Well, the transition from my 40s to 50s was a bit of a damp squib. On my last run as a forty-something, I got a left groin strain at the start of a strides session, and then on the same session the very next week, I pulled a right hamstring, probably as a result of subconsciously favouring the crocked left one. And to add insult to the injury, the charts are looking shite. I’m referring of course to the plot of athletic performance vs age which can be gleaned from the World masters Athletics (WMA) tables. At about 35, it looks like the broad shoulder of a Borders hill but then quickly changes to an Alpine black ski run through the 40s and 50s before launching off a cliff into freefall in later decades.
The last time I was what I would consider reasonably fit (at least in this century) was in 2005, which only seems like yesterday but these damned charts are telling me that now, even if I train bloody hard, at best I’ve slowed 6% in the blink of an eye. Looking for positives, at least my athletic ability and mental age are once again compatible (that of a 14 year old!) – but then if I really was 14, I’m sure I’d have got through that strides session in one piece! OK, perhaps a black ski run analogy is a bit pessimistic but it’s certainly a down escalator. Maybe the training goal now is to try and slow that descent by running up and maybe gaining a step or two, at least for a while? Come to think of it, running up the down escalators was also something I did as a 14 year-old…
It’s not all gloom though; having started jogging in June, following 2 years of cycling as my only exercise, I’m now fit enough to incorporate running in my human-powered commute. That’s given me the running bug again and one of the things that I always do when this happens is pore over all my old running books and articles in the quest for that magic schedule which will lead to a triumphant come-back. Well, I can dream…
I don’t suppose there’s any magic bullet but one approach I’m really interested in is that of the late, great, John “Hadd” Walsh. I came across his training ideas about 10 years ago on Letsrun.com but I was doing a different schedule at the time, so I never got round to trying it. Hadd believed that there were huge performance improvements to be gained by thorough aerobic preparation and the best way to achieve this was to maximise the lactate threshold before any faster running. But rather than diving in with a diet of HM-pace threshold runs, Hadd training involves maximising your pace at much lower intensities first (with runs conducted at accurately determined proportions of your maximum heart rate) and then progressing to training at gradually increased intensities. Hadd believed that this was the best way of improving the mitochondria of all muscle fibre types.
His metaphor was a tube of toothpaste. Extracting every drop of ability (toothpaste) from the tube requires carefully squeezing very gradually from the bottom up. Squeezing from higher up (faster paces) too early will initially yield toothpaste but will likely end up with some being left in the tube. The original Hadd threads on letsrun.com ran to hundreds of posts but one Haddist has kindly provided a summary HERE. PeteQ2 also has a useful discussion HERE. I don’t know if Hadd’s approach is physiologically “correct” or not but it seems logical, it’s progressive and plenty of folk have reported good results, so I’m going to give it a bash.
I’m in a pre-Hadd phase at the moment and I want to get a few more weeks of consistent jogging in before starting properly. So once I’m ready to start, the next step will be to accurately determine HR max (which is pretty low, I think around 170 bpm) and then embark on the steady LT improvement. A heart rate monitor is something I’ve had for ages but it’s only recently that I’ve started using it consistently. I’m quite enjoying it at the moment - I’ve found it quite liberating to just run by HR and not have the pressure of worrying about time or pace. The heart rate dictates the effort required and the pace is just whatever it is.
So where will all this lead? Well, if things go to plan and I get through all the Hadd phases, in a few months I should be fit for a longish race. I’d like to get some shorter stuff in too (my last 10k was over 10 years ago!), so I may use the training as a base for going on to faster VO2 work. More importantly though, it might just get me a few steps up that down escalator. I’ll let you know how I get on.