Monday, 9 December 2013

My Cool Impossible

It's been a while since my last post and not at all because I  have been too lazy to write, it is just because I have had nothing to write about. I like to use this blog as a means to log my training but I have taken some serious time off over the last month and a half so hence, no training to log. I took a break after Matroosberg and was about to kick-off with my new training programme but then suffered a calf strain so had to take even more rest. Finally this last week everything started feeling better and I start this week motivated and ready to kick off the 2014 season.

As we come nearer to the end of 2013 it is time to reflect on what has been an awesome year. I started the year having entered 2 Oceans Ultra very apprehensively and quite cautious about my expectations. My first decent distance race, being Bay 2 Bay, I cramped up and then later, in Feb, struggled to finish Peninsula. As the year progressed however, I got more and more into this sport of running and really got to know the struggle that occurs from start to finish of a marathon or Ultra. As my passion and fanaticism grew I realised that I no longer wanted to just run a race to get from A to B but wanted to do it in the shortest time possible. The desire for speed turned into a need.

So after hobbling through the Rhodes Run I decided to a make a concerted effort to work on getting faster. This was more of a mindset change as my training programme still lacked structure and my new thought was to just run every training run as fast as I could. This saw some minor results and my times did start coming down however it was way too haphazard to really get me to the point where I want to be.

Then I discovered "The Cool Impossible", a book written by Eric Orton. If you recognise the name it is probably because you have read "Born to Run". Eric Orton is the guy who coached Chris McDougall from injury to running a 50miler with the Tarahumara. This book has provided me with exactly the structure I need to approach my 2014 running year. I have always been weary of attempting to follow a programme as I generally lose interest about 37% of the way in. This book, however, has provided me with a lot more than just a list of mileage to cover each week. It has given me a new mindset and attitude to adopt, kind of like the difference between following a diet and making a lifestyle change.

From the very beginning Orton discusses what makes someone an "athlete" and the core ingredient is awareness. It is an awareness of how every input into the machine that is your body affects the combined output. Being an athlete means being aware of aspects like your stride cadence, speed intervals, technique and of course heart rate. Now, I have had a heart rate monitor in my man-drawer for over a year that I have never tried, as I was cautious of the time it would take me to learn to analyse the results. Orton makes it that much easier though by describing exactly what the purpose is and how to use it to your advantage in a concise and very easy to understand manner.

I guess the biggest benefit of The Cool Impossible is that it has helped me to see running as a sport as opposed to a hobby or something to keep fit. Whilst that might sound stupid (obviously running is a sport...if you sweat it's a sport), many people don't really treat running the same as other sports. People think they can just go and run as we are all born to run, however our bodies have changed a lot from the way we are born and so very few of us naturally have good technique. So, much the same way as you can't just pick up a golf club and swing it without learning the technique, you can't just go and run how you feel comfortable and not think you are going to get injuries. Similarly, in other sports, athletes spend hours on different aspects of their game, such as skills training, technique practice, drills, strength work, so that this can all come together on match day. Why do I then think just running every day as fast as I can will make me faster, better, stronger?

The outcome of all of this is my new approach which is guided by the detailed training programme in the book. I have started this weekend by doing the 5km Heart Rate Test and the 1 Mile Speed test. From here I plan to follow the 5 month programme which should see me build a sufficient base on which to train for specific races in the future. I will also use this training programme as preparation for 2 Oceans (roughly 5 months away). It is a lot different from how I am used to 'training' as it involves only one rest day a week (there are some optional rest days but I plan to use these for CrossFit). It is generally 5 days of shorter runs of approximately 1 hour focussing on different aspects e.g. technique, cadence or hills, and then a longer run on the weekend. The benefit of this is that you do your long runs when your body is already fatigued so it trains you nicely for those dreaded last 4km of a race. My approach to this is to treat the weekday runs as the equivalent of a golfer's trips to the driving range, the weekend run as a round of golf at the course and then races as actual golf tournaments. Who would have thought a runner could use golf as an analogy of how to be an athlete?

So ultimately what is my Cool Impossible? I am hesitant to put formulized goals down but ultimately I want to be in a position in 2014 where I can finish my goal races for the year feeling that I gave it my all not because I finished, but because I was adequately prepared. For a notorious procrastinator preparation is a common stumbling rock and so it might sound quite impossible at this stage, but if I achieved it, it would be pretty cool.

Test results

5km Time Trial
Time:   21:57
Max HR:   191
Ave HR:   186

1 Mile Speed Test
Time:   6:30
Ave speed:  4m04/km

For more info on Eric Orton and an awesome network of runners on the path to their Cool Impossible, check out

Also check Eric out on the Youtube for clips on some good drills and details on good technique

Finally, if you looking for a way to drop hints for a good Christmas gift, send this post with the below links to your friend.


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