|Pushing Kinnegad 5k finish|
Two months ago my athletics career looked to be on a bit of a downward spiral. I was struggling to get back from injury and psychologically starting to feel my age. Three races that I would have expected to win and three defeats – Bray, Prince Willies & Tullamore 4 mile – finishing the latter race in a relatively slow 21 minutes. Now, two months later my athletics career is renewed and I’m running personal bests almost every time I put my toe on the line – PB & 1st in Strawberry Half, 8:28 3k PB on 2011 track opener, 1st & road 5km PB in Kinnegad, 2:00.4 800m blowout, and last week a 31 dead 10k to win Park West 10k without having to go to the well. Why? Well there are probably 4 good reasons – training, diet, maintenance & altitude.
|Improvements over last 2 months + target|
Before discussing the reasons, let’s first look at the scientific evidence. As part of the Marathon Mission programme I went for lactate and VO2 Max tests two months ago and again last weekend. The differences are stark. For me the most notable and catalyst for several adaptations is my weight, going from 71kgs to 68kgs, with at least 2kg less fat. 69kgs has been my typical racing weight over the last few years & relatively it’s still heavy. Most professional distance athletes with my height would be below in the region of 62kgs, with Africans my height below 60kgs. Am I just a fat western plodder? The bulk from my GAA days is hard to shift and perhaps my vain side doesn’t want it to J Still, I’ve got to 66kgs before for target races and it is a sustainable level for me to target. I was over 70kgs at Dublin Marathon last year – 4kgs is a lot to extra carry around for 26 miles. Several athletes get abuse for being obsessed about weight – rightly so, but there’s a reason – if you can stay healthy, the lighter you are the faster you go ...
Absolute VO2Max is the maximum amount of oxygen one can use in one minute. For me, this seems to be 5.4 litres of oxygen per minute. It’s a relatively static number and difficult to change. Studies suggest that marginal improvements can be achieved with high-intensity training. Way back in 2006 I went for VO2Max test, scoring an absolute VO2Max of 5.3 – I’ve increased it by 0.1 with 6 years of training – yippee! J Relative VO2Max is a more widely used number and a statistic often bandied about by athletes – the relative part being weight. Stands to reason that if the absolute part is static then the area to target change is the relative part – back to my previous paragraph and the important of weight. Over my two month test period my relative VO2Max increased from 75.7 to 79.1 ml/kg/min. A nice improvement and close to the magical 80 number. With a weight below 67kgs I’d be above 80 and that’s a very realistic target.
Lactate threshold is really the key measurement for the distance athlete. VO2Max is a measure of potential. There is no hiding behind lactate as it measures actual ability to sustain a particular running pace. Once lactate goes over 4mmols it becomes impossible for an athlete to sustain that pace for a prolonged period like the marathon. My lactate levels improved substantially over the last two months and this is primarily down to training. My results basically show that I can run in the order of 1kmph faster now than two months ago. Doesn’t seem like much, but 1kmph equates to a substantial 5% improvement. The figures show that over 18kmph is a sustainable level for me at the moment, which equates to sub 2:20 marathon. My VO2Max suggests a 2:15 marathon is realistic – science is great J Time to put theory into practice.
Back to the four reasons behind my improvements – training, diet, maintenance & altitude. Training has been consistent. Nothing dramatic, but I followed the Lydiard plan with good discipline – 5 weeks endurance work at approx. 90 miles per week. The last 4 weeks were speed focused, reducing to 75miles per week. My diet has improved, but consistency remains elusive. Mileage is the primary reason behind reduced body fat. I can reasonably get to just below 68kgs for the track championships but anything more dramatic and I would probably either get sick or lose valuable muscle mass. I’ve put substantial effort into making sure I remain injury free, with routine massages and more core workouts. I’m a bit of a slut when it comes to massages – the latest massages with an internationally renowned expert Hagen Stroh of Myoreflex – highly recommended - more on this later. The final reason is altitude. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to try out an altitude tent for free for the last 2 months as part of the Marathon Mission squad. Hemoglobin (14.6 to 16.2) and hematocrit (44.5% to 48.8%) have both improved by the order of 10%. An improvement, but if I’m honest I was expecting a more dramatic shift. Still, every second counts. I have to give the tent back now - hopefully blood volumes remain high indefinitely. I’ll put up specific review on the altitude tent for anyone considering this as an option.
Dublin graded 3km this evening as final blow-out and then it is taper time for the national track 10km. Expect Rathfarnham out in force – can’t wait J