September 2012 Archives

The Science of Training

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Much has changed since my last entry. First off, my longest run is now 26.4 miles. I set off one morning (July 29th in fact) from Shoreditch with a friend and we just ran and ran. Then we got rained on. But we kept running. Then I dropped my friend off at the Wimbledon train station. Then I kept running. I came up with the idea of running east until I reached the Northern Line route, and then just ran north along the train line. That way I knew I had an out if I needed one. Which I eventually did, but not until I had reached Elephant and Castle and run 26.4 miles. And, as Frank Sinatra sang, I did it my way. For those who enjoy maps and charts and things, the details of the run can be found on the Garmin Connect site.

So here I was, running marathon distance, and in a respectable time for a training run, nearly three months before my race. I had a choice to make. I could just continue to run the way I have been running, take pride in my stubbornness, and still go into race day feeling confident. Or I could decide that I had proved my point and it wouldn't hurt to enlist some help in taking things to another level. Although I didn't start out with that plan. I started out just wanting to get my max heart rate measured, and to learn how to use the heart rate monitor in my snazzy Garmin watch to train smarter. But I really hit it off with the trainer, she gave me some idea of what she thought I might be capable of, and I decided to give her a chance.

So all of a sudden I was doing 'recovery runs' and determining my effort level by heart rate zone. Then I started learning some running technique. And doing track and hill sessions. Next thing I knew I was doing planks and other weird strengthening exercises. Ultimately I started changing my diet a bit too. Apparently being an endurance athlete requires a more Hobbit-like outlook: second breakfasts are essential!

In the midst of this I created an opportunity to try leading a group of Cheetahs one Tuesday night. I set off at what felt like an aggressive but manageable pace. And then noticed that there was an odd feel in the group. Not bad, just a bit of surprise I think. And some people seemed to be pushing pretty hard to keep up. So I asked someone what pace we were doing. Apparently a bit under 7:30/mile. But, I thought, I'm not that fast. When we actually hit 6:50/mile for a longish stretch of the south bank I had to accept that maybe there was something to all of this training. I won't say it was an easy run. I definitely came back feeling like I had kicked my own butt. But I also got a lot of positive feedback from my fellow Cheetahs who were very happy to have had a chance to seriously stretch their legs.

Then I went to New York, and finally got to go on a run with the Bridgerunners. In the middle of the run we stopped in a park with some workout gear and we all had to do pullups. I stipulated that upper-body strength was not my thing. Which drew a stern 'come on foreigner' from Mike Saes, founder of the Bridgerunners. OK, I thought, I will struggle through one pull-up like I always have: kick my way up to the bar once, and slink off having demonstrated my point. Right? Well, not quite. I actually did three pullups. And might have been able to do more. And no kicking. Torso completely steady. Pullups completely smooth. Three of them? Damn. I swear I had no idea I could do that. Turns out that my trainer had been surreptitiously making me do upper-body work (I thought it was one more abs exercise!). And of course all of that core work really helps too.

And just in case this is seeming too much a litany of my great triumphs, there have also been downsides. I've had runs I couldn't finish. I've discovered limits to how hard I am ready to push myself. I now know what it feels like to hit the wall. But this part of the process reminds me of something my father always said about setting exams. If he gave an exam and someone got a perfect score it was a flawed test. It was only by discovering what people couldn't do that he gained any useful information. Not that I really want to equate missing some points on a maths exam with crying with frustration after abandoning a long run after only (!) 18.5 miles. So hopefully finding my current limits will help my coach design a plan that will allow me to get strong enough to go out and find new limits.

Maybe there is something to this training stuff after all? I'm still not sure. I think so. But I'm also working way harder than I ever would have if it was just up to me. So that's got to be part of it. And it's all a leap of faith, which isn't really my strong point. But I have to believe that the coach knows what she is doing (and the results I see in other runners she works with certainly seem to support this supposition) and that she is preparing me to surprise myself when race day rolls around. And proud as I am that I was able to get myself to (and beyond) 26.2 miles on my own, I have to admit that since I started being coached I'm discovering myself capable of doing things I would have thought beyond me not so long ago. And I am feeling much happier that I have someone to guide me through the part of the process I have been most worried about: the taper. Taper too much and you risk getting sick (the immune system decides it can relax now, just before race day). Don't taper enough and you may suffer from fatigue on race day. Much as I enjoyed doing it all myself, there is something very comforting of now having someone guiding me from here to race day.

So let's just say I'm hopeful. And I look forward to reporting back on how I did with the Amsterdam Marathon compared to what my plan was before I started being coached. For the record, I had myself down for finishing with a gold medal time of 3:45. Silver is sub;4:00. Bronze is finishing. I would still be happy with those results, but I am interested in finding out what I have been prepared for on the day.
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This page is an archive of entries from September 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

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