My journey to a sub-20 min 5k


8:51am Sunday 4th August 2019

I’m sitting slumped on the steps of the Torrens Parade ground in the heart of Adelaide. I’ve just done something I didn’t think I was capable of - especially at the tender age of 40 - that was to crack 20 minutes for 5k.

That may not be all that impressive, but I’ve never been an overly competitive runner.

I grew up playing footy and discovered the love of running in my 30’s. After overcoming some serious injuries to my knee, hip and spine, the focus generally has been to use running as a means of staying healthy and maintaining a solid physical foundation.

Going back 12 months, I had set a sub 20 min 5k as my main goal for 2019.

I wasn’t all that keen on doing a marathon in 2019 - with 2 little kids around the place I didn’t want a race that was all consuming that takes too much time from family life.

My main motivation?

I was going to be turning 40 mid-June and thought a sub 20 min 5k had a good ring to it.

Perhaps it was my version of a ‘mid-life’ crisis - an opportunity to set some PB’s while there was still time.

The plan

In late 2018 I ran a 21:53 at the Glenelg Classic - so I clearly had a lot of work to do!

I certainly knew how NOT to improve my 5k, and that was to simply focus on running more 5k’s.

My ‘training’ for the 5k traditionally was to run a hard 5 km every month or so and see what would happen.

Almost every time without fail, I would go out at a decent pace, get to 1k feeling great, 2k feeling a little shaky and by the 3rd 5k completely spent.

I’d spend the last 2k limping home full of lactic acid wondering what went wrong.

To give myself the best chance for the sub 20, I realised I needed to change my approach from a goal focused ( Figure 1 - running more 5k’s) to a process focused (Figure 2 - getting the right mix of key workout sessions, race strategy and recovery).

This meant I saved my 5k efforts for when it really counted, trusting that by focusing on the process would end in a successful outcome.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 2

Summer Trail Series

Over the 2018/19 summer I did my first Summer Trail Series, which provided a nice focus to keep some mileage in the legs.

No doubt, the additional hills helped build some leg strength which gave me a good foundation for the year ahead.

Early on in the year, most of my workouts were at a very ‘easy’ pace - which generally involved a walk/run combo. This enabled me to build a solid volume base, without stressing my body with fast paced workouts.

Getting a Running Coach

Being a big fan of the Inside Running Podcast, I was intrigued to hear the stories of the hosts and their guests week in and week out. It was great to hear their passion for running and much thought they put into their training and racing. I had never fully appreciated the intricacies of running, in the way they talked about it.

No doubt some of their knowledge and passion started to filter in and when Brady mentioned he was looking for runners to coach to a sub-20 5k PB I was keen to get on board.

Screen Shot 2019-08-25 at 8.18.11 pm.png

After a good chat about my running history and plans, Brady got me on a well structured program.

It was fantastic being set up with a personalised training plan and it meant I could focus 100% on the running.

Brady introduced me to some really good training philosophies and I learnt about some key training sessions, that I hadn’t done much of before such as the progressive tempo runs, lactate threshold runs and fartlek work.

At school, I mainly played football, tennis and swimming. I never did little athletics where you learn about how to develop a structured training program and learn about the key sessions required to progress fitness.

So having Brady as a guide was incredibly beneficial - and helped me gain some confidence and momentum in my training - something that Matt Fitzgerald talks about in his excellent book RUN: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel.

I think one of my main mistakes before getting a coach was to push myself a little too hard during my training - leading to overload and a boom-bust cycle of niggling injuries.

In terms of the sessions, the Mona Fartlek was a real game changer for me - with the intense interval work really showing up my weaknesses.

I was OK at doing some quick intervals - but I used to walk or stand for the recoveries.

Instead, the Mona Fartlek demands you jog / run the ‘off’ periods at a half decent pace.

My first Mona was a bit of a disaster - as I didn’t even know how to set up my Garmin GPS watch for workouts, so I was constantly looking down at my watch pressing start/stop.

I went out way to hard in the first few intervals - and paid for it in the second half.

The Mona really taught me about proper pacing and not going out too hard too early.

I had a solid two months of training with Brady’s program - and found my fitness improving dramatically. Towards the end of April, I had a trip to Melbourne over Easter and managed to pick up a nasty flu - that everyone seemed to also get at the time.

Being pretty motivated - I probably didn’t rest as I much as I needed - and the flu / cough seemed to get worse and not better.

I was feeling a little burnt-out and needed to take a break from running in the short-term to get myself healthy again.

After about a month of little to running, the 5k was pretty much off the table, and I wasn’t too fussed about pushing my body for the immediate future.

In June we had a family trip up to North QLD - and with the warm humid weather, I started to get some more energy back and got back into some easy jogging.

Screen Shot 2019-08-25 at 8.30.00 pm.png

I had also bought a book, Run Faster by Brad Hudson and Matt Fitzgerald.

This book really simplified the process of training for the 5k - and gave some key sessions such as:

  • Building endurance with a fast 10k

  • performing 5 x 1 k at goal pace (1 min jogging recoveries)

  • weekly hill sprints to build leg strength

Queens Birthday Turkey Handicap

In June, I felt like my fitness had improved quite a lot - and I felt ready to give my body it’s first 5k test. This race was set up by the Harriers Running Club - and involved predicting your race time, and then the winner was the person who got the closest (without using a GPS watch).

I nominated a 19:59 time - and ended up running a 20:23.

My thoughts going in was that running by feel - and not stressing over my pace by looking at the watch every 5 seconds may play to my advantage.

I started out pretty strong - probably too strong as usual (approx 3:50 pace) and by 3km I was cooked.

The last 2 km I could feel the lactic acid taking over my body and even my arms started to cramp up (weird!), due to the hydrogen ions that build up in your body when you’re pushing beyond your limits.

After this experience, I had some more hope that the sub 20 min could happen this year (especially if I got my pacing right from the the start). But I wasn’t 100% and had almost resigned to leaving it be for this year and giving it another crack next year.

That’s when I heard about the Fitzy’s 5k coming up in a couple of months - a run that I had done with my brother in 2015 as I was building up to the NYC marathon.

I had also been getting some inspiration from running coach Greg McMillan who gave a really enlightening talk about how to tackle the 5km. He highlighted some key factors leading to a positive race, you can check it out below.

One of the keys from Greg’s talk was setting up the race with a proper warm-up prior to the race.

For the 5k, there is no ‘warm-up’ period as such - you’ve got to ready to hit your race pace as soon as the gun goes off. In my training, I found it did take me quite some time to get warmed-up - sometimes up to 45 minutes. I found that if I didn’t warm up properly, then when I started the 5k, my heart rate would really skyrocket and I’d feel really anxious because I could hardly breathe!

Greenbelt 10k

Two weeks out from my 5k attempt at the Fitzy’s 5k I decided to run the 10k at the Greenbelt running festival. I ended up running a 43:53 - a time I was happy with, but at the same time, didn’t fill me with a huge amount of confidence to go sub 20 5k.

There were quite a few rolling hills along the course, and I think I was having a slightly off day - it felt like a pretty hard 10k and I was really tired at the end of it. It probably set me up pretty well for the 5k two weeks later.

Screen Shot 2019-08-24 at 2.07.25 pm.png

Final week before the Fitzy’s 5

The week before the Fitzy’s 5km I came across this podcast interview with Craig Mottram.

I had known about Craig Mottram, but never knew how incredible a runner he was until listening to his podcast with Brad Beer. And he is surprisingly tall - 6”2 (I have always felt slightly out of place being a taller runner, so knowing this was a bonus).

Talking about his mental toughness - he described himself as the ‘King of Pain’ and encouraged to work hard and don’t be afraid to test your boundaries.

Craig mentioned in the podcast that Ron Clarke said to him that you’ll the hardest kilometer you’ll ever run in your life is from 3 to 4 km in a 5km race. That’s when you start to doubt yourself about maintaining the pace and staying strong until the finish.

That was good to know that I wasn’t the only one who really struggled with this part of the race!

Watching Craig in his Commonwealth Games race (above) was pretty inspiring - his confidence and belief in himself to the extremes was amazing.

A couple of days before Fitzy’s 5k - a new research study came out that I saw on social media (thanks Michael Nitschke) - talking about the way you talk to yourself.

By simply changing from ‘I’ to ‘You’ can influence your physical performance e.g.

  • I —> YOU can tolerate this

  • I — > YOU can keep going

  • I —> YOU can deal with the pain

  • I —> YOU can go flat out now

  • I —> YOU are going to finish strong

I was keen to test out this small tweak in self-talk to see if the research was accurate.


August 4th - Fitzy’s 5k

Admittedly we had absolutely perfect conditions - it was cold and sunny (around 10 degrees) and no wind with a slightly downhill course.

How The Race Unfolded

0-1k - First 150m was uphill and my pace was 3:50 so I had to be really disciplined not to push myself too fast. Turning from North terrace into a long downhill along King William Street and picked up some nice momentum. Had the Garmin set up to beep me if I went out of the 3:50 - 4:00 range. At 1 km, I had a beep that was telling me I was going too fast, so backed off a bit more.

1-2k - I was holding myself back at 3:55-4:00 pace, even though I felt like I could have gone way faster. Quite a few people over-taking me at this stage, and I was desperate to go with them, but knew I’d pay for it later in the race. As Greg McMillan says, as you maintain even pacing through the race, your perceived effort will ramp up significantly towards the finish. Started picking up some energy from over-taking a bunch of runners.

2-3k - Felt good, ran past the Women’s and Childrens hospital and was focusing on some deep diaphragm breathing and trying to avoid sub-consciously holding onto my breath, which I have a tendency to do when the going gets tough. Focused especially on the exhale and blowing off the excess CO2. Tried to keep the stride efficient and strong.

3-4k - Around the Uni ovals - felt solid like I was at my limit, but didn’t feel terrible, still something in the tank for the finish.

4-5k - Picked up the pace a bit - Garmin had me averaging 3:58, so I felt comfortable that I was on track.

Towards the last 100m, someone yelled out if you sprint you can get a sub 20.

I was a little surprised, but had no time to really think, but I could see the big clock ticking away above the finish line and absolutely sprinted my guts out to cruise through the finish line with a time of 19:59. The last 100m was at about 2:53 pace - something I don’t think I’ve done before!

I was pretty pumped to achieve the goal. It was over and done with so quickly - I didn’t even get a chance to really think about it - I guess that is a good thing - getting into the zone.

Looking back - it’s been a fun and challenging goal to get the sub 20 for 5km. It certainly makes life interesting having a goal and working towards something every time you go out for a run.

The 5k is a really interesting test of fitness. I would say that the training to get the sub 20 has been actually harder and more focused than running the two marathons I’ve done.

A few random things that I think helped me on the day:

  • good tapering over preceding 2 weeks - reduced volume but maintained (or slightly increased) intensity

  • in the few days before the run big focus on core e.g. plank endurance holds. As I wasn’t running as much, I found this a good simulation for dealing with ‘uncomfortable’ sensations and pushing yourself through

  • had a long warm-up 45 mins - easy running + some run throughs at race pace and slightly quicker

  • happened to have a foam roller and mat in the boot of car - so took a couple mins after warm-up to roll out and get maximum mobility out the body (hips especially)

  • listened to some cheesy motivational music during the warm-up, but ditched the phone for the actual race

  • ate easy to digest, low-fiber carbs the day before e.g. mash potato, ravioli, 2 min noodles, rice crackers, lolly snakes. Not that you really need to carb load before a 5km, more about avoiding hard to digest foods

  • had a gel 15 mins before race

  • mantras used during the race - King of Pain (borrowed from Craig Mottram), stride - smooth and efficient, talking to myself with in the second person…YOU’ve got this.

If you got this far - as always thanks for reading, I’d love to hear from you and learn about your experience also. What helped you most with setting a recent PB? Please leave your comments below.

If you are interested, you can view my specific training schedule on Strava.

Happy running!

Can We Do Better Than The 10% Rule?

Can We Do Better Than The 10% Rule?

The short answer is yes.

The 10% rule would be familiar to most endurance athletes (limiting increases in training load by no more than 10% per week) and while it’s a good general guide to help us build our mileage, it has some serious flaws.

The 10% rule:

  • doesn’t allow for recovery adaptation weeks

  • isn’t actually supported by evidence

  • doesn’t give much helpful guidance when returning from a period of inactivity from injury or illness

  • may not be an appropriate target at certain times in your training phase

That’s where a broader view can help us plan our training, avoiding large spikes in load that are known to increased the risk of injury.

The acute-to-chronic training ratio compares your mileage for the last week to your average weekly mileage for the last four weeks.

In recent studies with athletes from various sports, injury risk climbs when this ratio exceeds 1.3, and increases significantly when it exceeds 1.5 (see graph below with thanks to Tim Gabbett).


Keeping a regular eye on this ratio (easy if you have the Garmin connect app - see below) can help us find the sweet spot where the right amount of training is improving our performance and importantly staying injury free.


To quote Tim Gabbett, “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the load you’re not prepared for”.

If you’re a numbers sort of person, read more about effective load management strategies at our ‘Creating An Unbreakable Athlete’ series.

Resistance Training For Runners

Resistance Training For Runners

Guest Blog By Sam Hicks (Distance running coach and Personal trainer and owner 4 Runners)


Doing weights was once viewed as an activity carried out by gym junkies and Olympic weight lifters.

These days it’s become not only ‘in’ with the cool kids but highly recommended by medical professionals for the general population.

In distance running circles back in the good old days of marathoning it’s understandable to realise that lifting weights wasn’t highly popular among the elites.

And why would you as long distance runner, or any endurance athlete for that matter?

After all when it comes to specificity in training logic would say if you want to improve at running, just run more.


In addition doesn’t lifting weights give us bigger muscles which will end up becoming aerobically more expensive?  

But as training research advances and evolves more and more elite and recreational distance runners are including specific resistance programs into their training.

The main reason is injury prevention.

This means more consistent uninterrupted training that is likely to produce improved performance in race times.

We can break the benefits of resistance training down even further:

Improved musculo-skeletal health and strength

Strengthening of the running muscles and improved bone health.

Improved running economy

More strength can mean less ground contact time and enhanced “pop” from each foot strike.


Hormonal change (maximise anabolic response)

When the majority of your training time is spent completing extended periods aerobic exercise the body can enter catabolism “destructive metabolism”.

This can have detrimental effects on your overall health.

To reduce periods of extended catabolic states, an appropriate resistance training programme can be prescribed.

Combined with a healthy balanced diet will more than likely induce anabolism “constructive metabolism”.

So never fear stacking on excessive muscle mass from a couple of strength session per week.

Hypertrophy (enlarging of tissue) should only occur after specifically programmed sessions where this is the desired outcome.

But in the right dose, its likely strength gains will occur without excessive gains in lean mass.

Some examples of how strength training has helped runners…

Sir Mo Farahs (Multiple Olympic Gold medalist) ex coach Alberto Salazar running strength information:


Steve Moneghettis Biography Page 255 “In the long run” describes his weekly mileage daily breakdown plus his body weight strength circuit including push ups , sit ups , dips, chin ups ,leg raises etc.


If you’re unsure of how to structure resistance exercise into your program contact myself or another trusted  athletics Australia distance running coach , strength and conditioning coach or personal trainer that you trust to help with your running goals.

Sam Hicks is owner for 4 Running, an Adelaide based Running Coach and Personal Trainer.

4runners was founded by Sam Hicks in 2015.

As a level 2-advanced distance running coach and personal trainer, Sam himself is proof the systems that he use work.

“The methods I use are simple to understand, but not all are easy to execute”

Training for a distance running event can be overwhelming, leaving it hard to know where to begin.

4runners has been developed to remove the stress of knowing what to do in your program and when to do it.

Sam coaches long distance runners of all age groups, abilities using online correspondence to track your progress week by week. He tailors all the programs himself and monitors how the athlete responds to them.

Whether you’re a young novice 1500m track runner or a veteran marathoner, 4runners will cater for the individual.

“These systems are not new, flash or easy. They’ve been around since the 50’s. I’ve got so much confidence in them as I’ve experienced the results they produce.”

For more information, please contact Sam via this link.

Creating An Unbreakable Athlete - Part 1

This blog post was inspired by world leading sports scientist Tim Gabbett who recently posed the question,

Is it possible to develop an unbreakable athlete?

Tim elaborated on this on a recent podcast you can check out here.

My hope for this blog is that you may find something that resonates with you.

A (perhaps missing) piece that you can make part of your own unique and ever changing journey towards the holy grail of becoming an unbreakable athlete.

And if you think this article doesn't apply to you, in the words of Bill Bowerman,

"If you have a body you are an athlete".

The same principles apply for anyone who wants to break free of ongoing niggles and pain.

Be warned though, this blog is a long read, so get yourself a nice cuppa and get comfortable...

After studying the field of Physiotherapy for nearly 20 years now, I can say there’s no doubt that effective training is a blend of art and science.

There are a lot of opinions out there and it can be hard to figure out the right plan of attack.

In this blog I’ve tried to bring together the thoughts and opinions of world leading coaches, sport scientists and Physios and match it up with evidence based practice to help you achieve your goals.

We’ll try and put together a holistic and systematic approach that will develop a robust and resilient athlete, providing the foundation for planned training and competition.

I’ll also talk personally about some of the mistakes I’ve learned along the way.

Staying injury free

“The way to peak performance isn’t the secret, the secret is learning how to get to that point without getting injured along the way”

- Nick Willis dual Olympic medallist.

There is no one magical ‘correct’ way to train for everyone.

We all have our individual strengths, weaknesses, history and specific goals.

While we need to accept our approach will never be 100% perfect, we can always get better at it over the months and years.

Injuries are the number one factor limiting performance for athletes and the main obstacle holding you back from achieving your goals.

As well as reducing fitness dramatically, time off through injuries may also lead to weight gain and decreased physical capability, leading to a higher risk of future injury, sometimes leading to a downward spiral (See figure 1).

Ongoing injuries and time off training leads to an under-loading situation, and a perception of having a ‘vulnerable’ body that might break down at any stage.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Becoming An Unbreakable Athlete

On the other hand, if you can stay healthy for an extended period of time and put together some consistent weeks / months / years of training, improvement is virtually guaranteed.

Injury prevention needs to be a priority in your training plan with specific strategies in place (see below), otherwise you will break down sooner or later, especially as age catches up with you.

Really listening to your body and gaining self-knowledge about how you’re responding to your training and making appropriate adjustments to your schedule is what can make the difference between becoming an unbreakable athlete and ending up burnt out and not achieving your goals.

Addressing niggles / minor injuries early on and using a growth mindset can propel you towards becoming a resilient and robust athlete (see figure 2).

Figure 2

Figure 2

The ultimate cause of overuse injury

They say exercise is medicine and I agree with that.

But, you need to get the dose right. Too much or too little will lead to issues.

Research shows errors in load management are responsible for up to 75-80% of over-use injuries.

The perfect storm is when inadequate preparation (low physical capacity) meets with excessive training intensity and load (Figure 3).

Figure 3 Always keep this picture in mind !

Figure 3 Always keep this picture in mind !

Errors in load management can happen due to:

  • sudden excessive spikes in training load

  • over-training over time with insufficient recovery/adaptation

This is a recipe for disaster!

When your capacity is considerably lower than the demand placed upon it, your body remains in a constant state of stress and overload.

Injury is often a case of the straw that breaks the camels back, with signs and symptoms not heeded weeks or months beforehand.

There is a delicate balance between training and recovery and this can be difficult to achieve, especially if you are fueled by initial success and endorphin highs from challenging training sessions.

Unfortunately, in pursuit of gaining the competitive edge and high levels of internal motivation, injuries are very common.

Valuable time, energy and resources are then re-directed towards rehabilitating injured structures that can sometimes take weeks / months to heal properly.

As most older athletes can relate to, we can get stuck in a cycle of injury, pain and de-conditioning that can zap motivation quickly.

Sometimes it’s hard to see a way out when you’re stuck in the zone of stress.


For me as a runner, I’ve experienced just about every injury and made all the mistakes about increasing training loads too quickly.

So I can very well understand your frustrations about your body.

You can go from practitioner to practitioner looking for a magic cure.

But until we can zoom out and see the bigger picture of why we’re getting injured, (grasping the capacity vs demand concept), we may never truly get over our niggling injuries.

As a Physio, I enjoy helping people with diagnosing and treating injuries.

But my real passion is to empower people to build their physical capacity to a point where they can create a ‘buffer zone’ where they can achieve their goals without risk or worry of becoming injured.

To see someone get out of chronic rehab and get back to their best, and restore their confidence in their bodies is hugely satisfying.

That is one of the reasons I created the KIN Foundation training system that helps build the fundamental movement skills as a crucial stepping stone to more lofty physical goals.

Key Point

“It’s not the load that breaks an individual down. It’s the load they are not prepared for.” Tim Gabbett, PhD..png

A key point to be made here, is that it’s not the high demand and load that is generally the problem.

It’s how you go about preparing your body to handle that load.

Technically, you can build your capacity for any sort of demand, as long as you are well prepared for it.

An ultra marathoner who is well prepared for a 100km run may well have a lower risk of injury than a park runner doing their first 5km in 3 years.

I’m convinced it is possible to build an unbreakable athlete.

Let’s go into more detail…

5 Steps To Becoming An Unbreakable Athlete

1. Preparation

The first step in becoming an un-breakable athlete is to determine current physical capacity and know exactly where you’re heading.

If you’re a runner, you could do a 3km or 5km time trial that will determine your base aerobic capacity.

To assess your current musculo-skeletal capacity you could use the help of a Physio or Exercise Physiologist who would be able to guide through some testing.

With the help of a coach or physio, you can then use the feedback from your performance to structure a plan towards achieving your goal.

For example if you scored poorly on the aerobic test and felt out of breath really quickly - you’ll need to work on your cardio-respiratory fitness.

If you felt cramps or twinges in certain body parts - building specific structural capacity is what may be required.

Working closely with a Physio early on who can help you put together an indivdualised program can pay seriously big dividends later in your training program and avoid a lot of the issues of having things break down.

Preparing for the worst case scenario

A key part of becoming an unbreakable athlete is to identify the worst case demands on your body during competition.

For example, if you’re a runner with an upcoming race later in the year, you can break down the demands into more detail:

  • what is the exact distance?

  • what is the elevation profile - how many hills?

  • what sort of pace or time goal are you aiming for?

  • weather condition - hot, cold or windy?

  • what time of day will it start?

  • will it be crowded with people - are you used to running in big groups?

  • what time will the race start?

  • what is the transport like before the start?

  • what sort of nutrition and hydration is available on the course

To ensure your preparation is adequate, ‘begin with the end in mind’ and then start to train your body to be able to handle those specific loads.

Identifying the demands of running

To get more specific in terms of identifying the demands of running, I would say many people under-estimate the forces that are a placed on the body when you run.

Often there’s an assumption that running is a pretty natural form of exercise and that our bodies can easily handle it.

But when we look more closely, the figures can be a little disturbing.

The research shows, on average during the landing phase of the running cycle, we must absorb approximately three times body weight of force.

If we do a quick calculation - let’s say you weigh 70kg and go for a 10 km run (approximately 10,000 steps).

10,000 steps x 70kg x 3 times body weight = 2,100,000 kg of force

That is over 2 million kilograms of force your body needs to absorb, just for a 10km run.

You can see why many runners end up with a few niggles!

Running as a foundation for most sports

We know from the research that fatigue leads to higher injury rates and poor decision making capabilities.

We know of many world class golfers, tennis players and surfers who use running as their base foundation to improve their game and be able to compete with the best in the world.

If you play football, soccer or other sports - the demands will be specific to your position and your coach can give you more guidance as to training required.

In addition to running fitness, you may need to include strength, agility training and sport specific skills.

Keep in mind most AFL footballers and soccer players run around 10-15km in a game, so they need a huge aerobic foundation to be successful.

Most AFL clubs employ running coaches and exercise scientists to help prepare their athletes to compete at the highest level.

This blog post has a focus on running as it’s the foundation for most sports.

In fact running a half marathon (21km) can be one of the best barometers of your musculo-skeletal foundation.

2. Increase Capacity

The process of building your physical capacity to meet the demands of training and competition is known as load management.

On the face of it, preventing injuries should be pretty simple.

Just gradually increase capacity at a sensible rate until you meet (or even better exceed) the expected demands.

And sometimes this plan works smoothly, especially when you are young and robust.

Figure 4 below shows a fairly straightforward progression with the goal known as the ceiling and your current capacity as the floor.

Figure 4. Picture Credit: Tim Gabbett Training Injury Prevention Paradox Seminar

Figure 4. Picture Credit: Tim Gabbett Training Injury Prevention Paradox Seminar

Things get more complex when you are attempting to build capacity and have some risk factors, such as:

  • history of injuries

  • low tissue capacity

  • poor general base fitness

  • inadequate nutritional support

  • lifestyle factors such as sitting or standing all day at work

  • mental / emotional stress

  • poor sleep

  • poor digestion

  • over-weight

  • older age

Your physical capacity may well have bottomed out and we call this being in the basement (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Picture Credit: Tim Gabbett Training Injury Prevention Paradox Seminar

Figure 5. Picture Credit: Tim Gabbett Training Injury Prevention Paradox Seminar

You may be in the basement if you’ve:

  • had a long term injury and been unable to train

  • been inactive for many years and spent a lot of time sitting at work

  • recently been pregnant

  • had a flare-up of a chronic illness or recently had surgery

  • been on extended holiday

Getting from the basement to the ceiling is obviously going to be a longer, more difficult journey than if you started at the floor.

The other factor we have to consider is how much time you have to reach your goal.

The longer you have, the less likely you will be to spike your training loads and increase the risk of overload and causing injury.

Also it’s good to keep in mind that our body systems respond at different rates to training. For example cardio-respiratory fitness improves much faster than the muscuol-skeletal system (bones, muscles, tendons e.t.c) that may take months or years to fully develop.

Starting from the basement

If your current capacity is very low, it may be necessary to start with walking as your main form of aerobic exercise.

Walking is a seriously under-rated activity for athletes and especially runners.

If your goal is to eventually run a half marathon or marathon, walking has many benefits, particularly if you're coming back from an injury.

Here's 4 key benefits walking has for the runner:

✔️ Increases blood flow to aid recovery

✔️ Encourages gradual loading of tissues and creates a bridge to safely achieve higher loads of running

✔️ Helps maintain a healthy body weight

✔️ Mental benefits of staying active and achieving small wins & avoiding complete rest (that can dramatically drop your physical capacity)

If you can build your walking capacity to 30-40km per week, you will have an excellent foundation for layering in some running safely down the track.

Getting the foundation right

As you’re building capacity, there are three main variables in your training:

  • volume

  • frequency

  • intensity

If you imagine a sound mixing board with all the various levels you can adjust.

Obviously it would be unwise to increase all the channels at the same time.

For runners it’s fairly well accepted that your first priority is building your low-intensity volume and then layering in your speed and race specific training towards the end of your training cycle.

Some recent research from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research has suggested that world-class long-distance running performances are best predicted by volume of easy runs (and deliberate practice of short-interval and tempo runs).

This novel study shows that there is a crucial role for long, easy runs that contribute to greater volumes of running, allowing for improved cardio-vascular efficiency (building a better engine) and optimal physiological functioning.

Arthur Lydiard the legendary New Zealand running coach strongly advised building this low-intensity aerobic base over a period of at least 3 months, (or 4-5 months if you’re starting out) and then building your race specific work later (see Figure 6).

Figure 6

Figure 6

Without the aerobic base, the more intense anaerobic training falls over and results become unpredictable.

The dramatic increase of injuries seen in team sports such as the AFL I believe can be traced back to players not getting significant component of endurance-based work in the pre-season.

Their bodies are put under enormous pressure with sprinting and high intensity drills placing extreme demands on them right from the early stages of their preparation.

Building Your Optimal Running Volume

Figure 6 below gives you some guidance on your ideal weekly mileage to aim for (in kilometers), depending on your experience level and your running goals.

Figure 6.

Figure 6.

Building higher volume initially will mean you’ll need to keep your intensity on the lower side.

To figure out what pace you should be doing your easy runs, there are a few online calculators that can help you.

The one I really like is Luke Humprheys Running Caclulator that you can find here:

Running Calculator

You can enter your most recent 5km time and see the pace range you should be aiming at for your easy runs.

It also gives you an accurate idea of your training zones for specific goals which is super handy.

Knowing and respecting your individual ‘easy’ zone pace (zone 1 and 2) is probably the single most important factor for a beginner runner to learn (see Figure 7).

Matt Fitzgerald has done a great job of explaining the finer points of getting your training intensity ratio right with his book 80:20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster By Training Slower.

Figure 7

Figure 7

Volume First, Speed Second

Here’s where Tim Gabbett’s training paradox comes into place.

Traditional thinking would suggest the more volume and training you do, the higher the ‘wear and tear’ on your body and the greater risk of injury.

This school of thought believes that training is important, but you’ve got to limit yourself, so you will be OK for competition.

However, the research is pretty clear that wrapping yourself in cotton wool from a training perspective leaves you unprepared to meet the demands of your sport, and opens your risk to developing an injury.

So hard and appropriate training is important - but you obviously can’t go out and give 110% in every training session.

Capacity must be built slowly by gradually expose yourself to higher demands.

Benefits of building low-intensity running volume base first

  • increase capillary density and mitochondria in muscles

  • improved running technique and efficiency - every stride is practice and improving your neuro-muscular efficiency

  • improves muscle strength and endurance

  • increases blood flow and circulation, leading to healthier tissues and aiding recovery

  • improves mind - body connection (can become aware of weak links early in the training cycle and strengthen them with a specific plan)

  • improves aerobic capacity, setting the foundation for the rest of the training to build upon

  • helps burn fat and maintain appropriate weight

Picture Credit: Hansons Marathon Method Book

Picture Credit: Hansons Marathon Method Book

Tips for building base mileage

  • think about getting more time on feet than achieving a certain pace

  • pace should be relaxed and easy - it should pass the ‘talk test’

  • keep your cadence relatively high, while maintaining a gentle pace (takes some practice)

  • insert walking breaks whenever you feel like you need it

  • keep your feet fresh by rotating between 2-3 of running shoes

  • get onto the trails where you can take some pressure off your joints and enjoy being out in nature

  • listen to running podcasts…highly recommend the Inside Running Podcast

Discovering your weak links

Most of us have some weak links in our body that we may never know until we start to increase demand.

As you’re progressing in training, the harder sessions will ‘test’ your physical capacity and movement foundation.

The benefit of building your low-intensity volume in the initial few months of training is that it can expose weak links in your body, without risking huge strain on your body.

Because there is no pressure to be fast and progress too quickly, in this phase you can take your time to properly address the issue.

Figure 8

Figure 8

The bigger the upcoming performance, the deeper your foundation has to run to support the demands (See below Figure 8).

Identifying your weak links can sometimes be really easy - it’s the area of your body that is overloaded and painful.

But there is often also a deeper root cause of why a certain tissue is getting overloaded.

That is where a good Physio can help you do some detective work and identify the more subtle biomechanical issues that may be contributing.

These issues may be things like:

  • weak or inefficient core muscles

  • inactive glutes

  • stiff ankles from past injury

  • tight hip flexors

  • poor body awareness

Won’t all this easy running make me slow?

Screen Shot 2019-02-20 at 4.36.34 pm.png

For many years I followed more of a high threshold training approach, believing that training at the pace you want to race at would stimulate the most beneficial training gains.

As a younger athlete with good recovery powers, this seemed to work well.

I did throw in some occasional slower runs, but to be honest I felt guilty doing them because it felt like going slow was completely counter-productive and my body would become soft.

As I have gotten older though, things changed. Harder training sessions took more of a toll and recovery was not as good as it was when I was young.

The old ego was not allowing me to get the proper training that I needed.

It wasn’t until I had a good discussion with running coach / podiatrist Michael Nitschke and he showed me this graph of the training intensity ratios of elite runners.


This was a really good wake up call.

The 80/20 principle of training came into full realization.

Once I fully accepted this principle, a weight was really lifted off my shoulders.

Suddenly I had the green light to run easy, and not feel guilty!

I distinctly remember my first conscious effort to run along at an easy pace.

It was really hard to slow down and be disciplined.

But after about 10 minutes I got over that and then started thinking - this so much fun!

Running suddenly turned into a pleasurable activity, when I wasn’t picking up the pace and burning out with fatigue on every run.

Admittedly the results of this approach to took a little longer to appear.

The ego and running pace takes a short-term hit.

But 6-12 months later, a solid foundation had built up from which faster running will come.

Invest in your training and reap the dividends

To use an analogy, running is like how you manage your money.

Easy running / building up high volume is like building your savings.

Every time you can go out for a jog without pushing into your red zone / high intensity, you’re building up your account.

Every minute your working hard above your threshold you’re spending money.

If you spend more than you save, you’ll go into debt pretty quickly and the bank will call you up and demand you start paying back what you owe.

Injuries are like going into debt.

If you can be disciplined and sensible, investing your savings over time (building your low-intensity volume) over many months and years, you’ll get to really enjoying spending the dividends on race day.

“The less effort, the faster and more powerful you will be” - Lao-tze

Efficient vs Effective Training - The tortoise and the hare

In terms of producing short-term results, there’s no doubt doing threshold runs and pushing your intensity gets you fit and ensures rapid progression towards your goal.

In terms of time invested vs results, this is a highly efficient way to train.

But because each week is full of hard training, it means there is a limit to how much capacity you can generate as you need to allow for rest and recovery.

Your improvement will be quick in the beginning but will begin to plateau fairly quickly.

As your fitness reaches as a plateau, improvements can be smaller, and because of this the temptation is to push even harder in training, naturally leading to an increased injury risk.

On the other hand, effective training, as proposed by Lydiard, recommends more of a pyramid training approach, with the emphasis on increasing total capacity (achieving higher volume mileage) in the beginning of a training cycle.

By starting off slowly and gradually building up can possibly yield better results in the long-term.

The story of the tortoise and could be analagous to the training styles.


As stated above, there is no one ‘right’ way to train for everyone and the research is still lacking.

The important thing is to listen to your body and if somethings working well that stick with it.

But if you’re having ongoing niggles or have plataued in your training, you may need to re-assess your training approach.

Part 2 To Be Continued…

Pain on Inside of Knee? Get To Know Your VMO

If you’ve ever had a nagging pain on the inside of your knee or a knee that seems to buckle or give way, there is a fair chance you’ve had some dysfunction in the VMO muscle.

VMO dysfunction is very common in runners, hikers, cyclists, athletes involved in jumping sports and after any knee injury.

In this short blog, we’ll find out more about how issues develop in the VMO and what you can do to help.


VMO stands for Vastus Medialis Oblique and this is part of the quads, running along the inside of the thigh, with the bulk of the muscle sitting directly above the inside of the knee.



The role of the VMO is to assist with extending your knee and arguably the most responsible muscle for knee stability, as it helps control the alignment of the knee-cap.

When the VMO isn’t functionally optimally, the knee cap tends to shift slightly out of place during movements such as squats and lunges, causing pain and inflammation behind the knee-cap.


When the quads get overloaded (suddenly or over time), tightness in the muscle fibres (called trigger points) can refer a toothache-like pain deep in the knee joint (see Figure 1 below).

This pain from the overloaded VMO muscle can often be confused with joint pain such osteo-arthritis or a meniscus tear, as the location and type of pain are often similar.

Figure 1

Figure 1

The initial knee pain then may disappear after a few weeks, only to be replaced by a sudden weakness in the knee (a condition called “buckling knee”) that causes a person to unexpectedly fall while walking.


The VMO can be activated as a protective response to knee injury such as to the ligaments, meniscus or post-surgery.

The VMO is also commonly overloaded with repeated use in the following situations:

  • suddenly increasing your volume of running or cycling (running places around 6 x body weight through the quads)

  • a new (or sudden increase) in an exercise program involving repetitive squats, lunges, leg extensions or wall sits

  • jumping sports e.g. basketball

  • cycling - poor bike fit

  • walking downhill or stairs

  • being over-zealous in rehabbing the VMO - too much strengthening too soon


Physiotherapy assessment will involve a comprehensive movement assessment to determine the cause of your VMO issue.

“Short term treatment such as soft tissue massage and dry needling is very helpful, while long term building capacity in the quads, glutes and core is critical to prevent a relapse.



Tightness and contraction of the VMO responds very well to dry needling, which can de-activate the trigger points (knots in the muscle).

The benefit of dry needling is that it can reach the deep fibers of the muscle and lead to a quicker resolution of symptoms. 

Treatment of the VMO is generally very responsive to treatment, provided the contributing factors are addressed.


  • apply heat to the VMO muscle 10 minutes each day to increase blood flow and reduce tension

  • if you’re a runner or hiker, avoid the hills (in the short-term)

  • ensure your shoes are not overly worn

  • when running - avoid over-striding, ensure proper warm up and cool down and take walking breaks frequently to avoid overloading the VMO

  • avoid prolonged kneeling on the floor e.g. gardening, washing floors - use a low bench or stool to sit on instead

  • foam roll the VMO daily for a few minutes (see below). It’s also a good idea to roll out the adductors which are also commonly tight

Foam Roller for the VMO:

Foam rolling the inner quad and adductor - fun times!

Foam rolling the inner quad and adductor - fun times!

Questions or concerns about your knee pain?

If you are curious about how we can help with our knee pain, I’d love to help you out.

Please leave a comment below or send an email direct to

If you’d like to get your knee on the fast track straight away, please use the button below to schedule an appointment online: