Positive and wishful thinking

At Christmas Day parkrun in Poole, I arrived unsure of what to expect. I’d run 20:26 at The Great Field a month before and 21:01 at Upton House more recently. With Poole being notably faster there was a glimmer of hope I might squeeze under twenty minutes. But I knew I’d run 5x1K intervals earlier in the week so my legs could still be tired. I was happy when I recorded 20:11.

What’s always intrigued me are the runners who can’t be happy with the time they get. My 20:11 on Christmas Day was my fastest parkrun in four years. Yet I know some runners who wouldn’t be happy with that. In response to a time of 20:11 they’d say something like “I wish I could have got under twenty minutes”. Instead of being happy with their fastest time in years they manage to diminish the achievement.

This is wishful thinking in all its glory. Their minds are off somewhere else wishing for what they want, not what’s actually happened. If they could live in the moment they’d savour that time.

– If they ran hard from start to end, giving their absolute best, then there is nothing more they could have done. So what’s to be unhappy about?

– If for some reason, they know didn’t put in full effort then they got the result they deserved. They can’t be unhappy with the time, they need to be unhappy with themselves and their approach. They need to hold themselves accountable, learn the lesson and adjust in the future. With running times, you get out whatever you put in.

People often talk about needing to develop positive thinking or optimism, this is different to wishful thinking. When I run a time of 20:11, it gives me confidence that I will be able to break twenty minutes. I think of all the things I haven’t yet worked on in training. All the sessions of speedwork, tempo running, base-building and pace development that are there to be worked on. On top of that there’s all the potential supplemental stuff like shoes, nutrition, compression socks that might shave seconds off. That’s my version of positive thinking. The only time I ever got downhearted and lost my optimism was a period when I couldn’t see any new openings to try. Even when I’m running badly – it is what it is. Having a plan for how I’m going to work my way out of the slump keeps me positive.

The interesting thing about the wishful thinkers is they call themselves realists yet they don’t live in reality. The truth is they’re pessimists – they can’t even be honest with themselves about what to call themselves. They never dare to dream big or set challenging goals, trying everything they can in pursuit of achieving them. They don’t take responsibility for their training, they don’t try new things or different approaches they keep it as safe as possible. When they run out of their limited array of options, all they can do is wish they could have been faster.

The Learning Process

As a coach I’m fascinated by the learning process. Having coached and participated for years, it’s very easy to forget how difficult learning new skills is. When I started doing sprint drills back in October, I got a reminder of what it’s like to be a clumsy beginner. Three months after regular repetition and careful attention, I’ve got them looking competent and am now finding nuances of technique to work on.

This is not the first thing I’ve learned recently. Just before Christmas I finally acquired another skill which I’ve been struggling with for over thirty years. I started doing The Times Quick Cryptic crossword online. Cryptic crosswords aren’t new to me, a friend first explained them circa 1990. Occasionally, whenever I’ve been sat in a waiting room or there’s a newspaper on the table, I’ve attempted the cryptic with varying levels of success. The ones in the broadsheets have always been beyond me, but I could usually do a few clues in the lesser papers.

My resurgence of interest in cryptics came from a video on Youtube and then I was helped by a daily blog which breaks down each day’s crossword. I was able to look at the answers and see how the clues had been constructed. That’s like getting a coach to help you with your running and point you in the right direction. It’s a shortcut to eliminate doubt and confusion which is a huge issue for beginners of cryptic crosswords and equally problematic when you’re a self-coached runner. When you encounter a problem in your run training, you may find ten different explanations for it online, a good coach will immediately narrow it down to two or three and hopefully pick the correct solution.

What I’d never understood is there’s a language to cryptic crosswords. Certainly I understood the mechanics of hidden words, anagrams and wordplay which is why I could solve the simpler examples. What I didn’t realise is there are many initialisms and abbreviations that crop up time and time again and you can only really learn by regular participation and repetition. To give you concrete examples from today’s; we had the letters ER representing the Queen (Elizabeth Regina), RM for Royal Marine but less obviously a letter D for the word daughter in a clue. On other days you might get MP for politicians, DE for German or EL for the Spanish word and so many more.

Like any language, it takes time to learn. Running has its own language words like aerobic, anaerobic, pace, effort, lactate threshold, fast-twitch muscle all have meanings which are a mystery to the uninitiated.

There is also the language of sessions  – does a runner know what a fartlek is? How to do an A-skip drill? What being asked to run 4 sets of 4x200m with 200m jog recovery and 5-mins between sets means.

All languages take time to learn. It becomes more familiar, the more often you engage with it. Repetition and regular participation help you get accustomed to the language so you barely need to think about what you’re being told. Regular and frequent training get your body used to the physical language of actual movement.

When I began the cryptics it was taking two hours or more to complete one crossword. As you might guess, I had a lot of free time over the Christmas period! But I didn’t sit and stare at the crossword for two hours, I did it in 20-40 minutes stints. I’d do as much as I could, ponder the clues for another ten minutes then give up and come back later. Over the course of a day I’d get most of the crossword done in these stints and that approach is like how runners start to get faster. They do little manageable stints that total up to something approaching success. They start off running every other day for a short time. Then they lengthen the time and add in extra days. Eventually they try an interval session to break the fast efforts down into something more manageable.

Initially I couldn’t complete a cryptic without using an anagram solver, needing the online reveal to get a particular answer, or making wild guesses and checking the answer to narrow down correct letters. My first decent effort took a good 2hr30 to complete and I was super proud of myself to get it done, even if I did finish it with a little help on the last 2-3 clues. Perhaps the most significant part was what came next, it gave me confidence that I could do these damn cryptics and so I persevered.

As the week wore on, I found myself getting more familiar with the language of clues. I began to look at them as a set of words and be able to parse what answer the crossword setter was looking for me to provide. That familiarity is rather like what happens with your body as you get used to running. The first occasion you go out and run, you probably go off too quick and feel uncomfortable. Subsequent sessions you begin to know your limitations and your body begins to feel less wonky than it did. This feeling is familiar to almost any runner, even the dedicated coming back from injury.

The first time I completed the crossword without any help at all, it took me just under an hour and I did it in one stint. The following week I managed one in thirty-one minutes. The improvement was exciting, I began to get the idea I’d cracked these and I’d always be doing them in half an hour. How wrong I was. The next day I was back to wrestling with it for over an hour and a quarter. I bet there’s not a runner alive who hasn’t thought “I’ve finally got training cracked” and then been surprised when it all goes backwards a month later!

Nonetheless the general trend was upwards and in New Year’s week I recorded a time of 24:04. Of course, I was excited. The excitement was slightly dampened when, reading the help blog, it became clear many people had recorded quick times on this one. It was an easy one! But then there’s many people who come to Poole parkrun in search of Personal Bests on its fast, flat course rather than tackle the hills of Upton House or further afield.

All of this summarises to the idea you don’t have to be perfect from the get go. Getting help can quicken up your journey. Repetition and frequent attempts are fundamental to progress. Doing small, manageable stints or efforts avoid overdoing things and getting demotivated. Feeling uncomfortable when you attempt something new is unavoidable. Persistence and a willingness to keep coming back through the tough times are a must. Running is quite literally a journey.

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.

Dealing with going anaerobic

In the last post I talked briefly about going anaerobic. The word anaerobic means to be without air and, at its simplest, it’s when the body cannot get enough oxygen for the work being done. More accurately, anaerobic metabolism occurs independently of oxygen – the distinction being there can be oxygen present but for whatever reason it’s not being used. I’ve experienced this on occasions when my heart-rate has been lower than 130 bpm but I can feel the signs of working anaerobically. If I were training by my heart-rate monitor I’d shoot on past this and for many years I never realised it was holding back my running.

Going anaerobic is quite normal. As I said in the last post we do it the moment we begin an exercise as simple as getting up off the sofa. The problem with going anaerobic is that we can only handle a limited amount of it. While that’s not an issue for daily tasks like going upstairs, it quite often turns out to be the limiter for runners exerting themselves for significant periods of time.

Going anaerobic produces all sorts of by-products that feel uncomfortable, as well as using up fuel stores much quicker than aerobic metabolism. While fuel isn’t an issue in shorter races, some of the by-products are. For example, carbon-dioxide is a by-product which results in you breathing heavier. The faster you run, the quicker by-products build up which is why you get out of breath very quickly when you sprint.

Not all by-products are bad. One which you may have heard of is lactate, also incorrectly referred to as “lactic acid”. Historically because it’s easy to measure it was originally thought to be the root of all the problems and most people still associate it with bad things e.g. runners saying “my legs were full of lactic acid”. So while it’s technically wrong to say it causes bad things, the real world uses it in this sense because it’s become the norm and coaches use it because it correlates to the waste products which are bad. I’m not going to buck the trend!

Three ways your body handles going anaerobic

Lactate Clearance – any time lactate is being produced, the body shuttles it out of the muscles to other areas of the body where it can be broken down or used as fuel. This is done by monocarboxylate transporters (MCTs). While you don’t need to remember the name of these, it is worth understanding the body can only build a finite number of them. This means only a certain amount of lactate can be cleared. Typically this is an hour’s worth while running at Threshold. In fact it’s the other way around in reality, your Threshold is defined by the MCTs. When you’re doing a run of less than an hour, you can run proportionately faster than your Threshold.

When the level of lactate production is equal to the level of lactate clearance, the body is referred to as being in a Steady State. The lactate neither increases nor decreases. Most people train here because the steady state doesn’t feel bad. It’s a combination of aerobic and anaerobic energy.

Lactate Tolerance – if the rate of lactate production exceeds the rate at which it can be cleared out then all the body can do is tolerate it by buffering the acids. Just as there is a limit to how many MCTs can be built, there is a limit to how much lactate tolerance can be built through training.

Slowing down – the third way the body responds to a build-up of lactate is the one most of us have experienced – it slows us down.

If we go out very fast, we use up lactate tolerance quickly and can then only run in a steady state at best. When the anaerobic energy production or MCTs run out, all we have left is aerobic energy to fuel us and drop down to the aerobic level. This is something most have experienced in half and full marathons.

The slow down can be voluntarily reset at any time by dropping back to aerobic mechanism. After a period of this, the lactate has cleared out and we’re able to pick up the speed again. Most runners unconsciously know this as they push themselves to the point of getting out of breath, slow down and then later find the energy to give it another effort.

Implications for training

Anaerobic training, such as speedwork and intervals, has its benefits but they are limited, less than 10% of your parkrun is anaerobic ! There is only so much clearance and tolerance that can be built by the body. Spending your time training anaerobically only provides so much benefit. All those rest periods keep resetting the anaerobic systems.

These limitations don’t change for the best runners, they are just as limited in the anaerobic department as the rest of us. The difference is they have better aerobic systems. Quite often they have a naturally large aerobic system but they’ve also improved it through training and that’s where all of us should be spending the majority of our training time.

This is best encapsulated in a picture from Keith Livingstone’s Healthy Intelligent Training book. The Anaerobic contribution is the same in both but, the bigger the aerobic contribution, the more that can be achieved i.e. running faster.

Going anaerobic

I remember when I was in my twenties, and I knew absolutely nothing about how to train for running. I just thought you ran as fast as you could for 10-20 mins and assumed you’d get faster. Compared to now, there was a dearth of information on how to train although there were books on it; but anyone who was decent learned how to run by the osmosis of running with others at a club.

These days there’s more information, jargon and approaches to getting better than ever before. Although it wasn’t running, I remember meeting some rowers – which as another endurance sport mirrors running – and one of them talking about “going anaerobic” and “oxygen debt”. These phrases were about as technical as people got in those days and while “anaerobic” still gets bandied around; the concept of oxygen debt is one that’s rarely mentioned these days.

My understanding of going anaerobic back then was based on the idea that sprinters use anaerobic energy while distance runners use the aerobic system. It was one-or-another in my head and anaerobic equalled the breathlessness of sprinting. The truth is more complicated as both groups use varying degrees of aerobic and anaerobic energy in their events. This post isn’t going to break that down but it’s taken me some years to get closer to the truth about when we go anaerobic. The fact is any breathlessness, which can happen for an untrained runner at paces as slow as nine or ten minute miles involves anaerobic metabolism. You don’t have to be running at high speeds to go anaerobic.

When you read running books that mention anaerobic training there is much confusion as different authors define it differently. Again, I’m not going to dive too far into that debate other than to say some authors see it as what happens when you exceed V̇O2max. Others believe it is what happens when you exceed Lactate Threshold / Anaerobic Threshold (or whatever term they use to name the point where you begin to exhale harder and faster). Whereas I believe it starts much earlier than that, back at what may be called the Aerobic Threshold, but is confusingly also called the Lactate Threshold by some groups, and consequently I refer to as the First Threshold to try and avoid confusion. Even then I’m not entirely correct about when it happens – it’s simply a nice approximation.

What I can say with confidence is that going anaerobic happens any time your aerobic system is overwhelmed. If you’ve been sitting quietly on the sofa and suddenly jump up and run upstairs; your heart doesn’t have time to speed up to supply more oxygen so you have to go anaerobic to meet the demand. For a while you go into “oxygen debt” until the body is able to handle the exertion – which is partly about getting to the top of the stairs and stop the high intensity work; and partly because the heart races and you breath hard in response. Another example is the start of a run, you’ll be using anaerobic energy until the body can meet the demand; once you’re settled in every thing steadies up but if you come to a hill and start to get out of breath going up it – yep, you’ve gone anaerobic again.

All of this is simply background information setting up my next post on how the body responds to going anaerobic. It’s very easy to get bogged down in the detail, I’m trying to keep it simple but if you have questions please do ask in the Comments.

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.

Some Benefits of Easy Runs

I see Andy regularly at parkrun. He managed a PB of close to 23-mins a couple of years ago and wants to get back there. A few weeks ago I did a recovery parkrun and he finished just behind me at twenty-five minutes but was lying on the floor gasping for breath from the effort he’d put in.

He entered a half marathon in mid-October and achieved a creditable 1hr55 despite a lack of longer distance training. The following week after parkrun, as we talked about how well he’d done, I suggested that, rather than let this fitness go to waste, he should try to get out for an hour’s run each week. That way when he decides to do his next event, he doesn’t have to build up from a base of only 5K.

A few days later he pinged me a message saying he’d taken my advice and done a 10K in about fifty-five minutes. He’d run it at a pace not much slower than his half marathon and I suggested slowing it down further and enjoying the scenery. The following week he did this, slowing it by 30-secs per mile which means the run is only 3-4 mins slower overall but feels much less exertional.

He ran it again the next two weeks and then something weird happened … three days later he did the 10K again – a second time that week. The easy running was clearly having an effect. When I saw him at parkrun he nodded as I mentioned it and then ran his parkrun as fast as he could. His time a little over 24-minutes was an improvement on the last one.

What I want to draw out of this are the benefits he’s getting from easy running.

First and foremost, he’s getting fitter. His parkrun time has got 30+ seconds quicker in a matter of weeks. And postrun he wasn’t rolling around on the floor gasping for breath this time.

Secondly, the easy 10K runs leave him arriving home feeling good but not exhausted. They set him up for the day rather than tearing him down.

In turn that is leading him to feel more motivated. He’s enjoying the easy runs so much that he’s happy to do more than one 10K in a week! It wasn’t what I set out to get him to do but all credit to him for doing the extra.

Finally, the easy runs are giving his body more time to recover from the harder efforts. When he only ran fast his body never had time to recover. Every subsequent effort became more stressful until he took days off. Invariably he was never in peak form at parkrun because his fast-twitch muscles were always recovering. Now when he arrives at parkrun they’re rested and ready for a harder run if he wants it.

These aren’t the only benefits to easy running but they are some of the most easily noticeable.

What to do when Storm Arwen hit

Storm Arwen, the first storm of this winter hit the British Isles on Friday night. While the North was battered by 100mph winds, the South coast got off lighter with winds of only 30mph and gusts of 44mph. I wasn’t surprised to hear that three of the local parkruns cancelled including Upton House. Poole parkrun went ahead and the turnout was down on recent weeks. Again no surprises there.

It had been my intention to do one more fast parkrun in the lead-up to Christchurch 10K (two weeks away) but I didn’t fancy dragging to Poole on a cold, windy day, just like many others didn’t. So I ran from home and did an interval session – 6x1km with 200m jog recovery aiming for 10K intensity. This is one of my favourite sessions for preparing for a 10K so I’d had it in mind to do this week.

I wasn’t sure how it would go with the conditions. I ummed and ahhed about routes but went for the one where I usually do this session to give me consistency for comparing where I’m at with my training and also I know all my waypoints for the interval lengths. The only doubt I had was whether there’d be trees down on route as there have been in the past. As it turned out there weren’t any other than a few small branches / twigs that I was able to high step over without issue.

The wind, on the other hand, was quite brutal. I resorted to leggings, long sleeve top, gloves and hat for the first time this year. It kept me warm and because I wasn’t aiming for top speed, only 10K intensity, the headwind was rarely problematic.

A good session and I jogged home at a decent warmdown pace to complete an hour’s running. No parkrun this week but so what? There are multiple ways to achieve your running goals and there’s no rule which says you can’t do an interval or speedwork session on a Saturday morning.

The Great Field parkrun

With Upton House parkrun cancelled last Saturday, I took the opportunity to go on a parkrun road trip. I wanted to go somewhere fast and local where I’d not been before. The Great Field parkrun in Dorchester held its inaugural run at the end of October and so it became my parkrun of choice.

The Great Field is located in the Poundbury part of Dorchester, which is famously linked to Prince Charles as it is built on his Duchy of Cornwall land and supports his architectural vision for building better towns.

The journey was a simple trip along dual carriageways and A-roads taking forty minutes and given its simplicity I was able to memorise the trip from a quick look at Google maps. So, as I drove through Dorchester and admired its historic qualities, without Satnav assistance I unexpectedly arrived at The Great Field and, well, it really is just a great, big field.

Parking was easy with a line of bays facing the field. Getting out of the car I unexpectedly bumped into SteveD, who’d parked a few spaces down, which is ironic because every week at Upton we park only a metres apart and run in together. So we jogged and chatted for a warm-up lap of the parkrun and neither of us was sure about the quality of the three lap course.

Warming up with Steve

It certainly wasn’t flat but it didn’t seem that hilly either. But these things can be deceptive as Strava asserts my last parkrun at Upton House had 121ft of ascent, while TGF turned out to be 123ft. The difference is at Upton most of the uphill is done in four noticeable short climbs; in Dorchester it was a longer, more gradual 300m long climb and with some other undulations thrown in.

Having warmed up we then began to bump into other familiar faces. With Upton closed, others had come here as a replacement but there were also some from Poole. We attended a Visitor briefing and then I elected to go off and do some strides for extra warm-up before returning for the main pre-run speeches.

The masses walking to the start line. Poundbury homes and business in the background, along with a play park.

It was always my intention to go all-out so I made my way to the front of the pack and discovered a very British thing. No-one wanted to stand on the actual Start line, standing instead a few feet behind it. It’s a peculiar reticence of us Brits that no-one wants to appear too keen. Imagine that happening at the Olympics! But I’m less reticence than most and I don’t see any point in losing a second running the extra so I stood plumb on the start line. The Run Director counted us down and, on the G of the GO, I was gone. First off the line and leading all the way to the photographer who was situated about 100m up the path.

First to the photographer and still looking happy

As we reached the first corner a flock of six better trained distance runners flew past me and I dug in for the long haul. I had one or two other runners go past and by the 400m mark I counted eight or so ahead of me. It was then I was passed by a young girl who was barely five foot tall and with a big, high back kick. I wasn’t having that so put in an effort to get past her and kicked on to catch a younger, bearded chap. I stayed with him for half a lap, aided by a long downward stretch, before having to admit I wouldn’t be able to hang with him. After that I was on my own.

Around 1km into the run

Early on the second lap, I was overtaken by another runner but from there onwards, I didn’t pass anyone and no-one passed me. At least I didn’t pass anyone ahead of me but, on the third lap, I caught the backmarkers just beginning their second. Fortunately the paths were wide enough for all and I got by.

2nd or 3rd lap and toughing it out.

By now, I was physically beginning to feel the strain. Breathing hard, legs filling with lactate and the body sending all sorts of fatigue signals to the brain to try and entice me to slow down. The temptation was there but I managed to resist.

Due to the separated nature of the start and finish you get to begin a fourth lap which gives you the extra joy of a fourth run up the long gradient. As I began it, I sensed a runner close behind me and was determined to stop him from passing. It’s always good to have these sort of distractions to give you a reason not to give in to the fatigue. I was aided by having all the back markers on the left side of the path to make it harder to pass.

Once we reached the highest point, I knew we had perhaps 100m to go and I kicked. At least, I tried to kick although I’m not sure my legs had much left. I was already breathing hard but at least it was a short downhill tarmac stretch which enabled me to hold him off by a second to finish in 12th place in an official time of 20:26. Fantastic. An improvement of twenty-nine seconds over two weeks ago at Upton and almost a minute over four weeks back. The First Finisher clocked 17:18 and it was a field of 325 runners on only The Great Field’s fourth event..

As usual, I went for a warmdown lap against the flow of runners. It might sound a little crazy but it’s a nice way to get to see and encourage other runners.

Once completed I stood outside the Pavilion, drank coffee and chatted to my fellow Upton runners on what was a lovely, mild November day. I can imagine, come the summertime, it will be great to sit out on the grass and enjoy the ambience. Looking around I realised the original blandness I’d perceived in The Great Field is more a lack of maturity and cold weather. In ten years’ time, all the trees lining the paths and around the cricket pitch will have grown up. It’ll still be a large open space but much more scenic with beautiful, leafy trees providing an aesthetic backdrop.