Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Back To The Track

I used to love training and racing on the track. In my heyday I ignored the lure of cash prizes in road races, preferring to make myself stand out as a successful track athlete. At my best I used to sit in with the front group, try to hang on and pull off a victory with a well timed sprint. Of course it didn’t always work but I won my fair share of races and I set some pretty good times by getting involved at the sharp end. During the period 1992-1997 I improved year on year and my track training felt easy, I used to float around mile reps in the low to mid 4:40s and 1k reps would be under 2:50, sometimes well under.

But then in 1998 it all started to become a lot harder. I had a back problem in the summer, which led to a five month lay-off. Understandably, when I did make my comeback, I wasn’t floating on anything. I did get fit again but training on the track always seemed harder, mind you I was doing most of my training on my own and it’s so much easier when you’re with a group of athletes of similar ability.

By the end of 1999 I went over to Germany to work at the Adidas headquarters, in Herzogenaurach. There is a track in Herzogenaurach but I was in my winter training mode so I did all my training in the forest. Come the spring of 2000 I did try to do some reps on the track but I struggled, on my own, to match the pace I used to run in the early 90’s, despite having recently run my second fastest 10k, ever. So I went back to the forest, and was doing pretty well, until I tore my calf during the Surrey 5000m championship.

Back in England, the following year, I returned to the Dave Lucas training group, which were now training at Wimbledon Park, a stone’s throw from where I was now living. I had clearly lost some of my previous track craft but I persevered with the training, and enjoyed the evenings, due to the great atmosphere we had in the group.

It was on this track that I tore my hamstring in 2005, having just turned 40 I’d treated myself to a trip to Australia. On my return I decided it was time to tackle the 1500m again, but my body wasn’t used to the shorter, faster reps, and my hamstring gave in. On it’s repair I returned to the track, but lacked fitness for the summer. Then I moved to Edinburgh.

In Edinburgh I was working shifts, which made regular training difficult. I managed to do enough to retain a good level of fitness but I wasn’t able to gel with a group. A brief phase of day shift work allowed me to join up with Alex McEwen’s group at Edinburgh Athletic Club, but it was all too brief and I returned to shift work and lonely training. A couple of years later I was back for another try, inspired by some superb training from Craig McBurney, who I couldn’t keep up with, and a great bunch of EAC’s finest future medallists. I enjoyed being part of a group again, but, as I approached 45, it was becoming hard to keep the youngsters behind me.

Back to England, with a new career, I didn’t have time to find another group to train with so dedicated myself to more lonely training, which kept me away from a track. It seemed to work, for a while, I produced my fastest times for six years and picked up a European bronze medal. But then more injury problems and another enforced break meant I lost pace, if not enthusiasm.

Last year, now settled into Northwich, I did some training with a group of Vale Royal athletes and went down to the track with them. Unfortunately, after one session, I became busy with clients in the evening – though financially this was obviously fortunate. So it was back to training alone, though the training I was doing with Ray was a lot of fun, and didn’t do me any harm in my pursuit of more excellence.

This year I decided I was going to try the track again, to try to get more pace into my legs, something I feel I’ve neglected, to my cost. I was about to head to the Vale Royal track again, but this time to try to hang onto their youngsters. I felt I needed to train with faster people if I was going to have nay chance to regain my form of two years ago, just like my clients benefit from hanging onto me. However, just as I was about to start I put my back out, then, as my back recovered, I picked up more evening work.

So it looked like I’d be training alone again, but then I got a call for help. A client wanted to train for a short track race and wanted me to train them. Initially I could only direct him, because of my back, but last week I was able to join him down at the track to help as best I could. Lack of fitness and my inability to run fast meant I found it hard work to match his out and out pace, so I had to give myself head starts on the first session. The following day I did a hill session with Katy, it felt great, I was back in my comfort zone. Knowing I needed some more pace in my legs, in order to better help this client, I decided to hit the treadmill, at Cottons, the following day. Two years ago, when I was in good form, I was regularly running reps on the treadmill at 20kph pace, with recoveries at 14kph, so that was my aim. Shouldn’t be that hard, I thought, after all 20kph is only 3 minute ks and I was only going to run reps for a fraction of that time. The session was going to be 1 minute at 20kph, 1 minute at 14kph, 30 seconds at 20kph, 30 seconds at 14kph x 10. When I started I struggled to get up to pace, considering I’d run 16kph for 28 minutes a few weeks previously, but holidays and injury have taken some of my sharpness away. Still I managed to get up to 14kph for my traditional 6 minutes warm up, then it was off to the races. I got the machine up to 18kph but it felt too fast, I was struggling to keep pace with it so didn’t try to go any faster. Annoyed I switched my recovery to 15kph, much more comfortable. In the end I did all the reps with recoveries at 15kph and the 1 minutes at 18kph, managing to get the 30 seconds to 18.5. Very frustrating and to make matters worse my legs were sore and stiff for the next two days. Luckily we were away in Wales, so I could take a break without feeling guilty.

Back on the treadmill on the Tuesday I decided to do 8 x 400m with 400m recovery. I was determined to do better than the previous Thursday, and did. All the 400m reps were at 20kph (72 second laps) with the recoveries at 15kph, progress at last. Then off to the track to coach my client, luckily I wasn’t running this time. The following day, client and I, did a session of short fast reps on the road and grass, by now I was feeling much more comfortable with the pace and even managed to hang onto him for a while. Could I be on the way back, only time will tell, I need to marry my new found speed to my endurance.
Funnily enough it’s my endurance that has suffered recently, the break due to my back injury didn’t help but I’ve got so busy with clients that I’ve had to stop training twice a day. Hopefully I’ll get myself organised next week and resume the sort of training I’m used to. The speed work is having a very positive effect on my mindset and I’m keen to do a race, just need to find the right race, at the right time.
Before I go just a quick word about an app that somebody sent me. One of the developers asked me for some input to their design so I threw some pointers their way. They’ve developed the app and it can be found at I’ve had a quick look and signed up to try it out, but I’ve just been so busy I haven’t had time. No doubt I’m bottom of the table. So I can’t pass comment on it at the moment, but if you want to take a look.

Oh and I should just mention I'm starting a beginners running group in Northwich, next week, so if you're interested get in touch. 

Written by Roger Alsop

1 comment:

  1. Fun reading, i never knew you were a track runner.

    I remember the Al Stewarts surprised face when me and Kev Quinn ripped of a session of 2x1000m in 2:30 (taking turns in leading the laps). Finishing off with 10x300m in 42-43sec. Back in wimbledon athletic track, nice memories.

    It was sessions like that which made us run 3:50 for1500m, but i never really took running as serious as you guys, after all i was never going to reach the olympics, perhaps in nordic skiing