The importance of pacing – Michelle van Tonder’s one on one coaching call

The importance of pacing – Michelle van Tonder’s one on one coaching call

Today on RUN with Coach Parry we welcome Michelle van Tonder onto the podcast where Coach Markus answers all of her running questions. We find out how Michelle got into the sport of running and how she had to take a break and then start again after suffering a stress fracture to her hip.

Michelle is currently focusing on half marathons as she slowly builds up to longer distances so Markus helps her understand why following the right paces is important and helps her put a plan together for her races.

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Transcription

BRAD
Welcome back on to yet another edition of RUN with Coach Parry. My name is Brad Brown. It's good to have you with us coming up on today's show. We're going to be touching base with Coach Markus van Niekerk and Michelle van Tonder, who we going to put a bit of a plan together to get a bit faster over 21 possibly move up to 42. And we also talk about whether or not she should be running Comrades. And yeah, as much as we love the race. It's not the be all and end all, there's lots of other races to do on the calendar. And we'll chat to Michelle about that on today's podcast as well.

I mentioned in the last episode of this podcast that we've sort of relaunched our running and our cycling and triathlon podcast rather. If you're a cyclist or if you're a triathlete listening to this, you'll be pleased to know that we've now got another two podcasts that are coming out of the Coach Parry stable. The cycling one is called RIDE with Coach Parry and the triathlon one is called TRI with Coach Parry so you can search for that in whatever podcast player you listen to, and coming up on today's show as well, we're going to be sharing another amazing success storey out of the Coach Parry Online Training Club. But that's all coming up later on in the show. Let's head over to my chat with Markus and Michelle.

Welcome on to this edition of RUN with Coach Parry. My name is Brad Brown. We've got running coach Markus van Niekerk with us once again, Markus, welcome back on to the podcast. Great to catch up.

MARKUS
Thanks for that. Thanks for having me.

BRAD
We've also got one of the members of the Coach Parry Online Training Club with us as well and it's a great pleasure to welcome Michelle van Tonder on to the podcast. Michelle, welcome.

MICHELLE
Thank you.

BRAD
Michelle, you're based out in a beautiful part of the world, you're White River, Mpumalanga, and yeah I think you're lucky to stay there, I'm sure you would agree, there are worse places on the planet to be based but tell me a bit about life in White River.

MICHELLE
No, we live life hey. We're in the slow veld - that's what they call us, we're in the slow veld. So yeah, it's beautiful. We can run just outdoors and yeah, just enjoy the outdoor area. Yeah.

BRAD
Yeah, it's an amazing part of the world to live and train. You are truly, truly blessed. Tell me a bit about your running background. You've been running I think since you said about 2012. Is that is that right? How did you get into the sport?

MICHELLE
I actually think it's a bit of a funny story. Our car broke down and we were just coming back from our December holiday, and then a lot of the girls chatted about doing the Knysna Forest Marathon. And I was sitting there in the sun and thinking 'Okay, I'm turning 40 this year, what will I do to actually make this a memorable year?' And I thought, 'okay, let me run the Knysna marathon'. And then I got back and I started training. And that's when it started. Unfortunately, that was the year that it actually was cancelled because of all the rain. So I ended up doing my first half marathon this Skukuza and that's how I got started.

BRAD
And as they say, the rest is history. You're still running to this day, you have battled with one or two injuries too, I believe. Tell me a little bit about that. I know you had a, I think it was quite a bad hip injury?

MICHELLE
Yeah, so I ran up until about 2014. And then I quit. Not for any specific reason, just life. And then I started running again by the beginning of last year, June, July. And I downloaded the Comrades Bronze Medal Programme. And I just started running with that from July and followed it to the T every day. Everything, I just followed it was when everything went well. And then as I got back end of January, I went for a run and I thought no, something is not well, I thought it was me sitting wrong in the car. And then I went for another run. And I just had a problem running along. So eventually, I went for MRI and then they said it might be a stress fracture in the hip. And that's it.

BRAD
And it's been a long slog back, you are running again now. How's it feeling? Are you totally over it? Is it still something you have to be wary of?

MICHELLE
No, I'm fine. I must tell you, I never had any discomfort before it was afterwards or during the run. But afterwards, I never actually thought I had a problem. I just thought it was the stiffness. So and then I got the fright of my life when he said 'if you don't stop now, it might be surgery' or whatever. So I just quit from that moment. And I was down for about six, almost eight weeks. And then I started running. I did a few fives at first and then yeah, I'm back on. I'm doing the longest I've done now is a 15 last Saturday.

BRAD
So what's the goal? What are you training for?

MICHELLE
I think for now I am just focusing on 21s. That's what my thinking is. Just because I don't want to get in it too fast. You know, I think I actually just started too fast, too soon, too much. That's my thinking. And I think I should just rather stick with 21s for this year. So I've got a few things lined up, Skukuza again, and then the [***] I decided I'll do the 21 not the marathon, and then I've got a trail run in September. So yeah, that's basically that.

BRAD
Let me bring Markus in here. Markus, Michelle sent through her questionnaire with regards to some of her running background, obviously coming off of a major injury like a stress fracture at any stage in your sort of running history that needs to be taken into account. But since looking at those numbers, do you think Michelle's approach is sensible? I know she said in the email that she's not that keen on going to Comrades straight away, it's probably nagging in the back of the head and if you run in South Africa if listening to this Comrades is always there because people always say to you you're not a real runner until you've run Comrades, which is absolute nonsense. But I can see where the peer pressure comes in. Your initial thoughts on that questionnaire Markus, and we'll get into some questions.

MARKUS
Look, Brad, I think it's really good to, well put it this way, Michelle, I think what you're doing is great to have taken a few steps back and then building it up slowly but surely. Your training before the stress fracture? Was it more speed based or was it more distant based? Or was it a mixture of both?

MICHELLE
I just followed that programme. So I think it's distance. But it says that you should do it like a 6:20. You know, the pace. And I obviously ran it faster. So I'm not sure if that was the problem.

MARKUS
Okay so that's your first issue. Okay. And you followed that bronze programme based on? Did you ask someone a question in the forum or did you just think that's what you're capable of and you went with that programme?

MICHELLE
That's what I did. So I went on the internet and I thought let me just see what is and have I done a half marathon in the time, which I have, which was three years ago. So, you know, I just started with that not taking in consideration it was three years back. So, obviously, I didn't start with the maximum effort, but I was able to manage the distances. And the time based programme works wonderful for me, I must say, I'll never run a kilometre distance programme. I love the time based programme.

MARKUS
Okay, Okay, awesome. I mean, so obviously all our programmes have been drawn up with with specific goals and ideas or philosophies in mind. And the fact that you followed one programme, but adopted or implemented a different pace, that could have probably been the biggest determining factor or one of the biggest reasons why you ended up hurting yourself. But I mean, what's done is done. And I think moving forward, we can work through some things in this call now.

And based on information that you give me, I can then say, listen, what I think you're capable of running is 21 kilometres in so many hours, and then you can jump on to that programme, you know, small, minor improvements. Lindsey once told me something and it's very true. He said, the slower the change, the more permanent it is. So if one makes major gains in your training, then it's great, but there's a chance that it comes at a certain cost. Whereas if the improvements are smaller, but they happened more consistently, that change is more permanent and that's something that one needs to keep in the back of your mind.

MICHELLE
That's makes sense, yeah.

BRAD
Michelle, you were asking a question about pace versus time spent on the road particularly after injury. Can you give us a little bit of background of what you're thinking and the sort of thought behind that question?

MICHELLE
So, I was just thinking, you know, if I should rather do very slow long, slow pace and not worry about the kilometres, this is just going for a 45 at my normal pace. So I was just worried about too much pressure regarding the pace.

MARKUS
Okay, but if you say the pace, what do you base that pace on? Do you go on what feels comfortable? Or do you go on what the programme suggests you should be running at?

MICHELLE
So at the moment, I'm just running, according to my own comfort. Which is about a 6:12, 6:10-6:12 pace.

MARKUS
Do you have a recent five or 10 kilometre PB, if I can call it that or just the hard effort that you did recently?

MICHELLE
So I've just done, that was my first running after the injury. It was in June, the ninth, I did a 10k and it was just under an hour. Official was 1:01 but on my watch, it was 59 I think. Yeah.

MARKUS
So let's work on 59 minutes. So based on 59 minutes for a 10 kilometres, your training paces for easy run should be around 6:25 to 6:50.

MICHELLE
Yeah, you see I don't do that.

MARKUS
Okay, we'll get to what I'm trying to say now. So your easy run should be between 6:25 to 6:50. Your long run should be 6:25 to about 7:10. And then your recovery run should be from about 6:55 to 7:30. Now, the reason why we usually work out these paces is because people tend to, they run faster than what they should be doing. So you're working off a different energy system. And for me, that's a problem.

So I mean, if you just go back and look at the questions and discussions previously listed in the forums, it's about people asking, but why do I need to run so slow if I want to run fast in a race, and that's the massive thing. I suppose, for me, that's the biggest mistake that all runners make is they think the faster they can run in training, the faster they'll be able to run in a race, but it's not the case.

I always use the example of when I did my first Comrades. I said, I'm only going to run on heartrate. So at the time that I started my heartrate was very sensitive. I wasn't in the best shape possible. So my easy running pace at 151 beats per minute and that was four beats higher than what it should have been. But I just thought to myself, I cannot run slower than what I was. My running pace was about 5:30 per kilometre, and 151 beats per minute. That was November 2016, by the time I was ready to line up for my first up run, my running pace was about 4:40 per kilometre and 146 beats per minute.

So it just goes to show you, if you run on an aerobic capacity or from an aerobic perspective, and you keep on increasing your aerobic fitness, then I can guarantee you your anaerobic fitness, your anaerobic threshold, will become much higher. It's just one of those things. I'm busy coaching a guy for up for 100 kilometre trail run in the UK. And just by running his runs ever so easy, but by doing more of them, he took a minute and 23 seconds off his 5k PB

MICHELLE
That's amazing.

MARKUS
Yeah. So my suggestion would be, the thing is if you run at these projected zones, the formulas that I've used to calculate those zones, it's been tried and tested, and I can guarantee you, if you stick to those, you end up finishing sessions fresher, you start to next sessions fresher as well. But when the time comes to put the hammer down, if I can refer to it like that, I can guarantee you, you're going to be way fresher and you're going to be way more capable of running a faster split.

So the reason why I use the word fresh is - Lindsey also refers to this quite often he says, it's all good by pitching up for a race as fit as you can be. But being fit and fresh is another thing. Because let's say, for argument's sake, you had to take a few days off after let's say, being sick, those first few days, yes, the first run might be a bit sluggish, but after that, you feel really great. It's because you've had time to rest as well. You didn't lose much fitness but the bottom line is your body got a chance to recover.

Now if we're redlining it the whole time when we're supposed to be going easy, if we're tapping into that anaerobic fitness the whole time, that's not good. It's actually very counterproductive. So it's very important that you slowly but surely follow the right paces. And then based on your previous injury is to slowly but surely build it up. I hear what you say with regards to you're only going to be doing 21s this year. I can guarantee you, you can run further than 21s this year. But granted that you stick to the right paces.

MICHELLE
Okay. Yeah, well, that's makes sense, I'll definitely definitely implement this.

MARKUS
Another cross reference, I don't know if you've ever run on heartrate, is to say 180 minus your age. So in my case, I then need to run at about 145 beats per minute, that should be the average of my heart rate. So if you want to go do some reading up on a guy by the name of Dr. Philip Maffetone. He came up with the math method. And that's exactly what I've just explained.

And if I don't give my guys like a range to run in, referring to a pace range, I usually give them heart rate, or that 180 minus your age because it is super effective, but you need to give it time as well. And then slowly, but surely, you'll find that you're running further. And by the time you're starting to run further, in the same amount of time as you would two or three months before, it's because your body's become fitter, your legs have become stronger. So your heart doesn't need to work as hard as it had to, you know, a few months before, so it's also a good gauge to work on.

MICHELLE
Okay, yeah, because my heart rate is, I only check it afterwards, but it's always an average of 155-165. It's terrible.

MARKUS
So in actual fact, I mean, that to me just proves it. Yeah, it's way too high. My mother-in-law is a prime example, she's been running for donkey's years, and she used to get sick quite often. And the problem was, eventually I said, listen, but let's have a look, let's break it down. I said, What is your race pace? And she said, let's say, for argument's sake, it was five minutes a kilometre. I said, Okay, that's perfect. What is your easy run pace? And she said it's about a 5:15-5:20. I said but that's different. If I work on my easy pace now, let's say it's 5:08 per kilometre. And if I race I'll probably average close to four minutes a kilometre. So I mean, there's almost a minute and 10 seconds difference there. And the bigger the difference in your easy versus race pace, I can guarantee you the more effective your race pace is going to be.

MICHELLE
And then just the question, so how do you determine your race pace then?

MARKUS
So basically, look, let's say for argument's sake, we worked off that 59 minute 10k now. So if I work on that, what that tells me is you should be running a half marathon in about two hours and 11 minutes. Okay? And your marathon time should be around about 4:36. So that's why we always say work on your shorter, faster distances. And then once you set up a decent PB, jump on to the forum, get in touch with us, and we'll give you an estimate of what you're capable of running over the longer distances.

And that's when you jump on to the programme and say okay right, what does this entail? If I ran a 59 minute 10K? Should I be following the sub 2 hour half marathon plan? Yes, if you feel comfortable running at the projected paces. If you feel slightly uncomfortable, or your heart rate is telling you it's a bit higher than what it should be, then add a few seconds to the pace zones that are stipulated on the programme, but it's very important to work off your own times and your own facts and then work out the way forward.

MICHELLE
Okay, I can now believe why I had a problem because I was running way too fast all the time.

BRAD
Yeah. And that's one of the big issues, Michelle, is most runners are running all the training runs at exactly the same pace. There's no differentiation between an easy run and a hard run. Everything's the same so as soon as you start spreading it out like that, you'll start seeing amazing results.

And I think that flows into your next question, where you were asking about speed work and track running, is it okay? Markus, your thoughts on that? Because obviously, if you are slowing your longer stuff down, it does allow you to do those high intensity workouts where you are able to actually hit the numbers as well as you should be hitting them.

MARKUS
For sure. And yes, once again, I'll never not recommend that unless you're carrying an injury. But what's most important is that you need to know specifically what you need to do. If there is some form of quality run, it doesn't necessarily need to be on a track to be effective.

And what I know, Lindsey and I like to incorporate into our programmes, is hill repetitions. And the reason why is because, one, it doesn't just build speed, but it also builds a form of strength. And then secondly, because you running slightly slower in a two minute hill rep as opposed to a standard or kilometre interval, your chances for injury are slightly lower as well. So that's why we're big fans of doing hill reps because the session generally is shorter, and you do get to rest more frequently. And then like I said, it builds speed but it also builds strength, but going to the track, there's absolutely no problem.

But just know what you need to do specifically and then also, my question would be is what do you base your pace on because it doesn't really help you start, let's say for argument's sake you want to do a set of five 800s, what do you base your pase on? Do you just start running into a pase that you feel okay, this for me is working hard and then fade as the session goes along. Or can you keep, maintain that pace throughout the whole session? And stuff like that is very important, because it's also how you do every interval. How long do you rest after each interval? Does your heart rate come down far enough in order for you to do your next interval effectively?

MICHELLE
And then just a question. Hill intervals: what is the elevation? What is the hill?

MARKUS
Okay, so hill, contrary to popular belief, people think the steeper the hill, the more effective it's going to be, but it's definitely not the case. So, 4 to 5% gradient is perfect. So it's a very slight, it's a very slight incline. Look, it's not very slight, but I mean, it's a decent climb, but it's definitely not the steepest hill around, but towards the 5% gradient is what you want to be working on. And working on the paces that we just did. I say let me just quickly work out here. For your pace for a one kilometre, your one kilometre speed reps would then be a 5:15 to a 5:27. So for me, your hill rep pace will be about a 5:35. That should be your target.

And then once again, you want to build it up gradually. So the first week you do 4 times two minutes. If you find a two minute is a bit too hectic for you, then you can convert it to 200 metres. So you find that it's slightly shorter, but it's still a structured interval. And then, like I said, it's important to do sessions or to do intervals, but don't start them as hard as you can and then fade towards the end because then you really missing the point of it. You want to start it and you want to feel what it feels like when you start that interval at a specific pace for a specific intensity, and you need to feel like you can maintain or almost just not maintain that pace for the full interval session. It's very important. If you start to fade towards the end I'd say rather add another 10, 20 maybe even 30 seconds to your rest interval. But try and stick to the pace, but only add seconds to rest interval if you can maintain the pace.

MICHELLE
Okay. Thank you.

BRAD
Cool. Michelle, you were also asking about sort of selecting races to do and I know you mentioned in your email that Comrades was never really the goal but you then asked should you just be sticking to half marathons or possibly moving up to a marathon and then eventually Comrades?

Tell us a little bit about long term I mean is Comrades something you want to run and obviously coming off an injury like this, Markus said, you have to I mean, you talk about building up slowly but tell us a little bit about what the goal is and and what you'd like to achieve and then you were also asking about getting onto the right programme, because I think that's important. But I think those two questions are sort of linked. Tell us a little bit about your thinking and then and let's get Markus's take on it.

MICHELLE
Yeah, I actually don't knoe about the Comrades. I watched it, I looked at it, and I though it's something on the bucket list. But yeah, the only reason I started training for it was the one girl said to me 'no man, you run fast, let's start training'. And I said, if I qualify, I'll just take the next step. So, but I don't know, but you know, you get into things and the fitter you get, and I've done my very, very first marathon, Kaapsehoop, in November.

So I actually just think I should take it one day at a time and I also think if I want to do a Comrades, I know everybody says back to back, but I don't want to go down. I really don't want to go down. So, but we'll see. So if I consider it, I'll consider it. I know it's painful and terrible but I can't imagine going down for 40 kilometres at the end.

MARKUS
Yeah, look, I think for me running should be fun. It doesn't help you do any form of sport and if you don't enjoy it. So I think the bottom line is if you have peace just running 21s then just stick to 21s. If you think, I want to try and test myself to go a bit further, jump onto the forum and say listen guys, this is what I've been doing. This is the pace that I've been doing my shorter racing runs or race pace runs at and what do you guys suggest? We'll gladly help you.

But if you're comfortable with shorter distances then do that and become faster and better over that. And if you're just running for the sake of running for enjoyment then just do that as well. It's very important to not let fun, or to exclude fun out of this whole equation, because once it becomes a have to instead of a want to, I can guarantee you, there's way more different things to do in this world, that'll put a smile on your face.

So if you feel like running Comrades one day, then yes, you, obviously you have to slowly but surely build on to the distances. But I mean, there's no, sell by date, if I can call it that. So take it as it comes. Do what you feel you're capable of. And if you have questions, please jump onto the forum. And we'll gladly assist you and we'll gladly you help you. Even if it needs to be to your first Comrades, it'll put a massive smile on our face to be able to do that for you. But it's very important to not be pushed by what people say and go with your own flow. I cannot stress the importance of that.

BRAD
Yeah, Michelle, I agree with Markus 100%. I mean, I've run a few Comrades, and I love the race, but don't feel pressured that you have to run Comrades. The race is going nowhere. And I'm a firm believer that I think everyone should run it at some stage just because it's such an iconic event and I think it shows that, anyone who's run this both locally and internationally will agree with me, that it's a great sort of window into what life could be like in South Africa. That it's just everyone's exactly the same on race day. It doesn't matter who you are or what you do. It's an incredible event to be part of, but you don't have to do it. It's there if you want to do it.

It's like I always say if you go to a buffet, you don't go eat everything that's at the buffet. You take what you like, and if you feel that you're comfortable and you're happy running half marathons, cool. And I always say to people, I mean, you said it a few times. Markus said it and we see it all the time. People say 'I just run half marathons'. There's no distance called just half marathons. It's a half marathon, you're a runner, and just because you don't go on and run ultra marathons and Comrades, it doesn't make you any less of a runner. You're still a runner and yeah, I think we get into that thing in South Africa that you have to run Comrades. You don't have to do Comrades. The race is there if in 10 years time you decide you want to run it, cool, if you decide in 10 years time you never want to run it, that's cool too. So yeah don't feel pressured because everyone else around you is running Comrades that you have to run Comrades.

MARKUS
Yeah, I think it's very important Brad. But you know what, Michelle? At the end of the day, if you're going to do runs that you don't like you're going to start disliking running. And for me, it's a very dangerous place to go. And yes, it absolutely kills me.

You haven't been a runner unless you've done Comrades, or a triathlete if you haven't done Ironman, or mountain bike if you haven't done Cape Epic. It is absolute rubbish.

For me, one of the most beautiful sports around is running. It's because everyone can do it. You don't need a pair of expensive running shoes in order to become fit and put a smile on your face and be all fit and healthly. So just stick with what your gut tells you and what you want to do. It's very important.

BRAD
Now that we finished lecturing you, Michelle, have you got any other questions?

MICHELLE
I just want to for the very last one then, if I download a training programme would that then be the sub 2:30 21km?

MARKUS
So I would definitely, based on your run from last week, or from the 9th of June, you said. You are capable of running a 2:11 half marathon. And I must just confirm, I think there's a sub 2:10?

BRAD
No, there's a there's a two and a two and a half. So Michelle, smack bang in the middle of no man's land. So what what would you do?

MARKUS
So what I would suggest is jump on to the sub 2 hour programme, follow the distances okay, but follow the paces that I suggested. So the pases I gave you is what you stick to but you can follow the distances on the programme. That's very important. And if you need to jump to the forum to ask me some more questions about it, please feel free.

MICHELLE
No, that I can do, I can follow a plan. Like I know what I need to do, that's what I can do.

So the moment, I do like about, Saturday, we did 14, but I do about six, three times a week.

MARKUS
What is your weekly mileage at the moment?

Okay. I don't think there will be such a massive increase on that programme or that plan. But once again, I know because I help writing the programmes. It won't be from zero to hero in a matter of two weeks. They will be gradual build whether it's your speed work, whether it's your long runs, doesn't matter. There'll be a gradual build and that's what's important and that's what you need because many people think, well, I'm on this whatever programme now and the sooner I throw myself in the deep end, the better and that's usually also when injuries creep in.

MICHELLE
Yeah, thank you. This was most informative and I know my problem came in with the wrong pace for the wrong programme, I definitely had that completely wrong.

BRAD
Well Michelle, it's been great catching up. We're unfortunately out of time. I know Markus has got another call. I've got another one as well. So yeah, if you've got any questions or follow up questions, pop them in the forum. And yeah, we look forward to seeing how you go in the weeks and months to come.

MICHELLE
Will keep you posted. Thank you so much for your time.

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