Staying healthy

I was in my early twenties when I made, what I now realise was, a very insightful observation. Where I worked the majority of people were older than me. (That’s not the insight). Of course when you’re young you have no judgement of how old other people are. Thirty seems wise and mature when you’re twenty and anyone over forty is ancient like your parents!

Now while I didn’t go around asking people their age you get a feel based on their seniority. There were the people who did the actual work, like myself, and we were all under thirty. The people who were middle management were usually in their thirties and the senior managers were over forty. Of course there were some workers in their forties who only made it to supervisor or team leader level or not even that far.

I’d get an idea of their age based on their family circumstances or how long they’d been working and the stories they told about when they were growing up. Whether it was supporting a football team that had success in the Sixties, their drinking stories from the Seventies or being single in the Eighties.

Despite this inability to accurately age people, what I noticed about the men who were under forty was they generally looked similar to people in their twenties. Yet the men who were over forty-five were overweight, grey or bald and wearing spectacles. Something happened to men between the age of forty and forty-five and it wasn’t flattering. This was the big insight!

This forty to forty-five change isn’t quite as prevalent today as it was thirty years ago. There’s certainly some artificial manipulation going on with hair dye, shaving the head completely bald rather than a combover and eye surgery or contact lenses instead of spectacles. But generally people look after themselves a little better and fifty has become the new forty! There are even people looking amazing in their sixties – think Tom Cruise.

I decided then I didn’t want this rapid ageing disaster to befall me and I would stay fit and healthy as best I could. The prevailing wisdom was that you can’t stop the ageing process but I’ve never been one for believing that and you did occasionally see people who looked much better than their years.


As I exited my thirties I found the occasional grey hair and a very gradually receding hairline, but it wasn’t until I turned forty-five that I saw a photo where my hair looked notably greyer. Even then I looked good for my age yet my reaction was to start learning what I could do to slow the decline. I bought a copy of Joe Friel’s “Fast After 50” as I wanted a headstart on what I should be doing when I hit them. That’s all summed up in my “The Ageing Runner” series of posts.

I’ve continued to decline a little more over the past five years. My eyesight is declining but I’m holding off on the specs and have tried various exercises to strengthen them. My hair is beginning to grey up on top where before it was just the temples. I still have a decent head of hair but my male pattern baldness is following the same trend as my uncle who is now seventy-two and looks exactly like I recall my grandad looking.


Now at fifty, I’m thinking ahead again. I don’t want to be one of those people who reaches their eighties and stoops, shuffles, struggles to get up and downstairs and has a variety of illnesses that keep flaring up. I’ve seen my parents, relatives and neighbours hitting this age and it’s saddening to see the decline kick in more strongly because they haven’t done any exercise beyond the housework, gardening and walking around town.

It doesn’t have to be the end, I keep telling them they could build more fitness. Over the past few years the BBC has aired programmes taking groups of sedentary seventy-somethings and improving their health and fitness by having them doing appropriate weightlifting and fitness exercises. This is good news for those who’ve left it until later but it’s much harder to build up when you’re faced with a big reclamation project rather than an ongoing maintenance task. If you get too far overweight or unfit, you may struggle to be able to get an exercise programme started plus you’ll have lived your fifties and sixties with many of the effects of ill-health – aches, pains, getting out of breath on stairs, fatigued and possibly feeling unhappy when you look in the mirror.

It might seem strange to be thinking thirty years into the future but doing so gives you a chance to identify and build good habits and if you take a month off, it really isn’t going to cause too much decline. On the other hand, it’s not uncommon for sedentary adults to put on 1-2 pounds of fat each year (and that’s a conservative amount for people who don’t exercise) which will leave them two to four stone heavier in thirty years’ time with all the problems that brings.

This is why I’ve been training for the 800m. I think it’s the best blend of aerobic exercise and speed you can do. To support it, I do press-ups, bicep curls and corework to keep my upper body toned and strong. The trick to slowing the ageing decline is to make sure you maximise using what you have got. The reason others get slow is they stop doing hard all-out exercise at all, get comfy and think going for a jog or walk is enough. It really isn’t.

This all began the better part of thirty years ago for me when I spotted the rapid decline between forty and forty-five. Reaching fifty, I’m pleased to consider myself about as fit and healthy as I can be at this age. It’s worth pointing that I haven’t been obsessive about this over that span. There have been periods where I didn’t exercise or ate badly but it was never too difficult to get back into shape because I was never too far away from my best!

Update on my 800m training – May 2022

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Update on my 800m training – Apr 2022

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

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

Hills

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

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

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

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

Short intervals

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

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

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

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

Near disaster

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

Actual disaster (minor)

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

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

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


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

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

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

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.

Update on my 800m training – January 2022

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

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

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

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

Intervals – 5x1K with 3-min standing recovery

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

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

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

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

Long runs – 11.7 miles every Sunday

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

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

Steady run – 7.4 miles

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

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

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

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

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

Drills and strides

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

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

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

January over, looking forward to February

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

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

Review of the year – 2021

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

Final sprint to the line at Christchurch 10K in 2021

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Update on my 800m training – Nov-Dec 2021

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

731 days and counting …

Somehow my Run Every Day streak has hit two years. There was never any intent to start a streak but it began back on December 8th 2019 at Christchurch 10K following a rest day. Post-race I began rebuilding my aerobic base with the aim of running a spring half marathon. Then the pandemic hit and we were all thrown into lockdown – only being allowed out for exercise and essential shopping. Having already clocked up one hundred consecutive days I thought I’d see how long the streak could go, fully expecting it to finish sometime in the summer once the pandemic was over(!), but if I went past that, aiming to do the whole of the calendar year as a challenge. And since then it’s just gone on. I’ve found no particular need for a rest day this year and as I haven’t entered any races other than this year’s edition of Christchurch 10K, I’ve kept running.

How did I motivate myself?

The streak has been incidental to my running. Running is something I love doing. When you do things for love, there is no concept of motivation. People who like fine food, don’t have to motivate themselves to go out to eat!

The sort of reasons why I love running are that it keeps me fit and provides a challenge to be better than I ever have. There are different event distances to get better at, as well as the technical challenge of trying to improve my running form and adding on strength and conditioning for an overall healthy, longer life. Looking after my future health by taking care of myself now is an easy motivation for me.

I guess it would also be fair to say there is hidden motivation coming from being a natural goalsetter. In the early days of the streak I was focused on getting fit for my spring half marathon, then it was extending the streak through lockdown, then the calendar year and now it’s daily running to support my 800m training. As I saw each milestone ticked off, a new one just a few months ahead naturally presented itself. So it just kept going.

How did I make time to run?

I have a routine. I often run at the same times each day.  By having that routine it becomes a priority to my life. In turn that buffers my own mental health and wellbeing because I’m putting myself first regularly in some part of my day. It sends an underlying message to my subconscious that what I want matters.  It’s not that I won’t be flexible when the occasion demands, but having the time blocked out “for me” makes it easier to be flexible when other demands arise.

How did I get out for runs when the legs were tired?

First and foremost, I let my body dictate how it wants to run. I generally schedule four easy/recovery runs each week lasting around forty minutes. I’ll run these as slow as my body wants, or more specifically only as fast as it lets me. I make sure I set off slowly (aka warming up) and I listen to how fast my body wants to go. I don’t push to go faster on these days, I just accept whatever pace my body lets me have.

There’s always a Sunday long run each week. In the early days of the streak I aimed for this to last two hours, but when I took up 800m training I reduced it 1hr30 and found a 11½ mile route which facilitated it.

The other two days of the week tend to be some kind of effort session. Whether that’s a one-hour Steady run, an interval session or parkrun; it’s more likely I push things and won’t be listening to my body. That’s fine because I have all the other days to recover.

But throughout I’ve always been monitoring how I feel, looking for signs of overtraining and ready to drop back and slot in a recovery week.

What have been the benefits?

Obviously I’ve been staying fit and healthy and hopefully getting faster, but there’s also a hidden benefit that only showed itself through daily running. I began to learn about the day-to-day fluctuations in how my body feels and wants to run. I started to understand what soreness meant, able to predict up or down days and be able to accept that sometimes the body can’t do too much.

Many amateur runners only run two or three times per week. If they’re marathon training they start to struggle to follow their plan because they feel lousy or tired. They don’t think they can do those runs slower or reduce the length while still doing something; they simply go all-or-nothing. Running every day ‘forced’ me to go out on the days when I didn’t want to and, by doing that, it’s helped me understand my running body better and figure out how to train to be able to do that without getting injured.

When will it end?

I never intended to have a run streak and despite ensuring I slot in recovery runs, I think there has been a build-up of residual muscle damage that would benefit from a rest day. If I get back to 10K or half marathons in 2022, I’ll be taking rest days in the lead up as part of the final taper. If the winter months in early 2022 are icy and cold, I’m certain I’ll take a rest day. It’s quite possible though I’ll get to the end of 2022 and be writing about my three year run streak!


Over the two years I’ve run over 4,500 miles and it’s consistently been thirty-five to fifty miles each weeks depending where I’m at in my training schedule. Every run streak has to have parameters, Ron Hill’s famous fifty-two year streak involved one mile every day; mine has turned out to be at least 5K every day. There was one day back near the beginning where I only did 4K but, as I said, there was no intention to create a run streak and it’s all arbitrary anyway. It’s not like I’m doing this for a world record, charity or at the expense of anyone else. It’s a nice, little story to tell but not much more than that in my book. The run streak has been something building in the background while I train.

Update on my 800m training – Oct 2021

The time had come to run another 800m time trial and find out whether JackD’s plan was working. 

A quick recap – last December I ran 2:58 to set a baseline. In April, after following Jack’s plan for a cycle, it reduced by only five seconds to 2:55. I then did six weeks of endurance training and it reduced a little more to 2:53 in early June. This was where I started my second cycle of Jack’s training from. The summer was then spent following the plan as best possible allowing for hamstring strain in July and a fast parkrun in August. I did all but three of the scheduled sessions.

So here I was back at Poole Park and having gone through my usual pre-run routines, this time I ran 2:50, maybe 2:49. Still no significant improvement. This was highly disappointing given I thought I was capable of breaking 2:40. Back in early September I ran 1:58 for 600 in training – that’s 2:40 pace so I should have been faster on the time trial. But it wasn’t to be. Realistically when I got to the October time trial I’d already passed my peak and was on the way downwards hence the poor showing on the day.

There’s no doubt I’ve generally got faster and fitter from the training but it’s not resulting in faster times over 800. If anything all I’ve done is brought the average of training up. I’ve not got significantly faster in the top-end speed – I ran 37-38secs for the first 200m of this time trial, back in December it was 39-40 secs. That two second per 200m improvement simply reflects what’s happened in the time trials.

World class 800m runners are easily capable of running twenty-five seconds for 200m – even the women. I’m nowhere close to that, maybe thirty-five seconds at best. So I’ve got to find a way to improve top-end speed because if you start running 200 quicker then the subsequent sections all get quicker. Even with a drop-off 400 is covered in under a minute and so on.

Endurance rebuild

Following the time trial, I knew I needed to let my legs recover. I spent a week doing very easy jogging. And that’s all it was – jogging. I’ve come to realise that when I’m past my peak it’s because my body has begun switching Intermediate fast-twitch fibres over to anaerobic mechanism and these can only be rebuilt through endurance training – lots of easy running, no speedwork.

My first Sunday run of the rebuild saw my heart-rate barely going over 130bpm during the entire run. Yet it still felt effortful in its own way which always highlights a drop in endurance. In the following days the pace picked up but I was still only barely running 8-min/mile until my legs came back. Yet by end of month I was beginning to see some miles closer to seven minutes and even putting in a couple of 6:50s on Steady runs. My final Sunday long run of the month was close to where I’d been in late August. Theoretically I could have picked up the 800 training again but I want to spend the winter on endurance as all world-class runners have a large aerobic base.

Form drills

Recognising my top-end speed isn’t good enough, I started looking at how to improve my general sprint speed without resorting to hillwork which usually overpowers my endurance. As I detailed in Stride Length, I’ve been thinking about how to improve this and started doing more drillwork – marching, A-skips, B-skips and straight leg bounding – to try and improve my running form. And boy, did it improve.

From the first day of drills I could feel my left glute hasn’t been working, my knees haven’t been lifting enough and my lower legs (the calf) have been inhibited in extending the stride. That inhibition has come from previous attempts to improve form where I looked to get rid of heel striking. There is so much conflicting information out there, most of it by people who are interested in very, long distance running rather than speed.

Given it’s ten minutes after an easy run twice per week, I’ve really enjoyed doing the drill work. I think it’s a new challenge and I can feel it’s going to help. The disappointment of the time trial has quickly gone.

Pistol squats

When I was researching exactly how to do sprint drills I came across heptathete Chari Hawkins doing a pistol squat.

Trying one I couldn’t get anywhere close even hanging onto my kitchen counter! It occurs to me that at the bottom of the pistol squat is very much the sort of position sprinters push out of from the start blocks. Developing it must be useful for getting faster especially as Chari Hawkins can run a 24.4sec 200m.

So I’ve begun doing daily squat work and discovered my left leg is weaker than my right. Much of that is related to muscles around the left hip which has impacted my running stride in the past. Doing the squat work has begun to strengthen this.

Combined with the drill work, my running form has changed massively in a couple of weeks. I’m feeling stronger and more balanced in my running. I’m sure my stride length is increasing simply because I have a stronger push off.

Coming up

The next block of dedicated 800m training is a long way off. I’m going to use this winter to build endurance. I feel that’s also holding me back. The best 800m runners in the world all have big aerobic systems which reflects in their easy runs being in the 6-7min/mile range – currently that’s top end aerobic running for me; not easy. I need to build mine up while maintaining contact with my speed.

I’m hoping to maintain speed through a fortnightly fast parkrun (as well as drills and strides). It’s a long time since I went to parkrun and ran fast regularly. I feel sometimes I’ve got so focused on training that I don’t get the reward of actually racing fast. My first fast parkrun on Oct 23rd came in at 21:20 at Upton House. While it was a four second PB over August, I know there’s much more to come as the legs were fatigued from a big week of running.

The other thing I’m looking forward to is Christchurch 10K in mid-December. While I’m not intending to do any specific 10K training for it, I am focusing on it and will taper for it. After that I will probably look to run a decent half-marathon next spring before resuming 800m training again. It’s all a long way off and yet it’ll fly by!

Update on my 800m training – Sept 2021

The second cycle of 800m training is coming to a close. Next week I’ll go do an 800 time trial and see how successful it’s been. The last block of training through July-August was mixed in its success. I felt stronger by the end of it but quite often missed the target times due to overly tired legs. Missing target was a little demoralising yet seeing other things going well helped offset that.

This month’s training has been about sharpening up for the 800TT. Its focus has been miles at Threshold pace to help build Lactate Clearance, along with short intervals at 800m and mile pace for building Lactate Tolerance. The hardest efforts, which need some psyching up for, are the long 600m efforts at 800m pace. On their own it wouldn’t be awful but often they’re thrown in as one part of a bigger session. For example, the first week was simply three 600m efforts with a 1km jog recovery – each effort takes a full-on effort.

Threshold running (T-pace)

The early efforts for these came in around 6:50-55/mile pace. This was a good twenty seconds faster than the same workouts six months ago. But as my fitness sharpened up I began to run them faster and by the past week I was running at 6:40.

The dilemma has been whether to stick to pace or trying to go based on how the body is reacting. As I’m not one for staring at the GPS anymore I’ve opted for the latter hence why my fastest effort came in at 6:34! Considering during July-August I was struggling to run my kilometre intervals at this pace, it all suggests training has been going in the right direction.

Mile-pace running (R-pace)

The plan has been packed with 200s at mile pace but, they’re often at the end of a Threshold session when the legs are tired and heavy with lactate. Sometimes they’ve been hard to get on-target, needing lots of effort to scrape in; other times it’s seemed easy to hit target with lots to spare.

Given the aim was to hit 44sec there’s only been one over 44½sec which was into a headwind; I judge them as having been a success.

800m-pace running (FR-pace)

These have been the rewarding part of training. Last time I was aiming to complete 600s in 2:06 and I only managed it once. This time, I was aiming for 2:00 and managed to get under it three times along with two more at sub-2:02 – not too far off.

There have also been some slower 600s and last Thursday finished on a low note with them coming in at 2:07 and 2:09. I can throw out excuses about high winds but, in the end, I still like to hit target. Yet when I think back to the start of the year I was running my initial 600s in around 2:23 there is something good happening overall.

There were a couple of 400s mid-month which came in on target at 1:18-19 compared to 1:27-29 in the equivalent session six months ago. And again at the beginning of training I remember one misjudged effort came in at 1:41!

The shorter intervals of 200, 300 have been interesting. Generally I’ve struggled to run them much faster than last time around. Fastest 200 in March was 37.45s, this time it’s 36.73sec; so there is a little more quickness but it’s not been a massive leap.  I got a couple of sub-37s on a wind-assisted day and sub-59 300s on another.

So it really seems like I’ve improved my speed endurance this go-around but haven’t done much for my actual top end speed. The 200s are averaging sub-5 pace now which is pleasing given I couldn’t even hit that pace at the start of the year. Doing strides has been a factor on the speed side and I managed to get the pace down to 4:07/mile momentarily on one so hopefully there is more to come.

Stats

I’m not going to go overboard on the stats as they’ve been so variable. But to give an indication of my fastest efforts in time and pace; plus what that multiplies up to over 800m. It’s noticeable that the longer efforts of 400-600 are about the same pace.

FastestPace800m pro-rata
200m36.73s(4:55/mile)2:26.9
300m58.23s(5:12/mile)2:35.3
400m1:18.9(5:17/mile)2:37.7
600m1:58.22(5:17/mile)2:37.6

Running form

Since starting the second time around with the plan, I’ve been working on my running form. I’ve specifically been trying to figure out how to sprint faster and somewhere over the past month or so it all began to come together. I found my legs were beginning to spring off the pavement and each stride would cover more distance. This has caused muscles in my right hip and glutes to get more active to fire produce thee springing action but also involved protecting muscles around the calves and quads that absorb the landing forces. These actions are beginning to become second nature now and with the initial stimulus over, I expect them to build in coming weeks.

Summary

The most pleasing part of training is that my fitness has remained throughout. There have been one or two sessions where I couldn’t get it done but that’s to be expected. There are always ups and downs.

When I did this same training block six months ago, I struggled to get any of the 600s on target and they even slipped backwards by the last couple of weeks. I think this is part of why my time trial barely improved last time around (2:58-55). This time I’ve been hanging in there and am now hoping my 800TT will see a significant improvement – at least scraping down into the 2:30s.

My easy runs have begun to get quicker over the last week or so and I’m beginning to feel like I’m getting back to the form I had back in 2012. Not quite there yet but I am intending to do a fast parkrun in October as well. So that’s all to look forward to in the next update!