Saturday, October 07, 2017

Verheul Training Update

This update has been a little while coming — every 5k race I've run since the Hervey Bay Parkrun has been accompanied by the strong winds typical for this time of year in Canberra. In one race I was almost blown to a stop by a particularly strong gust. It was incredible! Yesterday however, luck was with us for the Customs Joggers' 5k, with the wind miraculously dropping while we ran (before picking up immediately afterwards — the Captain Cook Fountain showering everyone as we chatted).

'CJs' is a handicapped start 5k race and I started alone with Roger's green shirt the immediate target. I glanced at the Garmin when it beeped at 1k, the 4:48 not feeling as easy as I'd expected. I kept running hard, passing Roger around 2k then caught up to Geoff just beyond 3k on the way back from the turn. Geoff was talkative and encouraging as usual while we ran past Rond Terrace. I pushed on to the finish, happy to hear Bron shout "33:49!" as I passed the line. Splits had been 4:48, 4:50, 4:48, 4:46 and 4:37 for a net time of 23:49 and an average heart rate of 144 (about 91% of my maximum).

After another month of training using the Verheul Method I've raced 5 seconds slower than Hervey Bay, but I'm happy! Why? Well, this method of training is quite addictive in how it leaves your legs feeling — springy, fresh and full of life. I've noticed however, my aerobic fitness gradually declining off the 50 to 55 kilometres per week I've been running, with 4 to 5 days of that being full recovery short intervals. It's a little like how I felt during track racing seasons in the old days — 800 and 1500 metre times would improve off speedwork and interval training. Then you'd try a late season 3000m or 5000m race and run slower for those than you did early in the season off a base of winter training.

I'm experimenting with a change to my implementation of the Verheul Method. Each week I'll have two days for short Verheul intervals (with a longer warm-up), one day will be a 5k race or tempo run, one day will be for long (800m to 1k) Verheul intervals (with a long warm-up) and the other three days will be for non-stop aerobic running. Weekly mileage will be between 70 and 80 kilometres. That's the plan at this stage, but no plan is set in stone!

After the 29 September Customs Joggers' 5k

Friday, September 08, 2017

The Hervey Bay 5k and Verheul Training

I've just returned from a week of warm weather training in Queensland. The shorts and sandals attire was luxurious after experiencing late winter snow and freezing temperatures in Canberra. While I was in Hervey Bay I raced the Parkrun 5k (starting at the earlier time of 7.00 AM to beat the heat!). Happily, I ran a little faster than I have been recently — 23:44, finishing 34th in the field of 198 and 1st VM60-64. My fastest 5k of 2017 remains the 23:32 run at the Tuggeranong Parkrun in March. I was happier with the Hervey Bay result because expectations were low while warming up with ordinary feeling legs. I thought anything under 25 minutes would be a pass mark.

I lined up a little way back from the front and it was a few hundred metres before the crowd thinned out. Before the start some pacers were introduced, one being John Street to pace '24 minutes' (John's VM75-79 record is a very impressive 21:02). Around the 1k sign I caught up to John and his small group which included a couple of youngsters. My Garmin split afterwards showed 4:37 at 1k. I followed John's group to the turn with the pace feeling okay. After the turn a couple of runners went ahead so I chased them all the way to the finish. Remaining splits were 4:47, 4:45, 4:50 and 4:45 so it had been a fairly evenly run race. John finished in 23:54.

I'm still fine-tuning the Verheul Method of training. My legs seem to have changed physically — being happy running in the range of 4:00 to 4:40 per km pace for most of the short intervals. It's becoming natural to run at those speeds and steady running at my former 'general' running pace (5:45 to 6:00 per km) feels awkward. I think I'll experiment with a mid-week run of an hour or so of even paced running so a steady effort  remains as natural as reactive faster running. At the moment I'm walking my recoveries (rather than jogging). My thinking is that I don't want the legs to become 'confused' with what they're being trained to do — run lightly and reactively at 5k race pace.

What is the ideal distance for Verheul intervals? I'm liking 250 metres. Typically that distance takes me one minute, ten seconds to run (4:40/km pace), short enough that I can remain aerobic and concentrate on form and reactivity for the full distance of the interval while not so long that I become tired. It's very easy however, to dip into anaerobic energy stores when running 'fast' over such short distances. My natural inclination is to run on the fast side, closer to 4 minute km pace. I think for the Verheul Method to be effective the temptation to 'overspeed' needs to be avoided at all costs. Running a large volume of intervals tempers enthusiasm for speed but there's probably a 'just right' volume for each runner. Yesterday I ran 20 x 250m, which felt okay, but there's a danger of running tired and losing reactive form towards the latter stages of large volume interval sessions. I'll continue to experiment and let you know how things go.

Shortly after the start of the Hervey Bay Parkrun 5k

The 1k long Urangan Pier made a good warm-up location

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Lucky in my 33rd City to Surf

Last Sunday was my 33rd time running the 14k from Sydney to Bondi with 80,000 friends and, in retrospect, produced a very happy outcome. My finish time was on the slow side at 73:39 (5:16/km pace) and I finished well back in the field in 10,013th place but I didn't get injured. That's a good result!

What worried me prior to the race was a suspect left calf (the same one that took so much time to get right last year). On Friday I'd run some excessively exuberant 250m Verheul intervals — just four of them, but in the last two I pushed beyond 'relaxed and reactive', running under 4 minutes per km pace. After warming down, my left calf 'cramped' worryingly, walking down stairs to the car. On Saturday my only exercise was walking around the C2S Expo at Darling Harbour with Dave, Jen and Isaac. No problems, but I didn't even try jogging.

On Sunday morning I ran a very short warm-up, including a couple of tentative strides at race effort. The calf felt okay, but I was by no means confident of it lasting for the race. My goal was to make the rather daunting 14k distance in one piece. I didn't even try to get a forward position in the 'Green Group' (2nd corral to start). Once under way I ran down William Street with great care, pretty much in the 'angel gear' and passed through 1k in 5:47 (didn't know my pace at the time as I never once looked at the Garmin during the race). Running with the thought that at any step the calf might cramp or tear doesn't result in relaxed and enjoyable racing.

I made it safely over the early hills and ran along the flat through Rose Bay towards 'Heartbreak Hill' — all good so far! My legs were feeling quite easy and smooth. It was strange, as I felt like I could have increased the pace quite a bit at any time, at least on the flats. Up 'heartbreak' I ran/walked easily to keep pressure off the calves. Running along Military Rd through Dover Heights I again felt like I could have sped up quite a bit. I resisted the temptation though, thinking all the time 'just get to the finish with no heroics'. And that's what happened! I took Monday off from running and resumed 'easy' Verheul intervals on Tuesday. On Saturday I'm racing a 10k flat trail race at Wagga with my next 'all out' effort being in The Canberra Times 10k in early September.

Lovely sunny day for the 47th Sydney City to Surf

A few of my 80,000 friends ready to run

Good surfing conditions at Bondi Beach

Thursday, August 03, 2017

What are the advantages of the Verheul Method?

I'm into my second week of 'de Verheul methode' of training and still excited about the prospect of faster race times. I thought I'd briefly summarise my early thoughts on the possible advantages of training this way. I've always been an admirer of Arthur Lydiard and his training methods, as well as the Lydiard influenced 'complex training' of Pat Clohessy (Rob de Castella's coach) and Chris Wardlaw (Steve Moneghetti). Personally I've experienced success following the ideas of Hadd, Maffetone and more recently the LSD teachings of Joe Henderson ("Long Slow Distance: The humane way to train"). Most of my lifetime PBs were set when I was being coached by Geoff Moore. The Verheul Method is the first time I've run using 'interval training' on 5 days of the week. The advantages as I see it are as follows:

1) Changes to the leg muscles and tendons. This is the key advantage. Klaas Lok (Verheul's champion athlete) suggested there should be a 'muscle elasticity meter' that told the runner to stop a continuous distance run the moment reactivity (spring off the ground) decreased. Running a large volume of 'relaxed' intervals promises to change the muscles, thereby improving muscle reactivity and running form.

2) It's not a hard day/easy day style of training. Every day is a repeatable 'Goldilocks' day — not too easy, not too hard, just right. I presume this is because maximum heart rates are low and the running is well below anaerobic threshold (no lactic acid). Intervals are totally aerobic, short and relaxed. There's no waiting two days before the next hard session. Verheul agreed with Hungarian coach Mihaly Iglói who believed in not training harder than one's ability to be recovered for similar training the next day.

3) The only 'hard' running is the weekly race. This is the one time speed is continuous and the heart rate is high. Racing is a good environment in which to run fast because warm-ups are thorough, you're running with like-minded friends and intent is serious. Besides, racing is fun!

4) Mileage is relatively low. Having manageable targets for weekly mileage lessens the likelihood of over-training and sickness. You're not pushing your body near the tipping point of what's possible with volume. Verheul didn't prescribe schedules but I estimate that Klaas Lok and Joost Borm ran around 100 kilometres (60 miles) per week, possibly less. I'll target a weekly volume of between 60 and 70 kilometres (60 is the point below which I think I'd lose aerobic fitness). Such low volume is not 'Lydiard' and wouldn't suit marathon racers but Verheul's protégés Lok and Borm were Dutch champions. I'll list their track PBs in the last paragraph of this post.

4) The training is fun and not daunting. Thus far I've been looking forward to every session with legs feeling recovered and ready to go each day (often not the case when I've been logging higher mileage). Moderately intense and fun training has hormonal advantages over high stress training. I enjoy the feeling of running fast! The 3k to 5k race pace of most intervals is a lot faster than recovery or LSD running. I have the opportunity to do a few sessions each week within organised 'handicap start' runs and my usual 7 minutes per km average pace is quick enough to keep up with slower runners. Verheul used gymnastics as part of the warm-up for daily training, which would be fun in a group setting. I'll be using running drills instead of gymnastics.

5) Improved running economy at 5k race pace. If I add up all the fast intervals, fast sections of a fartlek trail run (and the weekly race), I'll be running about 30 kilometres per week at race pace. I think this will be beneficial at a neuromuscular level. Already I can feel that my cadence is faster and time on stance is shorter. I feel lighter on my feet. The other 30 kilometres of my training week is made up of the walk/jog recoveries, shake-out treadmill jogs and easy warm-ups and warm-downs.

Bob wondered in a comment on my previous blog if there would be enough mileage in a Verheul programme to race half marathons. The Saturday winter fartlek run was from 1 hour 15 to 1 hour 45 minutes duration so I think extending this a little in the build-up to a half marathon would be sufficient to race well. It seems that Joost Borm was a 'miler' and had PBs of 3:38.27 for 1500m, 4:01.5 for the mile and 5:01.27 for 2000m (which stood as the Dutch record from 1982 to 2001). Klaas Lok's PBs were 2:21.8 for 1000m, 3:38.83 for 1500m, 5:03.9 for 2000m, 7:52.5 for 3000m, 13:36.1 for 5000m, 28:24.7 for 10,000m and 3:57.69 for the mile — all recorded between 1976 and 1981. I've no doubt that Lok would have run a good half marathon if that distance had been popular when he was racing.

Spectacular views at the Gungahlin Gallop 10k on Sunday

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Verheul Method makes old legs feel young again

I've been running for almost 38 years yet only found out about 'De Verheul methode' this week. Am I slow, or what?! I'm excited about this discovery due to the possibility that training using this method will return springiness (and with that, speed) to ageing legs. Young runners have natural spring and recoil in their tendons and muscles which sees them travel further with each stride. As we age our stride shortens ever so gradually year by year. This is even more noticeable with marathon runners who spend a lot of time doing the long runs that are necessary for marathon success. I think Verheul training could be the secret to providing me with the fresh and springy legs I enjoyed at The Sydney Harbour 10k on a more permanent basis.

Herman Verheul is a Dutch coach who in 1979 had surprise success with two runners, Klaas Lok and Joost Borm, finishing 1st and 2nd in the Dutch National Cross Country Championships. The two runners had a supple and relaxed technique which was commented upon in newspapers the next day, just as much as their shock defeat of race favourites Gerard ter Broke and Tonnie Luttikhold. Verheul's coaching philosophy was explained in a 2005 book written by Lok, "Het Duurloopmisverstand" (The Misunderstanding of Endurance Runs). Verheul trained his runners with daily interval training, a gymnastics session, a weekly fartlek run in winter and weekly races. "Daily interval training! That sounds like torture!" I hear you say. No, Verheul's method is very different to the breathless, lactic acid burning pain that one thinks about on hearing the word 'intervals'.

Verheul used short relaxed intervals with relatively lengthy and slow recoveries (1:1 by distance on interval to recovery). The pace was fast enough to develop reactivity and economy but slow enough to be aerobic and repeatable day to day. Pace of the fast running was individualised and not prescribed, but typically, the fastest pace for a session of 10 x 400m was 5k race pace. 200m intervals might be as fast as 3k race pace. Verheul believed that slow endurance runs developed a 'heavy' stride and long time 'on stance' while fast intense intervals undermined relaxation. He also believed that heart rates above 150 beats per minute (other than in the weekly races of course) "might add nothing to the development of the human organism and might be useless and maybe even detrimental." The 150 figure would be about 80% of maximum heart rate (for myself, about 127), which is incredibly low compared to traditional interval training. I used to achieve my highest recorded heart rates during a session of 5 x 1000m — no wonder intervals were so hard!

I commenced my experiment with the Verheul Method on Wednesday with 10 x 300m on trails with a 300m recovery walk. Maximum heart rate was way too high at 148 which I put down to inexperience, enthusiasm and the hills. Thursday I ran 10 x 300m and 10 x 200m on the treadmill (more controlled) at 5k race effort and a maximum heart rate of 127. Yesterday I ran 10 x 100m in the morning and a 5k race at lunch time in 24:33 with the legs feeling good on a windy day. Obviously it's early days and I need to fine tune my training in the coming weeks. I think it will consist of easy morning 'shake-out' runs of 3k with afternoons of: Monday 15 x 200m with the Speedygeese, Tuesday 10 x 400m at the Lake Stakes, Wednesday 10 x 300m at the BBQ Stakes, Thursday 10 x 400m, Friday 5k race, Saturday 10 x 200m and easy Parkrun, Sunday fartlek on trails. I'll let you know how things progress over the coming weeks. Bring on fresh and springy legs!

Supple successful Speedygeese after the Kiama Coastal Classic

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Good legs at the Sydney Harbour 10k

The July 9 Sydney Harbour 10k was a new race for me — one I'd been looking forward to, in part because the event organisers promised a fast and scenic course. My last 10k race had been The Melbourne Marathon 10k back in October (52:27) and the last time I'd been under 50 minutes was in 2015 at Melbourne (47:39). My goal for Sydney was to break 50 minutes but a head-cold in the last 2 weeks changed my expectations to 'having a good run and enjoying the scenery.'

Sunday dawned a spectacular Sydney day — sunny, mild (for winter) with just a light breeze. I ran a short warm-up with Norma (aka Luckylegs) who would win the 80-89 category in 79 minutes. My starting position was good, not too far back from the front of the 'B Group' corral for runners expecting a time of 48 to 55 minutes. The start was smooth and as we wound our way down through the Rocks I felt like I was running at about 5-minute per km pace.

After settling in to my race effort I began to experience an amazing feeling — my legs were fresh and springy! Wow! It was like one of those track 3000s from twenty years ago when I'd have to shorten my stride to avoid tripping over the runners in front. I felt like I was running on the spot. Seductive! I want this feeling of fresh and springy legs again. The race continued, along the narrow paths of Darling Harbour and at one of the U-turns I saw that I was ahead of the 50-minute pacer. My legs were still feeling good but I slowed a little on the one hill of the course (a bridge back to the city at 6k). It wasn't long before I was back running beside the harbour, under the famous bridge, onto the boardwalk and raising a modest sprint through the finish chute — 48:58 for the 10k. Happy with that.

Since the race I've been wondering why my legs felt so good on that particular day. Was it because of the rest day on the Saturday? Or because my regular 80k per week mileage had been down to around 60 in the 3 weeks prior to race day? Or because I'd started running short intervals on the treadmill and the grass track at Calwell? Whatever it was, I want to have legs like that again. If I can have them for a 5k race I'm sure I'd be in a good position to get under 23 minutes.

Ready to start in the Sydney Harbour 10k

Saturday, June 10, 2017

A rare half marathon and a cross country win

For the week following Nail Can I ran a mostly easy 69 km then 81 km including a quickish Customs' 5k in 24:32 (a slower course than the Tuggers Parkrun). In a last minute decision I entered the YCRC Canberra Half Marathon as many friends were running and I thought it a good way to get in my weekly long run. My last road half marathon was at the Gold Coast in July 2014 (1:56) and I had a rough goal of improving on that time.

The race went quite well for the first 10k, with 5-minute kilometres not feeling overly difficult. On the run down the steep hill near the Governor General's side yard my left calf started tightening up and I had visions of a DNF (at worst) or a slow jog/walk to the finish (at best). Easing off the pressure just a fraction worked a miracle and I was able to run to the finish at a slightly reduced pace. I finished 138th in 1:50:16 with 5k splits of 25:08, 25:13, 27:15, 26:26 and 6:18 for the last k and a bit. I was pretty happy with that result and ran in recovery mode Monday to Friday of the next week.

On Saturday 3 June I raced the 8k event for Masters at the ACT Cross Country Championships. I ran well! Stayed with Roger early then drifted ahead but couldn't catch any other runners, finishing 11th in 39:25. As a bonus, I was the first M60 (in a field of one!) so was presented with a gold medal for my efforts. The small number of entrants across all races was disappointing. The Open Men's race had less than a dozen finishers. Way back in 1989 I was buried deep in the field, finishing 58th for the 12k in 47:51. Is running less competitive now or are people happy enough doing the Parkruns?

Flying (sort of) with 7k to run in the Canberra Half

All the medal winners in the ACT Masters' XC Championships

Thursday, May 18, 2017


My friend Jim has been running 'The Nail Can Hill Run' for many years, more often than not driving myself and sometimes other runners the 360k to Albury for the event. As we approached our destination on Saturday 6 May I was watching in awe the live stream on my phone showing Eliud Kipchoge running the quite incredible time of 2:00:25 for the marathon distance at Monza. On Sunday we'd be running a quarter of the distance at almost double the pace. We must be snails! I first ran the 11.3k trail race in 1981, finishing in 50:40. The course is a good one for mountain goats, being gently uphill for 2k then steep for the next 2k (quite a bit of walking for me). Following this 'warm-up', runners enjoy beautiful gently undulating to flat sandy trails before a steep down after 8k and more gentle undulations from 9k to the parkland finish.

I first accompanied Jim to the race in 2006, running 60:56 in muddy conditions. Ever since then, the conversation pre-race has revolved around 'age-breaking'. You see, the folks that organise Nail Can make a big deal about running the course faster than your age (women receive an additional 20% on their time). A page on the website lists the 'Age Busters' and shows course record holder Steve Moneghetti running 34:57 at the age of 40! Age Busters receive a commemorative T shirt and those achieving this five times are presented with the Max Scherleitner Medal. Age Master status is awarded to anyone who can achieve Age Buster on ten occasions. Age Masters are awarded lifetime entry into the run, a permanent number and a commemorative singlet with race number. Jim is an Medal Master and next year will become an Age Master.

For myself, I've never been old enough! In 2015 at the age of 58, I ran 59:15, so I was getting close. Last year I didn't run due to the calf injury. This year I finally did it! After ten starts I placed 179th in the field of 867 finishers with a time of 59:03 (59:08 gross). Along with other Age Busters I was presented with a commemorative T Shirt after the race. I was one very happy and relieved runner. I was also happy with how I ran. My pacing at the start was good, passing Jim (who ran 66:57) around the 1k mark. I kept up with other runners climbing the hill and ran strongly along the ridge line. Seeing John Kennedy 100m or so ahead helped keep my mind on the job beyond the 4k marker. I slowly pegged back the distance, catching John at 8k "We'll break 60" said John confidently — I was happy to hear that as we negotiated the steep downhill section. Then it was the old 'running scared' process and keeping fingers crossed there'd be no late calf cramps or other dramas. All good as I ran onto the oval, hearing my name announced and seeing the digital clock ticking up to 59 minutes and beyond. Afterwards the Canberra contingent sat in the sun on the grassy bank, all age-busters except for female race-winner Elizabeth — she'd run the fabulous time of 45:05 but as Jim was quick to remind her "You didn't break your age!"

One for mountain goats - dips in the blue line showing where I walked
The famous Age Buster shirt - on the back it says "First they broke the four-minute mile; next came the 2:10 marathon; now the mountain goats of Nail Can Hill are busting the age barrier."
Happy Age Busters!