Blurred by parklife | Fast operation
Matt Long encourages you to diversify your use of parkrun
It has become a British Saturday morning institution and long may it continue. “Leisure” is central to the parkrun philosophy of which there are currently 772 locations across the country, with a staggering 2.5 million of the population having completed at least one of them.
As a reader of this online magazine, you won’t need me to remind you that at the proverbial end there are some pretty impressive performances by those who certainly wouldn’t fit the label of “recreational”. . Many British athletes have periodically used parkrun, two of whom are women’s and men’s record holders in the form of Charlotte Arter (15m49s) and Andrew Baddeley (13m48s).
As a coach, I regularly talk to the athletes I work with and encourage them to think about extending their training microcycle from the traditional seven-day week to between nine and eleven days – so they can get a greater variety of ‘workout foods’ on a larger ‘plate’ to use an analogy (Expanding the Load. Quick Run. Jan. 5). That being said, taking an athlete centered approach is not always good for the individual involved and one of the stumbling blocks is when athletes tell me “I don’t like missing my parkrun of Saturday”.
Of course, the commitment to this type of routine is understandable and has its benefits, but what I have noted in my own ethnography of training and participation as a recreational runner is that too many runners Clubs who would also reject the “recreational” label often don’t have a clear idea why or how they will run their weekly 5k at 9am with any great degree of conviction. Comments like “I’ll see how I feel tomorrow morning” or “I’ll take it as it comes” are commonplace.
This should not be confused with the kind of ‘run to feel’ philosophy that is healthily advocated by fans of ‘The Lydiard Way’ among others, where the obsession with the splits is rightly challenged in favor of a more intuitive sensation of rhythm according to the perceived effort. If you don’t know what you want to get out of your run at the park or why it’s part of your routine, I guess it’s likely that you’ll end up doing some sort of “nothing” run, where the 5k isn’t is not fast enough to be a time trial; too fast for a tempo run or too short for a recovery run and so on.
parkrun like time trial
Of course, there will be those of you who report that you can’t do anything but “run” your weekly parkrun. Without being pedantic, it would be more accurate to describe your every day weekly effort as a time trial rather than a race.
At first glance, there are many advantages to using the 5km (or thereabouts) parkrun as a distance time trial, especially if you are aiming for a fast 10km for example. That being said, if you do this week after week, you’ll probably find that after 6-8 weeks, any chance of improving this PB course disappears as you start reporting that you feel “stale”. This is because your lactate energy system can only be stressed for a relatively short number of weeks before you hit “peak” and should ideally give up speed endurance as a mode of training and regress further down the pyramid towards aerobic core building once again. Indeed, you went to the “well” once too often and found that there was no more water.
Rather than feeling like you shouldn’t do parkrun every week, then, if it’s become as routine as your weekly Sunday roast, you may be encouraged to stick with it but consider diversifying how you approach it. Below are four of the ways the athletes I work with are diversifying their use of parkrun.
1. The “remote” time trial
So you parkrun most weeks and you’re one of those athletes who is naturally competitive and can’t “take it easy”. One of the things you can consider doing is doing a 3k or 1 mile time trial at parkrun by “racing” from the start and then slowing down to a steady jog throughout of the course. This is a great way to then periodically test the full 5km parkrun distance. As a coach of a lot of road runners, I find many are much more willing to do a 3k time trial or a mile parkrun than the thought of entering a track 3000m or 1500m sends shivers down their spines.
2. The midsection of a long stroke
One of the things the athletes I work with sometimes report is that they feel “bored” with regular traditional long-distance running. For these athletes, I encourage them to consider using parkrun as the midsection of their long run. They find a parkrun to run to and they continue to run slowly and aerobically at a “chatty” pace in the parkrun component of their line run. Many report that they feel more motivated to complete the long run because first they have a place to run and go home and second they can run at a conversational pace with many other runners.
3. The tempo race
“Tempo” confuses many because it goes by many names – “steady state”, “LT1”, “threshold race” and “lactate race”, being just a few of them. The common definition involves running at an extended duration of activity at 80-85% of your maximum effort (but note that some tempo also refers to harder effort working past the lactate end point. .just to confuse!). As your body metabolizes glucose, lactate as a byproduct is produced. A tempo run raises the lactate threshold, which is basically the point at which lactic acid begins to build up significantly in the muscles. Simply put, this running mode can help you run faster for longer. Jack Daniels once referred to tempo rhythm in qualitative terms as “comfortably hard”, while famed running coach Kevin Beck offered the analogy of “holding your hand above the flame”.
It is therefore possible to use parkrun as a tempo if one fully understands its design and not just as a generic term for a rather vague and “fast” type of running. That being said, the competitors among you may have trouble holding back, in which case your tempo should be done away from parkrun.
4. The Long Term Tempo Component
Renowned Italian marathon trainer, Renato Canova (1999) had a lot to say about the value of ‘fractional’ and ‘variational’ running and it was recently blasted into these pages by the Rio Olympian and former world record holder world, Aly Dixon.
By locking in the parkrun as tempo work in the middle of the aforementioned long run to and from the venue, one can perform what I call a “2 for 1” session. The benefit of this is that it not only ‘spices up’ the long run, but it means the athlete has done two workout modes in one day. It worked for an athlete I support who realized that rather than doing tempo the day before her long run, she could do both in one session and give herself two days of easy recovery rather than one alone before his next scheduled race.
1. How often should I parkrun?
2. What are the potential consequences of using parkrun as a time trial week after week?
3. In what ways can I diversify my use of parkrun?
4. Why can sub-distance time trials in parkrun help me?
5. When would it be appropriate to use parkrun as part of a long run?
6. How can tempo run modes be used in parkrun?
Arceli, E. and Canova, R. (1999) ‘IAF Marathon Training. A scientific approach”. International Athletics Foundation
Long, M. (2020) Lewis Moses on the benefits of tempo racing. Athletics weekly. March 21st
Long, M. (2022) Expanding the load. Quick run. January 5
Long, M. (2022) Variety in the Spice of Life. Quick race. February 2.
Matt Long coached the senior England team at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games marathon camp and trials and is working at the Athletics Commonwealth Games development camp in England in July. He welcomes contacts for coaching support via [email protected]