Science proves I’m a quitter!

Originally Posted on March 12, 2013 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

Yes, it’s now official, I quit too early. Those of you that have read my DBR blog (well done for your dedication!) may think that science has got this one wrong, but the evidence is clear I’m afraid. Let me take a few steps back and explain what the hell I am going on about.

Recently I came across the Endurance Store and Footstrike Science as these are the fantastic people that devised and put on the Lakeland 100. Reading what Marc had to say on his blog really made sense to me. Essentially he breaks runners down into two camps, Bouncers and musclers – the Bouncers make efficient use of the energy they expend running by using more spring from tendons, releasing that energy like a rebounding spring. Musclers simply force themselves around using the brute force of their muscles. If one wants to go faster then they need to work on their technique to improve the bang for their buck; i.e., the transition of energy into forward propulsion.

Marc’s thesis is that there has been a boom in people picking up running in their late twenties/ early thirties; by this time they have missed out on the traditional coaching which sees junior runners focus on speed and gradually increase their distance as they become less able to cut it at the shorter distances. By focusing on technique we will make a bigger difference to our speed and capability than we will if we just bang out the miles. Essentially we should turn the traditional training pyramid on its head; rather than working on base miles and endurance in the winter and moving through to speed as the months progress and we get into race season, we should focus on technique and speed and gradually get longer as the months progress and we get into ultra season (of course the problem here is that there is no season and burn out is common these days as a result as the temptation is always to fit in another race).

I buy into this. When I swam I had a coach to work on my technique and as my technique got to a point where it was excellent the focus was then on training volumes – interesting point, I look back now upon the coaching I had as a swimmer and it just seems so primitive. The focus was really on volume rather than quality. We didn’t really have focused speed work – sports science has moved on a lot in the last 20+ years.

In running, everybody just assumes they can run and have done since they day made it onto two feet so making any change is very difficult. This is one of the reasons why many coaches don’t see much point in focusing on it, and there is certainly no real structure outside of the junior system to cater for this. Sure there are books and even the odd private coach that will teach you how to run in a certain style; e.g., Chi or Pose, but they are prohibitively expensive.

So how can I go about this? Well the lovely people at the endurance store run assessments and then work with people to devise a training plan. Along with the plan there is support, drills and other elements that should help drive towards a better technique. The other element is really about getting people to train in the right zones or intensity; by doing this the body will adapt and technique will improve.

Do I really want to do this? Is this really why I run? These are questions that I have asked myself time and time again recently. Of course I’d like to be quicker, but I run for self-therapy, for meditation, for freedom, for the sheer pleasure and enjoyment of it… won’t a proper strict training schedule ruin all that? Well, yes, maybe it will, but with greater efficiency I’ll be able to enjoy my running a whole lot more; less food required on the mountain, able to go for longer in the mountains and take more in; greater pride and the thrill of being more competitive… so maybe it’s worth it.

This year will bring about some big changes in my life. One of them has begun this week as I have moved to part time at work. It has been clear for a long time that I couldn’t continue as I was since the “cost” of maintaining what I do was simply too high. The impact on me and my family is far more than any reasonable person would expect and was unsustainable. As I said, running is part of my therapy and my down time so moving to a specific training regime may not work for me, but I’ve always believed that if I ask the same questions I should not expect different answers, so I’ve taken the plunge and decided to give it a go.

Ok, so back to today; all booked in but totally disorganised my confused little brain managed to eat at lunch time. 5 minutes later I read: ‘Very important – do not eat within 4 hours of testing’… damn it. I toss the idea of heading to the toilets and making myself sick, but I’m on a conference call at the time so not really the done thing. Call over I get ready and decide I should try to make myself sick. Despite almost achieving this I think better of it but am left with a reflux of piri-piri smoked mackerel. Nice.

I confess as soon as I arrive only to find that my mackerel salad, seeds and dressing + banana really aren’t an issue. Changed and ready to go I strap on the face mask and start off on a 17 minute run. The run is based around a 10K pace. I haven’t run a 10K for about 8 years so the best I can muster is my half marathon PB; at 84 minutes this makes for a 15kph bench mark time. I ran this whilst not on my finest form, but not too bad either; I have also lost about 1 minute per mile in terms of speed since the DBR so I figured this was going to be tough!

Breathing into a full face mask, not sure if I’m going to be able to manage the pace and with a treadmill that is slightly askew to the wall (so I feel like I’m not running straight) I can feel my anxiety. I know this won’t help. However I work through from 11 to 12 to 13 kph and begin to wonder if I can keep this up, sweat dripping from my face. I did of course get to fulfil a Top Gun fantasy for a split second with the mask on

I then get to walk for a couple of minutes before the test starts. I’m told that I’m an excellent fat burner – something I was really chuffed about. I’ve been working on trying to become more efficient at burning fat through training from fast each morning and only eating at the end of my session – nice to know this has paid off.

The test begins and I feel my anxiety rising again. Like the warm up I’m on an incline of 1% only this time I start with 2 minutes at 13kph, then every minute the speed increases by 1kph until I hit 16kph. After that every minute I survive the incline is increase by 1%. I manage to 5% and then half way through I feel myself slipping back off the mill. I surged to get higher up the treadmill again, but soon after I slip bag down again. I’m shouted at to get back up to the top of the mill; I try, I fail and I jump off through feat of slipping off and taking my face out on the giant sanding belt!

I am properly exhausted.

As somebody that only runs one pace metronomically I am really not used to being in that red zone. I always run hard, but I just don’t have any variance in my pace – it was the same when I swam and it’s the same now. I struggle to run slowly and I don’t have any real kick, so add this to the anxiety of having a face mask on and a possible face plant onto the mill and I think this explains my results.

My VO2 Max is just over 63 ml/kg/min. According to this site ( superior (unfortunately the highest it goes) for my age range is anything greater than 49.4 and the highest ever recorded is 97.5 by Oskar Svendsen an 18 year old cyclist. Kilian Jornet (in my opinion the world’s greatest ultra runner and without doubt one of the fittest human being’s on the planet) scores 92.5. In the same article it states that most world class running athletes clock in between 75 and 85…. So not too shabby then! However the key point in Mark’s thesis is about transition, so you can have a fantastically tuned engine, but if the tyres are only at half the optimum pressure then the car will not perform. So what else did the test tell me?

Essentially I am an excellent fat burner, manage my breathing very well and have an excellent lung capacity, I have a consistent mid-foot strike (either mid or forefoot is what I’m after) and excellent cadence ~88 double strikes per min (aiming for between 85 & 90)

… But I am a quitter!

Based upon the data I would have been expected to have gone on for another 30-90 seconds! I’m not going to lie, I find this disappointing, but I also think it tells a very strong story in its own way; for me it shows that I am simply not used to running at or above my top pace, that the other factors; i.e., anxiety, seeing my heart rate so high and the psychological game that plays, plus not being used to running on a treadmill will have contributed to the panic that made me jump off the mill.

I was taken through the results in great depth and got to chat a lot more about the various elements of my running and my goals. I now await the training plan and have already vowed to stick religiously to it. In 16 weeks time I will have real information that will tell me if I have improved or not, hopefully I’ll also be in the form of my life and ready to take on the Lakeland 100 (with more than one pace to offer).

I confess I’ve wanted to do this test ever since I read about VO2max years ago. I’d absolutely recommend it based upon what I’ve learned so far, but the proof will really be in the results and my times over the course of this year. I’ve always cursed myself for running too safely too, always managing to find a reserve from somewhere once I know the end is in sight rather than just running hard and seeing if I blow up or not. I’m excited about the plan and the future possibilities… maybe my days of running safely are over – sometimes you’ve got to just put yourself out there and try something new!

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