Update on my 800m training – Nov 2022

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

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

The sessions came in as follows:

DateSessionTotal timeAvg pace1st2nd3rd4th5th6th
Nov 1st5K-pace19:213:523:483:543:494:003:50
8th(3:48)19:103:503:433:513:483:593:49
15th 19:323:543:483:563:524:023:54
22th 19:463:573:474:013:534:054:00
    
 3rd10K-pace24:164:033:564:053:564:083:584:13
10th(4:00)24:394:063:554:093:574:114:084:19
17th 24:224:043:554:023:584:074:034:17

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The psychology of giving thanks

Today America celebrates Thanksgiving Day. This annual tradition always falls on the fourth Thursday of November having begun in olden times as a celebration of having gathered the harvest in. Other countries Canada, Grenada, St Lucia and Liberia have their own Thanksgiving Days but it is not a widespread phenomenon.

As a Brit, I’ve only seen the romanticised version of Thanksgiving Day shown in films where it is portrayed as family coming together and feasting on roast turkey dinner and pumpkin pie. While that aspect is very much like our Christmas Day, I like the idea of taking time to sit quietly (although I’m not sure Americans ever sit quietly!) to count your blessings.

A few years back Gratitude Diaries were all the rage. People were encouraged to make a list each day of ten things they had to be grateful for. People who tried this reported that a month later they were happier with their lives. While this all sounds very New Age there is a simple reason why it works.

Writing a list of things to be thankful for gets you to think about your actual life. It gets you to look at what you actually have and what those things bring to you. Looking at it another way, it gets you away from wishing and dreaming about how you’d like your life to be. The blight of modern life is thinking happiness is out there.

While there’s nothing wrong with setting goals and dreaming big; for many people their emotional happiness is invested in believing that if they could only “have this” / “have that”, “be this” / “be that”, “achieve this” / “achieve that” then they would be happy. Except when they finally achieve their goal or dream, they discover it doesn’t make them happy.

There are many tales of Olympic gold medallists who have spent years training hard, sacrificing until they finally stand atop the podium singing their National Anthem and watching the flag be raised. It brings them immediate happiness but in the weeks which follow they feel an emptiness and uncertainty about what to do next. Why has the thing they focused so hard on, which was meant to bring happiness and fulfil them, failed to do so? Some athletes reorient themselves and set new goals; others wander aimlessly.

Giving thanks or writing a gratitude diary is one way of slowly changing your mindset to a more positive one. By doing it regularly it becomes a habit. The way you look at life is simply a lens. You can always choose whether to see the good or the bad. What you see leads to how you feel about your life.

Being thankful or writing gratitude diaries focuses us on the life we are actually living and with that comes the opportunity to make changes appropriately. If we’re unhappy with what we’ve got, chasing a goal is unlikely to make us happier. It simply distracts from the root cause of the unhappiness and helps us continue to avoid tackling it. Equally by focusing on what we do have, we begin to realise what is already good and matters to us. By knowing what makes us happy we can chase hopes and dreams that we know will be worthwhile.

Update on my 800m training – Oct 2022

Offseason training continues. I’ve just put in nine weeks of solid aerobic and threshold work and it went both well and badly. The aim had been to improve my threshold from where I estimated it currently to be at 6:50 to 6:30 – so the plan was to do three weeks at 6:50/mile, three at 6:40, three at 6:30.  Each three week block would be a progression of 6×1 mile, 4×1½ mile, 3×2 miles with a jog recovery.

The results came in as follows:

DateSessionTotal timeAvg pace
Aug 30th6×141:116:526:506:466:486:496:557:03
Sep 6th4×1½40:556:4910:1310:1610:1210:14
13th3×240:526:4913:2813:4213:42
    
20th6×139:396:366:356:366:356:376:366:40
27th4×1½40:176:439:549:5710:1510:09
Oct 4th3×239:366:3613:0713:0613:24
    
11th6×138:376:266:226:236:206:246:356:33
18th4×1½39:136:329:409:479:489:58
25th3×241:116:5713:2713:5614:21

While there were ups and downs in there, I rated the first 8 weeks as having gone decently and there was an overall improvement from where I began to where I’d reached. Not perfect but a definite improvement. You can see the average pace improving over the weeks in line with what I was hoping to achieve.

Then came week 9, it was atrocious – overall worse than week 1. There was a good reason for this. It didn’t simply come down to having screwed things up, I caught something and spent the week blowing my nose hundreds of times each day and waking up through the night. Whatever it was, it raised its head on the previous Friday where I was inexplicably thirty seconds per mile slower than the previous week over my nine mile course.

It lasted for 4-5 days and knocked my fitness backwards. I’m hoping this loss is temporary as the body recovers and returns all its hormones and red/white blood cell counts back to normal. I seem to be okay now.

I’ve written a lot about Maffetone training and while I don’t rate low heart-rate training as a method, I agree with the idea of a strong aerobic system being important to health. It was certainly the case for me. While my running went backwards for a few days, I never stopped being able to do the things I need to do on a daily basis. Once I realised I was under the weather, I cancelled my supplemental training (core work, press-ups etc.) and avoided other unnecessary activities. Basically I took it as easy as possible while still running every day. It’s debateable whether it was worth doing that 9th workout? I wanted to give it a go and just decided to get the best out of it I could. I didn’t push to hit target once I saw how far off the pace I was.


The days of the training week have been building endurance to support this work. I’ve done an hour Steady run on Fridays and an 11.7 mile long run on Sundays straight out of bed. On week 4, I went to Sandhurst Memorial parkrun, where I ran a tired legged 20:48 in place of the Friday Steady run. The parkrun still came in around 6:40/mile which suggests my threshold is improving. Then my Sunday long run* was 12 miles up and down the Basingstoke canal towpath. The legs were naturally not up for a faster effort after an all-out parkrun.

WeekFriday 9milesSunday 11.7mile
11:07:457:32/mile 1:32:337:56/mile
21:07:177:33 1:34:318:05
31:04:267:13 1:30:547:46
4 1:38:54*8:16*
51:05:177:18 1:30:227:43
61:04:157:11 1:29:097:37
71:03:137:08 1:31:497:52
81:08:317:37 1:31:547:52
91:05:387:20 1:32:307:54

What’s strange is my Fridays haven’t been quite as good as they were six months ago when I was doing a similar block of training yet the Sundays have been really pleasing. Almost every week has been a sub-8 avg. pace which is a level of consistency I’ve never seen before. It hints that I’m finally building the base endurance to a point where the body is recovering quicker.


All in all, it’s been a decent block of training through September and October and I achieved what I set out to do. I feel confident I can crack 40-mins in the 10K for the first time since 2015 and then later run a parkrun PB. I’ve got four weeks to the Boscombe 10K and then a further fortnight until Christchurch 10K which is the more likely course to break forty on. These first four weeks are going to see me running kilometres intervals with shorter rests to boost lactate tolerance and clearance and fire up the fast-twitch muscles enough to get me on pace. It’s time to go anaerobic!

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MAF Training review – Part 6 When You Need MAF

My previous articles about the MAF Method discourage using the age-related formula for low heartrate training. But in this post I’m taking a more positive angle because there’s a reason people went to Phil Maffetone and he was able to help them. So while, I’m not a fan of the age-related formula, I am a fan of building good endurance which relates to what Maffetone refers to as MAF – Maximum Aerobic Function. While I’m not going to advocate using his formula, I am going to detail and explain the circumstances where a block of endurance training could be useful.

A parkrunner I know is a very capable runner yet, in a decade of running, his progress has been very limited. In fact, he’s barely knocked a minute off his parkrun time. When we first met he’d been running again for perhaps six months. He’d been a talented youngster, quit and now returned to running as he approached forty. It hadn’t taken much training to achieve a twenty minute parkrun yet in all the running since he has barely scraped under nineteen minutes. Despite training five days per week, six at one stage, he really hasn’t made much progress.

His years of running have been blighted by Achilles’ problems. Whenever he starts to train harder with speedwork his Achilles becomes sore and limits his running. He then backs off the pace until long after the Achilles has healed, only to restart the speedwork and go through the same issues. Until recently he was able to run a 19:30 parkrun at full effort but over the last year he’s developed a hamstring injury and is struggling to break twenty minutes. On the tougher local courses, he can’t even break twenty-one minutes!

If he could go to Phil Maffetone, I’m sure MAF would get him back to health and restructure his training to help him improve. I’d still argue against using the age-related MAF formula because he’s over fifty and training at 125 (further five beat reduction for recent injury) isn’t going to produce decent longterm results. Yet, as you’ll see in the next section, he’s clearly not getting the aerobic development Maffetone would encourage and is running around almost every day of the week at heart-rates which are too high.

A typical week’s training when you need MAF

He typically runs five days per week – three midweek, a parkrun on Saturday which is always a faster effort, a Sunday run which is his longest of the week while the Wednesday run tends to be slightly shorter. He gives himself two rest days which, being on Monday and Friday, space the week’s training out nicely. All in it’s not a bad training structure to follow. Here’s the heart-rate graphs from those five days of training.

I’ve put a yellow line to indicate where a heart-rate of 150 occurs and you can see that on every run he is reaching and surpassing it for a decent portion of the time. In fact, at parkrun the heart-rate reaches 170+ and most days he’ll be hitting the 160s at some stage of the running. He’s not just exceeding 150bpm but exceeding it significantly on almost every run.

I consider the overall amount of time spent running each week to be an issue. Totalling about 25 miles per week in 3hr 20mins it’s not enough for a distance runner. Of course everybody leads different lives and has different priorities so I can’t be too critical. Yet at less than an hour the Sunday run isn’t long enough and it should surely be possible to find more time for it. If he was an 800m runner, an hour might be long enough but he isn’t; he describes himself as a 5K / 10K runner. Apart from a couple of ten mile races and a half marathon; 10Ks have been the furthest distance raced in all these years. This overall lack of training volume is part of the problem.

The average pace for the week is 7:45/mile and the Wednesday run is the slowest at 8:11/mile. Given a parkrun time that is just breaking twenty minutes, Jack Daniels’ VDOT tables suggest Easy runs should be somewhere around 8:30/mile pace. So again, alongside the evidence of the high daily heart-rates, we’re getting an indication that there isn’t enough genuinely easy running taking place.

There’s two more problems these stats don’t reveal. On each of the training runs he stops to cross roads which give him one to three minutes recovery on any run. There’s over nine minutes of stops built into these runs. It may seem picky but anyone who has done distance training knows a break is refreshing. If you’re running anaerobically those breaks allow you to recharge the batteries and keep pushing (too) hard. Now you may argue it’s impossible not to stop but, with good timing and route choices it can be avoided. I often go weeks without needing to stop on any of my runs simply by running on roads with low levels of traffic, early in the morning and being flexible about when and where I cross roads. I will happily run an extra fifty paces up a road to let traffic die down before crossing it. But obviously do the safe thing.

The other unseen problem in these graphs is there’s some decent hills on the routes. He’s trying to maintain the same pace up and down them but that pushes the effort up which explain some of the higher heart-rates.

Graphing all those runs differently we can see the time spent in a MAF-HR zone of 130 or less; a middle zone of 131-150 which is usually safe for older runners to train at and a 150+ zone where the training effect is large but also takes time to recover from.

It’s clear he’s running hard five days per week with heart-rates hitting the 150+ mark. You would think the two rest days would be enough but they aren’t. What’s actually happening is the muscles are being trained anaerobically. The days after the rest days (Tuesday and Saturday) are faster runs because the muscles are refreshed but all that allows is for him to go out hard and reinforce the anaerobic training. There is no aerobic development. One of the benefits of day-in, day-out training is it leaves the legs somewhat fatigued to the point where they have to go slower and that helps the aerobic development.

The main consequences of this approach are that he’s getting injured and not improving.

What good training looks like

Injuries were the sort of thing Maffetone was happy to dive in and sort out. As I have stated repeatedly, I’m not a believer in the age-related formula but I am a believer in what Maffetone was trying to get his clients to do which is stay healthy and get faster by building an aerobic base through good endurance training.

My own training during this period saw me run nearly double the training our Needs MAF runner was managing. I was just shy of fifty miles taking 6hr 24mins yet we had the same average pace for the week at 7:45/mile. Despite all this extra mileage I’d been training every day for almost three years without illness or serious injury. While I picked up a couple of glute strains along the way (which came from trying too hard in speedwork) neither lasted more than a week and I was still able to run. While our parkrun times are similar, my base endurance is improving and I am positioning myself to go faster in the longterm.

You can see I run every day but only push harder on two days (Tuesday and Friday). There’s a few little glitches on my heart-rate monitor particularly Wednesday which highlights the problem of accuracy with heart-rate training but otherwise I’m comfortably well below 150HR on my recovery days. My Sunday long run sometimes scrapes into the red but the training effect I’m interested is in building endurance on those runs. Even a good ninety minute run is still only a hard, aerobic effort. Where the Needs MAF runner has to take two rest days every week, I’m getting out there and running on them too.

Another intriguing detail of our training weeks is that we accumulate the same amount of 150+ ‘red zone’ training time but my extra running accumulates time and fitness in the supporting zones while allowing the body to recover from the harder sessions. If I tried to run hard every day like he does, I’m sure I would be getting injured too.

We’re both fifty years old and Maffetone would like us to be doing all our training to a heart-rate of 130 or below. I don’t believe in that but I do total over an hour of my weekly running at this level and it’s usually in the first couple of miles of the runs while my body warms up. This is important – I’m listening to my body to get an indication of how it feels and whether I can push hard. Maffetone talks about doing warm-ups in his book but the people who think he’s only about low heart-rate training miss this.

On days following a harder effort I find my legs don’t want to do too much and it is a struggle to get the heart-rate up. My legs can be glycogen-depleted so I just jog along to aid recovery. If I tried, I could probably push to higher levels especially if I’d had a day off but I don’t try to push it every day and that was Maffetone’s message.

80-20 training

Much of Maffetone’s work occurred in the 80s and 90s when heart-rate monitors were still new. The science of exercise physiology has progressed a lot in recent years. What we now know, due to the work of Stephen Seiler, is that elite athletes tend to split their training into 80% below lactate threshold and 20% above it.

Throughout this post I’ve referenced a HR of 150bpm. Be careful – 150HR is not THE definitive value to use; it’s the data that was available to me. That the Needs MAF runner trains somewhere around this level most days shows it is probably somewhere around his own.

One hundred and fifty is close to where my lactate threshold heart-rate usually lies and I calculate I have a 76-24% split above and below it. That’s within the bounds of 80-20 training. On the other hand, the Needs MAF runner’s training split comes in at 54-46%. It begins to explain why he’s failing to make progress and getting injured when he starts to do even more intense work!

Arguably it may be wrong to use 150HR to split his training but it’s clear he’s training too hard every day because his body is letting him know through injuries and lack of progress. You can also see when he runs 30secs/mile slower on Wednesdays, he has lower heart-rate so it would be easy for him to include more genuinely easy-paced runs. Doing that, as Maffetone outlined is the key to staying healthy and injury-free.

Although I’ve been explaining all this using data you don’t need a heart-rate monitor to know whether your training is going well. Just a bit of common sense and listening to your body will tell you. When it creaks and groans it’s time to back off.


My six posts on MAF training are among the most detailed and honest articles about it on the internet and well worth reading. I’m trying to help runners get past the idea that training to a single number on a heart-rate monitor is the answer to all their problems. Good training involves scheduling the right mix of sessions at the right times. A block of endurance training like Maf suggests is just one part of what you need. My years of training and coaching allow me to know what to do and when to do it to help runners get fitter, faster and healthier. If you too would like me to help you then please contact me with details of your running and how you think I can help you.

The myth of losing your speed

The autumn marathons are upon us and first we’ve seen Eliud Kipchoge set a world record time in Berlin and then Keninisa Bekele placing 5th in London in under 2hr06. What makes these runs so impressive is Kipchoge turns 38 next month and Bekele is already 40. These are not the sort of times or placings you expect men approaching their midlife crisis to achieve.

Kenenisa Bekele readies himself for the off …

Both, of course have a long history as elite runners with both of them winning gold medals at the 2003 World Championship in Paris. Kipchoge won the 5,000m; Bekele the 10,000m. Since then Kipchoge has become the world’s premier marathoner and Bekele set a world record in the 5,000m. In 2019 he ran the second fastest marathon in history behind Kipchoge.

Both runners are naturally better suited to distance running than the rest of us and at around 3:50 their mile times are some way down on what the best can achieve but it doesn’t make them slow compared to the rest of us. Less than 2,000 men have managed a sub-4 minute mile and basic speed is the foundation of Kipchoge and Bekele’s distance running success.

Two marathon world record holders (Kipchoge and Radcliffe) watch near London’s finish lline

The pace of their recent marathons comes in at 4:36/mile (or 2:52/km) for Kipchoge and 4:48/mile (2:59/km) for Bekele. Few of the runners I meet can even run 400m in a time under 1:12, let alone a mile.

This harks back to a point I often make about how people returning or taking up running at forty say they’re getting old and can’t expect to be as fast as they were when they were young. Technically they’re right, but realistically they’re just making excuses in case they aren’t.

There is no reason why a decently trained man or woman in their forties can’t be near the front of local races, winning their age category and running their best times. One of my good friends ran his first sub-3 marathon (2hr58) at age 38 then spent his forties training properly with a club and was running 2hr34 as he was about to hit fifty. Improvement is easily possible for almost all the runners I meet.

For the most part staying fast as you age is simply about dedication and getting the training right. If you’d like me to help you improve as a runner then do not hesitate to contact me.

Update on my 800m training – Aug / Sep 2022

In my last update I detailed that I had gone back to endurance training as all the hills and speedwork of the spring had toppled my aerobic base. It was somewhat disappointing but also necessary if I’m to sort out my 800m. I now realise I’m done for this year and it’s going to be a winter of building endurance and stamina. The introduction of hills and sprints was great fun but also introduced way too much naturally anaerobic fast-twitch muscle. As I haven’t been near these areas in years, things toppled quickly. Hopefully by next winter, my base will be bigger and I’ll be able to handle the anaerobic side better.

Having restarted endurance training in early July I found I wasn’t making much progress; then in early August I realised I was beginning to get aches and pains of the sort when you’re training too anaerobically. I had to reset AGAIN. My focus became to ensure I set off on runs at a slower pace and built up to my aerobic limits. That reset did the trick as the pains dissipated and the endurance began to build. Even so I was still a good 30+ secs/mile down on where I was back in March. It was a surprise to me how easy it is undo everything.

Mid-August I did an all-out parkrun at Poole and clocked 20:25. Quicker than running there at Easter (20:40) but slower than last Christmas (20:11). I cannot tell you how frustrated I am feeling at not being able to get back under twenty minutes. Another parkrun at Sandhurst Memorial parkrun in late September was even worse at 20:48 but it’s a tougher course and my legs were fatigued so that didn’t concern me.


I’ve entered a couple of 10Ks – Boscombe on Nov 27 and Christchurch two weeks later. I’ve gone back to using the training system I used on my only ever sub-40 run back in 2015. Controlled threshold work on a Tuesday, a Steady run on Fridays and a long run on Sunday. This is the same as I was doing in February and March this year.

My plan is to do intervals at Threshold pace (6:50/mile) for three weeks, then up the pace to 6:40 for three weeks and again to 6:30 which will take me through to the end of October. After that I’m going to do shorter intervals at 5K and 10K pace which will hopefully see me breaking forty minutes again. It’s an aggressive schedule but so far the body has been holding up.


Endurance-wise it took me until mid-September to get back to where I was in February. That said, my fasted Sunday morning long runs have all been coming in at a decent pace, usually sub-8 average for 12-miles, no stops. For whatever reason, I seem to be running these quicker than in February.

Possibly some of the drop off I’ve been experiencing is down to a change in running form. Since last October I’ve been working on my form using drills at least once per week and somewhere around late June, combined with the sprints I was doing, I began to feel I was running differently. Less hip rotation and more power from the glutes. Of course, using muscles that have never been involved in my running, meant they needed to be trained and quite possibly they had a lower lactate threshold due to this. Whatever it is, the form change is beginning to feel powerful at times and I just have to keep working at it.


Behind the scenes I’ve been wondering about whether I’m cut out for training like this. For all the miles and effort, I’ve put in over the years; my improvements have been sporadic. I’ve decided this winter will be the acid test. Hopefully when spring arrives next April, I will see a decent improvement in my half marathon time.  If I don’t then I’m scrapping the endurance focus and putting my training time into working on speed and to see whether I can get my 200/400 times down, even if it’s at the expense of longer distances.

I’m going to give it a fair crack of the whip and train the best way I know how to. The one sticking point is I entered the London Marathon ballot yesterday not realising the race is in six months’ time (April). If this were to be the year I get a place then my training would have to look at lengthening my long run out to twenty miles. Even so I’d expect the training I’ve got planned, to fit in well with how I would need to train. We’ll see when the ballot results are announced at the end of October. I’m currently doing just shy of fifty miles per week and have been for the past two years so the base is there for whichever direction I need to go.

The Wim Hof experiments

Given I already have a strong aerobic system, I didn’t feel any particular need to give Wim Hof Method (WHM) a go with the cold showers. Yet as I read I began to wonder whether his method would be able to help me with the cold hands I’ve suffered from my entire life. While I’ve never been officially diagnosed I probably have Raynaud Syndrome where blood flow to the hands is non-existent in cold weather so they become like ice blocks. When the blood returns, it’s incredibly painful to the point where I’m on the verge of crying !!

I can remember it happening in the winter of 1978 when I came in after playing in deep snow in our back garden and 7-year-old me cried as my hands warmed back up because I’d put them straight on the radiator. It happened a decade or so ago, when I played golf on a January day and my hands were so frozen by the end of the second hole I couldn’t feel the golf club. In recent years, I’ve been caught on unseasonably cold autumn runs where I didn’t wear gloves and arrived home barely able to get the key in the doorlock, let alone turn it.

So I was wondering if I should email Wim and ask him about whether his method could help an otherwise very healthy me. Then, as I turned to page 34, I read Wim Hof Method Experiment #1 – “Ice-water bath for warmer hands and feet” detailing a protocol to kickstart the vascular system by putting hands in ice-cold water for two minutes.

Warming cold hands

Initially I followed Wim’s protocol by filling my bathroom basin with cold water and putting an icepack in it. Ideally the mix would have been two-thirds cold water, one-third ice but I simply don’t have access to enough ice to do this every day. So the water may have been a touch warmer than Wim would like but I plunged my hands in for five minutes each day. It never felt too bad but it became something of a hassle to stand, bent over the sink for five minutes so I changed tack after four days.

I decided I would simply hold the icepack pressed between my hands while sat on the sofa. Each day at about fifteen seconds, the cold of the ice would begin to seep into my palms and start to hurt. By around a minute the pain would seem almost unbearable and the pain spreading through my wrists down into my forearms. Initially it took the better part of two minutes for the pain to subside and then the remainder of the five minute period would be okay.

Hands with blood in the fingertips after five minutes of icepack holding

Wim Hof says that what happens is the body has to adapt to the sudden cold and the microscopic blood vessels have to open up to allow blood to flow to them and warm the hands. I also noticed I was getting some discomfort across my chest during this part of the process and wondered if it would have any effect on my heart-rate. I gave it a try while wearing my heart-rate monitor on one occasion and I’m not sure it showed anything significant. My heart-rate was resting at 40 as I began and dropped to 32 by the time I’d ended. Later when I was sat there, with the icepack now back in the freezer, my resting heart-rate was again down at the 31-32 level, so I don’t think there was any difference.

By the end of the first week of holding the icepack I was noticing the time for my hands to respond and the ‘unbearable’ pain to go diminishing until it only last a minute. By the tenth day, I was no longer finding the ice difficult to hold at any stage. I noticed my hands were much redder afterwards (a sign of the bloodflow to them) and despite feeling externally very cold when I put my hand to my face or on my thighs, I no longer seemed to mind the cold.

At the start of week three – fifteenth day from when I started the initial basin immersions – I found, as I was putting the icepack away, that a large splinter of ice dropped off the freezer compartment and split into two. Initially I threw it in the kitchen sink but then decided to try a new experiment. I picked up an ice sliver in each hand wondering whether I could melt them. Certainly they began to drip but it wasn’t a rapid melting and after three minutes, I’d had enough. I could have held them for longer but I was beginning to feel the ice affecting the skin. There wasn’t much mental pain, just some discomfort. After dropping the ice, it was noticeable my hands were very cold. I put my left hand on my other forearm just below the elbow and it was noticeable how much heat it was giving off. Yet despite the externally cold temperature caused by holding the ice, my hands didn’t feel uncomfortable. They were definitely cold but I wasn’t in the sort of pain I’d experienced all those years ago on autumn and winter days.

Five weeks on from starting, holding the icepack is barely noticeable and I’ve started applying it to the backs of my hands and forearms. There’s been a small amount of discomfort and change but I feel I’ve adapted quickly.

So, all was looking good until this past weekend (mid-September). We had our first slightly more chilly mornings and I can’t say it was encouraging for my hands. On both Saturday and Sunday I ran without gloves and, on the latter, the fingers of my right hand were feeling numb at the end of the run. It wasn’t excruciating but then it wasn’t an overly cold day. I’ll stick with the daily icepack holding and see whether I can effect a difference by the time the real winter arrives.

Warning – if you decide to try this, don’t force it. You always need to go a little beyond your comfort zone but it doesn’t have to put you in the hole. Your body will learn to adapt and so what if it takes two weeks instead of ten days. The important thing is to stay consistent and get there in the end.

Horse Stance

Horse stance is a pose where you squat down with feet out wide. Wim Hof set a world record by being able to hold this pose for three hours.

On the first day I tried it, my legs were beginning to shake after a minute and at 1min30 I quit. The next day I repeated it and then on day three, I reached 1min45. Day four was two minutes; day five was 2min15 and on day seven – only a week in, I reached three minutes. I was surprised how quickly I had been able to double my endurance on this.

It’s not a completely unfamiliar pose to me as when I played volleyball many years ago, I would spend a lot of time squatting low in the backcourt hoping to dig and recover opponent’s hits. But playing volleyball was a long time ago so I doubt I have any residual strength from that.

It also reminded me of the couple of years where I did yoga regularly. Many stances you just hold with a bent knee or bearing your weight. These never seemed difficult then and because I only went once per week, the body adapted without me realising. Yet I recall there were other members of the class who would struggle which I believe highlights Hof’s point about needing to stay healthy for low exertion.

Hof’s explanation for this ability to hold a pose longer each time is because the body becomes able to remove the lactic acid. Lactic acid (or more precisely lactate) has always been blamed for making the legs of runners heavy and while this isn’t strictly true, it’s a convention that everybody agrees to use. As much as I dislike being inaccurate, I will stand by convention for the rest of this post.

The following weeks of my trial saw further rapid improvement – week 2 out to five minutes and week 3 reached six minutes. This was the longest pose I held and it was notable that while my legs had begun to feel discomfort at three minutes, I was able to hold it longer. Yet on day 1, I would have struggled to go longer than the minute and a half I managed. I have come to learn over the last few years is that there is a difference between when the body simply cannot go any longer due to the lactate build-up versus not being willing to stand some discomfort and push through.

What struck me about how quickly I progressed is that it’s very much what we see with new runners. Every untrained runner has untapped capacity in their slow-twitch muscle. If you use these they quickly begin to contribute. To go longer and faster, once you have reached the limit, such as when I reached five to six minutes in horse stance, needs dedicated training. That’s why runners do interval training – to be able to accumulate more time overall at the point of difficulty. Over time, the intervals begin to help the body adapt to producing less lactic acid which later enables them to move up to the next level and race faster. But that untapped capacity of the slow-twitch muscle is low hanging fruit waiting to be picked by everybody for their health.

Since reaching the six minute mark I backed off on horse stance and generally hold the pose for two to three minutes per day. While it’s good to see progress, it also began to feel time consuming, almost boring to clockwatch if I’m honest. I have no particular reason to improve at this exercise and, with running being my priority, I feel pushing to hold the stance longer may detract from the important workouts when I need my body to be fresh and ready to push.


I’ve enjoyed trying these two simple Wim Hof Method experiments. I will certainly stay with the cold hands ice training into the winter as it has huge potential benefits to me. The horse stance has less obvious benefits and while I will probably continue to do it in the future, I suspect it will fall by the wayside when I have a busy week or few days and be forgotten.

World Championships – Men’s 1500m

I woke up on Wednesday morning to discover Jake Wightman had won the 1,500m final. Quite a surprise given middle-distance racing has been dominated by Kenyans, Ethiopians and Moroccans for the past two decades or more. It’s only the last couple of years that we have seen the rise of Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen challenging them, which led to him entering this race as the Olympic champion. It’s great to see the African dominance being shaken up as the world catches up on them.

Like Eilish McColgan, Jake has the genetics and support around him to help get the best out of himself. His father, Geoff, was a 2:13 marathoner and ran at the 1990 Commonwealth Games. His mother Susan, nee Tooby, and her twin sister Angela both ran at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. But, even with the family background, you have to have the motivation. Jake himself is a twin, and while brother Sam is still runs as a member of Edinburgh AC, he apparently didn’t continue to take it as seriously after he turned eighteen.

In seeing Jake winning the race in 3:29.23 – a personal best – I wondered how he had ascended to be the champion. He’s just turned 28 and his climb has been slow. Going back only eight years ago to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, he was knocked out in the heats in a time of 3:43.87, almost fifteen seconds slower than in Oregon.

It’s instructive to look at his UK Athletics Power of 10 record which lists the majority of his official races and times since he competed in the Scottish Schools championships in 2007 just before he turned 13 years old. At that time he was running 4:45 for 1,500 and it only improved to 4:33 a year later. It took the better part of a decade to knock a minute off that and get down to his current ability. As the graph below shows, he was running close to these times in 2014 and since then has been working to eke out the last improvements from 3:35 to sub-3:30. Even so, it’s a steady progression over the first seven years.

It’s the same story with the 800m. He began as a 2:18 runner in 2008 at age 14 and finally broke two minutes at 17. From there it was another two years to break 1:50 and then it wasn’t until he was ten years into his running career that he became the first British man since Peter Elliott in 1991 to break 1:45 for 800m and 3:35 for 1,500m. That is a lot of running, training and development to get near to his best.

Of course what we don’t know is what his training aims were during these periods. For example, from 2012 – 2016 he ran in some 400m races seeing his times improve from 52.7 to 48.3sec.  Again this highlights how it took four years to make a decent improvement from already good times to even better ones – an average of one second per year.

This idea of long term development is one that the average runner doesn’t understand. It takes years to become the best runner you can be. For many runners training consistently for 3-6 months is considered long-term and they’re happy to knock a minute or two off their half marathon time. But as Jake’s record shows with consistent training and a long term approach, you can go much further than you ever expect.

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.