Valley

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Coach's

Column

September 1999

from Club Coach Max Jones

"THE WORSE THE HIGHER
(THE RED CELL COUNT)"

I finished the last Column looking forward to my 100th marathon in London. I was determined to get my weekly mileage up from the 15 per week on which Iíd finished first M70 in the Napa Valley Marathon in March, but fading to lose 11 minutes over the last 11 miles. Before London, I found the time to average 22 miles per week, but it didnít do me any good: I was only 11th in the age-group and a minute slower than in Napa.

As on previous occasions when Iíd not understood why I had run so slowly, off I went in the week after to have haematologist Dr Rajah check my blood and a very interesting result it was. The following figures show the important factors, for endurance runners, in the April Ď99 analysis and also the one from May Ď98, just before I ran 69:33 in the Thirsk 10, a time equivalent to a marathon in 3:12:

 

Haemoglobin

(gram/litre)

Red Cell Count

(trillion/litre)

Haematocrit

(cells to plasma)

Marathon Time

Mayí98

144

4.86

48%

3:12 (equiv)

April Ď99

158

5.4

52%

3:42 (actual)

No, I havenít put the figures on the wrong line. I ran so slowly in London this year because my oxygen-carrying haemoglobin and red cell counts were too high! The thickness of blood starts to go up very rapidly when the haematocrit goes over 50% and the red cell volume exceeds that of the remainder of the plasma (which is, in effect, water). As every ketchup addict knows, tomato sauce comes out of the bottle a lot, lot more slowly than Cherry Coke does and my blood had got so thick that, despite the 10% higher haemoglobin count, my heart was actually pumping less blood and oxygen than in the Thirsk 10. When Dr Rajah phoned me with the results, he told me to stop taking the tablets, which is the only time in my young life that any doctor has ever said that!

So what was going on? As noted in these columns before, whereas I used to get in 45 to 55 mile weeks regularly, I run less than half those distances now that Iíve cut out all the "steady" and "easy" (i.e. junk) miles. A side-effect of that is that Iím probably not tearing my muscle fibres to the extent I used to. Physio Maureen reckons that all strenuous exercise leads to micro-tears of tissues - and too much of it to macrotears - while chiropractor Barry McQuire told me of a research a golfing partner of his is engaged in which is showing that as much as 60% of all the relevant muscle fibres can be damaged in a single particularly hard work-out. Tissue damage must lead to internal bleeding, the summoning up of blood to repair the tears and the subsequent removal of the old blood in urine must reduce the haemoglobin count if the natural processes of making more blood cannot cope with this excessive destruction. So if itís high mileage which is the cause of "runnersí anaemia", itís probable that itís my low mileage which has led to my blood getting too thick and my marathon times going backwards!

Iíve discovered another disadvantage of it, too. When I was running 60 miles a week, I used to tell my fat friends that the great thing about running is that one gets to eat 10 days worth of food every week, so it doesnít matter much what you eat provided you get enough of it. Now that Iím down to below 20 miles a week, I have to be a lot more careful to avoid overeating : every extra pound adds a minute to a marathon time and, after the festivities last Christmas and the New Year, I was 9 minutes overweight. It took me almost 6 months of missing meals and drinking lots of coffee instead to get back to somewhere near proper racing weight.

Although there are these unexpected minuses for my mini-mileage training plan, Iím going to stick with it for another year and see what else happens. For one thing, I donít have the time, now that Iím retired and walking the dog three times a week, to run 60 miles a week!

Editor's note

Following Max's comments about the WAVA Marathon where he got away from an Argentinean runner who was unwrapping a Power Bar (see page 2), I have suggested to Max that his next "Coach's Column" should be entitled "Tactical Running in Long Distance Races" so we can have some examples e.g. putting a spurt on when your rival stops for a drink or for a "natural break" or even for a 3 course Sunday lunch with roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.