If you are anything like me you want to clearly see the results of your hard work. What is the point of putting in the miles, the quality, the blood sweat and tears, and then hardly have anything to show for it!
I recall the quote by a top Germiston Callies coach, that running is like planting potatoes. You plant them, water them, nurture them and then have faith that they are growing – you don’t dig them up every two weeks to see what they look like as it will completely disrupt the process!
I recently returned from a six week stint in Europe with some top South African athletes that we assist who were competing on the hugely competitive track and field circuit. In between the travels, managing the athletes and looking after our coaching business back home, I was determined to keep my own training going. I have been plagued by a recurring knee niggle the past year or two, and through the ups and downs managed to completely destroy my fitness base. A competent and efficient cardiovascular base is the cornerstone of any successful athlete. And as much as it takes years to establish, once it is in place you never really have to do it again as long as you refresh and top it up for a month or so each year. This last bit had gone astray for me and I realised that if I want to produce any notable results ever again I will have to go back to basics and do what successful runners to – get that efficiency back in place.
So as much as I did six good weeks of easy running before we left, I accepted that it was not enough and resolved to do another six weeks, and more if necessary, during the travels and on my return. The goal was to keep building from my sad 60km per week to about 80km per week, with the long-term objective of getting to about 100km per week again. The approach was also simple and involved some good old Lydiard methodology of short run, long run, repeat. It turned out that after 37 years of running it is in fact not that simple as my body just doesn’t want to recover as it quickly as it used to! So after discussing with one of our top athletes and coaches, Marko Bucarizza, we decided to follow a short, medium, long run approach which turned out to work far better.
The format, in combination to listening to my body and some solid common sense with relation to late nights at track meetings and long trips on trains and planes, I managed to get in some really comfortable long runs and steadily getting the training pace down.
Upon my return though, I was most disappointed that I was still stuck on 60km per week and didn’t feel impressed at all about six weeks with seemingly no improvement! The overwhelming benefit of training at our base in Germany was firstly that it was at sea level, and secondly that the routes were all flat. This means that the effort was comparably less than up in Jo’burg’s thin air and with no hills to negotiate the body is unhindered in its efforts of gaining efficiency in both running form and energy supply.
Towards the end of the trip, on some of these runs, I found myself drifting towards 4m40/km, which may not be all that fast in the greater scheme, but the effort felt like a proper long slow distance pace. Most of my bread and butter sessions were done at 5m15/km with the heart rate sitting just under 120beats per minute! I don’t recall when last my system was so relaxed at that type of pace that it is hardly drifting about 60% of max heart rate!
So the bottom line is that just because there are no major billboards shouting IMPROVEMENT just know that the patience and consistency of doing the basics will reward you far more than you know. The importance of a good 2-3 month cardiovascular base after long stints of layoff, injury or racing cannot be stressed enough. The heights that can be achieved on a firm foundation like that is very exciting indeed and worth the wait. Rushing the process is like putting in the windows and light fittings of a new house before the foundation and walls are in place. All can see that the window dressing is being done but underneath there are more than a few question marks!
Be patient! Do the hard miles and the fast miles will follow!