All training is (not) equal

I am a believer in training programmes. That is mainly because I know that I am quite a lazy person and unless I have a training programme, I will often struggle to get out and run, especially for the tougher sessions in the week. That is why, once I started trying to find out how good a runner I could be, I began to list what I wanted to do in a week and try to stick to that.

Early marathon training schedules

Initially I had training schedules cobbled together from what I could find online, along with a dash of ‘what I can achieve considering all the other things I want / have to do in my day-to-day life’ and a splash of advice from runners that I got to know.

Then I started reading and building training schedules from books – in particular I used The Competitive Runners Handbook by Bob Glover and Shelly-Lynn Florence Glover, Advanced Marathoning by Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglass and The Lore of Running by Tim Noakes. I then added to that my growing personal experiences of running marathons.

Eventually I had a bit of a breakthrough at the Paris Marathon 2010 with 2:43:55 – the first of my peer group at my club the Mornington Chasers to run faster than 2hrs 45min and get the UKA Championship Start qualifying time.

Coaching – the answer to improving

But I was a bit stuck then and didn’t know how to improve further. That is when I met my coach Nick Anderson from RunningWithUs and he started providing my training. An email every fortnight, with clear instructions of what to do every day of the week. Simple.

The only challenge with having training provided by a coach (or indeed from the web or a book) is that there is a degree of inflexibility. To my mind the schedule that is provided is, by its very nature, the optimum training to hit the target you have set for yourself. So any deviation from that schedule, means that you are not training at the optimum level. If you don’t believe that, then you are following the wrong programme or training with the wrong coach.

Not following the programme

This is why recently I have been wrestling with myself. Since launching my business, freestak, with my wife Julie, there has been less time to train. Obviously I managed up to the London marathon, but since then training has not been consistent.

Additionally I have been doing things that would not fit into the training that Nick sends – 7 hour runs with Julie around the mountains in Chamonix, 2 hour pre-breakfast runs in the Alps, a 24-hour relay race where I ran 4 x 10km laps cross country, half of it in the dark, during a storm and through knee-deep mud over a 24 hour period during which I slept for less than 2 hours.

But is that all bad?

Last night, I attempted a club run at the Mornington Chasers. My legs were toast after the 24 hour race two days previously and I had a deep ache in the middle of my right hamstring. I voiced my concern that what I had been doing recently – essentially lots of very long, very slow runs in tough conditions – meant that I had lost the fitness required to run a decent marathon, as I struggled to keep up with the group. In response a friend and training partner said

Well it is all good training and you’ll get great strength benefits from the weekend’s race as well as altitude benefits from all the running in the Alps

Is all training, good training?

So is he right? Is all running good training? I can’t imagine that if Mo Farah trained like Usain Bolt or visa versa, that would do them much good for their respective events.  But for the rest of us, maybe it doesn’t matter so much?

If I am honest, I think that specificity becomes more and more important the closer you get to your absolute limit. If you are just starting out, then I believe that all running – indeed almost all exercise – is going to be beneficial.

But after my summer of fun, I don’t feel as though 26.2 miles at faster than 6 min/mile – which is what I would need to run to PB again – is going to be easy and climbing the slippery pole back to the shape I think I need to be in, will be a pretty stiff challenge.

But at least I still have my training schedules, thanks to Nick. So I am going to simply download them every two weeks and tick off the runs, one by one. Who knows, maybe I have laid down the foundations for a great 10 weeks of training up to the Frankfurt marathon… only time will tell I guess.

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