Saturday, 9 May 2015

How I smashed my parkrun PB

How was your Bank Holiday Weekend? Was it an opportunity to get some running in? Maybe the Milton Keynes Marathon? A parkrun? Or just getting in some miles for your next event?

For me it was quite a low mileage weekend as I prepare for the Hackney Half next weekend the 10th May.

I did however head over to Hackney Marshes for parkrun on Saturday morning. Its my second visit over to their flat and fast course and where as last time I wasn't in great shape to capitalise on the speedy conditions this week I was!

Last month on the 3rd April I struggled to complete the course in 23 minutes and if it wasn't for the pacing from Chris Brammer I doubt I would have ran 24 minutes let alone 23.


But this weekend just four weeks on from my 23 minute time I crossed the line in a a superb tome of 21 minutes flat! Not only was my time vastly improved but I felt OK running faster compared to feeling awful at running the slower time last time out.

So how did I achieve this improvement in a relatively short period of time?

A disappointing time and performance in April made me realise how much my training had fallen off in the first few months of the year. I realised I needed to push myself hard to get my fitness levels back to where they once were so I could be in a good position to launch a good assault at a sub4 marathon later on in the year as well as being able to try and run a sub 1.40 half marathon at Hackney on the 10th May.

So running a faster parkrun become a small objective as part of my bigger running goals.

To help me towards my goals I launched my ambitious April campaign which set myself some ambitious goals for April as the name suggests.

But what were the changes to my training that resulted in me running so much faster? 

1. Speed work

The main element of my training in between the two parkruns has been speedwork which has comprised of two components:

Treadmill intervals

In the period between  the two parkruns I completed ??? Treadmill interval sessions. These runs were generally your typical interval splits of a period of high speed followed by a resting period at a more comfortable pace. As a general guide my sessions would comprise of 2 minutes of a slower pace of 10.0km per hour followed by 1 minute or 2 minute bursts of 14.0-14.5km per hour repeated 3 or 5 times.

I started off with 3 circuits of slower paced times at 14.0km and then building this up towards completing 5 circuits at 14.5km.

I also completed some fartlek sessions on the treadmill where I would alternate my pace between 10.0 & maybe 15.0 km per hour running bursts of 30 seconds, a minute or longer at a variety of paces.

The other session I did once or twice as I got faster and more confident was going from a gentle walk at 6.0km per hour to sprinting for up to a minute at speeds of up to 16.0km per hour, a real lung buster to keep things fresh!

Track work

Another element to my training which I have recently started to incorporate is track work. This follows my experiences at the asics 26.2 bootcamp where the main training exercise was a 5K track run. The run was split into sections 400m easy, 200m hard and repeated over the 12 laps which I think means you have a 400m hard section to finish with. 

So using the running track on the North West side of Regents Park I have been repeating this session. I cant pretend its an easy session but then its not meant to be either. Its pretty tough firstly to keep pushing yourself repeatedly for the harder sections, secondly to keep motivated to stick to the plan and thirdly to keep mentally focused on the task. It can be pretty tricky sticking to the 400m & 200m  splits multiple times when you get tired and your mind stats to wander.

Having completed this session twice I had improved by about 49 seconds on my second attempt a week after my first although feel I wasn't at the peak of my performance on either attempt. Apparently its common for runners to record times faster than their PB during this kind of session and I will be looking to record some faster times in the coming months.

2. Insanity fitness classes

In between the two parkrun attempts I have started attending fitjess fitness a local fitness class that do insanity classes on a weekly basis. I completed the class in three consecutive weeks prior to the second parkrun and although I have it hard I think it has been really beneficial.

The class is so tough with minimal rest breaks and has been a great cardio workout and has left me drowning in my own sweat every time! It has definitely been a big factor in increasing my cardio capacity which is so important in increasing my short term sprint capacity for a 5k run. 

I would highly recommend an insanity or similar bootcamp circuit training style class to any runner as a great way to improve fitness through cross training. 

3. Improving my gym training

Working on the idea that in order to change the outcome of a race you need to change the training that goes into preparing for the race I concentrated on changing the training I did in the gym.

Some examples of what I have done in the gym in the interim period between my two runs are as follows:

  • 1 minute rowing sprints - completing 1 minute at maximum exertion on the rowing machine and either repeating or alternating with other cardio exercises.
  • Higher intensity warm ups - Such as a few minutes higher intensity on the cross training rather than slower sessions.
  • core/ab work - A few new exercises incoropoarted into my routine such as a plank push up which is demonstrated here a great exercise to work you upper body as well as your core muscles. 
Pushing myself that bit harder in the gym and focusing my efforts on training that is a bit more specific although harder has definitely been worth it in terms of feeling fitter and stronger. 

So mixing these improved training techniques with some good nutrition has been the foundation to achieve my faster parkrun time and smashing my PB. I hope you have found this helpful and motivational to help you improve your own training and results. If you have any other suggestions on techniques you have used I would love to hear them!