Archive for February, 2007

Reading Football Club manager Steve Coppell was being criticised for fielding a weakened team against Manchester United in the Fifth Round FA Cup replay Tuesday, devaluing the competition in pursuit of League ambitions and a place in European competition (a good source of extra cash).

It would seem to be symptomatic of the British disease of short-termism that he should face these brickbats. Anyone watching the first 20 minutes of the game would have agreed the team was below par, as Reading quickly conceded three goals. In the end, the result was 3-2 to the League leader, which also was not at full strength. But the quality of the home team was certainly vindicated, even if its early match strategy was not.

But competition is not just about one game. Confidence and success are threaded together. Overburden too few players with responsibility for carrying all the hopes of fans, particularly as a team becomes more successful, and that success may be short-lived. Rest and recovery are central to sustained success.

The low point-scoring value of a single goal makes football a particularly chancey game. So it may well pay to take a risk with a weaker team sometimes anyway. This is why football is more exciting according to statisticians. It produces more reversals of fortune.

But fans are a bit like investors. And club chairmen very definitely are. Losing is painful. This works against the hapless manager who needs time to build a long-term strategy, and may explain why key players are fielded too often, only to compound team weakness when they become re-injured.

Coppell seems to be a very tactical manager in any event. The Reading team compensates for its relative weakness against “super clubs” by aggressive practising of set-piece plays. In that respect, he creates a lot of his own luck. Hats off to him. He also has a degree in economics ;-) . As comedian Harry Hill would say: “what are the chances of that happenin’?”

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It may be a punishment for being rude about economists on the Marginal Revolution blog. These people have supernatural power, you know. But for 24 hours I’ve been feeling a bit ropey again. It’s definitely the man-flu feeling. Heart rate was up this morning after a rest day Monday. Looks like it might pass in a day though, fingers crossed.

I don’t think I overdid it with the long run. There was no pre-indicator I was ailing, but the previous few days involved some significant stress. Twice in eight weeks I’ve been in situations where elderly relatives have been critically, disturbingly ill, including a New Year’s Eve near-death vigil, followed by a miraculous recovery.

They say stress weakens the immune system. Given that the running, certainly in the short period after each exercise, causes a redistribution of white blood cells away from the upper respiratory tract, it should not be a surprise that I might be more vulnerable to virus than usual. Mild weather also seems to be spreading more around this year than I remember. But even a week out now will seriously jeopardise my position come April 22.

I will aim to do some light exercise Wednesday, come what may, and avoid taking potshots at the economics profession until I’m better.

Resting heart rate 49

Weight 70.5 kg

Mood :-(

Unscheduled rest day

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long run stats

25Feb07

The pace of this run was much slower than I would expect at this stage of training, but conforms to the advice Bath University Human Performance Centre have recommended regarding improving running economy ie run slower.

Resting heart rate 45

Weight 71 kg

Mood :-|

Exercise energy consumed 1291 kcal (10 mins bike, 90 mins steady run)

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Arthur Newton is not a figure many will have heard of, not even committed runners. But Newton is the father of modern endurance training method.

Born in 1883, Newton was a veteran of the First World War when he took up running seriously, aged 38. He won the 1923 South African 55-mile Comrades marathon, beating the existing record by two hours – this is regarded by experts as one of the greatest athletic feats of all time. During his running career he held nearly all the major distance records, including the 100 miles between Bath and London. His first Comrades win in 1922 was after just 20 weeks of training from his first painful two-miler.

This is a story of redemption and a man seeking reparation. Newton was an early example of someone who used his sport for political ends. He had returned to his South African farmstead from serving as a dispatch rider in the British Army, only to find the government had neglected his property in his absence. He believed that amateur athletics was a uniquely noble activity, one that could not fail to inspire sympathy for his cause.

For those of us who run for charity, the motivation is not dissimilar. Indeed, many take on the marathon following the death or illness of a loved-one, or as a means of overcoming some other life challenge as a statement of emotional and financial support to the organisations that have provided succour to us, our loved ones, or others whose plight has moved us.

By the 1950s the full value of his training methods was realised with the appearance of the great age of endurance running. What he understood in the 1920s was that you needed to do a lot of mileage, and most of it slowly, building speed and distance with small incremental steps. Indeed, his early training involved a lot of walking. Those first two miles caused him a lot of discomfort – he could not run for several days afterward, so he walked instead.

Newton’s approach was to develop what physiologists call “running economy” – something I’ve realised my own training has not yet established. My maximal test at the University of Bath highlighted just this. While I have focused mostly on the VO2 Max, which is above average, my report was much more critical of how well I use that capacity over distance. Because I have not trained slowly enough I have below average economy. Hopefully, as the miles pile on that will improve.
Resting Heart Rate 46

Weight 71.5 kg

Mood :-(

No exercise, insufficient time.

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UK Sport is highlighting its talent transfer scheme in an effort to boost the country’s medal chances in the 2012 London Olympics. Some people have dismissed this as a tactical move, not dealing with the core long-term issues of lack of British success, particularly in athletics. But it has a lot of merit. As UK Sport says:-

“to date many transfers have succeeded due to a stroke of luck and personal intrigue rather than judgement. The Talent Transfer Programme aims to change that, introducing a more proactive, systematic approach to searching out those athletes already ‘primed’ for podium success.”

UK Sport highlights the example of Shelley Rudman, a former 400m hurdler who switched to skeleton bob and won silver at the Turin 2006 Winter Olympics. Shelley trains at Bath University.

In marathon running, one of the more famous examples of transfer was that of Jack Foster, a Liverpool-born New Zealander who switched from competitive cycling where he’d failed to excel by his early 30s. Foster won the 1974 Commonwealth silver medal for New Zealand aged a few months short of his 42nd birthday. He set a Masters (over 40) world record of 2:11:18s – a time that would have earned 12th place in last year’s London marathon, and would have won the first race in 1981.

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