Wednesday 29 August 2012

My New (Old) Athlete; POMs (multiple!)

After a much longer than anticipated hiatus (time flies, and not just when you're having fun, apparently), I'm back with some new content, including updates to the regular P-K Performance of the Month/Year feature, wherein I nominate and select outstanding single efforts by junior, local, and online members each month, adding them for consideration for the big prize (some shoes and apparel from Mizuno) at the end of the calendar year.

I want to use most of this installment to talk about my new/old athlete. Those of you who spent weeks or months on the wait-list for your spot on the online roster might be chagrined to hear that this guy just showed up one day and was offered full service. Exceptions were made, however, because he is something of repeat customer, in spite of having been away for a couple of years. He is also an interesting recovery project, which is irresistible for most coaches. He has an extremely long history in the sport, knows his own body and training exceedingly well, but has gone a little flat in the past couple of years. As a result, he has come to me for advice on how to reinvigorate his regime, and I have excepted the challenge-- and challenge it will be!

Here are his vitals:

He is soon to be 49 years old. He is a former high school, university, and senior elite. He's been training without interruption for 33 years and counting. And, he is a multiple Canadian masters record holder on the road and track. If this guys sounds familiar, he should. He's me.

I was my first coaching project, and have been my most successful over the long haul; yet, sometime a couple of years ago, I stopped actively coaching myself-- that is, coaching myself according to the approach I employ when coaching others. The reason was that, since my best days in the 45-49 bracket, I had formulated a rationale for why I as different and not worth any special attention-- I was too busy to actually bother setting clear goals and planning my training over more than a week or two; my decades of serious training meant I likely had all the had all the basic adaptations I was ever going to get; I had "been there, done that", often more than once, and had no more meaningful goals to set, etc. There was/is some basis to all of this, of course; but, realizing I was now much closer to 50 than 45, let alone 40, I became increasingly curious about what might happen if I actually set what I knew about myself aside and approached my running as I would that of anyone else looking to challenge themselves at a relatively advanced athletic age. And, the thought of running a little faster at 50 than I had at 47-48 was certainly appealing. For guidance, I had the example of my own athletes ready to hand. Many of my athletes-- several older than me, and a few less lucky in the injury department-- were managing to do very well at advanced ages, and after it seemed like they might have run their last P.B. Their success didn't surprise me all that much, of course, because I was the one who had helped lay the foundation for it. What they offered was trust, persistence, and a belief that they could go faster still, or at least forestall the pace of their decline significantly. Obviously, none had been at it as long as I had, nor at the same level; still, it was clear to me that the quality and quantity of their training over the medium and long term was the main driver of their success, rather than the aging process (and most had gotten better relative to their age-class competition as they got older), and might well be for mine too. I began to wonder: What would I advise myself if I were able to attain complete objectivity in relation to my athletic self? What would I recommend in order to give an athlete like me the best shot at both success and greater enjoyment in the sport as I faced my 50s?

The answer turned out to be pretty simple. (But, could I get my new athlete to comply!?) My new client needed to begin doing some of the things he used to do at the peak of his success as an open and 40+ athlete. He needed to find a way to run much more at key periods in the training year. In order to run more, he needed to slow the pace of his easy runs by 8-10 seconds per kilometer. He needed to run much longer tempo and progression sessions. He needed to establish a few goal races, train very hard for them, peak sufficiently, then add periods of real rest and recovery. Ensuring his compliance with this shift in focus (or rather, reintroduction of focus) would be a matter of reversing some ingrained habits and encouraging the patience to allow the process to work as he knew it could. It also meant encouraging a recommitment to fundamentals, like consistent attention to strength work, good sleep, and proper nutrition (all things this athlete had been generally attentive to, but needed to tighten up on). None of this would ever guarantee that he would run any faster, or even well, past age 50; but then, as he must have learned by now, training to footrace is a matter of improving the probability of success, not guaranteeing it. In the end, everything that had heretofore been preventing him from reinvesting (lack of quality time, untimely injuries, a lack of compelling goals beyond simply staying fit and enjoying the odd race) might ultimately reassert itself. The question was, as always, was whether the chance at renewed success (along with benefit of increased experience and a greater depth of knowledge about training and the aging body) was worth the effort. The answer, for now, is yes! Stay tuned for progress reports in future installments (or check the results pages for the bottom line!).

For those interested in the details of my new plan, it involves an increase in easy volume from my customary 80-100km/week to 120-130, with a contraction to 100 every 4-5 weeks until after Nationals X-C in late November. The extra volume has entailed a increase in daily training pace to 4:03-08/kms (close to Daniels E-pace) from my habitual 3:50-55s). Now at four weeks into the new plan, I have added a short interval workout (4.5-6k total) to the longer tempo/progression session I have been doing once per week since the shift. My goal races (the only one's that actually fit into my fall travel schedule!) are the U.S. Masters 5k Championships in Syracuse on Oct 2, the provincial X-C championships here in Kingston (hosted by P-K!) on Nov 11, and the National X-C Championships in Vancouver at the end of November.

And now to the matter of all those overdue POMS (and thanks to our invaluable admin and technical man Clive Morgan for assisting my memory by setting up the new P-K results link, available from the main page):


The redoubtable Agathe Nicholson takes honours for January, with a rare appearance on the indoor track. Accepting an invitation from the OMAs Doug Smith to help revise records for the little run indoor 5k, Agathe showed up at the Metro Toronto Track at York U and did what she has done so many times before-- dropped a perfectly paced, near P.B. effort-- one that demolished the national 50-55 record (from over 21mins to 18:58) and won the women's race handily. Now a marathon specialist with a best of 3:01, set after age 50, Agathe can still crank out eye-opening times at the shorter distances when the opportunity presents.


Honors for this month go to online athlete Roddy Loeppky. Rebounding from a series of health and injury setbacks, the 44 year old Roddy crushed a 3k P.B. of 9:37 in winning the indoor provincial title (one of his many on the track, indoors and out).


This traditionally much busier month for racing saw several POM-worthy postings, beginning with Blair Morgan's near provincial medal-winning personal best over 3k, coming at the close of a very long university racing season (his first, in fact). A few weeks later, 48 year old online athlete Ed Kooistra ran a master's P.B. at the venerable and very challenging Around the Bay 30k. Finally, 30-something Newfoundland star Colin Fewer, plagued for more than a year by symptoms of "Runner's Hernia", justified his selection to the National X-C team back in December by scoring for the side in its second place performance (to the U.S.) at the NACAC (North America, Caribbean, and Central American) X-C Championships in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Colin's ability to train effectively at all these days, let alone produce the kind consistently high calibre results that he does (and he a just ran another sub-49 min 10 miler in his hometown Tely 10 in July), is remarkable. To respond as he did in Port of Spain, under conditions 30-50 C warmer than he'd been enduring back home, was highly impressive, and certainly worthy of POM honours.


Long time local masters member Margarita Babkova wins her first POM with a brilliantly executed win (overall women's) in Kingston's flagship race-- the K-Town Half Marathon. Stalking the early race leaders until 18k, Margarita took advantage of her intelligent and disciplined early pacing to assume a lead she would not relinquish.


This month's contenders span the age gamut from junior to master, with Rick Haas remarkable, Boston-qualifying marathon P.B.(30mins!) going up against junior member Cleo Boyd's 90 second, nation-leading, personal best over 5k in London (16:54). Both performances were remarkable, and are sure to receive consideration of POY honours; but, because marathon success is always the hardest won, the nod in this instance goes to Rick!


Cleo Boyd's stunning personal 3k personal bests (two of them, 17 and 19 seconds respectively) over a 4 day period, all the while facing pressure to realize her goal of be selected to the national junior track team for the World Championships in Spain in early July, are hands-down winners for June, and are the early leaders for POY consideration. Improvements like this, and under these circumstances, are the stuff of which running dreams are made. The fact the they were accomplished on less than 8 weeks of consistent run training, following nearly 8 months of injury, makes them the stuff of club legend.


With track still occupying centre stage, POM honours for July go to another junior-- Nick Belore-- who capped a season in which he improved his 3k personal best by 53 seconds, from 9:55 (only 3 seconds faster than Cleo's before this spring!) to 9:02. The diminutive Nick's 9:02 came at the close of the long Ontario high school season, and revealed a determination and clarity of focus that should elevate him to the top ranks of Ontario junior distance runners before too long.


Masters athletes returned to the fore in August with local member Myra Levac's outstanding P.B. over 5k (19:50). Patient and determined, the 50-something athlete increased her training volume and revamped her strength routine in early June, enabling to elevate her 5k game from the mid-20s, where it had been for the better part of a year, into sub-20 territory. Since this was her lone race of the summer, look for Myra to vie for further POM honours as her new fitness consolidates and the temperatures moderate.