Can you run yourself unhappy?

Ever wondered what the worst prep for running might look like?

Got to love a dopamine rush.

One of the reasons I like running so much is how you feel afterwards. A general sense of being uplifted, of satisfaction, maybe even of fulfilling some kind of purpose. During lockdown this has been even more important; to find an outlet during the doom and gloom. However, things are starting to look up with a successful vacccine roll-out. Maybe we’ll even see some proper racing in the second half of the year? None of that time trial nonsense that we’ve had to engage in.

But what did 2020 teach us? Things are never as rosy as they seem and disaster looms on the horizon. One should plan for all eventualities in the bleak chance that unholy promise is fulfilled. In that spirit, my “friends” came up with a challenge: can they ruin running for me?

They categorised a few areas to target:

  • Nutrition
  • Preparation
  • Accompanying music

Nutrition for me can take many forms. I don’t necessarily hold onto any specific routine before a race or a run, but lots of carbs is usually what I resort to. If anyone happens to have a bacon sandwich available, I won’t say no either! How could you ruin breakfast for someone like me? Well….

Yum…..

Running is all about having the right mindset. I truly believe that you can achieve whatever you set out to do as long as you approach any challenge in a positive way. I personally couple this with a general stubborness that’s gotten me through various running events over the years, even when under-trained. What could possibly ruin this?

Oh. That’ll do it.

At this point in time, I was actually looking forward to running. In fact, I was getting hungry again as the movie took so damn long! So I jumped on to my treadmill, eager to find some consolation in the unremitting misery that is life. Then the final bombshell struck me: possibly the most depressing running playlist ever curated.

“I’m so hollow” – Quote taken from James Blunt. I was so depressed, I didn’t ask his permission.

The playlist itself was tastefully put together, with four distinct sections. First off was a series of slow, mellow and melodic songs. Full of introspective gloom, I pondered the words “I wish that I could cry” by Five for Fighting and “Nothing Survives” from Azure Ray as I bounced along. It was at this point my friends joined me over a video call, mostly to make fun of me. I was treated to a view of cookies being consumed at an alarming rate, swilled down with a tasteful Sauvignon Blanc with “The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had” from Mad World echoing in my ears. Apparently the flavours matched very well.

The following songs were bleaker still, but there were some moments of brightness. To Build a Home by The Cinematic Orchestra was a slow burner, but ended in an uplifting way perfect for running. As a side note, what the hell happened to Sarah McLachlan?

I then listended to some surprising Alanis Morisette tunes in the second part. My teenage years resonate with the echoes of her empowering anger from a Jagged Little Pill. I don’t recall the thoughtful That I Would Be Good. Interesting, but not suitable for running! I was shocked out of my blues by a cracking James Blunt tune. I had to breathlessly croon “I’m so hollow” for a couple of minutes, which might have scared off my friends a bit. It’s right to draw out at this point that the saddest version of each song was selected. Only songs with maximum violins and preferably acoustic were acceptable. We then came to Say Something by A Great Big World. If anything was going to make me cry, it would have been this song and it was followed by a swift right hook as the third section began with Dry Your Eyes by the Streets. Thankfully I wasn’t terribly affected: it was just sweat from my brow making my eyes water. Honest.

It became clear that everything had been leading up to this point. One song after another packed a wallop. Brick by Ben Folds, Before You Start Your Day by Twenty One Pilots and another three Sarah McLachlan songs! Numb from the pain, I started to flag. To give time to listen to all these sad songs, I’d chosen a relatively long run (at least for me at the moment) – a 19.2km Long Fartlek session on Zwift. While I only had a few kms to go, it was getting tough. Especially with just a few weetabix biscuits in my stomach. Thankfully I was saved by the music. I belted out the lyrics from Hurt by Johnny Cash and Crawling by Linkin Park. Even though both songs were in themselves expressions of intense pain and suffering, “I would keep myself, I would find a way” echoed in my mind.

Suddenly the clouds cleared (yes I know, I’m indoors) and I could see the finish line. The remainings songs were all soulfully contemplative, matching my sad but triumphant mood. The 19.2km finally drew to a conclusion with Enya’s May It Be providing the final notes. I still had some songs left but I’d had enough. I couldn’t run anymore. However, this wasn’t due to the playlist, which I’d perversely enjoyed.

I stopped running as treadmill running sucks. The end.

The view on my treadmill

The Daft 5k Challenge – Can you beat your 5k PB in 4 weeks?

We did. Maybe you can too?!

No idea what’s going on? Might be worth reading our intro first if you’re just jumping in!

After four weeks of intense, or maybe not so intense, training, the moment is nigh. How did we do? If you want to listen to the answer, I suggest clicking here to access our latest podcast where we discuss everything in detail.


Jamie’s Results

Jamie KMs1st Jan31st JanSeconds Difference
100:04:3700:04:58+21
200:04:5600:04:49-7
300:04:5200:04:57+5
400:05:1600:04:42-34
500:05:3200:04:43-49
Total00:25:1300:24:0964 seconds quicker
Average per km00:05:0300:04:5013 seconds quicker
Almost….

Alas, my target of a sub-24 minute 5k was not to be, but it was close. Not bad for a month. I ran a total of 131km in January, ignoring the time trials, more than half of which was easy running. For each kilometer run, I took 0.5 of a second off my total time. Was this an efficient use of the four weeks? Wait till you see what Alex came up with.

Jamie’s Training Programme

  • One tempo run a week
  • One speed session a week
  • 2-3 additional easy runs a week
  • One recovery indoor bike session
  • One HIIT style bike workout or hill workout
  • One core strength/ stretch session a week.

Alex’s Results

Alex KMs1st Jan31st JanSeconds Difference
100:04:4000:04:21-19
200:04:5600:04:40-16
300:05:0500:04:41-24
400:05:1700:04:51-27
500:05:0500:04:43-22
Total00:25:0300:23:16107 seconds quicker
Average per km00:05:0100:04:3921 seconds quicker
That’ll do!

I wasn’t aiming for much, but surprised myself in making such an improvement! Basically back-to-back interval sessions (around 114km total running in the month) seemed to pay off. Efficiency wise I guess you could say this was just under 1 second saved for each km in training I did! Not bad eh?

Alex’s Training Programme

  • 1 tempo run a week (3x 1-mile tempo runs, 2min break in between)
  • 2 interval running sessions a week
    • 6x 2-minute intervals, with 3min break in between
    • 3x 1-minute, 2-minute, 3-minute, 2min break in-between intervals and 3-minute break between the set of intervals.
  • 2 bike sessions a week (mostly intervals, based on indoor cycle programmes)

The Daft 5k Challenge – The Final Week!

This is the fourth and final update for our Daft 5k January Challenge – you may want to go back and read our intro first if you’re just jumping in!

Four weeks is not much for a normal training plan, but actually reflects the time we usually allow for race-specific training. To be honest, our race-specific training used to be other races before lockdown! We’re curious to find out how this will go.

Jamie:

I had a pretty good week with 15km of easy running, a tempo run and a final speed session. On the bike I had a recovery spin and then a bit more of a hilly ride. All on Zwift of course! It is getting a little bit tough on the treadmill; anything more than 5k is dull. The bike is much more entertaining, but I guess it’s a bit more interactive and you have more of a stimulus.

I’m sure Alex will mention something about tapering, but for me this was composed of two rest days. It doesn’t really feel like we should be tapering too much, even with our next challenge starting soon after. It’s a matter of doing the training block, getting the time trial done and moving on. Perhaps we can rest in March?!?

I’m starting to enjoy my core and stretch work a bit more. It is surprising how sore you get after the first go, but your body soon gets used to it. As with all things running, consistency is the key.

My ambition at the start of all this was obviously to boost my speed over the 5k distance, hopefully hitting a PB (all-time or even best time from the last few years). However, I believe general speed and stamina over the longer distances can benefit from the 5k workouts that we’ve been doing. It will interesting seeing how this can all roll upwards.

I don’t have any particular routines that I go through the day before a race. Usually a glass of wine is involved, but I’m giving that a pause for the moment. Maybe a celebratory one afterwards! Once it hits the afternoon perhaps.

Alex:

We’re finally here – the last week of training. Time to start tapering! Actually… there’s probably not really much point for what we’re doing. Well anyway I did end up tapering. So, let’s say it was all part of the plan eh? 

Monday was very snowy and icy around where I run – to the point where attempting to do a tempo run was out of the question. Rather than do a slip-and-slide run that probably wouldn’t give me any benefit I opted to do an indoor bike session instead. Back on Apple Fitness+! I kept my cycle session on Tuesday (Les Mills this time as I’m keeping it interesting with a regular blend of fitness providers). 

Owing to my inability to wake up on time, I stopped extending into the 10k distance… oh, erm, what I mean to say is that I thought that it was important to taper in the last week of training!  

I don’t think this is particularly impactful as I’m generally at around 6-7km by the end of the ‘workout’ session of my run… so like 6/7km over the 2 runs I did do? These were my normal 6x2min interval session and the tempo run I missed on Monday by the way. I felt that after the sub-par tempo session of week 3, it was worth trying to get 1 decent tempo run in rather than my 1-2-3 intervals. 

So, do I feel ready? No, not at all. I don’t think I’m any faster than at the start of the month. Running even the 1-mile (1.6k) tempo sections at a pace that would equate to the 25minute 5k I ran on 1st January seemed challenging if I’m honest. 

However, today is Saturday – the penultimate day before our timed 5-k – and I’m going to do my tried-and-tested, best-practice, race prep: wine and chocolate muffins! 

The Daft 5k Challenge – Week 3

Virtually there

This is the third update for our Daft 5k January Challenge – you may want to go back and read our intro first if you’re just jumping in!

Just one week left for the less-than-dynamic duo. Will our battered bodies be able to soak up more punishment and repair in time for our time trial? Probably not, but there’s certainly still time to self-sabotage before the start line!

Jamie: This week was all virtual via Zwift. None of that running in the rain and snow nonsense! I much prefer staring blankly at the wall while ruminating on the travails of the day. However, something disastrous happened during my weekly speed session: a random glitch chucked me out of the Zwift running track just as I was near concluding one of the sprint legs. To say I was confused was an understatement. If my running wasn’t being recorded for everyone (well, my six followers) to see, then was I really running? I also wasn’t quite sure when I needed to stop as I was relying on the distance monitor within Zwift.

This reminded me of how far my attitude has changed. Around 10 years ago when I first started running more than the odd few miles, I used to be amused by people who ran their life by a watch. It seemed to me to be the opposite point of what running was supposed to be; embracing the feeling of your body functioning near its physical limit, striving against the elements, or even enjoying a bit of nature here and there. Waiting a few minutes to get a GPS link, then setting off at a potentially inaccurate set speed while you check your wrist every few seconds was mildly irritating. The again, maybe I was a poor training partner!

That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed all the various bits of data. Not that I’m totally aware of what to do with it sometimes. Maybe that’s a challenge for another day: data-driven running vs. running with feelings? Regarding the glitch, apparently this can happen if your computer loses touch with the Internet (I reckon Zwift crashed). This is the first time it’s happened to me though after a few months of heavy use.

In general, week 3 has been much better for me. I managed four runs with a total distance of around 33km. This included a tempo, speed session and two easy runs (one after a bike session). My bike distance was around 36km including a recovery 20km and then a more intense workout called “2 by 2“, which I seriously underestimated. According to the marketing material, the workout aims to improve your ability to make repeated hard efforts with minimal recovery. That sounded pretty good to me, but I hadn’t appreciated that I would be expected to turn my legs round at 85-100rpm! My legs definitely weren’t happy after that. Oh well.

Alex: Monday’s tempo run didn’t really go to plan. I’m not sure if for better or worse, but rather than do another run fully on tarmac I opted to head over to a local park, which is more of a field. The first tempo felt pretty good and comfortable on the road leading to the park, however the recent rains had meant that the trails and field edges that make up a running route were basically moosh and bog-land. Owing to the terrain I was struggling to get anywhere near my tempo pace – and the ‘recovery’ sections between were still pretty challenging. I mean, I didn’t hit my times but the extra leg work out still got me out of breath so perhaps this is a net positive? 

I specifically attempted to make up for this on Tuesday by selecting an interval session on the Apple Fitness+ (having now actually bothered to charge the damned Watch). The session went well, although perhaps there was a bit too much work-to-recovery ratio. One main hiccup was hitting the Watch with a wet towel. Doesn’t sound like too much of an issue – however, as I’ve noted a few times on the podcast, moistness and touchscreens are… challenging. The towel paused the workout on my watch, which would have been fine except with Apple Fitness+ if you pause the workout and then attempt to resume it struggles if you are also air-playing the audio to speakers. After a minute or so trying to get the workout to resume I gave up and did the remaining 20mins on my iPhone speakers – meh! 

Wednesday and Friday’s session were pretty standard fare now – minor dread and all. Thursday was a rather good Fitness+ bike session that had some good tunes and interval work. I actually am going to retain my trial subscription for another month and maybe try some other workouts for our February challenge (more on that soon). 

Going into the final week I am not sure if I am actually bringing my times down any. I still feel as slow as always. I’m not actually reviewing my split times as that feels a bit too serious, I may have a look after our final times are in as a bit of a (hopefully not literal) postmortem. 

The Daft 5k Challenge – Week 2

Core consistency. Perhaps.

Core consistency. Perhaps.

Update two? I’m as surprised as you are!

This is the second update for our Daft 5k January Challenge – you may want to go back and read our intro first if you’re just jumping in!

Jamie: This week has been strange for me, with life getting in the way of my training once again. I thought that was finished with 2020. Either way, I mostly only managed quality sessions this week, so my training plan looked more like Alex’s than my proposed high volume method.

My running included an easy 10k, a decent speed session on a treadmill and a tempo run. The speed session saw reps of x2 1ks, x2 800metres and x2 400 metres with an easy warm up and warm down. As an aside, mentally it’s much nicer to have a descending distance to target. 400 metre sprints seem almost easy after the 1kms! I did increase the speed as I went down this particular ladder though. You can be very specific about the speeds you target in your training plans if you have a target time, but I played this very much by feel. Sometimes it’s nice not to look at data! The tempo run was a decent session outside, wrapped into a 10k run. I’ve been doing a lot of treadmill running recently and it’s nice to get out and about. Our local trail running routes have been trashed a little by the weather, so isn’t easy going, but fun nonetheless.

I also had two sessions on the bike (Zwift): one recovery ride and then a hill session up a virtual Box Hill. Not sure I want to try it in reality, with Zwift reducing the difficulty relative to real life by 50%. I’m sure I’ll get better.

I feel like my core and stretch workouts were more accomplished. I tried some specific kettle bell exercises, which will hopefully contribute to a more healthy core if I’m continue with them. Specifically: sumo squats, deadlifts, some side leans and some snatches. Taken in isolation, that sentence reads a little weird? The drills I mentioned last week also felt helpful. They weren’t particularly lengthy, but I think consistency will be key.

The next week is key and will be my last chance to get some speed in the legs and then an extreme taper of 2-3 days rest. Oh joy.

Alex: I must say I’ve been finding it a bit hard to motivate myself this week. Not so much with the training – I’m actually always up for doing my planned sessions. No, my issue has been mostly with just getting up in time. Sign of the times probably.

Anyway, my 3 running sessions went well – in so far as I did them and felt relatively smug about having done so afterwards. I do still feel exceedingly slow – especially in the tempo sessions. All 3 of my training sessions are very approachable, but still leave me with a soupçon of dread when approaching the final couple of intervals – which I think is about the right level of tuning.

For the indoor bike sessions this week I went with a couple of different sessions – owing to forgetting to charge the Apple Watch (not actually used outside of these Fitness + sessions). For my first session I went with a Les Mills RPM session. Back when we were allowed in physical proximity of others when exercising I did a couple of these sessions a week. They are heavily choreographed and favour lots of short, sharp bursts of activity. In a gym environment this worked well as you kind of feed off the other riders in the session. At home RPM is still a good workout – but I don’t hit the same level of exertion for some reason. I think perhaps the focus becomes more on being ‘in time’ with the music, rather than the pseudo-competitive workout against your compatriots alongside you.

For the second session I tried a wholly new app to me – WithU. I was surprised to find that there was no video. What would I look at for 40+ minutes?! I almost flaked out and ran back to the comfort of the Les Mills app – however, I thought some change would be good for me. The workout was a lot more of a ‘standard’ indoor cycle session – some interval speed-work mixed with some drawn-out hill climbs. Once I got past the fact that I had no visual stimulus I got into the workout pretty easily. The instructions were clear – if requiring a bit more attention that normal – as you can’t just look to see if you’re supposed to be in a ‘standing’ or ‘seated’ position. I don’t think I had a high level of exertion on that workout – but I think adjusting to the audio-only instruction and get in the zone would be easier after a couple of more times.

One thing in the Apple Fitness+ camps favour is the heart-rate linkup that does give you an easy focus to try and keep up in the rankings. Being compared to others does seem to get past the ‘so what is this about?’ to ‘ok, I’m gonna go 100%!’.

Hopefully this is actually proving useful training, as I’m actually not doing any of the core training I said I would… maybe next week. Perhaps.

The Daft 5k Challenge – Week 1

Good news! Not injured yet.

Good news! Not injured yet.

This is the first update for our Daft 5k January Challenge – you may want to go back and read our intro first!

Jamie: My high volume & high risk strategy appears to be going well, although I’ve missed one training session (long bike) and the distance is a little short. But on the upside, I’ve hit 40km of running in the first week and fit in three quality sessions: tempo, speed and a bike HIIT. These sessions are essential this month. Normal training blocks are 10-12 weeks, so three weeks of training and a week of tapering isn’t likely going to be enough to beat my PBs without pushing it a bit on the speed front.

First learn: know what core work and appropriate stretching is before writing it in your training plan. Sounds like a great idea and advised by many, but I wasn’t exactly sure what composed a good stretch workout. A few youtube videos later gave me a few ideas, but definitely something to work on. Second: I’ll be looking to incorporate some drills a couple of times a week before my easy runs. Good for stretching and warming up apparently. I almost feel like I know what I’m doing?

A lot of my running this week has been on Zwift, which definitely isn’t because of the weather and perhaps waking up a bit late. It’s made pounding the treadmill running a bit more interesting and we even popped on for a brief moment to “assist” Eddie Izzard on her way to completing her ninth marathon in nine days. Fair play to her! It was mildly amusing to see her Zwift avatar with a big huddle of other runners following along. The odd cyclist stopped by for a gawp as well. With another 22 marathons to go in January, it really puts our 5k shenanigans in perspective. Perhaps we need to be more daft??

Alex: Intervals. So many intervals.

I stuck somewhat to my plan – doing a tempo run and 2 interval sessions. It struck me whilst running one of the tempos that, at these paces, they’re actually just an interval training session in disguise. So, essentially I’m just doing 3 interval sessions a week – who knows, perhaps that’ll work?

After an initial tempo run on Monday I was looking forward to a bit more of a varied workout before my straight-up 6x2min interval session on Wednesday. Loading up the first 45min indoor cycle workout on Apple Fitness+ I was welcomed with ‘Hi Team, today we’re going to be doing 20 intervals’. Oh well… suck it up and focus on getting through them I suppose!

For Thursday’s bike session I purposefully selected a hill session. Again this turned out to be an interval session (just on a higher resistance). Ok, so 5 interval sessions a week must be the secret to success, eh?

Friday was my first frosty run in a while! The 3×1-2-3 intervals weren’t too bad – mostly avoiding slipping was the main concern. One deviation from my thoroughly researched workout plan was the progressive… something… distance? (the training where you just run basically). Rather than adding on an additional 5k to each run session I have just been rounding the session up to 10k – because that’s probably enough, eh?

As per my summer exploits I’m taking the weekends off. Woohoo!

The Daft 5k January Challenge

Surely 2021 will be better than 2020? Let’s check with a daft challenge.

I’ve been talking about improving my 5k time for a while; years even. How long has Parkrun been a thing? God I’m getting old. With all the happenings in 2020, our race-focused training plans (i.e. we just run races!) had been ruled out and left us a bit of a loss. Thankfully we’ve had some virtual races to focus on, but these were all distance-related. With a new and hopefully better year upon us, I feel the need for some speed!    

So here is the challenge: we run a 5km time trial on the 1st January which will give us a target to beat. We then have one month to improve on this time as much as possible, using whatever methods, substances (ahem…legal) or training plans we can get our hands on. The next time trial will be on the 31st January. Alex: en garde!!!   

Opening Gambit

Alex: 

Having spent most of the holiday period sat watching Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman doing ludicrous challenges across the world in various directions it’s only fitting that I perhaps accept this seemingly more sensible challenge put forward by Jamie.  

Aiming to get the first time in the books as early as possible I hit the road straight after getting up on New Year’s Day – a spritely 11:14am.  I believe that pushing my boundaries in this fashion will eventually allow me to take part in some of the events that require participants to start at 3am.  

With temperatures hovering around freezing, and having had a lacklustre workout schedule since clocking a time of 22:51 at the end of June, I took off without much hope of achieving anything near that. A proper warmup would probably have been a good idea, however my primarily aim was just getting back home to the warm by 12:00. 

In the spirit of the challenge, I set out to do my best, running at a fairly chirpy pace for someone who was, moments before, curled up in a more horizontal position. About 600m in I realised that this was a stupid challenge and running is a thoroughly daft past-time, however held my resolve to continue to log an appropriate starting time. 

About halfway I realised my pacing was dropping to above 5min/km and the likelihood of getting below 25mins was slipping out of reach. The uncomfortable sensation of cold air in my lungs and legs that hadn’t been asked to move this quickly for 6 months was starting to grate on my resolve. Looking to still give my best I pushed and managed to make back some time – feeling thoroughly sick at the end of a 100m ‘sprint’ to the finish. My last-ditch attempt to make up some time paid off and I clocked in an opening time of 25:03.  

Jamie: 

After Alex’s sterling performance, the pressure was on. To add to my joy, it started raining sleet just as I popped my head out the door. I employed a different strategy to Alex, adding in a warm-up, but this was with the sneaky intention of starting on top of a hill (sorry Alex!). This paid off initially and I clocked a speedy 4:37 first km, but things went downhill swiftly (or slowly?) from here. Three of the remaining kms were slower than the previous one by 15-20 seconds as I did the dictionary definition of going out too quickly. My last km was 5:32… I eventually managed to gasp to a 25:13 5km time with first honours going to Alex. Curses!! 

That aside, there are definitely things to improve on. I feel like a warm-up is a must: one shouldn’t go at race pace for a 5km from a cold start. However, the first km was obviously too quick and I suffered as a result. Starting at 5-minute pace would have given me a bit more in the tank at the end and would have made for a more pleasant experience.        

The Master Plan

Alex: 

I probably should have looked into this before running the first run, but I guess it doesn’t matter. Anyway, in the spirit of laziness I am simply googling “workouts to improve 5k time” and the suggested link is from Runner’s World – “Run a Faster 5K With These 5 Fun Interval Workouts” posted in September. This seems promising in that (1) Runners World is a pretty decent publication  (2) the word ‘Fun’ is in the title and (3) There are only 5 of them and I have a poor attention span. Seems like a winner on the first search term hit – huzzah! 

I did also have a look at the Garmin Connect ‘Coach’ plans – but these all expected 2-3months of time to work their magic. The one I tried back at the start of lockdown was pretty good – and highlighted some of the great workout features of my Garmin 245, but Jamie’s challenge does not allow for such an extended period of training. 

Right, so the RW article gives us 3 types of workout to work with: intervals, tempo and progressive endurance. 

Intervals 

 The article recommends transitioning through a few interval workouts (1-minute, 2-minute and 1-2-3). As I’m short on time I’ll skip any 1-minute intervals and just dive straight to the 2-minute ones as… well… I have no real basis for this but longer must be better – eh? I’ll also do a 1-2-3 session once a week as well. 

Tempo 

Chuck one of these in a week midweek – boom. I guess I’d aim to hit a red-zone tempo of around 4:45-5:15. 

Progressive Endurance 

Rather than doing any progressive endurance training – I’ll tack on a 5k at the end of each training session at an easy pace. 

Overall 

So, this looks like 3xRuns a week – all of them have been certified as ‘Fun’ by Runners’ World, which is good enough for me! (although, to be fair I have modified them slightly, so any lack of ‘fun-ness’ will be my own doing I suppose).

I’ll aim to supplement this training with some core work and maybe some bike training – for a total of 5-6 workouts a week. This should mean that I have a rest day or two each week– hurray! 

Jamie: 

My top end 5k PB is 22:15, but this was technically my 5km split during a 10km race. My quickest official 5km time is around 24 minutes at our local Parkrun, so these two figures will be my base and outperforming targets. Easy right? So we have one month to work some magic. I feel relatively confident that I can take a minute off my benchmark time with some focused training, with two potential risks: I overtrain and don’t rest enough; and that I don’t apply the right intensity during my speed work. A fine line to balance and I’ll likely have to rejig my strategy as we progress (or perhaps when I get broken!). 

The principles will be similar to Alex’s plan, but most of my running will be easy. The core of each week will be: 

  • 4 easy runs c6:30km pace of varying distance 
  • 1 tempo run at around 5:20 to 5:30 
  • 1 speed specific workout (swapped out for a hill run session on one week) 
  • 1 longish bike ride 
  • 1 recovery bike session  
  • 1 HIIT bike ride at varying intensity 
  • 1 core strength workout 
  • 1 session focused on stretching     

It’s important to note that I gradually built up to 5-6 runs a week over a few months, so I’m not doing this from a standing start. The last week will be tapered with a couple of easy runs and a final tempo run. 

This seems a lot to pack in, but the only really intense workouts will be the speed/ hill run and the bike HIIT. For the rest I’ll be aiming for a low heart rate. It will be interesting to see if this works at all. Perhaps I’ll get to the end of this training having missed out on more speed work? 

We shall see…

Polar virtue

North Pole adventuring without the polar bears

As per the chat on the podcast, here’s a link to the North Pole challenge. You have until the 15th December to sign-up! Which is…tomorrow… :-S It also has a neat graphic where you can track your progress. Love a bit of marketing.

We went with the Norway route: “Set off from Orca Camp on Nordaustlandet, part of the stunning Norwegian Svalbard archipelago – famous for its Polar Bears and an array of Arctic wildlife. We don the snow shoes and head due North for a short, sharp, hop across the frozen ocean.”

This is around 100km, but we didn’t realise that your mileage for the month is already accounted for if you link your Strava account. Otherwise we would have been a bit more ambitious.

We started June with an Ultra Challenge and I only just scraped the 100km, with a cheeky injury. Let’s see if we can double it in December.

Blazing a trail

Is trail running for you? Yes. It is!

I’ve spent a long time trying to get better at running, hampered by a poor diet and other lifestyle choices that don’t correspond with fitness excellence. My previous strategy has been to indulge in one long run a week, say twenty to forty kilometers depending on my next event, and then some cross-training like HIIT classes, spinning or pool swimming. While I made slow improvements and completed all the events I set my mind to, I wasn’t making the vast jumps in ability that others seemed to make. I was also spending lots of time recovering after the long runs! But that’s fine; we can’t always prioritise these things and managing life can divert you for very good reasons.

This is why I’m writing this post. Earlier in the year, in the nacense of the pandemic, we’d completed a 50k ultra race in addition to a couple of exploratory long runs around London. That put my total distance at around 140km for both January and March, which is the furthest I’d run on a monthly basis for a long time. The omens for the rest of the year were good! But….2020….amiright!?! As lockdown hit, all our plans for races were cancelled (understandably) and we were at a loss. The races and the social part afterwards were always the draw for me. Would I have to start looking at…training more (eww)?

Joking aside, many people have taken the opportunity to reset their training. Why not me? I did a bit of reading, listened to some experts and seized on an idea. To get better at running, I needed to up my mileage. Not a surprising concept! At the same time virtual races started popping up as race organisers pivoted in reaction to the new environment. One of particular interest was created by Ultra Challenge (Boost it for June) and featured a number of different distances to run from 50 to 500km, with the reward of a colorful buff. I went for 100km, but with a target to hit 150km. Rather than going for a few huge runs, I thought I’d spread out the pain over the week and incorporate some speed runs as well; definitely not something I’d done for a few years with my focus on long and slow!

It started well and I hit 24km in the first week and 34km in the second week. Come the third week however I started to feel my bones creaking with another 37km down. I limped through one more run to get over the 100km target (I wanted that buff!) and marked myself as too injured to continue. I found this a bit disheartening: I had done less distance with more frequent running, but couldn’t get near the 140km I ran in January and March.

Time for a re-think

I know the guilty party. Myself obviously. I don’t have the greatest running form and I’m not exactly light and dainty. All my longer runs usually occur on trail with a few kms on concrete to get out into the countryside. I tend to run shorter distances on concrete paths through local parks. Upping the distance on this surface had horribly backfired. This also wasn’t the first time I had learned this lesson! Road marathon training a few years back had given the same result: a sore knee and a dodgy hip before I then graduated to trail marathons and ultra-marathons.

I did some research on Garmin Connect and checked out the local heat maps, working out how I could fit in as little road running as possible. Once I’d recovered a bit, I started again with a renewed focus. All my runs would be at a relaxed pace on trails and I would cut out the speed work until I could sustain a higher mileage. July saw 84km as I eased myself back into running, 100km in August and 117km in September. Quite slow increases, but sustainability was my focus.

Success!

Thankfully it seems to have worked. I recently hit my first 40km week since I last ran an ultra-marathon. I also feel fine with no aches or pains, as opposed to how I feel normally after that much running! I put most of that down to running on trails at a relaxed pace. Now I can focus on adding longer/ quicker runs and upping my mileage more. Definitely worth a go if you keep picking up injuries.

Rat Race: The Mighty Deerstalker – Race Retrospective – 16th March 2019

What lies in them thar hills…

How far should one travel for a good race? Depends on the race I guess. Being a bit daft, we’ve travelled all the way to Cornwall for a coastal trail marathon, all the way to Liege for a beer marathon and all the way to Scotland for a nighttime adventure…10k?!

To be fair, this is a fun race and you do have the option to double up the distance via a second lap if you’re keen, which we weren’t! In particular I was feeling a little bit worse for wear with the memory of our misadventure in the South Downs still fresh.

This was also another race we’d been to before, running in the 2017 edition (the race in 2018 was cancelled due to severe snow and wind conditions). In fact, the 2017 edition was my first race on the running wagon after a few years out of action. I remember a chastening experience, finding the bogs, long dips in icy water, steep hills and scrambling extremely difficult. In the end I think I took so long that the bar at the end had nearly run out of beer! I always think these kinds of experiences make you stronger in the end though. So the 2019 race felt like my chance for redemption. I needed to get to the finish before the raucous Rat Race runners drank it dry again.

But first, the epic journey to the start line: a village called Innerleithen in the Scottish Borders. For us, this encompassed around five hours on the train, a quick stop for food in Edinburgh, and then a 90 minute bus journey into the wilderness. The weather was not looking amenable at this point. Wrapped in all my layers and standing shivering on the exposed North Bridge waiting for the bus, I have rarely felt as cold and nervous. The wind was building, the rain had turned to sleet and running was the last thing on my mind. The bus journey was initially even more ominous. As we travelled away from Edinburgh the surrounding countryside looked increasingly petrified with a wintry touch of snow. Looking at the weather reports, it also suddenly became apparent that the area had been hit with a surplus of inclemency. Our penchant for not checking weather before we travelled suddenly looked ready to strike again!

As luck would have it, the closer we got to Innerleithen, the more the weather brightened. As we walked to the event registration area, we even saw some thin strands of light peak through the grey clouds.

A couple of unlikely friends we met on the way to registration.

Quite the turnaround. We also got to see some of the initial waves pass through the course. While this is a night time race, by the time the runners got into the hills the sun will have dipped below the horizon. Once we arrived, it became apparent that the course had been tweaked to avoid some of the more watery obstacles. In particular I recall one particular segment in 2017 when we had to traverse a few hundred metre stretch up a river. Having already tackled one ascent and descent, the shocking cold and difficult footing was not a tonic for further hill running. I was again a little relieved, but it was disappointing, if understandable once we saw how strong the current was. To underline the bogginess, I even lost one of my shoes in the mud before we even started!

The first wave gets underway. With the altered route, this was one of the – thankfully – few times we had to endure a dip in icy water.

But all this is side commentary. What about the race itself? The first section is a warm up for what comes: a brief soujourn over some rocky paths (won’t see sure footing like this for a while) that transitions into flat out sticky bog and then straight into hills nearly 2km from the start. At this point I was already pretty tired and the sun had finally set. The first climb was around 300 metres and I actually managed to run bits of it (unlike in 2017). It was mostly through well worn trail routes, but now and then we’d dive into the undergrowth up less travelled sections. These were very entertaining as my favourite trail running is along woodland paths. We came to a bit of a contrived false summit (essentially going up, turning around and coming back down again), which required walking rather than running and then finally a bit of descent. We then had another climb of around 100 metres to reach the highest point of the race. It was here we could finally enjoy one of the perks of the Mighty Deerstalker: seeing the scattered head torches of various runners across the nighttime landscape. A trail of glistening light showed where we had come and what we still had to do. This is something I’d only seen at events like the three peaks challenge before.

The next descent essentially took us back to ground level and was extremely treacherous. Another reason for my slow time in 2017 was likely due to wearing road running trainers… This time round I had some decent trail shoes, but even with these it was fairly difficult going. More confident racers breezed past me and some of the more reckless ones tended to strike their fellow runners and various trees and rocks as they went past! I saw a few collisions that made we wince. Some bits were great fun though, with just enough stable footing to leap and jump over the undulating course.

With that now completed, we were treated to a run over the River Tweed and through Innerleithen to take on another of the local hills. We had some very kind people along the course cheering us over these sections. Always nice to hear. The climb was easier than before, but I had my first serious tumble of the year; almost cartoonesque! While descending I had been putting weight on areas with foliage and grass as this indicated safe purchase in my mind. I unfortunately did so on a piece of ground that was completely inundated with water and promptly slipped up, got some serious air time and landed on my backside. Thankfully it was on soft, and wet, ground, so I wasn’t hurt (pride aside). Picking myself up, I then confronted the scramble, which was nearly 200 metres high. I must confess to needing a few stops to catch my breath! I’m not a fan of heights at the best of times, so I was grateful for the night time views. One last descent and then there was just four more kms of boggy, river-side running to defeat. I recognised here and there signs of our earlier walk to registration and was relieved to see the finish line. In 2017 they set-up a water slide to celebrate the last section, but for obvious reasons that had been removed. Probably a good thing as I recall nearly football tackling someone’s midriff by accident at the bottom.

First time running in 2017, we completed the course in around three hours and twenty minutes. In 2019, we got round in around two and a half hours. Not a bad improvement, but we did have two years of running these races as training and some of the water sections were curtailed; so perhaps we should have done a bit better. Most importantly though, I made it back in time to properly enjoy the party afterwards!