French Bloke Runs

Shut up and run!

Tag: Training

Serpentine & hills

There we are, I gave in to Lanky Pole‘s pressure and I finally joined the Serpentine Running Club. It is a big club, with almost 2,000 members. It’s a bit expensive to join on the first year, but I’ve heard it’s worth it. I have to admit, after the first week as a member, I’m already convinced. First, there’s the club t-shirt, which gives you a sense of belonging to a team, then there are the events organised by the club (mostly races), finally there’s plenty of training sessions every week, and I still have a lot to discover about the club…

Serpentine

Speaking of training sessions, I discovered that the Serpies (that’s how we call the members of the club) have a weekly hills training session in Greenwich, so I decided to sign up for this one. This session is coached and I though it would be a good thing to finally run these hills properly. I arrived a bit late, but the coach was very friendly and she told me to catch-up with the group of 10 who was already warming up in the park. After a little bit of jogging, we gathered around the coach to do some proper warm-ups, which reminded me a bit of my sessions with Lanky Pole: walking on the heels, on the toes, plenty of warm-up movements, lunges, high knees, etc…

After that, the coach gave us advice on running form in the hills: work with the core muscles, have the arms at a 90 degrees angle, keep the shoulders and the face relaxed, and I’m sure i’m forgetting some. We then went to the nitty gritty and did 2 series of 12 minutes of hills running. Unlike my previous personal hills sessions, this one gave very little time for recovery: it was going up and straight down and up again. Also, we ran on the turf (or rather on the high grass) which made it even harder. After the first 12 minutes I was already knackered, but off we went for the second round! At the end of the second round I was the slowest of the group, even though on paper I was not supposed to be. Oh well, this gives me plenty room for improvement.

We finished by a relay in teams of three, up and down hills of course, and thanks to me my team finished last, but at least I gave all I had on the finish line. Lack of training aside, I think one of the reasons I was so slow was probably because I was dehydrated: the session lasted for 2 hours, which is much longer than I ever ran in the past and it was really hot on that day. But I made it all and I was quite happy anyway: I had learned more in these 2 hours than I could ever learn by myself. After the relay, we cooled down together and did a bit of stretching. I had to leave the group, but they all went to the café to enjoy some well-deserved coffee and cakes.

I came back really happy from this session: training with a coach and with a group brings so much! Even though I was dead-beat, I already wanted to sign up for the following week! Next time, I’ll come with a water bottle and I’ll make sure I have nothing planned afterwards, so I can enjoy the coffee and the cake with the others, and each time I’ll be better and better.

Book: 80/20 Running

It has been a long time since I haven’t reviewed a book (maybe because I can’t read). The last time around it was ‘Born to Run‘, by the way, if you still haven’t read it: buy it now and read it! Shortly after I had read it, my dear friend Lanky Pole recommended ‘80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster by Training Slower‘ by Matt Fitzgerald and he even lent me the book.

I’ll spoil the book for you: the killer is the butler. Oops, wrong book. Joking aside, this book is all about how to improve your performance by running 80% of your training slowly and 20% of your training at medium or high intensity. The book starts with a little bit of history and explains how runners like Zátopek already knew that you have to train hard to improve your running, but some running coaches like Arthur Lydiard had the intuition that you should add a lot of easy running to make it even more efficient. And now most elite runners follow more or less the 80/20 rule, whereas recreational runners usually do 50/50.

The author goes on about all the research that has been made to support his claims. Even though he mostly cites studies that do not specifically focus on the 80/20 rule but on polarised running (no running at medium intensity: just low-intensity and high-intensity training), it kind of makes sense and his argument is pretty compelling: running mostly slowly will allow you to enjoy it more, but it will also give you the capacity to run more. He then makes the case that high volumes of running condition your body to refine and optimise the act of running (like playing scales on the piano) thus making the high-intensity training more efficient. One thing that he mentions though is that it only works if you train really hard in the 20%.

I can’t really go much more into the details because it is very technical and even a bit boring at times. To be honest, I’m happy the book was sprinkled with anecdotes because it is sometimes particularly abstruse. I read it a year ago, and even now that I have more knowledge about running than back then, I still think this book is too technical for me. The last third of the book is all about how to build your training plan based on his rules and his training plan templates. Boring.

I still learned a few things:

  • It is a good thing to monitor your Heart Rate (HR) while training. Although I learned the hard way that if you do that, you must imperatively adjust your HR zones precisely. It is also better to calculate your HR zones based on HR reserve rather than % of max HR. The book explains how to do it, but then again it does so in a very technical and boring manner.
  • If you decide to train based on HR zones, it is better to pace yourself using the HR monitor for slow runs (psychologically you’ll tend to respect the upper HR limit) and using pace for faster runs (you’ll tend to try and runs faster than the target pace, which isn’t a bad thing for high-intensity sessions).
  • Matt Fitzgerald is right: running slow is really enjoyable. Now I can’t wait for Sundays and my long runs!

As a conclusion, this book, like any book about running, couldn’t possibly be better than ‘Born to Run’ (because I loved it so much). All the same, I was expecting it to teach me a lot but it was just too technical for me – however it will certainly suit very well to more advanced runners.

Track session

Last Friday, Lanky Pole texted me something along the lines of ‘Get your arse to Mile End Park Stadium’s  track tomorrow at 11am’. Okay it might not have been that commanding, but I felt compelled to answer by ‘Sure’! So on Saturday, there I was on a track field for the first time of my life, well at least it was the first time that I paid for it and that I went there to actually run.

Running track

Running track – Photo by Dean Hochman

We started to warm-up and I must admit that I really liked the bounciness of the ground, it’s really comfortable to run on. Also, it made easier the warm-up session that Lanky Pole had in mind: after the usual 10 minutes of easy run, we did lengths of high knees, high heels, sidesteps, shuffling, skipping and other silly styles of running. Then we did speed work, each length focusing on a different aspect of the running form and exaggerating it: knees forward, arms moving, etc…

So just after this tough warm-up, I was already knackered. Each of us went to our own training, we both had different kinds of intervals. I had 4×5 minutes intervals at 10k pace, which was quite depressing because my 10k pace is approximately his recovery pace. Also, despite the great comfort of the track, I found running in circles quite boring, which was worsened by the fact that my HR monitor didn’t detect my heart rate, constantly vibrating to tell me to run faster.

I kept my mind busy and observed the people who go to the tracks on a Saturday morning: there was a couple of people training for long jumps, a woman practising the hurdles, a dude in a wheelchair with his biceps bigger than my thighs, a small group of children practising with an instructor, and 2 or 3 guys who were running reeeeeeeally fast.

We did a few more laps to cool down and went on the grass to stretch. Man, after a tough session like this, that felt really good! And Lanky Pole always finds new ways of stretching muscles you didn’t even know you had. In any case, it’s really nice to train with someone when you’re used to run alone, it keeps you motivated.

After that, a conversation started between us and one of the reeeeeeeally fast guys. It turns out this guy was training to qualify for the Olympics on the 800m. We originally thought he was Canadian but it turns out that he was Namibian and I found out later that despite his humility, if he manages to qualify for the Olympics, it means that he will have broken his country’s record! The qualifying time is 1 minute and 46 seconds and the current Namibian record is 1:46:62. I have to admit I was impressed. OK, Namibia isn’t a big country in running (except for Frankie Frederiks 20 years ago) but still! He’s originally a 400m runner with a PB in the low 46 seconds, which isn’t too far from his country’s record (46:14). Impressed again.

Even more impressive was his training: that morning he had to run 10 times 400m under 58 seconds and then 10 times 150m under 20 seconds. That’s just insane, but he said he had prepared himself mentally for the whole week. He also said he doesn’t eat meat, which is apparently bad for recovery (Christopher McDougall draws the same conclusion in his last book ‘Natural Born Heroes‘, next on my reading list). This guy clearly has to right mindset to go to Rio this summer and I hope he makes it. Just qualifying to get there is an immense dream and I wish him all the best. Of course, after meeting him, Lanky Pole and I could only speak of this inspiring guy.

Test: Garmin Forerunner 225

For this test, I was tempted to reiterate my feat of comparing the Altra One 2 with the iPhone, and to stack up the performances of the Garmin Forerunner 225 against those of an artichoke or those of chair. But gadgets are serious stuff, so I’ll try to be serious here.

The choice

I didn’t like running with my phone, be it in my pocket, in an armband, or attached to my waist, it’s just cumbersome. And I don’t use my phone for listening to music while running either because running is entertaining enough by itself except on a firkin’ treadmill (and if I were listening to music while running, I’d probably use something like the Sony NWZ-W273S, which comes highly recommended by Brainy Owl). So buying a running watch was my best option.

I wanted something:

  • Light and convenient
  • Thought and made for running
  • Possibly with GPS tracking
  • Possibly with a heart-rate monitor but not attached to my chest

I had to exclude two very good watches: the Garmin Forerunner 620 (best features on the market then) and the Polar M400 (very good and very cheap), which both required a separate chest monitor. I also excluded activity trackers like the Fitbit Surge and the Withings Activité, even though the latter is a beautiful product, both of them lack a GPS and running-specific features.

My list came down to the TomTom Multi Sport and the Garmin Forerunner 225. Eventually I chose the Garmin, thanks to DC Rainmaker’s very comprehensive test. Even though the TomTom caters for running, cycling and swimming while the Garmin is only for running, the Garmin can also do some all-day activity tracking and seemed more reliable (better heart rate sensor, faster GPS).

Garmin Forerunner 225

Using the watch every day

I don’t regret my choice at all. I use this watch every time I go out running, although I don’t use the activity tracking and sleep tracking features (I like wearing my good old mechanical watch). You can connect it to your phone, but it also works completely independently, allowing me to rid of my phone when I run.

One of the great things of having this watch is that it helps me find my pace during races. It has been very beneficial so far since I have beaten my PB every time I’ve ran a 10K!

But it also really helps my daily running. Something I found extremely useful was the possibility to upload free training plans directly to the watch. The process isn’t very natural and the UX could be improved, but it’s OK once you understand that everything is done through the website (just don’t forget to “push” whenever you update your calendar, or at least every 45 workouts otherwise your calendar will be empty) and the app is just here for synchronising.

I chose a heart-rate based training plan, which is what you should really do, but the beginning was a catastrophe because I hadn’t configured my heart rate zone properly. My piece of advice is to set it to %HRR (percentage of heart rate reserve) rather than %HR Max (percentage of maximum heart rate), but you have to spend a bit of time figuring your max heart rate (usually 220 – age) and your resting heart rate (lie still for 20 minutes, then measure). This is really important and I lost 4 weeks of training for being too lazy to try and understand this.

Note: your Max HR doesn’t change that much over time (it slightly decreases over the years) but your rest heart rate will decrease if you train a lot, so keep these numbers updated.

Once your training is on the watch, you just have to follow what it says: “run for 10 minute at this pace/HR”, “rest for 2 minutes”. That’s really convenient for intervals for example, it will beep & vibrate if you run too fast or too slow and it will tell you when to start/finish your intervals.

Another feature I really like is the tracking of the cadence. This can really improve you running technique (aim for 180 to 200 strides per minutes). I wish it could measure oscillation and impact time, but you’d need the Garmin Forerunner 630, and that’s a hefty price to pay, knowing that you need to buy the chest HR sensor as well.

The downside is that the HR sensor can fail sometimes, you just have to re-adjust your strap (not easy to do while running) and the GPS is sometimes jumpy, so the instant pace isn’t always reliable, but it’s the case for all running watches.

Garmin app

Garmin app

Conclusion

I definitely recommend that you buy this watch. Alternatively, you can go for the new Garmin Forerunner 235, which is basically its replacement with cool new stuff (larger display, VO2 max estimation, race predictor, cycling-specific features, etc) but more expensive.

I also recommend that you take the time to run without a Garmin. Well, not literally, because you’re a data freak like me and you want to keep all this good data in Strava or Runkeeper, but sometime, try to run without glancing at your watch or even without thinking about it. Now, every time I go for an easy run or a long run, I don’t use the training plan feature, just the basic tracking, and I run following my feelings: I just want to run at an enjoyable pace without having to care whether it’s too slow or too fast. In short: to be free!

A week-end of running

My current training plan includes intervals or hills on Saturday and a long run on Sunday. I have to admit that I don’t really like intervals, or hills or fartleks. So I usually do the bare minimum: 10 minutes warm-up, then I run my intervals and plan to finish them as close to home as possible. But I love my long runs. I don’t have to run fast or to suffer, I don’t have to think too much about my pace or my technique, I just clear my head and enjoy the running.

Last Saturday however, Lanky Pole and I had planned to train together. So I warmed up for the usual 10 minutes, running to the rendez-vous point in Greenwich Park. Then he told me: “So, you don’t have a set routine before races or training? 10 minutes warm-up is the bare minimum. I’ll show you some stretchings and shit.”. Boy that wasn’t easy: side steps, high knees, skipping like a bloody deer, dancing the Macarena or some shit, dynamic stretching (i.e. stretching while running, how mad is that?). Then a series of short sprints and off you go run your intervals while I do my hard stuff, I’ll see you in 30 minutes, thank you very much.

Well, that was hard but I could handle it. Kinell, I still have my intervals to run. Let’s do that on Blackheath, at least it’s flat. Oh, it’s actually not that flat! And with all that mud and the wind, it’s even harder! At least it’ll be finished in 30 minutes.

Nope. Lanky Pole had another cunning plan in mind. Let’s do actual stretchings now! And the arms, and the neck, and the legs Ouch! That hurts, I can feel it’s good for my legs but that hurts. Adductors, calves, thighs in all direction… And it’s not over: more silly movements with the arms and that should do it. I can guarantee that after that you really feel all your body. Now I have another great idea, let’s cool-down for another 10 minutes of easy run. Alrighty!

Well, that was a whole new level of training for me, but that wasn’t all! Lanky Pole, Draculito and I joined the Pencil With and Grumpy Grampy for a ceilidh in the evening. An night of traditional Scottish dancing to prepare for the wedding (Pencil Witch is Scottish and she’d getting married to Grumpy Grampy) means another bunch of hours running and jumping on the music of a fiddle.

On Sunday, the beginning of my beloved long run wasn’t too easy and I was feeling my body more than usually. I think the intense training of the previous day affected my pace. Eventually, I was still happy with it, I managed to run 19K in just above 1H45. My longest distance ever! (so far)

© 2018 French Bloke Runs

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑