Warmed up or over-cooked?

Observing some international athletes at a training camp recently I was struck by the variation in warm ups. Some of the athletes appeared highly focused and all of their warm up activities were performed intensely and with skill – they were clearly preparing to perform. On the other hand, some of the others appeared to be going through the motions – the warm ups were lengthy and looked quite impressive but on closer examination lacked intensity and specificity.

Which took me back to my racing days and some of my best and worst races. There was no shortage of races at university where as a result of poor planning/shoddy navigation we arrived just in time for the start having got changed in the minibus. Doing a 10-minute minute warm up and pinning on our numbers as we legged it to the start line hardly seemed ideal but invariably I ran well.

On the other hand, national championships where we had to register hours in advance and report to the call room 30 minutes before our start provided ample opportunity for a long and comprehensive warm up. But that was a blessing in disguise as the temptation was always to do too much. On reflection there were times when I was definitely over-cooked.

By the time I was racing marathons I had finally got the hang of a short, focused warm up despite having plenty of time available before racing. In fact for my first marathon I had a sheet with my pre-race routine typed out with every activity from the moment I woke up to the time the gun went. It ensured that I did what was required and nothing more – it worked like a dream.

All of which should serve as a reminder. The purpose of a warm up is to prepare the body for competition while minimising the expenditure of physical and mental energy. Time to rethink your warm up?

Saying no to be able to say yes

What’s your priority? What are you saying yes to right now?

A question I often ask business leaders and athletes alike. All too often the reply is a long laundry list of things that need doing. As much as saying yes, prioritisation means saying no to things, potentially lots of things, in order to focus time and attention on what really matters.

When you are planning your running training, what is your priority at any given time? Is it developing your sprinting speed, your all round body strength, your marathon endurance, something else?

A priority doesn’t need to be for ever. Its just what you are focusing on right now, for a period of time to achieve a specific goal.

What’s your priority?

p.s. if you liked this, sign up for the regular RunNudge to help you improve your running

End of season break

This is an updated version of a piece I wrote a few years ago and still remains a massively important topic for runners of all abilities. If you are unsure about whether to take an end of season break, here is the article in full.

Hands up if you take a proper end of season break ? And I don't mean a couple of days of cross training before launching into a slightly shorter long run. But more of a proper kenyan style 2 months back at the shamba catching up with friends and fattening up the animals as well as yourself ? Ok, so that's probably a bit extreme as well in the age of the professional runner who needs to race regularly to make a living but it does illustrate the point about when is a break a break.

Watching Mo Farah being interviewed on the BBC a couple of years ago was a good reminder about just how important this is. Asked about what he had been doing recently he said a couple of weeks holiday with his family, eating stuff he doesn't normally eat and adding 3 kgs. The interviewer looked a bit surprised at this and asked if he had been doing any running - No, none was the reply.

October is the time of year when people are coming back from their end of season breaks (or not) and watching how they are running is fascinating from a coaching pointing view. It tells you a lot about how they have recovered from their last period of training and more importantly their prospects for the season ahead.

You've got the ones who didn't bother with a break because hey, rest is for whimps. They are still running OK and over the coming months will start to struggle with a plateau in performance then illness and injury before being forced to take the break which they should have had earlier. Inevitably the break will be longer and at just the wrong moment in their build up for a really important race. This will be put down to ''bad luck" and guess what, the pattern will repeat itself in future as the lessons fail to get learned.

Then you've got those who took a break but perhaps only a short one to recharge the batteries before launching into a fairly hard block of training. They are either running really well already as they add some extra endurance onto a summer base of speed or they got hurt almost straight away as they increased their training load again. The ones who navigated the transition and stayed healthy could well be flying by November and keep this going into the New Year. I did this in 1998 - PBs on the track in the summer, short break then spent the autumn/winter doing twice weekly Frank sessions at Battersea and racing brilliantly before running out of steam in Feb and breaking down completely in March. Some early season glory but I came up short when it mattered and missed out making the World Cross Team when I had my best chance. Then I wasn't around at all in the summer of '99 when I should have been taking more chunks off my PBs.

And then there are a third group of runners who've taken a proper end of season break of 2-3 weeks, possibly added a little bit of weight (but still stayed in shape) and totally recharged themselves mentally as well as physically. Their return to training is a bit sluggish and laboured and they will often wonder how on earth they could be so far away from top fitness (in reality they aren't, it just feels like it). When they start up again the training is crucial. Remember the principles of training/de-training. One of the things that reverses fastest when you stop is the neuro-muscular co-ordination. So this means that those wonderful smooth/efficient/powerful movement patterns that you have spent time developing need re-programming before you increase your training load too much - otherwise you risk using muscles incorrectly and injury will follow. So it requires patience, perhaps a 4-6 week block where you focus on re-establishing great movement patterns and gradually building the training load (volume/intensity) before you really get down to the winters hard work.

So what gets in the way of taking the third approach ? Often its a simple anxiety along the lines of "if im not training hard then i'm losing fitness" which prevents people taking a proper break and then starting up again gradually. You need to think a bit longer term. Its like climbing a mountain. Climb up, establish a base camp, then climb to the next level before briefly dropping back to base. Climb again, return to Camp 1 etc, etc. A small step back in the short term enables you to go much higher in future.

Another barrier I see is pressure to race - which generally means clubs, schools, parents, friends telling people to race 'or you will be letting the team down.' And of course if you want to race you want to be fit don't you ? This is really difficult to deal with because in the absence of a support network that really understands long term development the athlete needs to be really strong of character to say no and do what is best for them. For school age children one way around this is to schedule their break at the start of the summer holidays after English Schools Track is over and then use August and September as a 'return to training' month before competion starts again.

So whether you are racing an autumn marathon, peaked for English Schools Track or have just enjoyed a summer of road racing, taking a proper break followed by a well thought through return to training is absolutely critical to continued long term progression.

Want an exclusive bite sized piece of inspiration every week thats not on the blog?

Sign up for the RunNudge to improve your performance.