Humble Beginnings

When it comes to running fast it's all about the base!

I’ve always subscribed to the theory of doing a job so badly I’ll never be asked to do it again;  paint the rendering on the house - no problem; take the bins out -  no problem; put this in the loft - no problem; hoover the……erm, this is where I wait for those glorious words to come out of my wife’s mouth “oh never mind, Richard, put it down”. Ah, music to my ears! 
This is a skill that I have down to a fine art. Do a job with so little enthusiasm and so badly it’s obvious what you’re up to but do a job too well and then it becomes your responsibility. You see, it’s like walking a tightrope of which I am a master. You need to wear your concentration face (I find having the tongue out always helps), your posture must be upright and positive, you must move swiftly but not so swiftly that it gives the impression you’re rushing it. Finally, you must go in with the coup de grace - you must be utterly terrible at the task in hand. So, if you’re hoovering, you must enthusiastically move the dust around or, in my case, the food my two young children have thrown on the floor in appreciation, but it is important that you do not actually hoover any of the dust or food up. It’s always good to show a little frustration; you’re trying so hard but it’s just not working. Maybe take the head off the hoover and try the smaller extension, whatever it takes, but remember; DO NOT SUCK ANYTHING UP!
I thought this theory would apply to my blogs; and if you’ve read any, you’ll never believe it but I did not get an A* in my English GSCE. I know, I’m just as bewildered as you! In fact, I turned up to one of my exams in the afternoon only to find out it had actually been held 5 hours earlier. That’s not to say that simple spelling mistakes and grammatical errors aren’t a pet hate of mine, they are. I really do try but whenever I’m proof reading my own blogs my mind drifts away to a cold pint of Peroni being served to me at my favourite Italian restaurant. Just as it’s being handed to me over the bar, a voice in my head shouts “forget the pint and concentrate, Richard, this is important!” but it’s too late, the imaginary Peroni is there in my hand and…well, there’s no coming back. 
So, no one is more surprised than me that instead of being demoted down the ranks of the weekly newsletter or edited out of it altogether, I’ve been asked to find a pen and sit down once more. I have a feeling that it’s because the powers- that- be find it amusing to watch me try and dream up metaphors and witty remarks; but I think it’s a bit like getting a sheep to herd a border collie – you know it’s never going to work but it’s bloody funny for the people who get to watch it. 

And now, FITISM’s very own powerlifting champion and my good friend Emma has very kindly offered to edit my blogs leaving me to free on a Tuesday afternoon to daydream about seafood linguine, garlic bread, and did I mention the Peroni?

This time, I’ve been told to “be more serious, Richard” and “stop being so silly, Richard, we need some real fitness related content” and, disappointingly “stop making jokes about penises, Richard”. Oh well. I have taken my slap on the wrists so stand by for some serious running talk…

I get asked a lot how my training is going and the biggie, when am I going to actually run the marathon? Well, my training is going well thank you, I’m putting in the work. However, I am finding it very hard because I’m simply not fit enough. Now ‘fit enough’ is a relative term. To some, I am very fit but if I’m to hit my goal of a sub 3-hour marathon then I am not fit enough.

When I say I’m not fit enough, I mean I do not have the aerobic base that I need to achieve my goal. When I look at the data it is plain to see that this is what’s missing. To give you an example, I’ll compare 10k times to half marathon times. My coach says you should run the half marathon time at between 15-20 seconds per mile slower than the 10k time, depending on how fit you are. Where do I lie in this range? Well, I ran my best 10k time at 6:22 per mile (3:57 per km), and my best half marathon at 7:02 per mile (4:22 per km). This means my half marathon time is 40 seconds per mile slower. That’s double. 100%. Or, in layman’s terms, bloody miles away from where I need to be. I would also like to point out that this is a 10k to half marathon comparison and my goal is a full marathon. I don’t currently have the data to analyse for a full marathon which is why we’re using the 10k to half marathon formula, but it's easy to work out that my issues will only get bigger the further I go.  The data never lies and it paints a very clear picture. The reason for this? Well, I’m a little on the fast twitch scale plus, as I said, I lack the required aerobic base. 

Now when I run for longer I’m not falling off a cliff; it’s not like being in a car that goes into ‘limp home’ mode. I’m pacing properly and racing to my potential, but my potential is limited by my aerobic base (I’m starting to get sick of writing ‘aerobic base’, but you can see the pattern emerging). The big problem I have is that I struggle to run quickly while staying aerobic. Generally speaking, I cross my lactate threshold quicker than I should, and will need to, in order to achieve my goal. What is lactate threshold I hear you ask? Well, since you asked, I will bore you some more with my problem further in the form of a Q&A:

Are you referring to lactic acid? No, we are not talking about lactic acid here, that’s possibly the biggest misconception out there when we’re talking about lactate, so get lactic acid out of your mind, throw it away and forget about it. One more time, IT’S NOT BLOODY LACTIC ACID.

Well what is lactate? Believe it or not, lactate is actually fuel.

Well what is lactate threshold then? Put simply, it’s the point where blood lactate rises faster than we can utilise and clear it effectively. 

When do I cross that threshold? I personally cross that threshold at a heart rate of about 170-172bpm. Looking at heart rate is like looking through a window inside the body; or I should say it’s more like looking through a stain glass window - we can just about workout what’s going on, but it’s not the be all and end all. I’ll look back on my heart rate data after a run but I don’t look at it during one. I’m quite happy sitting and working in that range, but the problem is that I arrive at it too fast. I need to be able to run faster and further at a lower heart rate.

And what happens when you cross that threshold? Well nothing actually, but it initiates the process. 

So, if nothing happens when you cross that threshold, what’s the problem? Ah, this is the nuts and bolts of it right here! Once we cross the threshold, we can only sustain that effort for about 60 minutes. If I want to run a marathon in under 3 hours then I need to be able to run for 2 hours below my threshold, only crossing it in the last hour or so. 
What do you need to do to stay below it? Well, here it comes again. I need a bigger aerobic base. I need more aerobic fitness so I can run at the required pace and stay below my threshold. 

Now you might not believe this, but I’m actually finding the whole process very hard. Not the actual act of running (I quite like it), but the time and rate of my progression. There’s no shortcut to improving my aerobic base; time and volume is king when it comes to building an aerobic engine and I simply have not put enough time in yet. Sure, I’ve been running consistently now for about 15 months, but that’s nowhere near enough, many of the people who I will line up against have 10/20/30 years under their belts and I just can’t make that up in just over 1 year. 

When I stand on that start line, my fellow runner types immediately recognise me as the chap who’s had one too many pot noodles, one too many bacon butties and at least one more hot meal than they did yesterday. 
As the saying goes, there’s gold in them-there hills and, unlike some of my fellow runners, I have meat on them-there bones. Unlike most of them, I’ve eaten meat. Unlike most of them, I had my last steak and chips last night and it was delicious. They might have had their last steak before it became fashionable to become a vegan, circa 2015. I’ve said this before I know but whilst I appreciate the capabilities of most runners, the runner’s physique isn’t something I desire. I cannot for the life of me work out why anyone would wear 3 inch shorts when their legs are as skinny and knees are as knobbly as a baby giraffe’s, and why they’d wear a vest when their arms look like pipe cleaners? It just makes me want to feed them a hot meal.  However, when the starting gun goes off, they speed away from me,like a Gazel on the Serengeti where as my steady Hippo like steps thud, thud, thud for the next 13.1 miles. 
When I see the finish line up ahead, I know my sprint finish needs to be worthy of a bafta (I would’ve said an Oscar before Will Smith decided to turn it into the inaugural celebrity slap contest). But this is where the crowd is, this is where the cameras are (the finish line, not the Oscars). In my head it looks like Chariots of Fire and Colin Jackson’s legendary dip has nothing on me, but by the time I cross the line, I’m completely exhausted and bewildered. When I came around from my last hazy finish, I recognised about 4 or 5 men, well into their 60’s, each calmly discussing their run.  This means not only did they beat me, but they beat me by enough time to recover, have a normal conversion and start analysing their race! So, I repeat, it’s all about my aerobic base and until I can build that engine, I won’t quite be living up to my Chariots of Fire dream; it’ll be more like Cool Runnings or even worse, Uncle Buck….
Those moments teach you an invaluable lesson, those gentlemen probably have 20, 30 even 40 years of consistent running under their belts, and that’s the type of base I need to build. Sure, I can jump higher, sprint faster, lift more and am generally more athletic but that’s irrelevant when you’ve set yourself a really punchy endurance goal. I need the big aerobic base that they have built. 
Still it’s not all doom and gloom, remember those stupid 3 inch shorts they wear? Well, I’m led to believe that the average penis size is 6 inches. 6 inches in 3 inch shorts…? You do the maths. So, it’s simple - anyone who beats me must have a tiny penis.


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