I feel like I’m in wash-rinse-repeat with my training at the moment. I keep cycling through the right training sessions yet the race results keep coming out the same. I can see some improvement in the stats and speed, yet when I race it is no faster. But this really is the secret to coaching – figuring out where to apply effort.
Coming into January I was working on top-end speed using short intervals lasting around a minute. The pace was intended to be at my calculated 3K-pace broken into sets. The sessions I did were made harder by high winds and I ran my 300s along a section of road which caught the brunt of it along with a gradual hill in the first/last 100 metres depending on which direction I was headed.
Illness strikes …
I had done two sessions at the end of December then my Sunday run went backwards. I wasn’t too concerned as a VO2 lull usually happens at the start of a new training block. But there was a concern – my sister brought a hacking cough to visit over the Christmas period and I fell under its spell. I wasn’t terrible but I was struggling. Yet after a couple of days, I felt slightly better and mistakenly did a 3rd session which, while generally close to target, led me to scale back training as the coughing got worse. I missed the next session of 300s and focused on getting healthy, but was still running each day. By the following Monday it had gone. My mother is still coughing all these weeks later whereas mine was gone in ten days. This is why I believe in keeping fit and healthy especially as you get older. With a good aerobic system your body’s immune system can fight stuff.
With only two weeks left to the rescheduled Christchurch Christmas 10K, I knew I needed to taper so I did one more session of 300s and then an even sharper session of 10x100m with 30s standing recovery aiming for 5:30/mile. I found them really easy which probably aligns with why I’m better suited to short distance than long.
A week ahead of the 10K, I went to Poole parkrun on what was an atrocious day. Very high winds and rain. It was absolutely pelting down as I arrived but had eased off by the start. Once again my speed seemed lacking as the first kilometre only came in at 4mins. Along the windiest stretch I ran a 4:20km – at 6’2” and broad I’ve got a large frontal surface area to be blown back. The finishing stretch headed into the wind a second time and having passed them earlier, five men now passed me as my pace dropped to 8min/mile and I felt like I was barely moving. My finish time of 21:02 was good enough to place 19th. I’d guess it’s a long time since Poole parkrun’s 19th finisher ran over twenty-one minutes. While I could make excuses for the wind and rain, the fact is my opening kilometre of 4-mins was fresh-legged and running with the wind; however much others may suggest a sub-20 was on the cards; it wasn’t.
Christchurch 10K itself reinforced this analysis. The run was another cold morning and it was a shame to see the race not as well attended as it would have been before Christmas – less than 200 runners. Many of the others had deferred their places until next December because they’ve started marathon training or other races were taking place on the same day.
I set off quickly not holding back, but again my kilometres were all over four minutes. I reached 5K in 20:38 and then held on for the second half to finish in 42min08. I was somewhat disappointed as it was only fifteen seconds or so faster than last year. All my efforts from a year’s training had added barely anything. However my heart-rate monitor told a different story. Last year my average heart-rate was 159, on this day it was only 152. That’s incredibly low for me on any race. I’d expect it to be up around 161bpm. What it suggests is my fuel source is mostly aerobic but something is blocking me from running faster. When I look at the final miles the pace is consistently 7min/mile.
Finding the problem
On the Tuesday before the race I did a 7-8 mile Steady run averaging 7:17/mile. I felt blocked to run any faster, when I arrived home I realised I had put in more effort than I should have. On the Friday following the race, I did a Steady run at the beach – just letting my body pick up speed and it settled around 7:35-40/mile with heart-rate hitting 150ish. It was a completely comfortable run but slower than I expected.
The day after the Steady run at the beach I went to Upton House parkrun and ran 21:58 averaging only 149bpm. I started slowly and picked up pace as the run went on. But again, it was a big effort to get any much quicker than 7min/mile on tired legs.
A quick look at my old favourite, the Jack Daniels’ tables shows a VDOT of 49 results in a 20:18 5K and 42:04 10K. My Christmas Day parkrun was 20:27 so matches up quite nicely to this. Jack’s tables give a Threshold of 6:55, a Marathon pace of 7:24 and Easy run pace of 8:40. Each of these matches with what I’ve found in training.
Fixing the problem
All these facts – speed of steady runs, not being able to run quicker at parkrun or 10Ks, lower heart-rate when racing, feeling the pace at which I have to put effort in to go faster suggest my aerobic system is clogged and causing the anaerobic system to kick in too early.
In all my years I’ve learned that you have to trust the results from races, especially longer ones where speed counts less. However good things may feel in training or what the heart-rate monitor may suggest, race results are the best guide to what needs to be done.
I could probably just get faster doing Steady runs twice per week with easy runs or recoveries on other days but I want to experiment a little. I want to see whether I can do the same set of Threshold intervals I did this time last year but with more control. I’m going to stay at around 7min/mile as VDOT suggests it’s my Threshold and see if that filters things down.
The block of training I did last year through February and March went well and began with intervals at 6:50 pace and by the end I was closing in on 6:30; but when I arrived at April’s half marathon my legs had nothing. I’d overcooked it. This time I’m going to make sure I don’t exceed Threshold by focusing on my breathing. That will be my guide. Last year, I was pushing efforts to hit a target and it didn’t work.
I did my first session on Tuesday and having warmed up for two easy miles averaging 7:20/mile – not that far off the repeats pace – I began the session. I accelerated just past 7min/mile and the mile repeats then felt limited at around 6:55 – in line with Jack’s prediction. But, unlike last year, it never felt too taxing and I never had to push harder to hit similar numbers. I’m going to give it three weeks of these and see how things are progressing. If it isn’t going to plan then I’ll drop back to doing the Steady runs instead.