For a few years now I haven't really thought too hard about training. Got into a sort of pleasant rut if you like. Start off in January running more or less on the flat and gently undulating trails. Build up the miles, some tempos and intervals on the local roads, long run gets gradually longer, 30 miles by end of January, 40 by end of Feb then Hardmoors 55 towards the end of March. Start on the hills, drop the speed stuff after the Highland Fling at the end of April, get 1000 miles in the bag before the West Highland Way at the end of June, then on into the long races of the summer. It worked well enough.
But I had a strange year last year. Nothing really went to plan but I still found some surprising learnings. I didn't do any training at all that I would really call "running" until approaching May, and not many miles much faster than a 10 minute mile pace after that, yet at the end of July I got around the Lakeland 100 course less than an hour slower than in 2011, when I would have considered myself pretty fit and well-trained. Last year I did a lot of walking, much of it up and down hills, but the lack of any "hard working" sessions didn't seem to have a huge effect.
I've also been reading quite a lot over the winter about the "less is more" approach to training effort, both the Maffetone stuff and similar ideas, which suggest you get a lot of benefits by doing the majority of your training at a heart rate much lower than that at which you would expect to get any training effect at all.
And finally, I've started to question my long-held faith in the importance of long training outings. When I stumbled into this game about eight years ago now, all the advice you got (and unlike now it was quite difficult to find much at all) stressed the importance of getting used to "time on your feet". Forget everything else, it was "the long run" that was important. Build up until you can stay out all day, so you get used to feeling what it's like. And when the long run causes problems because it takes too long to recover, simply do two shorter, but still long, runs "back to back".
I've been reading John Kynaston's review of last year and his training plan for this year's Lakeland 100. Last year John had only 13 outings longer than 20 miles (8 training runs and 5 races), and plans only 8 this year before the Lakeland at the end of July. I can't really compare with my own last year, but in my last "normal" year 2013, I went further than 20 miles on 24 occasions - almost one every two weeks. I've also been interested by Robert Osfield's review of his 2014 running and some of the conclusions that he draws, including
- "training more often is more important than time on feet", and
- "if training with fewer long runs allows you to run more often, then run shorter".
Now both these guys get much better results than me, maybe because they're simply better runners, but they clearly don't suffer from not doing many long runs so they must have something here. I wonder also how much the long run in training is just a psychological crutch when it comes to races. This is the "no big deal" theory. "No big deal" is the length of run you could turn out and happily do tomorrow without any special preparation, knowing that it isn't going to present any problems or do any harm. I always liked to get my "no big deal" distance up to 25 miles or thereabouts, so I did a lot of them. Setting out on say the Hardmoors 55 with only one 20-25 miler done in preparation would seem to me to require a lot of self confidence - but it works for other people so why not?
I'm buying into the idea of doing more, shorter runs. For the past two or three years I have struggled to enjoy more than three or at best four outings a week. Too stiff and tired after the one before; I had put this down to approaching middle age (!) but now I'm prepared to believe that I got the balance of effort/recovery time wrong.
So where am I now?
Putting all the above together, I think that to get the best out of the kind of events that I enjoy my training for this year should consist of:
- Walking up hills. I'm aiming to hit 5000ft a week by March and 10000 by May. I'm getting more and more convinced that a day's hillwalking at a fairly brisk pace once a week is far more beneficial to me than a "long run"
- Getting out every day. The minimum is a 3 mile brisk walk, otherwise I'll go with how I feel
- Only doing a "raised heart rate" session once a week - a bit of 8 minute miling or some uphill running
- Planning the individual weeks on the basis of how I feel
- Keeping any "proper" runs (say 10 minute miles and faster) to a 15 mile maximum. I've got enough events planned in through the spring to get in practice at longer runs.
- Not fretting about the miles logged. I think for me that hours spent, feet of ascent and getting out every day are more important. I'll log the miles but not plan them.
That's it then. Some new tricks for an old dog. Only time will tell whether this approach is completely misguided or a reasonable fit with my (I hope) realistic targets, which are:
Main Target: The Dragon's Back Race - "just" to finish (this is a stretching target!)
All other races (likely to be around 8-10 events from 26 to 55 miles, and maybe a 100 miler...): Enjoy the day, finish in good shape, don't worry too much about the time taken.
Last year I didn't put my programme of events in the side panel as I have for previous years because I just couldn't tell from month to month whether I would make the start line or not (I intended to do 9, pulled out of 7 and eventually completed 8 - work that one out!). This year (fingers crossed) looks more plannable and the details should shake down in the next week or two, so I'll nail the colours up then.