Some General Athletic Musings

Here I will try to pull together various ideas and questions regarding training, technique, nutrition and any other things I have been asked about over the past few years.

Running technique

The most common question I seem to be asked is: How should I run? Should I land on my toes? Heel striking is just a product of hugely soled modern running shoes, isn’t it?

Who knows. There is enough material out there on this subject to fill a library, so for what it’s worth here are my thoughts.

  1. Firstly, everyone runs differently. I wouldn’t tinker with anything drastically, or make any huge changes suddenly. I believe you can train yourself for anything, but it will take time if you want to change your technique from heel striking to fore foot landing, without injury, as it will take time for your muscles and tendons to adjust.
  2. Secondly, I believe there to be a natural transition from heel striking to fore foot landing as your speed increases. Everyone walks and lands on their heels; and everyone sprints and lands on their toes. People looks at Farah and Gebresselasie and says: “Look, they’re running on their toes! I should do that too!” Yes, potentially. But they are running at around 24km/h. For the layman out there that is, for all intents and purposes, a sprint. As you get fitter and faster, I believe you will make a natural transition from heel to mid to fore, so don’t worry about it too much early doors, and just focus on getting out there and getting fit, which leads me on to …
  3. Thirdly, and this is pretty much the above again, your form will change as you get better. As your muscles adapt, get stronger and more efficient, your form will change. How you run now will not be how you run in the future, so don’t worry about making massive changes right at the start. Far better to get in shape, and then make the changes after your know what’s what.

And that basically sums up my advice regarding running technique, get out there and run because you won’t know what your technique is until you settle into it. Get used to it. Allow your form and posture to naturally evolve, and then make some small changes if necessary, but don’t really worry too much about it. After all, Michael Johnson looked bizarre when he ran, and he set world records that lasted for years.

Training

I believe strongly in the principle that “hard work will beat talent when talent fails to work hard”. The more and more I do, the more I realise that results are largely down to how much work you put in. Yes, Mo Farah and the Brownlees will be genetically pretty gifted and predisposed to being ridiculous runners (and swimmers and cyclists in the Brownlees case), but they also work phenomenally hard at it. 35-40 hours of intense exercise per week is a lot and the vast majority of people would not be able to deal with it without burning out.

People often say: you should take 6 months to a year out of work, focus hard on training and become an elite athlete. Obviously, this would be great, but 6 months to a year would be nowhere near enough time. Training to become an elite athlete takes years of dedication and requires slowly building up the training load over time. For example, I have just looked back over my Strava history and can see the following:

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Aside from having just realised that I do a fairly pitiful amount of training, it is clear that at least there has been an upward trend over the past few years  (I think I also tend to go more for the quick, high-intensity stuff rather than slow volume given my time constraints, hence the reduced hours). However, knowing how I felt in previous years, I can say I would not have been able to deal with 2016’s training had I been doing it in 2014. It has taken a gradual increase in the training load over the past 3 years in order to be able to deal with the current schedule. And this can be extended forwards. Should I ever want to compete at the top level, aging aside, I would need to train at roughly the same volume and intensity as those guys do, but there is no way I could deal with that much at the moment. Half of training is training yourself to be able to cope with the future training.

Burning out or overtraining

Having mentioned it already, it is worth touching on this. Burning out from over-training is pretty horrible, but you don’t really realise what is going on at the time. I think I did it in 2015, having just recovered from surgery and being overly keen to get back on the road again.

In 2014 I started  to take everything a bit more seriously and having read a few blogs, I devised a rudimentary training schedule to follow. One of the principles I had read was regarding ‘rest weeks’ and I decided to try it. 3 weeks intensive, 1 week easy was the plan, and I stuck to it pretty well in 2014 and was fine up until I was hit by a car and needed shoulder surgery.

However, in 2015 I was not so sensible. Straight back into it and I trained, pretty much without break, from January until early April, finishing off with a Sexy Walrus training weekend in the Cotswolds. This was a pretty heavy weekend by itself, so on top of the rest of it, I eventually crashed. I had a few days off, but still felt lethargic. I tried a few gentle recovery runs, but the legs felt like lead. I had a race 10 days later, Eton Dorney, and felt absolutely awful, the worst I have ever felt. After that I had a full week off, no exercise at all, in order to try and recover, but given that I had Dambuster qualification race coming up in 3 weeks, I had limited time to recover. All I could do was try to reduce the load, enough to recover but still enough to stay sharp. It was a very fine balance, and I managed to qualify in Q3 so I suppose it went alright, but I was very close to the edge. To be honest that whole season was a battle to recover from the earlier burn out, and was still feeling the effects in Chicago.

2016 I learnt my lesson. Take the time to recover. Be more sensible with what you do and when. And so far it has been great! Lisbon and the Ironman were both races I was very happy with, so clearly training intelligently has helped. I am keen to see improved results continuing with this philosophy in future years.

Volume

Saying that however ... the plan for 2017 is volume. Having spoken to a few people regarding training I realise that I do a lot of intensity, but not much volume. I have heard from several different sources the phrases “junk miles”, “thresholds” and the idea that there are certain tipping points that can lead to a tumbling in times. “Builing a base” is another common phrase, and this year I intend to build a decent base and see if that helps. A relative who was a phenomenal runner (female – 32 minute 10km), often spoke about how her times never improved linearly but rather came down in fits and spurts, which seems to ring true now given what I’ve heard.

Eating

This is probably the thing I do worst, but have heard that it can make the most difference. 2016 I tried to make some changes, and cut out unnecessary sugars and started to think about recovery foods. I don’t believe in the protein shake marketing industry (in a nutshell, your body can only uptake a certain amount of protein in a certain time frame, so I don’t believe downing a huge amount of protein in 5 minutes will help) so basically this amounted to drinking a chocolate milkshake after heavy sessions. That was it. I noticed no difference really but to be honest it is probably because I am not taking it seriously enough. Although I have always eaten relatively well, so perhaps I am already okay. Who knows. I never seem to put on any weight regardless of how much I train, or what I eat, so maybe it is just me!

That is probably it for now! Feel free to comment if you have any questions.

 

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