Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The Coach Of International Mountain Runner Tim Davies Talks Endurance Conditioning!

British coach, Colin Livingstone
Colin was a competitive distance runner in New Zealand, representing Auckland in national competition over road and cross-country from the 1970’s to the early 1990’s. He relished fast ‘bush running’ on the wild hilly tracks of Auckland’s west coast, long before the days of mountain running as an official sport. He coaches British and Welsh champion, Tim Davies, a three-time winner of the annual Snowdon International Mountain Race, and top performer at European and World level. Tim went from being 15th in Britain to 5th in the world within three years of this progressive endurance conditioning.

Many British runners today have subscribed to the formula of effort=improvement instead of effort+recovery+ relaxed running=improvement. Several years ago, I read in Athletics Weekly how a British International, running near 47 minutes for 10 miles, with a marathon around 2hrs14, was going to ‘drop training 120 miles a week at 6.30 a mile, and run 80 at 6.00 or better’. His rationale was that the ‘heavier’ mileage left him ‘tired and heavy’.

Therefore, if you are 10 minutes slower than Gebresellassie and know the best marathon runners in the world are running lots of supplementary running along with faster work, perhaps upwards of 150 miles a week…then why would you think that you are going to have a better chance …or that dropping 50 miles a week is somehow going to get you under 2 hrs 10 ? The Marathon is all about distance and endurance.

So, our British friend drops the training because he ‘feels tired’ when Gebreselassie and the Kenyans run it anyway, regardless of being tired, raising 6 kids in a mud hut, occasional packs of wild animals,a full day’s work reaping corn…or any other ‘obstacle’ that comes their way. Endurance running, above all, is about endurance…the ability to resist and endure. So, how can one be a distance runner without putting in resistance and endurance, the ability to run through tiredness ? Gebreselassie runs mileage, knowing that he can run still run 46 minutes for 10 miles when in heavy training…and well under 45 with a bit of peaking. Kevin Ryan, a great distance runner in New Zealand, could, if required, run a ‘heavy’ 49 minutes for a club 10 miles at the end of a 150 mile week, knowing full well that by tapering for a few weeks, he was actually capable of 47 over a tough, hilly course.

This British guy also named half a dozen other athletes he trained with on a regular basis.He did not consider the idea that his natural competitiveness and training with other good runners may have seen ‘recovery days’ become steady or faster running…gradually sapping glycogen, iron and ferritin stores, because he was not allowing his body to adapt and recover.Therefore, the slower, relaxed mileage is blamed, instead of the unnecessary, faster mileage.

At the time, I said to Tim that although this bloke would feel light and nippy on his feet for a few months, that by dropping the longer relaxed, ‘mitochondrial’ aerobic runs, his 47 minute 10 mile would go to 49, then 50…and instead of reaching that 2hrs10 marker for the marathon, he’d run 2hrs20 out on his feet.That is exactly what happened…

Now, to get to brass tacks…an idea of winter training

Your mission is to build yourself up, not drag yourself down. You want to reach your potential , thrive on your training and look forward to every session. Winter is about strength and getting the work in.Like Mo Farah, El Guerrouj or Bekele…you embrace the necessary.

One idea would be a varied cycle of weeks, with plenty of variety and differing terrains, in order to build a substantial base. It takes at least 6 weeks of progressive aerobic conditioning in order to adapt, but 12 or 18 weeks is far, far better. IMAGINE HOW STRONG you would be after 18 weeks of miles, followed by 6 weeks of hill springing…before the spring and summer racing season started !

I suggest something like the following. REMEMBER THIS IS TRAINING NOT STRAINING !


A long, relaxed run over varying terrain, forests and hills of 2 hrs and 30 minutes, perhaps longer. DO NOT RUN HARD. This does not need to be at pace, as time on your feet will develop the mitochondrial, cellular development that we are after. You want to feel invigorated, worked yet good at the end, perhaps looking forward to that cup of tea and hot shower. A lot of runners do not realise this is the benchmark of many champions. You know in the early days that these runs are doing their major job when you finish on “tired, heavy legs”. Later, you trot around with nothing like that fatigue, and faster usually, as you naturally progress.


a RELAXED run over 70-90 minutes. If you can afford twice a day training, perhaps an easy 70 minute run in the morning, followed by an easy 30-40 minutes in the evening, with 12-15 x relaxed 60-70 metre stride outs on grass.


PM Warm up for 15-20 minutes, then run for an hour at a steady, strong pace, not racing or time trial….but at a comfortable strong pace that is well below the anaerobic threshold where one starts to get out of breath. You want to get back pleasantly tired, knowing you’ve done a solid block of work that will challenge the higher aerobic systems without overdoing it. Remember, it is very safe and sure to push up your “anaerobic threshold” up from below. For a 50 minute 10 miler, 58 to 60 minute pace might be okay , no need to run quicker than 55 at this stage ! You should feel strong and invigorated, with plenty in the tank. After 6 weeks, the 58-60 pace might come down to 55 or 57 without any perceptible effort, after 12 weeks…you may run 53 to 55…but you do not want this run to become a time trial. At the end of the conditioning phase, a 50 minute 10 miler looking to run 48-49 may well run a strong aerobic Tuesday session in 53. No need to run any faster for this session to fulfil its purpose…which is to develop your higher aerobic zones and ‘anaerobic threshold’ by steadily “pushing it up, from below.” .

Again, perhaps a morning jog of 30 minutes if time allows.


A relaxed longer run of at least 1 hrs 30, perhaps up to 2 hrs if you want, in a forest. Today is about longer recovery, flushing the system, invigorating and stimulating the aerobic system…putting money in the bank !


AM Easy 30-40 minute jog.

PM Warm up for 15-20 minutes over a good forest trail, golf course, grassy park or similar…then perhaps run 12-15 x relaxed 60-70 metre stride outs …like you are running for a bus, not sprinting after Usain Bolt. Plenty of easy jogging after each; maybe do one stride a lap on a grass track or sports field. This is alactic (without lactic acidosis), developing relaxed speed and turnover, good mechanics and balance, without endangering the aerobic system with the cumulative sprint fatigue you would get with 150 metres, for example. Anything over 10 seconds in length starts to wander into the lactic acid system for most athletes. However, most athletes can stride 60 metres at near top speed, alactically, many times over, without entering the lactic system too much.

After warm up of 15-20 minutes, then run 30-40 minutes of relaxed, invigorating fartlek, perhaps rolling, hilly bursts with efforts of 2-3 minutes, mixing it up in an enjoyable, varied pace session. This stimulates your aerobic capacity and develops your VO2 in a fun manner. You could do next week’s session over hills, but those 2-3 minute injections of high aerobic pace are what create the desired reaction. The ideal workbout should not exceed 3 minutes at 3000 metre pace…in order to create a powerful running stimulus. Jog a 10 minute warm down afterwards.


Relaxed run of an hour, any reasonable surface.


After warm up of 15-20 minutes, then perhaps run 12-15 x relaxed 60-70 metre stride outs. Jog for 5 minutes, then do one of the following sessions. I have plenty of other variations, but these will start the system response for now. NOTE: the uphill efforts are on very long steep hills in Wales, home of fell-running. So long as you work the uphill efforts hard, you’re developing VO2 max without running at the high speeds usually associated with it.

1 Race tempo practice run of 15-20 minutes (3-4 miles) on good, firm surface, at pace between 10k or 10 miles race speed. 5k is a good distance, so if you are a 30-31 minute 10k man, a 15.30 to 15.40 is reasonable. Warm down jog of 15 minutes. As you get in better condition, towards 12-18 weeks, this could get whittled down to 15 minutes without any perceptible increase of effort. This is quite a tough session, somewhere between anaerobic threshold and Vo2 max pace, but if there’s plenty of steady aerobic all around it during the week, it’ll just be a good “toughener”. Club races have a similar conditioning effect.

2 Fartlek session. After warm up of 15-20 minutes, then run 30-40 minutes of relaxed, invigorating fartlek, perhaps rolling, hilly bursts with efforts of 1-2-3-5 minutes, equal recovery or whatever it takes to get comfortable again, mixing it up in an enjoyable, varied pace session. Jog a 10-15 minute warm down afterwards.

3 Hill VO2 session.After warm up of 15-20 minutes, then run 15 x 60 metres stride outs…followed by 6 x 3 minutes uphill, perhaps a 25% to 30% climb, with recovery of perhaps a minute to 90 seconds. Uphill VO2 works the entire aerobic system without tearing muscle fibres. Alternating this with leg speed is a great, stimulating, invigorating session. Tim’s Todleth cross country course or our Pant Glas road session are good.

4 Hill VO2 session.After warm up of 15-20 minutes, then run 15 x 60 metres stride outs…followed by 3 x 8 minutes uphill, perhaps a 25% to 30% climb, with recovery of perhaps 3 MINUTES MAX.

5 Club race or pack run, not exceeding 10k at full pelt. Any efforts at this stage are purely ‘development runs’ or time trials that push the development of the energy systems above anaerobic threshold intensity.

6 After warm up of 15-20 minutes, then perhaps run 12 x relaxed 60-70 metre stride outs. Jog for 5 minutes, then “VO2 run” of approximately 8 minutes (OR 3000 METRES) on good, firm surface, at your best, well judged pace. This run should only be used once a month in winter conditioning as a stimulus…then more regularly as a pure VO2 session or time trial in lieu of a race, while sharpening up to a peak.

Tim may run this in 8.38 in the middle of winter mileage, yet come down to 8.20 in the summer. Before 5th in the World champs, he ran 8.29, 8.26 and 8.23 with 3 days relaxed running and stride outs between each, over a final two week taper. In the final few days, he ran an easy 2k around 4.45 to 4.50 mile pace…as a bit of an effort without risk, whilst counting down the hours.

Later, he ran an 8.16, an 8.14 and an 8.12 on an accurate road loop course before winning Snowdon and top European performances. I feel he was right on the ‘knife edge’ with these performances in training, however. My recommendation is 95-% of that intensity in future i.e a strong 8.25 in training will not take any edge off a race, where an 8.14 might, for a world-class mountain runner.

Hope this all makes sense, READ FULL ARTICLE

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