World Championships – Heptathlon

Two days, seven events, sixteen women battling it out for the Heptathlon gold.  The favourite was Nafi Thiam, the back-to-back Olympic champion who also won the World Championship in 2017. Britain’s Katarina Johnson-Thompson interrupted Nafi’s dynasty by taking the gold in 2019 and therefore arrived in Oregon as the reigning World champion.

The seven events of heptathlon are split into sprints (100m hurdles and 200m), throws (shot putt and javelin) and jumps (long and high) with a final 800m race providing a test of speed and endurance. Typically the best heptathletes tend to be good sprinters because their speed helps out in the jumps and 800m leaving only the throws to be developed.

As a running coach, I often feel it’s hard to fit in all the sessions I would like to do in preparation for a race. There’s speed work, lactate clearance and tolerance to be developed and there’s general work on the aerobic base; and there’s limited time and energy to do it all.

So how do heptathletes manage to conquer seven different events? The technicalities of hurdling, long jumping, high jumping, shot putting and throwing a javelin are things that rarely come naturally. Of course most multi-eventers begin when they are ten or eleven years old so the basic techniques are ingrained by the time they get to their late teens and begin competing in championships. But even so, trying to fit in training for seven different events each week must be difficult and I guess all you can do is periodise your training to allow for it. There’s probably a decision to be made whether to try and improve your strongest events vs. eliminating any weakness. These are difficult decisions for any coach and athlete.


I tuned in over the two days to snippets of the events but it was the final 800m race which I watched with most interest given it’s my event. While trained world-class 800m runners are running under 1:45 for men and 1:55 for women, watching the heptathletes provides a different look.

These women are very good athletes there’s no doubt about that but they are second echelon or they’d be 800m specialists. The nature of the heptathlon disciplines pushes them to develop speed and power over endurance and the limitations of training mean they can’t be running 40 miles or more per week as the specialists do.

After six events, the Netherlands’ Anouk Vetter had edged ahead of Nafi Thiam through a massive 58+ metre throw in the javelin leaving only the two of them contending for the gold and silver. Meanwhile the 21-year-old American sensation, Anna Hall, who had been setting personal bests in each event and bouncing around excitedly after each great throw, jump or sprint was favoured to be first across the line. She recently ran 2:03 for 800m and while she wouldn’t be able to reach Thiam or Vetter in the overall standings it was likely she’d take bronze.

The race set off and Hall sprinted into the lead opening up a gap over the others. There wasn’t much drama but down the back straight of the second lap, about 1min20 into the run, you could see Hall beginning to suffer, breathing hard, looking a little less smiley as she dug in. Rounding the last bend, Sulek the Pole and Vidts from Belgium moved up onto her shoulder and challenged. Over the last 50m, Hall found a final burst to sprint away and cross the line in 2:06.67

The others trailed in over the next fifteen seconds and then after walking a few steps, with the competition over, they all collapsed to the floor gasping for breath. I remember the feeling on my first 800m time trial – lungs busting to the very end then hyperventilating to try and get the breath back. For me, it lasted a good few minutes and the unpleasant effects of lactic build-up were still causing me to cough an hour later. On my later time trials these effects were diminished as my endurance had improved.

Post race recovery

Breaking down Anna Hall’s race, it’s instructive to note she ran 23.08s in the 200m event at the end of the hep’s first day. The next best time was Johnson-Thompson’s 23.62s which is a significant drop off. Generally speaking the fastest runners over short distances become the fastest over long distances with the right training.

In running 2:06.67, Hall recorded 200m splits of 28.77, 31.98, 33.45 and 32.47. There’s no doubt she went out a little quick even though she was almost six seconds slower than she’s capable for 200m. The lap splits came in at 1:01.75 and 1:05.92 where a specialist aims to have a 2-second difference between the two. Let’s put those numbers into context the 800m was run at 4:15/mile, the fastest split at 3:51/mile, the slowest at 4:29! All very impressive stuff to us mere mortals.

Anouk Vetter trailed in at 2:20 to take silver behind the champion Thiam (2:13). The commentary team suggested that Vetter’s 7-second deficit, with her throws being better than everyone else, indicated she had spent more time in the weights room than the track. Of course that may have been a little tongue-in-cheek without a more detailed analysis of Vetter’s past abilities or knowing what her coaching were aiming to achieve, but likely there’s some truth in it.

Even so, the race highlights how much speed is an important factor in racing fast but also the need to balance training to build the endurance to support it. Hall may be able to run 200m at 3:05/mile pace but it quickly drops to only being able to run at 4:30/mile when another 600m is added. It really highlights the endurance work that runners need to do if they’re going to be competitive at longer distances like parkrun, 10K or even the marathon.

Anouk Vetter (silver), Nafi Thiam (gold), Anna Hall (bronze) from left to right.

World Championships – Race Walking

The World Athletics championship opened on Friday 15 July 2022 in Oregon, USA. As I’m based in the UK, I’m not going to see much of it live as, while some events start in the evening in my time-zone, the majority take place after midnight.

What I caught on Day 1 began with the field events of hammer and high jump along with a couple of track events, the Mixed 4x400M relay and preliminary heats of the Men’s 100M. But the real highlight was away from the stadium where we were treated to the Women’s 20KM walk!

Race walking is a sport which is somewhat derided and I am being slightly sarcastic when I say it’s a highlight. Yet, I have a fascination with all things sporty and what I can learn from them and I’ve actually watched race walking at some of the past Olympics.  Given it’s similarity to running it’s interesting to dig into the details and analyse.

Race walking at the elite level is surprisingly fast and there are two event distances – 20 and 50km. A little bit shorter than half marathon (21.1km) and longer than a marathon (42.2km). It’s only in the past decade the women have been allowed to compete in the longer walking distance.

There are two basic rules that differentiate it from running.

  1. You must always have one foot in contact with the ground as judged by the naked eye. This “naked eye” caveat was instituted in recent years because with the advent of high definition television pictures, it became clear everyone was lifting off and travelling through the air!
  2. When the front foot lands the leg must stay straight until the body passes over it. The knee cannot bend.

Breaking either of these rules results in a warning red card and if three are received, the walker has to take a penalty stop of 1-minute per 10K of race distance. If they break the rules a fourth time they are disqualified. However, there’s a twist as in the last 100 metres, a walker may be disqualified even if they haven’t had any previous cards which avoids them gaming the system and breaking into a sprint at the line! The drama of the race begins to occur as competitors accumulate penalties or risk everything to go that bit faster.

The commentators made the point that tactically there’s not much you can do in race-walking. Its limitations, as I shall explain, means there is an inherent top speed. It’s not like distance running where you might decide to conserve your energy by sitting behind an opponent and then sprinting for the line!


By always having one foot in contact with the ground, a walker’s stride length is limited by the length of their legs. As one foot leaves the ground, the other must already be touching it.

This begins to highlight a big difference with running where runners can push off with each step and travel through the air. They get a longer stride length by doing this – as much as 2.70m for world class male sprinters and almost 2m for distance runners. The average man walking along the street usually has a stride of around 90cm and when I measured my biggest possible step it was a highly uncomfortable, full stretch 1.35m.

In his book Mathletics, John D. Barrow a professor at Cambridge University analyses how race walkers achieve their speeds and concludes that to achieve the world record pace, it requires the walker to have a leg length of 2.3m. Basically they have to be leaving the ground to go as fast as they do! What the walkers are good at is eliminating any up and down motion. Their centre of gravity always remains level and all effort goes into propelling themselves horizontally forwards.

This means their cadence – the number of steps taken per minute – is a big factor in how fast they walk. The best in the race I watched were hitting a cadence of around 200 steps per minute but again this has limitations. Sprinters achieve very high cadences of around 250 steps per minute but they can only hold onto this for a minute. Middle distance runners tend to be over 200-220 steps and are closer to the race walkers in this respect.

But it’s a key difference between running and race-walking that middle distance runners achieve high cadence by ‘shortening the lever”. When their back foot leaves the ground it comes up to almost kick their backside. This shortening allows the rear leg to travel under the body quicker than if it were staying straight. This is basic mechanics that occurs with the pendulum of a clock speeding up or slowing down depending on its length and which you can easily test by swinging a weight on a piece of string.

What a tall walker gains in stride length, they lose in cadence because their long levers move slower.

The pronounced tilt of the hips and shoulders

Watching a racewalker, you immediately notice they all employ a distinctive wiggling method with the arms notably swinging. The hands stay low to keep the centre of gravity low and help avoid losing contact with the ground.

The reason for the wiggle is that it maximises the length of each stride. It involves rotation of the hips which is counterbalanced by the shoulders rotating. Unfortunately, if you go watch any amateur distance race you will seem many runners at the slower end of the field using a similar technique. This isn’t entirely a surprise as many amateur runners are going at paces slower than race walkers.

Together these factors begin to explain why many amateur runners aren’t achieving better times. Firstly they do too much ‘wiggling’ – their hips and shoulders rotate around the body. While this creates a longer stride, it often causes a heel strike which at best creates braking forces to slow them, but at worst may cause injury. Neither is desirable.

A secondary consequence of hip rotation is that it doesn’t cause the trail leg to swing up which would make their running more efficient. All they’re doing is penduluming their legs back and forth.

Now there are running methods which encourage runners to deliberately lift the trailing leg but I don’t advocate that, it should happen naturally with good mechanics. How far the trail leg swings up is dependent on how fast you’re running. But certainly if you’ve got excessive hip rotation going on, it will be harder to hit the top speeds that enable it to happen.


The most impressive part of race walking is the speed – they are not just ambling down to the shops to pick up a pint of milk. In Friday night’s, 20km walk the first kilometre was completed in 4:20 – the equivalent of a 21:40 parkrun! In Imperial terms it’s 6:58/mile and they went through five miles in under 35 minutes.

The Chinese women, Shijie Qieyang and Hong Liu started out quickly but were eventually caught and overtaken by Kimberly Garcia Leon and then Poland’s Katarzyna Zdzieblo. After 1:26:58 it was Garcia Leon who claimed the first gold medal of these World Championships and Peru’s first ever.

Later on the men’s race took place won by Japan’s Toshikazu Yamnishi in 1:19:07. I didn’t stay up to watch it!

Both of these times were within three minutes of the world records which are:

  • Men’s 20K – 1:16:36 – Yusuke Suzuki (Japan) – March 15, 2015
  • Men’s 50K – 3:32:33 – Yohann Diniz (France) – August 15, 2014
  • Women’s 20K – 1:23:39 – Elena Lashmanova (Russia) – June 9, 2018
  • Women’s 50K – 3:59:13 – Liu Hong (China) – March 9, 2019

Putting those numbers into a more familiar format we find the

  • Men’s 20K – a pace of 3:50/km or 6:10/mile – the equivalent of a 19:09 parkrun or 1:21 half marathon.
  • Women’s 20K – a pace of 4:11/km or 6:44/mile – equating to a 20:54 parkrun or 1:28 half.
  • Men’s 50K – a pace of 4:15/km or 6:51/mile – equating to a 21:15 parkrun or 2:59 marathon.
  • Women’s 50K – a pace of 4:47/km or 7:42/mile – equating to a 23:55 parkrun or 3:22 marathon.

Many amateur runners would be happy to achieve these sort of times. While race-walking is often spoken of in insulting terms, the efforts and results of the athletes are more than impressive.

Dealing with the heat

Britain finally seems to have found its summer and a heatwave is predicted over the next few days. This doesn’t bode well for any of us who can’t run early morning or in the evenings when it’s cooler.

There’s no doubt heat, or more importantly humidity can affect your running. While a hot day can be unpleasant, it’s the latter that’s the greater issue because it makes it harder to keep cool. High humidity means there’s high levels of water vapour already in the air and this means the sweat / water on your skin has nowhere to go – it can’t evaporate. So it just sits there and stops you from sweating further which is a key mechanism used by the body for cooling. The heart already works harder, as evidenced by a higher heart-rate, to get more blood flowing to the skin to take away the internal heat which occurs through sweating.

If the body temperature rises too much it can be dangerous. The body usually functions at a temperature of 37-38C but add a couple of degrees to that and it begins to impair muscle function. Get to over 40-41C and you’re in danger of heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion is problematic and if left untreated it can turn into heaststroke which can be deadly.


I think I suffered heat exhaustion once. I was running at the beach, in the middle of summer, and it was a hot sunny day. The day before I’d done the same route – a ten mile run, five miles out, five miles back and even though it had been hot, I had no issues.

On the second day, I felt fine on the outwards stretch and I seem to recall I had a slight wind in my face which helped me feel cool. Then I turned around and it was hot. Any breeze was now on my back, so I got no benefit and I was running with the sun shining on my front. Where I’d run at 8min/mile on the way out, my 6th mile slowed to 8:30 and I was beginning to feel bad. The 7th slowed further to 9:10 and I took a couple of minutes break, standing in the shade shivering behind a beach hut. My heart-rate wouldn’t drop below 115 even though I was just standing there. I resumed at an easy jog, as I still had three miles to cover to get back to the car, but when the 8th mile came in at a shuffling 9:45 I decided it would be best to walk the rest. I had no further effects that afternoon and the following day I felt fine and was back out running okay.

I’m not quite sure what happened. I’m sure I was a little fatigued from doing the ten mile run the day before although longer sessions were quite common at the time. I may not have eaten or drunk enough before setting out. I find in the hot weather, I am constantly drinking fluids and still underhydrated. One other thing may have been an issue, at one stage of the run I sped up to get past the land train that runs along the prom. This pushed my heart-rate up into the 150s and may have set off a chain of events that I would otherwise have avoided had I just been jogging casually. Whatever caused it, I believe I took the right action by cancelling the session and walking back. Fortunately I’ve never encountered it since.


I’ve always been a big believer in drinking to thirst. Most of the day I have a cup of tea to hand but I don’t force it. When I was more endurance trained and sweated less, I found cups of tea would be half finished. At the moment, with the heat I’m drinking lots of tea and I’m still seeing that I’m underhydrated when I go to the toilet. The colour of your urine is a good indicator – when it’s clear you’re hydrated, when it’s golden or even darker you need to drink more. Even though I don’t noticeably sweat during the day, I’m still losing fluid from the body – water particles will be exhaled in your breathing.

The advice used to be to drink lots before a marathon and to keep drinking throughout. But this became a risk with runners drinking over a litre per hour for 3-4 hours. It could lead to a condition called hyponatremia which can almost ‘drown’ the body’s cells and wash the important minerals out of them. The advice now is to drink to thirst.


Of course if you can do your runs in the early morning or late evening, they’re much more enjoyable. Last Sunday, I did my long run at 5:07am and was home well before 7am. It was cool from start to finish and I still had the rest of the day to enjoy the sunshine.

On other days, I’ve been running in the heat of the day but I don’t mind it. Most of the runs have been for recovery purposes which are deliberately kept slow enough that they don’t cause me to break sweat too much. There is a little but it doesn’t get too uncomfortable. I’ve actually found it’s worse when I arrive home and stop moving. The lack of air circulation causes any sweat to start building up.

The couple of workouts I’ve done in the heat I don’t mind. It’s probably because the intervals aren’t that long and you get a rest afterwards. I believe the real danger of running in the heat comes when you try to hold onto a decent pace for a long time.


If we’re lucky enough to have good weather for the rest of the summer months then it’s worth understanding that it takes around two weeks for the body to get used to the heat. There’s always going to be some degradation in performance because of it until that occurs.

Best advice I can give you is to get out and get used to it. Keep yourself hydrated by drinking to thirst and don’t try to force yourself through anything that feels untoward or out of the ordinary.

One legged chair squats

With my speed improving over the past month, I took another read of Pete Magill’s Speedrunner book to see what extra I could learn. One of the things I’ve found with learning is that rereading stuff is helpful. The first time you read something it may seem to go in and be understood. If you then begin to apply what you’ve read and grow, a reread brings a different perspective on the same material.

Among the exercises listed in the book are one-legged squats. These are nothing new to me and last November I started doing exercises as I wanted to be able to do a pistol squat which is a full one-legged squat to the ground and back up. I did exercises for about six weeks which were beneficial but when combined with the faster running I was doing, my left glute got sore and I decided to put them on hold rather than get injured.

Reading Speedrunner as I sat in my garden last Monday, it was one of the rare sunny days we’ve enjoyed this summer. The front half of the book is an explanation of the concepts of maximum velocity, acceleration and sprint mechanics while the second half details exercises that will help to improve these.

A variation to the one-legged squat was also detailed. Begin sitting in a chair (as I happened to be doing at that point) and raise yourself up out of it on only one leg. This allows you to go with a smaller range of motion plus the security of not falling backwards or collapsing on the floor. I gave it a try.

My right leg was just about strong enough to do five reps, it was a struggle but I got them done. The left leg was not so easy. Almost immediately on trying the hamstring muscles in the back of my thigh were crying out in pain with the difficulty. I could do it but it was on the edge of a strain. Fortunately I know my body well enough to know when to keep going and when to back off. I did the five reps and that was it.

In the following days, I continued to do five reps each leg, each day. The left leg still strained at the effort but subjectively I knew the pain was reducing, so the muscle must be getting stronger. Plus the exercise itself is also an improver for balance and coordination. It’s worth noting that for all the technology we have, there is nothing that could tell me I was improving beyond a subjective assessment.

By Saturday, after five days of this, I was feeling strong enough to do ten reps on each leg. The left leg was still a little grumbly about this, the right leg strong but actually not quite as good at balancing when up out of the chair.


On Sunday I went for my long run and with the combination of miles and a decent pace (rather than recovery) it’s the sort of run where any new form can begin to be ingrained. I didn’t particularly notice anything different with the left leg starting to strengthen up but in the last mile or so, I found my right shoulder dropped and began to swing a little easier. They may not seem connect but the arms and legs working in opposite pairings, so the right leg / left arm swing together in time as do the left leg / right arm.

Fixing form issues is quite often a case of looking at the whole body as a system, not simply focusing on the body part you thing is an issue. A good example of this is when you have a runner who heel strikes. The instinct is to get them to run on their toes more but quite often I find it is happening because their hips or glutes aren’t working properly. And I reckon this is what happened to me this past week. I got the left glute-hamstring area stronger, it worked better and consequently that led to the counterbalance from the right shoulder correcting itself.


I’ve continued with the one-legged chair squats this week and they are getting easier and easier. The reps of standing up onto the right leg are now beginning to feel as easy as it does when standing up as normal onto two feet. The left leg is still a tad weak but it will strengthen up. I’ve noticed the right shoulder seems to be dropping into place more often when running and during sprints my form felt great.

One of the surprises is that I need to do this strengthening work. While I do press-ups, corework and dumbbell curls to keep my upper body in shape, I had always considered running was enough for my lower body, particularly in recent months where I’ve been doing hills. Apparently it wasn’t and while it is difficult, if not impossible, to find a set of tests to identify any weakness; it certainly highlights the benefit of doing a range of activities outside of pure running.

Overcoming the inner talk on race day

I originally wrote this back in 2015 for someone I was coaching for a half marathon. It’s my account of a race I ran three weeks before theirs. I wanted to give them an idea of how, whatever your fitness level, if you’re pushing to your limits, you will experience voices / self talk trying to get you to ease up or even give up. But I also wanted to provide some of the phrases and ways I use to counter that voice. It’s a skill I learned while coaching volleyball to try and keep a team playing hard to the end of match even if all seems lost.

My race was the New Forest half marathon which took place in mid-September. I’d entered it when I was fit and healthy. I’d written a training plan aiming to get under 1hr30, but then July’s training didn’t go well and I picked up a calf problem in early August. Two weeks before the race I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to run it as I was exhausted at the end of my Sunday ‘long’ runs on Sundays and these were only covering 7½ miles at paces close to 9min/mile. Nothing like the 13+ miles I’d need to cover in the half.

Nonetheless in the last week my fitness seemed to return and I went from thinking 1hr45 was a possibility to turning up on race day and deciding to target sub-1hr40 (which is 7min36/mile pace).  Basically I hadn’t run longer than 10-miles since July 19th and almost all my recent miles have been up around 9min/mile so nothing close to where I was actually intending to run. I really didn’t know how it would go.


About 20 mins before the start – I had a 5-min jog at 10min/mile pace [2½ mins slower than race pace] and then finished off with a couple of strides at 8min/mile pace [engaging race pace muscles]. That was my warmup.

In the start funnel I was in the wrong place for 1hr40 due to the way they organised it so I knew I had a few people to get past but just took it nice and easy and told myselfIt’s extra warmup“. With the early bunching of runners and wanting to get past them, I told myselfWait until the gaps appeared then move through them”. The first mile came in at 7min40. The next at 7min30. Everything was feeling comfortable and I was on target.

I continued running at around this pace and it felt ok. Much of the course was on gravel paths at this stage and I felt pretty strong over the next four miles (7min29, 33, 37, 25). So now I’d reached at mile six with things still feeling manageable, but I was also slightly questioning how long will I be able to keep this up given my lack of training?

The watch was beginning to consistently read around 7min25, and I was a little concerned I might be overdoing things given my original 1hr40 intention, . But I decided to just stick with it and take whatever comes. The seventh mile came in at 7min27 and mile 8 at 7min16, but things were beginning to feel tough within my body. We’d also hit a little bit of light headwind out in the open and there were some gradients to go up, but gradients also go down which explains the quicker mile 8.

By this point my accumulated time was putting me in for 1hr37 and I was averaging about 7min25/mile. With only five miles to go, I told myself “Just hang on as best I can and get whatever time that brings me“. Even if I ran a minute per mile slower from here onwards, I’d only be adding five minutes to 1hr37 and finishing in 1hr42. But realistically you aren’t going to slow by that much if you keep putting one foot in front of the other as best you can. So most likely it would be 20secs/mile over the next 2-3 (+1min) and then maybe 1-min/mile over the last two (+2mins) which would still be 1hr40.

When the Mile 9 marker rolled around, I felt like giving up and downgrading to a jog as the legs were really beginning to feel it. But the mile itself clocked in at 7min25 – so no time added to the new 1hr37 goal. I told myselfJust keep running hard and see how far you can get“.

Mile 10 was 7min26 – I told myself3.1 miles to go. Just a parkrun – I do those all the time“.

Mile 11 was 7min25. I was basically running on my physical limit rather than really good pacing. This pace was the leftover from when my training was good in July.

But now with only two miles to go, I DEFINITELY wanted to give up. Told myselfIt’s only 15mins running left.“. Somewhere in the back of my mind a voice was sayingYou’re going to crash and have to walk these last two miles and end up running 1hr50“. I ignored that voice.

I was really beginning to struggle mentally. Then the tail end of the 10K race merged in with us, they were significantly slower and spread out across the path because of where the organisers had placed the drinks station. Mentally it was distracting and frustrating, especially when you’re tired; I wanted to shout at them to “MOVE” but it would be wasting energy. I got past safely after a few hundred yards.

At 11½ miles I glimpsed the finish area through the trees and told myselfNot far to go now. It’s only 1.6 miles, I can see the finish. I do 1.6 miles in warmup all the time.

At mile 12 I felt I was running like a zombie. My legs had slowed, it felt awful. I would have guessed my split time was 8min25 … actually it was 7min40 … within 15 seconds of my other miles. All that had happened is I’d dropped to my marathon pace. So now my predicted time had become 1hr37 and 15 seconds due to the slightly slower mile.

The final mile felt so slowwwww in my legs and it felt like I was jogging. The path became gravelly again, runners around me were starting to leave me behind thereby highlighting my perceived slowness, and although the finish was in sight the course took us on a mile lap around the outside of it. On top of that, one side of the field had a strong headwind to run into. It was all I could do to keep putting one foot in front of the other but that’s what I did and eventually I reached the final finish straight and tried to pick up the pace for a ‘sprint’ finish. I could only top out at 6min25 pace which is my 10K pace! The final mile had felt so slow – yet it came in at 7min30 pace.

So that was my half marathon finishing in 1hr37min07. Well above my expectations of a week before and above what I’d set out to do. On the day I had to give everything to achieve that time. Obviously fully fit I’d have been a much more capable runner but the lack of training put me on my limits.


What can you learn from this?  I want you to understand that when you really run a race to get a PB, it’s going to be as much about having the correct mental attitude as it is to being physically fit. I’ve tried to give you indications on what my self-talk was and what I had to do to hang on in there.

  • Mostly it’s a process of continuing to run as hard as your body will allow, counting down the miles and realising that with the fewer miles left there are, the smaller effect it can have on your overall time.
  • Understand that your mind will tell you anything to try and get you to slow down but you can hang in there and override it to a good extent.
  • When you feel like you’re running through treacle, but you know you’re trying your hardest, the reality is that you’ve probably only dropped by 15-20seconds/mile and ultimately that won’t destroy the time anywhere near as much as you thought it would.

Eilish’s low mileage

Scotland’s Eilish McColgan is the current golden girl of British Athletics. This year she has set distance records, the first occurred in February when she broke Paula Radcliffe’s British half marathon record by 21 seconds in 1:06:26. Then in May, she ran 30:19 to take Radcliffe’s 10K road record and on Monday (June 6th), she ran this time again on the track in Hengelo, Netherlands to set a Scottish record.

The McColgan name is not unfamiliar to followers of running. Her mother, Liz, was the World Champion in 1991 at the 10,000m having already been Commonwealth Games champion in 1986 and 1990 and silver medal winner at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. When she moved up to the marathon distance she won New York (1991), Tokyo (1992) and London (1996) marathons. Eilish’s father, Peter McColgan, was also a talented distance runner who competed for Northern Ireland in the 3,000m steeplechase and 5,000m at the Edinburgh Commonwealth games as well as for Great Britain in the steeplechase at the 1991 World Championships. What a pedigree for Eilish to have!

Not only does she have the genetic advantage but Eilish is also part of a generation of successful female Scottish distance runners. Laura Muir has been the most successful gaining a silver medal at last year’s Tokyo Olympics where she set a British record for the 1,500m in a time of 3:54.50  In 2012, Lynsey Sharp was European champion and competed at the London Olympics in the 800m. She followed this up four years later setting a Scottish record of 1:57.69 while finishing 6th in the Rio Olympic final.


A recent BBC article detailed that this year’s success is down to Eilish undertaking a reduced training load that Liz had to be persuaded would be in Eilish’s best interest. Liz had been running as much as 140 miles per week in her marathon prime.

But this highlights the event differences. Liz was always a long distance runner doing 10,000m and marathons. Following in her dad’s footsteps, Eilish competed in the 3,000m steeplechase for Great Britain at the London Olympics and then the 5,000m in Rio. It wasn’t until 2018 (when she 28 years old) that she began racing longer distances winning the ten mile Great South Run in 54:43. Roll on three years to the Tokyo Olympics and Eilish competed in both the 5,000 and 10,000m. Looking back at her Personal Bests, her time for 800m is 2:07.8 – over ten seconds slower than Lynsey Sharp and her mile is 4:00.97 which is five seconds slower than Muir. It’s clear that although Eilish competes in middle distance races, she lacks the top-end speed to be winner against the best and like her parents is better suited to the longer distances.

So it’s surprising when she talks in the article about how her training increased from 20, 30, 40, 50 miles per week and has only been operating at 65-70 over the last year and a half to two years. It’s not unusual for a world class 800m runner to operate on as little as forty miles per week but Eilish isn’t one. Typically world class 5,000 – 10,00m runners train between 70-100mpw. Given the recent increase in training mileage, it’s no surprise that when Eilish returned to the Great South run last October she was four minutes quicker than three years ago.

There’s no doubt decent mileage is critical to distance running success and Eilish’s approach of starting on low mileage and building up is a good one to follow but far too many runners simply aren’t doing enough mileage to support longterm improvement. Getting the balance right is important and, as Eilish shows, great results can be achieved off moderate mileage.

While I don’t wish to take anything away from how hard I’m sure she’s working in training, it should be noted many road and track records have been broken over the past couple of years due to the innovation of carbon plates in shoes. I am slightly sceptical Eilish would have been breaking Radcliffe’s records without them (at least in the near future); but many past records have been broken due to now-forgotten reasons outside of better athletic prowess. And in the longer term, unless the IAAF backtracks on the use of carbon plates, these records will become the new standard. All power to her – she’s still the best we’ve seen in a long time.

Whatever the reason, I have no doubt Eilish McColgan is going to go on to greater things as she gets the benefit of higher mileages and moves up to the longer distances permanently. At 31 years old, she has potential for another Olympic cycle in her and maybe more. I’m sure she will be looking to emulate her mother by taking on the London Marathon and other Majors.


Bonus content – Eilish is listed in Wikipedia at 1.80m (5’11). In my article on stride length I observed her cadence averaging 172 steps per minute giving her a stride length of 1.97m. It’s easy to think this is because she is tall and to an extent it is. But, as I also pointed out, Eliud Kipchoge (1.67m – 5’6”) has a stride length of almost two metres – about 15% greater than his height.

A quick look back at Paula Radcliffe running mile 5 of her record-setting 2003 London Marathon shows her running with a stride length of 1.67m (186-88 cadence) when she is 1.73m tall (5’8”). It’s a decent stride but it’s shorter than she is!

Update on my 800m training – May 2022

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

What’s the objective?

Have you played Wordle – the word-guessing game that went viral at the start of this year?

If you haven’t, don’t worry; there IS a running-related point to this post. The aim of Wordle is to figure out a 5-letter word within six guesses. You enter a word and the app indicates if there are any letters correctly placed, or any correct letters placed wrongly.

Color-blind mode in case you’re wondering!

Most people realise they can improve their chances by starting with a word which has commonly used letters. There’s no point in beginning with a words that has Zs, Xs, Js or Qs for example. While it’s obvious they won’t come up often – it’s perhaps not so obvious that letters like B or G are well down the list of those likely to be used. I learned the most frequent letters are E, T, O, A, N, I, R, S, H, D when I was at middle school, so I start off with words that consist of them.

People also know every word has a vowel (or “Y”) so they think a word like ADIEU is a good starter because it identifies the vowels, but there’s a downside to this. When you take your next guess, you’re reusing those vowels and have less room to figure out the consonants. For example if the A and E are correct in the first guess and you then use LATER on your second word, you’ve only used four of the twenty possible consonants on your first two guesses. You might have the A and E as you enter your third word but still not have found any of the consonants out.

I realised that if I used my first three guesses to get fifteen different letters out on the board, I’d definitely identify the vowels and almost certainly get some consonants while being able to rule out Z, X, Q, J. Worst case scenario, I’ve still got three guesses left for figuring out which of the other seven letters I need to use.

The result of this strategy has been very successful. I’ve only failed once on Wordle in 100+ attempts. That was back on March 11th when the word was WATCH. Why did I fail on WATCH? Because it has multiple possibilities – PATCH, CATCH, HATCH, MATCH, LATCH, BATCH. At least seven different words to slot into a maximum of six guess. And it’s made even harder because CATCH and HATCH involve a double letter. On reflection, I should have then entered a word like BLIMP to eliminate four of the options in one go. That’s good strategy for you.

Playing this way, I found I was able to get the word in under thirty seconds (quick typist), some days as quick as seventeen seconds (slow broadband) but there was a downside to this.  You’re never going to get the word in fewer than four guesses (unless you luck in).

This was great while I was playing on my own and my objective was simply to get the word that day. But then I started playing against other people. Always being ‘guaranteed’ a 4th guess was good on the days while others were learning the game but eventually there would always be someone who came up a 3 or better. Now I never won. I had to rethink strategy and go boom-or-bust to try and get it in few than four. Or wait for them to play and see whether a 4 would be good enough!

My original objective when I started playing was to get the Wordle in six tries. Once I realised I could always do this, my objective became to get it done as fast as possible and get on with my day. When I started playing against others I changed strategy again. This is a lesson in life it’s taken me many years to realise. The strategy changes depending on the objective. There is no single perfect strategy or method that will enable you to always meet a variety of objectives.


I once spoke to a runner who found running hills brought her parkrun time down quickly and then, having entered a marathon, continued doing them. It was only when I pointed out over coffee that trying to improve her speed beyond 7:30/mile was fairly pointless as she was hoping to run a sub-4hr marathon at no faster than 9min/mile. Trying to improve speed was the wrong training for her objective.

This isn’t unusual. Runners have a collection of standard workouts and try to apply them to everything – the proverbial “to a man with only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”. That said, most runners recognise that if they’re going to train for a marathon they’re going to do more mileage and some longer runs but that’s conventional wisdom tilting their training, not understanding the requirements of their objective.

There are certain underlying principles to training that work across all events – training daily is more effective than training a couple of times per week. You’ll always do better at Wordle with a starting guess of CLEAR than you will with VIVID. The high frequency letters enable you to build on later guesses, the low probability ones usually leave you with five guesses and probably no closer to a solve.

Just as high frequency letters like E, T, S are clearly better guesses in Wordle than X, J, Z; it’s obvious that sprinters train differently to marathon runners. But the difference in training between a parkrun, 10K and half marathon is not so obvious to the lay person, just as most Wordlers are unsure whether C, P or G is more prevalent.

It is possible to be good at different events at different times in a career. After all, Eliud Kipchoge was the 5,000m world champion back in 2003 and then when he changed his objective he became the best marathoner in the world. The change of objective necessitated a change in training plan.

You could look back to the 1950s and find Emil Zatopek winning the gold medal in the 5000, 10000 and marathon at the Helsinki Olympics and Lasse Viren trying to replicate the feat in 1976 where he won golds on the track but could only place 5th in the marathon. Training had moved on by then and people had begun to realise you specialise and train for the event rather than simply trying to be a good all-round runner. You certainly won’t find anyone attempting it these days. A local club runner might be able to do it against a sub-elite field just as getting Wordle in four guesses was successful until my competitors figured out how to play better.

It’s been a revealing yet simple reminder from playing Wordle this year that the strategy you use depends on your objective. Likewise with running there is no single way to train for every event and you cannot be world champion at them all on the same day. It’s always a choice between speed or endurance, or finding some combination of them. How you train depends on your objective.

Making Progress

The idea of progression is not new yet it’s rarely understood or utilised by runners. If they’re following a plan then it incorporates progression but if they’re doing their own training, they’re likely just hoping they will get faster by running runs quicker.

That said, anyone who has ever trained for a marathon has an inkling of what a progression looks like. They know can go out and run five to ten miles at the moment, but the idea of reaching 26.2 is enough of a gamechanger that they resort to some sort of plan to get there. How do you get from ten miles to twenty? You do it by progression – simply adding 1-2 miles each week … ten, twelve, fourteen, sixteen, eighteen, twenty.

Usually there’s a timeframe attached to training which forces the numbers. My last marathon, should have gone smoothly as I’d completed the twenty-mile run three months before the race but then I suffered an injury. Suddenly I only had eight weeks to go and I squeezed the progression to into six weeks – 9, 11, 14, 17, 18, 20½, dropped to 9 miles and then ran the marathon the following week.

So that’s the first thing you do. You look at how much time you have available and where you want to get to and then create an evenly stepped progression up to it. But it’s not only increasing distance that we can create progression for.


Most runners have a set interval session they like doing. It might be 12x400m equal jog recovery, or it might be my old favourite 5x1K with 3-min recovery. Runners usually aim to get faster at the efforts in the hope this will help them race quicker.

This is what Roger Bannister did back in the day on his way to the first four-minute mile. In the preceding October he was running 10x440yd in 1min06 with 440yd jog recovery in two minutes. Each month he would run the laps one second quicker so when he attempted the record in May he was running some laps as quick as 56 seconds.

But running laps faster isn’t the only way to make improvement. Notice we have four factors in Bannister’s session:

  • No of reps – 10
  • Lap distance – 440yds
  • Recovery time – 2mins
  • Pace – 1min06 initially

NB The combination of reps and effort distance gives a total distance of work – 4,400yds.

We can vary any of these factors to try and help us improve. The overall aim of the progression is to take us from a low point of fitness to a higher point in a safe and achievable way. Just like marathon runners try to go from ten to twenty miles over a number of weeks in training.


Usually we only change one of the variables at a time and keep everything else the same. For example we might start out doing 8x200m then 10x200m on to 12×200 to increase the overall volume from 1,600m to 2,000m to 2,400m.

We might then change to longer intervals 6x400m, which involves also adjusting the reps down from 12 to 6, to keep the overall volume the same at 2,400m. What we rarely do is go from 12×200 to 8×400 which increases both length (200 to 400) and overall volume at the same time (2,400 to 3,200).

For these examples we’d look to keep the pace and recoveries the same as before. Actually the recovery for longer intervals might also increase but it would still be in the same ratio as the previous efforts (e.g. both 8x200m with 200m jog recovery and 6x400m with 400m jog recovery have equal jog recovery).

Once we’ve increased the volume of work being done by varying the reps and interval lengths, we might reduce the recovery between them which makes the runner attempt the next effort in a more fatigued state. The challenge become whether they can continue to run all their efforts at the required pace despite the building fatigue.


For a progression to be effective, it needs to take place over a number of weeks. There’s no point doing one thing this week and something completely different the next. If you think about Bannister’s training, he was giving his body a month to adapt before moving onto the next step of the progression by improving the pace – he was doing the same session for six months!

Update on my 800m training – Apr 2022

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

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

Hills

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

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

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

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

Short intervals

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

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

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

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

Near disaster

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

Actual disaster (minor)

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

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

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


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

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

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