­Running is a simple sport that people can make too complicated; the basic fitness for any distance runner comes from just going out and running for relatively long distances, on a regular basis, as you have been doing. There will always be days when you feel good and push the pace or run with someone else and get competitive, and this, combined with longer, steadier ­runs can be very effective. However as we discussed on Saturday all serious distance runners include at least one specific workout per week, similar to the one you did on Saturday. This type of training is usually referred to either as “reps” short for repetitions or repeats, “interval training”, the interval, or ‘recovery’ being the time between reps, ie.90 seconds on Saturdays’ session, or simply “speed work”. Fell runners are often reluctant to do any of this training because they just love the freedom of the hills and see it as drudgery, but for what small percentage of your total time spent training it takes up, it is surely worth it. The other excuse frequently given is that fell runners don’t need any speed. True enough it is pointless working on speed if you don’t have a background of steady running, but the man who wins a race is the one who is the fastest over that course, and no-one can argue with that!

As distance runners we aren’t looking to develop “speed “as such (even the shortest fell races take almost as long as a 10,000m track race), but to raise our lactate thresholds. This means the pace we can run at without producing significant amounts of lactic acid. Taking the session you did on Saturday as an example (8x3min with 90secs recovery) the idea is to run each 3 minute rep at an effort which makes you slightly out of breath, then taking 90 seconds to recover before going again. You need to pace the session, just as you would a race, so you can see it through to the end without tiring dramatically. You are better off jogging or walking on the recoveries rather than stopping because it helps prevent the muscles from tightening up. The reps should be at an honest effort that feels right for you at the time. Some people use heart rate monitors to gauge their efforts and monitor their recoveries but without the benefit and experience of one of these think in terms of how you feel. If you are feeling sick after every rep and struggling to recover in the time you’ve allowed yourself then you’re probably running too hard. Likewise if you’re thinking of how lovely the scenery is then you’re probably not running hard enough.

The session you did is typical for a distance runner; 24 minutes of total work, with recoveries half the time of the efforts. A 1500 metre runner might do a session such as 8x400metres with 3 minute recoveries. He runs each 400m at a pace which will produce high levels of lactic acid in the blood and the longer recoveries are needed because the efforts are so hard. Since the distances we race over never require us to run at those intensities (only perhaps at the very end of a race!) we are better off running what you may call ‘strength’ sessions. Rather than learning to deal with lactic acid these sessions allow us to run faster without producing much of it in the first place. Of course runners will vary their sessions – some will be more ‘speed based’ or ‘strength based’ than others, but the overall emphasis for us should be on volume and short recoveries. Other examples of ‘strength’ sessions similar to what you did are as follows:

12 x 2mins (1min recovery)

6 x 4mins (2min recovery)

4 or 5 x 5mins (2min recovery)

2 or 3 x10mins (3min recovery)

There are umpteen different permutations and whilst most runners have their ‘favourite’ sessions it is best to include some variety, not least because it becomes a bit mind-numbing to do the same one every week. The same applies to the venue; you don’t have to train round the same course every week. In the winter most of us who do reps midweek have to do them either on the road or on a track. Try and find some grass to run on for the sake of preventing injuries, if you can. As fell runners it might seem logical to be doing this training over very hilly ground as you did. The only problem with this is that the legs can become very tired and prevent you from getting what you really want out of the session. It is fine once in a while but run on either flat or gently undulating ground as well. Running for ‘time’ for example 3 minutes or 5 minutes is one way of running reps. Another way is to run for distance, round a pre-determined circuit. With the latter you may choose to time the efforts to see how they compare. It is important here not to become a ‘slave to the watch’ and push too hard to try and beat your previous times. The advantage however is that you’ll know how you’re running all the way through the session. You may not know the exact distance of the loop, unless you do run on a track, and it doesn’t matter but roughly speaking you might do 8x1000metres rather than 8x3mins. Another popular form of repetition training is hill reps. The hill needn’t be a particularly steep one and you just run hard to the top and jog back down as recovery. The only disadvantage of this for us is that it can take a lot longer to jog down than it did to run up (you can be having quite long recoveries) but it is still worth experimenting with.

None of these sessions are set in stone. It is important to remember they are only training sessions and a means to an end, so if you’re tired and don’t really feel up to, say 5 five minute efforts, just do 3. Some people will say you’re wimping out, and sure there are times when you have to grit your teeth and tough it out. It is only with experience that you know the difference. However another popular form of training that allows you as much flexibility as you like is fartlek, which is Swedish for ‘speed play’. You literally just make up the efforts as you go along. You can make it as hard or as easy as you choose. Some people run hard between lamp-posts at night, or do a hilly route where they just pick it up on the hills. You’ve undoubtedly done this without realising it. Sessions are usually time based, say 1 hour fartlek, where you may run easy for the first 15 minutes as warm up, then start making up some efforts, using the final 10 or 15 minutes to cool down. It is important to do this before and after any hard session to not only get the most out of it but also help prevent injuries. You also need to take a few minutes to stretch because these sessions ask so much more of your muscles, tendons and joints than steady running.

There are arguments for and against as to whether reps are best done in a group or by yourself. Running with more experienced people is a good way of getting used to the training however I always think it can be destructive in that by running with someone else you can be running at a pace that suits them but might be too fast or too slow for you. This is where you have to experiment and find something that works for you. It is probably best you start with one session a week during the week say Tuesdays or Wednesdays. You should expect to feel tired running the day after and take that day very easy. In fact take most of your steady runs easy. They reckon the most common mistake Western runners make compared to their African counterparts is that they run too hard in between sessions never allowing their bodies to get back to normal after a hard day. Always ease off before races to get the best results (just do a ‘fartlek’ maybe) and if you’re sore after a race then allow recovery before starting hard training again. Keep a record of the training you do so you can look back and learn from what you’ve done.

All the best. Hope this will be of some help! See you soon.

Tim Werrett