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


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting - thanks for posting Ewen. As an M60 runner I have found high intensity intervals (VO2 max, lactic acid tolerance), which we all used to do, too hard on the legs; more injuries. Thus my "speed" sessions nowdays are around 5km effort (anaerobic threshold). I am experimenting with running intervals based on 5 km effort for set times (e.g. 5 x 2min @5 km effort, 3 min jog recovery). I am also avoiding doing then on the track, where the mindset is on lap intervals - 400m/1km, etc. I will see how I progress, but already I am getting achilles issues, having a history of chronic achilles injury and scar tissue. In the past 2 years I just stuck to LSD and did manage 2 marathons in just on 4hours. It would be nice to run 'faster' again, but at least I am enjoying running in retirement. You are in good form and it will be interesting to see the results of your Verheul Method of training. Nifty Nev.

10:28 am  
Blogger TokyoRacer said...

Yes, that's extremely interesting. It seems to make a lot of sense. I agree that the fast intervals are hard on the legs and not optimally effective, but I've been doing them for 35 years and that's our club's weekly training session, so I can't forego the addiction.
I'm wondering if these "slow" intervals 2 or 3 times a week would be good....
One question I have is — this program seems ok for 5K racing, but what about 10K and Half? I don't think it's enough mileage.

9:39 pm  
Blogger Ewen said...

Nev, that's interesting re the achilles. The last time I had such niggles was in the '80s. So far so good, but I've been very careful accelerating up to 5k pace from walking and in future will stick to the treadmill, flat ground or the grass track.

Bob, in your situation I'd find it hard to resist those weekly club intervals too. I think there could be benefits there for you. My legs felt fantastic during today's trail race although I wasn't running at full race effort. I think the shorter ones are better for 'reactivity' (15 x 200 etc). 10 x 400 if you're not a 31 minute 10k runner doing them in 75s get the heart rate up too much. 10 x 300 for me seems okay. Verheul's runners in 'the old days' raced 10k. The winter Saturday fartlek session was 75 minutes to 1:45 and they raced various distances every Sunday but overall weekly mileage was low by Lydiard standards. All the websites are in Dutch so I'm not sure if the training is adapted for half marathoners.

10:24 pm  

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