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Short and Sweet

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the incredibly high training distance covered by 800m specialist Peter Snell. He notched up 160 km / week. This week I was prompted by an article in Athletics Weekly by a 5000m runner, Bruce Tulloh, from the same era as Peter Snell who claimed to have only trained 50 km a week.

Bruce Tulloh was a British middle distance runner who won the European 5000m championships in 1962. Famously he did so bare foot (and you thought that started with “Born to Run” 4 decades later?) When Peter Snell set a world mile record in 1962, Bruce Tulloh finished second in the same race. In a recent article in Runners Weekly Bruce said the following.

“It is quality, not quantity, which counts. That 13.53,  5km (European Championship gold medal) came off an average training mileage of just over 30 miles (48 km) a week for the previous three months. The more quality sessions you can handle per week, the better you will become.”

For the article on Bruce Tulloh go to: Article

So having concentrated over recent months about how a high volume of low intensity aerobic training provides the basis for fast times in races, why am I now apparently reporting the opposite? Well, actually I think that Bruce is using a little bit of artistic license. The European Championships are held towards the end of the race season, in this case 12th – 16th September. During competition runners cut back on distance and concentrate on speed work. In the winter and spring of 1962 he may well have done a lot of pounding of the streets at relatively low intensity or running cross country. He certainly would not have been doing track work because in those days the running tracks were not synthetic and could only be used in the more favourable weather conditions of summer. In the Athletics Weekly article he stresses the need to periodise training by cutting your year in blocks of 3 or 4 months. To support this notion that Bruce did indeed run distance, in 1969 he ran from Los Angeles to New York, a distance of 4327 km in 64 days. That’s an average of 72 km a day. (Yep, decades before Forest Gump).  Aged 81, Bruce Tulloh ran a mile in May this year in 9:29 which is equal to 5:54 / km. He is ranked number one in the UK for his age group for 2016.

We run for a variety of reasons and not all of us have the time or motivation to put in the hours of base work. If you are motivated by the thrill of competition as opposed to peak performance then you may prefer a more direct route to getting reasonable race times, all be it not the best you could achieve. This could be particularly so if you have a demanding career, young family and hence not the time available to do the Peter Snell 160 km a week. Indeed if you are limiting yourself to short distance races, 10Km and under, then you really can reach a good standard without the hours of base training.

When I was in my 30s with a family of 4 children all aged less than 10 years old, I could not find the time for either early morning training or evening training. Katrina worked as a nurse on night shift and for both of us it was a case of clocking off from work and clocking on to family duty. Hence I trained during my lunch break at work. The short lunch breaks dictated that I concentrate on speed, not distance. A typical week was.

Monday. 5km as fast as I could.
Tuesday. 8km steady with intermittent spurts of speed for 200 to 300m
Wednesday. 2km jog. 6 x 200m fast runs up a hill. 2km jog back to start.
Thursday. 5km reasonable pace but short of race speed.
Sunday. Long run. 10 Km race or 10 km with friends at LSD pace.

That’s a total of just over 30km a week. It was enough to get me regularly under 40 minutes for a 10 km race. The longest race I did was the annual New Forest 10 mile race. Looking back I’m sure that my peak performance was well short of what it could have been, but then, like now, clocking 38 minutes for a 10km race was respectable. Besides, when you are in your 30s you generally need to be close to 30 minutes for 10k to get on the podium and that never seemed likely for me.

Balancing your life is crucial to achieving good performance and at the same time feeling emotionally and physically uplifted. If it works for you, forego the quantity in favour of quality. But never try to do both, that is high quantity at high effort.

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