Saturday, 6 June 2009

Still Crazy

Yesterday, I had my second VO2 Max test at The Endurance Coach. Despite running on a higher intensity routine on the treadmill, it showed useful progress since my first test on 17 April. My actual VO2 Max result isn’t significantly higher; the real improvement is in my economy: the ability to run for longer (and, in this case, harder) before reaching my VO2 Max. A full explanation of the VO2 Max text, and what it shows, can be found in 18 April 2009’s blog: “Dr Ron Hill MBE”.

I’m sure that a lot of the improvement has come from the speed work that Laith and I have been doing on the Tuesday evening training sessions. Since marathons are low intensity, it would be easy to overlook the importance of speed training. Firstly, it gets your body used to working harder, so lower intensity marathon running becomes easier and uses less energy and effort, which in turn allows you to run more easily, quickly and enjoyably. It also helps to improve your running form and teaches you to run more smoothly. As an analogy, to illustrate the difference that a smooth running style makes, compare your car’s performance and fuel economy when the tyres are soft, and when they’re properly inflated – even at identical revs, your car is moving much more quickly and economically when the tyres are pumped up. A smooth running style can bring exactly the same benefits to your running. You’re looking to touch the ground lightly and smoothly, recycling that energy into the next stride, not losing the energy with hard landings. There’s a great scene in Chariots of Fire which illustrates this point – Harold Abrahams' coach, Sam Mussabini, instructs Abrahams to imagine that the ground is hot ashes: put your feet down gently, get the most possible forward motion from each contact.

This week, I received an invitation from Christies to their event on Friday, 3 July to thank the runners who have supported them in the last year. To my disappointment, I won’t be able to make it; TEAM fivemarathons’ Martin and I will be mountaineering in the Swiss Alps. While Martin and I are benefitting from some altitude training up several 4000-metre peaks, like the Strahlhorn, Allallinhorn, Weissmies and Lagginhorn, our ever-helpful support team will represent fivemarathons at Christies’ party. When we’re snowed-in at a mountain hut at 3,700 metres, I’m sure Martin and I will be wishing we could swap.

I’ll be interested to see if the altitude makes any difference on the next VO2 Max test. Certainly, when I’ve been over 6,000 metres before, I’ve felt like Superman when I’ve returned to sea level. The science is fairly straightforward: the body adapts to the relative lack of oxygen at high altitude by increasing the mass of red blood cells and haemoglobin, which means that the blood can carry more oxygen; upon your return to oxygen-rich sea level, you retain a higher concentration of red blood cells for 10-14 days, and this explains why you feel stronger: more red blood cells, coupled with higher oxygen density. Using another car analogy, it’s like adding nitrous oxide. Without the laughter.

In 1990, to raise funds for Birmingham Children’s Hospital, Laith ran the 300 miles of the Pennine Way, all of the way from Scotland to Edale in the Peak District. My friend Simon (see “Great Manchester Run”, 17 May 2009) and I worked as Laith’s support crew: dropping him off, meeting him en route to refresh his food and water, pitching the tent and cooking. Badly. Laith put in a monumental athletic effort: over 350 miles in all (a few navigational miscalculations provided the extra mileage) in just 11 stages, and only one rest day. Check out the newspaper article from when we got back. I’d like to explain the haircuts, but I can’t. Next year is the 20th anniversary, and the three of us have agreed to hit the road again, albeit that I won’t be able to avoid the running this time around. After two decades, it has the feel of an ageing rock band going out on tour again. We should know better, but apparently we don’t.

At least we should have a few more luxuries this time around. Last time, we had to squeeze into a Mini, which was almost older than we were, with an ironic sign in the back window announcing “No Sheep ‘Til Buxton”. This was a risqué reference to a then popular Beastie Boys album ('til_brooklyn), and we found it suitably hilarious. The humour has gone the same way as our hairstyles and disappeared without trace.

Barcelona, 1 March 2009
London, 26 April 2009
San Francisco, 26 July 2009
Berlin, 20 September 2009
New York, 1 November 2009

This week’s training schedule:

Monday, 8 June 2009 5 miles easy
Tuesday, 9 June 2009 Speed work
Wednesday, 10 June 2009 6 miles easy
Thursday, 11 June 2009 6 miles steady
Friday, 12 June 2009 Rest
Saturday, 13 June 2009 Warm-up, then 3 – 4 miles brisk
Sunday, 14 June 2009 Humber Half Marathon

Christies is the charity which provides funds for, and supports, the work of the world renowned specialist cancer centre, The Christie, in Manchester (see Macmillan provides practical, medical, financial and emotional support for people affected by cancer and campaigns for better cancer care (see

Visit us at

Join the Facebook fivemarathons group

Check out the detailed training plan at

No comments:

Post a Comment

NYC Marathon, 2004

NYC Marathon, 2004
NYC Marathon, 2004