Whilst on holiday in Tenerife earlier this month I read a number of books, including the Chrissie Wellington autobiography “A Life Without Limits” (key messages: commitment, confidence, drive, fun) and the excellent “Run: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel” by Matt Fitzgerald (key messages: enjoy, focus, flexibility, fun).
Fitzgerald’s book both vindicated and made me question elements of my running training regime and philosophy.
I have been immersing myself more and more in the running scene over the last couple of years as I have embarked on my journey from running 10 miles (Great South Runs from 2005 to 2012) to my first half marathon (Portsmouth Coastal Half Marathon in 2012) to first marathon (London Marathon in 2012) and first ultra marathon (North Downs Way 50 in 2013).
In particular, I’ve listened to a multitude of interviews with amateur and elite ultra runners and endurance athletes on the ever informative and engaging Ultra Runner Podcast and Trail Runner Nation podcasts (and I’ve now discovered the Endurance Planet podcasts as well) where a great deal of conflicting advice and information has been shared with conviction and passion. I’ve read endless articles online and books by Matt Fitzgerald (“Brain Training for Runners”), Phil Maffetone (“The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing”) and Bryon Powell(“Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons”). Apparently James Adams (@jamesradams) also has a book out and it’s next on the list.
This all led me to adopt a #MaffetoneMethod style of heart rate based training since last August in the run up to my second attempt at the North Downs Way 50 this May (with a 3 week break in training caused by an operation). I feel that this has definitely helped me to develop my aerobic capacity and endurance and my pace at the target heart rate had quickened significantly over the last couple of months. Yet I have been left frustrated by occasional problems with the heart rate readings from my Garmin 410 – from time to time the heart rate seems to go far too high for my effort level and stays high, negating the purpose of the training session and forcing me to run by feel. Which I ended up enjoying….
So we here does this leave me…..
Confused, but at a turning point in my training. Reading “Run” was a relief. Matt Fitzgerald writes in an engaging way, providing accessible and useful information and guidance for runners based upon not only his experiences as a runner for more than 20 years but also those of a range of runners and coaches including Haile Gebreselassie, Deena Kastor, Kenenisa Bekele, Greg McMillan, Arthur Lidyiard and Brad Hudson. Fitzgerald makes the reader feel that it is okay to plan loosely, run by feel and run for fun and that by doing so it is possible to improve. His key messages can be broken down as follows:
Learning to listen
Confidence + intuition +enjoyment + improvement + evaluation = optimal training method for you
Reception and routine + increased capacity to suffer + winging it + breaking personal records + effective workout progressions
Refining your running
Find your own best stride + use fear and anger as motivation + regular strength and mobility training
This leads me to the following conclusion: I need to look at the bigger picture. Building endurance is not just about heart rate based training – although there does seem to be consensus that runners should be doing long slow runs (easy pace and recovery runs) more often than many do in order to increase their aerobic capacity (and use more fat as fuel rather than relying upon carbs and sugar when racing). For my long term goal – running the South Downs Way 100 in 2015 – I need to mix up my training a little more and remember to have fun while also pushing myself to improve. I also need to set targets and monitor my progress (which I have been doing to date) but feel free to leave the Garmin and even the watch at home sometimes and run free. I did a couple of weeks ago (I just forgot them!) and had an enjoyable, productive run. I will wear a watch for the NDW50 but not a Garmin. This worked for me last year and encouraged me to run by feel rather than obsessing over pace and distance. Hopefully the last year’s training and my increased endurance will lead me to a sub-11 hour finish and a new PB.
As Sam Robson (@stupid_runner) wrote in another of his excellent blog posts, we sometimes obsess too much over details – do we have the right kit/enough kit/all the kit we need – and forget the fact that we are meant to enjoy our running.
Find your own way.
As they say in the Trail Runner Nation podcasts: “Now get out and run. Mas.” (I don’t know what the last bit means either!)