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!

Starting intervals

A recent Thursday workout was a combination of fast intervals – 600, 400s, 200s. The first came in at 2min05. The 400s both pleasingly scraped under 1min20 while the 200s were a final gasping all-out effort to get on target. Arriving home the 400s and 600 were what stuck out in my mind because they were close to the times I used to clock when running round Poole Park cricket pitch. In fact, when I looked them up I discovered the workouts I did were exactly a decade ago. How times move on.

In September 2011, I wasn’t the committed runner I am now. My first six months of the year had only seen me bank less than two hundred miles but I could run a 21:30 parkrun. In July I started doing a proper warm-up which knocked over thirty seconds off taking me sub-21. I then entered New Forest half marathon for late September and this triggered my “train harder” instinct.

My belief about getting faster at running then was based around the same idea as most people – run faster in training. But, as a sports and exercise science graduate, I’d also read up on the ideas of increasing VO2max through hard interval training and Lactate Threshold through tempo runs and through Stephen Seiler’s MAPP website thought this was the way to train. It was unsophisticated stuff but to the untrained runner it has initial benefits.


I decided hard intervals, aiming for a 19-min parkrun pace, were the way forward. After all, if I wanted to run nineteen minutes I needed to train at the pace. It didn’t seem insurmountable as I’d run a 5:55 mile in the summer which is a similar pace.

I didn’t own a GPS watch but had a sportswatch to time my runs and used a heart-rate monitor. The watch could store some basic info with the lap button but I’d often simply commit numbers to memory and write them down when I got back to the office! I have many spreadsheets filled with this sort of data.

I found a website (Gmap-pedometer) which allowed me to measure distances and found a lap of the cricket pitch to be a third of a mile. Starting from a particular blue bin and running to the pavilion is 400m. I still use these measurements to this day.What I did next is some maths. I calculated with the cricket being about 530m, I’d need to run nine or ten laps to cover the 5,000m distance of a parkrun. Nine laps would fall short at 4,770m; ten would come in at 5,300m and ensure I had a little extra in the tank. With a 19-min parkrun being about six minutes per mile, each of these lap would need to be covered in two minutes, 400m in 1min30. I’d give myself one minute’s recovery between laps and push hard on the efforts. After all, if I could run them faster it must be better and lead to improvement?

This was my plan for improving and it had worked for me on the rowing machine many years before.  But there were two immediate flaws with what I did.

  1. With my then-parkrun pace at around 6:40/mile, I was asking a lot to jump down to running 6min/mile with nothing to bridge the gap. Certainly I was capable of the pace but to do ten intervals with only sixty seconds’ recovery was asking too much of myself. When I succeeded on the rower I’d been aiming a few seconds faster than my existing times. It’s why when I became a successful parkrunner six months later, and got my time down to nineteen minutes, it was because I only ran intervals at a few seconds faster than my existing parkrun pace.
  2. I tried to cover the distance rather than do enough work to stimulate improvement. These days I’d wouldn’t do more than 3,200m worth of work at mile pace and around 1,600 – 2,400m is more usual. A full 5,000m is simply too much stress on the body to recover from. Think about it, when you train for a marathon, you only do a long run of 20-22 miles maximum. If you’re doing 10K training then the elites will only do 6-8K at race pace. It’s a mistake to believe just because the race distance is relatively short, you need to cover it in training.

The biggest flaw though is that, when I began doing these intervals ten years ago, I didn’t lack speed. As I wrote in filling in the gaps, you have to figure out what’s missing. My issue was endurance and lack of aerobic capacity. My parkruns improved three months later after I’d logged many easy miles with just the occasional fast parkrun thrown in. I already had the top end speed, it was the endurance base that was missing.

Update on my 800m training – Aug 2021

I’d say the past six weeks have been the most difficult block of training since I started in December. I knew this was going to be tough because the same block in January-February was tough. But it was tough for different reasons. Last time, it was tough because I got aches, pains and tightness as the training hit ‘new’ muscles and pushed me to my limits. This time, I just found myself struggling to hit target times and paces in many sessions. When I ran well, I ran really well but when it was poor, it was really poor!

There’s a few possible explanations for this. Firstly I came into it recovering from a strained hamstring, so fitness in the first week was below par, but the injury never recurred, and I’ve been strong since. I took the first week carefully and deliberately didn’t do some of the faster work.

Secondly I pushed the paces up to the level I felt I was achieving rather than following Jack’s guidelines. Maybe I expected too much? I don’t think so as when I’ve been on form, I’ve been smashing target times and numbers by a decent margin.

The most likely explanation is simply that I’m under-recovering. As I say, last time around I got tight with aches and pains; this time the body is used to using those muscles but they were still recovering from previous sessions.

The other reason for being under-recovered may be the return of parkrun. I’ve attended each week since it returned on July 24th and while I’ve been careful not to race them, I have been running close to my steady pace. This may just have been taking more out of my legs than I realised especially as it’s an undulating course on uneven paths.

The training itself has been a mix of three sessions – long intervals, short intervals and threshold runs.

Long Intervals

Long intervals have been the centrepiece of the work, starting at three minutes in the early weeks and lengthening out to five minutes by the last. I’ve been aiming to run these at 6:30/mile pace and when I’ve been on form, they’ve been fine.

In February I was on target, for 6:50/mile pace, 33 out of 34 times – just one effort too slow. This time it’s been about half. Weeks one, five, six have been complete misses while weeks two, three, four have all been on-target. This all-or-nothing phenomena supports why I believe the legs were under-recovered. At my best in week four I ran 5x1K all at sub 4-min pace (6:17-24/mile) but when I struggled I’ve barely been able to reach 6:35/mile pace.

Short Intervals

As ever these have ranged from 200 – 600m aiming for either 6min/mile or 5min30/mile pace. I’ve usually felt confident about achieving the slower of these efforts even when the interval length is longer but the reality is that often I’ve just been a touch slow – closer to 6:10/mile. The faster efforts have generally been daunting, because they usually crop up at the end and you wonder how you’ll ever complete them, yet quite often I’ve found something extra to give to them.

I’ve noted that while Jack gives you three mins jog recovery between these efforts, I’m usually recovering my pace and heart-rate within a minute to ninety seconds. Many years ago, when I was on the way to my first sub-40 10K, I was successfully running these sort of intervals with a 200m jog recovery that equated to 1min10.

Tempo / Marathon pace

The plan had three of the standard Sunday long runs replaced by these sessions. As it happened I only did the two Tempo efforts because I ran an all-out parkrun during the block. The Tempo runs seemed to come in comfortably around 7-min/mile which was what I was aiming for.

As I say, parkrun returned. I’ve been consistently hitting 7:20-25/mile paces without undue effort which seems to fit with my marathon pace prediction.  At the end of week five, I ran my all-out parkrun which came in at 21:24. I was expecting quicker – something in the 20:30-45 range – but the time reflected that my legs seem to have been missing something. The first kilometre was slower than my best interval efforts and the last two miles were slower than the pace of my Tempo runs.

To accommodate the Saturday morning effort, I ditched the plan’s 400m intervals on the Thursday and ran for 30-mins at Poole Park. I intended it to be an easy run but it turned out to be around marathon pace. On reflection it was probably too close to the parkrun for my legs to fully recover but it did effectively replace the planned 40-mins at marathon pace scheduled for the Sunday.

Strength and Conditioning

I’m going to write a separate post detailing the strength and conditioning I’ve been doing over the last couple of months. It’s not a massive amount – some corework, press-ups and bicep curls. They seem to have been beneficial in burning off a layer of body fat, which I didn’t know I had. No-one would ever have called me fat. On the heavy weights days I’ve found myself getting tired in the afternoons and I wonder if the energy used for recovering from these sessions has affected my recovery from running.

Running Form

As I’ve written in previous updates, I’ve been working on sprint drills and techniques during my short interval efforts and strides. I felt like it’s been heading in the right direction and in recent weeks I’ve noticed its effects coming through. I’m beginning to get up on my toes more, my core stabilising my running and best of all, finding myself trampolining down the road with each step. On a couple of occasions I felt the back of my shoulders get very painful towards the end of runs, which I see as a good sign – I’m engaging previously unused muscles that needed to develop the strength and endurance to hold the new running form together.

Summing Up

Writing all that up has given me some good insight as to what’s been going on. Week one, I struggled but was coming off the hamstring problem so accepted my fitness was slightly down. The next three weeks I began to really motor and feel confident about how I was progressing. It felt like I’d filled in a missing link that had stopped me from achieving my best in the time trials. But the combination of sessions, pushing them too hard, extra effort and parkrun may have been too much to run well in the final two weeks.

My mileage remains about the same as previously and the six weeks resulted in 43 / 43 / 44 / 46 / 41 / 48 miles. These have usually required about 6 hours training, but week five was 5hr30 as I tried to freshen my legs up and then week six came in at nearly seven hours!

Target timeOn targetMissedEffortsFastest
200m45s7310(2km)38.06s(5:06/mile)
41s88(1.6km)
300m1min01639(2.7km)58.99s(5:16/mile)
400m1min30516(2.4km)1:19.7(5:18/mile)
1min2211(0.4km)
500m1min5311(0.5km)1:53.9(6:07/mile)
600m2min156410(6km)2:07.4(5:42/mile)
I-Pace6min30211334(27.7km)
T-Pace7min0277(11.2km)
Total612586(54.5km)
Stats for those who love them!

Despite all the missed I-paced targets I feel positive. I’ve run my fastest 300s and 400s and not necessarily in perfect conditions. My very last session of the block was a repeat of one I did at the beginning. It began with three 600m efforts. In January, I ran these at around 2:20-24, in February it was 2:17-18, in July they were 2:15-16 and then this past week they came in at 2:07-08. My fastest in the last block, as I came to my peak, was only 2:05. It’s very gratifying to see some tangible progress and this wasn’t my hardest effort possible. There is more to come!

Update on my 800m training – June-July 2021

I’m now six weeks into the second time round with my 800m training. My first go-round, following a Jack Daniel’s plan, lasted from December to May and didn’t provide great results as my 800 time only improved from 2min58 to 2min53. But I knew I was running faster, felt fitter and hoped a second go-around would show better results.

This training block is full of intervals ranging from 200-600m in length. As you’ll see in the stats the vast majority are short with just four 600s planned. Last time I was aiming to run at 48sec/200m but later realised I should have been using 48½ which I could only just scrape on the 400s and 600s.

I’ve been working to 47sec/200m which is the training for a 2:52 800m. Trouble is, I’ve been averaging 43s for 200m, 1:31 for 400m and 2:15 for 600m. It seems like this reflects the discrepancy between my time trials and how I actually felt my fitness had been progressing.

More speed

Last time I tried to be accurate with my interval efforts – not going fast than necessary but always hitting target. This time I’ve thrown caution to the wind and allowed myself to run without holding back. That’s not to say I’ve gone all-out, I haven’t; just not held back.

Target timeOn targetMissedEffortsFastest
200m47s66470(14.0km)37.9s(5:05/mile)
400m1min342424(9.6km)1:26.83(5:49/mile)
600m2min21-2233(1.8km)2:13.78(5:59/mile)
Total93497(25.4km)
Some interval stats for those who love them!

I’ve also introduced 8 strides of 10secs after my Friday morning recovery run. Ideally Jack would have me doing these on two of my recovery days but I didn’t want to undermine my aerobic base too much. Last time around, I didn’t do any; this time I’m doing one set. Next time around, if everything is going well, I’ll introduce the other day.

I suspect it’s (a lack of) this faster running that was holding my 800m time back in the past. I’m beginning to see my fastest pace come down from 5min/miling to 4:30/mile during strides and this may partly be down to the limitations of how quickly my GPS watch can produce an accurate pace.

Injury risk

The bigger danger is pushing too hard may lead to injury and it happened. I suffered a minor hamstring issue in week 5. It was the final 200 of a session that had already totalled 2,800m, and when I’m feeling good as I was, I tend to like to finish strongly; so  I pumped my legs as hard as I could but felt a tightening in the right hamstring and it began to knot. I eased off, finished out the effort and jogged home.

I was fortunate to have this happen on the Thursday as it gave me five days to recover before my next set of intervals. I still ran on the days in between and by the Tuesday my legs were feeling great during the warm-up. I eased into the efforts but by the 4th 200 I was getting a sense I might not last. The next 400m I felt some tightening and on the next it was even more notable so I backed out and jogged home. That was last week and I missed the final day of intervals opting to keep runs easy and never push them along. I did a couple of strides on my Sunday long run and that seem to confirm the hammy is ok so I’ll resume training to the plan.

Long runs and mileage

The switch from a block of pure endurance work to repicking up speed work left the legs struggling on the general runs but it didn’t last past the first couple of weeks. But the introduction of the strides also sapped the legs going into the Sunday and so I haven’t seen much progress on their pace, they’re still around the same pace as last time around.

The six weeks of training I’ve done so far have resulted in 41.3, 45.1, 44.7, 45.7, 42.0, 43.8 miles.

Running form

Since April, I’ve been looking at how sprinters run and trying to apply some of their techniques and drills to my own running. The strides have been useful for this and I’ve particularly been focused on minimising hip rotation through better knee lift. I seem to be getting higher cadences on many runs and that’s going to be an important part of getting faster. The higher cadence corresponds with a concomitant rise in my glutes doing the work.


Once again I’ve really enjoyed this block of training. Getting out and running fast is fun especially as I’ve been finding it so easy to hit target. The hamstring injury is frustrating but I’m hoping that with the next phase of training being longer intervals at a slower pace that it’ll survive. I can run on it as long as I don’t overdo the forces going through it.

In the next phase, I’m meant to up my paces for fast efforts by a 1-sec/200m but, given I’ve been finding it so easy, I’m going to compromise by adding 2-secs so that I’ll actually be aiming for 45s per 200 which is what I’ve usually been running them at. This isn’t recommended as you should train at paces that relate to proven times and I haven’t actually run a 2:48 800 that would justify it.

Parkrun is also due to restart at the end of July and I’d like to attend. I’m not going to run hard every week but I’d like to see where I’m after all this training. I feel like I’m close to sub-20 form. It’ll mean dropping a workout, which isn’t ideal when you’re following a plan, but a fast parkrun will still have benefits.

But the priority is keeping the hamstring healthy.

MAF Training review – Part 4 The Myth of MAF

This post is the 4th in a series of six. Other posts can be accessed from the Readables menu tab.

When I tried MAF training I ran for 5+ months, logged 200+ hours of training where only 4½ hours was spent above a heart-rate of 138bpm. This heart-rate was determined using Maffetone’s age-related formula that I can see no scientific basis to explain. I can’t say I got any notable benefit from the training as I could run a 21-min parkrun before I started and, at the end of it I was running 20:39. In the midst of it, I did run 19:52 but regressed after doing some sprints and drills on a coaching course.

The training itself was demoralizingly slow and I was always fearful of the heart-rate monitor beeping at me to slow down because I’d exceeded the maximum heart-rate. I said I’d never train with it again because it was so unenjoyable and because there are better ways to train.

Today I’m going to prove there are better ways to train to get the same benefits.

Six months of non-MAF training

Let’s roll back to November 29th at the end of last year when I ran my standard Sunday long run in 1:39:26. It’s an average pace of 8:31/mile and my heart was pumping away at an average of 148 beats per minute. Six months later, May 30th, I ran it again, a minute slower, but my heart-rate was now only 131bpm. That’s a drop of 17 beats and an indicator I’d improved my aerobic system.

Regular readers will know I’ve spent the intervening six months training for 800m following a plan from one of Jack Daniels’ books. Although I know much about coaching and how to train I’ve never tried middle distance before, so I decided to see how one of the world’s best coaches approaches it and see what I could learn.

As I’ve documented in monthly updates – January, February, March, April  – I logged 40-45 miles per week with a mix of easy runs, long runs, intervals and threshold runs. The training got tough in the depths of winter but I got through it. I ran every day and while I got tight at times, I never got ill or injured. By April I was ready to test out my new found fitness and was highly surprised when I only achieved a 3-second improvement!

Nonetheless a few days after a second 800m time trial I ran my long run a minute faster (1:38:38) than in December and was now averaging a heart-rate of 140 – eight beats lower. So I’d done nothing like Maffetone training and improved by his measures.

I suspected the poor time trial results were due to a lack of endurance and embarked on six consecutive weeks of nearly fifty miles through April and May as I documented in my May 800m update. When I ran another 800m time trial it was still about the same at 2:53, a five second improvement over six months ago, but the rest of my running was feeling easier. My easy runs had sped up but more notably I broke 1hr30 on the long run in training. An improvement of ten minutes for a nearly twelve mile run.

What would MAF suggest?

Seven years ago at age forty-two, when I tried my MAF training experiment, I calculated a MAF-HR of 138. But actually, given I was coming off an illness, I should have taken ten beats off and used 128bpm which would have made things even harder and certainly slower.

Being older, Maffetone would suggest I now train to a lower heart-rate than I did last time around. At forty-nine this gives an initial MAF-HR of 131 but I’ve been running daily since late 2019 without issue. According to MAF you need to have trained for two years without issue to be allowed to add a further five beats, but for this comparison I’m going to do it anyway and analyse my recent training against a MAF-HR at 136bpm. This may sound like a cheat but if I used the lower figure, the stats would skew even more against MAF training.

If you’re wondering why I’m calculating my current MAF-HR when I said I was never going to use MAF training again, it’s purely to analyse the recent training I did and show I improved despite not following any of the low heart-rate training that MAF recommends.

Recent training

What follows is a look at my training for the six weeks after my mid-April time trial. There are one or two miles missing where I was coaching or giving a Personal Training session, as well as a couple of days where I didn’t wear my heart-rate monitor but the bulk of the training is shown.

The general format of each week:

  • Eight mile Steady runs on Tuesdays and Fridays with a ½-mile warm-up / cooldown aiming to run at my threshold.
  • On Sundays the long run, usually at the crack of dawn, again pushing it along and throwing in some strides along the way.
  • The other four days of the week I aimed for a forty minute recovery run.

With six consecutive 50-mile weeks, this block of training totalled 300+ miles and 42 hours.

Yet when you break down all this running, twice as much time was spent running in excess of my MAF-HR (136) as below it. (Note: there is a small issue with the software I used to total the Above-Below durations because it double-counts heart-rates of 136-137 into both categories. The actual figures were 28 hours above MAF-HR, 14hr45 below it but only 41hr50 total run time).

You can see in the graph below the length of each run in time and the proportion of it spent above or below MAF-HR. The yellow is the time spent exceeding it and accounts for 65% of running time. Almost every day I was exceeding MAF-HR for some of the run – that can’t be good according to Maffetone.

Now take a look at the graph of 2014’s MAF training where I only exceeded the MAF-HR for 2% of the time. You can barely see any yellow in the early weeks and it doesn’t increase a whole lot. In the graph above, I often spent more time above MAF-HR in a single run than I did in a week then.

Graph of MAF weekly MAF training in 2014

It’s not even close. It’s very clear I was constantly breaking the MAF-HR in my recent training and not just by one or two beats as happened back in 2014, but by large margins.

Here’s a graph of the time I spent in excess of 150HR on those runs. You can see I was regularly running for over 45-mins with heart-rates on the Steady and Long runs that were nowhere close to MAF-HR. I was effectively training to the MAF-HR of someone over twenty years younger than me.

Recent training – blue lines showing time spent running at 150+ heart-rate

What’s amazing is I accumulated twelve hours of running at over 150HR which isn’t much less than the nearly fifteen hours I ran below my recommended MAF-HR of 136. Yet somehow I got exceedingly better results than when I trained to MAF-HR in 2014.

Getting faster

Not only was I seeing improved heart-rates, my effort runs were improving too.

The November run was my fastest time on the long run course at 1:39:26 and with the 800m training this had reduced to 1:34:03 by March. On 2nd May I reduced it to 1:32:55 then on May 23rd took it down further to 1:29:15. The average heart-rate on this final run was 149 which is only one beat higher than when I was running it in late November. Then my fastest single mile was ripping along down Gravel Hill at 7:52, by late May I was sub-7 with a 6:58.

On the Steady runs I only have one comparator. Back on November. I ran a local 7 ½ mile course round Merley which took 58min52 at an average pace of 7:54/mile and the fastest mile was 7:33.  In mid-May, during a spell of high winds I decided against going to the beach and opted to run the local route in 20mph winds. The run came in two minutes quicker at a pace of 7:38/mile with the fastest mile now at 7:08 along with a couple more showing in at 7:18 and 7:21. At the beach, I’ve begun to see miles in the 7:05-10 range. There’s no doubt I’m speeding up and if I were racing longer distances I’d certainly see better times.

Better ways to train

I’ve loved the past six months of training for all the reasons I hated the MAF training. I got to run fast, sometimes I even got to sprint as fast as I could. I rarely looked at my heart-rate while I was running and I certainly didn’t have the heart-rate monitor beeping at me to slow down. The variety of paces and training sessions kept me interested as well as nervously excited on occasions.

I haven’t cracked the 800m yet but I’m confident training is going in the right direction to get there. I’ve seen improvement and I’m running faster than six months ago with heart-rates at slower speeds being lower. That’s an indication the body is improving its fat-burning capability. I’ve been sleeping deeper, got leaner, faster and remained healthy and injury free which are the sorts of reasons Maffetone puts forward for following his method.

The premise of MAF training is that to improve fat-burning you have to run at low heart-rates and stop eating carbs. I did neither of those. Across six months I regularly hit higher heart-rates and I never restricted my diet or stopped eating carbs – if anything I’ve eaten more during the winter months with two bags of Doritos each week and regular cakes from the bakery. Yet I proved it’s possible to achieve the promised benefits of MAF training despite regularly breaking the heart-rate that it suggests a man of my age should use.

None of this was achieved by sticking to a heart-rate calculated from my age and is why I put no stock in MAF training as a system in itself. I believe there may be applications for it in certain circumstances but not general training.

I’d love to hear people’s comments and questions about this block of training and my MAF training review. All reasonable scepticism or thoughts are welcome!

Update on my 800m training – May 2021

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

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

My schedule for this block of endurance was:

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

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

Steady improvement

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

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

20-Apr23-Apr27-Apr30-Apr04-May07-May11-May14-May18-May20-May25-May28-May
108:1007:5507:2907:4407:3707:1107:4507:2307:0607:0807:0907:31
208:1507:5907:3607:5107:4407:1807:4907:2407:1007:1807:1107:35
308:3108:0007:3707:5207:4607:2607:4907:2607:2207:2107:2807:45
408:4208:0907:4508:0108:0107:3307:5207:3507:3007:3907:3107:53
508:5508:3307:5008:0309:0907:4707:5507:3808:0407:4808:2807:58
608:5608:3907:5508:0309:1508:0708:1707:4808:2007:5508:3308:00
709:0208:5407:5908:0609:2908:1508:2007:4808:2007:5708:3808:01
809:0508:5708:0308:0709:3008:1608:2107:5308:3108:0008:4208:03
             
Avg08:4208:2307:4707:5808:3407:4408:0107:3707:4807:3807:5807:51

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

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

Changing run form

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

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

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

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

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

Another time trial

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

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

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

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