Sunday, 10 February 2008

Pain Training

I know that while I’m a relative newbie to running, motiviation can be provided in the form of regular PB's. I'm certainly in this period at the moment but know that the day will come, not too far away, that the ubiquitous PB’s will become that much more elusive and will eventually be the subject of fond memories. At least I can look forward then to age related PB’s as I move into the 5 year age categories until the sun sets on my life or until I have a revelation, give up running and find some other all consuming pastime. What has this to do with “pain training” you may well ask. Well according to Matt Fitzgerald in “Brain Training for Runners” we need to practice suffering so that we can habituate ourselves to fatigue-related discomfort so that our brain is less likely to conclude that we are about to die and tell our systems to slow down (desensitizing your brain). The secret to this is to experience suffering and survive it. Tune-up races are ideal for this and if the pain is experienced in sufficient quantities and intensities such races may give you a PB. With this in mind I headed off this morning to run the local Business Houses ESB 5k race at Mahon. 5k’s give me more pain than the longer distances as the pain starts from the off. While I am still a month away from my scheduled 5k race in my marathon training program I thought I’d give this a shot (a before and after look at the impact of the next months training – famous last words). The race is primarily run on a 6’ wide walkway along the shores of Cork Harbour, very popular with walkers, cyclists, dog owners etc. especially on a Sunday morning. So I was wondering how the organizers were going to deal with “traffic issues”. I was expecting a relatively slow race as a result. The course is flat except for a pedestrian bridge up and over the south ring road at about mile 2.5 (while short the grade is about 9%) Following a 2.7 mile warmup with Brendan from work we headed for the start area. About 200 runners in all. I placed myself close to the front (about 3 rows back) as I knew that there would be a lot of jostling in the middle of the pack. The Load Mayor and the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (the local Mr Michael Martin) started the race (neither of them finished) The first few hundred yards were on the road before we turned back on ourselves and headed out along the estuary walk. By this time the pack had spread out a little and Sunday strollers stood back to allow us pass, so passing wasn’t too difficult. My effort was reasonably steady as I prefer to go at my pace rather than tagging onto others. Just before the 1 mile mark Brendan from work passed me by and as he is generally faster than me I was not unduly concerned. Mile 1 in 06:06. “If I keep this pace that would be 3 miles in 18:18 which would get me just under 19:00 for the 5k” – keeping in mind that the first mile of my 5k PB of 19:20 was run in 05:51 (albeit downhill) So far so good. Brendan was about 5 yards in front with 3 or 4 runners in between. I kept running at my own pace (autopilot with the pain) ignoring the pace of those around me and gradually pulled Brendan (and others) back and eventually passed him, which I had not expected. I thought he would come with me as I certainly had not upped the pace and he is competitive. I kept the pace strong and fairly steady, which was easier to do given the flat terrain. I continued to reel in runners in front without being passed myself. I was beginning to feel the lactic acid building up in my calves but kept the leg turnover going – changing gears in the painometer (The brain must have been here before because it allowed me to continue on without reducing muscle recruitment) Mile 2 in 06:12. “Ok – fairly steady – those I passed were obviously slowing down”. I did not do the mental math to project finishing time – I had enough to deal with and there was that bridge still to come. I passed 2 guys shortly after the 2 mile mark but one of them remained more or less on my shoulder (A GAA player by the look of his shorts and jersey). Another guy I had passed farther back came up on my other shoulder and passed me out. “Well done” I said as he passed. However he didn’t get too far ahead and soon enough my pace caught up with him and carried me past him with Mr GAA still on my shoulder. The bridge came into view – “how good will my hill training benefit me now” I thought as I shortened my stride and kept the leg turnover going. Not good appeared to be the answer as Mr GAA and another runner I had not seen before passed me out on the way up. However the run down the other side (I used gravity to assist – no braking) saw me pass Mr GAA (he must have put too much effort into the “up”). I maintained a steady pace after the bridge and managed to pass the other guy who had passed me on the bridge. The next guy was well ahead – difficult to concentrate in no-mans-land. I was now moving up another gear in the painometer and my brain wasn’t too sure whether it had been here before. I started counting strides to distract it “just 150 strides and I’ll be closer to the finish”. Mile 3 in 06:09 Still counting strides. “Less than 1 minute to go”. Under a road underpass and I could see the clock ahead – “18:51” it read – I couldn’t do much to increase the pace (my brain would hardly allow me maintain the pace I was at) – 19:00, 01, 02, 03, 04 ….19:05 it read as I crossed under it. 15 seconds off my PB. The sub-19 minute 5k would have to wait for another day. That was some good pain training. Brendan came in at 19:30 (he had tried to stay with me but his brain said otherwise) With a recent 24:32 4 miler under his belt I was a little surprised that I had been faster than him. Tony, our third team member came in in 23:xx. Which gave us the 3rd prize in category C (a long way off the best) a milkshake maker – something to bring home for the kids. A 2.9 mile cooldown gave me 8.7 miles for the day and 49.7 miles for the week. Fri 8th Feb 2.5 miles in 19:45 (07:54 pace @ 132 HR Sat 9th Feb 11.4 Miles in 01:30:44 (07:58 pace @ 130 HR) Sun 10th Feb 9.7 Miles with 5k in 19:05 (06:09 pace @ 169 HR)


  1. Well done with the PB and the pain training. With this as a guide and four weeks to train, the race next month should be good!

  2. Great race! Congrats on the PB. You sure do race a lot - it really gives you some good speed work to supplement your other training. Certainly gotta love the results. . . good luck in next month's 5k, I'm sure you'll run an 18:xx by then.

  3. Excellent result Grellan. I agree with Mike - you'll be in the 18s next time. Also, close to 19 for 5k gives you a decent shot at sub-40 for 10k.

    Congrats on 3rd place for the teams.

    Regarding 'pain training' - I tend to agree that becoming used to some pain in training makes it less of a shock in a race. Short races can also serve that purpose.

  4. Now you're finally officially faster than me, just as I had predicted all along.

    Sterling race, and that at the beginning of the season! I dare say you will be able to motivate yourself with a string of PBs for some time to come.

  5. Great race and love the detailed blow by blow report. I'm 52 and know that I still have some true PB's waiting to fall. There is always hope!