Short term loss for long term gain

Growing up I drank my tea with sugar. It was a lovely sweet taste. Someone asked if I wanted a cuppa, I said “Yes” (being a teenager there was rarely any sign of a Please although there was usually a Thank-you when it was delivered) and it got drank quickly.

When I left education and started work in computing, we had tea and coffee rounds where seemingly every hour someone in the department would be wandering off to the vending machine to get them in for the team. I eventually dropped out of the rounds because I wanted to drink on my own schedule not someone else’s. I got a sense it was frowned upon because it was a rejection of their generosity and I was setting myself up as a non-team player but on reflection, I don’t care. I realise I was listening to my body. I was drinking tea when I felt thirsty not because someone was forcing it on me.

About eighteen months into this I realised I was drinking seven or eight cups per day. They were only small vending cups yet I knew that with each cup I was putting unnecessary sugar into my body. Multiply those eight cups per day across the week, across the year and on through a lifetime and it was probably mounting up for tooth rot and unnecessary calories. These were the days long before anyone worried about an obesity crisis or dangers of too much sugar. I suppose I was ahead of the curve!

I made a rational decision – I would stop drinking tea with sugar to save myself from all those extra lifetime calories. And so I went cold turkey and it was horrible. The tea became tasteless, like chewing on cardboard or paper. And being cheap, 7p per plastic cup tea, it was probably low quality anyway but I persevered. For months, drinking tea became a joyless experience. Then one day, either by accident or on purpose I had a cup with sugar. Ugh. It tasted horrible too. Far too sweet.  So I was now between a rock and a hard place – tea without sugar tasted horrible, tea with it tasted horrible. Either way forward or backward was going through pain. In the end, it was about a year before I started to enjoy drinking tea again but now, looking back from thirty-odd years in the future it was a good decision given how many cups of tea I still drink each day.


Recently I’ve been working on building my shoulder muscles. I noticed last year my left pectoral muscle is beautifully square whereas the right pec has a slight curve to it. A little wiggling of my right shoulder forward and backward identified the underlying root cause of the aesthetic displeasure. There is a slouching, slumping of the right shoulder which when forward causes the pec to sag slightly.

While this is not devastatingly obvious or problematic, like the tea in sugar, I feel it’s worth correcting for when I’m older. Old people often become round shouldered and then hunched which then causes further issues. I already notice sometimes when I am sat typing or driving in the car that the right shoulder is slumping forward and it feels ungainly and may even ache a little. Getting my pec square is a goal not for the aesthetic but because it will indicate the shoulder muscles are working correctly to keep it in position. Of course, unlike the tea drinking, lifting some weights twice per week is hardly painful or something I couldn’t stop.


My training philosophy is that, while everybody is subtly different, each muscle in the body works in a certain way and for a certain purpose. If the shoulder muscles have got used to sagging then, if I can easily correct them with a bit of strength work and conscious repositioning then going to be worth it. In time they will start to hold the joint correctly and strengthen themselves.

It’s easy for muscles to weaken and stop working and the body to compensate with other muscles which aren’t best for the job. A simple example is lifting a heavy object, the best way to do it is by bending the knees and using the leg muscles whereas poor lifting technique has people bending over at the waist and straining their back muscles.

It’s the same with running. We have an array of muscles in our lower bodies which contribute to movement. Some runners power their runs predominantly using their glutes, others use the thighs while some tap into their hamstrings or calves. While my training approach is not interesting in changing form to look good, I do believe it’s worth spending a little time each week to try and improve form through drills and strength work.

My belief is twofold. By using the right muscles for the right job, you get maximum power applied when you are running. If the wrong muscles are doing the job, they aren’t going to be as powerful at it. Secondly, they may already be fatigued when they are asked to do the things they are good at which means you get less out of them and it might even lead to injury. At best using the wrong muscles is a power leak. At worst, you’re unnecessarily fatiguing muscles that aren’t then able to handle what you want them to do. You’re not getting the best out of yourself. Bear in mind, I’m not prescriptive about what is good or bad form, only that we need to get the right muscles firing in the right sequence to maximise our own physiology.

But change takes time and with a complicated action like running, where there are many moving parts, adopting new form doesn’t necessarily come quickly. Small improvements in one area can lead to a change in another area that may or may not be desirable. If change was easy, top class runners would all have amazing form but they don’t.

When we start getting the right muscles to fire correctly they may be too weak to carry the training load we’d previously reached. We may have to run slower or train a little less until they strengthen up enough. It takes conscious effort and a willingness to accept a short-term loss for a long term gain that will hopefully last a lifetime. Just like when I gave up drinking tea with sugar.

Slow Burn by Stu Mittleman

I’m meeting up soon with an old friend who I haven’t seen since 2013. It was then he lent me his copy of Stu Mittleman’s book Slow Burn – Slow Down, Burn Fat and Unlock the Energy Within and I’ve realise it’s now time to return it! Having taken it off the shelf in readiness for our meet up, I was reminded of its content which credits Phil Maffetone for helping Mittleman’s training.

When I first read the book almost ten years ago, the ideas within it weren’t entirely new but they were still a puzzle as to how they fitted into the picture of my training to improve it. Just like John Douillard’s book Body, Mind and Sport and Maffetone’s Big Book of Endurance Training the ideas of unlimited energy and running slower to get faster seemed so promising. It was the following summer when I tried MAF training with gusto and saw that it simply didn’t work as I hoped.

Stu Mittleman is not a household name but fortunately he gives us his credentials early on. The first marathon he ran was Boston in 1977. In those days you needed a sub-3 time to qualify so he trained for a couple of weeks then ran a 2hr46 marathon (6:20/mile)!  Instantly he’s cluing us into his endurance capabilities. The book later tells us about how we was a champion ultrarunner who set a world record by running 1,000 miles in 11 days, 20 hours, 36min and 50 seconds. About how he ran almost 600 miles in six days but also how this was preceded by a struggle with injuries. It was Phil Maffetone who fixed him and taught him how to train using his age-related heart-rate formula. It’s fair to say some of what Mittleman wrote in this book, published in 2001, is based on Maffetone’s wisdom.

It’s a very readable book divided into three sections – how to THINK, TRAIN and EAT for the distance.  Each section has short chapters giving you time to digest what they have to say before you move on. There’s a lot of good information to think about.

How to THINK for the distance

Mittleman explains shifting from a goal-oriented approach to a process-oriented one. He gives the example of a group of twenty-six first time marathoners he had to train for the New York marathon in only nine weeks. Instead of focusing on finishing, he got them to experience (and therefore enjoy) the day by focusing on the twenty six aid stations positioned at each mile. He also explains how he approaches training day-by-day and how to enjoy runs.

To a coach or anyone who has worked in project management the idea of breaking a big goal into a series of intermediate steps of milestones is second nature. Of course twenty-plus years ago, when the book was written, fewer people were clued up to this approach; and performance, times, goals and Personal Bests still dominated their thoughts. Today the culture of marathons has changed and it is now common to have complete novices running marathons in 5-6 hours and not worrying about times.

How to TRAIN for the distance

How to TRAIN is the section that most interested me to read. I glossed over the initial chapters which focus on listening to your body by muscle testing / applied kinesiology, use of acupressure or reflex points and buying the right shoes for your feet. I rarely getting injuries and since the book was written much more information has become available about which shoes to buy as well as instore gait analysis etc.

Where How to Train gets interesting is in its explanations on learning to breathe deeper and giving you metaphors for good running form. I already knew how to breathe deep from Body, Mind and Sport and while the metaphors themselves are nothing I’ve ever applied apart; the idea of them is great. The best metaphor is the idea of “rollercoastering the hills” i.e. slow down as you run up them and speed up again on the down.

Discussion then moves into an explanation of fat-burning vs sugar-burning and its effects on the body. This is much the same ideas Phil Maffetone puts forward about how fat-burning is the way to stay healthy while sugar-burning leads to stress, illness and injuries. As I explained in the MAF Training Review series the general principle is right but it has been oversimplified into inaccuracy. Mittleman is a little more moderated stating on page 120 “You’ll lose the point if you reduce [it] to sugar is bad and fat is good”. As we’ll see in his heart-rate training system learning to burn fat dominates his training system but he does allow you to do faster work each week.

Mittleman HR Training system

Like Maffetone, Mittleman’s system begins by subtracting your age from 180. As I stated in my MAF series there is no scientific connection between age and how the body burns fat or sugar so this system is off to a negative start from the beginning.

Nonetheless it breaks training into three zones termed Mostly Aerobic Pace (MAP), Mostly Efficient Pace (MEP), Speedy Anaerobic Pace (SAP). The top of the MEP is 180-age, the bottom is 10 beats lower. The MAP zone is the 20 beats below the MEP zone. The SAP zone is the 20 beats above it.  Like the Maffetone formula, you are then allowed some adjustments depending on your experience and health. Finally Mittleman says to fine tune the zones based on how you feel in them. This final step seems to undo the point of using the formula.

Let’s work through for me as a 50-year-old runner:

180 – 50 = 130 MEP upper limit, so MEP lower limit is 10 lower at 120bpm.

I can raise it by 10 beats because I’m an experienced endurance athlete:

  • MEP range becomes 130-140bpm
  • MAP is there 110-130
  • SAP is 140-160

On paper these sound okay and Mittleman then details three levels of training for casual, recreational runners through to the more competitive. In his top level programme you run 3 MAPs, 2 MEPs, 1 SAP each week. This doesn’t seem like a bad mix.

The SAP training sessions are quite light volume (in my opinion) involving intervals lasting from one-to-five minutes. On the first week you total only seven minutes in the SAP zone and in week twelve it maxes out at four intervals of five minutes – twenty minutes worth. Then he strongly recommends taking a prolonged break of three months from SAP workouts; so only doing two blocks per year.

My training compared

The setup of my sessions for a week looks similar – I typically do three harder session each week and four recovery runs. One of my harder sessions is a long run which is not highly intense and would be the equivalent of an upper MEP / lower SAP session. The other two workout days would more likely involve entering the SAP and even going above it if I’m in a phase of shorter intervals. On recovery runs, when my legs are very depleted I struggle to get out of the MAP (sub-130) zone but more usually I’m hitting 130-140 thereby including some MAP work.

In “When You Need MAF” I analysed a typical training week for myself and looking at it again with these zones I find I’m nowhere close to what Mittleman is advocating. On the week in question I spent only 40mins in MAP, 2hr47 in MEP, 2hr55 in SAP and 22mins above SAP. When I look closer at his SAP programme I find I do more in one week than the whole twelve week’s programme (2hr27!)

The most significant line in the book is on page 195 “While running in my MEP target zone of 145-155, I reached the point where I could maintain a steady 5:45 per mile. I wasn’t straining or uncomfortable.”  This is the sort of heart-rate I use on my twice-weekly Steady runs and sometimes approach on my long runs. While I don’t have the endurance ability of Stu Mittleman, I can run 7:00 per mile at heart-rates in this range with the same effortless feel.

I’ve been following my regime for months and continue to use it while making progress and seeing my pace vs heart-rate improve. I’ve yet to pick up any of the injuries or illness that seem to be put forward as a reason to use age-related heartrate training. It’s hard to see what benefit I would derive from running slower more often and barely doing any training at threshold or faster.

How to EAT for the distance

I have to admit I didn’t make it far into this section. I read a book on nutrition many years ago which I tried to follow but any running books pushing me towards a diet that cuts out sugar doesn’t appeal to me. My diet is dominated by carbohydrates and the suggestion that I cut these out leaves me wondering what I’d eat as I don’t like cooking and I don’t eat a lot of fruit and vegetables. That said, I don’t eat sweets or crisps although there’s usually room for a slice of fruitcake or a flapjack!

I have always eaten to my hunger and while this is not a perfect strategy, I’m fit and healthy. What I have noticed is once I finally figured out how to do endurance training, I stopped getting hungry, I even stopped wanting cake. While my diet is still dominated by carbs – cereal, bagels, bananas, rice, pasta, bread and potatoes – I only eat when I feel hungry. Often I don’t feel hungry even after coming back from a long run.

What I now understand is how I used to train depleted my muscles of their glycogen and set me up to crave carbs to replenish the stores. As you improve at endurance training two things happen; firstly you improve the aerobic quality of the intermediate fast-twitch so that they still use glycogen but much more efficiently and secondly you tend to stop doing sessions that use the fast-twitch muscles which are fuelled by glycogen.

Let’s return to the biography I gave in the beginning. Mittleman was already endurance-trained and capable of running a 2hr46 marathon when his journey began. He could run 6:20/mile off little training and later states he can run 5:45 at 145-155HR in his MEP zone. Mostly Efficient relates to what I see as aerobic glycolysis. It still uses sugar but efficiently as the zone name suggests.

He states on page 189 that he’s happy running at 12min/mile pace for his MAP run three days per week and that he was once asked by Runners World why he ran twenty miles per day to which he answered it’s all he had time for! That’s the sort of thing you expect from ultrarunners who are interested in running for five hours or more but it’s no route to success over shorter distances. Ultra training for long distances requires many hours and miles of training and it can only be done at slow paces or the body will break down.

So we see he’s recommending eating strategies that are appropriate to his event. What we have to remember is the context of Mittleman’s running career. He is a champion ultrarunner. He is out for hours on his races and no doubt trains for hours each week. The average pace of his 100-mile world record is 7:44/mile and while that might sound fast to some runners, it’s not in the context of shorter races. I’d expect that to be a heart-rate of around 115bpm. There’s no doubt fat-burning adaptions are very important for races lasting over an hour particularly marathons and ultras. Any runner interested in middle distance or parkrun will benefit from improving their aerobic base but will need to encourage both fuel sources and this is true for the 10K and half-marathon as well.


This is a book filled with information that can help people build a greater understanding of how to approaching training. What I particularly love is the chapter where Stu Mittleman describes the different sensations you will feel as you move up the training intensity scale. When you’re on a slow, low heart-rate jog you can be in tune with the sights and sounds of the world barely breathing; when you’re doing anaerobic intervals your attention will narrow and everything thing will be focused on trying to catch your breath and get to the end of the effort. I believe running by feel is one of the most important skills all runners could learn.

I don’t agree with using heart-rate monitors to train and applying an age-related formula even less so. I agree though with mixing up the week to have slower paced runs dominating the schedule and this fits with the 80:20 rule. The idea of improving the aerobic system by improving mitochondria is important to all distance runners but this doesn’t necessarily mean fat-burning.

The areas of the book I skip are the sections on muscle testing and what to eat. The latter is more down to my own preferences and the area of applied kinesiology is considered a pseudo-science. Linking say knee pain to stressed out adrenal glands affecting the Sartorius muscle seems tenuous to me and doesn’t fit with anything I’ve experienced but then I rarely get injured or ill.

I hope I don’t sound overly negative about the book. When I read it, I found there was much I already knew but I’m a voracious reader when I get interested in a subject. I think for many people there’s much they could learn but they then need to put it into context of what it is for. This is a book about how to run marathons and ultras if you’re not too worried about your time or getting fast quickly. It doesn’t make any claims that it will help you over shorter distances because I don’t think it can.

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MAF Training review – Part 6 When You Need MAF

My previous articles about the MAF Method discourage using the age-related formula for low heartrate training. But in this post I’m taking a more positive angle because there’s a reason people went to Phil Maffetone and he was able to help them. So while, I’m not a fan of the age-related formula, I am a fan of building good endurance which relates to what Maffetone refers to as MAF – Maximum Aerobic Function. While I’m not going to advocate using his formula, I am going to detail and explain the circumstances where a block of endurance training could be useful.

A parkrunner I know is a very capable runner yet, in a decade of running, his progress has been very limited. In fact, he’s barely knocked a minute off his parkrun time. When we first met he’d been running again for perhaps six months. He’d been a talented youngster, quit and now returned to running as he approached forty. It hadn’t taken much training to achieve a twenty minute parkrun yet in all the running since he has barely scraped under nineteen minutes. Despite training five days per week, six at one stage, he really hasn’t made much progress.

His years of running have been blighted by Achilles’ problems. Whenever he starts to train harder with speedwork his Achilles becomes sore and limits his running. He then backs off the pace until long after the Achilles has healed, only to restart the speedwork and go through the same issues. Until recently he was able to run a 19:30 parkrun at full effort but over the last year he’s developed a hamstring injury and is struggling to break twenty minutes. On the tougher local courses, he can’t even break twenty-one minutes!

If he could go to Phil Maffetone, I’m sure MAF would get him back to health and restructure his training to help him improve. I’d still argue against using the age-related MAF formula because he’s over fifty and training at 125 (further five beat reduction for recent injury) isn’t going to produce decent longterm results. Yet, as you’ll see in the next section, he’s clearly not getting the aerobic development Maffetone would encourage and is running around almost every day of the week at heart-rates which are too high.

A typical week’s training when you need MAF

He typically runs five days per week – three midweek, a parkrun on Saturday which is always a faster effort, a Sunday run which is his longest of the week while the Wednesday run tends to be slightly shorter. He gives himself two rest days which, being on Monday and Friday, space the week’s training out nicely. All in it’s not a bad training structure to follow. Here’s the heart-rate graphs from those five days of training.

I’ve put a yellow line to indicate where a heart-rate of 150 occurs and you can see that on every run he is reaching and surpassing it for a decent portion of the time. In fact, at parkrun the heart-rate reaches 170+ and most days he’ll be hitting the 160s at some stage of the running. He’s not just exceeding 150bpm but exceeding it significantly on almost every run.

I consider the overall amount of time spent running each week to be an issue. Totalling about 25 miles per week in 3hr 20mins it’s not enough for a distance runner. Of course everybody leads different lives and has different priorities so I can’t be too critical. Yet at less than an hour the Sunday run isn’t long enough and it should surely be possible to find more time for it. If he was an 800m runner, an hour might be long enough but he isn’t; he describes himself as a 5K / 10K runner. Apart from a couple of ten mile races and a half marathon; 10Ks have been the furthest distance raced in all these years. This overall lack of training volume is part of the problem.

The average pace for the week is 7:45/mile and the Wednesday run is the slowest at 8:11/mile. Given a parkrun time that is just breaking twenty minutes, Jack Daniels’ VDOT tables suggest Easy runs should be somewhere around 8:30/mile pace. So again, alongside the evidence of the high daily heart-rates, we’re getting an indication that there isn’t enough genuinely easy running taking place.

There’s two more problems these stats don’t reveal. On each of the training runs he stops to cross roads which give him one to three minutes recovery on any run. There’s over nine minutes of stops built into these runs. It may seem picky but anyone who has done distance training knows a break is refreshing. If you’re running anaerobically those breaks allow you to recharge the batteries and keep pushing (too) hard. Now you may argue it’s impossible not to stop but, with good timing and route choices it can be avoided. I often go weeks without needing to stop on any of my runs simply by running on roads with low levels of traffic, early in the morning and being flexible about when and where I cross roads. I will happily run an extra fifty paces up a road to let traffic die down before crossing it. But obviously do the safe thing.

The other unseen problem in these graphs is there’s some decent hills on the routes. He’s trying to maintain the same pace up and down them but that pushes the effort up which explain some of the higher heart-rates.

Graphing all those runs differently we can see the time spent in a MAF-HR zone of 130 or less; a middle zone of 131-150 which is usually safe for older runners to train at and a 150+ zone where the training effect is large but also takes time to recover from.

It’s clear he’s running hard five days per week with heart-rates hitting the 150+ mark. You would think the two rest days would be enough but they aren’t. What’s actually happening is the muscles are being trained anaerobically. The days after the rest days (Tuesday and Saturday) are faster runs because the muscles are refreshed but all that allows is for him to go out hard and reinforce the anaerobic training. There is no aerobic development. One of the benefits of day-in, day-out training is it leaves the legs somewhat fatigued to the point where they have to go slower and that helps the aerobic development.

The main consequences of this approach are that he’s getting injured and not improving.

What good training looks like

Injuries were the sort of thing Maffetone was happy to dive in and sort out. As I have stated repeatedly, I’m not a believer in the age-related formula but I am a believer in what Maffetone was trying to get his clients to do which is stay healthy and get faster by building an aerobic base through good endurance training.

My own training during this period saw me run nearly double the training our Needs MAF runner was managing. I was just shy of fifty miles taking 6hr 24mins yet we had the same average pace for the week at 7:45/mile. Despite all this extra mileage I’d been training every day for almost three years without illness or serious injury. While I picked up a couple of glute strains along the way (which came from trying too hard in speedwork) neither lasted more than a week and I was still able to run. While our parkrun times are similar, my base endurance is improving and I am positioning myself to go faster in the longterm.

You can see I run every day but only push harder on two days (Tuesday and Friday). There’s a few little glitches on my heart-rate monitor particularly Wednesday which highlights the problem of accuracy with heart-rate training but otherwise I’m comfortably well below 150HR on my recovery days. My Sunday long run sometimes scrapes into the red but the training effect I’m interested is in building endurance on those runs. Even a good ninety minute run is still only a hard, aerobic effort. Where the Needs MAF runner has to take two rest days every week, I’m getting out there and running on them too.

Another intriguing detail of our training weeks is that we accumulate the same amount of 150+ ‘red zone’ training time but my extra running accumulates time and fitness in the supporting zones while allowing the body to recover from the harder sessions. If I tried to run hard every day like he does, I’m sure I would be getting injured too.

We’re both fifty years old and Maffetone would like us to be doing all our training to a heart-rate of 130 or below. I don’t believe in that but I do total over an hour of my weekly running at this level and it’s usually in the first couple of miles of the runs while my body warms up. This is important – I’m listening to my body to get an indication of how it feels and whether I can push hard. Maffetone talks about doing warm-ups in his book but the people who think he’s only about low heart-rate training miss this.

On days following a harder effort I find my legs don’t want to do too much and it is a struggle to get the heart-rate up. My legs can be glycogen-depleted so I just jog along to aid recovery. If I tried, I could probably push to higher levels especially if I’d had a day off but I don’t try to push it every day and that was Maffetone’s message.

80-20 training

Much of Maffetone’s work occurred in the 80s and 90s when heart-rate monitors were still new. The science of exercise physiology has progressed a lot in recent years. What we now know, due to the work of Stephen Seiler, is that elite athletes tend to split their training into 80% below lactate threshold and 20% above it.

Throughout this post I’ve referenced a HR of 150bpm. Be careful – 150HR is not THE definitive value to use; it’s the data that was available to me. That the Needs MAF runner trains somewhere around this level most days shows it is probably somewhere around his own.

One hundred and fifty is close to where my lactate threshold heart-rate usually lies and I calculate I have a 76-24% split above and below it. That’s within the bounds of 80-20 training. On the other hand, the Needs MAF runner’s training split comes in at 54-46%. It begins to explain why he’s failing to make progress and getting injured when he starts to do even more intense work!

Arguably it may be wrong to use 150HR to split his training but it’s clear he’s training too hard every day because his body is letting him know through injuries and lack of progress. You can also see when he runs 30secs/mile slower on Wednesdays, he has lower heart-rate so it would be easy for him to include more genuinely easy-paced runs. Doing that, as Maffetone outlined is the key to staying healthy and injury-free.

Although I’ve been explaining all this using data you don’t need a heart-rate monitor to know whether your training is going well. Just a bit of common sense and listening to your body will tell you. When it creaks and groans it’s time to back off.


My six posts on MAF training are among the most detailed and honest articles about it on the internet and well worth reading. I’m trying to help runners get past the idea that training to a single number on a heart-rate monitor is the answer to all their problems. Good training involves scheduling the right mix of sessions at the right times. A block of endurance training like Maf suggests is just one part of what you need. My years of training and coaching allow me to know what to do and when to do it to help runners get fitter, faster and healthier. If you too would like me to help you then please contact me with details of your running and how you think I can help you.

MAF, Hof and Cerutty

Percy Cerutty is one of the forgotten coaches of the 20th century. His most notable protégé was Herb Elliott who won the 1,500m gold at the 1960 Rome Olympics and knocked six seconds off the world record for a mile, that’s pretty good to have on your resume. Cerutty’s methods were consider eccentric and bizarre yet I found some commonality between what he coached and the work of Wim Hof and Phil Maffetone. It’s useful to understand their common ground as, while Hof and Maf aren’t specifically coaching runners, the underlying principle is important to all distance runners and building health. Let’s begin by recapping Maf and Hof!

Phil Maffetone

I’ve discussed Maffetone’s work at length previously. While he wasn’t a running coach, his work as a chiropractor helped many long distance athletes improve their times. His main concept is to build the aerobic system so exercise becomes fuelled by burning fat. Athletes do this by training to a heart-rate calculated using their age, muscle-testing for weakness and changing the diet to eat fewer processed foods, grains, dairy products and animal fats while eating more vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.

Coming up with a definition of health is an interesting conundrum, because when you when try, it ends up being defined by a negative. The negative being the absence of illness, injury or any other way the body may be malfunctioning. Just saying health is the perfect functioning of the body doesn’t say much.

Maffetone’s method is about eliminating or reducing, to an allowable level, those things which cause ill-health. When many athletes train they often do so with too much intensity which causes the parasympathetic nervous system to rev up, create adrenaline and generally cause the body to become unhealthy due to the waste products caused by anaerobic metabolism. Maf focuses them on improving the aerobic system to delay the anaerobic system from kicking in and lower its overall use.

While he never specifically coached athletes, he helped them get healthy by improving their aerobic base. His best known success is Mark Allen, who went from runner-up in multiple Hawaii Ironman races to being a five-time winner.

Wim Hof

I recently read and wrote about Hof’s book “The Wim Hof Method” and the three core tenets of his system. Improving the aerobic system by taking cold showers, breathing deeply and mentally focusing to achieve goals. Like any good system of improvement, his method starts off with small challenges and gradually increases so you can contend with more.

Hof is not a running coach either and while he has run a marathon barefoot up Mount Everest and swum 200m under sea ice; I consider his most impressive achievement to be the story of how researchers injected him with E-coli virus. In 16,000+ previous trials participants always developed mild flu-like symptoms from the injection – yet Hof didn’t. A subsequent experiment then saw him train twelve people in his method who also remained healthy despite the E-coli injection. The scientists were amazed yet it seemed natural to Hof.

Like Maffetone, Wim Hof explains the benefits of his method as coming from building the aerobic system up. He talks about how an improved aerobic system keeps the body functioning in its naturally alkaline state whereas anaerobic metabolism pushes it into an acidic state. He explains how deep breathing suppresses inflammation and cleans out waste products in the lymphatic system.

While their descriptions of the specifics may differ, the underlying principle is the same of improving the aerobic system to maintain health and create a strong immune system.

Percy Cerutty

So that’s an outline of Phil Maffetone and Wim Hof’s methods and rationales towards keeping your body healthy. Now we look at Percy Cerutty and how through his own experiences he discovered similar principles and put them into action to turn Herb Elliott into the world record holder for the mile and 1,500m as well as remaining undefeated in thirty-six mile races.

Herb Elliot and Percy Cerutty running barefoot strides

In Beyond Winning, Gary M. Walton writes “Born in 1895, Cerutty grew up in a working-class suburb of Melbourne. He was a weak, sickly, and underprivileged child. When he was six years old, he contracted a case of double pneumonia that caused partial paralysis of his left lung. For years, heavy exercise and especially running caused sever discomfort. He suffered from chronic migraine headaches and was usually sick after races. [Cerutty entered mile races, winning ten – one in 4:32] When he quit running in his early twenties, his health continued to slide. By the time he was 43, he had suffered from a nervous and physical breakdown requiring a six-month leave from his job as a telephone technician.”

This is a man who was clearly struggling with his health but during his six-months off, Cerutty decided to challenge his mind and body. It was do-or-die. He rebuilt his confidence by building up to diving off the high tower at St Kilda Baths, took up weightlifting, hiking and swam in the icy Yarra River near his home. He was beginning to develop his back-to-basics, no comfort Stotan philosophy – a mixture of Spartanism and Stoicism.

He created a weekend training camp at Portsea where runners would come to live in bunkhouses, run up sand dunes and eat raw foods. Walton states breakfast was “rolled oats, nuts, dried fruits, bananas, raw cabbage, brown bread and cheese”. But it wasn’t just about physical exercise, in the evenings they would talk and read books of philosophy and poetry, a purification of the mind.

A typical day at the camp:

  • 7am – 5 mile run before breakfast wherever they wanted to go
  • 8am – breakfast (as detailed above)
  • 9am – swimming, surfing or outdoor chores like chopping wooding, painting, carpentry
  • Noon – training and lectures followed by another swim
  • 2pm – lunch – fish and fresh fruit
  • 3pm – siesta
  • 4pm – weight training (a new concept in the 1950s)
  • 5pm – 10 mile run along dirt roads ending at the sea
  • 7pm – tea and general discussion on a variety of topics led by Percy
  • 11pm – lights out

One of the features of the Portsea half-acre training camp was a 60⁰ sand dune rising 80ft which the record to run up was 11 seconds and which Elliott had run up and down forty-two times on a another occasion. There was the Hall Circuit – 1mile 285yds – which Elliot had covered in 5min21 – as well as a ¼ mile Stewart Circuit which ended up a steep hill. Training wasn’t solely around the camp but also took in the local dirt roads, parks and golf course.

While Cerutty trained Elliot and other runners to world records, his aim was not specifically to win titles or run times. It was about getting the absolute maximum out of oneself. His Stotan creed was about removing the crutches and supports that people of the era were beginning to let creep into their lives. When he toured America, Cerutty was appalled at how Americans were flabby, drinking and smoking too much. While this may have been judgemental and critical we should remember he believed in what he preached and went from constant ill health in his younger years to being able to run a sub-3 marathon at age 50 which set the Victoria state record at a time when the world record was 2hr26.

All information on Cerutty taken from Walton’s “Beyond Winning” published in 1992.


It’s clear there is a similarity between Wim Hof Method and Cerutty’s training camp using nature to harden the mind and body. Swimming in cold water is used by both as a way to strengthen the will; but Cerutty probably never realised, unlike Hof, that it is strengthening the aerobic system as well. Even so, running on sand, up and down dunes would have had Cerutty’s runners breathing deeply just as Hof recommends. The overlap between their methods seems notable.

While there is less immediate commonality between Cerutty and Maffetone, both recommend a careful diet which involves natural foods and avoids processed ones. Cerutty’s diet though tended to be more carbohydrate-based whereas Maffetone’s doesn’t. But Cerutty was training runners like Herb Elliott for middle distance events where carbohydrates are the primary source of energy whereas the Ironman triathlons Mark Allen took part in need fat to be a key fuel source.

What Cerutty was discovering in his training camps was how to build the aerobic system through a combination of daily distance running at a time when these things were rarely understood. The daily regimen of running for half an hour in the morning, another hour in the evening as well as cross-training with sea swims or surfing would certainly have left athletes tired but improving their aerobic system. The overlap with Wim Hof’s Method is clear and Hof’s method has clear overlap with Phil Maffetone.

All distance runners will improve their times and capabilities by building their aerobic capacity and endurance. While the Stotan approach of Percy Cerutty is no longer necessary, it is easily achieved with a committed approach to modern training methods. If you’d like to me to help you become a healthier, better runner – please contact me to discuss online coaching, training reviews and plans.

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.