Friday, May 31, 2013

A closer look at Project 35: Phase I (Conditioning Phase)

It's Comrades weekend coming up, which means Sunday will be a 12 hour (viewing) marathon watching one of the greatest road races on the planet. Comrades is also somewhat significant for me as a runner as it what during the race in 2011, down there as a supporter, that I made a commitment to return to the sport (I did a fair bit of running in high school but have only flirted with it since then). This wasn't half-hearted and by the time I landed back in Joburg that even I had sketched out a tentative three year plan: a half marathon by June 2012, a marathon by June 2013 and Comrades by 2014. That plan has long since been scrapped as the reality of what it takes to run the Big C has hit home, but in it's place is a more concrete, even more long term plan, Project 35, detailed for six months at a time, outlined to 2015 and tentative to 2020...something about some big ultra marathon!

Looking back over the past two years my development as a runner can be looked at in six month blocks. The first block June 2011 to December 2011 was just about running. I never had a plan and the haphazardness is immediately detectable on my training log. I got a lot out of this phase though just getting used to getting out and getting to know myself a bit as a runner. I ran a couple of races, even managing a sub 50:0010km and laid a decent foundation for the coming year.

January to June 2012 was about introducing structure. I got a half marathon training plan and now got acquainted with the routine of running and the progressiveness of preparing for a goal race. The plan was very loose, focusing on raising endurance but also introducing some faster running, alternating between short track sessions (these were so hard), fartleks (enjoyable) and tempo runs (still my favourite workout type). I managed to stick to the entire program, missing just one session I think and ended up running two half marathons as well finishing with a sub 45:00 10km and a sub 20:00 5km.

With adherence to plan achieved, July to December was about upping the ante and I moved on to a volume phase (with a bit of faster running) and committed to running a marathon. This was by far the most challenging thing I put myself through physically out of my own free will. The long runs, the midweek tempos, the fatigue and of course the marathon itself. At this stage I did not have an endurance base, and while I was bleak about missing my marathon target by almost 30 minutes, my coach assured me that what I had gained here was far bigger than even if I had managed to run 3:10 for Soweto Marathon. The long easy miles, peaking at 82km, interspersed with time trials and long steady state runs, would serve as great base training (ruined a bit by running a marathon at the end of it) and the key was to use the large engine I had developed. Ending the period with PBs of 17:49 for 5km, 37:46 for 10km and 1:25:28 was proof of a successful transition into a somewhat serious runner.

The past 5 months has seen the final pieces of the puzzle introduced as I went through pretty harsh four weeks cycles of speed and more speed and yet more speed. In January it was short repetitions and hill work, in February a mix of repetitions and some intervals, and March was focused on interval work leading to a peak race in April. Things didn't work out as planned, with over-racing being a problem and getting injured. What has happened though is that going from just running to training for a goal race, introducing volume and then tackling some faster running, I have over approximately two years exposed myself to all the elements that make up a complete training program.

And this is how Project 35 has come about.

As I said in a previous post, Project 35 is from a running perspective, a life plan. It's how ultimately when I am at my competitive best, will look to define myself as a runner. It's not about one race or one training cycle or one season. My coach and I believe that the work that I can do in the next two to three years, based on what I have managed to achieve or relatively modest training will help me become the best marathoner I can be, one of my big goals, and also when I take the step up to ultra marathons. So in terms of it's composition all the elements are there. As a certified (detail and numbers obsessed) geek, I've read a lot in that past six months, books and websites, spoken to a lot of people and analyzed where available the training of some of my favourite athletes out there, trying to understand what makes a good athlete. Running is one area when there seems to be an us and them idea when looking at recreational runners and elites. I know when ever I read something cool and mentioned it to people the response is usually something like, "but you can't compare US to an elite athlete". But surely it makes sense to use the principles of the best in the business and apply them in a scalable manner?

But I do digress. I'm currently rotating my reading between Running With Lydirad and Daniel's Running Formula. I had some ideas earlier and had even drawn up an annual plan that seemed to tie in with elements of what those two coaches prescribe. My plan now is a mixture of both and as such is neither Lydiard or Daniels but probably leans more towards the former. In fact reading through Running With Lydiard, it was interesting to me how he calls the base phase marathon conditioning as I had done my best (not necessarily time but definitely in the manner that I ran) and most consistent fast running post-Soweto, as my father had also said I would.

In it's basic element Project 35 is a 24-26 week periodized program template arranged in five phases: base, speed/hills, stamina, sharpening and then a peaking phase. The base phase and speed/strength phase are basically scaled down Lydiard, while the remaining phase Lydiard and Daniels concepts together. Then to complete the picture, there is a supplementary strength element that gets progressively more intense alongside the running component. This tandem approaching of complementary work to aid my running is something that has been missing.

I hope to go through this tempelate every six months, incorporating 1-2 weeks downtime in between, as I attempt to improve my 10km times and maximise whatever ability I may or may not have. And as both Lydiard and Daniels advise, I always have a peak race in mind, in this cycle it's the Kollonade Retail Park 10km on 16 November. I've done the race before and I know that the structure of this program will have me ready for the route which is really fast and mostly flat with only one challenging stretch from 8k to 9km. I've worked backward from that race, allocating time to each phase as required and leaving the remainder for the conditioning phase

That phase of my training looks like this:

Phase I: Conditioning Phase
The first point is that I will try as best as I can, logistics permitting, to run to time and not distance. I've read a lot about the difference between training load and training volume and conceptually it makes sense to me. For example, Abel Kirui on his was to becoming the marathon world champion in 2011 had a longest run of 2:15 but that covered a mind-blowing 40km. At my current training paces 40km would take me at least 3:00, so equal volume but different load. A 2:15 run on the other hand would be 30km which is far more realistic for my ability. 

The key sessions then are a long run that will peak at 90 minutes, a steady state run at predicted marathon pace (from my current 10km PB) and an easy fartlek session over rolling hill (not very difficult in my neighbourhood, in face a given). The rest of the runs will be easy paced runs of 45-60 minutes. The races marked out won't be all out efforts. Even though I'm running to time I have guesstimated what the weekly volumes might be to see if they would be realistic. Those volumes are similar to what I hit during Soweto Marathon training. Back then that volume was really stressful but I think this time that won't be a problem, especially since there are no 2 hours/25km+ runs in there, which is where most of the stress came from. The first four weeks (the program started last week) are very gentle as I had to tweak the sessions since I was compromised by the IT band issue that I only became fully aware off when I started the program. As such I managed just 17km last week over 3 runs. Thankfully a week of taking appropriate measures has meant that my condition is improving rapidly and will hit ~32km this week. In effect then my training will start in earnest next week as I should be able to run the volumes I was doing,  ~45-50km, before taking a break at the start of May.

The road ahead is a long one, 26 weeks, but I'm hoping that even though I'm works towards a race, the variation in my training, which will be end when I post the coming phases, will keep the training interesting. And of course with some build up races coming up from September once Phase II is complete it will be great to work back into the racing scene.

I'm really keen to see how 1) my body responds to such a formalized training approach as well as b) if my ambitions are realistic. If the last two years are anything to go by, going from from a 51:19 10km to 36:13 from August 2011 to March 2013, 15 minutes in 19 months, an average of 47 seconds improvement every month, I definitely feel it's something I have to give a good go. Even looking at post-Soweto improvements, 38:22 in November (the Kollonade race last year, that's the official time but I stopped my watch at 39:16 so I'm still baffled by that) to 36:13 is still an average of 32 seconds every month, at a time when I was approaching a definite plateau. Sports science and observation tells us that continuous improvement is not a pipe dream as long training is logical and allows from adequate recovery, so I hope that this Plan takes me to higher highs than I've experienced up to the point.

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