Neil Featherby: Learning to train smarter and listening to your body kept Paul Evans on top
Copyright Archant Norfolk 2016
Having looked through a few old training diaries recently I have to say I do now look back and wonder how I did it, running anything between 120 to 140 miles virtually every week of the year.
However, what is clear to me nowadays is that I never recovered enough before racing which included marathons.
My best marathon came off a period when I hadn't planned for it and whilst the mileage had been high, it was still built around more speed and a lot more racing over shorter distances.
With this in mind, I spoke with Paul Evans about his training and asked him about his thoughts towards programme planning and how his own training varied and changed throughout the years what with his huge range of fantastic PBs from 800 metres up to the marathon distance.
Paul said: "I have all my old training diaries to hand and I ran my track 3k and 5k PBs less than two months after running 2:10:31 in the 1995 London Marathon, so who said marathon training takes away your speed over the shorter distances?
"I believe if you are smart and manage your recovery properly whilst slowly changing your training focus towards the shorter distances, transition will take place.
"However, we are all different and you can't put a time limit on this and needless to say the older you are or of course the amount of miles in your legs over the years will also be a factor."
I have been a friend of Paul's ever since he embarked on his running career in the late 1980s whereby I watched him go from a quality road runner down to a middle distance track runner before making his way back up through the distances again and up to the marathon where he won numerous races around the world, made two Olympic finals at 10,000 metres and of course won the Chicago marathon in 1996 in what at the time was an English record of 2 hours, 8 mins and 52 seconds.
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However, I was still fascinated by what he considered to be in his words "proper recovery" and asked him exactly how he did recover from his third place in London, before going on to run his fastest ever times over 3,000 and 5,000 metres on the track.
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"Patience and listening to my body," he said and with that he sent me extracts from his diary with a full 12 days training which encompassed the period leading up to these personal best times. In a nutshell, he basically rested up for a full two weeks after the marathon followed by one week of just easy running before then embarking on track work.
Whilst there is a lot of easy running within his programme, or should I say what was easy by Paul Evans standards, he was quick to point out that when it came round to doing the track sessions, these were all done at a very high intensity to simulate race speeds and beyond as instructed by his coach, hence why the training days in-between these keys sessions had to be kept to that of just easy running.
"If you can't do it in training, you aren't going to do it in a race," he said. "It took me years to build up to this volume and intensity of training and I was of course a full time athlete, but at the end of the day the principles of training and racing still remain the same. If the body is to adapt then it must recover before you can successfully load it again."
Needless to say, I am in full agreement with this and as already said, I am pretty sure I was never recovered fully for most of my running career i.e. over trained.
Nevertheless, Paul was somewhat of a different species to just about anyone else and had the natural talent to not only be able to develop his body to being able to withstand such a large training load, but was also able to run at the speeds and pace which he did over such a huge range of distances. Even if others spent years building their training up to that of Paul's level, in most cases they would still either break down or indeed not achieve the same race times as he did.
For those who are prepared to put it all on the line in the quest of being the very best they can be, then it really is so very important to be fully aware of all factors within their lives along with of course physical attributes which will at the end of the day determine the final outcome. Nevertheless, if you have that deep desire to achieve, then with careful and structured planning, who knows what you might go on to attain particularly for those who might be a late developer like Paul was i.e. he didn't start running until he was 27.
With that statement, I will leave Paul with the final words - "The Holy Grail for me was finding that nice state of equilibrium."
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