Monday, 25 April 2011

The Song Of Chance: Part Two - Dice Training


The Dice Man is a novel, first published in 1971, and written by Luke Rhinehart. It tells the story of a psychiatrist, Luke Rhinehart, who begins making life decisions based on the casting of dice. Due to its subversive nature and chapters concerning controversial issues, such as rape, murder and sexual experimentation, it was banned in several countries. Upon its initial publication, the cover bore the subheader, 'Few novels can change your life. This one will.' It quickly became a cult classic.


Many people who read The Dice Man were inspired to use dice in their day-to-day choices to add excitement and unpredictability to their lives. My aim, however, was different. I would use the dice as a coach. Starting cautiously, I would allow the dice to shape my weekly running. This could lead to success or failure, but either result was worthwhile, especially as injury had curtailed my early-season running and forced me to consider 2011 a 'low-key' year in anticipation of the mammoth effort required for 2012's Big Idea.

I'd been studying approaches to ultra-training for ages. Whilst there were well-established pathways to success in shorter distance races - 10k to marathon, for example - involving proven sessions of speedwork, tempo-running, threshold running and the like, a definitive approach to success in ultra-running was harder to come by.

My Bible, a tatty 148-page Road Runners Club publication entitled 'Training For Ultras' reconfirmed this. In the booklet, various legends of the ultra-running scene - Cavin Woodward, Erik Seedhouse, Don Ritchie, Mike Cudahy, Mike Hartley and Eleanor Robinson, amongst others - outlined their training regimes. Whilst the performances of these athletes is uniformly outstanding, the training programmes undergone to achieve similar results vary widely. Whilst some athletes employ limited mileage and weekly racing to achieve great results, others run long, slow mega-mileage with minimal racing. Whilst some athletes train twice or more each day, others never run more than one session. Whilst some athletes include regular hill running and strength training, some bother with neither. Consistency, it seems, is the one common factor - to perform well you have to train most days with sufficient, but minimal, periods of rest - but everything else is all over the place.

With this thought upper-most, I considered, 'What if the dice tell me how to train?'  Would 'fate' do as good a job as a coach? If the results were good and 'chance' did a better job than a training programme prescribed by a coach, where did that leave traditional thinking and the highly-regarded relationship between an athlete and coach?

I guess I was to find out.

I began to plan - tentatively, initially - a training programme written by the dice.

Dice Training: The Nuts and Bolts

With a blank sheet of A4 in front of me, I list the days across the top - Monday to Sunday. I'm reluctant to hand everything over to the dice at first. I need to dip my toes rather than dive in straight away. Dice-Lifers recommend you start with small tweaks rather than an anarchic sea-change. With this in mind, I list any sessions during the week that I run in company. Although I tend to train predominantly by myself, I look forward to Club sessions or regular, established runs with friends.

Accordingly, I pencil in a Club session for Monday pm, a steady run with a friend on Tuesday pm, an off-road Club run on Thursday pm, and an easy run with my liitle man, a friend and his daughter on Saturday am. These are the bones I'll work my dice-schedule around.

Now, I'll flesh out the schedule by a series of rounds of casting the dice.


This first cast of the dice determines my daily means of transport to work and back. The options are: cycle or drive. Whilst not strictly part of my training, this variable has a significant effect on my weekly schedule. I'm sure cycling is beneficial - it's enjoyable and it adds fitness - but the super-early starts it requires leaves me exhausted by the end of the week. Maintaining a routine of cycling to work and back everyday, on top of a tough running schedule, would be difficult, and could possibly lead to over-tiredness, an injury breakdown or onset of staleness due to 'over-doing it.' If, however, I let the dice decide, I should, in theory, have to cycle 50% of the time and drive 50% of the time. The dice will add the unpredictability of when I do what.

This first cast of the dice takes place, just like all my dice-decisions regarding the forthcoming week's training, on a Saturday morning. In that way, I've got the weekend to prepare for the schedule it's helped me conceive. In this particular round of casting, one throw determines the entire week's means of transport. If I roll an odd, the answer to my question, 'Will I cycle to work this week?' will be 'no.' ( In my dice-decisions, odd is always 'no'.) If I roll an even, the answer will be 'yes'.


The second round of casting determines morning runs and differs from Round One in that the throw of the dice only determines the outcome for a particular day, rather than the entire week.

With careful management, I have a window at work between 6am and 8am, Monday to Thursday, when I can squeeze in a morning run. This is in addition to the afternoon session. Again, I find twice-daily training beneficial, but in the past, I've had a tendency to over-do it. By listening to the dice, I hope this tendency will be tempered somewhat.

In this round of casting, I list three options. Roll 1 or 2 - rest. Roll 3 or 4 - a 3 mile barefoot jog around the local playing field ( a 'form' session, concentrating on good technique). Roll 5 or 6 - a 7 mile easy, undulating run over a mixture of fields, farm tracks and road. I then roll the dice for each particular day, Monday to Thursday, to determine my morning run on each of these days.


The third round of casting determines my Wednesday pm session. I run this session alone and, being in the middle of the week, it is generally fairly tough, being run at a sustained pace, a touch faster than steady. Here, the dice determines the distance (and, hence, the route I choose for the run.) Roll 1 or 2 - 10 miles. Roll 3 or 4 - 12 miles. Roll 5 or 6 - 15 miles.


This round determines my Friday session. With all of the factory's staff on a 6am start and a 2.30 finish on a Friday, there is never an opportunity for a morning run on this day. However, the early finish means I've plenty of time, after leaving work early, to get in a long run. In the past, I've experimented with 'back-to-back' long days, usually on a Saturday and Sunday, but have discovered, over time, that I respond better to a 'long-distance sandwich' - that is, a long run on a Friday, filled by a very easy day on the Saturday and followed by another long run on the Sunday. This method also gives me the benefits of a lie-in on a Saturday morning and a full day to spend with my family.

The cast of the dice determines the length of the Friday run. As my fitness improves, the length of the options listed will increase. If a race is approaching and I'm starting to taper, the length of the options will decrease. At the moment, I'll go with this : Roll 1 or 2 - 13 miles. Roll 3 or 4 - 15 miles. Roll 5 or 6 - 18 miles.

The dice play no part in Saturday, my weekly 'rest' day.

Sunday again entails a long run. Most of the year, I may be recceing sections of long-distance routes. At the moment, the Club relay of the Lindsey Loop is Sunday's enjoyment. There's no room for the dice in any of this. However, should I have a 'free' Sunday, I'll use the dice to help me  randomly choose a local route, usually between 15 and 30 miles.

And that's that.

There's a tendency sometimes to skip the odd session when you're self-coached. Or sometimes to add extra sessions if you're feeling particularly good one week. In the long-run, both of these scenarios are detrimental. By having the dice prescribe your training, you're putting yourself in its hands, and all of its decisions must be met.

Occasionally, the dice might throw up a week that's particularly exhausting. Sometimes they might dictate a week where you feel you could do more. But that fits with good practice - overload and recovery is a building block of all long-distance running.

Dice Training : An Example

Whilst still not recovered from a recent operation, I'm hoping that a gradual build-up during May will leave me in a position to commence dice training properly at the start of June. For the next four weeks, I'll continue to play around with chance.

An example of a dice training week may be beneficial.
Once I've noted my club and social runs on my blank sheet, I start the first round of casting:

'Will I cycle to work and back this week?'
I throw a 2 (evens). The answer is 'yes'.

ROUND TWO (Morning Sessions)
Monday - I throw a 6 - 7 mile morning run
Tuesday - I throw a 4 - 3 mile barefoot run
Wednesday - I throw a 2 - rest.
Thursday - I throw a 3 - 3 mile barefoot run.

ROUND THREE (Wednesday Session)
I throw a 6 - Wednesday's run will be over 15 miles.

ROUND FOUR ( Friday Session)
I throw a 2 - Friday's run will be over 13 miles.

Combining each of these decisions into the programme, the dice-prescribed training week looks like this:

15 miles cycle to work
am - 7 miles easy
15 miles cycle home
pm - Club run (6 miles)

15 miles cycle to work
am - 3 miles barefoot
pm - 6 miles (with friend)
15 miles cycle home

15 miles cycle to work *
am - rest
pm - 15 miles steady from work

15 miles cycle to work *
am- 3 miles barefoot
pm - Club off-road run (6 miles)

15 miles cycle to work *
pm - 13 miles from work
(* on days where I run from work, my wife brings the bike back when she drives home.)

am - 4/5 easy (with kids)

Long run / recce - 15-30 miles

At a first glance, this looks ok - definitely a tough week once the cycling is pencilled in, but nothing that I can't cope with (hopefully). The week after might be harder. It could be easier. Let the dice decide.

Will it work? No idea. I look forward to finding out.

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