2021 running: looking forward after best block of training
2021 running: looking forward after my best block of training
Locked down for much of 2020 and into the early part of 2021 has meant a lot of consistent training on local trails and roads. Mainly to ensure I get daily movement in after spending almost all day sitting in front of a laptop working. So what are my 2021 targets and how has my training gone?
Let’s start with going public and making myself accountable (to myself):
- Sub 20:00 by 18 April
- Sub 19:30 by 31 July
- Sub 18:45 by 1 September
- Sub 18:30 by end 2021
Half Marathon targets
- Sub 1:45:00 by 21 March
- Sub 1:30:00 on 12 September (GNR)
- Run 5x p/wk every week
- Run UT55 ultra for 2nd time (my 3rd ultra)
Now that’s out there, how and why am I doing this? With event entries increasingly opening up, it’s a time to look forward to races through 2021. My target race is the GNR 2021, postponed from 2020. Myself and Louis (my son) are part of the Lyme Disease UK team seeking to raise awareness and raise funds for research and treatment for this incredibly debilitating disease.
Training has gone really well in relation to those targets. I’ve been running every day since 27 December – really hope I don’t jinx things by saying that here! My first short race begins with my very first go at a Podium 5k event later. Not bricking it honest! The whole event, from sub 19:30 to sub 14:30 is being streamed live on Facebook @dave_norman Running Live page and on Instagram on @SundayPlodcast.
I’m also entered for my 3rd ultra, the Ultimate Trails 58k, or UT55 as it’s affectionately known. That last unexpected extra 3k was a killer when I first did it back in 2015 lol! Taking place 10 July it eats into my early Half Marathon plans for GNR but I find ultra running so life affirming I want to do it. Plus roughly half of the route you are having to walk anyway! And it starts and finishes in Ambleside, passing through the Helvellyn range, Langdales and more. There can’t be many/any better places to run in the world can there?
That in itself is part of a longer-term goal of working to an attempt at the Bob Graham Round (BG) probably in 2022 or 2023. That’s a massive blog post in it’s own right probably so no more on that here!
Most consistent block of training ever
I’ve always believed, read, seen and heard that consistency is key to everything, in terms of improvement. That applies to running and many things in life. But I’ve never managed it in running due to often overdoing it by not varying my training enough. Or pushing too much when I’m feeling good. I don’t heed the lessons I preach to others. But 2020 was different and I’ve carried that into 2021. So, apart from a stupid stumble when I badly sprained my ankle on a run, I’ve been very consistent and injury-free for some time now. I’ve had my most consistent and balanced training block ever as we enter April 2021.
A typical week consists of: 1x hard speed session, 1x tempo (at anything from 65-85% effort), 1x long Sunday run at easy pace, 4x very easy runs of anything from 3k – 12k. Those easy runs are genuinely active recovery in order to get the most out of my harder speed sessions. Every 3 weeks, a hill reps session will replace the tempo session. Mixing up trail running with road and track. Mixing up running shoes so I very rarely wear the same pair on consecutive days. This balanced approach to running has resulted in far more consistent and sustainable training for me and has seen very definite and gradual improvements in running fitness. It’s also helped overall well-being because it’s meant not ‘going into the red’ – see below regarding Occupational Health instructions.
So building mileage two weeks (10% increase maximum each time) before a back off week. Build again two weeks, back off week again. And repeat. And repeat. Week after week. Month after month. Daily habits. Building a real endurance base. Building speed endurance. It’s working.
The importance of nutrition
My approach to nutrition has really improved too. By that I mean how I fuel for training (pre and post), general nutrition through the day and hydrating more actively. I’ve developed much more awareness of which foods build and maintain my energy levels more consistently through each day. For example I’ve found reversing what I would normally have had for breakfast and dinner has dramatically reduced any sugar lows and energy dips. So my staple breakfast is mushrooms, spinach, fresh cherry or plum tomatoes with a paste like harissa or black garlic, on toast with some mashed avocado. Dinner is porridge oats with soya milk, fresh fruit, mixed nuts and seeds, cinnamon, hemp powder, date syrup or vegan honey. This blend and timing of meals has helped maintain far more consistent energy levels with none of the real hunger pangs I was always getting. The occasional snack will be some mixed nuts and fruit in a small bowl. So, instead of being starving in the 1-2 hours leading up to an evening running session, I’ll just need 1 oat cake. Clearly, it’s essential to drink water regularly through the day, including the occasional fruit juice.
I have to give some credit for training and club mate Gra Grinrod, aka The Running G, on this too. He kindly ran an online seminar for the Harriers and I put into action some of his key tips like ensuring I always had that fruit and nut mix with me to avoid snacking on any rubbish.
The other aspect of this is that I went vegan around 2 years ago. I was already on a dairy free diet on the strict advice of the Lyme Disease specialist who I saw in 2015. When my daughter asked me to go vegan with here I agreed in order to support her. I was already halfway there after all. I know being vegan isn’t for everyone and I’m definitely not here to preach about it to anyone reading. For me personally, I can say that it’s helped my digestion and gut health. It’s also meant more varied recipes through being forced to learn a new dietary regime using varied ingredients. Regardless of being vegan or not, I should have always been eating more veg than I already was – as a proportion of meals – and going vegan has very much facilitated that.
Regular sleep pattern
See below for more on this. Basically I ensure I meditate and, most nights either read prior or watch/listen to something relaxing before going to bed. Quality of sleep has improved. Duration of sleep has improved. I wake up feeling better rested which, for anyone, is always going to help how they feel and perform each day whether that’s related to sports training, being a parent or their job.
Where has a lot of this come from?
Focusing on what I know and applying it to myself. As a England Athletics qualified coach – and using common sense – I know the importance of all of the above. I recommend it to running mates and those I coach at Rochdale Harriers. I haven’t always been as good at doing it myself but that has changed in the past year. Specifically in relation to a more structured and balanced run training regime.
Occupational Health – be aware of where my red line is and DO NOT go above it. This applies to exercise, sleep, work hours. This was probably the best advice I’ve been given and has been a game changer for my ongoing ability to work with Long Lyme Disease. The approach is called ‘Graduated Exercise Therapy‘ and for me it basically means daily repetition of those key areas of life result in my risk of going over the red line being dramatically reduced. Daily repetition also means the red line very gradually shifts higher. I may not return to what I was before Lyme Disease but in working with it this way, I can get closer. So:
- Daily walk and or run (running being structured training as per above weekly pattern).
- Sleep: In bed at 10pm every single night (or as close as possible).
- Working consistent hours, rather than doing very long days under high stress on a consistent basis. Due to covid I have had to work longer hours on occasions and this caused a lapse in February – no surprise there and further proof of the approach recommended.
- Daily meditation – done every day since early 2016.
- Healthy nutrition – I’ve always been good with a healthy and balanced diet. I just focus on this a little more in terms of ensuring my body is correctly fuelled and hydrated for levels of exercise.
DTMTS – Don’t Tell Me The Score is a podcast by Simon Mundie. It’s very much about life lessons through the metaphor and reality of sport. I can’t possibly do this podcast justice except to say please give it a listen. You really won’t regret it. Episodes range from those featuring Olympic and Paralympic medallists, world champions, neuroscience experts, sports psychologists. Every single episode is inspiring and educating in its own right. Below are just some of the mantras of key messages that I carry into my training, and now life in general:
Bill Beswick and his message of any one of these being integral to your mental strength and maintaining good habits, daily, so avoid HATED:
“Courage is the commitment to throw yourself into a situation without any guarantee of a successful outcome.”
“This is where the growth happens.” (This quote I use regularly when I feel the fatigue/effort setting in on hill reps, a challenging session or situation.)
“No-one ever got good at anything doing it once.”
There are many themes running through DTMTS. One of which is ex world-leading athletes like Chrissie Wellington, Cath Bishop and leading sports psychologists like Pippa Grange recommending us to ‘trust the process’. If you do that, the outcomes will take care of themselves. This is as opposed to always focusing on winning because that takes away from what is needed to achieve your goals and can ultimately take away any of the pleasure and daily habits needed to get there. It’s also about self-improvement rather than the zero-sum game of winning at all costs, i.e. at the expense of someone else. If you focus on what you can do, to be better today than yesterday, you are doing all you can. Another theme is ‘we are not our thoughts’. Negative and positive thoughts will come and go. So let them. Don’t cling to them and identify with them. See next para.
DTMTS is part of a wider ethos of lifelong learning and focusing on self-improvement. For example I’m currently reading ‘Chatter’ by Ethan Kross. It’s a fascinating book on our inner voice, all evidence based as we learn more about the brain and how it responds to how we talk to ourselves. Not only that, but how the body subsequently responds. So I have been practising ‘distanced self-talk’ during training sessions – silent I might add! This has turned the inner voice from being a critical ‘You’re shit and can’t finish this session’, ‘You’re too slow’ etc to a much more supportive ‘Good running form Jeff’, ‘Focus on one rep at a time Jeff’, ‘That’s it Jeff, high cadence and light foot contact’. The result is that I’m now running speed sessions where my body is in a more relaxed ‘tempo’ state. The result is that I’m running quicker while seemingly being more controlled.
Speaking and listening to fellow runners (e.g. Lou, Gra) Whether they are much younger than me (like my son Louis) or a bit younger than me (e.g. Gra) I’ve been enjoying chatting about all things running, prep, mindset, nutrition etc during those long Sunday runs (LSR). We all learn from each other and our experiences all the time.
Knowing my own body. Like anyone else, we need to be in tune with what our body is telling us. That might mean we back off from a planned speed session. It might mean we go for a very short and slow run after a hard day at work. It may mean going to be slightly earlier one night. Having a plan is great but you do need to be led by your body rather than the plan itself.
So in summary it’s all looking positive. I feel the best and fittest I’ve been since just before I crashed with Lyme Disease in mid-2013. It all starts with my first ever Podium 5k event 5pm today, 3rd April. How will that go? I can’t wait to find out 🙂 #TrustTheProcess