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On Making a National Record - Part 2

Part two in a four-part series of half marathon national record holder Hitomi Niiya and coach Masato Yokota answering questions about her training. Part one here.

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Niiya: I didn't think [the national record] would be that hard to break. All I thought about was 3:10/km. When I looked up what Kayoko Fukushi's half marathon national record was it was 3:11/km pace. To get the record I had to go 3:10 pace. Up to 10 km that'd be no problem. The problem was after that. When I'd done a half marathon before my legs were dead in the second half. That worried me, but not the idea of going for the national record or anything in the training program. 10000 m is my specialty, and the pace there is 3:05/km. My coach suggested setting that pace, 74 seconds for a track 400 m, as the basic reference, no faster. That was the only point that was fixed, but while I didn't think it'd be easy I wasn't worried about stepping up the distance.

Q. Was setting that kind of reference a way of dealing with worries about losing speed as the distance built up?

Coach: It was never to be broken. That's why once a week there was a session of 400 m intervals at 74 seconds. I got some questions from overseas about why there were a lot of 400 m sessions in a half marathon training program, so I guess that's not something the average half marathoner or marathoner does much.

Another thing that was important was that she not lose what she'd done up to that point. Instead of just suddenly giving her a half marathon training plan I came up with, I wanted to do something that would be an extension of what she'd been doing up to then. I knew that 400 m intervals had been an important part of her training before then. I thought in terms of how to apply that to the half marathon.

For any athlete, it's important to optimize body movement at race pace and at faster than race pace, to get your body used to it. That's why we did stationary recoveries between intervals instead of jogging. In her training plan recovery was listed as 30 seconds or 45 seconds, not in terms of distance to jog. The idea was to run through the line, come back to the start, rest, and do it again, not to jog to recover. This is a lot easier than jogging 100 m in 30 seconds in between.

Q. It seems like you'd have problems with lactic acid buildup that way.

Niiya: It's way easier than jogging to recover. Stopping for 30 seconds and then starting again is way easier than jogging 200 m in 1 minute.

Coach: That way you can focus on running 74 second pace. If you're doing a jog recovery you have to worry about it not being too slow or too fast, and that makes it harder to hit 74 seconds the next time. That's why stationary recovery was important.

It also makes it easier to compare sessions. Overseas the norm is to do variable pace workouts. Instead of running 400 m race pace and then doing a slow 200 m recovery, they do it fast. 4:00/km is about 48 seconds per 200 m. The average runner might do a 200 m recovery in 60 seconds, but instead of that they do it in 48 seconds and then go back to race pace. When evaluating a session they look at the total time, like if they're doing 5x400 m with 200 m recovery, the total is 3000 m, and they look at the total time for 3000 m. With a faster recovery the total time gets faster even if the 400 m reps get slower.

Of course there are times when we want to take a physiological approach, so there were some sessions like that in her plan. There were workouts where she'd do an easy 3200 m after a hard 1600 m. But more than that we wanted to focus on running race pace, so there were more 400 m interval sessions with standing recovery.

Niiya: Basically everything had a stationary start. It was the first time I'd done it that way. Before that I'd always done 200 m recovery jogs. I had the idea that if I did standing recovery my legs would lose their rhythm and it would get harder. 400 m intervals are important to me, and I want to do each and every one of them seriously. When I saw my teammate Ran Urabe doing intervals that way, it didn't seem like doing standing recovery had a bad effect on running the second half compared to jog recovery.

If you're doing jog recovery then to a little extent you have to use a bit of energy on the jog. If you're trying to jog 200 m in 1 minute then in the second half of the jog the focus breaks down. So, even though I had my doubts at first, this time I did stationary recovery and found that I could maintain running at set rhythm and hold it until the end.

I don't like slowing down my pace, either. It's just me personally, but when I do a build-up run, if I start at 4:00/km and then I pick it up to 3:50/km, I'll absolutely want to go at least one second faster than 3:50 on the next split. I don't have a good impression of runs where you speed up and slow down. I don't think it's good training. A build-up where you keep getting faster and faster does more for you. Basically I didn't want to do workouts where the pace goes up and down, so I think my coach designed the plan around that part of my personality. Maybe.

Q. Is it that once you're going, you want to just keep going or go even faster?

Niiya: Yeah, that's right.

Coach: Doing recovery jogs between intervals does have benefits in terms of dealing with lactic acid through continued movement. But rhythm is key for her, so the number or reps were set so that she could maintain it. Even in half marathon-oriented training, to maintain that rhythm she had to hit every interval. Thinking in those terms, I thought that doing recovery jogs would put a lot of unnecessary strain on her legs.

Q. So even though it was just a recovery, you didn't want to create extra risk by adding the small increments of extra distance?

Coach: Yes, and so the most effective approach was for her to do stationary recovery.

Q. Do you think universities might be interested in that approach as a way of integrating track and road focus?

Coach: It's important to look at how to expand what's been done and grow further, but without looking at the individual I don't think it's possible. It worked in her case but it might not be the same for everybody else.

Q. Would you say that this was a training plan based on your knowledge and optimized for Niiya, and that it might not be the same way you'd deal with other athletes you look after?

Coach: I think the approach with someone like, say, Kazuyoshi Tamogami from Chuo University is different. In his case, I'd have him do the variable pace runs Niiya wouldn't. We'd start with a 65-minute continuous movement workout. Niiya already had the base to do that. Even her easy runs are high-quality. It's easy to see that she has outstanding ability just from watching her train, and her basic purpose is different. I thought in terms of taking her base and bringing out certain elements. In Tamogami's case, we had to take a middle-distance runner and start by building a body that could run a half marathon for Hakone.

Q. Her morning runs are as fast as the Komazawa University group pace runs, or even faster.

Coach: She might have been able to do this off the same training as Hakone guys, but after that would she have run a 5000 m PB? There are differences like that. It was key this time to fully cover the bases for 5000 m and 10000 m training. Picking up the pace from 74 to 70 seconds.

Part three here. Part four to follow.

source article:
translated and edited by Brett Larner

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Gordon said…
Was the philosophy to either (1) build up the workload gradually through the 100 days (2) keep a constant level of volume throughout the 100 days (3) incorporate regular "down weeks" with less volume at periods throughout the 100 days?

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