Thursday, 14 August 2014

The Need for Speed

Since completing the West Highland Way Race (WHWR) the question "What Next?" has been hanging over me, while my long term ambitions for running as still nebulous my short term ambitions are now concrete.  I have signed up to the Killin 10k to be held on on Saturday 23rd August, the River Ayr Way Challenge on the 13th of September, and the Jedburgh Three Peak Ultra on 25th of October.

My immediate focus is the Killin 10k as it's now only 9 days away.  It's a race which is a race I've done once before, back in 2012 when I set my Personal Best of 39:36.  This year I have PB'd at the Loch Katrine Marathon and Highland Fling, could I PB at Killin as well?

All my training prior to June 21st was focused on getting me the 95 miles from Milnagavie to Fort William in one piece, the bulk of the training was done at very gentle pace with high mileage (for me) provided the stimulus for improved fitness.  The high mileage meant that I had little spare capacity for adding high intensity workouts so only went faster than 8 min/mile and handful of times over the six months.

After the big race I took two weeks completely off running, a injury to my right calf sustained during the race meant that it was foolhardy to start any sooner, and after all the training I was very happy to just chill out and go for walks with the family.  When I started back running in July I really struggled with my knee ligaments in the leg that I had sustained the calf injury, running more than two miles was a struggle, especially if any hills were encourted.

Through July I slowly built the mileage up, avoiding any serious hills, and bit by bit my knee settled for more of my runs.  As my body settled back into running the smoothness in gait and ease of running returned and by the end of July I found my heart rate for a given pace surprisingly low - I was already seeing efficiency near to the peak from this year.  All great signs so began making plans for races and signed up to the three races mentioned in my opening paragraph.

By the last week in July I had got my weekly mileage up into the low forties and began introducing faster workouts to prepare my body for the 10k.  To beat my 10k PB I need to average faster than 6:23 min/mile pace, having spent the vast majority of my runs this year doing 9 min/mile pace it's quite a change pace.

My approach has been to getting my body ready has been do two speed workouts each week, with recovery runs done at very easy pace (9 to 10 min/miles) in the days between and one long run run at an easy to marathon pace.  The follow chart shows how I've steadily built the mileage of my runs up and introduced the faster runs, but have made sure my recovery runs are kept at a nice a slow pace - they are there to aid recovery and to ensure the faster running doesn't compromise my basic aerobic fitness.  To help maintain my adaptations for fat burning I'm also doing all the workouts fasted - I do the runs before lunch and skip breakfast, much like I did for the first half of this year.

The first of the weeks speed workouts has been a sub lactate threshold tempo run where I run at a comfortable hard pace for an hour.  I have now done this workout for the past three weeks on the same route and have ended up running the same average HR of 166 for each of these runs.  What is encouraging is that my average pace started off at 7:03 pace, the second week was 6:58 pace and this week averaged 6:45 pace.

The second speed sessions has been to an alternatives workout where I run I run intervals that combine a slower section of a mile or so at a little below lactate threshold (around 7 to 7:30 min/mile pace) and a faster half to mile section where I push the pace on above lactate threshold, typically 6 to 6:30min/mile pace.  The faster sections are meant to generate lots of lactate that need to be mopped up in the slower sections.  Lactate can only be processed by the muscles aerobically so even though you are going anaerobic during the faster sections, the overall effect of the workout is one of good high end aerobic workout.

What is great news is that combinations of workout is leading to improvements to my speed around lactate threshold - crucial for 10k performance, as well as improvement my running economy at all speeds - over the last two weeks I've recorded some of the most efficient runs this year, consistently my heart rate for a given pace is nice and low. 

My resting heart rate has also dropped substantially, this morning I measure 41bpm just prior to today's 6 mile recovery run.  This is the lowest resting heart rate I've ever measured, quite a change from seeing my resting heart rate in the high 40's for the first six months of this year. 

It's curious how my resting heart rate during my relatively high mileage (a number of 60+ mile weeks) phase of training for the West Highland Way Race compares to now, modest mileage averaging around 40 to 45 miles a week but with faster runs.  It would easy to draw the conclusion that the lower mileage with faster training runs twice a week is better, but I think the truth is probably a bit more complex. 

I'm pretty sure my exceptional figures I'm seeing right now are because I'm building on top of a big aerobic base that the training for and racing 95 miles has provided.  My body has taken a while to get back to on track after the big race but now it has mostly mended it's back stronger and more capable of handling the more intense training as well as with a great foundation of aerobic adapations.

If I can I'd like to maintain these faster workouts after the 10k when I move back to training for doing the two ultras I've signed up for.  I will up my mileage if my body will allow, doing two longer runs each week and changing the faster workouts from developing speed and high end aerobic capacity to maintaining it - essentially I'll drop the tempo distance a little and number of intervals.

With just over a week to go I'm now really looking forward to the Killin 10k, the race itself is going to be tough, the second half is likely to pretty unpleasant I try to hold on to running ~6:20 min/miles right through to the end, but if I can do I'll be so chuffed - I'll have a hat-trick of PB's and set me up very nicely to chasing a PB's at River Ayr Way and Jedburgh Three Peaks races.


  1. I had a very similar experience two years ago, following my first ever 24 hours race. Once I started recovering from that effort, all my values went to higher levels than ever before, the HR was lower, the pace was faster.

    It translated into PBs across the entire spectrum, from 5k to the marathon and beyond the following year.

    Just make sure you don't get yourself injured.

    1. I like the idea of following in your footsteps with getting PB's across the board :-)

      Perhaps these really long ultras that create so much muscle damage and general disturbance from homoeostasis that they stimulate regrowth and adaptation of muscle fibres to a far greater extent than usual consistent training does.

      Steve Mangess has discussed on his blog and in his book how over years of aerobic training muscle fibres can adapt from fast twitch spectrum to the slow twitch thanks the regular damage and repair process. He also has suggested "Going to the Well" workouts where you just occasionally choose to do a workout that you put everything into and deliberately finish up a wreck. I suspect these "Going to the Well" workouts would be much like racing an ultra in terms of really challenging muscle fibres integrity and homoeostasis.

      One has to be careful with this "doing all the damage on one day" and hoping that the after repair process you'll be stronger and fitter, in the past I've found that I'm very susceptible to injury in the week to month after a tough ultra. It's kinda like throwing all your chips up in the air and just letting them fall where they may, sometimes the repair process works perfectly and other times asymmetries develop that result in injuries if one gets back into running too quickly. I suspect part of the problem in this process is that muscle fibres repair really quickly and come back stronger with a couple of weeks, but ligaments and tendons take much longer to rebuild themselves and can potentially be ill equipped to handle the amount of and balance of power that the rebuilt muscles can generate.

      So far, this summer, I seem to have rested enough and got back into running progressively enough to avoid problems. I do have had niggles with my knees since returning but touch wood seems to be settling. During a tempo run this morning over stressed my left ankle on taking a descending bend in the trail at speed, I didn't go over it but got a shooting pain. I'll need to take care with this ankle over the next few days and expect it'll settle down just fine for race day - my 10k race is all on road so no issues with technical trails.

  2. The evidence that most successful elite athletes employ a polarised approach with only a minor proportion of threshold and high intensity running suggests that you probably do not need to add ta great deal of sped work to prepare yourself for a 10K.

    In the latest study of Stephen Seiler’s group ( ) gold medal winning skiers did 92% easy training; 4% threshold; 4% high intensity in the general preparation phase.
    In the specific preparation phase the most appreciable change was a small shift from threshold (3%) to high intensity (5%) and within the high intensity the amount of very high intensity (HR above 94% max) increased from 1.2% to 2.5%.
    Running requires greater resilience of the leg muscles than skiing but I suspect you preparation for WHWR developed your muscle resilience.

    Good luck in your quest for a 10K PB on Saturday

    1. Hi Canute,

      Thanks for the link to the paper, I've had a quick read over and it piqued my interesting in looking at my own training to see how I compared over the years. To do this I had to modify my training spreadsheet to have a section where it totals up the amount of time in each zone and then divides this by the total amount of time in all the zones.

      The results really show how my training has changed over the two years - from lots of training in zone 3 and above, to far more training in the zone 1 and zone 2. In particular the amount on zone 1 running (i.e. recovery runs) has changed dramatically. For the last month I have added back in tempo and alternations runs which has made a big change from the previous six months, so totals are 44% zone 1, 30% zone 2, 21% zone 3, 4% zone 4. My alternation runs do include time in zone 5 but my training logs don't have this data to analyse so some of the zone 3 runs would actually be shifted into zone 5.

      This quick analysis suggests that I've put in too much time in zone 3. I have kept my long runs relatively short (13 miles and less), and my tempo runs relatively long (6 to 9 miles) so this probably goes most of the way to explaining when it's a bit too zone 3 heavy.

      I'll need to write another blog post about tracking the zones that I'm training in - the graph of the changes over the years shows quite dramatically how my training has changed.