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.

Streak ends

Two years later than planned but my running streak finally came to an end at 845 consecutive days of 5K or more. The daily average was 6.3 miles, a touch over 10K. It started back on Dec 8th 2019 at the Christchurch 10K. I ran 46:30 that day and knew I needed to rebuild my running fitness. I’d been running 10K in 42-mins in the summer but about three weeks before the race, I’d caught a mystery illness that affected me for five days – headache, fever and then a loss of fitness. I’m tempted to say it was some early variant of Covid19 and well, who knows.

So I targeted rebuilding fitness thinking I’d enter Bournemouth Bay 1/2M at the start of April 2020. But, news of the Covid19 pandemic broke and I held off entering and it turned out to be the correct decision as we went into lockdown in late March. By then my running was beginning to pick up and I was running a nine mile Steady run around the locale in 1hr9.

My run streak was out to 100 days and I thought I’d see how far I could take it, fully expecting we’d be out of lockdown in 2-3 months and everything would be getting back to normal. If it went on longer and I reached September with my run streak then I’d try to take it through to the end of the year so I could say I’d done it. Of course, it didn’t work out like that.

With the endurance looking good, I dived into a routine of hill sprints, bounding and plyometrics to strengthen the legs. I overdid it and by mid-June I was feeling overcooked, suffering aches and pains every morning, before and after runs. These went on through July and August even though I adjusted my routine.

At the beginning of September I made an honest assessment of the situation. As much as I wanted to try to get to the end of the year with my running streak, I knew four more months of the aches and pains would be too much. If it had been say 4-6 weeks I could have pushed through. So I made a deal with myself, I’d back off the training pace but if I was still in agony at start of October, I’d take some rest days and end the streak. It worked, as after three weeks, the pain had eased but I still wasn’t fully recovered so I backed off even slower than the 9:15/mile I was jogging at. Some way off the seven minute mile pace I was running for 5K.

The true beginning of my rebuild, and all that has come since, began on September 21st 2020. I cut my daily recovery runs from an hour to forty minutes and dropped the pace down even further. My first three runs averaged 10:02/mile, 10:05/mile, 9:48/mile! I kept a Sunday long run and this came in at 9:25/mile. Within 2-3 weeks, I was beginning to feel much better, all the aches and pains had disappeared and the pace was a little quicker. There was still the occasional recovery run which was closer to 10min/mile but my 3rd Sunday run came in at a more effortful 8:41/mile (HR averaging 146bpm). By November I was beginning to feel strong, to add in strides and look for ways to work on adding more ‘stress’ to the runs. Everything was beginning to feel comfortable.

At the start of December, ten weeks after starting my rebuilding; I began 800m training with a time trial. And since then my training has been ever focused on that. I ran every day of 2020 and 2021 and continued on into 2022. Finally two years later than planned, I entered this year’s Bournemouth Bay run. I spent February and March running the nine mile Steady run again. Where in 2020 it had peaked at 1hr09, now it was 1hr03. My run streak finally ended two days before the half marathon and gave the legs a couple of days to carbo load and hopefully be at their best. It didn’t turn out that way but that’s a different story.

And so having run the half marathon I began a new streak … I didn’t run for the next five days!


This is the moral of the story. Streaks don’t matter – they should support your training – not be the goal. My run streak ended at 845 days because I had a race coming up. I didn’t run for five consecutive days because I was recovering from it.

On reflection there were one or two days in my run streak where I would have been better off taking a rest day or doing the run at a different time of day, or shorter distance – even I’m not immune to flights of ego but it never came to dominate. I was ready to give the streak up in September 2020 when the aches and pains were at their peak but some adjustments allowed everything to get on track.

But the streak itself? Well, it’s nice to talk about but the experience is more important to me. I’ve learned so much from going out every day. You get to see how the body is affected and reacts to tiredness. You begin to learn how quickly you recover, to learn when the legs genuinely don’t have more and when they do. And, of course, my fitness has improved. Recently able to run nine miles at the same pace as I would have run 5K a couple of years ago.

For the most part though, I’ve simply enjoyed going out for a run or jog. There is no new streak. I doubt I will ever run every day for over two years again. I hope to be entering more races and taking rest days before and after them.

Eleven Bay Run Half Marathons – a retrospective

This year was apparently the 39th running of the Bournemouth Bay runs. I did my first in 1996 but it was almost a decade before I got back to it. My sporting time back then was dominated by playing and coaching volleyball; as well as going to circuit training and just about any other sport that I could find to fill my time with.

In 1996, like the majority of runners in yesterday’s race, I did a couple of months’ worth of basic training registering 10-20 miles per week at most in my preparation. I’d run my first half marathon at Portsmouth a month before and, in the lead-up to that, my only training aim was to do the distance in training albeit at a slow pace. I recall running on the February 29 (leap year) from Bournemouth pier to Boscombe pier and back (I reckoned it was 3-miles – not bad given it’s actually 2.85!). Then from Bournemouth pier to Shore Road and back (6-miles estimate, actually 5.6) and then another run to and from Boscombe pier to take it out to twelve miles which with a bit of distance to and from the car parked up on the East Cliff gave me confidence I would manage the distance. Then I went to Poole Sports Centre and played a volleyball match. That’s how I rolled in those days, cram in as much sport and activity as possible. No thought or understanding for recovery or the impact of doing too much.

I didn’t worry about how fast I was running, it was all about completing it. It was a time when my legs were big and strong from all the volleyball jumping and on race day I felt I couldn’t run any faster. I now I understand I simply didn’t have the aerobic training required for a fast half marathon and that reflects in my average heart-rate being in the 170s during the 1996 race. I distinctly recall running along, feeling comfortable, chatting to the chap near me and saying my heart-rate was at 177bpm and him replying “That sounds a bit high”. I’d tend to agree with him now!!

YearTime (HH:MM:SS)RankPace (min/mile)Avg. HR
19961:50:3510th8:26170-175
20051:54:46Slowest8:45
20061:49:559th8:23
     
20101:38:304th7:31
20121:31:08Fastest6:57160
20131:39:436th7:36159
20161:40:178th7:39157
20171:35:373rd7:18157
20181:39:547th7:37158
20191:39:345th7:35155
20221:33:432nd7:08153

By the time I ran in 2010, I’d given up the volleyball and while my legs were still big I was running more regularly yet rarely more than twenty miles per week. I’d run a 1hr16 ten mile race three weeks before and most of my lunchtime 6K training runs were all-out efforts with a long run on the weekend. That was a game changing race as I set off fast from the beginning where previously I’d always lagged back then enjoyed working my way through the field. When I ran 1hr38 I was somewhat elated to take over ten minutes off my previous best.

It was late 2011 when I started taking running seriously and building my aerobic base. So at this stage, I still had the strong legs and while I didn’t fully understand how to train, I was beginning to learn. It led to my fastest half marathon ever and two-plus minutes ahead of this year.

What strikes me about most of the intervening half marathons is they’re all grouped around the 1hr39 mark. This could be a coincidence but I don’t think so. I’m sure it’s some kind of indicator of my natural level when I’ve done some training but not too much. The halfs in 2013, 2016, 2018 were all coming back from injury during the month or so before.

The one recent outlier is 2017 (my 3rd fastest) when I had deliberately done lots of jogging in the two months preceding it (400+ miles) and less than fifteen total miles at race pace. The result was good but I paid for it in the following days with soreness lasting until Thursday. Even so when I’d recovered three weeks later, I found myself running a 2½-mile effort run at 6:30/mile – significantly faster than the 7min/mile pace I had been running it in the weeks before the half.

Comparing 2012 vs 2022

In 2012, the average heart-rate was 160bpm and I spent fifty-nine minutes above it, maxing at 170bpm! Compare that to yesterday where my max only touched 160 a couple of times. It’s clear my aerobic base is improving yet that isn’t the only part of the story even for a half marathon. I was able to run a faster half marathon in 2012 with a worse base but the faster speed wasn’t there. I’m fairly sure my legs didn’t have enough taper from all the training but had I done so, I might have been in record-breaking form.

The flipside to the heart-rates is when I look back at my early Bay runs, I didn’t have enough of an aerobic base to run these sort of times. The high heart-rates in the 170s demonstrate that. There’s some kind of balance to be found.

Mileage isn’t everything

Another point of interest when comparing my 2012 and 2022 runs are my training logs for the preceding weeks. In 2012, my average weekly mileage was 33½ – 39, 26, 30, 36, 39 and 32; which is about 50% less than what I did this year when I was averaging 50.

I seem to run much better off lower mileage – perhaps in part because it leaves less to recover from. In those days I would take at least one day – Friday – off each week; this year I’d been running every day for over two years until I rested the two days before the half marathon.

I’m increasingly conscious that while some bang on about doing high mileage – it is not the be-all and end-all of running success. And certainly not critical if all you’re interested in is a parkrun or 10K race. Get quick over the shorter distances and the mileage will naturally increase.


I‘m hopeful once my legs recover I will be in a position to surpass everything I did in 2012. Back then I spent the year running sub-20 every Saturday at parkrun and training hard to break nineteen minutes but it never quite happened until the end of the year – after I’d done a block of endurance training. I always knew endurance training was important but could never quite understand how, ten years on I do.

2022 Bournemouth Bay Half Marathon recap

The result of my half marathon wasn’t quite what I hoped for. I’d gone into it with very decent training runs – the highlight of which was a session of 3x two miles which had been at 6:27, 6:32, 6:37 pace and consequently left me believing I might have a chance of breaking 1hr30 (6:52/mile). But it wasn’t to be and the run felt hard from start to finish as I ran 1hr33:43.

At eight miles I was just hanging onto 6:52 pace but there were hills to come and I faded badly. Reaching the 9th and 10th miles my quads began to ache and seize up. I struggled up the overcliff incline at about 7:40/mile with the added demoralisation of being overtaken by other runners. The steep descent down to Boscombe pier at mile 12 had the quads screaming as I hit close to 5min/mile and then there was the final run to the finish, again with runners overtaking me and barely able to summon a sprint at the end.

Going backwards isn’t a pleasant feeling but this was my 4th fastest half marathon ever and the 2nd fastest on this course – so it wasn’t a complete mess. And the other point of rationalisation is that six months ago, the aim of winter training was to improve my endurance base and I’m sure I’ve done that. My average heart-rate for the run came in at 153bpm which is notably lower than many of my past runs.

What went wrong?

At the start-line, I positioned myself near the front but my legs just never felt like they had any decent push. Usually if you’ve tapered well, when you get to a race you have to hold yourself back to avoid going off too fast. That simply didn’t happen and when I looked at the GPS data, I never went any faster than 6:40/mile apart from with the assistance of downhills. The mile down Alum Chine came in at 6:22!

Compare this to the training runs when I was doing back-to-back miles in training at 6:27/mile and there was something missing. I believe it was down to leaving my taper too late. Or more precisely that I barely did one. I’d been running fifty miles per week and then the week before the race was forty-five miles and then I only ran seventeen miles in the days preceding the race. It’s possible I dropped off too sharply but I’m inclined to think my legs never quite perked back up from some of the great training runs I did. I never felt the bounce of fresh legs going up and down the stairs at home.

Realistically legs being under recovered has always been a problem with my training and races. I tend to be a hard worker as I want to get the most out of myself. A few years ago, I used to know I was on the edge because the legs were sore, I got grumpy and couldn’t wait for the taper to begin. But these days it’s much subtler and I’ve gradually scaled back my efforts to account for this. But I simply didn’t scale back early enough this year. I felt I was flying in training and my legs were always feeling great. But the bounce disappeared about two weeks out which is when I started scaling back and I hoped it would return. It didn’t. On reflection, I should simply have gone out and jogged those last two weeks until the legs perked up. Even a three week taper wouldn’t be out of the question.

Quads

I don’t recall my quads ever hurting this much during or after a race. It may well have done but I don’t recall it happening recently – usually it’s my hips that hurt. I like to think this is a sign of how my running form is changing from the form drills I’ve been doing since October. It was the outsides of my legs that hurt all the way up to the glutes and I believe this is a sign I’m getting good hip extension. If I’ve got that right my stride should be lengthening as I push off more powerfully.

While I didn’t get the result I was hoping for I did come out of winter training with my primary goal met – improve endurance. I’m now ready to get back to training for speed as I hope (and expect) to improve my 800m time this summer. First I need a week or so to let the legs fully recover and then I’m going to start looking at hill sprints and other short interval work as a way to pick up the speed.

Update on my 800m training – Feb-Mar 2022

To recap: since my last 800m time trial I’ve spent the winter following the traditional offseason regime of an 800m runner. Building the endurance base while slotting in some fast parkruns to try and build leg strength / speed replicating cross-country racing.

After a couple of months my parkrun time began to drop but it was also clear my top-end speed was limited. This was never a problem for me when I was younger because I used to throw myself into every run, play sports with lots of sprints / jumps and do circuit training. But my thighs have lost 3-4 inches over the past few years by focusing on endurance over speed and I lost over a stone during 2021 (188lbs down to 174lbs).


By end of January, I’d improved my speed for a kilometre interval to 3:42 and moved back towards endurance work in preparation for the Bournemouth Bay Half marathon which takes place this Sunday. The plan was as follows:

  • Monday – 30-min recovery run fasted straight out of bed followed by ten minutes of form drills.
  • Tuesday – session to work on half marathon pace (aiming for 6:45-50/mile).
  • Wednesday – 40-min recovery run plus ten minutes of form drills.
  • Thursday – 1hr easy run around Poole Park – mostly flat.
  • Friday – an hour Steady run around the area – 7+ to 9 miles.
  • Saturday – easy parkrun. As I no longer wanted to work on speed, I only planned to do one all-out parkrun about midway through these last eight weeks just to keep it ticking over.
  • Sunday – while in an ideal world I would have lengthened my standard 11.7 mile long run out past the half marathon distance, I made a choice not to. I’m interested to see whether the last mile or so of the half is a debacle or whether the rest of the training sees me through.

Tuesday

I began February with a couple of 10K-paced interval sessions of 6x1K with 200m jog recovery. These were a follow on from the 5x1K with standing recovery I’d done throughout December and January. By using a shorter jogging recovery, I’d begin to improve the aerobic functioning of the muscle fibres.

 Effort 12 (uphill)34 (uphill)54 (uphill)
1-Feb4:014:124:094:164:174:23
8-Feb3:584:043:584:104:044:10
6x1K with 200m jog recovery intervals

My notes show the first session was “trying to fit in one session too many over the past five days” and when you compare the second week’s numbers there’s a clear improvement.

I’d like to have repeated this session for a few more weeks but I needed to move onto working at half-marathon pace where the aim was to do much longer intervals at a slower pace (4:12 – 4:15 per km or 6:45 – 50 per mile). The jog recoveries were a quarter of the distance covered.

 Effort 123456TotalPace
15-Feb6x1mile6:496:526:526:546:457:0241:146:53
22-Feb4×1½ mile10:0210:0910:0110:1140:236:44
1-Mar3×2 mile13:1613:1913:2840:036:41
8-Mar2×3 mile19:4220:2440:066:40
15-Mar3×2 mile12:5413:0413:1239:126:32
22-Mar4×1½ mile9:559:599:569:5839:486:38

While the first week was tough and I barely got on pace for the efforts, the following weeks saw a phenomenal improvement as the distance lengthened out and the body adapted. A couple of the sessions were run on windier days 7-15mph and, while the course I use was relatively flat and on a figure of 8 loop – running into the wind was sapping.

The standout sessions were the 4th and 5th weeks where the 3-mile efforts were worth 20-21 minute parkruns (back-to-back); and then the following week on the shorter three 2-mile efforts the pace came in at 6:27, 32, 37 avg. The final week was slightly disappointing as I didn’t get close to matching it but I think my legs were struggling after an amazing Steady run on the previous Friday.

Friday

With the 7½ mile Steady run I’d been doing through January now taking 53-55 minutes, I decided to go back to an old 9-mile route from home along Gravel Hill and through Canford Heath that would be more challenging due to a long uphill on miles seven and eight.

Run TimePace per mileFastest mile
11-Feb1:05:547:176:57
18-Feb53:23*7:106:43
25-Feb1:03:387:086:39
4-MarNo steady run  
11-Mar1:04:437:136:40
18-Mar1:02:367:016:35

Notes: 18-Feb run round the shorter 7½ mile route due to Storm Eunice with its 30mph winds that day. The run itself was never too bad. No steady run on 4-Mar as fast parkrun the next day.

The last time I ran this route in April 2020, I set a course record of 1hr08+ so the first run at 1hr06 was a significant improvement. To be running 7min/mile pace by the end of the training block is testament to how this run combined with the Tuesday Threshold session has made a significant improvement to my endurance and stamina.

Saturday

The only fast parkrun came in at 20:48 at Upton House. It was an extremely windy day and my legs were still fatigued from the Tuesday session. So it was only a small five second PB but I’m sure at Poole with fresh legs I’d happily be sub-20.

Sunday

The long run has continued to be early on a Sunday morning usually at 6am and always fasted, straight out of bed.

Having set a course PB on 28-January I was stunned by how badly the following week went. My legs were absolutely gone and barely had any pace. I think it was down to the change in training phase but gradually as the weeks went by the speed quickened up on these despite doing a challenging Friday session each week.

 Run timePace per mileAvg HR
30-Jan1:28:287:35147
6-Feb1:42:098:43139
13-Feb1:39:308:29135
20-Feb1:37:238:20138
27-Feb1:33:077:57144
6-Mar (parkrun on Sat)1:34:158:04137
13-Mar1:32:177:52144
20-Mar1:31:557:51136
27-Mar (10-mile on flat)1:15:327:28

I finished off the training block with a 10-mile run last Sunday up on the flat past Bournemouth Uni, through Winton and back through Kinson. At 7:28/mile it was the fastest Sunday long run I’ve ever done and a real confidence booster ahead of the half marathon.

Mileage

The weekly mileages during this period have been 47, 51, 52, 50, 52, 51, 50, 47 miles for a total of 400 miles in two months. This has been by running every day of the week and accumulating 6 – 6½ hours training time each week. More often the weekly structure has seen Tuesday totalling 10-miles, Friday 9-miles and Sunday almost 12-miles for 60% of the weekly mileage.

Half marathon on April 3rd

I was really pleased with this block of training as preparation for the half marathon – I think there’s a high probability of breaking my 1hr31 PB if conditions are good. I’m hoping to break the 1hr30 but the legs have felt fatigued and I left my taper late.

Even so, the whole point of the past six months was to build a bigger endurance base during the winter ready for another round of 800m training and I’ve certainly done that. I think I’m at the fittest I’ve ever been, it’s just a case now of proving this with race times.

With this improved aerobic base, I’m hopeful I can now begin to push the speedwork harder. I’d shied away from running efforts too fast previously as that usually undoes my training, resetting my fast-twitch muscle to anaerobic and precipitating an aerobic rebuild.

I’m not quite sure how I will train in April. I need to give myself at least a week of recovery running after the half marathon and I’d like to see where my parkrun time is at. After that, I’m intending to resume 800m training and while I may use JackD’s sessions as the basis of my training, I’m going to tweak them to try and help improve my top-end speed. Building leg speed is becoming a priority and I may even start doing some hill sprints – I’m just nervous about that because when I did them two years ago, everything went backwards!

Anyway, let’s see how the half marathon goes and leave the future until after that.

The Ups and Downs of Training

My training rebuild began a year and a half ago. Going into it I was running the same route every Sunday in 1hr41:15. I state this level of accuracy because there were three weeks were it came in with within ten seconds of this time! This was July-August 2020 and aligned to multiple aches and pains, and no improvement on my interval work it was clear I needed to rebuild.

So I embarked on the rebuild and after a couple of deliberate slow runs didn’t see much difference. Sometimes they were slightly slower, sometimes slightly faster but there was a small improvement and by the end of two months my fastest time was 1hr39.

Then I began 800m training and after another month I was scraping under 1hr35 so things were looking good. My pace had gone from around 8:40/mile to around 8:15/mile but that was where it stayed for the rest of the training cycle.

Come Spring 2021 I went back to a block of endurance work and now the times tumbled to the point where I ran the route in 1hr29 (7:38/mile). “Fantastic” I thought.

When I started my next cycle of 800m training I knew my legs would be tired some Sundays, so didn’t expect it to be this good every week but what surprised me is the long run times dropped back to around 1hr35 fairly permanently. There was the occasional glimpse of a good run but all too often the following week would go backwards.

Once again in October 2021, I picked up a block of endurance work and the long run edged to times around 1hr30 again until eventually I set a new course record by ten seconds (21-November). At last, I was going to see progress on my long run but once again I was proved wrong.

I moved on to doing fast kilometre intervals during the week.  And my long run went backwards (terribly) as I suffered a VO2 lull – 1hr45 for the long run! Over the following five weeks it gradually quickened up until I set yet another all-time best with 1hr28min26 on (30-January-2022).

Then I changed training phase to Threshold Intervals and once again the long run went backwards (1hr42!) but it’s gradually been rebuilding week-by-week until last Sunday came in at 1hr31min54.

I’m not too bothered as it’s a good example of how training can be up and down week-to-week but overall the trend should be improvement. Invariably it depends on what else you’ve been doing during the training week but also quite noticeably on whether the focus is on building speed or endurance.

Here’s a graph of the runs week-by-week. You can see the general trend is towards faster times but even then it’s not clear cut. But what I know is that my parkrun times and steady runs have been improving and these will impact elsewhere in the week so that explains the variance on Sundays.

You have to have confidence in your training and never over-react to a bad run or two.

Update on my 800m training – January 2022

January has been a revealing month for training. It has really ebbed and flowed, showing the typical pattern of ups and downs that every runner can expect. While the intricate details of my training may not be of interest to everybody, the pattern should be.

In mid-December, I concluded I was struggling for aerobic speed. While my top-end speed hasn’t been fantastic I have been able to run 200s at 5min/mile pace but, at all the parkruns I ran through Oct-Nov-Dec, I’d struggled to run any kilometre quicker than 3:55. Compare this to my past and I could run one in 3:45 in 2019 and much faster in the years before that.

I embarked on running kilometre intervals with three minutes standing recovery which had always been an old session favourite. The route I use is undulating with definite up and downhill legs. The recent sessions were slightly complicated by workmen creating a cycle path on the other side of the road and parking their vehicles along the verge. But only on one occasion did this impact me.

I began these efforts on Dec 23rd and did them once per week. The first three weeks showed little to no change but during this time I struggled with my general running. This probably wasn’t helped by running a Christmas Day parkrun (20:11) between the first two sessions and seemed to send me into a running spiral.

Intervals – 5x1K with 3-min standing recovery

Below are the results of the 5x1K with 3-min standing recovery, plus I’ve included Christmas Day parkrun to illustrate how my running looked without the recoveries and what I was trying to improve upon. It’s noticeable that my first intervals weren’t much faster than the parkrun.

 Effort 12 (uphill)34 (uphill)5
23-Dec3:553:583:534:013:56
25-Dec (flat parkrun 20:11)4:014:014:014:084:00
30-Dec3:563:563:543:583:54
5-Jan3:543:594:003:573:59
11-Jan3:444:003:574:114:02
18-Jan3:424:013:504:063:49
25-Jan3:433:543:493:593:50

You can see for the first three weeks, the first kilometre was still only capable of being run in around 3:55 and then on 11-Jan, I clocked 3:44 and went faster the following weeks. What’s noticeable is how slow the other intervals were on the 11th and I think this is because my legs had dug out more fast-twitch muscle which was producing more lactate and this then made it harder to run the following intervals especially the uphills. Over the next couple of weeks, the body began to adapt so either less lactate was produced or it was cleared / tolerated by the body allowing the later efforts to speed up.

The highlight of running a kilometre in 3:42 is it’s the same pace as my 800m a year ago. Not only did I run 200m further on this training effort but I was then able to do further efforts three minutes later. Remembering back to my original time trial, I did jog immediately after but my breathing was rasping away and my lungs burning for the next fifteen minutes and beyond.

Long runs – 11.7 miles every Sunday

I have a standard long run to Broadstone which I’ve been running fasted (no breakfast) at about 7am. In late November, I clocked my quickest ever time of 1:29:06 (7:38/mile) with an average heart-rate of 151.  The following weeks I prepared for Christchurch 10K so didn’t run it again until December 19. This came in at 1hr32 and set a baseline for where training was about to go. The start of January saw my body absolutely crash with heavy legs after Christmas Day parkrun and two sessions of intervals. Just too much and I needed recovery hence a 1hr45 run where heart-rate barely got out of the fat-burning zone. As the weeks passed, the long run quickened up until I ran a course PB on January 30. The variability of the long run highlights how when you move the body towards faster work, the endurance drops off.

 Run timePace per mileAvg HR
19-Dec (before ints)1:31:537:53149
26-Dec1:36:438:14139
2-Jan1:45:069:00127
9-Jan1:37:088:20143
16-Jan1:35:238:09140
23-Jan1:33:117:58145
30-Jan1:28:287:35147

Steady run – 7.4 miles

My second workout of the week has been a Steady run usually on a Thursday. I hadn’t run this route in a while but my previous best ever was 56:25 set years ago. Often it takes over an hour if I’m doing an easy run.

For the Steady I would head out and push up to an upper aerobic feel – what I feel is marathon pace intensity and just hang on, never pushing it. It’s a route with a long uphill at mile 3, heads back down for faster miles at 4 & 5 before a gradual uphill to home.

I was pleased when I ran a course PB two days after the first set of intervals but when I overloaded in the next few days, I took it easy the following week. Once my legs were back, I began to see the same improvement and benefits that I’ve experienced on my long runs.

Run TimePace per mileFastest mile
23-Dec55:597:337:04
30-Dec60:398:107:34
6-JanNo steady run
13-Jan56:237:347:11
20-Jan54:457:217:04
27-Jan53:397:136:51

The run on January 27 was done with an extra day of recovery, on the Friday rather than the usual Thursday. I’m sure it helped and I was really pleased to achieve three sub-7 miles during the run – admittedly on downhill miles! It’s a long time, if ever, that I’ve run those sorts of splits on a local route outside of a race or workout.

Drills and strides

These have continued twice weekly and, as I’ve said before, they seem to have made a massive improvement to my running form. I feel I’m beginning to skim over the ground with all my effort applying horizontally rather than a bouncy, up and down stride which you see in many runners.

I added in a C-skip at the start of January as the B-skips had become coordinated and I was no longer having to break them down into smaller parts. C-skips are what most people would think of as “butt kicks” (heel flicking up to kick the backside) and they unlocked some of the tightness in the quads. But there was a small downside as the increased efficiency began to put a strain on previously unused muscles and I’ve been struggling with a painful left glute which then began to extend down into the left ankle area. Nothing terrible and never a problem when I’ve been running but flaring up during long periods of sitting.

On the week of 6-Jan when I didn’t do the Steady run, it was because I ran the intervals on the Wednesday to give myself extra recovery. The following day, after doing drills, I ran one 200m to get an idea of where I was at and it came in at 35.81secs. The fastest since I began 800m training and close to my best recorded ever. The cadence was consistent, starting up at 206 before dropping slightly to 204 then 202 – but it was very smooth. I was pleased with it considering I’d run hard intervals the day before.

January over, looking forward to February

So that’s how January’s training has gone. The only negative is I only attempted one fast parkrun on 22 January and that came in at a disappointing 21:19 at Upton House, over twenty seconds slower than my PB there. But I know I’d been training hard and my legs were recovering from it. The fastest kilometre was only 4:05 which is notably slower than the sub 3:45 I was running in training.

While I’d like to have continued with the 5x1K to see how they evolve, I’ve decided to take training in a slightly different direction for February and March as I’m intending to run the Bournemouth Bay Half marathon on April 3. So I’m going to fill in the gaps with some 10K-paced work on the next 2-3 Tuesdays then switch those workouts to half-marathon paced work and looking to build the endurance to support it for the longer distance race. That will round off my winter training and set me up for getting back to 800m work in the spring.

Review of the year – 2021

I’m not sure what to make of 2021 as a running year. My goal at the start of the year was to train for the 800m and improve on the 2:58 time I recorded in December 2020. I’m under no illusions that this is not a particularly good time even for a fifty year old. I religiously followed Jack Daniels’ training plan and when I next time trialled in April, I’d only improved to 2:55. Another time trial in early June was 2:53 and after another round of following the training plan I was only down to 2:49 in October. It really hasn’t been very satisfying progress from a results perspective.

Final sprint to the line at Christchurch 10K in 2021

From a process perspective, much seems to have happened. I’ve generally got fitter. At start of year I was running some of my recovery miles as slow as ten minutes; by year end I was feeling comfortable at eight minute miles. My general training speed has improved and there was a notable difference in how I felt on my 800 time trial. Last December I was absolutely gasping by the end of it with the lactate build-up leaving me coughing for the next hour. Each of this year’s time trials has felt progressively better, less hard breathing, even if I’ve not been significantly faster. All of this summarises to having built a better aerobic system.

Over the year, I’ve lost a stone in weight. I started the year at 188lbs (13st 6lbs) and am now below 175lbs. I’ve never been this light or chiselled in my life. Half the weight loss happened in the early months when I geared up and did the tough interval training; the other half when I started doing a low volume of press-ups and bicep curls daily. On that front, I’ve at least doubled my capacity for doing press-ups in six months.


While endurance has improved. I’ve been wondering about my top-end speed. At year start, I knew I was struggling there as I couldn’t even hit a peak speed of five minute per mile pace running flat out. Now, I will say this is to be treated with a little scepticism because the accuracy of my GPS watch is not quick to lock in. It takes fifteen seconds but even so, by year end I’ve seen myself hit 4:13/mile on it. Again I’m aware this is not a great top end speed, given that Olympic distance runners do whole races at this pace.

Digging back through my records, I found myself hitting 3:38/mile when I was younger at the end of parkruns. Again I treat this with some scepticism as GPS can be wonky but I also suspect it’s relatively accurate. Ultimately the best 800m runners in the world are averaging a 3:20/mile pace for the men and 3:50/mile for the women. They can run fast over short distances – I can’t even hit these paces yet.

Throughout 2021 I’ve been exploring ways to improve my top end speed. This has ranged from looking at cadence and trying step-over drills; thinking about form generally; to doing twice-weekly sessions of sprint drills which really seem to be making a difference. As I exited 2021, my running form had begun to feel different in a positive way. I finally feel like I’ve got a back kick and the trail leg is shortening when I try to run quickly. I’m becoming glute-powered rather than quad-powered.

What I haven’t done to improve my speed, for deliberate reasons, is any hill work. I tried that in 2020 and within two weeks, I’d blown my aerobic base as the fast-twitch muscle began to overpower it. While it would be useful to get the fast-twitch speed back, I need to do it in a controlled manner, waiting until base is bigger and capable of handling high levels of anaerobic work.


From a racing perspective there hasn’t been much. The big positive was the return of parkrun in July. At my fiftieth birthday, I managed a 21:20 Upton House Personal Best. Then over the last few months I’ve been reducing that with runs of 20:55 there again, 20:26 at The Great Field parkrun and a touching distance of sub-twenty – 20:11 at Poole on Christmas Day.

The great thing about running 20:11 on Christmas Day is it’s not notably worse than ten years ago when I was forty and running 20:00 on Christmas Eve 2011. This is also true of my 10K.  At Christchurch in 2011 I ran 42:23; this year I was one second slower at 42:24 !!

Ten years ago, I was on my way up with my run training and I didn’t have any understanding of the interaction of speed, endurance and recovery; and how to bring them together to perform at your best. I had much more speed then because it’s all I tried to do, whereas now I’m coming at running from the endurance end. I’m hopeful I’ll be adding aerobic speed this winter that will see me surpassing all previous bests. I don’t like to rely on luck or hope but … fingers crossed!

This reflects the negative about Jack’s plan. I don’t feel it’s helped me improve at the top-end speed as there’s nothing in the schedule dedicated to building it in the first place. The best 800m runners are often coming to the event capable of running 400m in less than fifty seconds (as young adults) and then building the endurance to hang on. For this reason, I’m going to reintroduce my own ideas about the things that helped me to get fast when I was young – which mostly involve more standing recoveries and interval work done in sets to allow lactate to clear. I just need to make sure I don’t undermine the aerobic base by doing too much.

So that’s been my 2021. I’ve enjoyed the year’s running – there’s no way I could have got out every day if I didn’t. I covered about 100 miles more than in 2020 and that has been down to a consistent schedule. I usually run around six hours per week training and that’s led to more miles as I’ve speeded up. Of course the schedule flexed through the year depending on where I was at with Jack’s plan but generally speaking it’s been a consistent outlay of six to six-and-a-half hours each week resulting in 40-50 miles.

Update on my 800m training – Nov-Dec 2021

Traditional winter training for middle-distance runners is a combination of building endurance and running cross-country. In my case, I’ve replaced cross-country with an all-out parkrun effort every couple of weeks.

After my last 800m time trial (2:49) in October, I took a recovery week and then began the endurance work. Using a fortnightly cycle the plan was to do two Steady runs (Tuesday and Friday) and a long run on Sunday on week one; a Steady run on the Tuesday and a faster-than-Recovery paced run on Thursday with the fast parkrun on Saturday. It worked quite well and my first three parkruns came in at 21:20 (Oct 23rd) and 20:55 (Nov 6th) at Upton House then a road trip to The Great Field parkrun (Nov 20th) where I ran 20:26.

With Christchurch 10K on December 12th I wasn’t planning to do specific training other than to taper and run on fresh legs. I’d planned to run one more fast parkrun between Dorchester and the race but Storm Arwen hit so I replaced it with some cruise intervals.

The 10K was a little disappointing as I went in expecting to be somewhere in the 41-42min range and ended up clocking 42:25. Not a terrible time by any means but my legs never felt good. I have a feeling I killed them in the preceding week by running a low volume of 200s and 400s. On the Friday (3x400m), Tuesday (2x400m) and Thursday (2x200m). That really is a low volume but perhaps I ran them too fast as I originally was aiming to hit 5-10K pace and the 200s came in at 37s which is faster than my 800 pace. That was a fun session as I ran it at the cricket pitch. Groups of college sixth formers on their lunch breaks were dotted around and they began heckling and cheering me on!

Since the 10K, I ran another 21:01 at Upton House and then on Christmas Day on the flats of Poole, I was among 798 runners as I ripped round to finish in 20:11. Touching distance of being back under twenty minutes.


After giving the legs a week to recover from the 10K, I decided I’m lacking decent aerobic capacity. On the parkruns and race I’ve barely been able to run quicker than 3:55 for a km. In 2020 I could run 3:48, two years ago I was hitting 3:45 and five years ago I was close to 3:30. The endurance training has been good but it’s been to the detriment of my aerobic speed. Even my top-end speed isn’t great and I believe this has contributed to the disappointing 800m time trials this year. I’ve noticed as my leg speed has disappeared so has the size of my quads – at least a couple of inches smaller than they were.

The consequence is I’ve begun running my old favourite session – 5x1K with 3-min recovery. It’s a great combination of distance, pushing the aerobic capacity and improving lactate clearance and tolerance.

The endurance training itself has begun to look great. I’m running twelve mile Sunday runs at sub-8 pace – close to 1hr30 most weeks. But also my recovery runs have got faster despite me keeping them easy wherever possible. This has really set me in position to build the speed side with the kilometre intervals and I’m hopeful this will have me close to nineteen minutes at parkrun by end of January.


Supplemental to the running, I’ve been finding sprint drills and strength work have been highly beneficial. The drills have been great in identifying inefficient running form and after two weekly sessions for two months, I’m finding the improved posture and muscle activation are beginning to bleed into my runs. Most significantly I’m start to get the feel for how to sprint and this can only be a good thing for my 800m time.

The squat work has strengthened up my legs but also the muscles in the hips and glutes. It highlighted a weakness in the left glute on the outside which was clearly not contributing to my running. As it strengthened up, it began to fire during runs and, in the long term, I’m expecting it to make a difference. On the negative side, I did too much squatting too soon and after about three weeks began to find my legs were getting sore so I stopped to let them recover for a week.

It’s been a useful two months, especially as I’ve taken over a minute off my parkrun time with my best time in four years at 20:11. I’m intending to stay with this plan through early 2022 and maybe run Bournemouth Bay half marathon in the spring. I’m sure a big part of improving my 800m time is going to be improving my aerobic capacity with the 5x1K intervals – I’ve really allowed my leg strength to drop in favour of efficiency the past few years.