My 2019 Running Goals

2018 was a memorable year for me. The ups and downs of last year have inevitably influenced my 2019 running goals.

My focus this year is achieving consistent, progressive, endurance-based and injury-free running. 

Although I will still compete in a few races, I want 2019 to be the year of developing the strongest aerobic fitness of my life. 

Run my First Ultramarathon

 
For many years I have wanted to test myself over a distance longer than the marathon. 

Initially, my inspirations were the books and audiobooks of incredible ultrarunners such as Scott Jurek, Pam Reed and Dean Karnazes
 
Later, my experience as a 8-time marathoner got me wondering, too frequently, how I could cope with the extra mileage. 
 
In 2017, I set myself the goal, before I turned 30, to explore this relatively new running phenomenon. 
 
Fortunately, there is an ultramarathon race close to my home
 
Held in early October, it is the ideal challenge that offers me plenty of time to experiment in my training.
 

Improve my Marathon Personal Best

 

Since completing my first marathon in 2013, I have achieved relative success at this iconic running distance. 

However, my dream to qualify for the London Marathon as a good-for-age entry remains a long-term goal. 

My aim for 2019 is simply to improve my personal best, accomplished in October 2017 at the Chelmsford Marathon.

Although only two weeks after the ultramarathon race, I feel confident my endurance training, recovery and race tactics will aid my success.

Run Injury-Free

 
After a disappointing end to my 2018 season, I want to return to building a strong foundation without the pressure of short-term racing. 
 
 
By returning to an appropriate and progressive stretching and strengthening routine I believe I will enjoy pain-free running again. 
 

My hope and expectation is that I will become a more resilient and fitter athlete.

6 Elements to Improve Endurance Running

Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance (2018) by Alex Hutchinson


Theory

A traditional view of endurance is that the body is a ‘machine’, limited by the muscles’ ability to use energy and oxygen.

However, more recently, researchers such as Tim Noakes and Samuele Marcora have asserted that human limits are defined by the brain’s functions. Conscious or not, our mind senses the dangers of exerting ourselves too much and so guides our body’s ‘pace’ (otherwise known as ‘anticipatory regulation’).

Our sense of effort and ability to overcome our instincts to stop once we feel pain are crucial elements if we are to perform at our best. Researchers point to the finishing ‘sprint’ during a marathon as proof that our bodies always have a reserve of energy.

Practice

Pain is unavoidable, a complex and situation-dependant sensation, but, if we seek pain in training (e.g. run harder, faster workouts) our pain tolerance will increase.

The more hours we spend physically training our bodies, the better we can alter our minds to push ourselves faster and further.

Muscles

Brain fatigue and muscle fatigue are inseparable, but lactic acid isn’t the feeling of acid dissolving our muscles. It’s a cautionary signal created in the brain by nerve endings triggered only in the presence of certain metabolites.

Caffeine is an effective performance enhancer because it disables brain receptors that detect muscle fatigue.

Oxygen

The advantage that East African runners have originates from being born at altitude and having active childhoods. This means they can better maintain their brain’s oxygen supply due to possessing a greater number of thicker blood vessels that connect to the brain.

Heat

For every 100 calories we consume, it’s estimated we will generate at least 75 calories of heat. This means that to fully adapt to bodily heat, we should exercise repeatedly in hot conditions.

We will sweat more heavily and our blood volume will increase, resulting in our heart rate staying lower during exercise.

Thirst

If thirsty we should drink when we have the chance, but we shouldn’t obsess about it when we don’t, because any losses of less than 4% are unlikely to impair our endurance performance.

Fuel

We should never be under-fuelled at the start of a race, otherwise this will be a limiting factor in our performance. The brain uses fuel, and so having larger stores of glycogen is optimal.

An example is it only helps to consume a sports drink in runs shorter than 90 minutes if our body is low on fuel to begin with.

Brain Training

Ultimately, as athletes we need to better monitor our body’s reactions to training loads. The more we can predict pain, the more likely we are to feel impartial to it, and push through that feeling to make better micro-decisions during a race.


Runner Alex Hutchinson

Hutchinson’s own views as a runner, after completing his first marathon in a time of 2:44:48, are useful to ensure we best implement the advice from the countless studies he compiled. He wishes he implemented more positive self-talk. Over many years, this will inevitably translate into greater self-belief.

More than anything else, running lots and holding greater faith in achieving personal goals will give us the best chance of athletic success.

Extending Time on the Saddle

I know I need to accumulate more time on my bike to maintain my endurance fitness ready for my upcoming marathon.

So I aimed to peddle for longer than an hour a day.
My concerns were the numbness and minor pain as a result of sitting in the same position on the saddle and the mental fatigue from not giving up after boredom set in.

First, I enjoyed a rest day after the first four days of my cross-training.
Then I fully committed to sweating.

2 hours on Sunday.
45 minutes twice on Monday.
30 minutes yesterday, after cycling 7.2 miles on my mountain bike outdoors.
1 hour and 10 minutes tonight.

I used a combination of distractions to get me through the workouts as best I could.
I listened to a running audiobook.
I sang to some of my favourite albums, from music artists including Angels and Airwaves, The Kooks and The Script.
I daydreamed.

I got off the saddle a few times to take very short breaks.
I rose up on my saddle to relieve the pressure on my buttocks.
By far the most effective method of passing the time simply refraining from checking my Garmin sports watch every minute




The Measures of Cycling Success

Now that I’ve started cycling indoors my mind is preoccupied with the measures of success.
I bought pieces of technology to give me stats, but what should I make of them?

I instinctively compare cycling to running, but it’s difficult.

I examine the time on the saddle, but the mileage and speed don’t easily equate to distance in my barefoot shoes.
My heart rate is lower on the bike than when running, but I can’t seem to get it higher.
I know that over 20 mph for one hour is not as impressive as it first sounds.
My revolutions per minute is another puzzle to solve.

Instead my perception of effort and sweat on my forehead are more reliable indicators of my workout.
I feel as if I am maintaining a 8 or 9 out of 10 throughout and I have to keep wiping my brow to avoid sweat stinging my eyes.

As I continue to research the comparison between my beloved sport and my cross-training sport I have to simply trust that I am not losing my endurance fitness (even if I’m not improving it).

My marathon is now only a month away…


Day 2
1 hour cycle at increasingly faster pace
(average 21.9 mph and 97 rpm)



Start of a New (Cycling) Journey

I haven’t been able to run for almost two weeks.

Although a recurring injury that I hope will heal before my next race, I became depressed.

I had to find an alternative to keep fit.
I didn’t want to spend money on temporary gym membership again.
As much as I enjoy walking it’s simply not intense enough to work my cardiovascular system.

So I purchased a bicycle.
But rather than cycling outdoors I specifically wanted a turbo trainer.

So after plenty of research I set up my indoor exercise equipment.
I had to wait a week for all the parts to be delivered.

I realised during that time how much I rely on running.
Running is an important part of my life.

More generally, exercise makes me who I am. It influences my appearance, my diet, my daily routine.
My motivation is to discover how fit I can can be.

I want to complete a sub 3-hour marathon and run the London Marathon as a good-for-age entry.
I believe I can achieve this one day.

My next attempt at running the qualifying time is Sunday 21 October.
It will be my eighth marathon.
I’m hoping my cross-training will at least maintain the performance level I demonstrated on my birthday...


Day 1
1 hour cycle at steady-pace
(average 20.7 mph and 92 rpm)



Week of Building Endurance

16-22 July 2018

Week 6 of my training block for the Clacton Half Marathon based on Jack Daniels’ Running Formula.


Easy Miles – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday

Slower than 7:15 per mile pace

Tempo RunSaturday

Faster than 7:15 per mile pace

Rest Days – Thursday and Sunday


I stepped up the quantity of my running this week. Almost all my workouts were easy-paced, long runs. This took more time and energy, and therefore I didn’t feel it appropriate to run any miles at my intended half marathon race pace. 

My weekly goal was to run continuously for at least an hour, which I did on Friday. I also cycled over 10.5 miles across three days. Although simply recreational, the exercise supplements my training.

I also enjoyed coaching my first two-day running assessment on one of my runners.

I accumulated over 29 miles with no signs of my recent injury, which built my confidence that my body is adapting well for ‘longer distances’.


Building Mileage (Week 3)

16-22 April 2018

I knew I had to focus on increasing my weekly mileage. Reducing the number of rest days would also develop my leg muscles quicker, although I had to be careful due to a recent minor injury.

I believe I found a productive balance.

Lesson #5: You are stronger than you think you are

On Friday (20 April) I wanted to test myself over a distance that was close to 10 miles. I had doubts that I would find it comfortable.

I chose 8 miles and, although I started strong, I did not expect to be particularly consistent. But I was.

The miles seemed to fly by and I was pleased to finish, knowing that 10 miles would not be difficult to cover in a few weeks’ time. Although I have not demonstrated my race pace for an extended period I ran five days in a row, building my mileage sensibly by running some at an easier pace. My legs did ache at times but not enough for me to worry about injury.

This proved that my endurance is progressing and I am still on track for my future running goals. Psychologically the ‘long’ runs were a boost.

Lesson #6: Running on grass can sap your energy at high speeds

I ran my only interval workout on Monday (16 April). I ran 4x 1 mile at race pace* with 3:30 walking recoveries. Only the last mile rep fell below my race pace but the I feel I met my target.

However, the interval workout was challenging. Each rep was two laps around my local park, and after the first minute of each rep my effort level increased significantly. Despite the consistent pacing I was clinging on at the end of the reps.

My One Mile Challenge taught me that although grass is a kinder surface than road for bones and ligaments, a runner has to work harder to generate the same power from the ground. This means that for speed workouts the pace can be lower than expected.

I knew I was hitting my target pace because I allowed for this. So rather than be disappointed I was satisfied with a tough workout.

Excluding the interval workout I accumulated over 27.3 miles during the week, of which 12 miles were ran at less than a minute slower than race pace**. The remaining miles were run at a comfortable endurance pace***.

My only rest day was Tuesday.


10 Mile Training: Week 3

* The race pace I am still hoping for is 6:00 per mile.
** This is equivalent to a pace of 6:30-7:00 per mile.
*** This is equivalent to slower than 7:00 per mile pace.

Reducing Training Stress (Week 2)

9-15 April 2018

Transitioning from my One Mile Challenge to endurance-based training has resulted in a minor injury. I was therefore forced to take more rest days than I had planned.

Still, this made me more determined and focused to gain the most from my limited training.

Lesson #3: Never ignore your gut instincts

The purpose of my first workout of the week on Monday (9 April) was to accumulate more miles at race pace*. Like last week the tempo threshold run was tougher than I had wanted it to be. Still, I ran 4x 1 mile at race pace with ¼ mile recovery jogs** in between.

I knew that I needed to rest but because I coached in the evening, and the following two days, I knew I had to be sensible. As I often run to the start of my coaching sessions I found the extra effort resulted in increased pain in my lower legs.

Although I was fully aware that rest was essential I decided to ignore it. This set my training back a couple of days. Therefore I learnt that a more sensible approach would have been to modify my own workouts to factor in extra, but less structured activity.

Lesson #4: Running on grass can aid recovery

On Sunday (15 April) I ran simply to stretch my legs and test my MTSS injury, which was made worse by the club run I committed to on Thursday (12 April). The club workout was 30x 30 seconds of fast pace running*** with 30 seconds of jogging recoveries in between. The high impact of running on the pavement did not support my training. Instead I realised that these faster workouts are not what I need in the build-up to my 10 mile race.

So instead, on the last day of the week, I purposefully ran on grass, striking the ground with my mid-foot rather than forefoot. These modifications ensured that my leg muscles received a workout but without excessive stress.

Psychologically, the run gave me confidence because I felt positive about my injury. Also, because there was less focus on maintaining a particular pace I could enjoy the countryside around me.

During the week I ran 4.25 miles on Friday and 4.6 miles on Sunday at recovery pace** to build my endurance. My rest days were Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday. My mile repeats on Monday and interval workout on Thursday amounted to 6.95 miles at race pace or quicker.


10 Mile Training: Week 2

* An appropriate pace range for me to support my race goal is 6:00-6:30 per mile.
** My recovery pace this week (including warm-up and cool down) is any pace slower than 8:50 per mile.
*** Interval training for me this week is any pace faster than 5:30 per mile.

Two Reflections on Transitioning to Endurance Training (Week 1)

3-8 April 2018

After last week’s success of breaking multiple personal records from ¼ mile to 2 miles my focus switched to endurance. My next race, 5 weeks away, is a local 10 mile race.

So from Wednesday I began accumulating miles in preparation for my attempt at running under an hour, equivalent to less than 6:00 per mile pace.

Lesson #1: Sometimes you need to change your workout during it

I intended my first workout of my 10-mile training (on Wednesday 4 April) to be a 10k time-trial. However, after a mile at race pace* I realised my legs had not fully recovered from my mile time-trials so after another mile at race pace I altered my workout.
Instead, I completed a 1-mile jogging recovery**.
Then I ran another two miles at race pace.

Although I did not accomplish what I originally set out, I modified it to reflect my current fitness level. I therefore accumulated 4 miles in the pace range I desired as opposed to 2 miles (as my pace would have progressively slowed if I had not had a recovery).

The workout proved to me that runners need to prioritise the overall purpose of a workout (in my case to accumulate as many miles at race pace) rather than any preconceived plan. As a result training will be maximised.

Lesson #2: A running nickname can reflect important developments

On Thursday (5 April) I ran a quality session*** with my running club. As there is a greater amount of daylight I chose to run in my black running jacket.
I led the session from the start, running 2,3,4,5,4,3 and 2 minutes quicker than race pace with half the time of the intervals as jogging recoveries.
One coach called me the ‘Black Assassin’, later the ‘Silent Assassin’.

More important than obtaining another positive nickname is the observation that my forefoot strike in my Vibram FiveFingers barefoot shoes is quiet. This suggests the lightness on my feet has transferred to efficient speed. This style of running feels so natural to me that my calf muscles are fatigue resilient.

The nickname reminds me of the hard work I have made with calf raises and committing to barefoot shoes.

I also ran 4.4 miles on Friday and 6.4 miles on Sunday 30-90 seconds slower per mile**** than race pace to build my endurance. My rest days were Tuesday and Saturday.


10 Mile Training: Week 1

* An appropriate pace range for me to support my race pace goal is 6:00-6:30 per mile.
** My recovery pace (including warm-up and cool down) is any pace slower than 9:00 per mile.
*** Interval training for me is any pace faster than 6:00 per mile.
**** This is equivalent to 6:30-8:00 per mile.

Reasons to Run a Mile Fast

In his book Lore of Running Tim Noakes explains that runners who are fast at short distances will very likely be fast at longer distances (assuming specific training is undertaken). It is therefore unrealistic to believe a runner can beat another at any endurance event if they cannot overcome them over distances from the mile up to the 10k. This is based on diminishing returns and fatigue resistance as the maximum pace a runner can maintain for longer will inevitably decrease (though not necessarily by a significant margin).

Although intuitive, it is not necessarily widely practiced by recreational road runners.

Noakes advises runners to focus on realising one’s potential at shorter distances before running further. This theory has been successfully applied by many elite athletes, including the Daniel Komen, Emil Zátopek, and ultramarathon legends Ann Trason and Yiannis Kouros. Also, well-established race time predictions are based on actual results for relatively short races.

Former top ultrarunner and now-experienced coach Norrie Williamson in his book Everyone’s Guide to Distance Running echoes Noakes’ advice. Every runner must accept that all distances are important because any errors in running form or mindset will increase in magnitude as the distance progresses.

Despite the logic, it is important to experiment to find a balance between speed and volume in training, and short- and long-term ambitions.

I feel it is time in my running career to embrace distances up to the mile, after many years of focusing on improving my half marathon and marathon performances. I expect that throughout my challenge I will reminisce on my high school track career

The training and time trials will test me in new ways and my desire to be a sub 5-minute miler is strong, especially as I am tantalisingly close already…

How to Gain an Ultra Mindset

The Ultra Mindset (2015) by Travis Macy


Macy is an experienced and successful adventure racer and ultrarunner from the United States of America. He retells the story of his life, training in the mountains, finding love and building upon his father’s athletic achievements.

The audiobook reveals numerous skills and personality traits that can enhance endurance performance. Through his experiences at major races such as the Leadman race series, the Adventure Racing World Championships and the Fastest Known Time (FKT) run across Zion National Park, Macy explores eight features of a superior mindset.

  1. Use every challenge as a means to strengthen your mind.

  2. Find inspirational people that you wish to imitate.

  3. Discover your internal and external motivators and learn when to use them.

  4. Improve your self-belief but never overestimate your obstacles.

  5. Always prepare and remain conscious of your thoughts during races.

  6. Wake up early to be more efficient with your time.

  7. Construct stories about yourself that are positive and affirmative.

  8. Never quit unless in a life-threatening situation.

Other tips Macy offers include using internal music as a method to find a running rhythm, and repeating internal mantras such as  “it’s all good mental training” and “never give up”. This advice is summarised by not letting fear stop you aiming high. The audiobook also has countless practical exercises to help runners reflect on and learn from their running in a meaningful way.

Pain and Joy After my Third Chelmsford Marathon

23 October 2016

I wished my runners the very best of luck before the race.
Then we separated, ready for our own journeys.
I ran as though the race was a half marathon.
I soon found myself alongside a taller runner about my age. When he passed me I surged into the lead. This repeated for many miles through the Essex countryside, absent of spectators.
The battle made me concentrate on staying strong but by half way he was out of sight.
I was left to run alone.
Runners kept passing me as I fought back fatigue and muscle soreness.
I wanted the race to be over but it dragged on as I inevitably slowed.
I couldn’t estimate my finishing time as my average pace was dropping quickly.
There was nothing I could do but to endure the last miles until I sprinted the last metres to the line in pain.


Chelmsford Marathon 2016 from front

I went out too fast too early. Although this was my pre-race strategy my hopes of not fading too much in the second half of the race were naïve. Despite the generous time I banked for more than an hour I suffered even more pain than previous marathons, culminating in 10 minutes of post-race lactate acid in my legs. I had never felt so much discomfort, and for so long after any race.

Despite a huge personal best time of over 20 minutes I was disappointed by my endurance fitness. This was my first attempt to qualify as ‘good for my age’ for the London Marathon and had come up way short.

Still, I also felt pride as this was my first race I had coached runners. Three of the four that started completed the race, two of which had never run the distance before and had all achieved respectable times.

Chelmsford Marathon 2016 from behind



How Lunges Improve Your Running

Lunges are a great method of strengthening your legs and improving your balance. Lunges condition large muscles used for running including the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes.

The smooth motion also allows you to visualise.

Position yourself with one foot forward, planted firmly on the ground with the knee bent. The back leg should be a step behind your body, your heel off the ground. Your back should be straight, with you chest out. Inhale as you lower your knee close to the ground, and exhale as you raise to your starting position. You should be able to see the tip of your front foot, even as you lower.

Forward Lunge

I undertake lunges of high reps to build my endurance, but have also completed workouts of low reps whilst holding weights as well as jumping lunges (alternating legs).


Personal Records 

Forward Lunges

Total reps in 1 minute (30 seconds on each leg) – 34

Total reps in 2 minutes (1 minute on each leg) – 66

25 lunges on each leg – 0:41

50 lunges on each leg – 1:21

Audiobook Review: ‘Running with the Kenyans’

The book chronicles an English vegetarian journalist’s journey to Kenya as he looks to better understand the country’s running talent. In conjunction with this Finn improves his own running by implementing some of the principles he observes in the East African country.

Finn details his own running story, from his Northampton-based running club, to losing interest whilst at university and returning to road-racing as an adult. Due to his sense of adventure and a Kenyan relative, he goes with his wife and two young children to the home of endurance athletes.

Throughout his stay he meets many runners, including top athletes such as Mary Keitany, Geoffrey Mutai and Haile Gebrselassie, and famous coaches such as Brother Colm. He experiences running in the dark along trails early in the day and running in local cross country races. Finn creates a running team, which he names the Iten Town Harriers, and details their training in the build up to the Lewa Marathon. Alongside this he learns intriguing theories about whether barefoot running is the most efficient means of running.

The book is packed with interesting anecdotes from various runners in Kenya, in pursuit of understanding the secrets behind the most successful nation in long-distance running. Finn offers an insight into the running culture in Kenya, as many of the people and runners he meets are connected to Olympic and world championship medalists, world record holders and/or  winners of famous big city marathons. Any serious runner does not have a job as it takes up too much of their time and energy. Although athletes rely on help from relatives they are also prone to over-training.

There appears to be many factors that make Kenyan runners special. These include:

  • often difficult childhoods running to school barefoot
  • simple diets and lifestyles
  • altitude training
  • many opportunities to rest
  • the limited alternative livelihoods
  • an abundance of role models.

But perhaps most significant is the Kenyans’ unassuming dedication and hard work that leads to confidence and an expectation to win. Running can truly change their lives.

The book is an honest and adventurous account of one man’s pursuit to answer pressing athletic questions. Finn maintains an open mind and heart throughout. He learns ultimately that one must acquire self-effacing discipline to run faster.