Training With Gwilym Thomas September 08, 2015 14:43
1) Introduce yourself please - who are you, how old are you, and how long have you been training?
My name’s Gwil, I'm 40 and I've been doing running-specific training for around 10 years. Prior to that I did used to run a bit (a couple of times a week, 20 mins a go) but that was mainly to maintain general fitness.
2) What first got you into running?
I had been running causally to maintain fitness for five-aside football for years but it was pretty low level. I’d jog a couple of miles outside or do around 20 mins running on a treadmill. One year, the gym I was using entered us into a local 10k. This coincided with another 10k which my wife had entered me into via work. I placed 3rd in one of them (although it was basically an un-timed fun-run) so for the next one I upped my training a little more. Once I did that and found myself with a time for the distance, I started to think about ways I could get better and beat it and things really grew on from there.
3) Do you experience the "runners high" that people often talk about? Is that why you run?
Sometimes, maybe, but I'm a bit sceptical about it. I do find that I can be in a fairly bad mood, go for a run and come back in a much better frame of mind, though I tend to put that down to having the time to sort things out away from people, and also the benefit of thinking about something completely unrelated.
I do find that after a hard speed-session I can feel very relaxed and chilled out. I wouldn't describe it as a high but it is a very pleasant state.
4) I know that you run before work, or at lunch times... Just how much of your time is devoted to running? Is it more of a lifestyle choice than a hobby?
As I've been getting older, I've been cutting back a little. I used to run twice a day, most days and average around 80 miles a week – that would equate to around 10 hours running per week.
I was pretty injury-free for the first 5-6 years and could get away with it but then I started getting niggles that would linger or make running difficult. I've got a bit of a hamstring issue at present, so my running is quite low-level. I'm currently doing about 30 miles a week which is about 3 hours. Ideally, I'll get that back to around 50 which would be about 6 hours per week.
It is more of a lifestyle than a hobby. Because of these niggly injuries I've been entering less races but I still like to get out and do a run. When thinking about what I'm going to do on any given day, having a run would be part of my plan.
5) What's the best bit about running? And the worst?
I think the best bit is the feeling you get when you’re zipping along at a good speed and it just feels effortless. This is quite a rare feeling because almost as soon as you’re aware of it, you lose it. I think it’s the running equivalent of being “in the zone.”
I enjoy fast sessions but only when I'm feeling fit and injury-free: you know you’re going to have a hard time but you also know you're likely to do it well and feel good at the end.
Finally; I enjoy those runs where you go out on a nice day without a watch and just run for the fun of it. The worst thing is the feeling of obligation that you can sometimes get. Sometimes I feel I need to go out irrespective of how I'm feeling.
Injuries are also a pain in more than one sense. When I get an injury, I know I should stop/cut back, but part of me thinks I'm skiving or if I don’t run I will be throwing away the fitness and work from previous runs. This leads to me either make injuries worse or have miserable, uncomfortable runs (or both).
Also, when you do a lot of races you create a set of benchmarks based on how fast you complete certain distances and who you should/could be beating. It can be hard to reconcile when my times are slower or I'm being beaten by people I would expect to beat. I am working on managing this because as I get older this will happen more frequently.
6) Can you tell us what your diet is like? Do you get through a crazy amount of calories to fuel your training?
Overall, my diet’s pretty good. I've been a vegetarian for years and I think that helps. I don’t think meat is bad for running necessarily – it’s a great source of protein – but being vegetarian means I don’t get caught up in the fast food side of things.
I also don’t tend to eat many cakes, sweets, crisps, chocs etc. which helps. And I've recently given up drinking. This isn't specifically due to running, though it was a factor in my decision. Anyway, I think this is a great help because it removes a large number of fairly nuitrition-less calories (especially when I would also plough through nibbles while drinking as well).
I'm not great at focussed fuelling for running. I don’t try and structure eating around it particularly, nor do I particularly think about the nutritional content. I try and get a good amount of fruit and veg and I do enjoy big carb sources like pasta, rice and potatoes. I suspect I don’t get enough protein as I'm reliant on quorn, nuts and dairy products.
7) Any tips for anyone wanting to get started?
I think when you start out you can improve very quickly, especially if you mix your runs up a bit. I think if someone does a “normal” run, a faster than normal run, and a longer than normal run each week then they can see improvements in fitness and speed quite quickly.
There’s loads of different types of run that can be done and they can all help you improve in different ways. There’s always the temptation to try and do everything but you can experiment with things later. At the start, a bit of running variation and some training consistency is probably the best way to get going.
Don’t push things too much at the start – the first few runs may seem a bit uncomfortable but that’s largely because your body is doing something different. Go easy on yourself and factor in rest days. That early discomfort goes quickly.
It’s worth entering a race or two after you've managed some running consistency. Even if you’d not competitive, the atmosphere’s great and running's often easier with other people around. Entering a race for several months down the line can also a good goal-setter and offers something specific to train for.
For accessible races, Parkruns are a great place to start – they’re measured 5k's, take place each week in most towns and cities across the UK and have a race atmosphere without being hugely competitive.
Remember to have rest days and breaks. After early improvement it’s tempting to keep pushing the number of runs, the distances, and the pace, but this can lead to breakdown so it’s worth ensuring that you are having breaks and letting your body recover. Someone pointed out to me that while training provides the stimulus, your body can only adapt during the rest periods. Without rest, you can’t get better.
It also all starts to feel like a chore. Never run hard on an easy run. If you've planned to do an easy run, do just that. If we feel fast we sometimes try and run everything fast but it drains the body and doesn't allow sufficient recovery, storing up trouble for later.
Following on from that, don't run through injuries. We all say this, we all ignore the advice, we all get injured, we all wished we’d listened to the advice…