The answer; run more

Recently I posted a question on Twitter; “I love reading about running and writing on my blog. Any suggestions for what I should write about? Reviews? Training?” and I got a fairly consistent response

I’d like to read about what it takes to go from simply finishing a marathon to consistently smashing them out in sub-3hrs. (@nickersan)

I’d like to read about how to get my legs as strong as my heart & head over 26 miles. (@alphabetbyrne)

Tips on how to bring your PB down from 3.30 to 3 & beyond! (@stuholliday)

So it is clear to me that what people really want to read about is practical advice for running faster. And that is fair enough. That is what I want and am constantly searching for, but I may have forgotten that a little bit when it come to writing on my own blog. Thank you to everyone on Twitter who reminded me. So let’s start with the best bit of advice I was ever given.

A breakthrough

By April 2010 I had run a few marathons under 3 hours. In fact I had done that enough times that I was confident that I could run the distance quicker than 6:52/mile (8:32/km) every time I toed the line at a marathon. But I wasn’t really sure how I had arrived at that point. I was also getting quicker more slowly and each PB was becoming harder to achieve. Nevertheless I was improving and went to Paris to run the marathon and had a breakthrough finishing in 2:43.

On returning to London I went to the London marathon expo with my wife so that she could collect her race pack and I could receive a prize I had won in a competition set by ASICS – the opportunity to meet the members of the ASICS Pro Team of advisers. Actually I was interested in meeting one person – Bud Baldaro. A legend in the world of endurance running, former national marathon coach and a man with more accolades and coaching successes than I could shake a foam-roller at.

Brilliant, if simple, advice

When I got my moment with Bud, I whipped out my note book and asked the burning question: “How do I get quicker at the marathon?” Bud fixed me with a very steely gaze and after quite a long pause said…

Run more

Bud Baldaro is not this cheesy normally

What?!?! That was it? Run more? I felt a bit deflated to be honest. Here I was, sitting opposite the man that I believed had all the answers and he had given me… well, nothing very scientific really. Just “run more”. But actually there was a lot more to this than first met the eye. I didn’t let it rest and I probed further: how much more? what sort of running should I do more of? when? at what intensity? And the answers to these questions revealed that the answer was to add a specific type of training in a controlled and well thought out way.

Bud asked me quite a few questions about what I had been doing up to the point that I had just run my breakthrough time in Paris a week before. From that he was able to give me quite a few pointers and strongly advised me to seek out Nick Anderson and talk to him about coaching. Which I did. But at the heart of what Bud told me, and what Nick has subsequently got me to do, has been the simple premise of running more.

What can you do?

The difference has been made by how I have added miles. And this is the advice I would like to pass on;

add slow miles to start with – there is a high likelihood that if you add more miles at threshold or tempo pace you will breakdown
recover runs are a great way to add miles – I have 2 runs on three days of the week and those runs are easy, recovery runs in the morning before a session in the evening
don’t set a mileage target – chasing a certain number of miles for the week is not sensible. Instead add a little to your current runs and then add in some easy time-based recovery runs (for example 30 minutes three times a week as an additional run on a day when you already have a session in the evening)

Then it is possible to ease up the training – increasing the recovery runs from 30 minutes to 45 minutes. Increasing the speed, intensity and duration of sessions. Increasing the length of long runs (although I don’t base long runs on distance now as I will explain in a future post). But all of this is done very slowly and with plenty of periods of reduced training volume to allow recovery. After all, it’s a marathon not a sprint, right?

I’ll leave the final words to Bud Baldaro. When asked for a piece of advice for advanced runners looking to go one step further, his suggestion was to:

Take yourself out of the comfort zone on a gradual and realistic basis.

I think that the way to do that is to add miles and intensity but in a very gradual way so that it is sustainable. Slowly add recovery runs if you have multiple rest days in a week, so that you are running six days a week. If you are already at that point, think about one or two recovery runs on the morning of a day when you have a session in the evening. If you already run more than six times per week, slowly increase the length of your easy runs. You’ll be amazed at what a difference a little more can make.

The benefits of running with the pack

Don’t tell my wife, but I harbour a dream of going to Kenya for a fortnight to go running. I realise that financial considerations make the chances that I will rather remote. But I will keep that dream in my heart. It might surprise you to know that the reason I want to go to Kenya is not for the benefits of training at altitude. I have previously spent many weeks at a time at altitude in the Alps, Pyrenees and the Andes in Peru. But a fortnight at two and half thousand metres does not a champion marathoner make. No, the reason I want to go to Kenya, is to experience the early morning group runs.

The Kenyan way

Personally I really love the social aspect of training, whether chatting whilst on a long slow run or encouraging others on the track whilst completing a hard session. In Kenya, the runners seem to make a virtue of running in a group, as described by Toby Tanser in his book “More Fire, How to Run the Kenyan Way”:

The chilly pitch-black darkness that spreads around the high-altitude training center like a watchman’s cloak will soon disappear; the sun rises with the speed of a jugglers hand on the equator. There are no street lights in Kamariny, and there is little noise to be heard save one noisy rooster cleaning his throat. Although it is barely 6:00am, a group of well-trained athletes, with hardly an ounce of fat apiece, silently mill around the camp…

No words are spoken, as some athletes are still sleeping in the camp. There is a group of visiting European runners, and they will wait until after breakfast for their run. Another group of runners who usually leave at 7:00am will still be sleeping now. The Kenyans, however, typically all run together on non-specific training days. The leave in a group and then the tempo and distance are worked out literally on the run.

And during his time in east Africa, Adharanand Finn ‘enjoyed’ many group runs, often with elite level athletes. In one of his first despatches in the Guardian he writes about the first time he joined a group on an early morning run in Iten, Kenya

runners suddenly start appearing from everywhere, materialising out of the darkness. Within a few minutes there are around 60 crack Kenyan athletes standing around. Some of them are talking quietly and stretching. They are mostly men, their long, skinny legs wrapped in tights, some wearing woolly hats. I suddenly feel out of my depth. What am I doing?

Without any announcement, they all start running, heading off down the dirt track. The pace is quick without being terrifying, so I tuck myself into the middle of the group. Up ahead the full moon lights the way, while behind us the dawn is creeping across the sky, making it easier to see. The last few stars go out as we hurtle along out of the town and into the African countryside.

You can read more here.

Running groups around the world

All over the world, groups of fantastic runners congregate for training. Nike and the US Olympic team utilise Alberto Salazar’s Oregon Project where Mo Farah has recently stated that he and Galen Rupp do nearly all of their training together.  Liz Yelling has written and spoken about training with a group of top runners in Bournemouth, and I could cite instances all over the world where runners train together to push each others performances to better and higher levels.

As well as knowing the benefits of training in a group anecdotally, I want to know if there is any actual evidence that training in a group is better. Almost every book, article or blog I have read has stated that the majority of the greatest elite distance runners in the world do most if not all of their training in groups.

The coach’s perspective

From a coaching perspective, Nick Anderson, who coaches runners of all levels of ability with RunningWithUs [www.runningwithus.com] says:

The group brings competition, support and fun when athletes are working hard. At the highest level of running, competition as found in group sessions is crucial.

Similarly, in last weeks Marathon Talk podcast, the new superstar of British marathon running, Scott Overall, talked about the importance of training with a partner. Of course at his speed it is difficult to find enough people fast enough to keep up with him to make up a ‘group’!

Given the ubiquity of training in groups and the perceived benefit, I wondered if there was any scientific evidence to accompany everything I intuitively know? Well, Stuart Holliday, from The Focused Mind, gave me valuable information for this piece, starting with some background on Norman Triplett, the psychologist who in 1892 researched what eventually became known as Social Facilitation (you can read more about that here).

Psychology and Social Facilitation

 

Triplett found that cyclists had faster race times in the presence of other cyclists. Triplett theorized that the faster times were due to the effect of the members of the group increasing each other’s level of competition. Further research in other sporting situations confirmed to Triplett that the presence of others increased individuals’ performance levels. Findings across a number of different sports suggested that when individuals perform a familiar task, the presence of others leads to a performance enhancement. When individuals perform an unfamiliar task in a group, the opposite has been shown to be true.

I personally think that in the case of running, it would be extremely rare for a runner to find their competition performance deteriorating due to the presence of others – after all how many marathoners talk about the immense boost they receive from crowds by the sides of the roads in big city marathons? However, if a new runner does join an experienced group for a track session, it can be extremely daunting.

Stuart goes on to say that rather than worrying about how one performs in relation to others, the other runners in the group should be used as a gauge. Stuart advises runners to not feel too downhearted if on your first few sessions you feel like you’ve been left behind. Unless you use a watch, what you won’t have noticed is that your lap times get quicker week by week.

Holliday offered further advice when he told me “Stick with the weekly track sessions with others. You will find yourself getting faster and be able to sustain consistent speed for longer periods. But make sure you compare your performance against your previous efforts and not against others! As I’ve found training with some Kenyan and leading British runners, it can be a fruitless task training with certain individuals! Equally, on those long training runs, having a running buddy or two can keep the spirits up as the legs ache after 2 hours.”

Personal experience

Personally I’ve benefitted enormously by running with others on my personal running journey. I’ve been encouraged and supported and can feel and see the improvement in the training cycles leading up to big races, such as the London marathon this year or 2010’s Florence marathon. And a final word from Stuart Holliday really emphasises the value of running in a group: “Don’t forget its a two way street though. Even the fastest runners appreciate a word of encouragement and such help in training can mean the difference between getting or missing a PB in the race situation.”

I believe (and now have the evidence of well established research) that running in a group is really beneficial. I feel a definite performance boost from cruising along in a group on a long run or blasting round the track in a speed session with others. Running in a group provides an incentive and encouragement that plodding along on my own will never do. If you don’t believe me, when I’m back from Rift Valley I’ll tell you all about the benefits on a group run! Just don’t tell my wife…

The Saucony minimalist range; Kinvara2, Mirage and Hattori

In running terms minimalism is the new black. Everyone is talking about it and many, many runners are now trying out footwear with less and less… well, less everything really. From standard footwear that is being de-engineered to have fewer bells-and-whistles to the thinnest, lightest foot-coverings (I hesitate to call things like the Vibram FiveFinger a shoe) there is a noticeable trend towards less.

And where the athlete goes, the manufacturers and retailers follow (or is it the case that the consumer is led by the manufacturers? In this case I don’t think that the trend is manufacturer-led, after all minimalist shoes don’t cost as much as mainstream ones and that is counter-intuitive for the manufacturers and retailers, surely?) In the case of Saucony, in what appears to be a typically smooth transition, a small range of three shoes has been launched to appeal to the new market of runners looking for more minimalist shoes that are not just used for racing.

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to see the range of shoes up-close (although one of the range has been on my feet for quite a few months – more on that in a minute), meet Spencer White, the director of the Saucony Human Performance & Innovation Lab in Boston and the brains behind the development of the range, and meet an exponent of minimalist or indeed no, footwear – Caballo Blanco, the star of Chris McDougall’s book Born to Run (which you can read about here).

The range that Saucony have produced covers a gamut of requirements. At one end there is the Mirage, with the Kinvara sitting in the middle and the Hattori at what we will call the extreme end of the scale.

The Mirage

In my opinion the Mirage is a great shoe. This is the shoe that I have been running in for a few months now, since Toby at Alton Sports suggested I try a pair. I must admit that my first reactions on seeing them were ‘Wow! They’re white!’ and then a concern about the splayed sole that looked very wide. However from slipping them on for the first time, I loved them. They are the shoe that I most often reach for because there is some cushioning but that is combined with a lightness (only 252g) that my other, more regular high-mileage trainers don’t offer. The ‘supportive midfoot arc’ has not interfered at all with my running style and indeed until the presentation by Spencer at the Saucony event, I didn’t know it was even there, which is great for a neutral runner like me, but might suggest that the shoes are not ideal for someone used to a large degree of stability in their shoes. As far as the rest of the shoe is concerned, I found the upper to be really comfortable and breathable. And from a durability perspective, so far, with probably around 200 miles of use, they are in great shape (albeit a little less white!)

The Kinvara2

The Kinvara2 is a much newer shoe for me; I only got my hands on a pair earlier this week. However my first impression is that I am going to like the Kinvara2 even more than the Mirage. From a looks perspective, the shoe is very similar to the Mirage (still very, very white!) but slipping the shoe on, there is a noticeable difference in the feel. The Kinvara2 and the Mirage are supposed to have the same 4mm heel drop, but the Kinavara2 feels more low-profile. The upper is even more flexible than the Mirage and feels really well made with very few irritating stitched areas or rough bits to worry my delicate little feet. At the back of the shoe there really isn’t a heel counter worth the name, which to my mind is a good thing. The shoe is very light – only 218g – with a very light, cushioned sole incorporating diamond-shaped rubber pads to aid traction and durability. I’ll update this review after a few hundred miles in the Kinvara2, but from my early impressions I think this will be one of my favourite shoes for a wide range of sessions; from short easy runs, quick threshold and tempo sessions to races from the half marathon distance upwards. As my coach Nick Anderson* said, the new Saucony range allows runners to use a lightweight shoe most of the time and without the pressure to run at full tilt, as used to be the case with racing flats.

The Hattori

Then finally there is the Hattori… which I haven’t tried. OK, sorry for getting you to read this far on false pretences but really – the Hattori is a crazily minimalist shoe. It is like a sock welded onto a thin, flat piece of rubber, almost with the profile of a piece of car tyre. Wait a minute – isn’t that what the Raramuri wear when they are running! And as for weight, a pair tips the scales at 125g, which is about the same as a Weetabix.

Spencer at Saucony was at pains to point out that while the Kinvara2 and Mirage have minimalist qualities they are intended for runners who want to run most of the time in a light-weight, low-profile shoe, the Hattori is a training tool. Intended as something that the runner learns to run in and limited to occasional use, over shorter distances and on forgiving surfaces (at least at first), the Hattori is not the shoe that Saucony envisage many runners will pull on for anything other than a few special occasions. For me, I think that the almost total lack of cushioning and the zero heel drop, means that I would have to spend quite a while getting used to the Hattori and that is time that I would rather dedicate to more running or strength and conditioning work. However the Hattori does finish off Saucony’s minimalist range nicely and I know from the reactions I have seen at the London marathon expo and other events where the Hattori has been on show, that there are a lot of people ready to make the leap to true minimalism.

My thoughts on Saucony’s minimalist range are pretty positive overall. I think they have created a small range of shoes that would allow someone to progress (or should that be regress – I don’t know) from ‘normal’ running shoes, to total minimalism step by step. However for me the real benefit in the range is that with the Kinvara2 and the Mirage there are now really light shoes that are a joy to run in and which afford a degree of comfort that racing flats don’t. I’m sure I’ll be enjoying these two for the foreseeable future.

 

*disclaimer: Nick’s company RunningWithUs provides training advice and consultation to Saucony. Personally I am not in any way linked to Saucony (indeed I rocked up to their event wearing Nike trainers and a Brooks t-shirt – that made me popular I can tell you!)

 

Ice, ice baby!

I have been running for around 6 years now and I have to admit that I have never been a fan of ice-baths. I suppose that in an attempt to avoid the unpleasantness of immersing myself in cold water, I imagined that they were only for elite athletes or only for injured athletes… of injured elite athletes. Basically I was too chicken!

Last year in March I went on a week long training camp to the Algarve with my coach, Nick Anderson, and a group of the runners he coaches. You can read about the week here. It was a great week of training with so many things that I would incorporate into my training if life and work didn’t get in the way so regularly – at least 8 hours sleep every night, training with a group of totally positive people, spending the day between two runs resting by the pool, hydrating and fuelling well, running off-road for most of the easy runs… the list goes on and on.
And there was something else; after every run we would arrive back at the hotel and all wade straight into the unheated outdoor pool.

Now I’ll admit that there is a world of difference between an unheated swimming pool and a proper ice-bath, but I think all of us on the camp realised the benefits of cooling our legs down immediately post-run. It is a habit that I have tried to resurrect in the last couple of weeks. But being the curious type I decided to try to understand what the benefits are and how plunging into cold water helps us as runners.

The theory

The basic theory is that by immersing oneself in cold water – ideally between 12 and 15ºC – blood vessels are constricted which reduces blood flow, swelling and tissue damage. There is also talk of an additional benefit once one gets out of the water, which is that the re-warmed muscles increase bloodflow post ice-bath and this helps “return the byproducts of cellular breakdown to the lymph system for efficient recycling by the body” (according to Nikki Kimball, a physical therapist in Bozeman, Montana, who was named USATF’s Ultrarunner of the Year in 2004, 2006, and 2007).

This is just the tip of the iceberg (I know, that was terrible… sorry) as far as cooling is concerned. The latest technology, adopted by those at the cutting edge of training methods like Alberto Salazar at Nike’s Oregon Project, is the cryosauna; an upright tube that athletes climb into and which is filled with liquid nitrogen which cools the athlete’s skin with temperatures as low as minus 170 degrees Celsius. Click here for a great interview by Steve Cram interviewing Mo Farah in a cryosauna . Quite an amazing bit of kit and dangerous if mis-used; only recently the US sprinter Justin Gatlin suffered mild frostbite from climbing into a cryosauna with wet socks on. Ouch!

The debate

There is a huge amount of debate in the running world about the potential benefits of ice-baths with many runners pointing out that there is very little, if any, scientific evidence for ice-baths delivering any advantage at all. Indeed a study published in 2007 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine concludes with this statement: “The protocol of ice-water immersion used in this study was ineffectual in minimising markers of DOMS in untrained individuals. This study challenges the wide use of this intervention as a recovery strategy by athletes. “ (Effect of cold water immersion on repeated cycling performance and limb blood flow Br. J. Sports. Med. 2011;45:825-829)

However there are other studies that take the contrary view, in particular a study by the French Ministry of Sports which concludes by stating that “Overall, the results indicated that the WBC [specific whole body cryotherapy] was effective in reducing the inflammatory process. These results may be explained by vasoconstriction at muscular level, and both the decrease in cytokines activity pro-inflammatory, and increase in cytokines anti-inflammatory.” (Time-Course of Changes in Inflammatory Response after Whole-Body Cryotherapy Multi Exposures following Severe Exercise. Source, Research Department, National Institute of Sport, Expertise and Performance (INSEP), Paris, France.)

To ice, or not to ice?

So where do we go from here? Well, I think that the scientists will continue to debate the issue for a while yet. For me, I take a slightly less scientific view. I believe that cooling my legs helps me recover from strenuous sessions and long runs more effectively. I also think that elite athletes like Mo Farah and Paula Radcliffe would not use ice-baths and cryosaunas if they didn’t have a positive effect.

But more than anything I think that it may just be that leaping into a cold bath makes us feel like serious runners who are prepared to endure discomfort for the sake of improving our results and that adds immeasurably to the psychological strength we need to go hard in those sessions or on race day. I am a strong believer in the theory that one reason for the east African dominance in middle and long distance races (though not by any means the only explanation) is the hardship that the runners there know, which makes running feel like an easy option. That may also explain the dominance of other countries in the past, where strong economies now mean that few endure the sort of hardships that were common even in the UK a generation or two ago. Who knows, but for now I’ll be maintaining my ice-bath routine and secretly hoping there is a definitive study that says they do no good!

And I will leave the last word to David Terry, M.D., an ultrarunner who has finished the Western States 100 and the Wasatch Front 100, 10 consecutive times. “Ice baths don’t only suppress inflammation, but help to flush harmful metabolic debris out of your muscles” and with his record of ultra running, if he says it, it must be true!

The long slow run… or is it?

I am not sure when I first heard about the long slow run (though I suspect it was from my best friend who gave up the party lifestyle that we both were involved in and started running about a year before I followed suit), but as I was always clear that my focus was going to be on longer distances – I was nearly 30 by the time I started running, so sprinting was never likely to be on the cards! – the long slow run entered my vocabulary very early on. Indeed it seems as though there isn’t an endurance runner in the world who hasn’t heard of, and more importantly completed, many long slow runs in their build-up to their races.

However since I started my coach, Nick Anderson from RunningWithUs, has introduced me to the structured long run. What do I mean by that? Well it is like my friend Dan, a former contestant on Master Chef once said; you can serve a cheese plate with some bits of cheese on it, or you can create an event at the end of the meal with individual cheese dishes created by the chef. The long run can be simply time on the feet, run at an even pace, or it can be the pinnacle of your training, simulating racing effort and training the body for the rigours of racing, rather than teaching the body to plod along for hours on end.

I read a good discussion on this subject by the coaching legend Greg McMillan in Running Times (you can read the article here) and was reminded of it by talking to some friends at RunDemCrew who are training for the 2011 Chicago marathon. These runners have been given training plans and in some cases there are questions about the sessions they are doing and why they are in their training programme. Questions that I have attempted to answer. And one of the most common questions is around the long run and how it should be approached.

When I first started out on my running journey, I viewed the long run as simply a way to ensure that I would get round the race, whatever the distance happened to be. I believed that in training it was important to ‘do the distance’ so for my first few half marathons I ran at least 11 miles a few times in training (in fact for my second half marathon I remember running the full 13.1 miles in training to ensure I was ready!), for marathons I made sure I had run at least 22 miles more than twice and for my 50 mile ultras, I ran far enough in training that I knew that the last ‘bit’ would be manageable.

However as I have read and learned more about training and had more input from Nick, I have come to recognise that there should be more to the long run than simply bashing out miles and miles and miles. There are two main aspects to this, in my opinion, which are as follows;

1) the long run is one of the best opportunities we have to analyse how our training is going, second only to tune-up races. However that analysis is only really valuable if the run has some relevance to what we are going on to do. As serious runners, we are looking to run at the limit of our ability and exploit enhanced fitness to achieve better times. This suggests to me that a very long, very slow run is not going to provide much useful feedback. However, I would also suggest that it is not really sensible to undertake extended runs at race pace because…

2) … recovery is crucial. I run 9 times per week. There is no point me going out for a 20 mile run at race pace on a Sunday and then thinking that I will be running on Monday, doing a double day with a track session on Tuesday and a hill session on Thursday and so on. The long race pace run will take too much out of me.

So I now advocate the structured long run. A favourite of mine that Nick sets me is 50/50/50 which is 50 minutes easy, 50 minutes steady and 50 minutes at race pace (the structure here is key, so 30/30/30 is equally relevant if you are not used to such a strenuous session or you are training for a half marathon for example). Another is a progressive run, where the pace starts off gently and increases throughout the run up to race pace for the final few miles. Or another version I like is a run where the middle section is at race pace – say 120 minutes with the middle 60 at race pace.

Sessions like this are tough, but they also offer a chance to check progress without the brutality of an extended period at race pace. They also remind the body of what will be required ‘on the day’ and have the effect of getting different energy systems working. So I commend them to you – the long run might seem like the staple of the marathon runner’s training diet, but it need not be a boring cheese plate… you could really make it the crowning glory of your training week.

Running With The Legends – a book for all runners

Last year I went away with a group of the athletes that are coached by my coach Nick Anderson and his colleagues at RunningWithUs, for a week’s warm weather training in Portugal. You can read about the week here.

The week was wonderful for a whole host of reasons – great weather, double days every day and plenty of opportunities to rest, a brilliant training group, good food – the list goes on. And in amongst all that, I enjoyed the opportunity to be a bit of a running geek. Quite a bit of time was spent with fellow runners sharing ideas and tips and experiences.

During one afternoon, as a group of us relaxed by the pool between sessions, the subject of favourite books came up and a few of the group mentioned a book called Running With The Legends. The consensus was that it was rather an inspiring tome.

So on my return I ordered a copy and eagerly started it on the train to work on the morning it arrived. It was not a disappointment.

The format is simple; 21 chapters, each one dedicated to a different runner. The book features… erm… legends of running such as Emil Zatopek, Rosa Mota, Robert de Castella, Steve Jones and Bill Rogers amongst others. And whilst it would appear that different chapters have come from different sources, based on the way the styles of the chapters varies, the basics are all the same – a short biography including how the featured athlete got started, an examination of their career and some discussion of their career highlights and a glimpse into the athlete’s training.

And yet despite the similarities of the chapters in terms of format and the obvious parallels between the runners of dedication and sacrifice necessary to become a legend of running, the thing that struck me reading this book was the diversity that the featured runners exhibit. The range of backgrounds and styles and even physical characteristics of the runners is remarkable and means that it is quite legitimate to question whether there is an ideal physical shape or ideal background for an endurance runner.

But most of all, I think that Running With The Legends is a great history of modern distance running seen through the lens of the people who were at the forefront of the sport. It is a really inspiring book and provides an easy to read insight into the lives of some of the greatest runners who have ever lived. For anyone interested in the history of long distance running and who are interested in developing a mindset that will allow them to get the most out of their running, I cannot recommend Running With The Legends enough.

Double or quits?

Recently I came across an article by Duncan Larkin on the Running Times website questioning the benefits of double days and instead singing the praises of only running once a day – you can read it here. Now many runners, me included, believe that the best way to increase mileage – which results in weight loss, improved running efficiency, capilliary growth, increased cardio-vascular efficiency, etc – is to run twice-a-day as many days as possible. Indeed I know that before Ryan Hall met Matt Dixon he was sometimes running three times per day. One of the things that Matt suggested to Ryan is that he reduced the number of runs he was doing. OK so I know that is an extreme example, but the article by Larkin describes the incredible results of Yuki Kawauchi, who became the first Japanese runner to cross the finish line at the 2011 Tokyo Marathon in 2:08:37. Kawauchi works full time and can only manage 1 run per day.

Generally my weekly programme is;

Monday – one run
Tuesday – double day: easy run and then session
Wednesday – one longer run
Thursday – double day: easy run and then session
Friday – rest day
Saturday – double day
Sunday – long run

However Larkin’s article quotes Marathon Performance Training Group’s elite coach Brad Hudson, who says that the key is to run for more than 80 minutes, which triggers certain physiological changes that are ideal for endurance athletes and especially marathon runners.

So what to do? I love my long and mid-length runs and would happily drop a 30 minute recovery run in order to fit in at least one more run of over 80 minutes. But then that could easily be the route to injury if the increased mileage is not managed carefully. Actually I suspect that my coach will increase my mileage as we approach the Seville marathon in February and that will probably mean at least two 80+ minute runs per week, so I probably don’t need to worry. But for those of you considering double days but wondering how to fit them in, how about adding to one of your existing runs and making that a mid-length run. Who knows… maybe 2:08:37 could be on the cards!

The wonders of warm weather and warm personalities

This week I ‘ave been mostly… running with a group of 30 people in the Algrave, in sunny Portugal. The trip was suggested by my coach, Nick Anderson, as an opportunity for a group of the runners he coaches to get together, have a week of running in the warmth of the Mediterranean and talk about running with Nick, Phoebe Thomas (the other half of RunningWithUs) and Bud Baldaro, a guru of endurance running and the man who introduced me to Nick Anderson.

I can now reveal that I was a little nervous about going. I feared, more than anything, that the week would turn into an adrenaline-fest with everyone trying to run the legs of everyone else and prove that they are ‘the man’! The reality is that I have never met such a wonderful bunch of open-minded, dedicated and thoughtful people in all my life. Apart from a couple of very minor blips the entire week was awash with support, humour, intelligence and a community spirit. And the running, while a little bit repetitive, was great.

The highlights for me were (in no particular order);

• recovery runs, run at 9 min/mile to start and which really genuinely ended with me feeling better than when I started
• two long runs where in the heat and on a hilly loop, I nailed 22 and 14 miles at sub-6 min/mile for extended sections
• two track sessions and a 6km time-trial (on the same cross country course where the recent euro-cross was run) in which I held my own and ran strongly
• running with people like Richard Gregory, Steve Scullion, Dionne Alan and Clayton Payne who are all superb runners and who gave me encourgement as well as a vest to chase
• having time to sit and talk to Nick and Bud about running and training in general and learning more about the sport I love
• discussing the next 12 months’ running with Nick (which was quite an interesting discussion – more on that soon!)
• taking the time to rest and relax between runs
• nailing 3 core and strength and conditioning sessions with Phoebe
• celebrating my birthday with my new found friends (but sadly not with Julie, which no amount of cake and “Happy Birthday To You” could make up for)

The list goes on and on. But the over-riding thing for me from the whole week, is the fact that I was surrounded almost entirely by positive people. The vibe was amazing and everyone was inspirational. I have really come home buzzing with excitement and really ready, both physically and psychologically, for the challenge ahead…. so here is to Portugal –

Running Shoes London – more than a shop

This is an unabashed plug. I will take just a moment to say that this is unsolicited and in no way have I been financially incentivised to write this. But whether you believe that or not is up to you and I don’t really care – I had a really wonderful experience in a shop (which almost never happens to me and you’ll see why if you keep reading) and I want to ‘big up’ the people behind Running Shoes London.

The first time I went to Running Shoes London was their first or second day of trading and I had been given a flyer or seen an advert or something offering a free pair of socks or a free t-shirt or something like that with every pair of shoes. Unfortunately when I arrived, I got there before the ASICS rep had been in so the shoes I was after were not available. And indeed aside from the lack of ASICS, the shop was pretty sparsely stocked. I left without the shoes (or the free gift). I haven’t been back since and that is probably 3 years or more.

The reason I haven’t been back is that in general I hate shopping. That was not always the case – in the days before I discovered running, I treated shopping like a social event, hanging out in Selfridges G&T bar after a busy afternoon destroying my credit rating.

Since those dark and depressing days I have completed many u-turns in my life and my old love of shopping is one of the things I now regret having done and vow to never get into again. This is partly due to my distaste for wasting money in general and also partly because I hate having limited choice, offered by mindless assistants in hot, noisy and crowded shops.

However a couple of weeks ago two converging factors saw me making my way, once again, to Paddington Basin to Running Shoes London – I wanted to buy a sportswear specific detergent to battle the ever present permastink that so many of my t-shirts suffer from and I was going away to the Forest of Dean on a training weekend where I would need gels and recovery drinks that I didn’t have time to order online.

The two chaps at Running Shoes London were super-friendly, helpful and informative to everyone I saw them deal with. The owner knew me and my recent time from Florence (I still don’t know how on earth he knew that – it’s not anywhere near the sort of time I would expect people to know) and knew my coach, Nick at Running With Us. We talked about the surge in interest in running that came about thanks to the economic crisis, the state of specialist retailing and innovations in running footwear and how to achieve the right balance of nutrition whilst training and working. Indeed I spent one of the most pleasant lunch hours I can remember in there as well as getting all the stuff I wanted.

Indeed the whole experience was so positive that I want to share my thoughts; there are very few good, independent retailers left – especially since the recent acquisition of Runners Need by Snow and Rock – and the big chains are simply transactional places I go to when there is a sale on to try to pick up a bargain, not somewhere I go to get interesting gossip from the running scene. There are very few shop owners and assistants who have the sort of experience, qualifications and enthusiasm that the guys I met in Running Shoes London have. There are very few places with the diversity of stock and range of shoes that they have in Paddington. And if we don’t support retailers like Running Shoes London, there will be even less of these places. So if you are in the area or indeed if you are curious and have the time to make a trip, go and see Running Shoes London and ask the staff there an interesting question – I assure you, you will leave with more than just a bag of new kit.

Brooks Racer ST5 – the future’s bright, the future’s orange.

Through my association with Ransacker I was recently invited to a party (erm, well it was called a party, which was unlike any party I’ve ever been to) to view the new products being launched to the running community by Brooks.

It was a really interesting evening and the Brooks team in the UK are really lovely people – knowledgeable and enthusiastic. And Brooks produce a very wide range of products to cater for all types of runner. However the thing that caught my eye was the Racer ST5.

Having long been a fan of the ASICS Tarther, I don’t really feel the need to try to find an out-and-out racing shoe, but what I was lacking was a middle ground between my workhorse Mizuno WaveRiders which I use for everything and the Tarthers, which I reserve exclusively for racing. I hoped the Brooks ST5 would fill the void.

The shoes arrived from Brooks this morning. I immediately pulled them on (breaking the tag at the heel with the first tug, but they were free so I’ve little cause to complain!) and stomped round the flat for an hour. I appreciated the wide toe-box, snug heel, flat profile and light weight. These, I thought, could be interesting…

So tonight I ran home from work in them. 45 minutes easy is what Nick, my coach from runningwithus, has suggested and that seemed like the perfect opportunity to try these ‘racer-trainers’ out. The run home was lovely. The shoes are as comfortable as any I have tried. They provided great grip on the slimy wet pavements through central London and the things I had liked when I tried them at home all remained – roomy forefoot, snug heel, low profile and super light weight for a trainer with quite a bit of cushioning. So you can tell, I am pretty delighted with the ST5s.

And then the story gets better.

What I haven’t mentioned yet is that the Brooks ST5 incorporates a propriatory material in the sole called BioMoGo – the world’s first biodegradable midsole (unless you count the sandals worn by the likes of the Tarahumara of course – they’re pretty biodegradable). The fact that some of the technology from Brooks Green Silence is filtering through to their other shoes is a reason to jump for joy. The fact that I seem to have found a shoe that fits between my super-light racers and my heavy protective every day shoes, that happens to give a shit about the planet is a reason to run and jump for joy. So thanks, Brooks, you’ve made a really lovely shoe and I reckon I’ll be giving them an outing at the Great Bentley half marathon in 10 days. I’ll report on how me and my new orange movers get on.