My role as a Laboratory Mouse (part 2)

(For the first part of my experience as a laboratory mouse, see this post, which ends at the point where I had received my fitness report from the Anglia Ruskin University Sport and Exercise Sciences Research Group and I was digesting it)

The report contained all the promised information, and enough in terms context for me to understand what this meant and its implications for my training: i.e. what practical steps should I take in the light of this information to help me improve my training programme in order to achieve my specific objectives. It also served as a form of validation of these objectives themselves: does my current fitness allow me to run a marathon in the time I would like to? The answer to that last question was “just about”, so I looked at my expected finish time in the light of this information and made a small upward (i.e. slower) adjustment.


Clearly, cardiovascular fitness is only one of a number of factors that affect race performance on any individual day, and all need to be addressed. But it is reassuring to know that my fitness at least supports my (adjusted) target, and I now only have everything else to worry about! 🙂

But I digress. Anyway, while the report provided all the information, context and training suggestions one could wish for, I am very much an amateur: To make the most of what the report was telling me therefore, I had to revert to Dr Gordon with additional questions and for him to confirm or otherwise the conclusions I was reaching. But being one of over a hundred runners taking part in the research, I was a bit loath to do so (would he have time to answer questions from hundreds of runners and do his day job?), but he seemed to invite questions in his covering email so my more selfish instincts prevailed!

To my delight I got a response within the day, answering all my questions, providing further insights as to how I should approach the race (taking real life into account) and structure my post-marathon training plan. You can’t fault that for a free service! 🙂

So what have I gained out of this (and I suppose this is also relevant to you, if you are considering a VO2max test)?

First of all I stumbled across the Flying Runner website, and that in itself is a find. Ok, you don’t need to undergo a lab test to visit them, the embedded link is my gift to you, dear reader! It is well worth a read: it contains a host of useful and informative material, supported by sound science (which cannot be said about all running sites out there). It also has a very handy marathon race pace calculator, build following last year’s research. This allows you to analyse last year’s data to find runners who match your profile and finish time (it’s faster and easier than it sounds), see how they actually ran their marathon (i.e. see how their pace varied during the race) and use that profile (and your target time) to create your own, realistic, pacing band. This can be configured before printing, so if you know your particular marathon has a hill at a certain point, you can adjust the pace for that mile to reflect that. The target pace for following miles will then be automatically adjusted to allow you to hit your target time. Similarly, if you know you are stronger / weaker at the end of a race, you can again adjust the pace at those points so you can plan your race in a way that you are more likely to actually it. No comparison with standard pacing bands which assume you will run each of the 26.2 miles at exactly the same pace!

Flying Runner

But more specifically from the report and the subsequent conversation with Dr Gordon, I have:

1) Understood my own real training zones, which were quite different to what I was working with (I had come up with these through year-old self-administered field tests, which are at best approximations, added some wishful thinking and not adjusted as my fitness changed).

2) Got a clearer understanding of what my specific training objectives should be, given my current fitness and immediate goals (i.e. spring marathon). I also learnt the workouts that would help me meet these training objectives, and I now had the training zones (see above) to make sure that each of these workouts did work towards the training objective it was meant to.

3) This enabled me to tweak (and thankfully, it only needed a tweak!) my current training plan. In summary, Tempo Tuesdays have now become Steady Tuesdays, easy pace has reduced by quite a bit and race pace has reduced by a fraction (this means my target finish time is now a few minutes slower, but the likelihood that I will achieve that has significantly increased; I’ll take that any day!)

4) A better understanding on how I should pace my race: not only what my race pace should be, but the implications of going too slow or too fast at any one point, what my pace profile is likely to look like (from my own previous experience and the marathon pace calculator on the Flying Runner).

So what happens next: I complete another questionnaire a few days before the race, giving more up to date information about my training and again predict my finish time. On the day of the race, I will be wearing my heart rate monitor (which I would anyway) and then share the run details with the research team. I expect they will use it to analyse our (i.e. all research participants’) pace and heart rate during the race and correlate it against our fitness, finish time and the pacing strategy we predicted pre-race.

But most importantly for me, it has allowed me to calibrate the home-made training programme and given me all the information I need to construct my next, post-marathon, training plan come April. I think it has also helped me with the job of pacing my race through the early, mid and latter stages.

And so it is that with Science on my side, I am in the finest traditions of laboratory mice, I am preparing to take over the WORLD! (or 26.2 miles of it around Manchester, anyway).

Or as Sisyphus would say, the rock has rolled a few more meters up the hill, and this is bound to be the time it gets to the top! Surely!


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