mundane adventures in running
As I waited for this book to arrive i started to hope that the archaic spelling of complete in the title was deliberate and the prose would be scattered with divers examples of obscure spelling and grammar.
Sadly not. John L. Parker is no Chaucerian scholar. He writes, pages of hectoring optimism. Bromides without romance. His is the prose of a central casting athletics coach. Kevin being shouted at in the wonder years. Biff’s Dad in back to the Future.
But. We don’t read such things for their prose style. The pay off for such a book shouldn’t be in the niceties of language, but in the chiselling of seconds from a PB, in the spring in our step as we hit KM35 in a marathon. Oh fuck though, I have to admit I love the way he writes. It’s oozing with character; you can practically hear him shouting at you as you read.*
At one point Parker asks the reader to recommend the book rather than to lend it to your friends (or adversaries in competition). So, I don’t think it’s fair to go into too much detail about what he says (although if you’re interested, this is pretty much all of it). For the purposes of this review. First you calculate your heart rate zones. Then you run as many times as you want to during a week, so long as you don’t run two hard days in succession (or accept the fact that you won’t be training in the most efficient way, and that you will be more likely to injure yourself if you do). A hard day can be a long run, a tempo run or any type of interval (fartleck, hill reps etc.). An easy day should be a shortish run under 75% heart rate. He goes on to to talk about what you should aim for on hard days, easy ways in for beginner runners, testimonials. These are all great, but really just riffing on the overall theme of ‘use your heart rate monitor to determine effort and never run two hard days back to back’.
When Parker describes giving yourself up to slow recovery runs, he talks about how embarrassed you are going to feel when all the other runners in the park over take you, when you have to slow to a walk on hills, how you’ll find it hard to hold back and to not push yourself like you usually do.
Well, after I’d worked out my max and min heart rate, it turned out my easy days should be running at under 146. So I tried it. Straight away, I found that this was WAY faster than I would normally aim for on an easy run. My pace was consistently quicker: more like 5.05 than the 5.20, or even 5.50 I’d normally try for on slow runs. I had to slow down, sometimes to a walk, on steep hills, I couldn’t race other people, but apart from that… I was faster than I’d ever been
I assumed I’d done something wrong, and that i had miscalculated. Still, I kept it up, and just told myself I’d listen to my body, stretch well and slow down if i thought it was to much. I started a few months ago, varying the types of hard run I was doing, pushing 5k tempo runs and not over doing it on long runs. I’ve been running 5-6 times a week and doing a little bit of cross training (some swimming and cycling for practicality, to get around). So far, it’s working amazingly. I’m pushing myself crazily on my rest days and on my hard days, but the rest days, however fast, do seem to be working.
I’ve dropped my resting pulse a little, it feels it bottoms out at the same place, but is much closer to resting when I’m just walking about. My heart rate tracks activity better, it goes up quicker when i start to exert myself, and falls quicker when I slow down. my tempo runs are getting faster, I ran my first sub twenty 5k in November. The main thing though, I don’t feel like i’m heading to blow up, or injure myself. I feel good about my training, like i’m building a solid base and that I’m going to get somewhere this year.
So, the post script to this review: Parker has written novels. Wow. This is totally on my reading list. I’m currently reading the Periodic Table. Once a Runner could give me the insights into humanity which Primo Levi missed… or not.