Matt Long concludes his two-part interview with Mick Hill
Our first piece celebrated the achievement and our follow up unpicks the process which led to Mick Hill’s astonishing recent comeback success in claiming the British M45 5k record.
Chronological, Biological and Training Ages.
I begin by asking Mick whether he feels his age! With a laugh he confirms that, “I feel every single one of my 45 years, especially when I get up in the morning! My achilles are troublesome, they warm up – but they don’t half hurt in the mornings! I started competing when I was at Primary School but was lightly trained right through to 19yrs or so – I then trained hard up to around 26/ 27 years old.
I then ‘fell off a cliff’ until 34 – so lost maybe 7-8 years. I never stopped running and competing, I just put a load of weight on and probably missed more training than I actually did. I had a load of failed comeback attempts. I got back into it at 34 but had broken down by 36. I started back properly at the age of 43 so all in all I’ve had maybe 12 years of proper training and a load of years with very little! Weight gain and loss has been the main challenge so I probably do have a training age of mid 30s perhaps.”
Masters Compared to Senior Training
I’m keen to ascertain whether and how Mick has adjusted the volume, frequency and intensity of his training as a masters athlete. To my surprise he says candidly, “It is similar with the exception of hill work. I try to run 80-100 miles per week consistently. My coach Bud Baldaro has ingrained in me the benefit of lots and lots of sub-maximal work.
I stay off the tarmac. I like to train off-road and over challenging terrain. It is good for the body and also the mind. I track all my running with a GPS watch and Heat Rate Monitor but I never ever try to run to pace. I just run off ‘feel’.
In my week I tend to run two hard sessions, a medium long run (90mins) and a long run (1hr40 – 2hrs). There are lots and lots of relaxed pace 45-60mins runs. Plus a couple of speed development sessions built in around my easy runs. Variety and consistency are the main areas I focus on. As well as tracking my weekly mileage, I also track my weekly climb – and I know that if I can get in 8000’ plus of climb in a week without touching the fells then I have had a tough week!
Session wise I like to train on grass & dirt. The only time I would touch tarmac is for the odd threshold / progression run and speed development work. Recently I have been on the track once per week and doing some faster sessions (quicker than 3km race pace) – there have been a fair few where I have run off long recovery, one of the best ones I did was 3 x 1km / 6mins in 2m52s, 2m47s and 2m44s.
I like that combination of one strength based session in a week and one speed based session. I look back at my best year-2000- and all my hard sessions were on grass – in fact I ran an 8m17s track 3000m off a single track session two weeks prior. You do not necessarily need to go hard on the track – you can get the same stimulus on other surfaces and perhaps take away a little injury risk”.
Bud Baldaro’s influence
Mick gives generous and rightful credit to the man he refers to as “an absolute magician”. With considerable emotion he tells that, “Ever since I linked up with Bud in the winter of 96-97 he has had a real knack of tapping into someone’s psyche. He can read people better than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s never a one size fits all approach either. He recognises that different athletes need a different approach.
I have always loved those face-to-face or telephone sessions with Bud when you build up your training block structure. It’s like watching an amazing artist at work and you come away from this feeling like you can run through walls! Bud has always preached common sense and simplicity, and an ability to think for yourself. I am at the stage now where I can probably work it out for myself but having Bud in my camp easily gives me another 10%.
I speak to Bud every week and he sets all the hard workouts, but I tend to plan out the overall structure of my training week. We rarely do the same session twice, with the exception of continuous hills, threshold and hills and 8 mile progression run which I like to repeat on a roughly 3-4 week cycle”.
Mick is keen to contextualise the significant demands of his training to referring to his making some better informed lifestyle choices. He asserts that, “I look after myself. I do not drink anymore and I try to get decent sleep. My diet is really good – albeit I still have cravings and can be prone to binge-eating. I never get ill – my immune system seems to be really robust Perhaps the lifestyle I lived in my youth and at university, which was a tough lifestyle has hardened me up! Who knows?
Attention to Agility, Balance and Co-ordination
I press Mick as to what he now does which he neglected as a senior by listing a plethora of activities including stretching; drills; cross training and yoga. With brutal honesty he replies that, “I have played with drills, but I am not as diligent as I should be. I think the key difference are hills. Under Bud back in the 90s we never ever ran hill sessions. All my running was over hilly terrain, there was little flat running in Leeds.
Back then nobody did out & backs on the canal, it was just unheard of. We all embraced the off-road hilly terrain that is in abundance in North Leeds. Now I do a lot more specific hill work – continuous threshold hills is one of my go to sessions, along with threshold and hills mixed together- the golf course is great for this kind of work. Additionally I try and do short hill sprints- 8-10 x 10s, walk back recovery in my week plus at least two fast strides post easy runs. These strides are flat out over say 70-80 metres on tarmac or road with a slow walk back.
The strides, drills, plyos, short hills fall into the category of speed development. It is totally non-aerobic work and gives me a real neuro-muscular stimulus – I am very slow twitch dominant and I would say this work I do has been a game changer as I have got older. My running mechanics are really good for an old guy – and this also plays into my strength which is excellent running economy – even back in 2001 when I was lab tested by Professor Andy Jones my running economy / lactate profile was at the elite end of the scale vs a relatively low VO2 max in the 60s.
I am also a lot more dialled into long runs – back in 2000 I don’t remember running over 90mins and a lot of the long runs I did would have been social slow Sunday runs. Now I treat the long run very much as a key session – and I like to push on a bit with pace, plus run up to 2 hours over really tough hilly terrain on occasions. I am a big believer in the principal of fast-twitch muscle fibre recruitment once you get past 90mins & glycogen depleted and the hills really help with that, plus on occasions the odd fasted long run.
To really achieve these gains you need to get closer to 2 hours and this should be applied to all runners training tool-box whether training for 1500m right the way through to Marathon. I do not believe that long run duration needs to be linked to target race distance. Note, I do not think you need to do these every single week and you can vary your long runs in terms of duration, pace and terrain just like you can vary your other key workouts”.
So is there another hill for Mick to climb after scaling the summit of his British M45 5k record? With gusto he tells that, I hope to continue chasing fast times from 1500m – 10,000m on the track through the summer of 2021, plus road times. I believe I can get myself very high up on the respective all time-lists. In the winter I will turn my attention to XC and in particular the twin goals of the British Masters XC International in Santry, Dublin and also the Northern / National XC. I just don’t tend to like the going too heavy. I really struggled at Nottingham in the 2020 National.
I wouldn’t say I am overly motivated by the European and World Masters scene however never say never and Bathurst, Australia in 2022 has the very first World Masters XC Champs being staged alongside the World XC Champs. This would make a great trip!
What can you learn from Mick?
We draw our interview to a close as I ask Mick for some pearls of wisdom for all you masters athletes out there who have understandably been inspired by his recent achievement. He pauses for reflection before clearly articulating, “Be very patient. Take an intelligent and evidence-backed approach. Do not simply try and repeat what you did in your youth. Experiment and do not be afraid to be a non-conformist. If you are able to then get somebody involved to coach / advise / mentor. You might think you know it all – but just having someone to use as a sounding board will pay dividends. Plus if you are not improving then what you are doing is not the right approach, so change it up.
Motivation is the number 1 reason why former runners either cannot actually comeback in the first place – or fail in their attempts! Everyone I have spoken to about not being able to comeback either simply does not want to or has the flimsiest of excuses. For those in the latter camp it all comes down to motivation. This will not be the same for everyone – find something that properly motivates you and get after it! More often than not it will be race related – so get racing from day number 1, swallow your pride and accept the level that you are at – you will progress!”.
Matt Long is a Midlands Team Manager for Road, Cross Country and Masters. He can be contacted for support at email@example.com. Mick Hill shares all of his training on Strava and also on his Instagram & Twitter accounts. Please follow him at: http://strava.com/athletes/mickhill https://twitter.com/bethebest45 >> https://www.instagram.com/bethebest45/