* Case Study – Laura Houghton

RunSmart Coaching – Case Study

(Photo - © Alexander Shaw 2017 www.runphotorun.uk Used with permission and thanks)

(Photo – © Alexander Shaw 2017 www.runphotorun.uk Used with permission and thanks)

Laura Houghton

Laura is an Ex-Competitive Gymnast who was a social runner wanting to take her competitive past and apply it to her running

Laura required some running form and efficiency work, this was mainly due to the gymnastics background and specific training differences but Laura was also protecting a wrist that she had broken many years previously. She was however relatively strong, flexible and had a good base level of fitness.

Part One – Getting Faster!

Initial aim was to get 5km time down from 26min 45 seconds to sub 26 minutes for PB

This involved a lot of sprint speed work to improve maximal velocity while also improving running efficiency, weekly track endurance interval sessions alongside more normal social running and undertaking a 30 day running strength and form challenge set by Kinetic Revolution.

The target race for this training program was the Lancaster 5km race on the 4th February 2017. As this was a Winter Series is was great to be able to build the earlier races into the plan so that Laura was well aware of the course and had an very good plan going into the race day. It was brilliant to see her set a time of 25 mins 54 Seconds knocking 51 seconds off her PB.

This is a pace improvement from 8:37 per mile to 8:20 per mile a near 3% improvement in only 16 weeks.

Part 2 – Running Further!

Laura was keen to keep working together and it was decided to follow another 12 Week plan that would target both her 10km PB (sub 54mins) at the Salford 10km and set a new personal best over the half marathon distance at the Liverpool Rock n Roll Half. This would be her first ever Half Marathon.

The training required for this is somewhat different to the 5km training we had been doing and involved significantly more mileage, higher intensity endurance intervals alongside more strength and general fitness work.

It was during this time that we noticed a plateau in the training gains and sometimes unusually slow races that didn’t fit with the ability Laura had been showing. Not only affecting her training physically this was also affecting her mentally and each run was becoming a battle more than something to be embraced. Working with some of her colleagues at Edge Hill University and her doctor it was clear her Nutrition / Calorie intake was low for the training she was doing but also test results showed that her Iron levels were low. It’s testament to the human body that putting right these two elements saw near immediate gains in training and the hard work began to shine through.

The Salford 10km was at the half way point (week 6) of the 12 week plan and alongside her friend Kate Clipston Laura ran a fantastic time of 52m mins 24seconds. Well below her initial target of sub 54 mins.

Over the next 6 weeks the training ramped up, with much of the sessions simply increasing in reps and in length to build her up for her first attempt at the Half Marathon distance.

I have to admit I was a little surprised to see Laura run her first half marathon in 1hr 50 mins 42 seconds but this just shows what taking the time to put the effort in and committing to a program 100% can do.

To put the achievement in some context the pace this time relates to per mile is under 8mins 30 seconds and her 5km (3.1mile) PB was based on 8 mins 37 seconds per mile 6 months ago. 10 miles further but faster per mile, in 6 months.

The Hard Work Paying Off!

Laura has taken her overall speed gained in the 5km training and the endurance fitness gained in the half marathon training forwards and in the few weeks following this half marathon has set the following times:

  • New Mile PB of 6 mins 27 seconds, finishing 3rd and 2nd at Midsummer Mile Series
  • Podium 5km – 23 mins 19 seconds (PB) – This is 3:26 mins off her starting 5km PB or a 12% improvement
  • 5 mile PB of 39 mins 21 seconds at Thornton Interclub finishing 8th Red Rose Female Runner and 5th Red Rose Female Runner at Wesham Interclub
  • Finally, over the whole period Laura has taken 2 mins off Cuerden Valley parkrun times. This has been a 7% improvement and anyone that knows how tough this parkrun is will understand of significant this is!

For the statistic fans amongst you RunBritain has a ranking system for runners registered with Athletic Clubs in the UK. Through magical sorcery they produce a handicap system, At the start of her coaching journey Laura had a handicap 22.3 and ranked her outside the top 70 runners in her club. This recently peaked at 13.1 moving her up to 8th female in the club.

From the Athletes Perspective!

As a highly competitive and ‘organised’ person I knew I would enjoy the structure and challenge of a coaching programme. I was initially a little bit apprehensive about how I would cope physically with my training being ramped up as I felt a complete novice but wanted to give it my all and see where it would take me.

Before I began the coaching I was just going out and running 2-3 times a week, there was no real focus or plan to it. I was also in my final year of my PhD, which meant I had a lot of pressure and time constraints in relation to my work life. Damian worked really hard to develop a plan that would fit around me and my other commitments, and was always happy to move things around last minute if something came up. However, having the structure of a plan actually forced me to take some time away from my work, and probably made me more productive!

The first week back in November was tough. Damian wanted me to work on my speed which involved sprinting sessions. I was always a good sprinter at school, so I liked the look of the session and enjoyed doing something different, but I was working muscles I hadn’t worked for years and I moaned a LOT. I also found some of the interval sessions really hard, it was a case of pushing myself to my absolute maximum, and for these sessions I found having someone (usually a faster runner) with me really helped me keep pushing and stick to the paces set. As time went on I could really feel the difference in my recovery times (both during and between sessions) and I even coped with a double session on a Wednesday, despite my initial reservations.

There were some occasions where I didn’t feel 100% or work got in the way of a training session but all I needed to do was message Damian and he would come up with a solution straight away.  I liked being able to de-brief with him after sessions too and it was great to receive constant feedback on my training as well as racing performance. I think as a coach, Damian had the balance between being professional and pushing me to improve, but also being approachable, absolutely spot on. If I was told ‘well done’ after a session, I knew I had earned it!

After an initially positive start, I did struggle part way through the programme with Anaemia. This was a real challenge for both Damian and I, as we knew I was putting the effort in training-wise, but it just wasn’t translating to my races.  Once I got this under control, things began to improve rapidly, but my confidence (particularly over the 5km distance) had taken a real knock. Damian was brilliant during this time, and we decided to take a step away from the 5km’s for a while. We also completely changed the strategy for my next race (Salford 10km) and decided I would run at a slightly slower pace to begin with and then speed up for the last few KMs if I had anything left. Kate Clipston, another RunSmart Coaching athlete had agreed to help pace me and she spent the whole race telling me to slow down/trying to rein me in but this was the most enjoyable race I have ever done and it really helped me to start to believe in myself again.

Working towards the half, we actually didn’t make a decision on what pace I would run this until the week before. Damian advised and gave me some options (he also made it clear he felt the target time of 2 hours was 100% achievable), but ultimately wanted me to make the final call – again this was really important for me and I felt confident come race day.

I have not only progressed in my running throughout the last few months but also in my understanding of how I personally need to pace races in order to get the best out of myself.

Overall I was expecting to improve over the course of the plan, however I did not expect to see such large improvements in my times in such a short space of time. I genuinely loved every single minute of the whole process. After a bit of down-time I can’t wait to work with Damian again in the future to really see how far we can push things…watch this space!