Saturday, January 27, 2018

More thoughts about Verheul Training

Not a lot of serious racing has been going on since 2018 commenced. It's been too darn hot! Even at 8.00 AM for the Parkrun 5k the temperature has been rarely below 19C. The humidity has been high too — this morning my shirt, shorts and socks were soaked in sweat by the time I'd finished running. My fastest 5k so far this year was on the 13th of January, 24:35 on a warm morning that also happened to be windy! My goal for this year is to run under 23:00 — even 22:59 will do! I don't think this will be an easy task, as it means finding another 34 seconds over my best time from last year.

Besides the lack of hard racing, my training has been going well. I'm averaging a little over 80 km per week, or around 8 and a half hours for those who measure by time. Looking back at my training diaries from the 1990s, I would have covered about 105 km in 8.5 hours (sufficient weekly time in my opinion for good race results). I'm back doing regular Verheul interval sessions, but in a different manner to how I ran them last year. I think my execution of the Verheul Methode wasn't how it should have been.

The most important thing is how the feet and legs interact with the ground. What we're looking for is a feeling of 'reactivity' with each stride. Now this doesn't mean striving for exaggerated 'springing' and vertical movement. It means running lightly with reactivity and forward movement. Last year I was too concerned with split times of the faster efforts and not enough with how each stride felt. I thought there was good value in doing a large amount of running at near race pace, when the real value comes from repeating the feeling of good reactive strides. For Verheul sessions now, I'm typically thinking about how the stride feels, without concern for how fast I'm running. My walking recoveries are now shorter than previously. I might walk for 100m and run for 400m, or walk for 200m and run for 300m rather than the 1:1 walk/run by distance that I did before. I'll let you know how things progress over the coming weeks.

Long run with the Speedygeese at Majura Pines

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Looking forward to fast times in 2018

When I set myself the goal of racing 5k in 22:45 or faster at the beginning of 2017 I thought I'd be closing the year by writing about the successful achievement of this goal. Unfortunately not! My fastest 5k remains the 23:32 achieved at the Tuggeranong Parkrun in March. Recent racing and form has me feeling optimistic about running a 22:45 5k in 2018. Conditions will need to be good though — cool and calm. Recently it's been very warm in the mornings and as a big sweater, I don't do well in warm conditions. For the CJs' 5k lunch runs in spring it was inevitably blowing a gale.

Last weekend I had a good 'double' of races — Tuggeranong Parkrun 5k on Saturday in 24:06 (very warm at 22C) and on Sunday, the 'Tour de Ridges' 10.6k trail race in 57:09 which equalled my PB from 2014. The other run that gives me confidence was an interval session the previous Tuesday — 3 x 1k in 4:33, 4:22 and 4:33 with 1k jog recoveries. That's my 5k race goal pace, run on a warm (26C) day. Bring on some cool mornings!

One thing I've struggled to get right on a 'traditional' training plan (as opposed to Verheul training), is the correct effort/pace for easy days. I've always tended to run too fast. I've never had enough separation of effort between hard days and easy days. Former Australian 10,000m record holder Shaun Creighton talked about this in a recent podcast. You can listen to the interview here, starting at 63 minutes. Shaun has recently broken the Australian M50 5000m record, running 15:34.71. He said that he's always run the easy days very easy, the reason being that in order to improve, the body is stressed on hard days and allowed to recover (and supercompensate) on easy days. This is something I want to improve on in 2018 — run very easily and relaxed on easy days.

Celebrating after the Tour de Ridges on Sunday

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Racing with an Iron Deficiency?

I had a blood test on 9 November — one of the comments at the bottom was 'mild anaemia' (concerning from a performance standpoint for a competitive runner). Haemoglobin was 133 g/L with the normal range being 135 to 180. This was down from 138 in February of 2016. Haematocrit was 0.42, with the normal range being 0.40 to 0.54. I'm having further checks to find out the cause. I'll let you know what's up when the results are available. It may be nothing more than dietary — not getting enough iron via my vegetarian diet.

My training and racing since the last blog post hasn't changed much — around 80 kilometres per week of running, with regular races, moderate length 'long' runs and Verheul intervals. I've had a couple of enjoyable 5k races although they haven't been spectacularly fast. I ran 23:43 in the Boathouse 5k on 31 October, having a good race with Gabe for the second half on a pretty quick course. Last Sunday there was the Fisher's Ghost 5k, a day trip to the beautiful campus of Western Sydney University. Jim did the driving, leaving his place at 4:30 AM! Needless to say, I was well awake by the start time of 8:00 AM after hearing all of Jim's best jokes and running anecdotes during the drive.

I started fairly fast, passing Jimmy in the first straight. He's been dealing with a sciatica injury, sometimes racing well and other times barely being able to walk! I ran up the first hill okay (there are four hills on the 5k course) and can recall having some good battles with young and old runners for the rest of the race. Finishing time was 24:18, 5 seconds faster than last year. Happy it wasn't slower! I placed 2nd in the fairly broad age-group of 60-69 with Jim placing a happy 3rd. Norma outshone us both by taking out the 70+ female category as an 85-89 runner in the spectacular time of 38:53!

Speedygeese long run at Mount Painter

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Verheul Training Update

This update has been a little while coming — every 5k race I've run since the Hervey Bay Parkrun has been accompanied by the strong winds typical for this time of year in Canberra. In one race I was almost blown to a stop by a particularly strong gust. It was incredible! Yesterday however, luck was with us for the Customs Joggers' 5k, with the wind miraculously dropping while we ran (before picking up immediately afterwards — the Captain Cook Fountain showering everyone as we chatted).

'CJs' is a handicapped start 5k race and I started alone with Roger's green shirt the immediate target. I glanced at the Garmin when it beeped at 1k, the 4:48 not feeling as easy as I'd expected. I kept running hard, passing Roger around 2k then caught up to Geoff just beyond 3k on the way back from the turn. Geoff was talkative and encouraging as usual while we ran past Rond Terrace. I pushed on to the finish, happy to hear Bron shout "33:49!" as I passed the line. Splits had been 4:48, 4:50, 4:48, 4:46 and 4:37 for a net time of 23:49 and an average heart rate of 144 (about 91% of my maximum).

After another month of training using the Verheul Method I've raced 5 seconds slower than Hervey Bay, but I'm happy! Why? Well, this method of training is quite addictive in how it leaves your legs feeling — springy, fresh and full of life. I've noticed however, my aerobic fitness gradually declining off the 50 to 55 kilometres per week I've been running, with 4 to 5 days of that being full recovery short intervals. It's a little like how I felt during track racing seasons in the old days — 800 and 1500 metre times would improve off speedwork and interval training. Then you'd try a late season 3000m or 5000m race and run slower for those than you did early in the season off a base of winter training.

I'm experimenting with a change to my implementation of the Verheul Method. Each week I'll have two days for short Verheul intervals (with a longer warm-up), one day will be a 5k race or tempo run, one day will be for long (800m to 1k) Verheul intervals (with a long warm-up) and the other three days will be for non-stop aerobic running. Weekly mileage will be between 70 and 80 kilometres. That's the plan at this stage, but no plan is set in stone!

After the 29 September Customs Joggers' 5k

Friday, September 08, 2017

The Hervey Bay 5k and Verheul Training

I've just returned from a week of warm weather training in Queensland. The shorts and sandals attire was luxurious after experiencing late winter snow and freezing temperatures in Canberra. While I was in Hervey Bay I raced the Parkrun 5k (starting at the earlier time of 7.00 AM to beat the heat!). Happily, I ran a little faster than I have been recently — 23:44, finishing 34th in the field of 198 and 1st VM60-64. My fastest 5k of 2017 remains the 23:32 run at the Tuggeranong Parkrun in March. I was happier with the Hervey Bay result because expectations were low while warming up with ordinary feeling legs. I thought anything under 25 minutes would be a pass mark.

I lined up a little way back from the front and it was a few hundred metres before the crowd thinned out. Before the start some pacers were introduced, one being John Street to pace '24 minutes' (John's VM75-79 record is a very impressive 21:02). Around the 1k sign I caught up to John and his small group which included a couple of youngsters. My Garmin split afterwards showed 4:37 at 1k. I followed John's group to the turn with the pace feeling okay. After the turn a couple of runners went ahead so I chased them all the way to the finish. Remaining splits were 4:47, 4:45, 4:50 and 4:45 so it had been a fairly evenly run race. John finished in 23:54.

I'm still fine-tuning the Verheul Method of training. My legs seem to have changed physically — being happy running in the range of 4:00 to 4:40 per km pace for most of the short intervals. It's becoming natural to run at those speeds and steady running at my former 'general' running pace (5:45 to 6:00 per km) feels awkward. I think I'll experiment with a mid-week run of an hour or so of even paced running so a steady effort  remains as natural as reactive faster running. At the moment I'm walking my recoveries (rather than jogging). My thinking is that I don't want the legs to become 'confused' with what they're being trained to do — run lightly and reactively at 5k race pace.

What is the ideal distance for Verheul intervals? I'm liking 250 metres. Typically that distance takes me one minute, ten seconds to run (4:40/km pace), short enough that I can remain aerobic and concentrate on form and reactivity for the full distance of the interval while not so long that I become tired. It's very easy however, to dip into anaerobic energy stores when running 'fast' over such short distances. My natural inclination is to run on the fast side, closer to 4 minute km pace. I think for the Verheul Method to be effective the temptation to 'overspeed' needs to be avoided at all costs. Running a large volume of intervals tempers enthusiasm for speed but there's probably a 'just right' volume for each runner. Yesterday I ran 20 x 250m, which felt okay, but there's a danger of running tired and losing reactive form towards the latter stages of large volume interval sessions. I'll continue to experiment and let you know how things go.

Shortly after the start of the Hervey Bay Parkrun 5k

The 1k long Urangan Pier made a good warm-up location

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Lucky in my 33rd City to Surf

Last Sunday was my 33rd time running the 14k from Sydney to Bondi with 80,000 friends and, in retrospect, produced a very happy outcome. My finish time was on the slow side at 73:39 (5:16/km pace) and I finished well back in the field in 10,013th place but I didn't get injured. That's a good result!

What worried me prior to the race was a suspect left calf (the same one that took so much time to get right last year). On Friday I'd run some excessively exuberant 250m Verheul intervals — just four of them, but in the last two I pushed beyond 'relaxed and reactive', running under 4 minutes per km pace. After warming down, my left calf 'cramped' worryingly, walking down stairs to the car. On Saturday my only exercise was walking around the C2S Expo at Darling Harbour with Dave, Jen and Isaac. No problems, but I didn't even try jogging.

On Sunday morning I ran a very short warm-up, including a couple of tentative strides at race effort. The calf felt okay, but I was by no means confident of it lasting for the race. My goal was to make the rather daunting 14k distance in one piece. I didn't even try to get a forward position in the 'Green Group' (2nd corral to start). Once under way I ran down William Street with great care, pretty much in the 'angel gear' and passed through 1k in 5:47 (didn't know my pace at the time as I never once looked at the Garmin during the race). Running with the thought that at any step the calf might cramp or tear doesn't result in relaxed and enjoyable racing.

I made it safely over the early hills and ran along the flat through Rose Bay towards 'Heartbreak Hill' — all good so far! My legs were feeling quite easy and smooth. It was strange, as I felt like I could have increased the pace quite a bit at any time, at least on the flats. Up 'heartbreak' I ran/walked easily to keep pressure off the calves. Running along Military Rd through Dover Heights I again felt like I could have sped up quite a bit. I resisted the temptation though, thinking all the time 'just get to the finish with no heroics'. And that's what happened! I took Monday off from running and resumed 'easy' Verheul intervals on Tuesday. On Saturday I'm racing a 10k flat trail race at Wagga with my next 'all out' effort being in The Canberra Times 10k in early September.

Lovely sunny day for the 47th Sydney City to Surf

A few of my 80,000 friends ready to run

Good surfing conditions at Bondi Beach

Thursday, August 03, 2017

What are the advantages of the Verheul Method?

I'm into my second week of 'de Verheul methode' of training and still excited about the prospect of faster race times. I thought I'd briefly summarise my early thoughts on the possible advantages of training this way. I've always been an admirer of Arthur Lydiard and his training methods, as well as the Lydiard influenced 'complex training' of Pat Clohessy (Rob de Castella's coach) and Chris Wardlaw (Steve Moneghetti). Personally I've experienced success following the ideas of Hadd, Maffetone and more recently the LSD teachings of Joe Henderson ("Long Slow Distance: The humane way to train"). Most of my lifetime PBs were set when I was being coached by Geoff Moore. The Verheul Method is the first time I've run using 'interval training' on 5 days of the week. The advantages as I see it are as follows:

1) Changes to the leg muscles and tendons. This is the key advantage. Klaas Lok (Verheul's champion athlete) suggested there should be a 'muscle elasticity meter' that told the runner to stop a continuous distance run the moment reactivity (spring off the ground) decreased. Running a large volume of 'relaxed' intervals promises to change the muscles, thereby improving muscle reactivity and running form.

2) It's not a hard day/easy day style of training. Every day is a repeatable 'Goldilocks' day — not too easy, not too hard, just right. I presume this is because maximum heart rates are low and the running is well below anaerobic threshold (no lactic acid). Intervals are totally aerobic, short and relaxed. There's no waiting two days before the next hard session. Verheul agreed with Hungarian coach Mihaly Iglói who believed in not training harder than one's ability to be recovered for similar training the next day.

3) The only 'hard' running is the weekly race. This is the one time speed is continuous and the heart rate is high. Racing is a good environment in which to run fast because warm-ups are thorough, you're running with like-minded friends and intent is serious. Besides, racing is fun!

4) Mileage is relatively low. Having manageable targets for weekly mileage lessens the likelihood of over-training and sickness. You're not pushing your body near the tipping point of what's possible with volume. Verheul didn't prescribe schedules but I estimate that Klaas Lok and Joost Borm ran around 100 kilometres (60 miles) per week, possibly less. I'll target a weekly volume of between 60 and 70 kilometres (60 is the point below which I think I'd lose aerobic fitness). Such low volume is not 'Lydiard' and wouldn't suit marathon racers but Verheul's protégés Lok and Borm were Dutch champions. I'll list their track PBs in the last paragraph of this post.

4) The training is fun and not daunting. Thus far I've been looking forward to every session with legs feeling recovered and ready to go each day (often not the case when I've been logging higher mileage). Moderately intense and fun training has hormonal advantages over high stress training. I enjoy the feeling of running fast! The 3k to 5k race pace of most intervals is a lot faster than recovery or LSD running. I have the opportunity to do a few sessions each week within organised 'handicap start' runs and my usual 7 minutes per km average pace is quick enough to keep up with slower runners. Verheul used gymnastics as part of the warm-up for daily training, which would be fun in a group setting. I'll be using running drills instead of gymnastics.

5) Improved running economy at 5k race pace. If I add up all the fast intervals, fast sections of a fartlek trail run (and the weekly race), I'll be running about 30 kilometres per week at race pace. I think this will be beneficial at a neuromuscular level. Already I can feel that my cadence is faster and time on stance is shorter. I feel lighter on my feet. The other 30 kilometres of my training week is made up of the walk/jog recoveries, shake-out treadmill jogs and easy warm-ups and warm-downs.

Bob wondered in a comment on my previous blog if there would be enough mileage in a Verheul programme to race half marathons. The Saturday winter fartlek run was from 1 hour 15 to 1 hour 45 minutes duration so I think extending this a little in the build-up to a half marathon would be sufficient to race well. It seems that Joost Borm was a 'miler' and had PBs of 3:38.27 for 1500m, 4:01.5 for the mile and 5:01.27 for 2000m (which stood as the Dutch record from 1982 to 2001). Klaas Lok's PBs were 2:21.8 for 1000m, 3:38.83 for 1500m, 5:03.9 for 2000m, 7:52.5 for 3000m, 13:36.1 for 5000m, 28:24.7 for 10,000m and 3:57.69 for the mile — all recorded between 1976 and 1981. I've no doubt that Lok would have run a good half marathon if that distance had been popular when he was racing.

Spectacular views at the Gungahlin Gallop 10k on Sunday

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Verheul Method makes old legs feel young again

I've been running for almost 38 years yet only found out about 'De Verheul methode' this week. Am I slow, or what?! I'm excited about this discovery due to the possibility that training using this method will return springiness (and with that, speed) to ageing legs. Young runners have natural spring and recoil in their tendons and muscles which sees them travel further with each stride. As we age our stride shortens ever so gradually year by year. This is even more noticeable with marathon runners who spend a lot of time doing the long runs that are necessary for marathon success. I think Verheul training could be the secret to providing me with the fresh and springy legs I enjoyed at The Sydney Harbour 10k on a more permanent basis.

Herman Verheul is a Dutch coach who in 1979 had surprise success with two runners, Klaas Lok and Joost Borm, finishing 1st and 2nd in the Dutch National Cross Country Championships. The two runners had a supple and relaxed technique which was commented upon in newspapers the next day, just as much as their shock defeat of race favourites Gerard ter Broke and Tonnie Luttikhold. Verheul's coaching philosophy was explained in a 2005 book written by Lok, "Het Duurloopmisverstand" (The Misunderstanding of Endurance Runs). Verheul trained his runners with daily interval training, a gymnastics session, a weekly fartlek run in winter and weekly races. "Daily interval training! That sounds like torture!" I hear you say. No, Verheul's method is very different to the breathless, lactic acid burning pain that one thinks about on hearing the word 'intervals'.

Verheul used short relaxed intervals with relatively lengthy and slow recoveries (1:1 by distance on interval to recovery). The pace was fast enough to develop reactivity and economy but slow enough to be aerobic and repeatable day to day. Pace of the fast running was individualised and not prescribed, but typically, the fastest pace for a session of 10 x 400m was 5k race pace. 200m intervals might be as fast as 3k race pace. Verheul believed that slow endurance runs developed a 'heavy' stride and long time 'on stance' while fast intense intervals undermined relaxation. He also believed that heart rates above 150 beats per minute (other than in the weekly races of course) "might add nothing to the development of the human organism and might be useless and maybe even detrimental." The 150 figure would be about 80% of maximum heart rate (for myself, about 127), which is incredibly low compared to traditional interval training. I used to achieve my highest recorded heart rates during a session of 5 x 1000m — no wonder intervals were so hard!

I commenced my experiment with the Verheul Method on Wednesday with 10 x 300m on trails with a 300m recovery walk. Maximum heart rate was way too high at 148 which I put down to inexperience, enthusiasm and the hills. Thursday I ran 10 x 300m and 10 x 200m on the treadmill (more controlled) at 5k race effort and a maximum heart rate of 127. Yesterday I ran 10 x 100m in the morning and a 5k race at lunch time in 24:33 with the legs feeling good on a windy day. Obviously it's early days and I need to fine tune my training in the coming weeks. I think it will consist of easy morning 'shake-out' runs of 3k with afternoons of: Monday 15 x 200m with the Speedygeese, Tuesday 10 x 400m at the Lake Stakes, Wednesday 10 x 300m at the BBQ Stakes, Thursday 10 x 400m, Friday 5k race, Saturday 10 x 200m and easy Parkrun, Sunday fartlek on trails. I'll let you know how things progress over the coming weeks. Bring on fresh and springy legs!

Supple successful Speedygeese after the Kiama Coastal Classic