Our day started with a trip to Bognor Parkrun. A nice flat course run on hard paths, but with too many tight corners and narrow bits where overtaking was almost impossible, to make it super fast. The elements were also against us with a strong headwind for a big section of each of the four laps. We were warmly welcomed by the parkrun team at Bognor before the run, and congratulated afterwards when we came in first and second females.
From there it was on to our training day at the Withdean Sports Complex in Brighton.
When we arrived it was clear most of the athletes were members of Laureus' Team Sport for Good, whereas I had been selected to attend having been given a free place in the Brighton Half by the organisers. We were soon kitted up in Laureus running tops and felt part of the team!
The main input for the day came from Nick Anderson, who is a GB distance coach for everything from 5k to Marathon, who has coached some of our best athletes. He spoke about training in a busy world, nutrition, and training sessions. He was incredibly knowledgeable and experienced in both the application of what he was talking about, and the sports science theory behind it. I will detail his main points below.
Also present were Olympic Gold Medallists and former world record holders Sally Gunnel and Daley Thompson. Both inspiring, experienced athletes in their fields who have both dabbled in longer distance events since: Sally for a new challenge, and Daley because he got paid to run a half marathon, something which he says he will never do again.
These two athletes had a lot in common - from how they started out in athletics, and them both initially being multi-eventers, to them both earning the ultimate accolades of Olympic Gold and World Records. However, personality wise they could not be more different. Sally said she struggled with self-belief and truly believing she could achieve great things. For this reason competition, while great fun, was difficult for her as she lived amongst her competitors in athletes villages, knowing she would soon be competing against them. Daley however was supremely confident throughout his career. He loved competition because it was what he spent his whole time aiming for, and it was his chance to win. He loved the Olympics because he would see his fellow competitors every day, and that would be his chance to tell them what great shape he was in and how well he was performing! I'm sure there are traits of both of these athletes in all of us!
Jon Ridgeon, former GB Olympic hurdler, was also present, and although he was there to learn and train with us rather than lead, he was also an interesting person to speak to and learn from.
When asked what they did differently when she won gold, Sally said the single change she made was to think more positively and believe in herself. She visualised herself screwing up and the negative thoughts in her head into a ball of paper and throwing it in the bin. The absence of negativity enabled her to relax more, thus improving her performance.
Both Sally and Daley were World Record holders, and interestingly neither said they set out to break world records when they did, but that it was a by product of their main aim: beating the competition. It struck me at this point that world of elite running is very different from the world of lower level competitive running. My aim every race is to improve on my own performance, rather than worrying about what others are doing. However, these two athletes set out every event to beat the competition, therefore encountering more variables as they could not control what condition and performance level their competitors would be at. As a result of this, they had to train to their maximum capability to ensure they began the event with the best chance of winning, regardless of how their competitors were performing.
Training in a busy world:
- Be realistic about what you can do - training is just one part of your life!!
Plan your week: for example, long runs obviously need doing when you have most time.
- Plan your day - training, food, rest
- Plan your food - don't let yourself get hungry at any point as your energy levels will slump, meaning you are more likely to avoid evening training. 3 smaller meals & 3 snacks is better than 3 big meals.
- Plan your recovery - very important for repair of muscles and to avoid fatigue.
- Get to bed! Studies have shown that if you are getting less than 8 hours sleep a night, adding half an hour extra sleep per night will have more impact upon performance than progressions in training.
- Should you be running before breakfast - gets it done. If you're fuelling body correctly and regularly it is enough. You also run slower, and use more fuel from stored fats so can be a good way of ensuring the body metabolises fats, therefore good for weight management and for training the body to get it's fuel from fats later in races when glycogen stores have been used up.
- Consistency is key to training and nutrition.
- Training takes 2-3 weeks to bed in, meaning training you begin now will not have any effect on performance for a few weeks. So planning is important - it's no use trying to "cram" training in before an event.
- Focus on building the base in the early weeks of training for a specific event.
- Use cross training as a tool to avoid injury - your heart and lungs will still be getting a cardiovascular workout, so aim to work for the same duration and intensity as you would in your run training.
- Focus on four key elements - threshhold runs, hills, race pace intervals, long runs.
- Work to TIME and EFFORT not pace and miles. Particularly when aiming for longer distances.
- Recognise the value of variety - change things up, whether that be routes, time, who you run with, races you do.
- Long runs - build no more than10/15 mins per week to ensure the body has adapted, thus hopefully avoiding injury.
- Build threshold and hill work by increasing threshold and hill repetitions.
- Include an easy week in your plan every 3-4 weeks. This helps your body recover, and ensures energy levels are not depleted by having time to recover.
- Practice race pace in a race of lesser distance when ready.
- Hills develop muscular strength and endurance in the legs - helps keep form later in races (as well as helping tackle hills in races!)
- Should I train beyond the distance I am racing? Nick suggest 3-3.5 hours maximum training for a marathon, providing you reach 18/19 miles within that time. Half marathon training you should run for slightly longer time but at a slower pace.
- Build up to practicing race pace in training (eg 30 mins easy, 30 minutes medium pace, then gradually up to race pace for last 30 minutes.
- Intervals (9/10 effort) are better for 5k/ 10k training, whereas (3 or 4 word answer pace) is better for longer runs. Threshold should be "controlled discomfort" where you finish and soon feel able to go again. Eg 3 x 5 mins, working up to 6 x 5 mins, with the threshold sections at race pace. These can also be incorporated into longer runs - increase pace to threshold pace 3-6 times during a longer run.
- Intervals and threshold running work different energy systems. Threshold develops lactate tolerance for aerobic running, whereas intervals which are closer to flat out pace develop the anaerobic energy system needed for shorter events.
-Make sure you are never hungry, but never over full.
-Protein rich. Carb clever - complex carbs at the right time.
-Nutrition timing - not just what but when!
- Consider micronutrients as they are vital to immune health, iron levels, and cell repair - anti oxidants, iron and ferritin, b12, zinc and vit c.
- A well rounded healthy diet is optimum for nutrition and comes before sports specific products. To be clear: eating regularly and healthily throughout training is far more important for optimum performance than loading with "sports" supplements just before.
- Fluid intake - as with the nutrition, hydration needs to be right throughout training and in the lead up to events.
- If you're eating bananas eat yellow to green rather than brown - better GI index for runners (stops blood sugar spiking; slower release of energy)
- If you are consuming gels in longer races, start 30-40 minutes in - this is the most important one to take as it takes a while for it to kick in and ensures you are fuelled before you need it!
During the last week/ two weeks before a race, training won't have time to bed in so is pointless and will only lead to fatigue on race day. Instead, keep running same time but reduce distance and intensity. Keep eating same amounts so energy levels increase. Continuing to run during those last few weeks increases confidence as u keep "being a runner", but just at an easy pace!
After a Half have an easy 4/5 days. By next weekend be into training again. After a marathon have an way week.
THE KEY: Your training life should form an equilateral triangle, with each of the three sides made up of training, rest, nutrition. All three should have equal importance in your training week. As soon as one "side" gets overlooked, the triangle becomes unequal and training will not be as effective!
Hope this is all useful and helps you with training!