Running Into The Record Books

Yesterday I ran my leg of the Great British Relay. Although I really enjoyed being part of this world record attempt, the run itself was stupidly tough for me for some reason. I just couldn’t get my legs moving, so the whole 8 miles were a battle. I suspect that my legs have not yet forgotten the long and hilly runs we did over the course of the weekend… I was so happy to run in the company of some truly great runners who kept me going. We made it (just) in time and the deed is done – and it was so lovely to be part of something larger!

GBR

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Rebel Without A Pause

Is anyone else wondering how it’s possible that we are already approaching March? What happened to the first one-sixth of the year? Have I been hibernating? Have I been travelling at the speed of light? My main running goal for 2014, after all, was to educate myself properly about running speed workouts and to subject myself to them in all their gory glory.

joyofrunning

Before I blast my way through the whole year and straight into 2015, I think it’s about time that I pause for a moment and reflect upon what I have learned about speedwork so far:

  1. It’s perfectly doable. I was the first to admit that prior to this year, I was a speedwork Scrooge. I could handle some hill sprints and the odd fartlek run, but anything beyond that I deemed too complicated or painful for a free spirit such as myself. However, I found that even the toughest of intervals are absolutely doable and strangely satisfying and fun to complete. There, I’ve said it.
  2. Planning is paramount. Incorporating speedwork into my training schedule has taught me the importance of monitoring my runs and planning my workouts carefully. I find that the single most important factor to consider is my recovery time. I’m learning how much time I need to recover from the different workouts. I firmly believe that this is highly individual, but for each individual, there’s a pattern. I’m learning that there are some workouts I bounce back from, virtually ready to tackle the next on the following day if needed. Other workouts, on the other hand, leave me in need of extra recovery. By paying attention to this, I can make sure that I plan my training in a way that ensures that I’m physically in the best form to tackle a particular workout, and give myself enough rest to allow my body to adapt to the demands I’m placing upon it when this is needed the most. I’ve actually found that my training has gotten easier as as result of me learning more about my recovery times and planning my training schedules a lot more carefully.
  3. I’m feeling the paces. By running deliberately in different training zones I’m learning a lot more about what the different paces feel like. I play games on my runs now where I guess my pace before I look at my watch, and I’m getting increasingly more accurate with my guestimates. What is more, by running set distances at a target pace, I’m quickly developing a pretty accurate feel for how long I’m likely to be able to maintain a certain pace. Both are, in my opinion, really useful skills, which allow me to run very evenly paced training runs.
  4. Speed + Endurance = Stamina. I’ve always loved endurance runs and clock quite a high weekly running mileage – I just love to run and running a lot feels natural to me. That volume of running has taken me quite far (no pun intended!) and does, to a degree, translate itself into faster speeds in shorter races. However, I am find that the opposite is also true – since adding some serious speedwork to my training, I’ve noticed a big difference in my physical endurance and strength on longer runs. About two weeks ago I finished a 38km long run feeling perfectly strong and bouncy, surprised to note the curious absence of the “tired bum” syndrome I usually experience after a run of this calibre.
  5. I’m feeling it! Last but absolutely not least, I’ve learned that it’s totally worth it. Be warned, for this is the bit where I shamelessly gloat a little (ok, a lot!). This is where I tell you that I “accidentally” ran my all-time 10km PB during a training run two days ago. Yes, really. I got a little carried away (or hungry) during a tempo run and arrived back on my doorstep (to the smell of honey roasted vegetables in my oven) after 45:23 minutes. Yummy! This tells me that I’m either doing something very right with my training, or I’m doing something very wrong with my racing! Either way, I’m a happy bunny!

What do you think? How do you feel about speedwork? Have you noticed any differences as a result – besides running faster? Have I inspired you lace up your trainers and tackle some intervals? (I’m looking at you – you know who you are!)

Do You Ever HIIT It?

This week hasn’t exactly been a textbook training week for me. Work has been unexpectedly busy; I stayed in the office later than normal on several nights this week, did some teaching on Saturday and out of the corner of my eye I am haunted by the sight of a mini Everest of essays which are taunting me to start the climb of marking.

I love my work, I really do; but like all things in life, it can sometimes get in the way of other things. As a result, I’ve simply not been able to find the time to fit in some of my scheduled workouts this week.

On Tuesday I returned from work late and hungry and was in no state to tackle the tempo intervals which my training schedule demanded. I opted for a quick, hilly fartlek run instead and mentally postponed the intervals until Thursday, hoping I’d have more time then. Naturally, when Thursday came my workload (and associated mania) had only grown: when I stumbled into my little house on Thursday evening (out of the darkness and the pouring rain), a quick glance at my watch confirmed that provided I ate dinner straight out of the fridge and while standing up, I could spare a whopping 30 minutes for a run before having to resume my ascend of the mountain of marking. (Sadly, the latter does not pass for a hill workout!).

Thankfully, there is one running workout that I can comfortably complete in the space of half an hour, including warm-up and cool-down: the hard-hitting 10x100m sprint repeats. I really don’t like being in a situation where I genuinely can’t complete a certain workout, but I’ll be damned if I don’t go out and do what I can to come home sweaty, stinky and gasping for breath regardless.

How I feel after a sprint workout:

run hard

Although my running efforts are very much geared towards the training for endurance events, I still see much value in a sprint workout: in addition to directly improving leg strength and running form, it also increases the odds of being able to fathom that charmed sprint finish at the end of a marathon.

While it’s hard to pick up a running magazine these days that doesn’t contain at least one reference to the supposed neigh magical qualities of the HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) session, the concept is hardly a new one; in the 1970s the great Seb Coe already ran HIIT sessions.

New is only the fact that a number of recent research studies have reported evidence that HIIT training might be superior to traditional endurance workouts in improving athletic performance – hence all the hype. However, the same research also suggests that there are individual variations in how well athletes respond to this type of training, which may have genetic underpinnings – so even the true deciples of HIIT training acknowledge that it doesn’t seem to work for everyone.

Personally, I believe in the importance of continually working on many aspects of my running fitness; including strength, endurance, stamina, balance and flexibility. For me, sprint sessions are therefore an important, even if occasional part of my training as an endurance athlete. However, just like any other workout, I believe that sprint repeats contribute to improve my running fitness primarily within the context of a well-rounded training system, rather than being a magical quick fix in and by themselves.

I’m curious: what do you make of the HIIT-hype? And to the endurance athletes amongst you, do you include such workouts in your training regimes?

Resting… the Hardest Part of Running?

I’m beginning to realise that endorphins are my drug of choice – and right now, I’m in a state of rest-day induced withdrawal.

Most runners are painfully familiar with the joys of the taper in all its terribly glory; including the bloated feelings of laziness, the perpetual suppression of running-related stimuli, the carb-obsession and the everlasting state of severe grumpypansieness. And do I even dare touch upon the precarious mental state of the injured runner here? For fear of my life, I think I won’t. The point is that both of these runners are suffering from running-withdrawal, and it ain’t pretty.

As a runner taking a few rest days, my mental state is differentiated from that of the tapering runner and the injured runner mostly by superior levels of masochistic tendencies, as my plight is truly self-inflicted.

Yet the urge to run is strong in this one. Things are so bad that I’ve actually caught myself daydreaming about a treadmill earlier…

Accidental Run

After all, what’s a runner who isn’t running? The obvious answer would be that a non-running runner isn’t really a runner at all. However, my rational mind tells me that there are plenty of scenarios where a runner who isn’t running can also be a pretty smart runner.

The truth is that I fully understand the importance and value of rest days. I’ve trained hard for five weeks now, with three to four workouts a week topped off with at least two easy runs. It’s high time I take a little break; both my body and mind will thank me for it and come back to training stronger than before (even if the latter is currently staging a dirty riot).

“I’m doing the right thing… I’m doing the right thing.” Repeat after me: “I’m doing the right thing.”

Running Crazy

Chasing the Dawn

I don’t really function well in the mornings. For a start, I absolutely need a shower before I can pass for a reasonably well adjusted human being and even then it takes all the focus I can muster to ensure that I don’t leave the house naked. Breakfast becomes a viable option only after I’ve been awake for at least an hour, but two are even better.

It won’t surprise anyone then when I proclaim yet again that I’m no good at early morning runs. It’s as though my body thinks that it’s actually sleepwalking and my brain refuses to obey me. It’s certainly not a time when I’d expect a rave run.

But this morning I woke up early and decided to go for a run regardless of my mind threatening to stage a dirty riot at the mere thought of the endeavour. You see, there are three rules that I run by:

1) Have fun – if it’s not fun, make it fun.

2) Always, always listen to your body – battle with your mind if you must, but work with your body.

3) Keep changing things and try new things – keep moving forward.

I thought that an early morning run would be a perfect opportunity to practice all three of my running decrees at the same time: it’s certainly an uncommon experience for me and I wasn’t sure how my body would react. I expected to have to work hard to find a way to make it enjoyable and as such it had the potential to teach me new and valuable things.

Before I left my house I had the sense to wrap up nice and warm, as the world I was about to step into was dark and frozen. I had to stay in tune with my body, as I wasn’t sure how well I’d physically cope with running on an empty system. I aimed to find a pace that was bearable, but quickly managed to settle into a rhythm that was slow enough to allow me to actually enjoy the run. Before I knew it, I was gathering momentum and yet I was so comfortable that I felt I could have gone on forever. I realised once again that all my previous worries had been completely unnecessary. And just then, my efforts were rewarded with the sights of a wonderfully stunning sunrise:

Dawn

It was a gentle run – sleepy, solitary, and utterly magical; the ultimate morning run.

Have you ever been convinced that you’d not be able to enjoy a run, pushed yourself to do it anyways, only to experience something amazing?

My Kind of Tribe

Tribe

It’s far from my nature (and the spirit of this blog) to get hung up on running gear, but there’s one particularly novel company which I believe deserves a big shout-out.

Nothing reflects the community spirit of this fledgling company more so than the fact that it got off the ground by one of the most successful fashion campaigns in Kickstarter history. That’s right, people from all walks of life invested a lot of money to get yet another manufacturer of sports clothing on the market.

But why would anyone do such a thing, you ask? To put it simply, people believed in Tribesports because the athletes themselves (that is, you and me) are at the heart of this company. Tribesports does things very differently, you see.

All the big names in sports apparel (bless them!) develop new gear with a small team of experts and then spend heaps of dosh trying to convince you and me why we really need this particular gear. Sometimes they get it right, and sometimes, well – let’s just say not so much. And then there are the middle men, the retailers that all take their slice of the profits.

The clever people behind Tribesports, on the other hand, start by asking thousands of people what they really want. And then they go and make it. It’s as simple as that.

The result is some really wicked, technical gear (just think: the gear you have always wanted!). The icing on the cake is that Tribesports apparel actually retails for significantly less money than that of their big name competitors, because they don’t spend the money on advertising, middlemen or getting it wrong. It’s just you and them. And the tribe.

This wild runner is proud to be part of the tribe.

Tribe Logo

Keeping Up Appearances

I have a confession to make: when I have to stop at a red light while out on a road run, I sneakily also stop my sportswatch. The fact that this doesn’t actually change my workout or make me cross the road any faster is irrelevant. All that matters is that the run looks fast when I finish it and review the stats, dammit! (And don’t even try telling me that you don’t do the same…!)

crossingstreetrunner