Sunday, November 28, 2010

It is never distance on its own that kills you: notes from the London Running Show

“It is never distance on its own that kills you”, these were some of the wise words spoken by expert runners speaking at a number of seminars held at the London Running Show in Olympia London this weekend.

Andy Mouncey is stage holder for the 300 mile London to Paris triathlon Enduroman Arch to Arch Challenge – and he spoke about ultrarunning. When taking part in events beyond the marathon distance, it’s safe to say that there can be an awful lot happening over an awfully long time. What to focus on? How to keep perspective and enjoy it? How to face down the doubts and the demons – and is it really OK to walk?

According to Andy, it is never distance on its own that kills you, and the three nuggets of knowledge needed to make the difference in the long races are these: 1) contact points, 2) pace and 3) mood. When talking about contact points, we mean any area where there is bound to be chafing and rubbing caused by body movement during running, such as the feet, the hip and the shoulders where the rucksack belt and attachments tend to be. The ability to keep these contact points intact through an ultarunning race is key. Run at a comfortable pace that suits you, and manage your mood.

Mood is about the ability to manage how we feel. Before any race, Andy’s advice is to write down in advance what you want to happen and imagine what it would be like if it did. Ask yourself: "What am I doing and why am I doing this?". It's important to have the right mental and emotional strategies and tactics in order to keep going. There is also a link between food and mood - treat food as something to look forward to in a long run.

Gavin Smith, running coach working for the Kenya Experience, shared his experiences about the success of Kenyan running. Why is Kenya producing such good runners? How can I implement Kenyan training methods to improve my own training? In his youth, Gavin was influenced by the speed runner and Steeplechase record holder Moses Kiptanui, and was impressed by his effortless style of running. His passion for running led him to work with Pieter Langerhorst champion coach living in Kenya and long distance runner Lornah Kiplagat's husband.

Although Kenyan runners’ Achilles tendon tends to be longer than other western runners, it is not the genetic make up of the Kenyan that makes him/her one of the best runners. 90% of Kenyan runners come from the Kalenjin tribe (around 11% of total population in Kenya), and live in the region of Eldoret around the Rift Valley in Kenya. The Kalenjin tribe has a strong belief that hard work leads to success, they listen to their bodies (‘organic training’) and they don’t dwell on a bad day.

The key success of Kenyan running, according to Gavin, is mostly due to the type of training they follow, and three types of runs. Training involves building endurance gradually through: 1) medium length progressive runs (around 70-90mins starting slow and finishing fast, also called tempo running); 2) 'fartleks', speedwork within a normal run (for example running fast for 1 minute and slow for another minute 25 times, and running fast 3 minutes and slow 2 minutes 12 times); 3) and finally hill training, running fast uphill, and jogging downhill, as well as continuous tempo uphill which could be run on a treadmill for those who don’t have access to hills (between 4% to 6% hill grade, running at constant intensity uphill for 10 to 12 minutes). For some interesting You Tube documentaries about the Kenyan runners see the ones produced by 'Chasing Kimbia'.

Finally, I was happy to see Sam Lambourne, Alex Wilson and Tony Plank from the Jog Shop in Brighton give a good presentation about how to prepare for a marathon (and I am proud to say that Sam and Tony were my coaches during my weekly Tuesday night speed running sessions on track at Withdean stadium in Brighton). According to Sam, there are three key principles to training: 1) stress and recovery – stress the body and allow it to recover, because when you overload the body it will lead to improvement; 2) reversibility – when the body needs a rest and a come down; 3) specificity – running for specific runs whether marathons or shorter and faster runs.

There were some good hints and tips shared by Sam and his team about training for a marathon: ‘The second half of long runs is much better for training, train the body to run when it is at its most tired”; “ we are all athletes, and an athlete needs to consider their weekly mileage (average 45 to 55 miles per week), and make sure that they take part in long runs (from 2 hours per week in January to 3 hours in February and 4 hours in March – for a marathon taking place in April)”; “the body only stores 2 hours worth of fuel and then starts burning fat reserves, that is why we ‘hit the wall’ – we need good fuel for any runs over 2 hours, take gels and energy drinks early in a run, preferably the first or second hour of a run”; “an athlete can do long runs after speed work, but the body needs to recover after long runs”; and “balance off-road running with on-road”.

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