Sunday, 16 November 2008

Learning to run slower

I am taking my time getting back into training after Amsterdam. Four weeks out and while everyone else appears to have a plan of action for their next marathon I am still running as and when I feel like it. Nothing wrong with that I suppose but I'd want to be careful - it's very easy getting used to sleeping that little bit extra in the morning and then not having time during the day to get a run in.
While the legs haven't been turning over as much as I would like, I have been exercising my mind as to what is the best way to proceed with my training.
All the good advice (thanks guys) following my last post points towards the tried and tested Lydiard training model. At the core of this model is aerobic conditioning and plenty of it. Lydiard in this seminar in Osaka in 1990 stated that “The day you start doing anaerobic training and stop your (aerobic) conditioning, your performance level has been set for that season”. While anaerobic training will improve my performance the benefit is finite compared to aerobic conditioning, which continues to improve performance over the years. Tim Noakes best illustrates (for me at least) the relationship/difference between the benefits of aerobic and anaerobic training in “Lore of Running” using the following figure. With performance on the vertical axis and time on the horizontal axis the green line represents aerobic conditioning, which steadily improves performance over time – represented by the line A to G. Once you start anaerobic (speedwork) training however you can get a significant improvement in performance over a relatively short period – represented by the red line B-C-D (8 weeks illustrated here - but will vary depending on the runner) before reaching a plateau (points D to E). This is when you want to run your target race(s). No amount of training after this will improve performance. Staying at peak performance is the tricky bit and invariably performance will begin to suffer if you continue to race, leading to illness, injury and overtraining which necessitates a period of rest and recovery (point F). I tended to reach my peak between 4 and 8 weeks before my last 2 marathons, which was a bit early and resulted in injury/overtraining and a less than satisfactory performance. Therefore this time round I’m going to spend at least 2 to 3 months on nothing but aerobic conditioning to see if I can push my sorry ass a little further along the green line and up the performance ladder before starting on speedwork. This should give a greater improvement in aerobic performance than starting speedwork earlier as illustrated below.
What I don’t know is whether or not you can continue to improve aerobic conditioning as much after introducing speedwork into your training. Dr Mafftone thinks not. He recommends a minimum 3-month programme of aerobic only running to build up a good base, without any anaerobic running or racing. All this aerobic running is to be done at or below the MAF heart rate, which is a conservatively low 143 in my case. Periodic “MAF tests” consisting of running 5 miles (preferably on the track) at MAF HR should show a gradual performance improvement over the 3 months and a reducing gap between the paces of the first and latter miles (effect of HR drift). This test is similar to the evaluation runs that Mike did during the conditioning phase of his build up to his NY marathon PB a few weeks ago – so I’m in good company. So that's the plan for the moment. My recovery from Amsterdam is slow. Most of my runs have been between 08:30 and 08:50 pace as my resting and exercising HR's gradually come down. MY RHR this morning was 46, which is 7 or 8 beats above what it was at peak performance. Today's long run over 2 hrs was at an average pace of 08:30 and 138 HR (14.11 miles). Having previously run 08:00 pace @ 130HR the only way is up. I will set the base by completing my first MAF test next week.


  1. You're getting very technical with these fancy graphs! I like your plan of building a good base and the test runs.

  2. Those graphs are a great visual indication of what happens with the different types of training.

    I think being careful about the type of speedwork done in the 8-week period will help you hold onto the aerobic conditioning. I'm thinking threshold and 10k race-pace type intervals (not very anaerobic) are the way to go for marathoners.

    The progression of the MAF tests will be interesting to follow. Good luck with the plan!

  3. I agree with Mafftone, or at least in not having a program more than 3-months. If anything, I believe it is too long to stay mentally focused. If you’re peaking 4-8 weeks early, how about some solid aerobic conditioning but also pushing back your speedwork? Perhaps you don’t need as much as some?


    Regardless, all the best with the running and I’m glad to seeing your easing back into things. After talking with a Jon a few weeks ago, he mentioned one of the biggest mistakes people make is not allowing for enough rest and recovery (during training and afterwards).

    Happy training!

  4. Great information. but does this mean i need to pull out my HR monitor strap again? Ugh!
    I hate that thing.

  5. Sorry, I meant to post this here (not on your previous entry):

    What do you think would work for you? I have something I could share with you but it is focused on speed. Email me if you're interested:

    Michael dot Lord at gov dot bc dot ca