An athlete is always looking for ways to improve their PBs, and I also think that when you get to the latter stages of your career you need to mix things up a bit just to stay interested and motivated. I’ve had 2 points in my athletic career (I’m not sure it qualifies as a career really, but for the lack of a better word we’ll stick with it…) where I’ve really considered giving up. The first was after attempting to qualify for the European Cross-country Championships and failing miserably (22nd place where 6 qualified) after a great build-up that suggested I should have been much better. Moving to the marathon after this kept me interested in running and the new challenge was welcome. The second incidence was when I moved to Sydney in 2012. I’d just had another big failure of missing out on the Olympics for the marathon and was disillusioned by training on my own, as well as keen to have some fun in a new city. Training with the great group I train with now saved me the second time and made running fun and enjoyable again.
I’m currently loving my running again, having set PBs at every distance I’ve raced from 3,000m to marathon in the past 18 months – no mean feat for a 32 year old! I’ve always wanted to know more about what contributes to me running well (that’s the scientist in me coming through!) and while this has negatives – overanalysing; it also means I’m always trying to improve what I do.
My one ‘criticism’ of myself in the past 3 years is I haven’t run as fast over the marathon as I should have. I was unlucky in 2011 when I believe I was due a huge breakthrough based on my training, but I got a niggling injury that put me out of competition for 6 months. By contrast I’ve been really lucky with injuries since I’ve moved to Australia and have taken a minute off my PB to 2.15.52. But I believe I should be running considerably faster than this. My PBs over 10k (28.40) and the half marathon (63.59) suggest I can, and if you ask my coach, my training group, my peers, and many commenters on my blog, they believe the same!
So, why haven’t I? Why have I smashed PBs all over the place except the marathon? Well there are various theories, ranging from my training and my natural best distance, to my diet and to just bad luck. The marathon is much harder to get right and the opportunities are far fewer.
I’ve personally weighed all of this up, and believe first and foremost, that whatever I’m doing currently, it’s hardly been unsuccessful. I’ve had some great results in the past 18 months and this should not be forgotten. Whatever changes I make should be subtle, and also marathon specific as I have performed well at distances shorter than this.
I’ve spoken to many people about what I should change, and this experience has made me realise how many friends I have in the sport and I’ve been amazed at how many people are prepared to listen and offer advice. As to the changes, I will go into more detail in further blogs, but these are the two I believe can help. The first is something I’ve incorporated in the past and is not new to me, the second is much newer, but I believe it’s worth trying.
So, no more suspense! The changes in brief:
1. Less VO2 max work, more longer, hard runs. By less, I don’t mean cutting it out, as I believe these hard sessions with the group have been invaluable. I think that 3-4 sessions specific to the marathon will be a big help, and I’ll go into details on these later.
2. Adapting my diet to be lower carb, higher fat. The theory is that if you reduce the carb intake at certain times then you train the body to burn fat as an energy source more efficiently. Whatever way you look at it – you have enough glycogen in your liver and muscles to get through about 70% of the marathon, and then you rely on fat. Most of the time in training you rely on burning glycogen, so in very basic terms, for 30% of the marathon your body isn’t trained very well to use the right energy source. Again, this is not meant to be drastic and I’ll be very careful with how I incorporate it, but it makes sense. I’ll add more content and evidence to this later on – I don’t want to use all my interesting stuff today straight away!!!
In the meantime, I simply have to get fit again, and actually I’m focussing on 5k to half marathon for a few months, so, Vo2 max sessions and high carb diet it is!