On Saturday a group of us ran the Woodford to Glenbrook run on the Oaks Fire Trail and Red Hands Tracks. This is an awesome A to B run that has some tough climbing and equally tough, slightly down-hill running (I say equally tough because as I write this blog two days later, my quads are still hurting and I am walking down stairs one at a time). The run also finishes with some great single track which is very tough when you are already fatigued and a little delirious.
Just quietly, I was very concerned about my calf holding up and just making the distance. My training for the past 6 months has been hap-hazard at best. While I did run 2:30hrs six weeks ago when we did 7-Bridges, I haven’t run more than 18k in a week and no more than 8k in a single run since then or in the few months prior. I have been following the dumb triathletes guide to a calf injury in the hope of being ready to run down the Oaks Fire Trail this weekend.
Aside from the challenging terrain and fabulous Blue Mountains vistas, what really helps make these long tough runs so beneficial is the chin-wagging along the way. On Saturdays run we had a great crew who have done some amazing running around the world including Kevin and Sheila both multiple finishers of the legendary Comrades run in South Africa. Also on course was Top-10 (overall) Ironman Australia finisher Corey Chapman. Worth noting that Corey’s Top-10 finish was as an age-group athlete with a full-time job.
The chatter ranged from the crazy events some of us are planning in the next few years – including the Himalayan Marathon and the Marathon des Sables, to the decline of the marathon in Australia and how we are actually getting slower!
The latter is crazy when you consider how much technology and nutrition knowledge has grown in the past few decades? In the most recent Rio Olympics Australia did not have single A-qualifier in the marathon. At the other end of the spectrum the average marathon time for all competitors is decreasing at many Australian marathons.
In between the up-hill panting and the ducking under tree branches our conversation discussed some of the reasons for this phenomenon.
One of the reasons we discussed, was that there is too much emphasis on speed running these days. We see runners who are not even running 30k per week making their track session the most important run of the week. Speed does not make up for good training. You can read a little more about the value of long runs here – How to run long for speed in the long run.
We laughed about the focus runners placed on their shoes and clothing, but could not quite bring this back to a valid reason for why the marathon was getting slower.
Obviously more people are running longer events. There is also an increasing number of ‘bucket-list’ runners who want to just finish a marathon or an ultra. However, this should not necessarily mean they should run slower. With normal clever training just about everyone in the normal weight range can run sub-4hrs, 3.30hrs if you are under 40.
It does seem that the vast majority of runners fall into two extreme training style categories – those whose training is very unstructured and those whose training is over structured.
Previously on these pages we have discussed many times that your running needs to be structured to improve quickly. We have discussed the purpose of the long run, the tempo run, the fartlek run, the hill run and the track session.
The other extreme seems to also be a bit of a problem for more runners than you’d think. Those that are overly structured in their running. Those that need every run to be a focused pace or effort. These folks stress about running with others for fear they will be too fast or too slow. This group of overly structured runners are often the result of a coaching program.
Many coaches and online running programs structure every session. They lose the value of running for fun and enjoyment. I have had the good fortune to train and run with some amazing runners in the Brat Club over the years. The likes of brickie Geoff Scott, funds manager Campbell Dawson, Telstra tech Sam Vella, flight crew Hands Viche plus many more who have run around the 2:30hr marathon while working full time and swim and bike training as well. Sure they did some seriously structured run sessions but they mixed it with simple, good fun, long runs with mates.
As our rag-tag group of all ages, genders and abilities ran through the Blue Mountains it was clear - at least to us - that this type of unstructured running is really important. Sometimes it’s important to run longer than “you should”, to run in conditions that are colder or hotter or tougher than you would normally. Sometimes it’s good to work out for yourself that this pace is a smidge to fast and drop back a fraction. Sometimes the best thing you can do is run with guys slower than you would prefer or normally run. Some of us worked out that our hydration and nutrition strategy needs to be adjusted in the heat. And occasionally (very occasionally) it’s good to push yourself a little harder than you thought possible (me).
Regardless, a bush run is always a good option for everyone. All of these things happened at some point to each of us on Saturday and we all learnt some invaluable lessons. Lessons you just wont get running around the park or through the suburbs.
For all of us that ran Woodford to Glenbrook on Saturday the run definitely toughened us up. The run will also put steel in our legs and mentally make us stronger for the run and tri season ahead. I am keen to run it again perhaps towards the middle of next year and definitely with a little more training under my belt. Stay tuned to our upcoming long bush runs here.