Update on my 800m training – Dec 2022

I reached December after three months of training to boost lactate threshold and began tapering for Christchurch 10K on Dec 11th. My performance at Boscombe 10K on Nov 27th was less than desirable but I knew I was still early in my taper. As I reported in November’s update, I ran easy all the following week and my legs began to freshen up nicely. It was quite a change to be simply going out and not doing any thing extra where usually there’s some kind of workout or longer steady effort each week. Each run was limited to forty mins and in the week before raceday I began to reduce this further. On the preceding Tuesday I found myself running five miles in under 36mins which is better than my last five mile race in 2019!

Anyone living in the UK this month knows how bitterly cold it got. Reading the forecast I had doubts whether the race would be on and come raceday I drove there with the car’s external temperature gauge reading -3C while slushy rain, or maybe it was snow, hit the windscreen. Walking to get my number presented a hazard in itself with the pavements very icy. I sat in my car shivering despite being wrapped up and, in a rare display of negativity, hoped the race would be called off. It was. Ice is my one major concern when it comes to running and I felt sure with the temperature still around freezing that it wouldn’t get warm enough to melt any on the course. The organisers came to the same decision.

I went for a run later in the day, taking it carefully around local roads then next day went to the beach to do some interval work. I figured the one place that wouldn’t be icy was somewhere with lots of salt water and sand!

That same day I received an email from the organisers saying they were hoping to reorganise the race in early 2023. While this was great news it also left me in limbo not knowing when it might be or how to train so I just continued with the easy / steady runs. On the following Saturday with the intervals out of my legs, my early morning run just flew. My forty-one minute run covered 5.8 miles and I barely got out of breath. The last mile and a half was on the roads by my house and I was hitting 6:35/mile. It felt great.

A week later, with Christmas Day falling on Sunday, my usual long run day, I ran down to Poole parkrun. My legs felt good but seemed to lack another gear. When the parkrun began my glutes fired in a way I’ve never known and I was propelled forward yet I didn’t seem to have the pace to break twenty minutes. I managed to put in some surges to overtake runners but could never up the pace for long and finished in 20:25. Slightly disappointing from the perspective of being fifteen seconds slower than last year yet a feeling that the run was a breakthrough as I’d jetted along. The run home felt comfortable and I found myself able to run closer to seven minute miles as I approached home despite having already put in 10+ miles.  When I analysed my parkrun I found that while the kilometre splits reflected the small up and down gradients in the park, my mile splits came in at 6:31, 6:32, 6:33. A consistency suggesting I’d hit my lactate threshold but had nothing more to give. It identified the direction I now need to take training.

Looking back it’s almost six months since I did any dedicated speedwork. At the beginning of July I was passing my peak and finding my aerobic endurance starting to decline. All my training since then has been focused on rebuilding stamina and raising threshold. It seems I’ve been very successful at this but my fast-twitch have been deactivated in the process. This is very much expected and part of the periodisation process Arthur Lydiard coached his runners with back in the sixties.

The aim now is to start doing faster efforts lasting around a minute to rebuild anaerobic capacity and give me the speed to push harder at parkrun next time.  The session I’ve picked is three sets of 4x300m with 45secs rest and three minutes between sets. I’ve done two sessions of this workout and the results have been good. I’m aiming for around 66-67secs per effort and on the first session, only two days after parkrun, I averaged 66½. The course I’ve picked is straight but does have an up / down nature to it and it’s been windy this past week. I’m finding the downs are closer to 61-62 whereas the ups are barely hitting target. The second time I did the workout my legs were fresher and I averaged under 65s and was able to hold back on the privileged efforts.

The news has come through that Christchurch 10K has been rescheduled for Jan 22nd so that’s what I’m now working towards with these. I think I should manage two more full weeks of them and then take it easier in the week preceding the race. After that I’ll look to go back to winter endurance training and prepare for an April half marathon. I’d also like to get to parkrun and run a quick one at some stage.

Update on my 800m training – Nov 2022

Winter training continues with building the aerobic base. In October’s recap I detailed the nine weeks of solid aerobic and threshold work I’d done since late August. Now my thoughts turned to faster anaerobic training at 5K and 10K paces in preparation for two 10K races.

Each week I ran kilometre repeats twice. On Tuesday’s it was 5x1K with 3-min standing recovery aiming for 3:48; Thursday was 6x1K with 200m jog recovery aiming for 4:00. I returned to an undulating course which runs alongside a main road. In one direction it is net downhill which are the 1st/3rd/5th efforts while the uphill occurs on the way back. Despite November being full of high winds and rain, I couldn’t have had more perfect weather when I ran. Somehow every session was still, blue skies and sunny.

The sessions came in as follows:

DateSessionTotal timeAvg pace1st2nd3rd4th5th6th
Nov 1st5K-pace19:213:523:483:543:494:003:50
15th 19:323:543:483:563:524:023:54
22th 19:463:573:474:013:534:054:00
17th 24:224:043:554:023:584:074:034:17

Alongside this I started doing some body weight squat work on Tuesdays and Fridays to try and strengthen up my quads and glutes. When I tried these last year I discovered my left glute was particularly weak; this time it was strong from the first session and I decided to build up my volume slowly. I even started doing a couple of minute’s worth of balance work on each foot to try and improve balance as well as taxing the kinetic chain up the leg.

The net result of all this was, as you can see from the sessions, my legs couldn’t cope with what I was doing and I started going backwards. “No matter” I thought as I’d deliberately planned a three week taper into Christchurch 10K on December 11th.

The taper started on Sunday 20th November when I ran a shorter (10-mile) long run on a flatter course than usual. It was the best time I’ve ever recorded on the route – under 1hr14 on a fasted run straight out of bed. It was a real confidence builder but in retrospect perhaps it was too much only a week out from my first 10K at Boscombe.

The first week’s taper included the final 5K session which, coming two days after the best ever long run, was a little disappointing. But I still had five days for the legs to recover before running the 10K on the Sunday. It turned out to a somewhat disappointing race as I clocked 42:49. I thought my legs were beginning to perk up when I ran in warm-up (I was amazed to see myself running 8:20 pace at 122 heart-rate) but the first kilometre of the race was only 4:07 and I never cracked four minutes. When I compare that to my training intervals I’d expected to have some sub-4s and be holding back in the beginning.

The question is why did I not run well? The conclusion I came to is my legs were carrying too much fatigue and muscle damage. Now that isn’t necessarily a problem as the whole point of tapering is to let the legs freshen up. The first kilometre of the race not being able to get close to what I’ve done in training really highlights the legs were under recovered.

Looking back over the past few years of running this has been something of a perpetual theme. Trying to run races or parkruns without a decent taper. Or to put it the other way round, doing too much training during the week which I’ve been unable to recover from. I’m always a lot more careful with runners I coach but my legs more often than not haven’t felt painful or tired by the time a race comes around so it hasn’t seemed like that’s the reason I’ve underperformed.

I think the biggest culprit has been pushing the Sunday long runs along rather than allowing the pace to come to me. It becomes a third workout for the week. When I was racing well a few years back; I never pushed the long runs just did them easy. Yet I’ve been arriving home and not feeling tired or hungry which suggested I hadn’t overdone things. I’m not some of the weekday sessions haven’t been too big either – I’ve been chalking up fifty miles per week and following the 80-20 rule and that’s where the limitations of using heart-rate monitors and formulaic training appears – there is no easy way to identify how much muscular damage you’re suffering other than by results.

Three years ago I started a run streak that lasted until April this year when I finally took six days off around the Bournemouth Bay half marathon. That’s another race that didn’t go well because my legs were heavy and fatigued. That was why I decided I needed a three week taper for Christchurch 10K.

But I also didn’t recover enough after the half marathon. The rule of thumb is to recover for a day per mile of racing yet a week later I was beginning my next block of training and doing hills for the first time in a couple of years, so I accrued more damage on other damage. It’s hard to look back and know when I last had a block of training where I wasn’t on fatigued legs. Maybe it was late October 2021 after an 800m time trial or the May before that. Whenever it was, it was a long time ago. If I go back to 2020 I did some very easy running when I started all of my 800m training.

As I said before, the point of tapering is to give the legs time to freshen up. Since last Sunday’s race, I’ve gone out and run easy for forty minutes each day. Genuinely easy or effortless runs as I like to call them. It’s felt lovely to arrive home from every run and feel like I could go round again. The avg. pace has gradually improved over the week – Monday 8:24, Tuesday 8:11, Wednesday 8:03, Thursday 7:47, Friday 7:31, Saturday 7:27. None of this has been forced, it’s just what happens as the legs freshen up. Yet I can still feel a little bit of missing oomph and spring from my legs, there’s still more damage to repair.

With the improvement I’ve seen over this past week the temptation is to believe the legs are ready to run and squeeze in one last training session. That’s the mistake I’ve been making in the past. My legs function best when I let the fast-twitch freshen up. I’d really wanted to go to parkrun and see where I’m at but I only get one shot at my 10K; whereas I can go to parkrun on any other week after the race so I’m just going to keep taking it easy next week and see how it goes at Christchurch. If nothing else I’ll learn a little more about the effects of my taper and how I can best peak for a race.

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
25-Dec (flat parkrun 20:11)4:014:014:014:084:00

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

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
6-JanNo steady run

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.

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.

The Redgrave paradox

Running 10Ks, half marathons and marathons in the 1990s my attempts to race faster were limited. I’d enter a race at one or two months’ notice believing all I had to do was get fit enough to cover the distance and rely on the speed I’d built up from playing other sports and some shorter runs. I never thought about it any more deeply than that. There was no connection or systematic way to string together training sessions, and the biggest downfall was that I never trained regularly for longer than a few months. Other sports or interests would drop into my life, running would stop until the next lull gave me the impetus to enter another race and start training again.

My first systematic attempt to race faster wasn’t in running, it came on the Indoor Rower, which I wrote about in detail here, when I tried to improve my 2,000m time. I suppose because rowing isn’t something you do naturally like running, I felt I needed to research how to improve at it. My research was done, after a lunchtime at the gym, over sandwiches on my return to the office, accessing the infant “World Wide Web”. It was so young, Google wasn’t even the search engine of choice then; I used Yahoo!, Alta Vista, Ask Jeeves and a meta-engine called Dogpile.  I was lucky, working in an IT department, to have a fast internet connection and a management that didn’t mind how long our lunch hours were, because they were usually off playing football, squash or at the pub on a Friday!

Another stroke of luck was to stumble across Stephen Seiler’s MAPP website. He was a university researcher with a Masters thesis about rats running on treadmills and their response to exercise. But he was also a rower interested in applying his knowledge of exercise physiology to his sport. I lapped up the information on his website and began to follow his “Waves of Change” system of building fitness by rowing hard intervals to push my body to get faster. Although this post is going to refer to rowing often, stick with it because it’s very relevant to running as you’ll come to see.

Another of my internet searches turned up an interview with Sir Steve Redgrave which left me puzzled for years afterwards. Unfortunately I’ve never been able to relocate this piece and would love to reread it, to view it with fresh eyes.

To the younger generations, I suspect Redgrave is now unknown or simply a footnote in history. But growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, watching the Olympics, he was one of Britain’s few reliable gold medal prospects.  Golds were rare in those days, nowhere near the twenty-seven won in Rio. In fact, twenty-seven is how many golds Great Britain totalled in the five Olympics Redgrave participated in, and he won 18% of them! Five consecutive Olympic gold medals that began in Los Angeles (1984) in the men’s coxed fours then continued in the coxless pairs in Seoul (1988) and Barcelona (1992). In Atlanta (1996) he and Matthew Pinsent claimed Britain’s solitary gold medal and then it was onto Sydney where at age thirty-eight, Redgrave claimed his final gold as part of the coxless fours. Over a similar period, Redgrave won another nine World Championship gold medals as well as silvers and bronzes. He was undoubtedly our premier Olympian to that moment and, as the pre-eminent British rower, you can understand why I felt any advice I could glean from an interview with him would be worthwhile knowledge.

The interview appeared after he won his 5th Olympic gold medal and Redgrave talked about how, after meeting Jürgen Gröbler for the first time in 1991-92, his training changed because of it. Gröbler had moved to England when his native East Germany disintegrated with the fall of Communism and, with him, he brought knowledge from the nation’s coaching programmes. The East Germans were so dominant that, even now, thirty years after ceasing to exist, they still lead the rowing World Championship medal table with ninety-four golds to second place Italy’s eighty-five. While some of that success is explained by a state doping programme, the methods the East Germans used were also significantly different to how Redgrave was training.

From what I can glean a typical season’s training for Redgrave in the 1980s was rowing 20-40 min fast efforts two or three times each week, along with hard intervals every spring and summer throughout the racing season. Everything was geared to pushing to get faster, the runner’s equivalent of Tempo runs and Speedwork. But Gröbler had Redgrave rowing the majority of his training at very low stroke rates which felt like he was barely putting in any effort. This was as low as 14-18 strokes per minute which is significantly less than the 40-50 he might be reaching during a race. There are many runners who baulk at a similar concept of easy running because they believe you have to train fast to race fast.

Gröbler and Redgrave

Redgrave, himself, was sceptical about this method, but he was also intelligent enough to realise he needed to commit to the training if he was going to make a fair judgement of its effectiveness. The following March, after a winter of low stroke rate steady rowing, he attended the Thames “Head of the River” race which, by his own admission, he’d never done well in. Gröbler told him to start easy before turning on the power. Long story short, Redgrave won and was sold on the training. He stated that he and his crewmates followed Gröbler’s methods from then on.

So to recap, up to this point, Redgrave’s training in the 1980s, when he won Olympic golds and World Championships, had been training hard intervals each year to reach top form then dropping back over the following winter before building up again the following year. With Gröbler he did hours of slow training and gradually improved year-on-year and still won Olympic golds in the 1990s.

This was the itch I couldn’t scratch for years – how could rowing hard intervals in the 1980s lead to success but a gradual build in the 1990s also lead to gold medals? Surely there’s only one true method to success with coaches/athletes using variations on it. How could two significantly different methods be effective at winning gold medals throughout Redgrave’s career?

In subsequent years I would come across articles on running which talked about building endurance through slower training to get faster. Yet whenever I tried it, I could never get the huge benefits being promised. But the literature on endurance training was so prevalent, I felt I was missing something. I understood it was important but at the back of my mind there was always the paradox of Redgrave winning through two seemingly opposite methods.

Stephen Seiler’s MAPP website even made reference to this question on a page called “Understanding Intervals” where he posed the question “Which is better, Interval training or Steady-state training?” In it he firstly explains how doing interval work is effective at getting more work done. For example, you’ll be able to run 8x200m in a faster time than you can run a single mile.  But having established interval training allows you to do more work at faster paces, he tells the story of how East German rowers were training with slow, steady rowing throughout the 1980s and winning championships. He tells of how Kenyan distance runners do vast amounts of their training at slower paces. So once again, everything pointed to the best endurance athletes doing massive amounts of steady state training to be fast. And yet whenever I tried training slow, I couldn’t get it to work for me even though all the books and articles seemed to suggest it was the route to success. Meanwhile there are numerous articles telling you of the benefits of running hills and speedwork. Very confusing to try and figure out how the two things fit together.

In the last few years, I’ve finally been able to resolve this paradox of how Redgrave was able to win two Olympics with one method and then three more with another. It turns out I wasn’t looking or thinking about what his event entailed. The typical 2,000m rowing race lasts under six minutes for an elite man, it’s the equivalent of a middle-distance running race, somewhere between the mile and 3,000m. When Roger Bannister became the first man to break four minutes for the mile he did it with twice weekly interval sessions where he ran ten laps of the athletic track during his lunch break and only totalled fifteen miles each week. Basically this is the nature of events that last under eight minutes, it’s possible to reach very good times off a relatively low volume of training and Bannister’s training is how Redgrave trained in the 1980s.

But this training is outdated, I doubt it would be possible to be a world class miler today off the low volume Bannister ran. The decade after he broke the four minute mile in 1953, Arthur Lydiard’s runners began to win the Olympics in the 800m and mile by running a hundred miles per week. This was where the East German rowers learned about the benefits of Steady State training and why Jürgen Gröbler converted Redgrave to this type of training in the 1990s.

The change in method also explains Redgrave’s success in the Head of the River race. This race lasts between 15-20 minutes and is much closer to the demands of a parkrun for faster runners. Redgrave’s previous lack of success in this race is because hard intervals are only one piece of the training required for longer events. He needed to build a base of training to support his speed, so he converted some of his speed into endurance to be able to last three times longer in the Head of the River race. That’s what Gröbler’s Steady State training gave him, more endurance.

But this still doesn’t fully answer the question of how you can win off both types of training. What I missed (or more likely wasn’t explained) about the gradual build-up method is that, as Redgrave got nearer to the championships, he would still go back to rowing hard intervals to ensure he peaked at medal time. He was essentially still winning with hard intervals but there was now no dropping back the following winter because he was building an endurance base. The big advantage of this base is it allows you to recover quicker between interval sessions and train harder during them. If Redgrave had to row through rounds of qualifying and repechages then he was better able to withstand their stresses and strains.

The middle distance events are such that they’re about finding a balance between sprint speed and longer distance endurance. You can come at it from either direction. Bannister came at the mile from the speed end and relied on his endurance to develop over the course of his running career and tempo runs. The Lydiard approach was to come at it from the endurance end and then perk things up with intervals to get enough speed into the legs for competitive racing. As I say, it’s the middle ground of events – you’d never train for sprints through endurance, you never train for the marathon through pure speedwork. You have to train at both ends of the spectrum for middle distance.

BONUS FACTS – One final bonus from my rowing reading. Redgrave mentioned he occasionally did runs along the river towpath. He stated he’d run ten miles in an hour and a half-marathon in 1hr30! Even more impressively his Sydney foursome partner James Cracknell, who is 6’4” and 15 stone, ran the 2017 London Marathon in 2hr43 at age 45. Nothing is impossible if you know how to train properly.

James Cracknell – 2hr43 marathoner