of fast 400m efforts missing target by 2-3 seconds. Fortunately in week 6, my legs perked up and I reaped the benefits of all the training so far. In the final workout I recorded my three fastest 200m times since I started – hurrah! Arriving home my Garmin promptly corrupted the workout so it wouldn’t upload. Fortunately I’d done a cursory review of the numbers in the kitchen. Frustrating but not the end of the world.

My overall mileage stayed about the same as previously and the six weeks resulted in 45 / 45 / 42 / 45 / 41 / 46 miles. These have been achieved with 6hr10 – 40 mins running each week depending on how my other commitments allow.

Weatherwise the training was a nightmare. As a golfer I’ve always found the end of January / start of February to be the worst conditions and I usually took a month off to stay warm at home. But, as a runner, you need to be getting out as often as possible so it’s a case of wrapping up warm, wearing the right gear. This year’s weather was rather diabolical – a combination of high winds, minus-figures temperatures, almost some snow, and two weeks of heavy rain. It seemed to dominate the forecast for every scheduled workout but there were one or two nice sunny days jumping out from nowhere to give surprise relief. Even so, when you’re struggling with fatigue, it’s not encouraging to go into a session knowing high winds will be suppressing your pace. But it’s already beginning to feel like “Spring is here” with mornings getting brighter and even birds tweeting!

The next six weeks focus on T-paced work which so far I’ve found fairly easy, but it includes fast repeats out to 600m which are going to need to be run in 2:06 – the fastest I’ve run so far is 2:13. I’m not looking forward to those but let’s see what happens ..