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.

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.