So, as training has started again, I am trying to evaluate the extent to which I am improving as a runner. This is at times hard to quantify as I am still quite inconsistent. Therefore building consistency has to remain a major priority in my training. My ideas around this come into a number of main headings:
1) Nutrition - making sure I remember what I have done when I felt good running. This is now a fairly well-established pattern and in honesty, it's not just about the 24 hours before a run and making sure there's enough fluid, carbs and protein taken on board, but is broader than this. I'll go into detail on my routines in a later blog, and of course, the quantity of fuel I need will vary from that of other people. This is all influenced by so many variables, one size certainly would not fit all.
2) Repeated runs - Familiarity can breed contempt as the saying goes, but in many ways, nothing beats running the same route if you are looking at 'landmarks' to guide you with regard to how a run is going. I have 5 or 6 main runs that I repeat, with different goals and strategies. I always have a time in mind, but each one has a landmark after 1km and 2.5km, so I know how I'm going and, more importantly, how I am feeling. This helps - if I'm slower than I should be, I try to put my foot down, if the time is good, it is also a welcome boost.
3) Negative Splits - I have been practising this for around 8 months now, but didn't realise this was a 'proper' training method and not just something I invented to keep me going! In a nutshell, these runs involve running for a set time in one direction, then turning for home and getting back in a quicker time. I did one of these last week, and ran in one direction for 30:30 - turn round and kick for home. Can I make it in less than an hour? Adding a layer of challenge motivates me to push harder and I find these to be great fun. Handy hint - make the first half 'uphill' to make the second half easier!!!
I'm going to talk about my 'easy' 10k that I do now. It's pretty hilly round Ribble Valley and most of my runs have an elevation of at least 120 metres - more in some directions, with 10% and greater gradients a regular feature. I regularly run up into hills as this really helps to build aerobic fitness, but when I do a timed 10k, the route I choose only has an average incline of around 1% on the way there and -1% on the way back. Over 5k, elevation of 87m is not too much, there's very few roads where I need to cross and therefore potentially stop and, as an added bonus, it is broken up into natural shorter sections, so more landmarks and less time to get fed up. I went out to do this last Friday morning - nice and early. A cold, crisp morning - no need for hats, gloves or anything daft like that, but definitely a morning for leggings not just shorts!
Preparation - Wednesday - start adding more Carbohydrate to my diet. Instead of my usual breakfast of Greek Yoghurt and fruit, have a toasted muffin and also a mid morning carbohydrate snack. Apart from this, Wednesday is a normal day. Thursday - back to usual breakfast, but add more granola than I would normally have (about 50g rather than 25g). Normal meals again, then before bed, a 500ml drink - (SIS Go is my preferred one) - this adds electrolytes as well as carbs, so a quick stretch in the morning and I'm away...in theory. Friday morning - up early, coffee, flapjack, about 300ml water and I'm off. 10k is a 2 gel (both isotonic) run - one after about 1.5/2k, the next just after half way. That's plenty - if I've struggled with sleep, I'll chuck a caffeine pill down prior to setting off and that prevents fatigue toward the end.
Stretching. Is it me or is stretching a bit overrated? I see people on videos warming up for longer than the period they exercise for. For me, the muscles I use most need a decent stretch - calves and hamstrings are the main ones. I also try to remember to do some back stretches as well as occasionally I get pans in my lower back when out and about. I'm not fully committed to a major stretch and often do take shortcuts here - but I know I need to do the basics before flying out of the door.
So...the 10k itself. My plan - and this works for me on this route.
1) Get off to a fast start. The first 300m or so is uphill - about a 15m elevation at and average gradient of 6.1% (onthegomap.com is great for this information) so this isn't easy. I can get up there in around a minute, and then I have half a km of graduated downhill, then it flattens out. After 1km I'm back on the flat and always aiming for below 4:30. This is where landmarks are important. The first glance at the watch is outside the Post Office - usually around 4:30 - needs to be nearer to 4:20 for a fast run. The fastest I've done for this is 4:08, but on that run, I ran out of steam towards the end. The reason I want to set off quickly is that I know that once I am into a stride pattern and pace, I find it difficult to shift through the gears, so if my cadence initially is below 170, I'm in for a slow run.
2) Know the pitfalls of the route and overcome with nutrition. The next 2km is slightly uphill - about 50m over the 2k, nothing too tough, but always the slowest in this run. This is where the gels come in. A nice refreshing sweet flavour (Fruit Salad and Blackcurrant are delicious!) gives me a boost as I head into Barrow and if I reach Whiteacre Lane in around 13:30, I know I'm doing ok. From this point until the 5k mark, there are a few ups, a few downs, but again, not too strenuous.
3) Take advantage of the easy sections! On the flatter parts, I can get back down to the 4:40 mark per km - turn and come back, the knowledge of the route helps as I know those 2 slow kms from the beginning become the quicker ones, although rarely as quick as the first one. The last 600k or so involves a longish uphill drag with a great 300m downhill to finish, so the run really is all about muscle memory and me knowing how hard I can push up the hill - and balancing that with ensuring there's enough energy to sprint the last section. This is where I love technology - I can often find the highest cadence in my run is those first 300m and the highest maximum speed is pretty much always the last 300m...down a pretty steep hill in fairness!
4) Don't lose the rhythm! When I am tired, or just lazy, my cadence (steps per minute) can go down to 164/166 and really needs to be 170+. It's about setting a pace and sticking to it, even on hills - just shorten the stride, but maintain the rhythm - slow down once and it's hard to get back up.
So last Friday I tackled this run - I had in my head that my PB was 47:58, so aim was to get as close to 47:00 as possible, but below 47:30 would be great. In truth, I didn't start well and it was only 3km in that I found a consistent rhythm - nonetheless, the times looked ok and as I turned round at the 5k mark, I was just below 24:00, so definitely similar to my best. This is where knowing the route helps as the next 3km when pretty quickly - and as I got home and confirmed the time, the trainers were telling me that the time was 46:52 - over a minute off my best! I was delighted...until I checked and my previous best was 46:58, so while this was a PB, it was only 6 seconds faster than a previous run! Typical! Enjoyed it very much though and starting to think about maybe taking on a longer run soon. Looking at different ways of training and potentially trying to run for longer at a lower pulse rate, I usually work 80% in the peak zone and have been told that to build stamina, this may be something to strip back... let's see.