Acceptable in the Eighties

A very unscientific attempt to go back in time

Tynedale 10 mile

‘Most farenjis, you know, they try to have a job and to run, and they run maybe only a little bit’, Tadele said as we warmed down. ‘You, I think maybe you have no job.’ This has to be the best complement I’ve ever had on my less-than-fully-employed status.

Last year I ran 52.57 at this race, a hilly 10 miler. This year I ran 50.52. There was, I should admit, a bit of a tailwind, but I don’t think that accounts for two full minutes of improvement. Vindication, I think, for the 110 mile week. Tadele may have already been warming down on the grass behind the finish by the time I crossed the line, but he only beat me by 48 seconds, so I’m relatively pleased with that. He’s run 2.13 for a marathon and 63 minutes for a half.


Team bus and manager for the day. Team Sky have nothing on this – coffee and bacon sandwiches on the move.

As I didn’t know that there was anyone of such high calibre in the race, I led from the start, and after a couple of miles it was just the two of us. I focused on maintaining a pace as close to five-minute miles as I could, which meant that I was working pretty hard on the uphill sections. I even thought Tadele was struggling a bit at one point, but given the ease with which he got away from me in the last three miles that must have just been my imagination.



A couple of photos from the ‘Running Along Somewhere in the North East with an Honourary East African Geordie’ collection.

Eventually, just after the five mile mark, Tadele came past me, increasing the pace imperceptibly until there was a gap of a metre or so between us without me really having noticed I’d let a gap open. Then he turned his head to me and waved his arm. ‘Come on’, he said, ‘come on’. This was a familiar piece of encouragement – I’d heard it time and time again whilst on tempo runs in Addis Ababa, when the guys I was training with wanted to keep the group together and I didn’t want to be the farenji holding things up. I checked behind me and we were out of sight of the third place runner, so I decided to embrace this piece of camaraderie and hold on for as long as I could, even if it meant overcooking things a bit at the end. It felt pretty good to be hammering along the road, a tailwind behind us, just me and the sole Ethiopian in the race. It felt pretty good, that is, until just after seven miles when Tadele decided to really start running. He’d wanted the company, clearly, but not that badly. We went through seven miles in about 35.40, and he finished in 50.04, running sub-4.50 pace for the last three miles. No wonder I couldn’t prevent the gap from growing.

My mate Dermot and I are now tied for the Corstorphine AC club record at 10 miles and separated by only four seconds over the half marathon. Onwards, then, to the Great North Run, where I can hopefully make sure one of them is mine outright!


‘The annoying thing is I seem to feel a lot more tired now I’m doing less running. That happens quite a lot before a race. It doesn’t really make sense though, does it?’
‘It is the way it is.’

Eight weeks ago the most running I’d done in a week was 93 miles. Six of my last eight weeks of training have totaled over 100 miles, and in the fifteen days up to Monday I ran 238. How tired I’ve felt has varied massively and doesn’t always seem to correspond to when I’ve been training hardest. Every week there seems to be one steady run where I feel absolutely awful, and can barely persuade myself to stay out for half an hour. My coach says he found exactly the same thing and that ‘it was usually the case that there was no logical reason – which probably makes it worse!’ The positive side of this, however, is that for every run like this there have been several where I’ve felt fantastic when I really had no right to – the day after a twenty mile run, for instance. As the enigmatic answer to the question above suggests, there are a few things about serious distance running training that make no sense. Dropping down from 110 miles a week to 60, I expected to feel light-footed, like a weight had been taken off, full of running. Instead, I feel lethargic, like I’m having some sort of withdrawal symptoms from the training.

I started off my two weeks of 110 miles with back-to-back precedents, running my fastest 5,000m to date (14.48) the day before running my longest ever run of twenty miles. I’m pretty pleased with the 5,000m as it came at the end of a relatively big week of training and several weeks after deciding to focus on the half-marathon rather than on track races. I think perhaps that there are two kinds of runner; one who thrives on event-specific training and another who runs their best times off the back of marathon-type training who, in short, gets better the more running they do. It is a bit of a relief that this seems to have worked – running six weeks of 100 miles plus and getting slower would have been pretty disconcerting.

So, it seems that you can get used to running over 100 miles a week relatively quickly. The first week at 100 miles I felt pretty heavy a lot of the time, like I was accumulating tiredness in my legs that wouldn’t fade away without a couple of days rest. The second week I started to feel more normal again, and by the third I felt like I’d created a new normal, that I could cope with it. Then I had an easier week before starting to run 110 miles a week, which averages out at a slightly intimidating 15.7 miles per day. The same thing happened. I felt terrible for a few days and then gradually started to feel better. I texted my coach a week or so ago to let him know that I was feeling ‘pretty tired’ (a bit of an understatement at the time) and his response was to say that ‘the stress of heavy mileage makes you tired. But the body recovers remarkably quickly when the stress (workload) is reduced – then the stress is reimposed and the body should be a little better prepared – and so on!’ In theory, then, this ‘and so on!’ could go on for a while, as you gradually become accustomed to more and more running. No doubt I’ll have a chance to test this theory.

Increasing mileage follows a series of gradually rising oscillations, as you build up and then back off before building it up some more. On a daily basis, too, my energy levels have had a tendency to follow a series of peaks and troughs. The Kenyans call this process ‘building your aerobic house’. I was a bit worried that trying to race a few weeks ago would be running the risk of trying to live in the house before the roof was in place. It is definitely a process that requires patience. When I suggested to my coach that I thought I felt stronger as a result of the increased training he said that it would probably take six months before I would see real results. Hopefully the roof will at least be closer to completion by the time the Great North Run comes along in a couple of weeks, though.


The period of trying to run over 100 miles a week has coincided with my becoming slightly nomadic – I’ve lived with various people in three different parts of Edinburgh over the course of the last couple of months. This has meant that I’ve had a lot more varied running routes than I would normally have had, which has probably helped me to get all those miles in. I think the run around the Braids from Liberton, pictured above, is probably the best trail I’ve found.

Two weeks of 110 miles are below for anyone interested. Typing this it seems more exhausting than it actually was. Marginally. The one session I did on the track coincided with me feeling more tired than I’ve probably ever felt before. I ended up running the 3km rep at a slower pace than the 5 mile tempo run I did two days later, which goes to show how much your energy levels can change throughout the week. I’ve done the two laps of Arthur’s Seat session twice now. I run hard from the first roundabout (clockwise) to the pond at the top, then steady round the rest of the loop. A good session if you want to get used to running well both uphill and off the top of the hill (and in the wind. It’s Edinburgh):

Sunday: 16 miles including 7th in Scottish 5,000m championships (14.48)
Monday: 20 miles.
Tuesday: AM 8 miles PM 8 miles.
Wednesday: AM 7 miles PM 8 miles including 6 x 3 minutes hard.
Thursday: AM 7 miles PM 6 miles.
Friday: AM 10 miles including 2 laps of Arthur’s Seat running hard on the uphill section PM 6 miles steady.
Saturday: AM 7 miles PM 6 miles.
Sunday: AM 9 miles PM 6 miles.
Monday: 19 miles.
Tuesday: AM 8 miles PM 8 miles.
Wednesday AM 12 miles including 1k, 2k, 3k hard on track PM 4 miles.
Thursday: AM 9 miles PM 8 miles.
Friday: AM 6 miles steady PM 7 miles including 5 miles tempo.
Saturday: AM 7 miles PM 7 miles.

‘Ok then, let’s try something else. Can you fit in a hundred miles this week?’
‘Good. Get two hours in tomorrow, I’ll think of a track session for Wednesday. Apart from that, just divide the rest of the miles up evenly throughout the week.’

I did have to move house, attend both my sister’s and my girlfriend’s graduations, visit my dad in Berwick for three days and do something about a 15,000 word dissertation which is due in four weeks, but I thought it best not to mention this. I remember once mentioning that I was tired during A-levels. ‘When I was running well’, he said, ‘I was putting in a hundred miles a week, I had a full time job, and I had two daughters under the age of four. You haven’t the faintest idea what tired even means.’ This was not a bad way of letting me know it was best to just get on with it.

I needed to ‘try something new’ because I haven’t been running particularly well. This is also, incidentally, why I haven’t been writing very much, but hopefully I’ll be able to change both of those things over the next few weeks. Until two weeks ago, my training has looked like severely diluted version of what my coach was doing in 1982, mainly because I was trying to run on the track and to keep my legs relatively fresh. I think with the training I missed from being ill and injured though, I was lacking a bit of base fitness. For the past two weeks, though, there has been nothing watery about my training. I ran exactly 100 miles both weeks, with 18 miles each Sunday (‘only 82 to go for the week. Easy.’) Rather than doing as my coach has said and not as he did, I’ll hopefully be doing a much better job of replicating what he was doing. There is a theory amongst those who did a lot of high mileage training that perhaps they were doing too much, and that actually they would have been better if they’d trained more sensibly (this is certainly something Charlie Spedding said in an e-mail) but given that they rarely tried this approach and seemed to get on pretty well running high mileage, it seems to be worth a try!

There is, clearly, a fine line between getting the most out of yourself and overtraining. I’ve been reading a study about boxing recently – Body and Soul by Loic Wacquant – which has this to say about getting the balance right:

“‘This is one of the main paradoxes of boxing: one must make use of one’s body without using it up, but the management adapted to that objective does not obey a methodological and considered plan […] The pugilist thus navigates “by eye” between two equally dangerous reefs – all the more dangerous because they are invisible, mobile over time, and to a great extent subjective: on the one hand, an excess of preparation that squanders resources in vain and needlessly shortens a career; on the other, a lack of discipline and training that increases the risk of serious injury and compromises the chances of success in the ring by leaving part of one’s fighting capacities unexploited”

One of the obvious advantages of running over boxing is that a ‘lack of discipline and training’ is likely to mean you get dropped in a race but unlikely to lead to you getting your head kicked in. Otherwise, though, I think the statement holds true.

In the equivalent week in 1982 , my coach ran 104 miles, so with my first ever 100 mile week I’m starting to catch up. I didn’t, though, do my 18 mile run with Charlie Spedding as he did. Otherwise, our training is fairly comparable, as shown below. Luckily I spent two of the days in Berwick, so I was able to do some of the running on coastal paths like the one in the photo, which certainly helped. It’s been pretty hot the past two weeks, and may well be hot when I race on Saturday. My coach’s advice for this was to wear a wet running cap. He did this in a ten mile race in 1976 when the temperature was over 30 degrees and the tar was melting on the roads. He ran 50.11. I’ve only got to run 10,000m on Saturday, but I’ll probably take the advice.


Coastal paths in Berwick.

My first 100 mile week:

Sunday: 18 miles.
Monday: AM 7 miles steady PM 7 miles steady.
Tuesday: AM 8 miles steady PM 5 miles steady.
Wednesday: AM 5 miles steady PM 11 miles including 8 x 1km (200m jog).
Thursday: AM 6 miles PM 6 miles.
Friday: AM 7 miles PM 7 miles.
Saturday: AM 7 miles PM 6 miles.

An equivalent from 31 years ago:

Sunday: 18 miles.
Monday: AM 8.5 miles tired PM 6.5 miles tired.
Tuesday: AM 6 miles steady PM 10 miles including 10 x 800m (90 secs).
Wednesday: AM 6 miles PM 10 miles very tired.
Thursday: AM 6 miles – tired PM 5 miles.
Friday: AM 9 miles PM 6 miles.
Saturday: AM 7.5 miles hard. 5.30AM! PM 5.5 miles.

There are times, when for example you’re running your second hard four mile run of the day on a sunny Edinburgh evening, surrounded by the smoke of a hundred barbecues (and, perhaps more problematic from a performance perspective) almost as many spliffs, when you wonder whether there aren’t more relaxing ways to spend your evening. And then you finish your run and after a couple of minutes of light staggering around you realise that no, that was the best way to spend a third of an hour. You’ve turned the unforgiving twenty minutes into 1,200 seconds worth of distance run, and you feel good. The vast numbers of people playing football in the Meadows since the sun has finally come out probably demonstrates why the Spanish tend to make the English look a bit under-practiced on a football pitch – they’ve got plenty more hours of sunshine to build up those 10,000 hours which Malcolm Gladwell claims in Outliers to be necessary for success. While there are more runners out too, I’m not sure it’s as true for us. My mate Mark says that at this time of year he tends to start looking forward to winter training. ‘It’s better when it’s dark and wet and cold though isn’t it?’ He is, it should be pointed out, from Forres.

The Great Manchester Run didn’t go as well as I’d hoped but it was definitely an improvement on BUCS, so at least things are going in the right direction. While I was in Manchester I had a couple of runs and a few more beers with a good friend of mine who I haven’t seen enough of in the last six years. He was at Durham Uni when I was in sixth form, and was my coach’s first project, back when he insisted that he was an ‘advisor’ and would never get involved with ‘proper’ coaching. On Sundays he’d pick me up from my job in a cafe at 3pm, and we’d drive up to Hamsterley Forest, listening to the Clash in an old Vauxhall Agila (which would, as the tallest, narrowest car in existence, sway wildly in the wind), then run until it got dark or usually just slightly, unnervingly, longer. He hasn’t been running properly for a few years now, but has decided to try to try to break 32 minutes for 10km by this time next year. We’re still in the process of finalising a complex incentive scale (bet) whereby I have to buy him a bottle of whisky of the quality of which will correspond to the quality of the time he runs, e.g Tesco’s blended for sub-35, into the single malts for a sub-33, and something a bit extravagent for sub-32. We haven’t discussed what will happen if he gets into 30.xx territory, but I hope I can find a decent job when I move to London just in case. After an initial probationary period where I determine whether he’s going to stick out the first few weeks I’ll post a link to his blog!

I’m back to running a similar volume to that I was doing before I picked up the virus, so hopefully that will pay off in the two races I’m running this week. Dermot (a club mate from Edinburgh) and I are driving all the way from Edinburgh to London tomorrow (I say we’re driving, really Dermot is driving – what a hero) for the Highgate 10,000m, and then I’m running the Blaydon Race on Sunday afternoon. The races are probably a bit close together, but the 10,000m is one of a few chances to run a fast track 10km this summer and I don’t like to miss Blaydon (


Number ‘2’ for Blaydon. No pressure then…

I’ve posted a couple of weeks of training below as comparisons for anyone interested. The days of two hard four mile runs are really good both for aerobic and psychological development – you finish the day thinking that you’ve worked harder than more or less anyone else that day, which is a good feeling. The 400m sessions on the track are to try to get me to turn my legs over a little quicker – especially the most recent one where I had a bit more recovery than usual but ran them in 62/63 seconds.

My training – two of the last three weeks.

Sunday: 14 miles in 90 minutes.
Monday: AM 5 miles steady PM 5 miles steady.
Tuesday: AM 5 miles steady PM 6 miles including 12 x 400m in 65/66 (1 minute recovery).
Wednesday: AM 6 miles steady PM 5 miles steady.
Thursday: AM 6 miles including 4 miles hard in 20.32 PM 6 miles including 4 miles hard in 20.24.
Friday: AM 6 miles steady PM 6 miles steady.
Saturday: AM 5 miles steady PM 5 miles steady.

Sunday: 10 miles including Great Manchester Run.
Monday: 9 miles steady.
Tuesday: AM 6 miles steady PM 8 miles including 8 x 400m in 62/63 (200 jog recovery).
Wednesday: 8 miles steady.
Thursday: AM 6 miles steady. PM 6 miles steady.
Friday: AM 6 miles including 4 miles hard in 20.16 PM 6 miles including 4 miles hard in 20.24.
Saturday. AM 5 miles steady PM 5 miles steady.

My coach’s training, an equivalent week in May 1981.

Sunday: 22 miles.
Monday: AM 4 miles in 20.18 (hard) PM 7.5 miles – very tired.
Tuesday: AM 8 miles PM 4 miles.
Wednesday: 10 including 5th at Silksworth Road Race.
Thursday: AM 8 miles PM 6 miles.
Friday: 8 miles.
Saturday: AM 6 miles. PM 5 miles.

I went down to train at Maiden Castle in Durham the morning after the BUCS 10,000m. Inevitably, the first person I saw asked me how it went.

‘Morning Mike. How did BUCS go?’
‘It was terrible.’
‘It wasn’t that good’ said my coach, overhearing us as he walked past.

Indeed… there was no point in pretending it had been anything other than a disaster. We’d decided that even though I’d been struggling with a virus, it was worth taking the gamble that I’d recovered in time to race. Or rather, my coach had never seemed to entertain the idea that I wouldn’t run a race I’d been targeting for a long time. He’d realised that I was going to run anyway and it that he might as well try to get me to think positively about it. I’d warmed up and run a fairly hard mile in 4.35 on the Thursday before the race and didn’t feel too bad. Apparently my coach had thought I sounded like I was breathing more heavily than I should have been, but there wasn’t much point in worrying me about that. I went down to the race thinking that perhaps the time off I’d had might actually benefit me, that the flat feeling in my legs was just nerves.

I realised pretty early on in the race that I didn’t feel right, though, and that all the positive thinking in the world wasn’t going to get me round twenty-five laps particularly fast. When you’re feeling bad and look up to see ’17’ on the lap counter you know it’s going to be a long half hour. I ended up making it round in 8th place in a race that was won in a time thirty seconds slower than I ran for 10,000m last summer, which is obviously pretty frustrating. The race was won by a guy who went into it with a PB over two and a half minutes slower than the best entrant on paper. Running is a pretty unpredictable sport – even without taking races into account, everyone who does a bit of running knows that some days you feel terrible for no logical reason and other days you feel at least nine feet tall even though you’ve been training really hard. You can have bad days but you can also – luckily – have outstanding days. Or at least that’s what you have to tell yourself when you have a total nightmare of a race.

Unfortunately some viruses just cling on longer than others, and sometimes you have to accept that you’ve got about as much chance of sweating them out by continuing to run as you have of curing indigestion by eating a second pizza. You just have to wait, and forget about racing for a while. Fortunately I’ve felt a lot better this week, and I’m back into normal training now. I’m doing the session of two flat out four mile efforts today though so that should be a good measure of whether I’m completely better or not!

The 10,000m is a distance that is rarely run on the track anymore, but one that was a staple of any serious distance runner’s summer plans in the ‘80’s. People seem more concerned with road 10km times now. From what my coach has said about when he was running, though, there was a tendency to distrust road times in favour of the inescapable objectivity of the track. He ran under 30 minutes for 10,000m with someone shouting the lap times out for him on the back straight – as long as he heard 71-point-something he knew he was alright. That takes a particular kind of stubborn relentlessness, but also a huge amount of concentration. The 10,000m seems like a good way of cultivating mental fortitude, and a good exercise in bloodymindedness. I’m planning on heading down to Highgate in June for their ‘10,000m Night of PBs’, so hopefully it will live up to its name…

Not too much to report on the training front this week unfortunately. As my coach pointed out on the phone once, saying that distance runners are constantly ‘on the edge’ is not just a marketing slogan – when you’re training hard you’re pretty susceptible to illness and injury. I picked up some sort of virus last week and wasn’t able to run at all for about five days. I’m back running tentatively now and still hope to run BUCS 10,000m next week, but haven’t done much training to write about here.

In the meantime, here’s a brief article I wrote outlining my thoughts on Mo Farah’s appearance in the London marathon for anyone who still wants something to read.

Last Sunday, Mo Farah ran half of the London Marathon in 61.34. If he’d been in a half marathon race would have put him twelfth on the British all-time list, and made him over three minutes faster than any other British runner for a half marathon this year. In normal circumstances, we don’t begrudge people making large amounts of money for doing things considerably better than everyone else. In fact, there are few professions where you can actually objectively prove that you are the best in your field. Distance running is one of the few where you can, and where you can measure your superiority in seconds (and minutes in this case), and yet Mo’s appearance in London has attracted a blizzard of ire and gibberish, both from the media and from fellow athletes. He has been labelled a “money grabber” by numerous journalists as well as by Paula Radcliffe (who lives in Monaco for tax reasons) and Michael Johnson, who once injured himself having accepted a large amount of money for racing Donovan Bailey over 150m.

Criticising Mo Farah for running half of the London Marathon is especially short sighted given the lack of scrutiny given to athletes endorsements more generally. Mo has looked awkward in interviews all week as he’s been repeatedly forced to justify his decision to run and to reassure the public that it was not about the money. When he appeared on billboards with Usain Bolt and Richard Branson in the summer, endorsing broadband, I don’t remember him being made to squirm in front of TV cameras as he explained that that wasn’t about the money, that he was merely a passionate believer in fast internet connections and that he saw appearing in an advert as a ‘learning experience’ that could afford him a greater understanding of what it felt like to wear a fake beard.

Two British Olympians – a boxer and a gymnast seemingly forgotten now that we’ve almost reached the games’ one year anniversary – still grin out from Subway windows advocating their ‘personal best’ sandwiches. Jessica Ennis received very little criticism for using her wholesome image to rehabilitate that of BP during the Olympics, whose website also read ‘in honour of BP’s deep (a Freudian slip if ever I saw one) ties to the U.S we proudly announce our sponsorship of the United States Olympic Team’. Nike managed to turn Tiger Woods’ infidelity into a marketing campaign in 2010, and waited until the last possible moment – long after there was incontrovertible evidence of his drug taking – to drop Lance Armstrong. Given the unscrupulous nature of many endorsement deals, you’d hardly have been surprised if they’d tried to make that one work out in their favour too (i’d have gone for ‘Just Get Away With It. For Over a Decade’).

Sporting careers are short, and it is usually accepted that sportsmen and women have to make their money while they can, even if it involves endorsement deals with fast food outlets and oil companies. Mo’s appearance in London – as attested to by the vast numbers of people who turned out to watch – was above all else an endorsement of running, in the city in which he grew up and in an event which supported him in his early days when there was no guarantee he would make it to the heights he has now reached. Watching Mo’s beautifully manicured stride as he clipped along with the leaders on Sunday, I was with Brendan Foster, who is generally right about these things. ‘Mo’s the double Olympic champion’ he said, ‘he can do what he wants.’ Let’s turn our attention to the kinds of endorsements – McDonald’s would be a start – that are actually likely to decrease the likelihood of us getting more kids living healthy lifestyles and playing sport. Farah is a role model, not a money grabber.

Most of the discussion about how to improve distance running standards assumes that the problem essentially comes down to training harder. From the conversations I’ve had with my coach, and from reading Charlie Spedding’s book, though, much of the difference seems to come down to focus. In an e-mail, Charlie told me ‘I think a lot of people from my generation like to say that your generation don’t train hard enough, but I really don’t know if that is true. For all I know, you might be training too hard’.

The ‘focus’ and ‘commitment’ Charlie writes about are not the same thing as ‘motivation’, which today seems to be characterised primarily by Nike adverts, ‘running playlists’ on itunes and youtube videos – that is, things that last about three minutes. The ‘focus’ Charlie refers to requires a bit more time. It means deciding what you want to do and then getting on with it. It means deciding to run twice a day, and accepting that running will become the punctuation to your day, the two bookends between which everything else fits. My flatmates used to correct me when I told them I’d meet them later because I “had to go for a run.” “You want to go for a run”, they’d say. They got bored of correcting me eventually. You don’t need music or slogans to motivate you if you accept that you’re going to go out every time you wake up and whenever you get home at the end of the day; it just happens. The ‘focus’ Charlie is talking about is different and is, I think, lacking from a lot of people’s training. As he puts it in his book, before he changed his mindset, ‘although I had an attitude that made me diligent in my training, it wasn’t the same thing as having an attitude that would make me successful in my running.’ Luckily, Charlie’s advice about focus and commitment happens to involve going to the pub.


This is an exercise anyone can do (you don’t have to be in a pub, but it helps). It makes you accountable to yourself, and it gives you something to refer back to. And it’s pretty simple. Get yourself a pad of paper and write “What do I want?”, “Why do I want it?” and “How much do I want it?” If you don’t know the answers to those questions, Charlie reckons, you’re unlikely to get the most out of yourself competitively. I’ve done my own version for this summer, but it’s not going on here. It’s one thing being accountable to yourself and quite another to make yourself accountable to eightlane message board posters! Having target races doesn’t mean that you don’t run other races, or that you don’t run the other races hard, but that you aim to really put pressure on yourself in the races where you want to get results.

I made the pilgrimage down to Sutton Coldfield this week for the national twelve stage road relays, running a pretty lonely 11th leg 48 seconds slower than my coach ran in April 1981, and identical to the second to Dougie’s time on leg nine. We’ve clearly been spending too much time running together in the meadows and, as our mate Mark puts it, ‘become physiologically the same bloke’. We were eight seconds apart at the Scottish road relays, too. I suppose it’s not a problem if we keep running the same times, but we could do with both running a bit quicker in the next few weeks. The twelve stage has more or less remained the same whilst the rest of the running landscape has changed around it – a tent city gradually appearing in the morning, with club flags competing for space around the changeover area, then runners battling for over four hours for their teams. As one of the Costorphine AC runners put it, ‘I don’t want to hear of any example of anyone being able to remember their own name within ten minutes of finishing a leg!’

Training wise this week was fairly similar again, although it should be noted that according to my coach’s diary the winter lasted even longer in 1981 than it did this year. His entry for the 24th of April is ‘5 miles alone – deep snow!’ He ran 78 miles, I ran 73. The previous week I ran 84, he ran 94. I’ve listed my last two weeks below for anyone interested.

Sunday: 11 miles including long leg at Scottish road relays.
Monday: AM 6 miles steady PM 6 miles steady.
Tuesday: AM 4.5 miles steady. PM 9 miles including 8 x 1km in under three minutes with one minute recovery.
Wednesday: 10 miles steady.
Thursday: AM 5 miles steady. PM 10 miles acceleration run. First mile in 6.30, then 10 seconds faster per mile.
Friday: AM 6 miles steady. PM 6 miles steady.
Saturday: AM 6 miles steady. PM 4.5 miles steady.
Sunday: 18 miles steady with Dougie.
Monday: AM 6 miles steady. PM 6 miles steady.
Tuesday: AM 4.5 miles steady. PM 9 miles including 5 x 1km (100 jog recovery), 1 mile hard on the track.
Wednesday: 6 miles steady. (Didn’t get out until 10pm, due to having to hand in 7,000 words of essay on Thursday!)
Thursday: AM 5 miles including 10 mins of 100m hard every 30 seconds. PM 5 miles steady.
Friday: 3 miles easy.
Saturday: 10 miles including leg in 12 stage relays.

Last week I included a few statistics which illustrate the extent to which standards have dropped, but sometimes numbers can be hard to relate to. So here’s an example of what a local road race used to look like:

This is the kind of race where you could run under thirty minutes for 10km and be nowhere. It is, as Hunter S. Thompson would have put it, a race run by men who would rather be shot out of a cannon than squeezed out of a tube. Races don’t tend to look much like this any more – try going down to your local park run if you want to see an extreme example. You just don’t get vests like the one Bernie Ford is wearing today either.

Tim Hutchings, who is in a far better position than I to comment, wrote an article in Athletics Weekly last week in which he lamented the fact that many of today’s better runners are under-raced compared with the runners in the ‘80s. I think this is partly down to a fear of being found out. A lot of people tend to only race when they’re in really good form now, rather than using races as a way of finding form. Charlie Spedding writes about not being scared to race in his book ‘From Last to First’, much of which is concerned with the mental approach to running. Rather than attempting to avoid racing people who are better than you, or being scared to compete, he advocates seeing racing better runners as an opportunity rather than something to be feared.

Sometimes you have to be a bit smart about this, though, as I found out last week. Running a 10km in an extremely windy Grangemouth, it’s probably best not to try to run away from people on a stretch into the wind, no matter how much you’re trying to change the way you approach racing. I found this out last weekend, and was beaten by two of a front group of four as a result. I gave it a decent go, and both of them should have beaten me on paper (one was second in the Scottish Cross Country this year and the other has the Commonwealth Games standard for the marathon already), but I would probably have given them a better race had I been more sensible.

Training can never really quite replicate races if you’re trying to really put out a hard effort. Running is a pretty simple sport – along with boxing it corresponds most closely to the basic ‘fight or flight’ response (some have tried to combine the two, but it is not recommended I ran the Scottish six stage road relays yesterday, and after the first leg, when teams start to get spread out, runners are left constantly in the position of both hunter and hunted. You can’t replicate the adrenal reaction to this in training. I spent the first half of my leg chasing down the second placed runner and the second half worrying if there was anyone else chasing from behind. Given that the race was in Livingston, a new build town of underpasses, flyover bridges and tight corners between housing estates, you were never entirely certain that you weren’t about to be overtaken. My club, Costorphine, claimed the silver medal, the first time we’ve won a medal in this race, so it was a good day.

For those interested, below is the last week in March for both me and my coach, including the previous Sunday. We both raced twice, once in a relay.

My training:

Sunday: 11 miles including 3rd in Grangemouth 10km (31.03).
Monday: AM 5.5 miles steady PM 5.5 miles steady.
Tuesday: AM 4.5 miles steady PM 9.5 miles including 3km (2 laps jog), 5 x 1km (200 jog) on track with Matt Gunby. Hard work after Sunday.
Wednesday: AM 10 miles steady.
Thursday: AM 4.5 miles steady. PM 7 miles fartlek.
Friday: AM 4.5 miles steady. PM 4.5 miles steady.
Saturday: 4.5 miles easy.
Sunday: 11 miles including long leg in Scottish Road relay championships (29.29, started 3rd, finished 2nd).

Total for week up to Sunday: 72 miles.

My coach’s training:

Sunday: 14 miles inc (illegible) in Kendall Road Race – poor, 50.45
Monday: 6 miles with Barry
Tuesday: AM: 5 miles alone – tired. PM 4 miles 21.30 alone.
Wednesday: 10 miles – good.
Thursday: 10 miles.
Friday: AM 6 miles. PM 7 miles.
Saturday: 16 miles including leg at Gosforth Relays 15.24.
Sunday: AM 16 miles alone, tired. PM 4 miles OK.

Total for week up to Sunday: 78 miles.

‘Evening, Dougie. How was work?’
‘Fine. How was the library?’
‘Alright. Feeling ok from this morning?’
‘Yeah. A bit tired but fine.’
(we had, like on most mornings, already run a few miles in the meadows in the morning)
‘Lovely weather, eh?’

Around an hour later, following a session in gale force winds and a blizzard…

‘Cheers, mate, see you tomorrow. Will you be out in the morning?’
‘I’ll be out at about 7.45. See you in twelve hours…’

I’m not going to pretend I don’t understand why there aren’t more people my age trying to get to a decent level as distance runners. There must be people who travel to and from work at eight in the morning and six at night who wonder whether the two tight-clad men they see twice every day ever stop running. There are a few people left who are at least nearly as mad as the lads who were running thirty years ago, though, and I’m making an effort to run with them as much as possible. This morning I ran with Patryk, a Polish marathon runner. He definitely doesn’t lack craziness – I met him at eight and he’d been asleep for four hours and was still feeling the effects of tequila consumed in the early hours of the morning. A lot of the guys in ‘British marathon runners of the 1980’s’ write about the importance of getting on with it regardless of the circumstances. Patryk was doing a pretty good job of that, just not always in a completely straight line.

I got a mate from work to pick a year at random between 1975 and 1985 in order to test the reality of the decline in standards across the distance events. He went for 1977. Below are the times of the fifth, tenth and twentieth ranked runners over 5,000m, 10,000m and marathon. I haven’t listed the top ranked athlete, because it is irrelevant to my argument, which is about strength in depth. A lot of the comments on my first article, amongst at least fifteen versions of the same joke (‘Why were we faster in the ’80’s? Because we were a lot younger then!) were about Mo Farah. Obviously Mo is an exceptional athlete, but that is the problem – he is the exception that proves the rule. Roger Federer is an incredible tennis player, but that doesn’t make any difference to an assessment of the overall quality of Swiss tennis.


2012: 5th 13.22 , 10th 13.51 , 20th 14.02.
1977: 5th 13.25 , 10th 13.39 , 20th 13.49.


2012: 5th 28.51 , 10th 29.40 , 20th 30.12.
1977: 5th 27.55 , 10th 28.31 , 20th 28.59.


2012: 5th 2.16.40 , 10th 2.19.22 , 20th 2.22.29.
1977: 5th 2.16.02 . 10th 2.17.16 , 20th 2.19.10.

Last year was an Olympic year, and the Olympics were in London. You might expect that to push up performances. 1977 was just another year, but to make the top twenty in the British rankings you had to be the length of the finishing straight faster over 5,000m, a lap faster over 10,000m and about half a mile faster for a marathon.

My coach was ill for most of the equivalent week in March 1981 – he only covered 42 miles. This is probably, then, one of the few weeks where my mileage will be higher than his. I did 84 miles, detailed below for anyone interested:

Sunday: 15.5 miles in 1.38.
Monday: AM 5 miles steady PM 5 miles steady.
Tuesday: AM 5 miles steady PM 7 miles including 5 x 800m on the track with decreasing recoveries (1.15, 60, 45, 30).
Wednesday: AM 6 miles steady PM 5 miles steady.
Thursday: AM 6.5 miles including four miles hard in 20.13 PM 6.5 miles including 4 miles hard in 20.38.
Friday: AM 6 miles steady PM 6 miles steady.
Saturday: AM 5 miles steady PM 5 miles steady.



‘Good afternoon’

‘Right then, I think you need to get on the track tonight. Can you get on a track or is it still snowing’

‘I think I can get on a track’

‘Ok good, well here’s what you’re doing. Are you listening?’


Conversations with my coach – those related directly to training at least – don’t tend to last much more than a minute. Less talking about running and more running. Ironically I expect he’d probably see this blog as part of the problem…

So, to the training. For the first week of March, our diaries look pretty similar. Seventy six miles each. The major difference is one that I can’t do a great deal about – I didn’t do any running with Barry Smith and Charlie Spedding. I expect I could probably keep up with them now, but in 1981 being able to do a few runs a week with established international athletes must have been quite handy. Running is an individual sport, but training in a strong group clearly has a huge impact on performance. Groups of likeminded people have led to athletic success from the Midlands in the ‘60s to Gateshead in the ‘80s and Iten today. A group of us try to co-ordinate training when we can in Edinburgh, but getting a group of a decent standard together is difficult when we all run for different clubs, are coached by different people and have different aims. For a golden period of about six weeks in the winter we managed to get a group of more than five together every Tuesday, but injuries and different priorities (we had a 3.42 1,500m runner and a 65 minute half marathon runner training together in the winter, but coming into Spring it makes less sense for people to do the same training) have meant that it’s harder to maintain a group training environment. There just isn’t the strength in depth now to have groups training for different events at a good level.

As for competition at local road races, it is even harder to find a race that has the kind of strength in depth you saw twenty or thirty years ago. Off the back of my first post I was sent a sheet of results from 1991 for a midweek 10km in Sunderland where 11 people ran under 30.51. When I ran 31.09 at the Jedburgh 10km last year I won by two and a half minutes. In the two five mile races I’ve run in the last two weekends I finished second in both in 24.47 and 24.55, in races where a total of only seven people broke 26 minutes. It seems fairly obvious that if you’re getting beaten by ten people you’re likely to work harder than if you’re getting beaten by one.

The advantage of having my coach’s diaries is that I can put things into a kind of historical perspective – I can try to compete with him instead of with the other people training in the Meadows in Edinburgh. Recently he’s had me doing a few days where I run a hard, measured four mile run in the morning and then the same route again in the evening. Apart from being a bitch psychologically, this means I can compare myself with him. Last time I did it I ran 20.16 and 20.38, but he consistently ran under 20 minutes for both runs. If I didn’t have his times to compare mine to, I’d probably have been reasonably pleased with that day’s training – it’s not very often, after all, that you do two hard runs in one day (or that it’s considered a good idea!) As it stands, though, I just want to beat his times. Knowing that the bloke down the road could do it makes it attainable.

So here’s last week’s training for those who are interested in the details. I imagine there’ll be a few more of those since my article went on (one of my ambitions, at least, is complete!)

Sunday 3rd: 15 miles steady (1 hour 38).

Monday 4th: 11 miles steady.

Tuesday 5th: AM 5 miles steady PM 2 mile warm up, 3 x 2 miles in 10 minutes with 5 minutes jog recovery, 1 mile warm down.

Wednesday 6th: AM 5 miles steady PM 5 miles steady.

Thursday 7th: AM 5 miles steady PM 2 miles steady, 10 mins of 100m hard every 30 seconds, 2 miles steady.

Friday 8th: AM 5 miles easy

Saturday 9th: 10 miles including 2nd in King’s Buildings 5 mile road race in 24.55.