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Training junk

September 17, 2009

Looking at my training record for this week, the thing that seems to be missing is my long run. I’d intended to put in a long run (about 20km) on Sunday, but it wasn’t to be – horse trials at Blenheim meant that my neatly measured two-lap run was abridged. Without an accurate distance, I couldn’t pace myself, and wound up with some junk miles.

I’m defining ‘junk miles’ as distance without effort. I was thinking this as I ran round Blenheim, improvising a course of something like 12km based on the areas still open to the public. Without a knowledge of the actual distance I was running, I had no objective way of measuring my effort level. (I’m a low-tech runner, so no heart-rate monitor, no GPS, no pedometer – just a stop watch and services like Map My Run.)

So, that got me thinking about what an ideal training schedule should look like. I’m still just logging runs as they occur, rather than planning the distances and the days – although I’m getting closer now I’m running with a club. My theory is that in order to see an improvement in your performance (i.e. to get faster over fixed distances, or to be able to run longer distances without compromising speed), you need to build a programme that combines a balance of the following points:

  1. Distance It’s a fairly well-documented theory that you need to run more than the distance you’re training for in order to make substantial gains at that distance. Simple enough – if you’ve only run 5km and you enter a 10km race, your pacing is going to be off and your body won’t be prepared for the doubling of the distance.
  2. Speed To improve your efficiency over distance, you need to include some training over shorter distances than your target, but at a the pace you’re aiming for, or faster. This helps you get a feel for your goal pace, and helps your body adapt to the waste products it builds up at your goal pace. (For example, your best 10km is likely to be run at your aerobic threshold; if you don’t prepare for the pace, you may well end up building up too much lactic acid too early into your run.)
  3. Effort It sounds painfully simple, but your rate of improvement will be slow – and may even stall – if you don’t push yourself. This isn’t to advocate running yourself ragged at every opportunity, it’s to encourage exertion to better your performance.

None of these can help you reach your goal on their own. There are various discussion threads on forums like Runner’s World where runners want to know the number of miles they have to clock up on a weekly basis to meet their target. Distance alone won’t achieve your goal – someone doing 50 miles a week could be running 10-minute miles. Their goal might be to run a sub-1:30 half marathon, but if their only focus in training is distance (at 10 minutes a mile) they are extremely unlikely to make that target.

No one training session will tick all three boxes equally. A long run will give you distance (1) and effort (3), but it’s unlikely to give you much in the way of speed (that’s not to say that your long run is slow, necessarily, just to say it’s not improving your speed). A speedwork session focusing on short sprints (take today’s club session of 12 x 400m reps as an example) will give you speed (2) and effort (3), but not distance.

So, my target is to test this theory and see how much it affects my improvement. In order to do this, I’m going to have to start classifying my training sessions, and probably being more disciplined about setting my training targets at the beginning of each week. This will, of course, help get me into good practice in preparation for the Paris Marathon taper.

(Just as an aside, I’ve entered the Bath Half Marathon as a warm-up for Paris. About a month before the big race, I’m hoping it will give me a morale-boosting opportunity to get a PB over a fast and flat course and to see how I’m feeling about my preparation.)

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