Helping runners master their training and nutrition so that they can go further, run faster and smash their running goals

Tag: Mental Page 2 of 3

Christmas with a difference

Enjoy yourself and stay on top of your health this Christmas

Christmas 2018 at Waterworks parkrun Belfast

Like many, it will be a very different Christmas for us this year. We won’t see any other family and we’re even opting for afternoon tea instead of a Christmas dinner. There won’t be the annual rush to get out of the door and down to the parkrun start line on time!

I know many will face tougher Christmasses than us and I extend my best wishes to you all especially this year. Keep your body and mind active and stay healthy.

We will be heading out for a run/walk on Christmas morning. It will be the first time in 7 years I haven’t done the parkrun but the coach has a run in the plan and it’s always good to get out early and enjoy the rest of the day in the warm.

It’s tempting to fall off the wagon completely at this time of the year in many aspects. Suddenly it’s colder outside and those runs don’t seem as appealing. Our diet can fall by the wayside because there are more ‘treats’ lying around that can sneak their way in.

New year is just round the corner which seems like the perfect opportunity to pick up the pieces but it can be harder than it needs to be depending on how far we’ve let it slide.

Last year I purposely took 2 weeks off running. I’d just run a marathon at the end of November and I felt I needed a little break. But I didn’t replace it with anything. No walks round the block, no cycling or swimming.

And I’m also the type of person that cannot resist an open bag of doritos, a tub of quality street or a social drink. Visiting family and friends at Christmas always turned into too much food and drink for a few days in a row.

I remember it taking a few weeks of marathon training in January to start feeling like I was getting back into shape again. It was tough to get going again even with the cross country season in swing and Boston marathon to look forward to.

That’s not to say that Christmas time shouldn’t be enjoyed. You should absolutely have the best time you can – we deserve it this year more than any. But there are ways to mitigate how much work it will take in January to get into shape. We don’t have to let it slide till then.

Try and maintain your regular running schedule. If you can’t do that or want a little break then why not go for a walk instead? Take the kids round the lights in the neighbourhood at night. I think people have made more effort with decorations than usual this year and we were out for half an hour last night.

Enjoy the food and drink but think twice about digging in the tub for more and more chocolate. If I wasn’t paying attention I would just keep eating if something is out on the table. Limit the amount of ‘nibbles’ you put out and ideally limit the amount in the house! We always buy more than we need.

Better still try and opt for healthier nibbles such as veggie sticks. Use dips if you like, overall they’re still going to be a lot healthier than bowls of crisps.

Use the time now to think about your goals for 2021. It’s tempting to switch off entirely and wait till the 1st of January to wave the magic wand but if you have time off round Christmas, it‘s a great time to reflect on the year and start planning ahead.

January comes round very quickly and before we know it we’re back at the grind with Christmas a distant memory and we haven’t got a proper handle on what we’re doing next.

A walk or a run can be a perfect time to get out and think about this year and next. Are you happy with where you are and what you are doing? What areas of your life could be improved? What could you start doing to address that area?

Enjoy Christmas and a massive thank you for reading and supporting my articles. Please let me know if there are areas you’d like me to write about more by emailing me or DM on social media. See you all in 2021!

More than one way to climb a mountain

How will you get to the top?

You are sitting in your car at the bottom of a mountain with a goal of reaching the top. You can see the top from where you are. It looks steep and daunting to go straight up and you know there is a longer gradual path that climbs round the side of the mountain.

Which do you choose?

The answer may seem obvious to you but there is more than one legitimate choice and it may depend on your goal, mindset and other factors.

Route one

The first option is to scramble up the steep side making a beeline for the top. You know it will be a tougher route and it might not be enjoyable but you hope it will save you some time and get you to the top faster.

There are some pros and cons to this approach. The main pro is that you are fully focused on your end goal, reaching the top, and you are going to try and achieve it in the shortest time possible.

This is good if time is a limiting factor, you can give it your full focus and your main reason for this expedition is to reach the top. But what if you are also expecting a business call? Are you going to be able to take that at the same time?

What if it gets unexpectedly steep? Will you be able to carry on? Do you want to enjoy the ascent to the top, not just the view from the top?

The long and winding road

The second option is to take the long path that you know is a more gentle ascent. You know it might take longer to get to the top but you’d like to enjoy the journey too. You can take that business call because you’re not clinging onto rocks with your hands.

Here the pros and cons flip round. The main con is that it might take longer to reach the top. In fact, this time there is a risk that you turn round before the top, not because it has got too difficult, but that the path is too long and you got bored walking it.

But on the plus side, you can appreciate the views while you are climbing, you don’t have to put everything else on hold while you climb. You are also less likely to encounter unexpected obstacles impeding your route.

Come back another day

There is a third option. You decide that today isn’t the day to get to the top. Maybe the mist is down and conditions aren’t ideal for you to start on this journey. Maybe there are more important things in your life that you need to concentrate on today.

This is also a valid route. You have the option to say ‘this isn’t right for me now but I will tackle this at a point in the future’. Get specific on when that might be though because ‘later’ is code for ‘never’ in many cases.

So what is the right approach?

I hope you can see by now that this isn’t about climbing a mountain! It stands true for not only running goals but any goal in life. And there is no answer that is right all the time. I have used all three, and the right answer depends on what your goal is and what your circumstances are.

I am a fan of making incremental changes that can be sustained in the long term because that way you are more likely to enjoy the process and keep improving and progressing.

But that doesn’t mean that this is always the right thing to do and occasionally achieving a goal is more important than the journey to get there. In that case, making a lot of short term sacrifices to get there can be a valid approach. Just be careful to ensure the goal is really that important.

To extend our mountain metaphor, imagine you went route one to the top of the mountain but when you get to the top you see another taller mountain in the distance. You now realise that you will have to descend a long way down first before ascending the next mountain. And you can see the longer path now leading steadily up to the higher mountain.

Routes I’ve taken over the years

I thought running a sub 3 marathon would be the pinnacle for me, that I’d be content once I got to the top but whilst I did feel a great sense of achievement, my immediate thought was ‘what next?’.

Thankfully in that case I was on a more gradual path to a higher mountain. I had made sustainable changes to my running schedule that stood me in good stead to ascend the next peak.

Contrast that with when I broke 20 mins for 5k the first time. That was a real slog because my training wasn’t good. I just kept turning up to parkruns and inching a few seconds off each week. When I finally got to the top, I celebrated and didn’t do it again for another 3 years because I hadn’t enjoyed the journey and any other mountains looked too far off in the distance.

Finally, in 2017 I ran 24 parkruns in 24 hours for charity. This is an example of where a route one approach worked. I had to sacrifice more time than I would like with training runs and the journey was tough. But the goal was clearly defined and mattered more. I didn’t need to be able to do it on an ongoing basis, I just needed to finish.

Get out of the car!

What do you want to achieve and what approach will you take? When will you do it? It is fine to turn the car round, go home and come back in a year. But don’t sit in the car forever staring up at the mountain. Decide now and choose your path to the top of your running mountain.

Ready to nail a sub 3 marathon?

5 specific workouts to show you’re on target for a sub 3

When racing a marathon nothing is guaranteed. You only have to look at Eliud Kipchoge, probably the greatest marathoner of all time, at the 2020 London marathon to see that anyone can have issues causing them to have an off day.

However, for running a sub 3 hour marathon, there are some specific workouts that, if you can hit or get very close to, will show you’re on the right track. Of course, none of them are the same as running 26.2 miles in 3 hours but they give a good approximation of your fitness and ability.

Yasso 800s

I promise I’ll include some less well documented sessions but it would be remiss of me not to mention Yasso 800s which, simply put, are 10 x 800m intervals where each interval takes 3 minutes. Standard recovery is 3 minutes in between intervals but I think you can get away with as little as 90 seconds.

You should not be flat out on these intervals. I equate the pace to be roughly 10k pace or around an 8 out of 10 effort. These are best done on the track for ease of measuring 800m (2 laps) and to keep the conditions consistent between intervals.

You can do these out on the road but there is nothing worse than turning halfway through a session to find you had the wind behind you for the first half and battling against it for the second half.

If you can get a consistent effort of 3 minutes across all intervals then you’re in good shape for a 3 hour marathon. Interestingly, this works proportionally for other target times too. E.g. for a 4 hour marathon, the 800s should take 4 minutes; for a 5 hour marathon, 5 minutes (though in this case I would suggest only doing 8 intervals as it becomes a very long session).

Sixes and Sevens

This is a really tough session but great for your confidence if you can manage it. Run 20 x 1 minute on at 6 minute per mile pace, 1 minute off at 7 minute per mile pace. It ends up being a 40 minute fartlek session.

Running a minute at 6 minute per mile pace is not bad especially if you manage the Yasso session above but the ‘recovery’ at near marathon pace is tough. However, with practice you start to see the 7 minute mile pace as easy (which it needs to be, certainly at the start of the marathon).

Again, I recommend doing this on a track or somewhere flat, looped and sheltered.

10x your 5k time

This one tends to break down a little bit at either end of the spectrum but I still think it is a useful gauge in terms of your expected marathon time. Run your current best 5k effort and multiply by 10 to get an approximate marathon time. Working backwards from 3 hours gives 18 minutes for a 5k.

Of course, for a marathon you need strength and endurance not just speed so it’s only a guide and some may find they can run a sub 3 hour and not get under 18 minutes and some may be better over 5k and struggle with the marathon but it is a good target to get under your belt.

Additionally, it is a good test of your mental ability. Both an 18 minute 5k and a sub 3 hour marathon are tough but in completely different ways. The more ways you find to challenge yourself and the more situations you come through mentally, the better for tackling new challenges.

Long Run Fast Finish

This was a game changer for when I broke 3 hours the first time. The idea is fairly well documented but I’ve seen plenty of generic marathon training plans that don’t include these runs. Run the last 3-4 miles of a long run (e.g. 14 or 16 miles) at close to half marathon pace.

For a sub 3 I would recommend the last 4 miles at 6:30 pace though this is really hard to do if you’re not used to it. At the start of the training cycle you might have a job hitting target marathon pace but that’s fine. You’ll get to feel what marathon pace is like and over time get faster.

This trains your body and mind to run at pace on tired legs which you will need to do on marathon day. I firmly believe that running as close to even splits as possible is the best strategy to running your best marathon. This means you have to run as fast in mile 26 as in mile 1 but the effort is much greater. The fast finish runs prepare you somewhat for this.

However, I also believe they have a less obvious benefit. Knowing you have 4 tough miles at the end means you are more likely to reign in your effort at the start of a long run which is also something you need to do on race day.

(Atlantic) 252 hour

Remember the radio station or am I the only one that is old around here?! This is an elaborate name for a simple concept; an hour long 9 mile tempo with 2 miles at marathon pace (6:50), 5 miles at half marathon pace (6:20-6:30), 2 miles at marathon pace (6:50).

Like the fast finish runs, you have to hold back for the first 2 miles (consider this the warm up). The next 5 miles are comfortably hard; a pace that you feel you can hold, you’re not quite on the edge but you are working. When you get this pace right you almost feel invincible.

The last 2 miles will feel a relief from the faster pace but you still have to keep moving. Again this is great practice for the marathon itself. You will feel like you want to ease off that marathon pace but you have to keep ticking those miles off in under 7 minutes.

The beauty of this is that it fits almost exactly into an hour. If you’re looking to progress with this workout I would keep the marathon pace constant and work on lowering the time for the middle 5 miles. The controlled but challenging pace makes this one of my favourite runs.

Try one this week!

Don’t worry if you can’t hit these in week 1 or even week 10 – a marathon training cycle is long and you will adapt greatly over the course. These represent targets for what you can achieve towards the end of the training cycle but you can start working up to them from the beginning either by reducing the reps or the paces.

There are many other sessions that can and should be incorporated into a good marathon training plan; these are just some of my favourites. Why not try one of these this week? What other sessions do you love in a marathon training cycle?

Running like clockwork

How to love running even when you’re busy

Most of us are busy. All of the time. We work all day in jobs that demand more and more of us, we have families to support and nurture. We have meals to cook, packed lunches to make, kids to ferry about the place. It doesn’t leave us with a lot of energy for ourselves.

We might be able to get motivated with our running for a week or two or three but then something unexpected crops up and we miss a day. Then we miss two days, three, a week. Suddenly we realise we’re back out of the habit and we’re losing fitness and confidence. The motivation has gone.

When we lack consistency we lack the ability to reach the potential we have. Not only that but it’s bad for our mind because we know we could do better. If only we had the time.

Enjoy running now

Part of the problem is that we’re very good at choosing outcome goals for our running – completing a marathon, running a fast 5k. We’re not as good at defining our process goals. What do we want our training to look like week to week? How much time do we want to dedicate to it?

If we want to run a marathon, we will need to do a decent amount of training. Does this fit in with what we want to do currently in our lives? Will we be able to keep up with it with the other commitments we have?

Maybe it is a goal for further down the line and actually we’d just like to run consistently for 30 minutes 3 times a week to enhance your physical and mental wellbeing. We can probably still have some outcome goals based around this as well but over a shorter distance.

You don’t have to do it alone

Talk to your friends, family or work colleagues. Explain why running is so important to you and that you need to spend X time on it a week. Try to offset that by sharing responsibilities (cooking, kids etc) so that they can also do something they want to do.

Finding time for anything is much easier if you don’t feel guilty for doing it. Think of the benefits for others as well as yourself. Your mood and health is likely to be much better from running and you’re also going to make sure they have time for things too.

Be specific with your plans

Once you know what you want to do week to week, the best way to stay on track is to have a plan. But most plans are not enough by themselves. They will tell you what type of session to do on what day. But you need to be more specific if you struggle with consistency.

What time are you going to run? Where are you going to run? Do you have all the gear that you need ready? What happens if something unavoidable crops up? Do you have a plan B?

If you only have a vague plan in your head then it is very easy to let your running slide. Excuses can creep in. Do a quick planning session once a week for the upcoming week. Identify any problem days or abnormal commitments and work out how your runs will fit round them.

But I simply don’t have the time!

Some people are incredibly busy but most of us just think we are busier than we actually are. There are 24 hours a day. Let’s say you are lucky and get 9 hours of sleep a night, that leaves 15 a day or 105 a week.

Maybe you work 40 hours a week and maybe you spend the same amount of time on your friends/family. You’ve still got 25 hours left. What do you do with this time? Could you cut a little TV or social media time? Are there times you’re not really doing much because you haven’t got a plan?

The NHS guidelines are to get 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week for your health. We should all be able to find that time but we may need to be a little bit creative to do it. Here are some suggestions:

  • Go early! – Getting out for your run early gives you a head start on the rest of the day. In summer it has the added bonus of getting you out in the sunlight which helps sleeping patterns. (If you are doing this in winter make sure you are well lit and somebody knows where you are going. Only run on roads with proper footpaths and lighting.)
  • Run during your lunch break – This is an effective use of time that you might otherwise be reading a news website or trawling through social media. If you work in an office, check to see if you have showers in the building. Many modern offices now do.
  • Use school times or kids clubs Can you run straight after you’ve dropped the kids off to school or immediately before picking them up? Do your kids go to drama, sports clubs etc? These are often perfect slots of time for a run while you wait for them.
  • Struggling for childcare? Take them with you! – This can work for children of all ages. For very young children you can get a running buggy. Older kids might be able to run with you. For primary age kids, is there a football pitch you can run round while they play in the middle?

Start today!

Finding time is not easy but with a little bit of purpose, support and creativity, you can love running once again. What is your biggest struggle and what will you do today? Please leave a comment or mail me at

What is your plan now?

Getting your focus right for the times

This week, after months of speculation, London marathon was finally cancelled. For the masses at least. (Hello to Eliud again if you’re reading this, you can probably skip this one…) I’d be amazed if that came as a big surprise to anyone. There just didn’t seem any way they could pull it off.

But even if it wasn’t a shock, it finally ends the last shred of hope for thousands of runners, many of which might have been running there for the first time. It may have been a lifelong dream for some culminating in the one event.

Of course, there are many in the world suffering at the hands of the virus and the cancelling of a race should be considered in that context, but the virus has far reaching effects for many outside the obvious factors.

It places uncertainty on almost all aspects of life and to many, running is a multi-faceted health benefit improving body and mind, not to mention generating huge amounts of money for charities.

London is just one of many races cancelled round the world and the chances are that if you had a race planned in 2020, you will have been affected. It is understandable that, for some, finding the motivation to carry on and build on their training will be difficult.

It might seem harder to focus now than during the first main lockdown in the spring. Back then, the messages coming out were to endure the lockdown for a few months then things would start getting back to normal. Now, there doesn’t seem to be a timeline. We’re past the first lockdown but things are far from back to normal.

However, the benefits of running haven’t changed and for most of us there are higher personal reasons for running than doing a particular race. Motivation will ebb and flow but if we have a solid routine and good reasons for carrying it out, lack of motivation can be overcome.

Can you run your race virtually?

A lot of races are offering a virtual option. Some of these, like the New York marathon, give guaranteed entry into a future race which might well appeal to some. Even if there is no virtual option it doesn’t stop you running the distance yourself.

There are pros and cons to running virtually. The plus side is that there is none of the expense and logistical problems of a big city marathon. You can just lace up and run from your front door if you wish. If there are no time constraints, you can pick the date and time to suit you too.

You can pick any course you like. You can make it flat as a pancake for a good time, you could choose something very scenic or you could challenge yourself with the terrain or elevation. Doing the latter can help ease any time pressures you might have otherwise imposed on yourself.

However, it is much harder to run a good time without closed roads, crowds cheering you on and aid stations. You may have to carry supplies or pre-plan to stash them en route. You need to be conscious of traffic if you are not off-road.

You may be able to get someone to support you or run some/all with you if you are running for a longer time or you could run loops from your house to avail of the facilities. My brother ran 20 5k loops from his house in 2013 to raise money for charity and was joined by many for varying numbers of loops.

If you do choose to run a race virtually, decide on your motivation for doing it and decide on your goal. Don’t shortcut your training just because it isn’t a ‘real’ race. Whatever you do, you want to be able to cover the distance comfortably without getting injured.

Try something new

Maybe like me, you were training for a marathon but don’t want to run one virtually. I love running but to me, the marathon is something a bit extra. With a young family, the weekend long runs are a big sacrifice of time and yet my weekly mileage has increased without doing these.

Instead, I’ve been training towards a 10k with slightly more sessions across the week but in general shorter. The change has been subtle but enjoyable and I feel in the best shape of my life. Tuning up for a longer race would not take too long either.

There are lots of things you could do to vary your training up. You could train for a shorter distance like me or a longer distance which might relieve any time pressure. You could train on new terrain such as on trails or in the mountains or even on the beach.

You could change your routine. This is something I have intentionally done since lockdown. Because I no longer have to commute to work, I get my run done in the morning instead of at lunchtime from work. This has also changed the terrain for me as it is hilly at home but flat near work.

Try tracking a different metric (see Trinity of Tracking). If you’ve never looked at your heart rate, buy a chest strap and start working out what your body is doing. If you’ve never kept a running journal, start giving yourself an RPE (Relative Perceived Exertion) score after each run.

Work on a weakness

We all have weaknesses and with limited racing opportunities it can be a good time to try and plug the gaps we have. There are so many aspects of running that also spill into our daily lives and general health.

You might work on a technical element of running by incorporating more running drills into your weekly schedule. You might improve your strength by adding in some/more strength work. This is something I have been very bad at in the past but have been doing in the last few months.

Maybe hills are your weakness or you shy away from speed work. Maybe you run too fast on easy days or don’t get enough sleep. Maybe your diet could be improved. There are so many things you could focus on.

Don’t try and change everything at once. Pick one or two things to work on and track your progress. Commit to persevering with it for your next training cycle and you will definitely see progression. In fact, it can be more rewarding than focusing on something we’re already good at because the improvements ought to be that much more stark.

Set your dream goals for the future

Whilst it might be difficult to see how to achieve some goals now, set out what you want to do in the next 5 years. It could be some of all of the things above or something very specific. Making long term goals can help you set your short term sights in the right direction.

For most of us I think staying injury free and enjoying our running is high up the list and following some of the ideas above will help towards that. Specific goals might be very personal. They might be a achieving a time goal or qualifying for or competing in a particular race.

Dream big! I still want to complete the six major marathons. So far I’ve only London on my CV and I’ve had Boston and Berlin cancelled this year. It means that I’ll need to stay fit for a few years yet as we don’t know what will happen over the next while and I’ll need to qualify again for some of them.

Most of all though I want running to be an effortless part of my life. It needs to be in balance with other things I do and I keep striving to find the optimum training schedule to do that. I think that is one of the most important keys to enjoying the process of training.

Start today!

Unfortunately, Covid-19 could be around for some time and our lives are constantly at risk of being disrupted. But time is not standing still. There is still so much that we can do to better ourselves and get fulfilment from our running. Take control of your running and make your plan today! Let me know what you’re focusing on right now.

The Trinity of Tracking

Triangulate your fitness and performance

Last time, we looked at how obsessing over pace can seriously affect our confidence. We touched on monitoring ‘relative perceived effort’ (RPE) and heart rate. But if you’ve never done this before, what do you do?

To get started with RPE, all you need is to score each running session out of 10 for intensity, making sure that the score fits in with the session purpose. For example, it is counter productive to run at 8 for an easy run or to run at 4 for intervals.

Another way to think of RPE might be to compare it to your starting effort for various race distances. I say starting effort because all races get harder towards the end when you fatigue. 1-2 could be a walk, 3-4 an ultra marathon, 5-6 a marathon, 7 a half marathon, 8 a 10k, 9 a 5k.

Different individuals may be inclined to underestimate or overestimate their effort but as long as the estimates are relative to each other they will be useful.

It is a more subjective metric but it gets you to think about how you feel rather than just watching numbers. This is important because it allows you to get more in tune with what your body is doing and allows you to decide when to push and when to hold back.

Heart rate monitoring is a little bit more complicated but is an invaluable tool. Firstly, you’ll need to invest in a chest strap monitor and a compatible watch (if you don’t own one already).

Many watches include wrist based heart monitoring but it isn’t very accurate compared to a chest strap. The wrist based monitoring can be very glitchy or generally non-responsive to intensity changes. However, most of the watches that have wrist based monitoring also allow you to pair a chest strap over bluetooth.

Next, you’ll need to work out what your ‘heart rate zones’ are. These are generally worked out as percentages of your maximum heart rate but it’s also difficult to find out what your maximum heart rate is.

The general rule of 220 – age is good enough to at least start off and see whether the numbers are in the right ballpark. Beware that some of the heart rate zones on tracking software like Strava and Garmin Connect also seem to be way off for most people.

To keep things simple for now, think of 3 intensity zones relating back to RPE, easy (up to 4), medium (5-7), hard (8 and up). You simply need to find your medium band. The lower end would be a pace and intensity you could maintain for a long time (several hours) and the top end is an intensity you could only keep going for an hour.

Using your maximum heart rate, try 80% for the lower end and 87% for the upper end. Over time you can tweak these numbers to be more accurate for you. Don’t forget heart rate is still a sliding scale not a stepped scale. The boundaries between intensity zones are not concrete so the bottom of the medium zone will be close to easy while the top is close to hard.

  • Example:
  • Runner Age: 36
  • Max HR: (220 – 36) = 184
  • Easy/Medium boundary (Aerobic Threshold) = (80% of 184) = 147
  • Medium/Hard boundary (Lactate Threshold) = (87% of 184) = 160

So all easy running should be 147 or below and harder interval sessions should be 160 or higher. Anything else such as marathon pace efforts or tempo running will fall between 147-160.

As said earlier, these are generic guidelines and you should fine tune these thresholds to what your body is telling you. At an easy pace, you should be able to maintain the same pace and heart rate for at least an hour. If you’re running harder than easy, your heart rate will drift up.

Just under your lactate threshold, the effort should feel ‘comfortably hard’, meaning that you feel like you are working hard but not struggling. It’s a pace you could keep going at for about an hour. Over your lactate threshold, you should start to feel heavy legs setting in and a feeling that you’d like to stop in much less than an hour.

As your fitness changes, so will your thresholds so it’s important to keep listening to your body and be honest about whether you’re pushing too hard or not hard enough. Over time, you can use the combination of all three to know exactly where your general fitness is and gauge your performance on any given day.

There is a lot of information presented here and you can get even more detailed. However, if you have only ever tracked pace then getting started on heart rate and/or RPE will open up a new dimension to your training tracking. The key takeaways are:

  1. Ensure your easy runs stay easy allowing you to hit harder workouts at the intensity required.
  2. Use heart rate and/or RPE in tandem with pace monitoring to better gauge your performance in a session.

As always, if you find this helps or have any questions about getting started, please mail me at

Obsessing over pace?

How to avoid losing your mojo

Most of us know our PB times. They’re etched in the memory banks eagerly waiting to be overwritten by new ones. We probably know roughly what pace we ran to get those results. And those paces are almost always a little scary. How did we manage to run that fast for that long?

We forget that those are by definition personal bests. We forget that we can’t be at our best all the time even when we’re improving in general. We forget about outside factors such as weather or terrain. We forget that we aren’t machines.

At a recent interval training session, I asked everyone how they would track their intensity for the session. Almost all said they would monitor their pace. It didn’t surprise me that pace was the majority answer but the extent of the majority was surprising. Maybe it shouldn’t be.

There is nothing wrong with monitoring pace sometimes, especially in a race where we have a target. After all, pace is what determines the result we end up with. Nobody ever posted up a comment on Strava boasting about a new low average heart rate for a 10k race.

The problem is when we obsess over pace all the time. On easy runs it can stop us running easy enough. We don’t get the full benefits of a recovery run that we should. It can lead to feeling burnt out from too much mileage at too high an intensity.

On harder sessions, tracking pace can really knock our confidence when we can’t quite hit the pace we are aiming for. We spend the whole session nervously glancing at the watch and thinking ‘I’m not getting this, I can’t do this’. We’re not focusing on good running form and consistent effort.

Quite some time ago I moved to tracking heart rate in training. Heart rate monitoring is not without some flaws and does require some experimentation to get right but it can really help you hone in on your actual effort level.

It flips the mindset of an easy run on its head. Instead of trying to hit a certain pace and feeling like something is wrong if you fall short, the emphasis is on staying under a target heart rate. Pace becomes irrelevant. You run slow enough to achieve an easy pace for you that day.

Harder sessions are similar. Instead of beating yourself up that you didn’t hit the right pace, you know that you put in the required effort for that session. In fact, you may even exceed your pace expectation by targeting heart rate instead.

The main problem with monitoring heart rate is that whilst general guidelines can be given which are useful as a starting point, every individual is different so ‘heart rate zones’ will differ. This is where a third metric, ‘relative perceived effort’ (RPE), can help.

RPE requires you to give an honest assessment of the effort you feel you are putting in. You score your effort out of 10. You can make up your own scale but I suggest up to 4 as easy, 5-7 as steady to tempo and 8-10 as threshold up to an all out sprint.

By combining and monitoring pace, heart rate and RPE, you can build up a far more complete picture of how you are performing and in turn improve your confidence in your training and progression.

In the next article, I’ll talk about how to track heart rate and RPE but for now please think about your own training. Do you solely track pace? Did tracking pace ever leave you dejected? Please let me know at

Training through social distancing

The current Covid-19 crisis is changing rapidly day by day. Restrictions on our interactions and movements affect what we can do from a training perspective but it is also important to keep fit physically and mentally. Here are a few suggestions for what to do in the coming weeks around training and general health:

  1. Do not take any risks with your health or others’ health. If you are in a high risk category then stay at home and do what you can there. If you do go out for a run, go where you know there will not be many people or there is a wide open space where you can avoid coming into contact with other people.

Examples of suitable places would be playing fields, quiet country roads or wide roads with wide pavements, preferably quiet.

  1. Stick to the same number of sessions during the week to maintain fitness. You may need to do different sessions from normal depending on your location and circumstances but keeping up a regular routine will mean your fitness does not decline. Remember that running easy still burns calories and builds your aerobic base.
  1. Work on a weakness that you normally neglect. Maybe your balance isn’t great or you neglect strength training. Maybe hills are your nemesis and you have some near your house you can train on. Whilst races are postponed, it is a perfect time to fill some of these gaps if you are able to.

Running drills, strength work and balance / coordination can all be worked on at home. You may be able to cross train at home if you have an exercise bike or similar.

  1. Don’t be tempted to let your diet run away. With all the extra time at home it is very easy to overeat and drink. Stick to your normal eating routine and even try and cook some healthier meals if you can. Make sure you keep drinking water through the day as it will help curb appetite.
  1. Take time to switch off from the day to day and focus on where you want to be at the end of the year. It’s easy to focus on the fact that there are no races right now and switch off from training but by keeping a good base going now, you will be in a much better position to tackle races later on in the year.

Keep yourself and others safe and focus on the running you have ahead of you. The situation will pass eventually so be in the best shape you can to come out the other side raring to go.

Sometimes the best runs happen when you least expect it

I’m sure lots of you have been in the same boat this week. Checking and checking to see if your target race is being postponed or cancelled. It doesn’t half sap the motivation. I canned two runs already this week and half arsed another couple.

Today Boston marathon was postponed. I’ve been looking forward to it since I qualified for it 18 months ago. I knew it was coming. I nearly didn’t bother with my tempo today. But I did. And it was awesome. It took me by surprise.

Sometimes the best runs happen when you least expect it.

The race is just the culmination of the process and if we can’t enjoy the process then we’ll spend a lot of time being unhappy. Sure it is incredibly disappointing but sometimes there are more important things in life.

This weekend get out and run. Enjoy being able to run. Let everything else take a back seat for a little while and remember why we love the process. Remember what running means to you. There will be other races but they’re for another day. Enjoy today.

Love/hate relationship with the half marathon

The half marathon is my favourite distance. Long enough to be a great physical challenge to aim for but not so long that training for it need take over your life. It is short enough that you can run at a decent pace without carrying lots of supplies while not so short that you feel you are running out of control with every step.

Some of my best races have been half marathons. It’s as close to the fabled runners’ high that I have experienced. You are running at a pace which feels tough on the one hand yet you feel you can keep it going almost indefinitely.

Your body is working hard but your mind is only switched on enough to check your pace is consistent. Miles have passed in half marathons where I couldn’t recall a thing and almost felt trance-like, so focused on maintaining form, cadence, effort and pace.

I have also had good races where external factors have been able to penetrate the trance. I have run half marathons with spectacular coastal or mountainous scenery and ones with great support or out and back routes where you pass many other runners.

External factors are really important to help you along when you are struggling but it is also great to enjoy them when things are going well too.

However, get the half marathon wrong and it can be a soul destroying experience. Let me reframe my opening statements:

A half marathon is long enough that you must do a decent amount of training to be able to complete it well. It is too long to run at your fastest pace. You have to know where the line is to be able to regulate your pace correctly for a half marathon.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes and run some pretty horrific half marathons. I was so under trained for my first half marathon that my brother had to drag me round the last 4 miles listening to me whingeing ‘I can’t do this!’. We finished 11 minutes slower than I did for the next half I actually trained properly for.

In 2019 I ran a fairly flat half marathon 6 weeks after running a half marathon PB on a similar course. I started far too fast, neglecting the fact that since the last half I had run London marathon and not really recovered properly and my training had been reduced for taper either side of it.

After 2 miles at 5k pace the damage was done. The last 11 miles seemed like the longest, toughest miles I’d ever run, though in truth they should have been relatively easy. By the end I was running a minute a mile slower than my London marathon pace and finished 6 minutes slower than 6 weeks earlier.

You can definitely avoid the woeful runs I’ve had throughout the years. Obviously having strength in the legs and some decent long runs in the bag is essential. Base training of strength and conditioning sessions combined with some hill runs can build up your strength.

This phase should precede your half marathon training. During the plan your long run will increase gradually over each week. I recommend building up to at least the same elapsed time you plan to run on the day. 11 miles at easy pace should take you the same time as a half at race pace.

In the more advanced half plans we go up to 16 miles. With proper fuelling beforehand this should be over before any ‘wall’ you may encounter in marathon training and races. You may still feel you need energy boosts for a half marathon, especially if you are running 2 hours plus, but unlike marathons, it isn’t as critical. One less thing to think about makes things easier.

If you are new to half marathons then ensuring you can complete the distance should be your main focus. If you have run a few and are looking to improve then you may want to focus more on speed but never forget your long runs are still key.

The short intervals are great for increasing raw speed and improving your 5k time. If your 5k time is improving then it is very likely that your half marathon time will improve too if the rest of your training is going well.

However, the tempo or progression runs are my favourite for the half marathon. Typically you will run 3 to 6 miles in the middle at half marathon pace. If you can hold this pace then it’s a great indicator that you’re on the right track for the race.

Technically, this pace is slightly below ‘lactate threshold’ pace. This is the pace at which the body can clear out lactate faster than it is produced in the muscles. Once you go over this pace you will fatigue very quickly – which is what happened to me in my ordeal in 2019.

My biggest tip is to understand and be honest about exactly what shape you are in when you take on a half marathon. This can work both ways. In the past I have been overly optimistic of what I could achieve leading to some spectacular blow-ups.

However, sometimes when the training has gone well, you have to back yourself to maintain a pace during the race that you’ve only held for 5 miles in training. You have to remember that the race is a culmination of all the different parts of training coming together combined with the freshness of rest and the adrenaline of race day.

When you get it right the half marathon can make you feel almost invincible.

Page 2 of 3

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén