The Biggest Mountain – ageing with (dis)grace

http://www.facebook.com/markgallmac , for no known reason whatsoever.
So this blog is about the questions that are going round in my head just now. I don’t know the answers but I am interested in people’s opinions in general and stimulating debate and hopefully I can take something from it. I’m too easy a target on this one, so rising above it would be nice 😉
Straight to the point, I have a series of questions.

– How do you know when you have got as far as you can at this running malarkey?

– How do you know if you could do better by specialising on one event and forsaking others, and how long should your exclusivity last?

– What are the opportunity costs of doing this?

OK the first point, I do not for a minute think I have reached the point where I won’t improve anymore but I know the improvement has slowed down, and it will take a change in my training habits to move further on. But it got me thinking, when do you actually know? When do you reset the clocks? I know I mentioned before about changing your PBs when you change age groups but when do you start that? I look at people sometimes at races who aren’t as fast as they were. The thing that has me training so hard at times is advancing myself, and while I am still doing that I will keep working hard. So when you start getting slower despite working just as hard or harder do you lose the desire? Do you still have the hunger? What motivates you? I would like to think it wouldn’t make a difference to me, but it might. I currently tell myself I can get that sub 18 with a lot of work, I can go sub 38 etc., and I am not a million miles away. But when you stop getting better and the legs start to go, do you set yourself increments the other way? Try and stay under 20, under 40 whatever it is? How do you know that the legs have started to go, or whether you aren’t training like you should be?

So I put it out there that I wanted to go sub 18 at 5k. Possibly a pipe dream, possibly attainable. Ran 18.10 (18.07….) at the Scottish 5k earlier in the year then did the Polaroids and lost a wee bit of pace but did Strathclyde parkrun in 18.17 before I went on holiday. Not a million miles away. So I asked the question, how do I get that extra wee bit? A lot of answers referred me to training plans of 6 sessions a week. Work and family don’t allow that, nor probably would my body. 4 a week on average. The best answer was from a runner I really admire, that I have known since I was a teenager. Multiple Scottish vests and a fantastic runner in his day. Didn’t see him in my 20+ wilderness years but thanks to social media it has been good to hear his philosophies on running once again. Anyway I won’t embarrass John by telling you his name but Mr Quinn’s advice was excellent. Apart from his general consensus that I can do it anyway if I get the barrier out of my mind and just go for it, his advice, though summarised crassly here is that:

Decide target pace and structure at least one VO2 Max session a week around it. (Vo2 Max is intervals done well inside lactic threshold pace). Whatever your goal pace you want make your target or baseline maybe 10 % faster. About 4 weeks of VO2 Max sessions at well inside target pace incorporating reps of at least 0.75 m and no more than a mile and a max of 4 per set. Recovery should be about 90 % of your total effort time. Once a week tempo longer than 5 k and at just below target pace but inside lactic threshold pace (roughly 10 k race pace). Another couple of steady runs and boom there we are.

I totally see the logic in all of this but brings to the other questions. Should other events go out the window, e.g. would a decent 10k or half still be do-able when concentrating on this? Should you specialise like this and will you see benefits in other events? You see people training for marathons smashing all their other PBs. The biggest thing though probably for me is, can you adapt this to club training? I like running with my club. I like the group of people, left to my own devices I would probably drift away. Maybe that’s why I haven’t done a marathon? So is it worth being a loner and missing the social side of a club for the sake of 11 seconds?

I did say I had more questions than answers. So over to you lot, what do you think? Does sacrificing events make a core event better? If the only reward is your own sense of achievement is it worth sacrificing other things that draw you to the sport? And is it difficult to accept that you are only going to get worse from here on in?

Normal irritating self-deprecating reports will resume soon, I’m just curious as to how people feel in general about some of the points, not what you think about me.
Biggest Mountain by Inspiral Carpets. Because I can.  

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4 thoughts on “The Biggest Mountain – ageing with (dis)grace

  1. Here’s a thought: at 32 I often think my best running is behind me, my PBs were set in my early to mid 20s and I’m getting slower each year (however I have the blessings of family life just now keeping me occupied).

    But, and I hope you don’t mind me saying, I see guys like you, Brian, coach John and others older than me yet quicker and more consistent with their running and racing. So being unable to improve doesn’t seem to be an inevitable part of aging. You have even set your PBs at an age beyond mine (apologies again).

    Instead what I see is that the right attitude, training and nutrition can keep you improving, whatever your age.

    As for specialising, I’m not sure how much difference there is between 3k, 5k and 10k training to make specialising worth it (except for distance needed in training runs). I’d say keep doing what you are, maybe try and catch / get closer to the guy who is always ahead in training and the improvement will come.

    John

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  2. Mark just do the Parkrun every week until you get sub 18. Go back and forth between the hillier ones and the flatter ones. That’s all you need to do to get sub 18 as you’re almost there anyway. There’s no need to over complicate what needs to be done to get sub 18. I don’t know why you’re training in Strathclyde Park on a Saturday morning when there’s a better method of improving right there at the same time? Just run the Parkrun at goal pace for as long as you can or start faster. Run out of steam? People overtake you in the last mile? So what! Do it again and again and again and again and you’ll find yourself getting a bit further until you reach your goal. It works quickly… I should know! 😉

    10k is a different story though. If you want to get better at that then you really need to put the miles in. If you want to be better as a low mileage runner then you’ll need to start running the easier miles that you do a lot faster which is tough to do in the long term as it’s physically and mentally demanding since you’re always running fast.

    All the best. 🙂

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