Dealing with the heat

Britain finally seems to have found its summer and a heatwave is predicted over the next few days. This doesn’t bode well for any of us who can’t run early morning or in the evenings when it’s cooler.

There’s no doubt heat, or more importantly humidity can affect your running. While a hot day can be unpleasant, it’s the latter that’s the greater issue because it makes it harder to keep cool. High humidity means there’s high levels of water vapour already in the air and this means the sweat / water on your skin has nowhere to go – it can’t evaporate. So it just sits there and stops you from sweating further which is a key mechanism used by the body for cooling. The heart already works harder, as evidenced by a higher heart-rate, to get more blood flowing to the skin to take away the internal heat which occurs through sweating.

If the body temperature rises too much it can be dangerous. The body usually functions at a temperature of 37-38C but add a couple of degrees to that and it begins to impair muscle function. Get to over 40-41C and you’re in danger of heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion is problematic and if left untreated it can turn into heaststroke which can be deadly.


I think I suffered heat exhaustion once. I was running at the beach, in the middle of summer, and it was a hot sunny day. The day before I’d done the same route – a ten mile run, five miles out, five miles back and even though it had been hot, I had no issues.

On the second day, I felt fine on the outwards stretch and I seem to recall I had a slight wind in my face which helped me feel cool. Then I turned around and it was hot. Any breeze was now on my back, so I got no benefit and I was running with the sun shining on my front. Where I’d run at 8min/mile on the way out, my 6th mile slowed to 8:30 and I was beginning to feel bad. The 7th slowed further to 9:10 and I took a couple of minutes break, standing in the shade shivering behind a beach hut. My heart-rate wouldn’t drop below 115 even though I was just standing there. I resumed at an easy jog, as I still had three miles to cover to get back to the car, but when the 8th mile came in at a shuffling 9:45 I decided it would be best to walk the rest. I had no further effects that afternoon and the following day I felt fine and was back out running okay.

I’m not quite sure what happened. I’m sure I was a little fatigued from doing the ten mile run the day before although longer sessions were quite common at the time. I may not have eaten or drunk enough before setting out. I find in the hot weather, I am constantly drinking fluids and still underhydrated. One other thing may have been an issue, at one stage of the run I sped up to get past the land train that runs along the prom. This pushed my heart-rate up into the 150s and may have set off a chain of events that I would otherwise have avoided had I just been jogging casually. Whatever caused it, I believe I took the right action by cancelling the session and walking back. Fortunately I’ve never encountered it since.


I’ve always been a big believer in drinking to thirst. Most of the day I have a cup of tea to hand but I don’t force it. When I was more endurance trained and sweated less, I found cups of tea would be half finished. At the moment, with the heat I’m drinking lots of tea and I’m still seeing that I’m underhydrated when I go to the toilet. The colour of your urine is a good indicator – when it’s clear you’re hydrated, when it’s golden or even darker you need to drink more. Even though I don’t noticeably sweat during the day, I’m still losing fluid from the body – water particles will be exhaled in your breathing.

The advice used to be to drink lots before a marathon and to keep drinking throughout. But this became a risk with runners drinking over a litre per hour for 3-4 hours. It could lead to a condition called hyponatremia which can almost ‘drown’ the body’s cells and wash the important minerals out of them. The advice now is to drink to thirst.


Of course if you can do your runs in the early morning or late evening, they’re much more enjoyable. Last Sunday, I did my long run at 5:07am and was home well before 7am. It was cool from start to finish and I still had the rest of the day to enjoy the sunshine.

On other days, I’ve been running in the heat of the day but I don’t mind it. Most of the runs have been for recovery purposes which are deliberately kept slow enough that they don’t cause me to break sweat too much. There is a little but it doesn’t get too uncomfortable. I’ve actually found it’s worse when I arrive home and stop moving. The lack of air circulation causes any sweat to start building up.

The couple of workouts I’ve done in the heat I don’t mind. It’s probably because the intervals aren’t that long and you get a rest afterwards. I believe the real danger of running in the heat comes when you try to hold onto a decent pace for a long time.


If we’re lucky enough to have good weather for the rest of the summer months then it’s worth understanding that it takes around two weeks for the body to get used to the heat. There’s always going to be some degradation in performance because of it until that occurs.

Best advice I can give you is to get out and get used to it. Keep yourself hydrated by drinking to thirst and don’t try to force yourself through anything that feels untoward or out of the ordinary.

One legged chair squats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

Paula’s kids

In my article about marathon speed, I wrote about how the best marathoners of the Sixties could all run 400 metres in under a minute. They started out at clubs where they developed their speed and only later worked on endurance. This idea has been something rolling around in my mind for a while now and I wanted to provide another example

Back in the November 2019 issue, Runner’s World ran an interview with Paula Radcliffe on getting more kids into running. One question and answer stood out to me:

RW: With parents like you and your husband Gary [Lough, coach to Sir Mo Farah] your children must be pretty active?

PR: Absolutely. Both of them [Isla, 12 and Raphael, 8] will sometimes do kilometre events in Monaco where we live. Isla recently ran 3:25 and Raph can do 3:43. We also recently dropped Raph into a one-mile race with a bunch of men and he actually finished third in a time of 6:26! He absolutely loved it. I’m not sure that the men did though …

Imagine that! An 8-year-old boy running 3:43 for a kilometre and a 12-year-old girl running 3:25. Now go out and see how quick you are. When I ran my 800m time trial at start of December 2020 I clocked 2:58 which is the same pace as Raphael but I have no doubt I’d have lagged behind him had I run another 200m. That quickness over the kilometre enables him to run a fast mile – it’s not like he’d stop at 1,001 metres and have to walk the rest. I’m guessing he’d have been hitting 22-23 minutes for a parkrun if they dropped him into one.

Now I could make excuses about small children having a good weight-to-power ratio, lower centres of gravity and no idea about pacing. But whatever the reason, these kids are QUICK and I’m doubtful it’s down to the genetics of their parents. It will be the excuse those men beaten over the mile give “He’s Paula Radcliffe’s son so he’s born to be good”. But I suspect the truth is more down to how Paula and Gary are coaching their children to run quickly first before they step up the distance.

I suspect if you could find a snapshot of Raphael against all those other mile racers, he would have been up the front from beginning to end. He would be one of the fastest over quarter mile, half mile and so on. The speed he carried through the distance with him gradually slowing as he went into the uncharted territory of the mile.

I genuinely believe 90% of people can run significantly faster if they train for it. I got sucked into working exclusively on endurance for the past four years and while my times remained decent I was struggling to hit the heights I’d once reached so easily. I used to have oodles of speed available because I pushed hard on every run and gasped my way up every hill; but I always felt something was missing when I raced. As I began to understand endurance it turned me into a more efficient runner who recorded faster race times. The only trouble was I lost touch with my speed. You have to keep going back to speed to maintain it. If you’re constantly racing and training at 6-10 min/mile, you lose the ability to finish at sub-4 paces. People think all the slow training kills their speed, it doesn’t. It only goes when they stop working on it.

Now ask yourself, if you raced Raphael or Isla, who would win? If the answer isn’t to your liking then it’s time to do something about it!

What’s the objective?

Have you played Wordle – the word-guessing game that went viral at the start of this year?

If you haven’t, don’t worry; there IS a running-related point to this post. The aim of Wordle is to figure out a 5-letter word within six guesses. You enter a word and the app indicates if there are any letters correctly placed, or any correct letters placed wrongly.

Color-blind mode in case you’re wondering!

Most people realise they can improve their chances by starting with a word which has commonly used letters. There’s no point in beginning with a words that has Zs, Xs, Js or Qs for example. While it’s obvious they won’t come up often – it’s perhaps not so obvious that letters like B or G are well down the list of those likely to be used. I learned the most frequent letters are E, T, O, A, N, I, R, S, H, D when I was at middle school, so I start off with words that consist of them.

People also know every word has a vowel (or “Y”) so they think a word like ADIEU is a good starter because it identifies the vowels, but there’s a downside to this. When you take your next guess, you’re reusing those vowels and have less room to figure out the consonants. For example if the A and E are correct in the first guess and you then use LATER on your second word, you’ve only used four of the twenty possible consonants on your first two guesses. You might have the A and E as you enter your third word but still not have found any of the consonants out.

I realised that if I used my first three guesses to get fifteen different letters out on the board, I’d definitely identify the vowels and almost certainly get some consonants while being able to rule out Z, X, Q, J. Worst case scenario, I’ve still got three guesses left for figuring out which of the other seven letters I need to use.

The result of this strategy has been very successful. I’ve only failed once on Wordle in 100+ attempts. That was back on March 11th when the word was WATCH. Why did I fail on WATCH? Because it has multiple possibilities – PATCH, CATCH, HATCH, MATCH, LATCH, BATCH. At least seven different words to slot into a maximum of six guess. And it’s made even harder because CATCH and HATCH involve a double letter. On reflection, I should have then entered a word like BLIMP to eliminate four of the options in one go. That’s good strategy for you.

Playing this way, I found I was able to get the word in under thirty seconds (quick typist), some days as quick as seventeen seconds (slow broadband) but there was a downside to this.  You’re never going to get the word in fewer than four guesses (unless you luck in).

This was great while I was playing on my own and my objective was simply to get the word that day. But then I started playing against other people. Always being ‘guaranteed’ a 4th guess was good on the days while others were learning the game but eventually there would always be someone who came up a 3 or better. Now I never won. I had to rethink strategy and go boom-or-bust to try and get it in few than four. Or wait for them to play and see whether a 4 would be good enough!

My original objective when I started playing was to get the Wordle in six tries. Once I realised I could always do this, my objective became to get it done as fast as possible and get on with my day. When I started playing against others I changed strategy again. This is a lesson in life it’s taken me many years to realise. The strategy changes depending on the objective. There is no single perfect strategy or method that will enable you to always meet a variety of objectives.


I once spoke to a runner who found running hills brought her parkrun time down quickly and then, having entered a marathon, continued doing them. It was only when I pointed out over coffee that trying to improve her speed beyond 7:30/mile was fairly pointless as she was hoping to run a sub-4hr marathon at no faster than 9min/mile. Trying to improve speed was the wrong training for her objective.

This isn’t unusual. Runners have a collection of standard workouts and try to apply them to everything – the proverbial “to a man with only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”. That said, most runners recognise that if they’re going to train for a marathon they’re going to do more mileage and some longer runs but that’s conventional wisdom tilting their training, not understanding the requirements of their objective.

There are certain underlying principles to training that work across all events – training daily is more effective than training a couple of times per week. You’ll always do better at Wordle with a starting guess of CLEAR than you will with VIVID. The high frequency letters enable you to build on later guesses, the low probability ones usually leave you with five guesses and probably no closer to a solve.

Just as high frequency letters like E, T, S are clearly better guesses in Wordle than X, J, Z; it’s obvious that sprinters train differently to marathon runners. But the difference in training between a parkrun, 10K and half marathon is not so obvious to the lay person, just as most Wordlers are unsure whether C, P or G is more prevalent.

It is possible to be good at different events at different times in a career. After all, Eliud Kipchoge was the 5,000m world champion back in 2003 and then when he changed his objective he became the best marathoner in the world. The change of objective necessitated a change in training plan.

You could look back to the 1950s and find Emil Zatopek winning the gold medal in the 5000, 10000 and marathon at the Helsinki Olympics and Lasse Viren trying to replicate the feat in 1976 where he won golds on the track but could only place 5th in the marathon. Training had moved on by then and people had begun to realise you specialise and train for the event rather than simply trying to be a good all-round runner. You certainly won’t find anyone attempting it these days. A local club runner might be able to do it against a sub-elite field just as getting Wordle in four guesses was successful until my competitors figured out how to play better.

It’s been a revealing yet simple reminder from playing Wordle this year that the strategy you use depends on your objective. Likewise with running there is no single way to train for every event and you cannot be world champion at them all on the same day. It’s always a choice between speed or endurance, or finding some combination of them. How you train depends on your objective.

Making Progress

The idea of progression is not new yet it’s rarely understood or utilised by runners. If they’re following a plan then it incorporates progression but if they’re doing their own training, they’re likely just hoping they will get faster by running runs quicker.

That said, anyone who has ever trained for a marathon has an inkling of what a progression looks like. They know can go out and run five to ten miles at the moment, but the idea of reaching 26.2 is enough of a gamechanger that they resort to some sort of plan to get there. How do you get from ten miles to twenty? You do it by progression – simply adding 1-2 miles each week … ten, twelve, fourteen, sixteen, eighteen, twenty.

Usually there’s a timeframe attached to training which forces the numbers. My last marathon, should have gone smoothly as I’d completed the twenty-mile run three months before the race but then I suffered an injury. Suddenly I only had eight weeks to go and I squeezed the progression to into six weeks – 9, 11, 14, 17, 18, 20½, dropped to 9 miles and then ran the marathon the following week.

So that’s the first thing you do. You look at how much time you have available and where you want to get to and then create an evenly stepped progression up to it. But it’s not only increasing distance that we can create progression for.


Most runners have a set interval session they like doing. It might be 12x400m equal jog recovery, or it might be my old favourite 5x1K with 3-min recovery. Runners usually aim to get faster at the efforts in the hope this will help them race quicker.

This is what Roger Bannister did back in the day on his way to the first four-minute mile. In the preceding October he was running 10x440yd in 1min06 with 440yd jog recovery in two minutes. Each month he would run the laps one second quicker so when he attempted the record in May he was running some laps as quick as 56 seconds.

But running laps faster isn’t the only way to make improvement. Notice we have four factors in Bannister’s session:

  • No of reps – 10
  • Lap distance – 440yds
  • Recovery time – 2mins
  • Pace – 1min06 initially

NB The combination of reps and effort distance gives a total distance of work – 4,400yds.

We can vary any of these factors to try and help us improve. The overall aim of the progression is to take us from a low point of fitness to a higher point in a safe and achievable way. Just like marathon runners try to go from ten to twenty miles over a number of weeks in training.


Usually we only change one of the variables at a time and keep everything else the same. For example we might start out doing 8x200m then 10x200m on to 12×200 to increase the overall volume from 1,600m to 2,000m to 2,400m.

We might then change to longer intervals 6x400m, which involves also adjusting the reps down from 12 to 6, to keep the overall volume the same at 2,400m. What we rarely do is go from 12×200 to 8×400 which increases both length (200 to 400) and overall volume at the same time (2,400 to 3,200).

For these examples we’d look to keep the pace and recoveries the same as before. Actually the recovery for longer intervals might also increase but it would still be in the same ratio as the previous efforts (e.g. both 8x200m with 200m jog recovery and 6x400m with 400m jog recovery have equal jog recovery).

Once we’ve increased the volume of work being done by varying the reps and interval lengths, we might reduce the recovery between them which makes the runner attempt the next effort in a more fatigued state. The challenge become whether they can continue to run all their efforts at the required pace despite the building fatigue.


For a progression to be effective, it needs to take place over a number of weeks. There’s no point doing one thing this week and something completely different the next. If you think about Bannister’s training, he was giving his body a month to adapt before moving onto the next step of the progression by improving the pace – he was doing the same session for six months!

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 Beauty of VDOT

Jack Daniels is a famous running coach with an infamous moniker. Mention him to anyone outside the world of running (as well as quite often within it) and you get a remark about drinking whisky. He has been called “the world’s best running coach” by Runner’s World and has coaching experience dating back to the 1960s. He himself won medals in the modern pentathlon at the Melbourne and Rome Olympics. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know I used his 800m training plan last year for my training.

He took a scientific approach by examining the relationship between how fast runners race and the big three measurables: V̇O2max (properly stated as “V-dot-O2max”), Lactate Threshold and Running Economy. Historically it was believed the runners who could process the most oxygen (V̇O2max) were the fastest. But when Jack compared himself to Jimmy Gilbert, a teammate with a significantly higher score, it didn’t make sense because Jack could often beat him in their 4,000m pentathlon races.

Realising the picture was incomplete Jack and Jimmy began measuring elite runners and from this were able to publish tables of data relating race times to training paces. Online calculators doing this are more commonplace now but even twenty years ago this was revolutionary.

My 2nd and 3rd editions

The 4th edition of Jack’s book Daniels’ Running Formula was published in 2021 but I have yet to lay eyes on it. I bought a copy of the 2nd edition ten years ago and it revamped my ideas about how to train. It laid out step by step how you create your own training plan, what paces to run at and so on. It’s packed with information, pictures and profiles of elite runners and all laid out in a highly readable font and format. By comparison the 3rd edition seems to be full of standard plans rather than teaching you how to coach yourself and I think this likely reflects the increased participation and how much less modern people like to think for themselves.

In each book it’s the VDOT tables which I prize most. There’s two obvious uses, firstly the tables provide the times you should be able to run for different race distances for your current ability. Secondly they tell you what pace to train at to make progress to the next level.

VDOT training paces in the 2nd edition – pages falling out through heavy use

If you run parkrun in 25-minutes then the book suggests running Easy runs at 10:35/mile (which is a lot slower than most people realise). To run marathon pace at 9:08/mile and to run fast intervals at 54-secs / 200m (again this would seem slow to most).

The race times converter suggests to be able to run a 3hr marathon you need to be able to run a 1hr25 half, 39-min 10K and 18:45 5K. In the old days, people estimated that a doubling of distance resulted in a time that was double plus 5-10% (which agrees with these) but they had to work it out every time.

The benefit of knowing race times is huge. Most runners either go out tentatively and therefore can never hit their best possible time; or go out hard and blow up. For example, If you have run a 25-minute 5K then you’ll be able to scrape in for a four hour marathon with good training. But while the average pace of a 25-min 5K runner is about 8 min / mile their marathon pace is 9 min / mile at best. They can go out and practice this pace in training to get used to what it feels like.

The Real Prize

The VDOT tables aren’t perfect and when you’re trained more towards speed or endurance, they can push you down the wrong path a little. That’s not to say they’re terrible, they’re not and a good general guide to follow.

The tables stretch from VDOT 30 all the way up to the elite standard of VDOT 85 which line up with the men’s world records. When you consider the average parkrun time is 28:57 (a VDOT of 32) then it suggests there is much untapped potential among runners. This VDOT is close to the bottom of Jack’s table and while not everybody is genetically capable or motivated enough to train, this begins to suggest why there is something of an obesity and health crisis these days.

Even times which are considered quite exceptional by average runners e.g. 20-min parkrun (VDOT 51), 45-min 10K (VDOT 45), 1hr45 half marathon (VDOT 40) and sub-4 marathon (VDOT 38) are actually much closer to those of a beginner than they are to the elites.

It’s not just the context I prize, I can see how quickly progress may or may not be made. Let’s say I start coaching someone who runs parkrun in 25-minutes. To get them under 23-mins – which sounds massive to them – requires four levels of progress. Yet for a 17-min parkrunner the same four levels of progress won’t even get them under sixteen. Of course we intuitively know progress is smaller at the faster levels but it’s good to have it quantified and be able to manage expectations.

Although Jack doesn’t say it, I believe you might expect to see a VDOT improvement of one level every six weeks, two per quarter and eight per year. This is probably a little optimistic and depends on commitment to training but again highlights why it may take the better part of a decade to reach your peak:

YearStarting VDOTparkrunEasy pace per mile/km
13030:4012:407:52
23825:1210:356:52
34621:259:075:52
45419:178:014:59
56217:037:114:35
67014:556:304:02
77813:355:57/mile3:42

While the VDOT numbers and paces are accurate, the rate of progress is an example. Experienced or talented runners would start higher up the scale; and how quickly anyone develops depends on how training is structured. Nonetheless, I find the VDOT tables extremely useful for gauging what we could hope to achieve over the coming year, as well as a reminder of where I might get to with repeated years of building on past training.

As I said before, I picked up Jack’s book ten years ago and it still sits on my coffee table. While it’s not the typical read for a coffee table book, I doubt a week has gone by in that decade when I haven’t picked it up and looked at the VDOT tables.

When endurance training works

I’ve written at length about MAF training, or more specifically, the ineffectiveness of low heart-rate training especially when linked to age. It seems to me that most people don’t understand what is meant when it’s said building endurance will help them get faster. I hope this post will be useful by giving an example of when it works and how it affects your runs.

In September 2017 I ran the Solent half marathon in 1hr36. I set off way too quickly – running the first quarter mile at about 6:20/mile pace and the first mile coming in at 6:41. After that it was a slide as my endurance failed me and I got slower by the mile. Around mile 9 the course turned up hill which made the slowdown even more pronounced until I managed a final effort to the finish line. Here’s a graph clearly showing the decline!

After a week of recovery running, I embarked on building my endurance using my own method which doesn’t involve having my watch beep at me to stay under a certain heart-rate. Following a simple schedule of one hour Steady endurance runs on Tuesday and Fridays with a long run on a Sunday, I slotted in recovery runs lasting up to an hour on the other days. This gave me a total of around eight weeks where I was hitting around 60 miles – with a peak of 69 in mid-November.

Over these eight weeks, I took only one rest day and yet my legs were always ready to run the key Steady and Long runs. Each run I marvelled at how well it went and doubted that I would be able to repeat it a few days later. Yet each run came up and I never felt too tired or got injured. I could barely believe how my legs kept churning out the miles.

I ran the half marathon on September 24th where the pace began at 6:41 and just got slower. Two months later, on November 29th, I ran along the seafront for nine miles and here’s what the splits looked like:

After a first mile at 7:14 where my body was still warming up, each subsequent mile came in at 7:01 or faster. Mile 4 was the fastest at 6:51 but I barely slowed down. The time for these nine miles was 1:02:48 (avg. pace 6:59/mile).

Compare that to the first nine miles of my half marathon which were 1:03:57 (avg. pace 7:06/mile). You might think there isn’t much of a difference but remember this was a training run, not a race. I was doing this sort of run every three days, not taking a recovery week after it.

Remember that by the ninth mile of the race I was down to 7:39; here I was still at 7:01. The gap would only have got wider – it’s very clear to see here.

I ran a hard parkrun three days later on December 2nd. My last one had been in mid-August when I clocked 20:29; this time it was 19:37 – almost a minute faster. On my Steady runs I was only hitting a fastest mile at around 6:50/mile, on parkrunday I was able to push harder and run at 6:15/mile even though I’d done no training at that level in months.

Mile 1Mile 2Mile 3Last 0.11
19 August06:1606:4306:4906:1020:29
02 December06:1306:1106:2305:3619:37
(Apologies for using mile splits on a 5k but it’s easier for reference against the other data)

At both parkruns I set off with a fast first mile of around 6:15 but, before the endurance training I slowed significantly in the second and third miles just like when I ran the half marathon. On the latter parkrun, the endurance training came to the fore and while I still set off quickly the decline by the 3rd mile was much less. I remember running that day and it feeling like I had a booster on top of the endurance runs I’d been doing – an extra 30-40secs/mile dug out for when I raced.


It’s clear I was able to get faster through endurance training.

While I never trained to heart-rate I will highlight that on Solent 1/2M I averaged 163bpm; while on my Steady run of Nov 29th I averaged 149bpm with a max of 158bpm. I certainly wasn’t pushing as hard in training as I did during the race.

On the Steady run, which was typical during this training block, I spent over fifty mins at heart-rates over 150bpm which demolishes the age-related MAF formula’s calculation that as a 46-year-old man I should have been training to a heart-rate below 134. I certainly felt no strain and there were no health consequences incurred from doing so.

The other thing to note is the benefit of the endurance work was only possible because I already had the speed. At parkrun in August my fastest mile was 6:16 and, at the half marathon it was 6:41. All the endurance training did was train the body to hold onto that existing speed for longer. This is the nature of the endurance training – faster times occur because you are more consistent in your mile splits; not because it digs out more speed. Throughout this period, I never went to the track or did any interval work; I just worked on endurance.

A Glimpse of 400m training

I often wondered whether I could have been a decent 400m runner after I met Iwan Thomas, the British record holder, at Eastleigh parkrun back on New Year’s Day 2012. What I realised standing face-to-face with him is that we are about the same size and build. I never found distance running easy and it’s only as I’ve stumbled across the training of friends and acquaintances on Strava, who have achieved so much more, off much less training, that I realised my struggles are because I’m full of fast-twitch, anaerobic muscle and suited to something shorter. That’s why I’ve been giving the 800m a try.

I’d never seen any sprint training plans, but when I was doing my run coaching courses under the guidance of UK Athletics, I came across a video titled Training for the 400m with Richard Buck (embedded at the end). This 45+ minute video is a fly-on-the-wall documentary of sorts following the training session of a Great Britain medallist.

While Richard isn’t a well-known athlete, he medalled at the 2011 European Indoor championships in Paris. He competed for GB frequently at major indoor championships with his Personal Bests being 6.98s (60m), 10.92 (100m), 21.32 (200m), 45.61 (400m), 1:57.2 (800m).


Any training plan is a progression to build up speed and endurance appropriately for the event. You start off with a small amount of overall work and this grows to be a large one. That doesn’t necessarily mean low volume, remember that the overall amount of work being done is a product of the volume and intensity.

Richard’s training is based on a long-to-short methodology which means he starts his training plan with longer efforts at slower speeds, gradually shortening the distance covered but getting faster. In the video his coach talks about how some of the earlier sessions totalled 3,000m at a medium intensity (5×600 or 10x300m). During the filmed session he only completes 690m of running but all at close to race-pace.

(The alternative to long-to-short is a short-to-long approach which is about always doing work at race pace but starting with short distances and gradually lengthening out the distance of efforts as endurance builds).

As I say the total volume of this session is 690m which breaks down into 4x10m, 3x30m, 1×60, 1×300, 1x200m with breaks of 10-20mins between the final three efforts. Low volume, high intensity, long recoveries. This is not how distance runners should train.

Video overview breakdown

The video is embedded at the bottom of the post but for those who don’t have over forty-five minutes to watch very little happening (!) here’s a breakdown of what goes on.

Warm-up at 4:45

This isn’t shown in full, but involves various movements and dynamic stretching

Heel walks at 6:30

A drill specifically for Richard to help him with dorsiflexion and activation of the muscle in the shin that pulls this up to help with his running action.

Therapy screen at 7:15

His coach does manual manipulation and movement of his lower body, particularly ankles, to check everything feels ok.

Muscle activation at 9:20

The coach applies manual pressure to the back of his left leg and glute to get this ready for being recruited in the training session. The coach states that if it isn’t activated properly, Richard feel pain in the top of his hamstring the next day (because this will have be doing more of the work).

Drills at 10:30

A simple slow march (A-walk) for Richard to work on his motor programming to get the correct movement patterns.

Trackside Therapy Intervention at 12:20

The coach has noticed some internal rotation on his left side so does some physical therapy to try and correct this as he thinks it may be a tight TFL (tensor fasciae latar) muscle on the outside of the hip.

Accelerations at 13:25

4x10m, 3x30m from a crouch position allowing the body weight to fall forward

Block starts at 19:15

3x30m from starting blocks

Speedwork at 23:40

A single 1x60m @95% instead of 100%. Timed at 6.6sec

Nutrition at 25:10

The coach discusses the changes they’ve made to Richard’s nutrition timings – in particularly getting him to eat immediately in the hours after a session. Then a look at drinks, Richard is taking during the session.

Training plan progression discussed at 28:20

Other sessions mention at 30:05 which were 5x600m, another 10x300m where the intensity was medium with appropriate volume and recoveries.

Explanation of recovery between intervals at 32:20

1-2mins per 10metres. Since he ran a 60m at high intensity there has been a break of 10-15 minutes between this and the 300m.

Using the same methodology there will be a break of twenty minutes between the 300 and the final 200m effort.

300m effort at 32:40

After further physical therapy and the fifteen minute break Richard run an all-out 300m effort in 33.4sec. The first 200 is run in 21.5sec.

200m effort at 37:50

After twenty minutes of rest and some more physical therapy during it, Richard runs his final effort of the session – a 200m in 21.6sec slowing down towards the end.

Throughout the session the coaches remark about how fatigued Richard is looking and that this is due to the high volume of training he’s undertaking during this phase. They discuss how when he starts to taper, he will freshen up and his times will improve.

Breakdown of seventeen weeks’ training at 43:50

In these seventeen weeks before his competition, Richard completed 51 specific sessions (95% of race-pace or better) for a total volume of 30,580m. That’s just over 76 laps of a 400m track or in miles – it’s nineteen.

The average volume per session was 600m with a peak of around 1,400m early on. This session videoed was a total volume of 690m.

Of course these stats relate to running on or around race pace and there will be have been many other sessions at lower paces (e.g. running 300m in 36-37 rather than the 33 in this video) but it gives an indication of how training for the long sprint of the 400m is in comparison to distance running.


MAF Training Review – Part 5 Why MAF why?

This post is the 5th in a series of five. Other posts can be accessed from the Readables menu tab.

My previous posts on MAF training are among the most popular I’ve written. Recently I’ve been wondering WHY people keep raving about this method before going quiet on it. It seems like every three or four months there’s someone on Strava or Youtube giving it a go. That I get so many people reading my posts about it is an indication they’re researching it.

Although my experience of Maffetone training was relatively recent, my first experience of low heart-rate training dates back to 1995 using the method in John Douillard’s “Body, Mind and Sport” book. I trained to a heart-rate max of 130bpm for a few months and got nowhere. I came back to it on at least three more occasions in the next decade and a half, still no success. I’ve been trying to remember back to when I first picked up Douillard’s book and what enticed me to give his method a try. While he’s not MAF, the premise is the same – build an aerobic base to get faster using low heart-rate training.

1) Grand promises

When I first read the Douillard book I was seduced by the grand promises it made. The story of Warren Wechsler, a 38-year-old guy who easily ran a 2hr53 marathon within eighteen months of starting the programme and could run six minute miles at heart-rates below 130bpm. Or the high school girl sprinting the last half mile of a cross-country race with her heart-rate maxing at only 140bpm. There was other stuff in the book about getting “into the zone” which tempted me and it all sounded great.

While MAF is never quite as brazen as this, his method also uses testimonials to make grand promises. Here’s a story straight out of his Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing (p.93-94):

Marianne Dickerson was a 23-year-old marathon runner who’d won the silver medal at the 1983 World Championships in a time of 2hr31.  She struggled in the following year with a lower back injury until meeting Maffetone. Using the aerobic heart-rate he calculated for her, she found she couldn’t run a mile in under eleven minutes. Over the next eight weeks she changed her diet and kept her training to MAF-HR. She picks up the story “Each week, I noticed my pace became quicker as I was able to run faster within my aerobic limits. After eight weeks of base building, he had me enter a 10K race. I was shocked at how easy the race felt. And my finish time was a personal record of 33:02. Miraculous, I thought, given that a mere eight weeks ago, I could barely run a mile under eleven minutes aerobically and now I was running 6.2 miles at an average pace of 5:18/mile.”

Wow! Who doesn’t want to be running 10K races in thirty-three minutes off a couple of months’ training?

2) Endurance not speed

MAF training is a method that will get you running faster. But what does the word “faster” really mean?  When you hear faster, you imagine your parkrun going from thirty minutes to twenty minutes or even quicker. (Fill in whatever a major improvement is for your level). After all, this is the hope which the Marianne Dickerson story is giving you. Except, this isn’t really what MAF training can do for you.

The actual benefit of MAF training is that it will build endurance – which is being able to hold onto a pace for longer. Let’s say your thirty minute parkrun has kilometre splits beginning at 5:30 and slows down by fifteen seconds each subsequent kilometre thus 5:45, 6:00, 6:15, 6:30. All MAF training will enable you to do is run every kilometre at 5:30 pace and therefore reduce your time to 27:30.

It’s not a lie or incorrect to refer to this as helping you get faster because your parkrun has improved and many would be happy with knocking two and a half minutes off. The problem is continuing with MAF training from there isn’t going to help you get any faster because it won’t add any speed i.e. your fastest kilometre will continue to be around 5:30/km.

To add speed you need to do some interval work or hills and these require you to exceed your MAF-HR which, by definition, is no longer MAF training. If you don’t do the speedwork, you’ll be running around to a limited heart-rate for months and seeing no further improvements.

The reason it worked for Marianne Dickerson is she already had her top speed in place and simply needed to refresh the endurance to get back to running 10K races quickly in a matter of months.

3) Simplicity

The simplicity of the age-related formula is a big temptation. It all sounds so easy – “All you have to do is take your age away from 180 to get your MAF heart-rate then avoid going over that number when you run”. It couldn’t be easier. People like things which are easy.

When I first bought a heart-rate monitor it came with an instruction guide to setting zones. 60-79% for aerobic, 80-90% hard workout, 90-100% hard anaerobic or some such. But you needed to know your maximum heart-rate and do some mathematics to set those zones. Then you needed to structure your weekly training to train within the appropriate zones and it was all beginning to get complex and need some thought which is one reason I never did it.

The encouraging simplicity of MAF is you just go out and do every run using the same MAF-HR.

4) Science and technology

The technology of using a heart-rate monitor suggests this is science and therefore it must work.

The reality, as I stated in my The Good, the Bad and The Ugly post is there is no science behind MAF’s formula and the heart-rate monitor can’t identify when you’re going aerobic or anaerobic to help you train effectively.

There is no science behind MAF’s age-related formula, only coincidence.

5) MAF training gives people who train too hard a break.

It’s a revelation to many people how easy an easy run should really be. I reckon many people who take up MAF training find it gives them a chance to have a break from their usual training regime. Amateur runners are notorious for pushing sessions too hard, week-in week-out, so when they discover the formula with all its promises, and find out how easy the runs feel it’s a revelation.

6) It avoids coaches and planning

Many runners have a routine or follow the training of the people they run with. When they’re not getting faster, they’re looking for a quick fix (as MAF promises) and don’t want to plan training sessions or ask for help. The simplicity of MAF training avoids both these things.

7) “It’s going to take a while to see results”

Many MAF trialists start off patiently because they’ve been told it takes a while to see results. This is both true and false. If your endurance training is working, you should see some kind of change within weeks. When I’ve gone back to base training, I start to see or feel some kind of improvement within two to four weeks. Training begins to feel easier, my legs get their spring back, heart-rates on similar runs can go up (“yes up!”) or down, you might begin to see better pace at the end of longer runs. These things begin happening within a matter of weeks if you’re getting it right.

On the other hand, if you’re an established runner building your endurance base from scratch, it will take a while for it to impact your races. There’s probably a big gap between your aerobic pace and your race pace. Arthur Lydiard stated it takes three years to see a marked improvement, but you will see an improvement in the first year and a greater one in the second but it’s later that you begin to see the major benefits.

8) Get rich quick

Like a pyramid investment scheme or multilevel marketing sales, you only hear from the people saying how great it is in the beginning. This encourages others into the fad. When they’re starting out on their get-rich-quick scheme they’re enthusiastic and motivated until they realise it’s not working and slink off quietly into the sunset.

There are rarely dissenting voices who say “I tried this and it didn’t work”. Even then, outside of my own posts, I’ve never seen anyone lay out what they did in their training, detail the ineffectiveness of MAF training and give solid explanations for why it didn’t work.

There’s many people talking about MAF training and what it promises but rarely do you hear from those same people when they’ve given up on it.

NB This isn’t to say well-executed endurance training is a get-rich-quick scheme, it’s not. I honestly believe Phil Maffetone was able to help athletes improve their endurance and times using his methods. I just don’t believe those methods are as simple as the age-related formula has people believing.

Why do they give up?

They get bored of jogging around at low heart-rate numbers doing the same thing every day and waiting for results. Ironically the simplicity of the system becomes its Achilles Heel as lack of variety leads to boredom. For most runners, a month of training is a long time and if they haven’t seen improvement by then, they start to lose interest (and rightly so in my opinion). If they have a race coming up, it takes priority and they go back into speedwork or workout mode.

For some people, the low heart-rate number has them jogging at excruciatingly slow places. There are issues of ego and embarrassment about being someone who usually clips along at seven minute mile paces having to slow down to barely quicker than walking pace. They start to fudge the numbers either stating the formula must be wrong because they have a high maximum or allowing themselves to regularly go over the limit as long as the average is lower than their MAF-HR. If they don’t see quick results, they bail on the method.

Ultimately the main reason runners give up is because it doesn’t deliver the grand promises. I’ve never heard of anyone successfully using MAF training outside of the books. Maybe there is someone for whom it works but I’ve not met them.

If you’ve given MAF training a go – please comment and let me know of your experiences – success or failure. Why did you give it a try? How long did you try it? What caused you to give up on it?