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On Making a National Record - Part 3

Part three 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 and part two here.

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Q. Looking through the questions you received, a lot of people thought you were setting the bar pretty high with the two starting points you mentioned earlier.

Coach: The kind of person with the mentality to pull them off is someone you have to be careful around.

Niiya: Around the end of October coach told me over dinner, "You're going for the NR in the half." I already knew I'd do a half over the winter to work on strengthening my legs, like when I did a guest run at the Minato City Half Marathon in December, but it seemed like coach had positioned it as a national record shot. I asked him, "Are you serious?" He said he knew we thought differently, but after that I tried to do all my training with full awareness of what we were going for.

Q. Did you feel like you could get the job done physically and mentally within the three months you had?

Niiya: Given my personality, I thought it was enough time. I'm not very good at staying focused on something for a long time. Three months was plenty.

Coach: After we published the training diary there were a lot of comments that the frequency of the sessions was high. Did you think it actually was?

Niiya: Nah.

Coach: Right? [both laugh]

Niiya: Compared to the 5000 m and 10000 m, you don't really see people falling down after they finish a marathon or half, do you? The finish in those races isn't the kind where you breathe so hard you collapse. To be honest, doing the half training I always felt like I was holding back. For someone like me who always kills it in training, that was a good thing. I didn't have to worry about suffering like in a 5000 m or 10000 m, so a little tiny part of me liked it. [laughs]

Q. Does that mean you of all people don't like the 5000 m and 10000 m because they're hard?

Niiya: They're hard, yeah. But that doesn't mean I want to move from the track to running half marathons and marathons. No way. There's no way I want to keep running for more than two hours. [laughs] It was a mistake to start running to begin with. For some reason I put up my hand for the track and field club, but when I was in junior high school I should have become a loyal member of the go straight home from school club.

Q. Can you talk about some of the other responses you got to the training program?

Coach: A lot of people wanted to know the weekly mileage.

Niiya: I don't keep a training log, but I figure I run about 200 km a week. 800 km a month. Friday afternoons are off, so I do some strength training and a 15 km jog. Since there's no strength training on Sundays I find the time to run 20 km. Altogether it adds up to 29~30 km a day, about 200 km a week.

The right mileage is different for everyone, and there are probably people who can run for real without doing 200 km a week. You can't really say that that kind of mileage is totally essential. That was just the mileage that worked for me. Even right after actually doing the half my legs were fine. I still had a little more in me.

Coach: The weekly distance was 200 km, but there was some flexibility built in. Only running once on Fridays and Sundays etc. Niiya decided the distance and pace for those, not me. The important thing was not to go hard every day but to build in some room for rest. There were two key workouts a week. For us workouts didn't include long runs and pace runs.

Niiya: I don't consider anything except track workouts to be a workout. Doing pace runs on a cross-country course or doing them on the track doesn't count as a workout, no matter whether they're fast or slow. A workout is 400 m or 1000 m intervals or 5000 m x3. Anything else is just an amplified jog, so I just relax and run.

Coach: I don't really get that. I'm of the species that can't understand how jogging can help you get rid of fatigue. It just builds it up. Doing strides would get rid of it better.

Niiya: Sure, if you just run, you'll still be tired. That's it, just tired. I jog according to a rhythm. The idea is that by creating a rhythm you can loosen up stiff muscles. It doesn't matter whether it's fast or slow. My shoulders feel stiffer on the days when I haven't moved much. The important thing is to get into a rhythm that suits you and run your mileage relaxed. I think of it as running to loosen up my body, not training. I never feel like I obsessively have to run, so it never gets too tiring.

Q. So you're saying that jogging is like getting a massage, and that the rhythm matter more than the distance?

Niiya: Yes. Some people asked what pace I jog at, but I never look at the pace. I have three running routes, 8 km, 10 km and 15 km, that I do from my home, and each time I just choose one of them and run it. I run it according to my rhythm, so even though I wear a watch I never pay attention to the pace. If you run the same routes every day then you can use them to gauge your condition that day, whether you felt good or bat that day. It's really boring, but it's good training.

On days where the focus is on building leg strength I think of the afternoon run as a cool down where I'll just run slowly, but for the 15~20 km morning jog I'll push the second half in a faster rhythm up to where it feels like a pace run in.

Coach: It's interesting to hear it that way. "The longer the distance the easier it is to get into the rhythm." There must be a particular moment where you lock into the rhythm.

Niiya: Right. The quickest I lock in is after about 3 km, but sometimes it's not until after 5 km. If it's a 20 km run you can go 5:00/km or 6:00/km or whatever. Start easy, just moving your body, and then work the second half. It feels easier that way.

Q. You care more about how far you run after you lock in?

Niiya: Yes.

Coach: You're saying that if the distance is short, unless you get into the rhythm right away it'll be over, and that's not really training. But if it's more like 20 km, then even if you can't get into the rhythm right away you have the luxury of having time to find it later? I can't understand that at all. I was the type of athlete who had to lock in after five steps. [laughs] If I couldn't get it within five steps after starting then it never felt right.

Q. That must be your middle distance background, coach. It's a given for long distance. In the marathon they say that if you get into your rhythm by 8 km it'll be OK. If not, prepare for hell.

Niiya: Yeah. I'm afraid of that, so that's why I don't want to go back to marathons. If you don't lock in by 5 km or 10 km then you've still got to run the last 30 km in 90 minutes or whatever. I'll never do it.

Part four here.

source articles:
translated and edited by Brett Larner

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