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About Coach Urban

Urban Bettag coaches for the Mornington Chasers and leads the development of their track training and mentors their junior coaches. As a qualified Performance Endurance coach, accredited by UK Athletics and 10 years of experience coaching endurance runners at all levels he brings a wealth of experience to the running club. Urban can be contacted at info@runurban.com.

Thursday Track Sessions – Winter/Spring 2017

Posted on December 28th, 2016 by


Date Session
January, 5th Running Form Drills
30′ Whistle Fartlek
January, 12th Oregon Circuits
January, 19th Running Form Drills
Cruise Intervals
January, 26th Short Intervals
6x 600m (5k) [200m Active Recovery]


Date Session
February, 2nd Short Intervals
30’ Pair Run
February, 9th Mixed Intervals
3x 1,200m (5k) [400m Jog Recovery]
2x 600m (5k) [200m Float]
February, 16th Pace Alternations
8x 700m (10k) [300m Tempo / Half Marathon Pace]
February, 23th Mixed Intervals
3x 1,200m (5k) [400m Jog Recovery]
6x 200m (5k) [200m Float]


Date Session
March, 2nd Running Drills
Short Intervals
10x 200m (3k) [200m Steady]
March, 9th Tempoflex Session
6x 1,000m (3k) [200m Jog Recovery]
March, 16th 1500m Time Trial
Pyramid Session
March, 23th Long Intervals / Cut-Down
5x 800m (10k to 5k) [200m Float] 300m (3k) [1’ 30’’ Rest]
March, 30th Reverse Pyramid Session
2000m – 1600m – 1200m – 800m – 400m


Date Session
April, 6th Long Interval
6x 800m (5k) [400m Jog Recovery]

Urban Bettag coaches for the Mornington Chasers and leads the development of their track training and mentors their junior coaches. He blogs and shares his wisdom about running on the Hare Brain Blog every Friday.


Right on Track

Posted on December 17th, 2016 by

This week we had our last Thursday Track Session for the year. Many thanks to everyone involved, either volunteering, supporting or running. Congratulations and well done to all, who managed to reap the benefits of hard training and made strides towards achieving your running goals and running better than ever before. The end of 2016 is near and the road running season comes to an end. It is time to take stock and review what has been achieved.

In this week’s Hare Brain Blog, we evaluate the effectiveness of the Thursday Track sessions by analysing the attendance statistics, how session attendance correlate to performance improvements and the impact on raising standards within the Mornington Chasers Running Club.

Two weeks ago, I had an impromptu conversation with Stephen Sash. It went like this. “What are you doing?”, he asked. “I am just ticking off those who attended tonight, trying to work out what makes folks train and coming back every week.”, while holding tight to my clipboard. “Do you know the concept of cause & effect?” he said in a challenging manner. “Sort of, but go on …”. Stephen concluded, “I believe folks come back because of they want a PB and want to get better!” “Maybe, but I don’t know for sure. I am interested in triangulating behaviour, level commitment and performance improvement. Looking at attendance is a good starting point.” We don’t want to embark on a big number crunching exercise or a formal hypothesis test. Let keep it simple and look, let’s have a look at the data.

Session Attendance

Unfortunately, I do not have a full record of attendance for the whole year. I started coaching in April. It took a while to get to know those who take part in the Thursday track session. Initially, I tried to record who attended the training session on a best endeavour basis, though failed to do it consistently. The purpose of maintaining a record was to be able to address everyone by name. A couple of months later, a core group emerged who attend most Thursday track sessions, so I expressed an interest how their performances progress throughout the season.

Since April, we delivered 37 track sessions. Many thanks to Chris, John, Adrian, Louise and Alice helping out when I wasn’t on duty.

I recorded the attendance of the last nine track session. The sample size is incomplete. On every occasion, there were a few more members taking part than I managed to record. Further, I did record those who could not attend the session but did the same session on their own. Recording the attendance served the purpose of getting an understanding who attends on a regular basis or those who do a few sessions and then have a break. A couple of years ago, I did a similar exercise. There are multiple reasons for why folks attend or not attend. It’s highly individual and in many cases having the time available to take part is the biggest constraint. Let’s focus on the positive and look at those who attend on a regular basis.

Between October and December, 66 Mornington Chasers took part in the Thursday sessions. Glad that not all attended in a single session, that would have been hard to manage. Given the membership subscriptions have increased to 300, more than a fifth of the club has been to Parliament Hill Athletics Track on a Thursday. There have been slightly more male members than female members to the session. 58% of the attendees are male, while 42% are female, a good sign that we have a well-balanced training group.

Our busiest period within the last nine weeks was the end of October and November. Attendances peaked at 30. Seasonality, in the run up to Christmas with all the important races out of the way, December is a  busy time for most lead to a drop in attendance levels. On average 24 members attend every week.

There is a pool of dedicated runners who attend the sessions on a regular basis. This trend is very reassuring. Those who train consistently without getting injured are reaping the benefits as their speed develops. There is not a single athlete, who managed to attend all the nine sessions. Two athletes who attended eight out of the nine sessions have done well. A further two athletes attended seven sessions. A third of the Thursday tracksters attended at least more than five sessions. The majority, approx. Two-thirds are more opportunistic in their attendance.


Figure 1: Attendees by frequency

Next, we looked at the level of commitment by ability. We could not identify a trend within the group who attend more than five sessions. Hence, there is no major difference based on those who come more than 50% of the sessions. There are higher numbers for the sub 50 and sub 60 minutes 10k runners who only attend once. This suggests that the training is less suitable for runners new to track training.

Attendance by Ability

Figure 2: Attendance by ability

In future, we will continue to record attendance. This allows us to understand, who takes part in the training and helps us in our planning when dealing with the Corporation of London. We pay an annual fee for using the track and our fee is based on an average number of athletes training on the track. Understandably, we want to make the best use of club funds and don’t want to be over charged.

There is an opportunity to convert those between 30% to 60% of attendance towards a higher attendance. However, this would mean that on a single night there would be 30 to 40 runners, a situation hard to manage for a coach, an additional session or  2-3 support coaches would be required for delivering safe sessions.

Runners like to come if they know what is expected, sessions are suitable, structured and if there are part of a conducive environment. If it is a good experience and if the support is in place then runners will make up the time, commit and attend on a regular basis. To make this happen, leaders within the various ability groups create a sense of cohesion and shared purpose when training together. When that is in place, everyone benefits.

Personal Bests

During the last six months, many of the regulars recorded personal bests over the 5k, 10k, 10m and half-marathon distances. A closer look at those who attended more than 50% of the last nine sessions reveals that there is a strong correlation of those who attend on a regular basis achieve more.

3 of the most regular attendees, all at different abilities of the Thursday track night managed the triple, i.e. to run a PB in the 5k, 10k and ½ marathon. This goes to show, that willing to train hard, regardless of ability will see improvements of their personal bests. There has been many more PBs too and likely others as well, though there were attending less than 50% of the sessions.

There were a couple of more candidates, though they either didn’t do a ½ marathon or have not done a 5k. Regardless, very well done to those who managed to get close to their best times or improved on their personal bests. It’s always a big confidence boost and opens up new possibilities. As one former coach said, champions are everywhere, they just need to be trained properly.

How we are doing as a club?

Let’s look at the wider context and how the club is positioned. There is no nationwide club ranking system as such or an agreed measure what good or bad means. For the sake of simplicity we applied the same model England Athletics has been using for their ‘Club Run’ campaign, which is typically targeted towards Road Running clubs. The model was suitable, because the majority of the membership compete in road running events. While the club has active triathletes and a small, enthusiastic track & field athletes, the Mornington Chasers classify as a Road Running Club. In terms of performance, there is no difference to many other road running clubs. There are many clubs in the South East of England at a similar size.

The club has a solid base and the majority are novice and recreational runners engage the club’s training offerings. 10% of the members achieve a notable higher standard, 1% are getting close to a regional/national levels, those typically engage in more structured training and take part in the coached sessions. This split is not unusual and very similar to many road running clubs. In comparison, Serpentine RC, one of the biggest running clubs in the UK, while strong at the sharp end of the performance spectrum have approx. 6% senior men with a sub 40 minutes and 2% senior women running sub 45 minutes for the 10k. Relative to its size, Mornington Chasers stack up well.

It is encouraging that membership subscriptions went up and current members keep on renewing their membership. This means more runners get engaged in training, more compete and more will progress, resulting in raising standards across endurance events. Important, here is that an inclusive training platform is provided, this means that there are pathways for those training at similar ability levels and providing opportunities for runners to improve at all ability levels. For that reason we have tailored our track sessions based on ability.

Performance 2016

Figure 3: Performance Level 2016

In comparison to the previous year, 2016 has been a very good year for the Mornington Chasers. More members engage in 5km and 10km events. The uptake on 10km races has almost doubled, which is very encouraging. Our training throughout the summer focused on improving over the 5k and 10k distances. The Chase the Pace 30th Anniversary event was a great opportunity to get members running a 5k and 10k on the track. Overall we have now more sub 45 10k runners than before, 29 of them are sub 40 mins. There are few women close to the 40 mins mark, who will continue to develop and progress further.

Taking part in the half marathons has increased too, the club’s more coordinated approach towards selecting half marathons engages more runner. The overall uptake and the number of top performances for the marathon has slightly been down compared to last year. However, we have not yet completed a full year and plans have been put in place to raise the standards for the marathon.

Performance 2015

Figure 4: Performance Level 2015

For 2017, we want to build on what has been achieved in 2016. The first couple of month will focus on the spring marathons and we aim to get more runners getting involved in a spring marathon. Then we continue with the 5k/10k focus before stepping up the half marathon distance in autumn again.

Feedback & Ideas to Improve the Track Session

During the last couple of weeks, a number of suggestions have been raised, which we discussed. For some members, starting the session at 7:30 pm is quite late, an earlier start would be preferable. A good idea and it would allow us to extend the session beyond 1 hour. However, for many of the regulars and coaches, it is already a stretch to make it to Parliament Hill on time for a 7:30 pm start. Often, I manage to arrive at 7:15 pm, which leaves just a couple of minutes to get changes and setup. On balance, 7:30 pm is a good compromise. For now, we will continue to start the session at 7:30 pm.

Some feel the warm-up takes up too much time and is too long. Typically, a warm-up can last 15 to 20 minutes. The proposal would be to skip the warm-up. Coaches plan the session and are responsible for the content. Personally, running a safe, fun and fulfilling session has to be a priority for all. Secondary, the warm-up plays an important part in the session and is often the only element of the session where any athletic skill development happens. My practical experience of coaching many sessions over a decade is that a group warm-up is always a safe option and prevents injury. When athletes don’t warm-up or when every athlete is doing their warm-up for themselves, then this often lead to injuries. Most weeks we do some intense training and the warm-up part of the session. As many come direct from work and rush to the track allowing 10 to 20 minutes window to refocus the mind is a good way to prepare athletes for the session. The warm-up is a mandatory part of the session. We cannot skip it!

The majority of the sessions are 5k and 10k speed development or speed endurance type sessions. The sessions are not specific for marathon runners or middle distance runners. If we would provide event specific sessions, then there would be fewer athletes available running in the same event specific session. Running long and middle distance sessions in parallel require more coaching support. My view is each event requires a coached session in its own righ. Mixing too many workouts in one session distracts what athletes/group want to achieve.

As you noticed, sometimes we go a bit longer until the flood light gets switched off. A few runners are keen to complete the session and like the challenge. I am supportive of this and don’t want to enforce restrictions. We usually plan the session and give guidance, that all can complete the session on time. We provide choice Group A/B type, though ultimately it is up to each individual what sessions they want to run.

We do a lot of interval training. Another suggestion was to run a 5k time trail on the track. From a coaching point of view, a great way to capture data and determine baseline fitness. However, many of you take part in parkruns and want to train on the track and not compete in another 5k. We may use a time trial for shorter distances, 2k, 1 mile or 1.5k, though not the full 5k race distance.

As you noticed, we never take enough time to stretch after the session. Some do a couple of static stretches, others get quickly changed and get on the bike and cycle home. I would advise after a short cool down to get quickly changed and perform a small number of static stretches. I have done many sessions, which include a stretching routine, though those sessions last typically 1h 15 minutes.

The attendance levels throughout the last six months have been good. Everyone is familiar with the structure. There is a good core of regulars. At this stage, there is no need to change the session arrangements.


Based on attendance levels and performances, the club progressed and raised performance standards. The majority of the Thursday track regulars set personal bests in almost all distances. In 2017, we will build on the successes of 2016 and continue to provide a training platform to those who want to train, compete and become better athletes. Having fun, the willingness and commitment to train hard, take part in the club’s targeted competitions, acquire new athletic skills, adapt to training, while remaining injury free should be our focus for 2017.

I hope you found the recent blog posts on the Hare Brains blog useful. If there is anything else you want to know then please get in touch. I am looking forward seeing you back on track in 2017. Well done to those who attended week in week out and worked hard to improve. I want to wish you all a merry x-mas and a relaxing Christmas break. Enjoy your running, start thinking about 2017 and I look forward to seeing you back in January for our Thursday track session.

Urban Bettag coaches for the Mornington Chasers and leads the development of their track training and mentors their junior coaches. He blogs and shares his wisdom about running on the Hare Brain Blog every Friday.


Endurance Coaching Seminar at St. Mary’s – ‘Aiming High’

Posted on December 9th, 2016 by

Every couple of months, England Athletics invites the leading coaches on the National Coach Development Programme (NCDP) based in the South-east for a get together at St. Mary’s University College in Twickenham. I have been to various gatherings over the years and those sessions never disappoint. The wealth of experience and willingness among coaches to drive athletics forward is something I always find inspiring. Special thanks to Neville Taylor, National Coach Mentor for Endurance, for putting together a packed agenda.

This year’s NCDP coaching seminar theme was on ‘Aim higher’. The next Olympic cycle is already upon us and what has worked so far for the last 4 years, may not be good enough anymore to qualify for the 2020 Olympics and make the podium. Future performances such as sub 1’40’’ (800m), 3’26’’ (1,500m) or even the sub 2-hour marathon are discussed among athletics pundits. While these are big challenges, pushing the boundaries is the first step towards improvement. When we do not start to plan for it, it will unlikely happen, and then we will not strive towards improvement says Neville Taylor. This session on ‘Aim higher’ provides the context to explore how training would need to change to enable athletes to reach the next level.

General Testing & Screening

The seminar started with a practical session led by Richard Blagrove. Richard is a Senior Lecturer for Strength and Conditioning at St. Mary’s University College and has authored a book with the title ‘Strength & Conditioning for Endurance Running’. The aim of the practical session was to assist coaches with screening and testing technique when working with athletes, regardless of their age. Screening and testing help to assess the athlete’s muscular and functional strength and weaknesses. Once the coach understands the athlete’s specific demands, remedial strategies to strengthen joints, muscle and improve movement patterns can be put in place, which helps to prevent injury and enable the athlete to do more event-specific work.

Testing & Screening

Testing & Screening

The screening and testing tools were general strength exercises along the specificity continuum. Richard introduced a set of low/high load exercises and capacity tests and explained to coached what to look out for. Coaches experimented with the exercises (single leg bridge, standing rotation, walking lunge, side hold, etc.), gave each other feedback and identified variants of the movements as remedial actions. The majority of exercises were related to hip strength, correct pelvis position and maintaining a static core. The scoring in those tests help during athlete profiling and develop improvement plans, which prevent injury and drive performance.

A very useful clinic and Richard busted some myth about strength & conditioning and highlighted some common exercises used by many endurance athletes, which are rather counterproductive to core strengthening.

Altitude Training

Dr Kate Spilsbury, Physiologist with British Athletics, provided an overview of British Athletics’ Altitude Programme. Since the first altitude trips, the altitude programme has evolved and matured. What was initially perceived as a ‘holiday trip’ for athletes, has now turned into a thoroughly planned, high-tech expedition. Top endurance athletes, depending on their season goal, apply multiple altitude camps a year. Between November and January, athletes have been attending the High Altitude Training Camp (HATC) in Iten, Kenya for typically 3 to 4 weeks. The aim is to accelerate the development of aerobic fitness. In November to January, Iten in Kenya at 2,400m is ideal and has favourable weather and altitude conditions. However, for some athletes getting from the UK to Iten is a very long and tiring journey. Font Romeu, from the UK, is more accessible, though the weather is more unpredictable during the off season. Further into the season, British Athletics uses Font Romeu in the French Pyrenes or for US based athletes Flagstaff and Park City as altitude camps. Those locations enable athletes to stay at a lower level of altitude and do more intense sessions at a lower altitude while staying for the rest of the time at a higher base.

The research found that complementing altitude camps with altitude tents at sea level has an accumulative effect and helps the athletes to maintain and even increase high haemoglobin levels.

Optimal Exposure

Optimal Exposure

A couple of coaches were critical of the benefits of altitude training. The change in environment and the adaptations of the training programme was seen more as a risk than a benefit. It was pointed out that early adopters of altitude training in the 1970s and 1980s went to altitude and continued with the same amount and intensity they were used to at sea-level. When at altitude, depending on the level, intensity is reduced. High intense workouts are done sparsely, i.e. after 2 easy days, a more intense session follows to allow extra recovery. Further determinants of a successful altitude camp are better understood and controls are put in place to ensure that athletes arrive fit, healthy and conditioned at altitude to maximise the training effect.

To my surprise, British Athletics approach to altitude camps is quite controlled and regimented. The camps have clear objectives and measurements have to be in place to support those. Athletes are closely monitored on a daily basis and ensure that they follow their personalised training and not training too hard or join sessions of local athletes. The data gathering helps British Athletics to continuously improve and optimise the programme and get an in-depth understanding of the benefits and physiological changes in athletes of altitude training.

In contrast to the official British Athletics altitude programme, Mo Farah, Charlie Grice and Adam Clarke went to train in Ethiopia. However, all stayed in Kenya first before moving on to Ethiopia. It was highlighted that Mo Farah attended many altitude camps and spent a lot of time throughout the year at altitude, consequently his body is already adjusted. To gain extra benefit Mo Farah has to train at higher altitudes in Ethiopia and in addition use an altitude tent. The highlands of Ethiopia are flatter compared to Kenya.

Charlotte Purdue has been training at altitude in Falls Creek in Australia and is preparing for an altitude camp to Dulstrom in South Africa. Both locations are not part of the British Athletics altitude camp, though frequented by many international runners.

Another coach asked if athletes offered US scholarships should rather choose a university located at altitude. Kate confirmed that spending 3 years at altitude could be very beneficial for their performance and long term development.

Altitude Tents

The founder of Affinity Altitude Ray Matthews (Brighton Phoenix) presented his latest range of altitude tents. Ray, a club mate of the 1,500m runner Charlie Grice, assessed the altitude tents available on the market and thought he could improve and simplify the usability of those tents. Affinity Altitude offers two models, the ‘Oxy Hood’ and the ‘Oxy Wagon’. The Oxy Hood is a small version of the Oxy Wagon and fits around the upper body, while the Oxy Wagon covers the whole double bed. The altitude tents enable athletes to simulate altitudes of up to 3,500 meters.

Ray tried the altitude tent out for himself. After a couple of weeks, despite reducing his training load by 50% he kept on improving and maintains a mid 17 minutes 5k as a V50. He attributes the improvement to sleeping in the altitude tent. British Athletics has some units in circulations, British Cycling tested the tents with their cyclist too and received positive feedback, while the tent is also beneficial for triathletes.

The altitude tent comes with a generator (40 dBA) and starts from £1,900. These are possibly worth 2x altitude trips to Kenya. However, as pointed out by the British Athletics, the altitude camp and staying at the tent at sea levels makes the difference to maintain a high level of aerobic fitness for longer.

Altitude Tent

Altitude Tent

The responses among the coaches were mixed. While I am a strong advocate of altitude training camps, some of the middle distance coaches were sceptical about the value add such tents have. As we heard, leading athletes like Mo Farah and Matt Centrowitz use altitude tents all the time. One of the issues identified is that what is the effect when sleep gets interrupted, or one has to leave the tent. Further, a recommended minimum of 10 hours sleep is required, not an option for many athletes in full-time employment.

Q&A with Elliot Giles and Charlotte Purdue

Elliot Giles, bronze medal winner in this year’s European Championships in the 800m talked about changing his coach and getting used to the new training regime. Matt Yates, a retired international middle distance runner, coaches Elliot. Elliot, still U23, is learning and getting familiar with the coaching process. Matt Yates quickly fills in the gap and entertains the room with his latest methods (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) he has seen used by drug addicts for getting Elliot to reinforce his new regime. Next, Matt states that athletes should not limit themselves by thinking they cannot beat the Africans in important races. It seems to have worked well so far. Elliot made a significant improvement, earned a medal at the European Championships, made it to the Olympics and gained a lot of experience. An exciting athlete to watch.

Charlotte Purdue ran her debut marathon in the 2016 London Marathon (2:32:48) and narrowly missed out on making the team for the Rio Olympics. Charlotte changed coaches and is now coached by Australian coach Nic Bideau. Despite at young age, Charlotte always felt positive about the marathon and enjoys the training. Previous VO2Max tests suggested that she is particular suited for the more longer distances. Her long term aspirations is to make the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Her next goal is to compete in the World Championships in London next year.

Charlotte talked about her build up for the Berlin Marathon. Unfortunately, the night before the race she felt sick and dropped out of the race the next day. A frustrating experience, though Charlotte quickly re-focussed and her coach entered her in the Frankfurt Marathon. She had a good race in Frankfurt and managed to run 2:30:04 and felt she has found her event. She wants to progress further in the marathon and want to follow the likes of Benita Johnson / Mara Yamauchi and progress towards 2:25 in the marathon.

Many coaches in the room assumed Charlotte or Elliot are on lottery funding.  Charlotte is a self-funded athlete, works part-time as a personal trainer/pilates teacher and funds her own altitude camps. Unlike other athletes on the funded programme, she does not receive the same amount of medical support from British Athletics. Coaches highlighted that there are many athletes trying to transition from national to international athletes or after coming back to the UK after their US scholarship in a similar situation. A kit or shoe sponsor supplies equipment rather than funds. This leaves athletes, not on funding trying to make their own arrangements. It is less the long term financial incentive that drives athletes rather than the prospect of performing at their full potential. Thanks to some sponsorship Elliot is a full-time athlete. He knows that he has to deliver results too to maintain his status.

Unfortunately, from a coaching perspective, there was little detail on the actual training programme. For example, peak mileage, typical build up, peaking, carbo-loading regime.


An insightful day at St. Mary’s which facilitates learning among coaches, sharing idea and contextualising strength & conditioning into their coaching reality. Not all of us have the means and opportunity to attend an altitude trip, though Font Romeu is only a flight away to Barcelona and a 2 hour drive. 1-2 weeks has benefits and accelerates aerobic fitness. For those keen to perform close to their full potential, altitude training is a must. 2015 I spend a week in Iten, Kenya and definitely benefited.

Urban Bettag coaches for the Mornington Chasers and leads the development of their track training and mentors their junior coaches. He blogs and shares his wisdom about running on the Hare Brain Blog every Friday.


Great workouts for the winter – Oregon Circuits

Posted on December 3rd, 2016 by

The winter season is upon us. After all the club championship races it is now time to either have a break or settle into the winter training. When the weather changes and gets a bit colder doing hard, long intervals are not so much fun. When approaching December, it is time to take the foot off the gas and take it a bit easy and have some fun. Traditionally, early December is an ideal opportunity to introduce the Oregon Circuits, one of my favourite sessions are the Oregon Circuits. In this week’s ‘Hare Brain’ blog we explain a bit more about Oregon Circuits.

Oregon Circuits, as the word suggests have been invented at the University of Oregon. It was coach Luiz de Oliveira, who came up with the workout when coaching the Brazilian middle-distance runner Joaquim Cruz while studying at the University of Oregon. Later on, Cruz won the 800m gold medal in 1984 Olympics and beat Steve Ovett  and Sebastian Coe. Later on, Cruz won the 800m silver medal in the 1988 Olympics too. Cruz still holds the South American area record. He is only one of five men, who have run sub 1:42 (1:41.77). Today, Cruz train Paralympic athletes and applies the same training fundamentals he used to follow.

The first time I came across the Oregon Circuits was when I met the late Dave Sunderland, coach to many international athletes. Dave Sunderland spoke about coaching middle distance runners and the type of training distance runners would do in and outside the season. When coaching at the Serpentine Running Club,  I adopted the Oregon Circuits for long distance runners and used to do this session once a month during the cross country season. While this is a tough workout, some of the exercises can be challenging, athletes enjoyed the session and welcomed a break from the more structured sessions. One of the benefits of this session is that athletes have to use all muscle groups and their nervous systems. Oregon Circuits give them a good all round full body workout and promote mental toughness as well.

Oregon Circuits explained

How does an Oregon Circuits session work? The format of an Oregon Circuit session requires a bit more explanation compared to the traditional interval sessions. However, the session builds on the principles of interval training. The session contains bouts of fast running, interspersed with an active recovery of general strength and core exercises. Depending on the event, training age and the ability of the athletes I use 700 and 300 meter repetitions, use 1 – 2 exercises and two circuits. It is a demanding session and I recommend a cool down jog. Allow your muscles to fully recover and take it easy on the next day. As these are intense sessions, I recommend only one session per week at best. Start with once a month and progress to any other week during your base training period.


Start your session from the 1,500m start. Experienced athletes run 700 meters at your 5k race pace. Improvers would either do 300 meters or alternate between 300 and 700 meter repetitions. Once finished with the repetition, jog forward to the high jump area and start with the general strength exercises. Typically, the exercises last 30 seconds with the same amount of rest between exercises. Exercises alternate between upper and lower body exercises. For example, while doing a full body squat, the upper body is less stressed, while the lower body is less stressed when doing a set of press ups. More advanced athletes can alternate between upper, core and lower body exercises. For example, press ups, plank and body squat.

Oregon Circuits

Oregon Circuits (Example)


There are many ways to progress Oregon Circuits. Start with a small number of repetitions first, then build up the total volume of the session by increasing the number of repetitions and circuits. The same applies to the general strength exercises, though the main focus should be on running specific strength exercises and not on doing as many exercises as possible. Start with one exercise first, then progress to 2 exercises during the active recovery. More advanced athletes can do 3 to 4 exercises and match the duration of running with the total time spend doing the general strength exercises. For example, 700 meters require 2’30’’, then spend 2’30’’ for the general strength exercises.

General Strength and Core Strength Exercises

Important to note, don’t rush doing the general strength exercises. Try to understand how to perform the exercises correct first, before doing the exercises faster. Doing the general strength exercises wrong will only increase your risk of injury. On observation, when doing the body squat, athletes try to do this as quickly as possible, just thinking about the effort rather than form. Ensure both feet are shoulder width apart, when moving into a squat position, have your feet pointed forward. Ensure the knee caps are not too far ahead of your toes. Place your hand behind your head and point your shoulder blades together, so that your spine in a stable position. While combining running and strength, the complexity of the exercises can vary and require full concentration.


I am a big fan of the Oregon Circuit session. I do this session frequently especially when I am working with a new athlete. The Oregon Circuit workout has pretty much everything. It helps me to assess the athlete’s running form while running in between the exercises and I can see the athletes sense of coordination and determine the level of core strength. Often there is a connection between both. Are there any imbalances or muscular weaknesses? If there are weaknesses, they will be revealed especially towards the end of the session, when the athlete feels more tired and starts to become fatigued.

Trim Tail

You don’t need a track for doing an Oregon Circuit session. Instead of running a fixed distance, you can run for 1  minute, or do a shuttle run (100 meters out and back) and do the exercises. This session works well on a ‘trim-trail’.


Many club standard runners like to do interval sessions throughout the year and are not too keen deviating too much from the format in fear of losing fitness. Oregon Circuits is a great session to break up the routine and combining running with strength exercises in such a way that all muscle groups get a stimulus. Besides the physical benefits on strength endurance, the session schools mental toughness and prepares athletes for maintaining running form in a tired state. Comes spring you will be better prepared to do a more demanding speed workout. Alternatively, similar to Joaquim Cruz when coming back from injury/break, Oregon Circuits are the workouts to recover your full strength.

Urban Bettag coaches for the Mornington Chasers and leads the development of their track training and mentors their junior coaches. He blogs and shares his wisdom about running on the Hare Brain Blog every Friday.


Energy Availability

Posted on November 18th, 2016 by

We all have experienced once in a while a poor training run. Running through tiredness, suffering from low energy levels and after a few minutes into the run we would have wished to have opted rather for a rest day. For those of you preparing for a marathon and doing their long runs, you may have hit the wall and experienced what it means to run low on energy. You are wondering why this is happening to you. On other training runs, we feel great, firing on all cylinders and everything feels relaxed. Energy levels play a vital role and determine the quality of our training runs. In this week’s Hare Brains blog, we want to explore what drives our energy availability and highlight important considerations.

So far I have written a lot about the specifics of endurance training and provided relevant information for the winter training plan. The training schedule explains the types of runs, distances, duration, pace and intensity. When we put a training plan together, we assume, runners have infinite amounts of energy available. We are confident that we always manage to complete the running session as scheduled. Common belief is, for anything longer than 1 hour we don’t need to fuel. Hydration and nutrition are more an aftermath.

Nutrition for distance runners is highly relevant if we want to compete at our best. For a powerful aerobic engine to produce the maximum energy output, what goes into the engine, high-performance fuel is vital. When immersed in running, nutrition plays a second role. Without adequate fuelling, we cannot perform and sustain prolonged periods of training.

In the weight-sensitive sport of running, we are conscious about our physical appearance and weight. After all the hard training, we want to maintain an ideal weight and get anxious about putting on more weight. If we put too much emphasis on trying to control weight beyond healthy levels that it affects our eating patterns, then it can have a detrimental effect impacting performance.

A well-balanced diet is the foundation of healthy and smart training. However, those new to structured training face a problem regarding how much fuelling is required to sustain the training week, month and entire season. Important considerations, which need to be factored into the training regime.

Endurance runners often ask, what should I eat before, during and after a run? While the intent of this blog is not a discussion on the latest diet trends (high carb/low fat or high fat/low carb), we want to highlight the importance of managing energy availability (irrespective of a particular diet).

For the body to function, we need to meet the minimal energy requirements for its organs to work. If we do not do that, or if we try to fast, inner organs will not receive the minimum amount of energy, which can have severe health implications.

Energy Availability (EA)

Energy needs are highly individual. No two runners are the same. Energy requirements vary according to body size, the energy cost of training (volume, frequency, and intensity of workouts) and growth or changes in body physique. For example, a young athlete experiencing maximum growth spur requires different amounts of energy in comparison to a well-conditioned master runner. Those running 80 miles per week have a significantly higher energy demands compared to those training 40 miles per week.

The term ‘Energy Availability’ (EA) has been used by exercise physiologist to reflect the specifics demand of energy requirements for sport. When not taking part in sport, we expend less energy compared to anyone who takes up sports for a couple of hours per week. The term EA takes this into consideration. EA  refers to the amount of energy left over and available for your body’s functions after the energy expended for training is subtracted from the energy you take in from food.

A balanced EA is essential for cells to function, muscles to repair, maintain body temperature and keep the immune system intact. EA is a vital input to the body’s physiological systems.

Energy Availability (EA) is calculated based on energy intake (EI) minus exercise energy expenditure (EEE). As a guideline, healthy athletes have 45 kcal/kg FFM (Fat-free Mass). Maintaining a normal resting metabolic rate requires 30 kcals/kg FFM. EA lower than 30 kcal/kg FFM is considered alarming. Similar to a scale, EA illustrates a balance between EI and EEE. If EEE is very high and EI is low, then EA is out of balance and vice versa.

EA and energy balance are mixed and used interchangeably. However, both concepts are not related. Energy Balance (EB) consists of Energy Intake (EI) minus Total Energy Expenditure (TEE), i.e. beyond energy expenditure beyond exercise. EB is rather an output from the body’s physiological systems. It is less significant for athletes to maintain EB.

Important to keep in mind is that body weight is not an accurate reflection of energy availability. While body weight can be at a healthy level, EA can be out of balance. When the body is not functioning at full capacity, the body preserves weight and decreases the resting metabolic rate to maintain the body’s function.

What are the causes for low Energy Availability?

There are some reasons which can contribute to low energy availability. Low energy availability can be caused unintentional or intentional.

Unintentional, in the event an athlete starts to build up weekly mileage as part of a marathon preparation. When we double weekly mileage from 25 miles per week to 50 miles per week without adjusting energy intake, then EA is declining. The runner has a lack of awareness of their increased exercise energy expenditure, which results in weight loss and not eating enough.

Intentional, runners are trying to reduce their weight and reducing their energy intake too far. Reducing energy intake too far and too rapidly. This results in a slow metabolism and weight loss start to plateau. Additional reduction to unhealthy levels would be required to promote further weight loss, which total energy expenditure and performance in a negative manner.

Psychological reasons can cause Low energy availability. Eating disorders and disordered eating, which are present in athletics and many other endurance sports. In the event eating patterns are affected, runners should seek professional and specialist help.

Case Study 1 – Athlete, trains 3x – 4x / Week

Let’s look at an example of a typical club runner, training three to four times per week. A 50 kg athlete with 10% body fat running for up to 1 hour per day, would require a minimum energy intake 2250 kcal. The amount of body fat corresponds to 5kg (10%), which is subtracted from the bodyweight, resulting in 45 kg lean body mass (LBM). Applying the EA formula, energy availability would be 2250 kcal – 1000 kcal, 1250 kcal. A healthy individual requires 45 kcal per kg (lean) body weight, hence 28 kcal per kg lean body mass. In this case, the athlete is below a healthy level of 45 kcal/kg and low on energy availability. This means the athletes dietary energy intake is insufficient to support the energy expenditure required by the body to support healthy daily living after the cost of exercise has been taken into account.

If the runner were 10 kg more, with the same amount of body fat, the energy intake would be 3250 kcal, resulting in 42 kcal/kg LBM which is a healthy level of energy availability.

As distance runners, our energy demands are higher. We need to make sure we adjust our energy intake.

Case Study 2 – Ultra Runner

One of my athletes has completed the 84 mile Druids Challenge, a multi-stage race of 3 marathons on three consecutive days. On average, based on Fitbit data, the athletes Exercise Energy Expenditure (EEE) was 4500 kcal / day.

As an ultrarunner, running approx. 10 minutes per mile pace, energy is provided by approx. 50% carbohydrates/muscle glycogen and 50% body fat. Like for any marathon, it is important to load up carbohydrates before the race to ensure muscle glycogen stores are fully charged up.  After each marathon, the recovery process begins, followed by replenishing depleted muscle glycogen stores.

What would be the athlete’s Energy Availability (EA)? Let’s assume a 70kg ultra runner with 15% body fat (10.5 kg), equates to 59.5 kg lean body mass (LBM). As stated above EEE is 4500 kcal / day during the competition with the aim to maintain a healthy EA of 45 kcal / kg.

59.5 kg x 45 kcal/kg + 4,500 kcal = 7,177.5 kcal = EI

During a multi-stage ultra-event, energy intake of 7,177.5 kcal is required to maintain healthy levels of energy availability. A lot of food to take in to maintain a healthy EA. EI needs to be carefully dosed to avoid GI distress.

However, the EI contains all energy intake during the race too. Let’s assume our ultrarunner used energy gels during the race. For example, a Powerbar Performance Energy Gel provides 110 calories. Taking on 2 Energy Gels every 30 minutes, would provide 220 calories / hour (1,100 kcals during the race). We know from marathon training we can only consume a limited amount of carbohydrates within 1 hour. Approx. 20% of the Exercise Energy Expenditure / hour, 180 kcals / hour of carbohydrates, consumed through energy gels. Still, our ultrarunner needs to replenish a minimum of 6,000 kcals after the race.

If the athlete does not follow a strict fuelling protocol, it will be only a matter of time until muscle glycogen stores get depleted, forcing the runner to slow down and impacting the recovery process.

What effect does low Energy Availability have?

Chronic low energy Availability can have a severe health implications. In the past, chronic low energy availability was linked to the Female Athlete Triad. The Female Athlete Triad is concerned with the inter-dependency between energy availability, lack of menstrual cycle and bone mineral density. The triad moves along a spectrum from optimal health to pathology. However, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has revised, updated and broadened the concept of the Female Athlete Triad and coined a new term ‘Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport’ (RED-S). RED-S refers to impaired physiological functioning caused by relative energy deficiency including, but not limited to metabolic rate, menstrual function, bone health, immunity, protein synthesis (muscle repair) and cardiovascular health. RED-S highlights the underpinning issue of the energy deficiency and put energy deficiency in the context of performance.

RED-S applies to men as well as women. RED-S describes a situation when athletes are not taking on enough energy for growth, repair and their training needs. However, RED-S equally applies to non-athletes too, everyday people not taking on enough energy.

Relative energy deficiency in sport affects almost all body systems. The immune system, menstrual cycle, bone density, metabolism cardiovascular, digestive system, etc. Psychologically, energy deficiency can impact psychological system in both ways, as a result of low energy or directly from eating disorders.

Despite the physiological and psychological body functions, RED-S impacts performance. Endurance levels drop, the risk of injuries (stress fractures), lack of response to training, anxiety, depression and lower muscle glycogen stores are performance related consequences of RED-S.

Managing Energy Availability Levels

Most of us have a packed day and a busy work / lifestyle. Balancing training and social life can be challenging. However, when you plan your training ahead you can prepare your energy intake.

The more we train, the more energy is needed. The same applies when the intensity of your training increases. Ensure energy intake aligns with training load and intensity. When training more intense, up your carbohydrate intake to ensure muscle glycogen levels are at full capacity. Timing is equally important. Always have a snack available for before and after a training session. Missing out on replenishing burnt calories slows down the recovery process.

Some run to work from time to time. Don’t skip breakfast, it’s the most important meal of the day and is part of a healthy diet. Aspire to a regular eating pattern, even though if work sometimes gets in the way.


Every runner, female and male, should be aware of the concept of Energy Availability (EA) and RED-S. To optimise performance, managing Energy Availability during periods of more frequent and intense training is important.

Endurance athletes can track their EA as part of their training and balance their food intake. Contrary, if things don’t go so well, revisiting the notion of Energy Availability can provide clues where your training has gone wrong.

Urban Bettag coaches for the Mornington Chasers and leads the development of their track training and mentors their junior coaches. He blogs and shares his wisdom about running on the Hare Brain Blog every Friday.


Running your best 10k

Posted on November 4th, 2016 by

It is the time of the year when the Mornington Chasers Club Championship 10k returns to Regent’s Park. Many of you are looking forward taking part and want to do well, perhaps running a personal best. Running your best 10k is an art. Mastery takes practice and good judgement. In this week’s blog, we explore how to a run your best 10k.

The last time I watched a 10,000m race was during the Rio Olympics. Do you remember who won the gold medal? Of course, Mo Farah won the gold medal for Great Britain. However, who won the women’s 10,000m? It was Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia. While running well at a high level for the previous years, Almaz Ayana was less of a household name. When Almaz Ayana ran the final, she smashed the 23-year-old world record by Wang Junxia in the fastest women 10,000m in history. Arguably it was the greatest performance by a female distance runner. As a spectator, I thought she would not be able to sustain this pace and would pay for it towards the end. She did not slow down, in fact, she speeded up. Ayana’s winning time, in her 2nd 10,000m race ever, was 29:17.46. A new world record. She completed the 2nd half of the race in 14:30.64, faster than the first half by running 10 seconds faster than the Olympic Record for the 5,000m. Some athletes questioned the performance, though Ayana had the 5,000m credentials and superior running technique compared to her competitors, which makes such a performance possible.

When we look at Almaz Ayana’s performance, there are principles we can apply to our running as well. We cannot match Ayana’s training age, ability and performance. Nonetheless, tactically, we can apply similar principles to optimise our performance. Let’s have a look at a few points we should consider whenever we run a 10k.

1.) Rest the Day before Race Day

We start with the most obvious piece of advice. Make your day before race day a rest day. When you are running a 10k on a Sunday, then rather opt to volunteer in your weekly parkrun or drop the cross country race on a Saturday afternoon. If you want to do well, you either need to prioritise your races or you have to lower your expectations.

You will do yourself no favours, if you give your best effort in a parkrun or if you put into another big training session the day before. A typical training cycle involves overloading your body followed by recovery. When you overload your body too close to the target race, you will not have enough time to recover. When you plan to race on a Sunday, then do your hard last session on a Thursday. Allowing enough time, 2-3 days, for example, will ensure that your body has time to recover.

Making last minute changes to your training routine or going for a sports massage the day before a race is also not a good idea. You will only end up fatigued. Take it easy on a Saturday, perhaps occupy your mind with non-training, sports or running activities. You have trained hard for the race, relax and look forward to the race. There is no magic session or workout you can do to get an edge during the last 24 hours.

On race day, follow your tried and tested breakfast routine and make sure your energy stores are up. You don’t have to go through a carbo loading phase similar to what marathon runners do the days before a marathon, though being fully recovered and fuelled up is key. When racing a 10k, the majority of your energy resources will come from muscle glycogen, the runner’s super fuel.

2.) Get familiar with the route

Having organised a 5k race this summer, I was surprised how many participants are not reading the instructions and have a look at the course map. It turned out that we had to disqualify 20 odd runners who took a short cut, knowing or unknowingly. To mitigate the risk of going the wrong way, spend time familiarising yourself with the course. Most running events publish the course map on their event website.

Find out if it is a point to point, out and back, or a lap course. Check for any undulations to spot slower or faster sections of the race. Perhaps your running buddies have done the race before. Ask them what the course is like and find out if there are fast and slow parts of the course. With the Running Tracking site Strava for example, you can find out about course segments and can work out how to adjust the pace.

The Regent’s Park 10k route is quite straightforward. The course is flat and runs on a concrete path. It is a three lap course. The course is run anti-clockwise. One lap is a bit over 3km or 2 miles. The slowest section is around the fountain. It feels like running slightly uphill. This part of the course breaks the running rhythm, focus during this part and aim to get back on your target pace quickly.

We can control the weather. We don’t always have no wind or perfect running temperature. Check the weather report and adapt your race strategy based on circumstances (heat, cold, wind). When it is windy, try to run in someone’s slips stream for a bit, when hot and sunny opt for the spots with shade.

3.) Pre-race Warm-up Routine

As you noticed, we spend a lot of time warming up on a Thursday evening before the main track session. The purpose of the warm-up is to get your body ready and prepared for the intense running action. We spend time warming up your muscles, priming your nervous system making sure all muscles fire on time and get your mind ready for the main session. Technically, we do dynamic stretches, running form drills and strides.

Spending 10 to 15 minutes warming up before the race can be beneficial. Especially now in the winter, it helps us to increase the body temperature, which will allow us to get more out of the first half of the race. Without a warm-up, it will take you 1-2 miles before you are firing on all cylinders.

Instead of a full warm-up, a reduced warm-up, consisting of 5 minutes of easy running, 5 dynamic stretches ((lunge, leg swings, knee lifts, hamstrings, arm circles), 5 running drills  (high knees, butt kicks, grapevine, skippings, single leg kicks)and 5 strides is a good compromise. Your pre-race warm-up routine should become 2nd nature.

4.) Keep an eye on your kilometre splits

Wherever you race, make sure the course is measured accurately and is certified. There is nothing more annoying racing on a short course and facing an inquiry from your running friends about a suspiciously fast run. For example, the Regent’s Park 10 is measured under UKA Rules and the course has kilometre markers. The course is well known, three laps and the course is accurate.

Those of your relying on a GPS watch, should consider changing the settings from miles to kilometres. Kilometre splits are more frequent compared to mile splits, which allows you to control the pace better and make decisions about your pacing sooner.

Slightly more advanced you could get even more frequent feedback during the last 2km and set alerts. For example, every 500m and every 100 metres for the last 500 metres, which would indicate to you at what stage you can start your finishing kick. However, I strongly advise practising the approach first. It has happened before, that some courses have poor signal or have some sharp corners, resulting in short measure.

Alternatively, in case you have a very basic watch, check the course is marked in kilometres or mile. It has happened before that the kilometre or mile markers have been misplaced. Luckily, this won’t happen, as most of you will be running in the Regent’s Park 10k.

5.) Pacing strategy

What is the best way to pace a 10k? There are three options. Go hard from the gun and run as fast as we can. After the first couple of kilometres, it will become tough to maintain the pace, and you start to slow down gradually. When we run beyond out target race pace, we start to build up lactate during the early stages at a high rate. Also, we burn glycogen as the source of energy rapidly. The combination of lactate build up, and glycogen burn will ask for trouble. Sooner or later, our pace will be forced back into a running pace which we can maintain for a prolonged period.

In contrast, we can start a bit slower than the 10k race pace and up the pace during the race and build up towards a strong finish. A negative split will be a better strategy compared to the mentioned positive split. Aiming for a negative split will avoid building up lactate early on, though we can face the risk that we start too slow and lose out some time due to being too careful right from the beginning.

The best strategy is an even paced strategy, to maintain a level of intensity which can hold throughout the race. An even pace ensures that we accumulate lactate only at a slow rate.

6.) Team Work Makes the Dream Work

Consider to team up with a fellow club member who will be running at a similar pace at yours. Agree on the pace so that neither of you is either running too fast or slow. Further, agree on a pacing protocol. For example, change the lead every 400 meters and more frequently towards the end.

The Regent’s Park 10k offers pace groups too. Try to communicate with the pacers and make them aware that you are running in the pace groups. Some pacers are better than others. Those who provide encouragement and run close with the group are the best. However, everyone runs their own race in the end and you cannot outsource all pacing duties.

7.) During the Race: Mental Strategies

Focus on the runner in front of you. Once you get close, target the next runner in front of you. Avoid sticking to a runner when the pace feels uncomfortable and push on. Nonetheless, drafting behind a runner can give 2-3 seconds per kilometre by maintaining the same effort. When running through bends and corners run along a tangent, covering the shortest distance from one end of the corner to the other. Small marginal gains, can turn into big improvements.

Maintain a positive outlook, perhaps even when going through pain try to smile. Otherwise, your subconscious can take over your mind, which can send you the wrong signals, forcing you to slow down.

Apply positive reaffirmations or mantras.  For example, ‘Today, I smash it!’, ‘I can do it!’, ‘I am really enjoying this now!’

8.) “Just One More Mile”

Mo Farah’s working motto when battling with hard running sessions.

Thinking about the entire race distance from the start can be psychologically overwhelming. Even if we have covered those distances in training, the pressure of wanting to do well and pushing our physical and mental limits can be daunting.

Try to break the race down into smaller parts and conquer each part first. For example, the first half or the 2nd half of the 10k, in laps, or segments. Approach each segment at the time. Equally, you can run each kilometre or mile at the time without thinking about the mile before or afterwards.

Once you have completed a mile, you can correct your pace, but don’t try to overanalyse regarding what you should or could have done and try to predict your finishing time. Also, avoid erratic pace changes.

9.) The Closing Stage

When the going gets tough, the tough get going, says the famous line from a song. In a 10k race, typically from 7 to 9 kilometres requires special attention. We start to heart a bit, start to get feeling tired, though everyone goes through the same experience and will go through the same pain.

When going through the closing stage, apply signal words to keep you alert and focused. Perhaps reminding you of the famous Billy Ocean song or a Don’t Stop me know from Queen will make you sail through this phase.

Typically, the last kilometre takes care of itself. We know we are almost there and can start to prepare for the finish. Ideally, we want to make the last kilometre the fastest. Ask yourself, can you give more?

10.) Put in a Devastating Finish Kick

A good finishing kick gives us to squeeze a few more seconds out of the last kilometre. When you revise the route mark out a point from 400 to 300 meters away from the finishing. For example, the last turn in the Regent’s Park 10k before the finishing straight and start to increase your knee lift, cadence and stride width. Pump as hard as you can with your arms and control your breathing. Don’t start too soon, rather wind up the pace during the last 5km, 400m, 200m to go so that you reach your maximum speed when crossing the finishing line.

‘The Babyfaced Destroyer’ Tirunesh Dibaba or Mo Farah have a great finishing kick. Nobody can match their speed. When they start their finish kick, they will not allow getting past.  Once they start and commit to their finishing kick, then there is no holding back. Both have a long winding up kick, fast last lap type of kick or quick surge in their repertoire.

You never know if there is a finishing camera, so make sure you finish with a big smile and celebrate. Once finished, rather than standing and getting quickly cold, keep on walking to allow your body to cool down slowly.

11.) Afterwards: Cool Down the Engine

Once we crossed the finish line and managed to catch your breath, try to get into dry clothing as soon as possible. When your shirt is still wet from all the sweat and your body temperature quickly falls you will end up feeling cold and will be prone to get a cold.

By now you have accumulated lactate in the body and your muscles feel soreness. As we learnt from the blog on active recovery, a very slow jog for 1-2 km will help to accelerate your recovery by moving the lactate around the body and fuelling the muscle again. A gentle cool down jog can work wonders and can speed up your recovery.

If time permits, within half hour of the race gently stretch the major muscle groups.

12.) Rehydrating and Refuelling the Beast

In a 10k, depending on pace and weight one can easily burn up to 1,000 calories including the calories burnt after the race due to an increased metabolism.

It is vital for your recovery to replenish glycogen stores in muscles and start the muscle rebuilding through protein synthesis. Start to replenish fluids within 30 minutes of exercise.

The best window for replenishing muscle and live glycogen stores is within 30 to 60 minutes after the race. Make sure you have at least 300-400 calories, consisting of a 4:1 mix of carbohydrates and protein. Consuming protein along carbohydrates promotes better protein synthesis and muscle rebuilding. Apparently, many studies suggest chocolate milk is a cost-effective, non-sports specific product, post-race recovery drink. Within about two hours of your race eat a well-balanced meal.

As a word of warning, skipping a post-race snack is not an option. It will delay your recovery and you risk of not meeting your minimum daily energy expenditure, which can cause you a headache and illness.

13.) Retrospective Reflection

Regardless of having run a personal best, a seasons best or a personal worst, there is always something we can improve. It’s through self-reflection we can identify aspects of our performance we want to improve. Important with this is to look at the data and avoid opinions or bias.

In the last blog post, we introduced the concept of a retrospective. To begin with, revisit your performance and outcome goals. Key questions, runners should be asking themselves after the run is what worked well for the race, what did not go to plan, what could I do differently and what’s my plan of action for my next race. Only through a more formal review runners will be able to embed the learning experience form a 10k race and become unconsciously competent in racing 10ks.


Having reviewed a runner’s typical experience of what makes up a good 10k and having provided suggestions on how to turn a good into a great 10k. Chasers should be prepared and confident when it comes to the Club Championship. The 13 points covered can be refined as a checklist and reviewed from a race by race basis.

I hope all Chasers will reap the rewards for their hard training. It’s now time to put everything into practice and run your best  10k. I wish you the best of luck. Go Chasers!

Urban Bettag coaches for the Mornington Chasers and leads the development of their track training and mentors their junior coaches. He blogs and shares his wisdom about running on the Hare Brain Blog every Friday (sometimes Sunday).


“Done the Session! What Now Coach?”

Posted on October 30th, 2016 by

We enjoy our weekly dosage of speed work. It feels good when we manage to get through another tough Thursday night session before the floodlights get switched off. Undoubtedly, we get a sense of achievement and want more, no matter at what pace we run. While we are still on a high and dreaming about our next running exploits, we don’t often spend much time reflecting on a training session. Wouldn’t it be nice, if we could run every week a bit faster than the previous week? If we would know what needs to be improved, most likely we would give it a go. In this week ‘Hare Brains’ blog we explain how to review a track session.

Let’s go on a journey of guided discovery and revisit last Thursday track session. I took a sample of 4 runners and looked at their pacing and put their training session into context.

Thursday’s Track Session

Last Thursday’s coached track session consisted of sets of long and short intervals. The aim of the session was to develop speed endurance while increasing the pace throughout the session. The session serves as a ‘sharpener’ for the forthcoming 10k club championship race in Regent’s Park.

The session consisted of three sets. The first set involved running 4 repetitions of 1,000 meter at 5k pace, followed by a 400 meter active recovery jog. Next, the session progressed to 4 repetitions of 400 meter at 3k pace with 45 seconds full rest. While the last set of the session, consisted of 4 repetitions of 100 meter (aka strides) at 1,500 meter (or 1 mile) pace, followed by a 100 meter walk. There was no specific recovery in between the sets. However, a 400 meter jog after the last 400 meter repetition and before the strides was possible.

Breaking the total volume of the session down by running and recovery, The session covered 6,000 meters of fast running, following by 2,000 meters recoveries. More specific, 4,000 meters of 5k pace, 1,600 meters of 3k pace and 400 meters at 1,500 meters pace. In total, 8,000 meters, approx. 5 miles.

For a runner with a recent 5 km time of 20:30, the recommend 5k pace for the longer intervals is 1’38’’/lap and the 3k pace for the shorter intervals is 1’34’’/lap. The focus of the 100 meter strides is more on good running form rather than accurate 1,500 meter pace.


Thanks to Strava, I picked 4 runners and compared their splits. No preference on ability levels and by pure coincidence all runners are all male. Their training age is between 1 to 3 years.

For the last 4 weeks, Runner A has average 69 km (43 miles) per week, Runner B 24 km (15 miles) per week, Runner C 41 km (25 miles) and Runner D 46km (28 miles) per week. However, we can apply the same analysis for runners at all abilities.

Runner A Runner B Runner C Runner D
1 1000m 3’38’’ 4’05’’ 3’42’’ 3’24’’
2 1000m 3’44’’ 4’09’’ 3’50’’ 3’44’’
3 1000m 3’42’’ 3’59’’ 3’46’’ 3’33’’
4 1000m 3’47’’ 4’02’’ 3’47’’ 3’41’’
1 400m 1’25’’ 1’30’’ 1’24’’ 1’22’’
2 400m 1’23’’ 1’28’’ 1’20’’ 1’19’’
3 400m 1’23’’ 1’31’’ 1’23’’ 1’19’’
4 400m 1’20’’ 1’33’’ 1’23’’ 1’25’’

Table 1: Splits/Repetition

Let’s assume that each of the runners could always run a tad faster. For example, when the track is very crowded we have to spend a bit more time overtaking and lose the odd second. Others constantly worry about their pace and look every 10 seconds at their watch and check if they are still on pace. This extra effort takes time. Sometimes the weather is against us and it is very windy. Finally, some always run in lane 2 around the track, covering more distance. Regardless, let’s not make excuses and simply look at the data.

First, we want to determine the average pace for the 1,000m / 400m, i.e. their 5k and 3k pace.

Runner A Runner B Runner C Runner D
5k Pace 1000m 3’43’’ 4’04’’ 3’46’’ 3’31’’
3k Pace 400m 1’23’’ 1’30’’ 1’22’’ 1’21’’

Table 2: Average 3k and 5k Pace

Putting the runner’s average training paces into context with the splits we can see that Runner A and D started a bit too fast initially for the first 1000 meter. In contrast, Runner B started more conservative and upped the pace throughout the 1000s, while Runner C maintained the pace after a fast opening 1000 meter. Runner D did the same session off track and attributed the strong headwind for a change in pace.

Looking at the deviation from the average splits. Runners A, B and C fastest and slowest deviated up to 4 and 5 seconds from their average training pace. Approx. 2% to the time of the repetition. Overall, the training session was well executed. Ideally, we aspire towards consistency in pacing and aim to target the 5k intensity for the longer and 3k intensity for the shorter repetitions. If we are +/- 1 to 2 seconds. A high level of concentration and focus is required to achieve consistent pacing. When we are not focussed or not engaged in the task ahead, then we will not be able to perform at our best.

After the session, Runner B asked me about cadence. Cadence is important. Running 180 strides per minute (spm) is an excellent guide. Typically, when runners overstride, they achieve a lower number. 180 spm is on balance a good number with stride length and ground contact time at their optimum. The shorter the stride the higher cadence, though the pace might drop at some stage as it turned out to be difficult to maintain a higher cadence than 180. Alternatively, the longer the stride and the higher the cadence, the more ground we can cover and the better the pace. There is an optimal point for each runner when cadence, pace, stride length and ground contact time are in balance. Maintaining good running form is important. Having a good running rhythm and running relaxed will help us to get more out of every stride. Upper body posture, looking ahead, good arm drive and running with the pelvis in a neutral position will help us running more efficiently.

Runner A and C are of similar ability, while Runner B is a tad slower. Runner A has a recent 5k time of 19’30’’, while Runner B and C don’t have a 5k time yet. In fact, Runner A managed to set a new PB in the next parkrun and ran 19’00’’. Runner B and C both have only a 10k time, Runner B would be around 22’00’’ for the 5k and Runner C around 24’00’’, though Runner C can run much faster. However, let’s not speculate, Runner B and C should test themselves in a parkrun and put their 5k race time in context to their training time.

The Four-Second Rule

From a runner’s perspective, it can be quite confusing to work out the different paces. However, those of you, who train on the tack on a regular basis and monitor your training paces notice that depending on the distance, paces can vary. For example, we all can do a quick 200 meter. However, when it comes to maintaining the same pace for a 400 meter we struggle to maintain the pace. Same applies when we run a swift 400 meter. It would leave us exhausted for 800 meters.

Frank Horwill MBE, a British Distance Coaching guru, spotted that there is a relationship between those paces. Horwill came up with the ‘Four-Second Rule’, which says. Whenever one doubles the distance, the pace per laps increases by 4 seconds. This rule becomes useful whenever we try to identify training paces up / down from the 5k event. For example, for our runner with a 5km time of 20:30 the 5k pace is 1’38’’ per lap. If we train for the next classic distance down from the 5k, the 3k race paces would be 1’34’’ lap. On the other hand, if we run repetitions at 10k pace, then the recommended 10k pace would be 1’42’’. However, keep in mind, it is not an axiom, the ‘Four-Second Rule’ provides a useful guide especially for the shorter distances and training for the track. Predicting half marathon and marathon paces from a 5k time may only work for well-trained athletes.

Let’s apply the ‘Four Second Rule’ for the 5k and 3k paces for our 3 runners.

Runner A Runner B Runner C
5k Pace 1000m 1’29’’ 1’37’’ 1’30’’ 1’26’’
3k Pace 400m 1’23’’ 1’30’’ 1’22’’ 1’21’’
Difference 6’’ 7’’ 8’’ 5’’

Table 3: Difference in Pacing

As we can the ‘Four Second Rule’ would be more a 7 second rule. We can assume that the formula applies to very well trained and experienced track athletes. A slight modification applies for improvers. Certainly, for Runners A, B and C a good start for next week’s session would be to apply their achieved average paces as a starting pace and improve throughout the session.

Becoming competent in pacing

Acquiring the skill of pacing is best explained using the Conscious Competency Model. Noel Burch developed the Conscious Competency Model in the 1970s. The model helps us to describe our learning journey from becoming conscious (i.e. being aware) and competent, being proficient and knowledgeable about something.

When we learn a new skill, we are unconsciously incompetent. We don’t know what to look out for and we cannot see and understand the how to apply the skill. We lack awareness and knowledge.

Once we increase our awareness about the new skills we try to learn and understand some of the nuances, then we become consciously incompetent. We understand that there is something required to apply the skill, though we still don’t fully get it yet and don’t know what to do about it. We have not received the full set of instructions on how to fix the problem through applying the new skill.

Next, even once we have an idea or have been given the instructions how to tackle the problem we start to become consciously competent. At this stage, we have developed the competency, though it still requires an amount of effort to apply the instructions. When consciously competent learning continues through feedback to strive for mastery. For runners, getting to this stage is important as learning and adapting throughout the season, like any other sport is an essential skill to have as an improving runner. If we train the same, we stay the same.

Ultimately, through a lot of practice, we become unconsciously competent. We don’t have to think too hard about applying a skill, intuitively we do it the right way and have developed mastery in the skill.


When we are new to interval training and track sessions, we are perhaps overconfident, set off too quickly as we have don’t understand how to pace and the physiological changes the body goes through when running. We are unconsciously incompetent. We have not developed the awareness and the knowledge how to train. After some feedback and a lot of training, we got pretty good at running fast. Through more feedback and reflection we have developed a better awareness of the various pacing intensities. Through an increase in knowledge about the training, we developed a good understanding and started to be proficient about pacing. With a further practice and more feedback eventually, we reach a point of mastery. In most of the sessions, your pacing is spot on. You experienced improvement in your running on and off the track.

Going through this learning cycle is important. Only once we have explored and understood the problem of pacing, then we can develop tactics for improvement. Runners will most likely only make those right actions, once they have developed the awareness or a coach has guided through questions/answering.


A retrospective is a good way for individuals to pause, take stock and reflect on how their progress has been. Retrospectives have been introduced by the therapist Virgina Satir in a family therapy setting. However, the underpinning principle is universal. The essence of the method is first reflecting on what has happened in the past (both positive and negative) and then deciding on what to do in the future to improve.

Those self-reflections help identify potential areas for improvements. A regular retrospective helps individuals to improve their performance. Discuss the outcomes of a self-reflection with friends, fellow runners or coaches.

I prefer to keep the retrospective simple and limit it to 4 questions:

  • What worked well?
  • What did not work so well?
  • What do you want to do differently next time?
  • What do I commit to improving?

Spending 5 to 10 minutes and making a couple of notes is all that it takes. Once a month, look back through your notes and see where you are and how you are progressing.

It is worth considering to have relevant training data at hand, which will avoid stating opinions and getting locked. Don’t go through a retrospective not too frequently. Otherwise, a retrospective can be rushed and become routine.

Analysis and reflections need time. Often when we see various points in front of us, we can better relate them and come up with better options to resolve them.

As we learned from one of the previous blogs on the Inner Game. You will be more likely learn and improve if you develop an awareness of your strength and weaknesses.

Example of a retrospective

We asked one of the runners to provide feedback based on the questions mentioned in the previous section.

What worked well?

  • Breaking out from work early afternoon and doing it by myself.
  • Deciding to do the intervals along Embankment (mostly on the cycle-path) was good as essentially flat and no obstacles – as close to track conditions as possible.
  • Hitting a rhythm over the last couple of 1ks and a more powerful ones in the 400ms.
  • Maintained energy and speed over entire session, unlike last week when suffered over the last 1,600m.

What did not work so well?

  • Ideally, do this on the track with others, but work commitments will occasionally get in the way.
  • Ease back on the pacing; I was too quick compared to the pacing from last week’s session.  I have a strong feeling that I’ve already become quicker though.
  • As I set distances/rest times on my watch, the rest/jog/walks during the transition between 1ks, 400ms, 100ms was slightly longer than planned as was reconfiguring watch.
  • Sort out how strides should work; build up over 30m, accelerate over 30m, ease back over 30m.

What do you want to do differently next time?

  • For an interval session away from the track, this was a good effort.
  • Perhaps a slightly longer warm-up next time, with a few more strides to warm up the body better for the first interval.
  • Focus in on getting the acceleration/deceleration on strides spot on.

What will I improve?

  • I’ll be following the winter schedule, and should make it to the track.
  • Recalculate 5k/3k pacing based on this session, and follow the pacing strategy/strides profile better than this week.

The retrospective highlighted raised awareness regarding practising pacing in training. It worked well for the runner to create his conducive environment by adapting a track session to the road. In a next session, the athlete will keep a closer look at his pacing and will approach the next training unit with more discipline.


To get out more of your weekly track session, make sure you arrive prepared at the track and know how to determine your training paces. Horwill’s 4-Second Rule provides an easy way to determine 3k and 10k paces based on a recent 5k performance. In doubt, the pace calculator on the Mornington Chaser website can do the calculation for you.

While it is important to practise pacing in training, it is equally important to practice pacing in a race. When going into a race, runners need to have confidence in their ability and need to apply a race strategy. Revisiting your training paces will provide you with a good starting point for your target race pace.

When asked what is the best piece of advice former British running legend Ron Hill could give to any up and coming runners. His answer was to keep a training log. The training log provides an opportunity to go back and check what you have done before and what tweaks you have applied to your training. It’s an important record to facilitate your learning. Technology can assist runners when it comes capture data, though there still is a need for analysis, retrospective and reflection. When we skip this phase, we risk of missing out a valuable learning opportunity.

Don’t be afraid to make changes to your training. If something doesn’t work out for you, then there is no point making the same mistakes over and over again. Self-reflection is a good start turning a training experience into a learning opportunity. Self-assessment is the first step towards improvement. Ask yourself what works well for you, what does not work so well and what could you do to improve and what changes are you willing to commit.

Urban Bettag coaches for the Mornington Chasers and leads the development of their track training and mentors their junior coaches. He blogs and shares his wisdom about running on the Hare Brain Blog every Friday (sometimes Sunday).


Tune-Up Races during Marathon Training

Posted on October 22nd, 2016 by

From time to time I follow Premier League football. I don’t have a particular team and neither am I informed on the ability of any particular team, though I follow with interest Jürgen Klopp and Liverpool FC. Jürgen Klopp has a diploma in Sports Science. His thesis was on race walking, so he must have an appreciation of endurance events.

Shortly after I have submitted the last blog entry on active recoveries, I went onto the BBC website and came across the very latest post on Jürgen Klopp (video). Klopp heard about the premier league fixtures during boxing day. Needless to say, he wasn’t pleased that he has to play Manchester City, a top team coached by the Spaniard Pep Guardiola followed 48 hours later to play an away game to FC Sunderland, coached by David Moyes. Klopp was slowly winding up his point, stating two matches in less than 48 hours are not the way to go about it. He admitted that he enjoys watching football during boxing days like many other football fans. However, he raised the point that all other teams around Europe take a break. Many players will have played more than 20 games by Christmas already. There is a risk of injury from playing too many games. More vital in Premier League football as a lot of money is at stake. Klopp suggests to take a break and claims this would help the England Team to perform better in big tournaments. What can we learn from Jürgen Klopp when we are training for a marathon and running too many tune-up races?

Spring Marathons

Last week the Virgin Money London Money Marathon announced the results of the ballot. Many including me have received their rejection magazine through the letter box. Running for a charity is the final option to get into the London Marathon. With London out of the way, most start to look at Manchester or Brighton, perhaps consider running a marathon in Europe – Paris, Rotterdam, Zurich, Vienna, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Barcelona, etc. are worthy city marathon alternatives with a flat and fast course.

Many spring marathons take place between March and April. Once we made up our mind and paid the entry fee, we then have to worry about signing up for a Half-Marathon as a tune-up race. There is a common belief that when one trains for the marathon, then a Half-Marathon needs to be done before a marathon, even if the physiological demands for the Half-Marathon are slightly different compared to the marathon. Ironically, most of the elite runners, once their agents managed to secure them a place in a big city marathon will either not be allowed to race due to a risk of injury or none of the other event organisers want to hire a top runner when not committed and specifically training for their event. There must be some explanation for what makes runners run half-marathons before a marathon.

Marathon Training

Between now and London Marathon, most try to get back into the groove and get their base fitness sorted. Working on strength & conditioning during the dark winter evenings helps too.

From January onwards, folks should start to look at their general preparation, building on the base fitness and expanding the long run. With 6-8 weeks to go, the marathon specific phase occupies most of March followed by a 2-3 weeks taper in April.

We now have a dilemma of finding a Half-Marathon race and fitting it in. When we choose a race, then likely a long run has to give way. We also want to do well and expect a PB, which hopefully sets us up nicely for the marathon.

What to do? There are many Half-Marathons on offer. It’s a busy market with Half-Marathons every weekend. On the other when running too many races during training, will it negatively affect my marathon training. These are general considerations among marathon runners.

Should I run a half-marathon?

Given the training circumstances, one can either run a Half-Marathon in the general preparation phase, specific phase or during the taper phase.

The aim of the taper phase is to get as fresh as possible and ready for the marathon it would not be advisable to run a Half-Marathon close to the marathon. While likely in good form, capitalising on the previous training cycles, an athlete need to factor in the recovery required when running the Half-Marathon. Also, there could be a risk of injury, endangering the marathon.

Having out ruled the taper phase, this leaves the general preparation or the specific marathon preparation phase. Towards the end of a general preparation would be an ideal time to test the waters with a Half-Marathon. The mileage is moderate, the intensity of the training is not too high. On the other hand, racing in March when runners need to practice their long runs should happen, running a Half-Marathon will be a bad idea. Most athletes reach their peak weekly mileage and train quite hard. The compound training effect suggests that we will be unlikely at our best form or fresh for a race. Further, whenever training volume and intensity increase/reduces and cross over, then there is a risk of injury.

When is the best time to run a Half-Marathon?

An ideal window of opportunity for racing a Half-Marathon is between February and early March. Wokingham or Brighton are well positioned for those wanting to build up to the London Marathon.

Vitality Brighton Marathon (9/4/2017)

In a 16 weeks marathon build up, the general preparation phase starts mid-December and lasts until mid-January. Competitive phase and taper starts in late March.

  • Fred Hughes 10m (January, 22nd 2017)
  • Watford Half-Marathon (February 5th 2017)

ASICS Greater Manchester Marathon (2/4/2017)

Similar to Brighton, though Manchester is a week earlier.

  • Fred Hughes 10m (January, 22nd 2017)
  • Watford Half-Marathon (February 5th 2017)

Virgin Money London Marathon (23/4/2017)

In a 16 weeks marathon build up, the general preparation phase should start early January and should last until mid-February. Competitive phase and taper starts in April.

  • Hampton Court Half-Marathon (February, 19th 2017)
  • Vitality Brighton Half-Marathon (26th February 2017)


Figure 1: Example Virgin Money London Marathon

Volume and Intensity during the Marathon specific phase

During the marathon specific phase, as the name suggests, the focus needs to be specific to the event demands of the marathon.

Within the last 6-8 weeks of the marathon, the focus needs to be on the long run rather than the Half-Marathon. The long run is run at a slower pace in comparison to the marathon and the Half-Marathon. The purpose of the long run is to build endurance, strength and prepare your body to source energy from fat rather than muscle glycogen. As the Half-Marathon is typically run at a faster pace in comparison with the marathon, the sourcing of fuels relies more on muscle glycogen rather than body fat. If we race week in week out during this phase we never properly train for the marathon and teach the body to burn fat as fuel efficiently or practice our breakfast and fuelling strategy. Instead, we are mainly using muscle glycogen and we are missing out on preparing ourselves for the later stages during a marathon.

Volume and Intensity

Figure 2: Volume vs. Intensity

Sure, some runners prefer to get constant feedback from a race result, though the risk is high, when it matters on marathon day to underperform and treat the season’s goal as just another race. Physiologically, we will be missing out on the most important training unit for the marathon, the long run.

While there are ‘cut-back’ weeks in a marathon specific phase, i.e. very third of fourth week there is a week of reduced volume and intensity to allow the body to repair itself from the previous week’s training, some runners use this opportunity to run a ½ marathon. However, instead of focusing on recovery, some will up the intensity once more and will accept a few more days of post-race recovery. Choose wisely when it comes to including a tune-up race during the marathon specific phase.

Are there any other options?

If you need to take part in a race during your marathon campaign, then the following options come to mind.

Option 1 – Run a Half-Marathon at your target marathon pace. 

Resist racing a Half-Marathon at your Half-Marathon pace and rather shift a gear down. After a 1 or 2 miles of an easy warm-up run 8-9 miles at your target marathon pace and follow on with a cool-down of another 1-2 miles. Operating at a lower intensity will ensure your training remains marathon specific and you rehearse your marathon target pace. This approach requires a lot of discipline, especially during the first few miles when everyone around you is running hard.

Option 2 – Run a 20 Mile race as a training run at your long slow distance pace.

In the build-up to the London Marathon, there are a few 20 Mile races. 20 Mile races are a bit old school. For example, there is the Finchley 20. A 20 Mile race is an excellent opportunity to master long runs, while not having to worry about drinks and nutrition. However, resist the urge of running a 20 Miler as an all-out effort. You will only end up depleting your glycogen muscle stores. Rather than a few miles at your target marathon race or 5% slower than your marathon target pace and practice pacing, fuelling and drinking.

Option 3 – Running a shorter race as part of a long distance run.

For example, run 10k at an easy pace, run a 10k at marathon pace followed by another 10k run. Logistically, challenging to make it to the start line on time.

While there are options, too many tune-up races during marathon training can be counterproductive. Due to the accumulated fatigue of increased training week in week out we will not be physically in the best position to run a Half-Marathon personal best.


When it comes to training and racing, everyone is different and an experiment of one. What works for one doesn’t work for others. Some are happy to work with patience toward a big goal, while others need stepping stones along the way to fuel their motivation.

Considering a lot of commitment is required when training for a marathon, my advice is to avoid running a Half-Marathon during the marathon specific phase. It’s best to use a Half-Marathon as a marker at the end of the general preparation phase to assess the level of fitness. Once we know where we are fitness-wise, we will address weaknesses and will train more focused through the marathon specific phase.

As we have seen, during the marathon specific phase we will hit the peak weekly mileage, we will be running our longest runs. The combined volume and intensity will reach its peak. Runners need to be mindful during the marathon phase not to overload their body and increase the risk of injury. Contrary, ensuring enough recovery after the long runs will become vital. Sticking to structured training plan helps to navigate around those weeks of specific training and keep the risk of injuries at bay.

Psychologically, during the taper phase, the focus needs to be on the marathon. When we get distracted by running a 10k, we are less focused and will not take the final days before the race too seriously. When running a marathon, respect the distance and the training you need to be doing.

As I finished this blog, looking at the premier league table. Klopp must have done something right with his planning as his Liverpool FC shares the top spot.

Urban Bettag coaches for the Mornington Chasers and leads the development of their track training and mentors their junior coaches. He blogs and shares his wisdom about running on the Hare Brain Blog every Friday (sometimes Saturday).


Active Recoveries in Interval Training

Posted on October 15th, 2016 by

We all have done interval sessions with full or active recoveries. In this week’s blog, we want to explore the concept of active recoveries a bit more.

Last week, I received an invite from Dr Matt Long to join his Facebook group ‘BUAC (Birmingham University Athletics Club) – Education & Resources’. Matt posted a short video showing BUAC athletes during their recoveries. Some were standing, others were jogging during their recoveries. Matt asked which athlete would you rather be? The athlete who is resting or the other one jogging during the recovery. Considering the amount of interval training sessions we have done I thought, this would be worthwhile a ‘Hare Brains’ blog post.

To better understand what is going on physiologically and psychologically within an interval session we have to revisit its parts and intended purpose before we can draw conclusions on what type of recoveries work best in which circumstances and how athletes can benefit from active recoveries.

Repetition vs. Interval Training

The terms repetition and interval training are often used interchangeably for anything speedwork related. However, there are subtle differences between both methods of training. Like most quality running sessions, a session consists of hard running (repetitions) for a set distance/time followed by jogging or a pause (interval). When referring to ‘repetition’, we mean the part of actively running, while the interval, is the pause between repetitions.

Depending on the training emphasis, interval and repetition training have different aims. During a repetition session bouts of fast running can be run faster at race pace for set distance or time. The focus is on what happens within the repetition, e.g. how fast to run. The time between repetitions can be several minutes or whatever time it takes to be able to run the next repeat at high intensity. For example, 4x 400m (800m Race Pace) [7’ Rest], 4 repetitions of 400m at 800m race pace followed by 7 minutes rest.

Interval training, on the other hand, focusses more on what happens in between the repetitions, while the pace/speed of the repetitions is less strict. Interval training is used with shorter repetitions to promote greater heart stroke volume.

An interval session 12x 400m (5k) [1’20’’ ’active jog recovery], 12 repetitions of 400m at 5k race pace followed by a jog for 1’20’’.

Important to remember that interval training is a kind of repetition training. However, not all forms of repetition training are interval training.

Active vs. Full/Rest Recoveries

During Thursday track sessions we have practiced active and full recoveries. For example, a lap of jogging after 4x 1km or a 45’’ full recovery after 400m. By full recovery, we mean rest, the athlete tries to speed up recovery by waiting between intervals and reduce the heart rate as quickly as possible towards 120 beats per minute (bpm).

An active, jogging recovery, once finished with a repetition the athlete would continue and jog during the recovery period. The heart rate reduces slowly, though will unlikely hit the same levels in comparison to the full recovery. While running at a lower heart rate during recovery, physiologically, the heart expands and pumps volumes of blood around and gets strengthened.

Lactate – Friend of foe?

When we train on the track and push hard throughout the session, we experience a sensation of exhaustion, tiredness, fatigue and soreness. In contrast, when we go for an easy run we finish with a feeling of being energised and able to run further. Depending on our pace, we have to fuel the body with energy. When running slow, we use glycogen stored in the muscle and fat. When going faster, we shift the fuel mix and increase the amount of muscle glycogen and lower the portion of fat as fuel.

When athletes get asked what is going on, often athletes refer to ‘lactic acid’ started to build, a burning sensation in their muscles, preventing them maintaining the pace. The common perception is that lactic acid is not good for you.

The truth is the human body does not produce ‘lactic acid’. As a by-product during running, the body produces only lactate and not the acid form. Lactate is a source of fuel (for muscles) and good for you. The amount of lactate created depends on the exercise intensity and running speed. When running slow, we produce small amounts of lactate, which the body recycles as fuel for the muscles. When running fast (i.e. min 80% of maximum heart rate), we produce more lactate. When lactate becomes available, it can be recycled and contrary to common belief can help to delay fatigue and serve as a fuel for muscles.

To take advantage of this fuel, when we start to produce lactate, we can recycle lactate into fuel when we shuttle the lactate around the legs and feed the muscles. To maximise performance, either improve the rate of recycling lactate or a reduce the production of lactate at higher speeds.

A new kind of Interval Training

The concept of active recoveries has been around for years. Initially, I came across when I read an article from Peter Thompson on the New Interval training, which explains the physiological side between classic and new interval training with active recoveries. Thompson refers to this form of training lactate dynamics training. Thompson suggests converting most traditional interval training sessions into a new interval session (aka lactate dynamics session). For example, 12x 400m (5k) (1’ Rest) becomes 12x 400m (5k) (200m Active Recovery Jog) or even better 3x 4x 400m (5k) (200m Active Recovery Jog)(400m Jog in between sets). By making the interval more active the heart rate will come down more slowly during the interval, though stays higher in comparison to full rest, body promotes the lactate shuttle and enables athletes to spend more time their maximum oxygen uptake.

While there is certain strength and training age required to make it through a 6k-8k training session with active recoveries, those new to sessions can incorporate walking recoveries, reduce the session volume and slowly progress their active recoveries over a few weeks.

Important, many runners run their repetition too hard and end up running the reps at their best race effort rather than their form on the day. In all sessions we do we refer to the most recent 3k, 5k or 10k pace, not your lifetime best pace for 4k, 5k or 10k. Further, we have to put the interval session into the wider context of the season. Fitness and form will progress and so will your training paces through consistent practice.

Isn’t this Fartlek?

The concept of bouts of fast running followed by relaxed running over varying distances is also known as Fartlek, Fartlek is a Swedish term for ‘fart’ (speed) and ‘lek’ (play), roughly ‘fartlek’ translates to ‘speed-play’. As the name suggests, a more playful, less rigid and structured approach to speed development.

Former Swedish decathlete and cross-country coach Göta Holmér introduced the Fartlek training method in 1937. At the time Paavo Nurmi dominated long distance running and Holmér had to find a new approach to improve the Sweden’s XC team performance against the ‘Flying Finns’. Developing speed endurance, through running short bouts at faster than race pace speeds with good running rhythm followed by easy running as part of a longer run proved to be effective. Fartlek training improves speed, stamina, running economy and endurance. Holmér most famous proteges were Gunder Hägg and Arne Andersson. Hägg was the first athlete to break 14 mins (13:58.2) for the 5,000m and his 4:01.4 for the mile was a world record at the time, which was broken 9 years later by Roger Bannister.

A typical fartlek session according to Holmér is 8-9 miles long which incorporates a 3 mile of fartlek in a natural setting. For example, for Hägg’s 4’01” mile (race pace), a (structured) fartlek session a la Holmér during his peak period could have been 24x 200m (mile pace) [200m active recovery], or time-based 24x 30” (mile pace) [~50” active recovery]. To get a full session, embed the fartlek in a 25′ warm-up and 25′ cool-down.

Something for you to try out on a Tuesday Night. Remember, a traditional Fartlek session is unstructured, and the athlete chooses intuitively, spontaneously for how long and how fast the bouts of intense and relaxed running are. The active recoveries in between the bouts of fast running will help to refuel the muscle with lactate. This session can be done on undulating terrain and can be run individually or in a group.

Physiological Dimension of Active Recoveries

One could do an experiment, run a session of 4x 1,200m [5k] (3’) with full and active recoveries by wearing the heart rate monitor. During full recoveries, well-trained athlete’s heart rate will quickly drop towards 120 bpm and even further. Typically, athletes spend the first 200m into the 1,200m repetition, bringing the heart rate quickly up towards 95% of their maximum HR and try to maintain the heart rate at that level for the duration of the repetition.

Full vs Active Recovery

Full vs Active Recovery

Figure 1: Full vs. Active Recovery

When applying active recoveries, the heart rate never drops to 120 bpm (more likely 140 bpm). As a consequence, when starting the first repetition, less time is required to reach 95% of maximum HR again. For example, athletes reach their effective heart rate sooner, already 50 meters into the session. If we add up the additional gain of training at 95% maximum heart rate for each repetition, we will end up with a total quality training time at 95% of max. HR, which could provide a greater training stimulus. If we all add up those gains for each repetition when applying active recoveries, then athletes can get more out of the session in comparison with an interval session based on full recoveries.

Psychological Dimension of Active Recovery

In an interview on BUAC, British coaching legend, Bud Baldaro made an interesting observation. In most races there is no walking involved, active recoveries mimic a race situation and keep the athlete engaged in the session. The focus remains on running. When standing still, the mind quickly fades, gets distracted, lose focus and concentration.


It is desirable to take advantage of the lactate shuttle and apply active recoveries during an interval session. However, as pointed out it depends on the training and biological age of the athletes. Those with a few years training age can handle the intensity and have the aerobic capacity to apply jog recoveries, while a beginner may struggle, though a walking recovery is a good alternative as well. Next time you train on the track, don’t beat yourself up when you have not hit your target pace, rather focus on the active recoveries and the training benefits it will have for you.

Urban Bettag coaches for the Mornington Chasers and leads the development of their track training and mentors their junior coaches. He blogs and shares his wisdom about running on the Hare Brain Blog every Friday.


Finding Your Inner Hare – Part II

Posted on October 7th, 2016 by

Getting your performance factors aligned

Beyond the detail of a quality training session, there must be a wider, more holistic view regarding what Is involved in good running performance. In sports, there is a commonly known model for understanding ‘performance’ and what factors contribute to a good performance. You don’t have to be on lottery funding to have a view about your own performance. For ourselves and circumstances vary, we can always improve through reflecting on our own performance. The common factors contributing to performance are physical, psychological, tactical, technical and lifestyle. You may think of age, speed, strength, etc. these are all relevant, though these are all examples of physical factors. There is no specific factor more important than the other. For example, you could be (physically) well trained, but perform (tactically) poor in races. Hence, it’s the sum of the parts which maximises your overall performance. While I will not be able to influence on lifestyle choices, we can always develop all other 4 performance factors. During training, we touch on physical, tactical and technical, but often neglect psychological aspects. For example, when we had a busy day at work and start to train in a tired state we cannot be our best. On the other hand, we could feel fatigued, but feel positive about running. Once we develop a bit of awareness of the performance factors, then we can find something we can improve and get a bit extra.

The 4Cs

Looking at performance from a psychological point of view, we can think of the 4 Cs of Sports Psychology – Concentration, Confidence, Control, and Commitment. All very important, and again the sum of the parts gets the most out of you.

For example concentration. This is best achieved by focusing on the task ahead. When we perform a set of running form drills we need to fully concentrate so that we can execute the movement and can ensure the nerves fire at the right time and our muscles are working. For the running part of the session, rather than thinking about the whole session and getting overwhelmed, look forward to just completing the interval and start to worry about the next one once you finished the previous one. Alternatively, you want to maintain concentration by thinking through how many straights and bends do I need to over, when should I concentrate on my form? Often we give a lot of effort and ignore running form. When it gets tough going give yourself a mental cue (‘hips!’,’knees!’) to what to watch out for. As a last resort, some positive re-affirmation helps to bounce back. Mental tricks the best runners apply during their bone breaking workouts. Try running with a smile on your face next time, you may surprise yourself.

Your Inner Game

In sports psychology, one of the earliest writing came from Timothy Gallwey. Gallwey wrote a book called The Inner Game of Golf, which was followed up by The Inner Game of Tennis. He studied many golf players and worked out the things they do to perfect their game. His findings were that to maximise performance and grow potential, what most folks aspire towards, one has to cut out interference. For example, assumptions and believes can get in the way how we perform. As mentioned earlier, my parkrun buddy Ed, who believes he has to start fast, doubts about his pacing and lack of finishing kick. Unless he has developed the awareness and the required concentration of what he is doing, he will not be able to apply possible instructions to minimise interference and improve on his potential.

Different perspective

There are certain thought processes to go through beyond just looking at the track session details. Next time you train to give it a try, reflect on your performance factors, revisit the 4Cs, minimise any interference and you may discover that there is an inner hare lurking in you.

To find your inner hare, there is a lot you can do, which is in your control. When I observe and watch you running, I don’t give a lot of attention to the stop watch, rather I am looking at the whole how you progress through the session, how you apply yourself, how your performance factors develop over time, how well you apply the 4Cs and how well have you executed the session?

Back to my nemesis Ed, who I mentioned at the beginning  of the week. We recently took a break and decided to do the Great Gorilla Run (5m). Same story again, during the 6th km I was closing fast, Ed was 20 meters ahead, and I was on auto pilot for the last 400m etc. Unfortunately, my game plan didn’t work out! The race was 600m short, Ed finished a few seconds ahead of me. Lesson learnt, do your research, know the course and don’t always rely on your GPS watch.

Urban Bettag coaches for the Mornington Chasers and leads the development of their track training and mentors their junior coaches. He blogs and shares his wisdom about running on the Hare Brain Blog every Friday.