Until fairly recently, I, like most people, subscribed to the conventional wisdom that training for distance races is just a case of getting the miles in.
But since reading ‘The Art of Running Faster’, and running the Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon for the second year on Sunday, I am starting to see things in a different light.
The book provided the theory, while the half marathon was the practical.
The author, Julian Goater, was big in the running game back in the eighties. He won all sorts of titles for cross country and track racing in middle distance races (5/10km or thereabouts).
If I was to sum up the entire book in one sentence, it would go something like this; if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.
Or put another way, if you want to make progress in your running ability, you need to stop doing the same run you do every week and expecting to improve, and stop running longer distances at a slower pace convinced you’ll be able to turn it on come race day.
In the book Julian outlines how improving your running involves working on:
1 – Speed – Getting used to turning your legs over at a greater speed, much like a cyclist on the pro tour
2 – Suppleness – The looser you are, the further you move with every stride
3 – Strength – Working on the strength of your entire body, not just your legs, giving you the ability to power yourself through a race
4 – Stamina – Teaching your body to deal with the prolonged distances on the road
5 – Skill – Learning how to run efficiently. Much like swimming, proper running technique is something that can be taught
6 – Psychology – Making sure you are in a good place mentally will have a massive impact on your ability on the day
The reason why the long, slow slogs are not an effective way to train is that they only work on one of the six – stamina.
If you really want to kick on a gear, he stresses the importance of working on all six simultaneously, and has some great tips for how you can do exactly that, including hill repeats, intervals and my favourite of all the running jargon – fartleks.
When I was training for the half marathon, I certainly didn’t follow Julian’s advice by the book (excuse the pun). He suggests that runners train up to two times a day, and incorporate multiple sessions into each week. I was doing two sessions a week at most.
But I did take on some of the principles that he advocated, primarily variety. Last year I did plenty of mileage, but the majority of it was at a pretty slow pace, with a focus on getting in the kilometres so that I would be confident I could go the distance on race day.
This year, my main session was interval training with the BRATS on a Wednesday night, focusing on running distances of no more than 800m at a faster than race pace, with a longer run on the weekend if I had the time / inclination.
While the sessions themselves were definitely more challenging, I ended up doing a lot less work over all and still ended up beating my time from the year before by a pretty sizable margin.
So, thanks to Julian, I have learnt that if I want to run further and faster – ditch the one dimensional shuffle and mix it up a bit.
Highlight of the week: Doing the Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon in 1:27:03, considerably faster than I was hoping for, and shaving 11 minutes off last year’s effort
Lowlight of the week: My training lowlight is the fact that since the half I have done basically nothing. But it’s not really a lowlight, because I have loved every second of it.