In 2013 I ran quick all the time, by quick I mean sub 4min/k average every time I put on my trainers. Be it a 10k, 21k or 30k, my goal was to finish with a sub 4min/k average. To compound this issue I also stopped running long runs after reading an article in Runners World magazine about a training program where you would run at your marathon pace all the time. The logic was if your marathon pace became your normal pace when you were tired during the marathon you would revert to your normal ‘training pace’, which of course would be your marathon pace. The training program also recommend not running too many long runs but more runs around the 20-25k distance.
This training program yielded some good results but I sacrificed my top end speed as I wasn’t running any tempo or threshold runs, just lots of sub 4min/k’s. Raf from the Running Centre (http://therunningcentre.com.au ) picked me up on this on Strava ( http://www.strava.com ) and recommended I try a 10k threshold at least once a week, just to break the monotony of running the same pace for every run. I was surprised when I tried to add pace as I struggled and my 10k times weren’t that quicker than my ‘normal’ pace. Something was amiss and I was found out at the Bunbury Marathon in 2014 when I blew up after leading the race for the first 10k. I admit there was also some mental problems as I was defending my marathon title after winning (my only marathon victory) in 2013. I had gone out at my 10k pace truth be told and at 15k my race was finished. I met Raf afterwards, in the hotel spa of all places, and he could sense my disappointment of finishing 4th in a time of 2hrs54mins, when I aiming for a sub 2hr40min finish truth be told.
For the rest of 2014 I struggled on (Bunbury was in April) and although I managed 2hrs 46mins at the Perth Marathon I never managed to reach the heights I had reached in 2013. Something needed to change and in January 2015 I was taken under Raf’s wings and given a program for the Perth marathon, my first training program at the ripe old age of 48. The first 3-4 months were harder than I expected as I really struggled with the top end pace work. The steady and long runs were do able but my top end pace just wasn’t there. Over time I did improve of course thanks to Raf’s coaching skills but all the good work was undone by a slight stress fracture just before the Perth marathon. (Picked up on the last steady run , a week out ! Always the way ?) I ran a 2hrs49mins, 9th place finish, but Raf had me in better condition than that but the injury played on my mind.
After Perth Raf gave me another training plan for the City to Surf marathon in August and I stuck to this one and ran a good time for a 4th place but more importantly a strong race and strong finish. My first good marathon for over a year. Although I enjoyed working with Raf I was time constrained by my family, work, life etc, the runners quandary. I decided for 2016 to take what Raf had taught me and adapt my training accordingly.
I think the most important thing Raf taught me was there is no such thing as ‘junk miles‘, every kilometre you run is doing you some good, at whatever pace. This to me was a ‘lightning bolt’ moment as I was so use to running every run as a tempo and finishing with nothing left in the tank. I just didn’t run slow, ever ! The first few runs I ran at a slow pace I was questioned on Stava by my running friends as to whether I was injured, such was the disbelieve that I could run anything bar sub 4min/k’s. I must admit the first few times it felt alien and I had to really work hard to run slow. Raf introduced me to the Maffetone training method ( https://philmaffetone.com , I have mentioned this a few times on the blog.) and I was off building my foundation for the success which was to come in 2016.
Fast forward to the Perth marathon of 2016 and I just about ran a negative split and was 2 minutes quicker than the previous year. (You can read the post regarding Perth 2016 on my new website http://www.fitfastfifty.com ; http://fitfastfifty.com/index.php/2017/01/25/perth-marathon-2016/ ) After Perth I added the double days and the PB’s came tumbling down and my confidence returned in spades. I managed to drop my 5k, 10k, 16k,21k and 50k PB times and by quite a chunk each time. So how did I do it ? Basically I slowed down, ran more and raced more. It really was (is) that simple. Taking what Raf taught me, reading Matt Fitzgerald’s books and a sprinkling of Maffetone added to the mix and hey presto.
Thanks to Strava (in Strava we trust) you can see how this slowing down is trending on my 10k go-to run of choice. (see below) Over time you can clearly see my running average pace for the 10k is slowing but in the same period I have ran probably 10 PB’s, so there is a correlation of slowing down to speeding up when you put a bib on your chest. Of course I have added distance and more time on my feet into the equation, combined with racing more but the slowing down is a factor.
It really is a case of slowing down to speed up.
This morning, on the week anniversary of the Australia Day Ultra (ADU) , I was running a 10k easy but feeling fatigued to a point I was finding maintaining 5min/k average a struggle. It was just about 8am , the exact time a week earlier I was finishing the last kilometre of the 100k in about the same pace. This mornings run I was well rested the night before and, truth be told, had an easy week recovery. The legs though were struggling to maintain the last lap pace of the ADU. Fatigue had come to pay a visit and it was time to take an afternoon off.
When fatigue comes calling the best thing to do is rest. I have posted before about running on tired legs and the benefit of this but I feel fatigue is the next level and probably needs to be approached from the ‘rest is good’ angle. You’ll know the difference between fatigue and tired legs because there is more of a mental feature involved in fatigue. It’s not just the legs that are normally tired, it’s you thinking you ‘just ain’t feeling it’. Even after the 1k (always go for at least 1k before deciding to pull the pin on a run, most times things begin to improve in k2) which you normally use as a tester you still can’t seem to pick up the pace. You can normally finish the run if it’s less than 10k, anything more and you need to reconsider and probably turn early.
Rest is good solution to fatigue but it depends on your workload, in my case I didn’t run in the afternoon , saving my legs for Sunday’s long run with the boys. I’ll make an effort to run within myself tomorrow but must admit if the boys decide to go hard I’ll have to go with them, it would be rude not to. The fatigue I’m feeling at the moment will pass and listening to my body I realise this is a small road bump on my freeway to PB land and one that will be negotiated. The afternoon was spent blogging and drinking tea and eating the odd biscuit, not a bad way to rest in my view. Running really is the sport that keeps on giving, when your body feels it needs a rest you get to drink tea and eat biscuits, I mean what other sport gives you that option. (Tomorrow is another bonus day for us runners, the post long run pancakes. Running really is the sport of the Gods.)
Since June last year I have doubled up most days and I certainly feel my body is now use to the two runs a day, albeit normally easy runs. This extra workload culminated in many PB’s in the final few months of 2016. When something is working there is no point changing it so for the foreseeable future it will be double up days , continuing to build up the foundation from 2016. The only issue with my master plan is really I haven’t factored in rest. It is something I’ve not done in the last 6 months and even now do not intend to have rest days moving forward. That is not to say this is the right thing to do but I’m enjoying my running so much lately a day off is not something I aspire to. So it’s time to roll the dice again and see if I can persuade the body that the workload is achievable and the end result justified. I’m confident I can, until then I got time for one more cup of tea and maybe a digestive or two…
The article below from Jenny Hadfield from Runners World gives a few reasons for fatigue and solutions. Worth a read.
I have seen this in my athletes, and in most cases if you look at the following variables, you can identify the culprit and modify your plan to preserve your training season. The first step is becoming aware, so you’ve already been there, done that. Let’s move on the step two and see if any of these apply to you.Progression load. It can be tempting to improve the progression rate or volume of your training when your goal is to improve, but if you do so without a proper base to support the load increase, it can drain you. When trying to improve time, it’s best to change volume and intensity workloads based on your training recipe and what’s worked in the past, as well as where you were fitness-wise when you began the marathon-training season.For instance, if you ran a 3:50 marathon last year training on four days per week and two 20-mile long runs, you could improve that by adding in speed workouts and progressive cutback runs. Some try to add a lot more 20-milers or 20+ milers to the mix, thinking they’ll cover the distance more efficiently, but it can end up draining you. If you dramatically changed your training plan or added a lot more to your core plan, this may be causing your body to break down. The good news is it’s not too late, as you can revamp, modify and make more gradual improvements this season to allow your body time to adapt and get stronger.The elements. It’s no secret that it’s harder to train in the heat, and the country has been in a heat wave the past few weeks. Training for long-distance events in extreme heat can suck the life out of you and require a lot more recovery. Take a look at when your symptoms started. If that timing correlates to the heat wave, your tiredness may be due to chronic dehydration, heat-related stress, and general fatigue from the greater demands of training in the heat. I’ve shared three ways to train safely in a heat wave here and nine tips for keeping your cool here.Training by pace. My coaching philosophy is based on training by the body rather than by pace because when you listen to your body, you’re in the optimal training zone for the purpose of the day’s workout. Training is about doing strategically placed, purposeful workouts in a progression to apply just enough stress to the body that it adapts and gains fitness. Often the missing link in training plans is tailoring it to your body, your life, and your fitness.If you’re training by a calculated pace based on a formula or a race you did four weeks ago, you’re likely to over- or under-train, as your body is never in the same place daily. It’s like guessing the winning lottery numbers. The body knows effort not pace. For example, a common mistake I see runners make with long runs is to base them on planned finish time or just bump them up faster than last year’s training pace because the goal is to improve. That’s fine until you start running in your anaerobic zone because of the heat, lack of sleep, or the fact that it’s early in the season, and your fitness doesn’t support the planned pace. You end up struggling to finish or completely wiped out when you do. If you continue on this trend you can accumulate too much stress and end up in a continual state of fatigue, unable to recover from the greater demands of training along the way. One sign that you’ve overdone it is if the fatigue doesn’t subside after a few weeks.It’s actually easier if you let go of pace as a guide and run with the flow of your body and the purpose of the day’s workout. If your plan calls for a Tempo Run, the goal is to run at a sustained effort at—or slightly above—your threshold. That is not based on a pace but a metabolic system in your body. If you train by the purpose of the workout, your pace will vary throughout the season (that’s the fun part). Read How to Run a Tempo Run in the Heat. The goal is to train first by the purpose of the workout, and then by the body. Let your pace be the outcome of the workout. That way, you can have fun watching your body progress as you run longer, cover the miles more quickly, and become comfortable with how varied pace can be day to day and week to week.
Thanks to my very talented friend Rob Donkersloot from why walk when (http://www.whywalkwhen.com ) I have attached a short video documentary on my first attempt at a 100k ultra. I ran the Australia Day Ultra ( http://www.australiadayultra.com ) last week and after the posting about the experience the video below captures its beautifully, they say a picture is worth a thousand words, video is so much more.
Running the ultra was hard work, of course, but the feeling of finishing and running outside your comfort zone, attempting something new, is worth the hardship and extra time in the ‘pain box‘. Can’t wait for next year……
After the Australia Day Ultra ( http://australiadayultra.com ) I actually felt good the following day. You would have thought that after running 100k your legs would have been ‘goosed’ but not the case. I actually felt a lot better compared to running a marathon. On the Sunday after the race, while taking my dog Stanley out for a walk, I reflected on why the legs felt so good. (Note: I use the term ‘so good’ loosely of course, in context to running a marathon.) I felt refreshed enough to run Monday and Tuesday and even doubled up Wednesday and Thursday. So maybe going longer but slower is easier on the legs, can a 100k be easier to recover from a marathon.? I really believe the answer is yes, well in my case anyhow. This has been a pleasant surprise from the race that keeps on giving.
It looks like I am not alone in my theory, the quote below is from Alex Varner.
“A high level road marathon takes me longer to recover from,” admits Varner, 29, a member of the Nike Trail Elite team. “For me, it’s the repetition and pounding that occurs in the same few muscle groups in a road marathon—in my case, calves and quads—while a 50 miler requires some usage out of a much wider range of muscles. So, while I may be sore in more areas after a 50 miler, the damage is far less acute than it is in my calves and quads after a road marathon. The road marathon results in soreness that’s an inch wide and a mile deep while a trail ultra results in soreness that’s a mile wide and an inch deep, and for me, the latter has proven easier in terms of recovery.”
Different Soreness, Different Recovery Strategy?
Given that, should runners who race different distances that affect the body (and mind) in different ways, employ different recovery strategies afterward? Surprisingly not, according to many top athletes and coaches.
“The short answer is: the distance or gnarliness of the event doesn’t dictate recovery,” says Flagstaff, Ariz., ultrarunner Ian Torrence, the ultra coach for McMillan Running and a winner of over 50 ultra-distance races in his own right.
Torrence, 42, says post-race recovery boils down to three key factors, regardless of distance, duration or terrain:
- Specificity in training. “If an athlete trains appropriately for a trail 50-mile or road marathon they will train on terrain, surfaces and for durations that the event requires,” he advises. “Do this and recovery from the event will be easier than if you had not.”
- Experience. “Subsequent efforts are easier to recover from than the first,” he says. “The mind and body are more prepared for the next time the rigors of the event are presented.”
- Race-day strategy. “Running harder than warranted in hot and humid weather, improper pacing tactics and unacceptable hydrating or fueling plans will negatively impact post-race recovery for both a marathoner or ultrarunner.”
Varner, who lives and trains in Mill Valley, Calif., follows a similar recovery protocol after any race that’s marathon distance or longer, usually taking 1-2 days completely off from running immediately after the race, followed by another 1-2 weeks of easy running before he attempts any faster workouts.
‘If I can, I get a massage, stretch, roll and take an ice bath if I’m feeling up to it,” Varner says of his post-race recovery protocol. “The biggest difference is that after a road marathon, I have to concentrate much more on those few muscle groups that are really sore while after a trail ultra, everything is kind of sore, so I go with more general rolling and stretching.”
It’s important to keep in mind that everyone recovers at different rates, emphasizes Torrence, and that rushing back into training after a tough race, regardless of how long it was, is usually a recipe for injury or burnout. “Take the time you need to feel good again, both physically and mentally,” he advises.
It took about five days after this year’s Boston Marathon until my hamstrings felt like they were functioning normally again, and at least another five before I could wrap my head around resuming any kind of regular running schedule. For me, this is pretty much par for the course following a road marathon. It hits me hard and the after-effects tend to linger for a while. Compare this to last December’s North Face Endurance Challenge 50K—my second trail ultra—where my feet, hip flexors and quads took a brunt of the beating, while my upper arms and lower back were also quite sore for a day or two afterward. Interestingly, I was ready, willing and able to start running again just three days post-race—empirical evidence that on some level, an ultra-distance trail race appears to take less of a toll on my body and mind.
While the speed in which you bounce back from a road marathon versus a trail ultra will likely differ from my experience or that of other runners, the universal take-home message after a long race is clear: respect the recovery afterward and give both your body and mind the time they need to fully recharge.
The best recovery of course , as we all know, is Yelo muffins and seeing Thursday is progressive day it was an ideal time to pop along and run a recovery 10k while some of the boys ran the normal progressive 14k. Must admit the legs felt better after the best muffin and coffee in the Southern Hemisphere. (and probably Northern Hemisphere as well)
Today I ran the Australia Day Ultra , my first (and probably only ) 100k ultra. I had entered this race last year and got cold feet and parachuted down to the 50k instead where I managed to pick up a podium finish. This race jump started my racing year and I had my best year yet winning three events and placing in many more. To this end I entered the 100k determined to see it through and at least start.
So midnight last night I lined up with 50 other ultra runners and set off on my first 100k ultra. The more observant among you would have noticed the start time in the previous sentence. Not many races start at midnight but because of the possibility of a hot day in sunny Perth the safest option is the late (or really early depending on which way you look at) start. I had managed to get a few hours sleep before the race by paying for a hotel, an expensive option but with hindsight a good one. Running for 100k would be difficult, starting at midnight wouldn’t have helped but with no sleep it would be suicidal.
The start at all smaller ultras is the same with the race director usually having to coax the runners to the start line like a pied piper. Once we did get running myself and Jon found ourselves in the lead for the first few kilometres and we joked we couldn’t actually see what pace we were running as it was too dark to see our Garmin displays. Anyhow we waited for the rest of the field to catch up and joined with two others runners, the T-train and Mikey Mike, and set off into the night.
The race is a 12.5k out and back loop which you need to run 8 times (do the math) for a 100k. Being this was my first 100k I had no idea what to expect but have decided to set out at around 4:50min/k pace and try and hold it. The plan was 50k in around 4 hours 5-10 minutes and then maybe a tad slower for the second half for a 8 hour 30 minute finish, or there abouts’. With ultras there are so many variables it really is a lottery when predicting finishing times but you need a goal in any race, in my view. The first lap was very verbal in our group of four runners who had settled into 4th place overall, with 3 runners ahead of us. (which is the norm apparently when you’re fourth.) Second lap was similar to the first with all of us confident at the pace and, being so early in the race, generally relaxed and easing into the event.
Running in the dark has it’s own challenges and for me the most challenging part was my choice of weapon. I had gone for the hand torch option as I’ve never been that keen on the head torch, I left that to Jon who had invested in a head torch that you could probably see from space. It was bright and I’m sure the runners coming the other way would have been temporarily blinded with the halogen glow a tad less powerful than the sun ! The only fly in our oitnment was the battery life of Jon’s head torch, good for only just over 2-3 hours , so as we moved into the 4th lap we were on borrowed time and the glow soon starting to lose it’s ‘blinding’ option. I feel this was why the T-tone put a move on as we reached the end of the 4th lap and Jon was dropped. The T-train can be unforgiving when challenged and all Jon’s good work was forgotten in an instant. I must admit to being torn between going with Tony as although Jon’s head torch was dying a slow death it was still brighter than the alternative. Thinking long term, and knowing the sunrise was coming in less than 90 minutes, I went with Tony but the next lap was ran in a dark place without the virtual sunshine of the Jon’s head torch. This was actually quite depressing because we were also entering the second half of the race and when you’ve ran 50k and still have 50k to go it ain’t a ‘nice warm, fuzzy feeling’, trust me on this.
Never having ran a 100k I was always prepared for a situation where I would need to dig deep to be able to carry on churning out sub 5min/k kilometres. It was to come at the beginning of lap 5 when the T-train blew a head gasket (and a groin strain I think) and Mikey Mike also departed the BK ‘pain train’, leaving just me and my dodgy hand torch. On the bright side I had managed to sneak up a few positions as two runners ahead of me had pulled out. All of sudden I was in second place and only had to run 36k to cement the place on the poduim, how difficult could that be, especially after already running 64k? The answer is very difficult. In a marathon you normally hit the wall at 32k and can then negotiate the last 10k , in an ultra the wall may manifest itself any time after half way and worse case scenario you could have nearly 50k of post wall race to run, gotta love an ultra? I did manage to avoid the wall in this race thanks to good pacing and an esky filled to the brim with nutrition and hydration that kept me fully fuelled. As I have mentioned on many occasions it is generally acknowledged an ultra is really an eating and drinking conception with running between the aid tables. I can concur this is the truth, get the fuelling wrong and it doesn’t matter how good a runner you are you will stop and it will turn ugly very quickly. On a side note Jon loves his nutrition strategy and food in general, truth be told, and the highlight of the race for me was Jon offering me some potatoes as we crossed on one of the later laps. I swear his bag of potatoes was enough for every running in the event!
I have attached a photo of Jon below just before the presentations, I’m not sure it he was coming down from a sugar high or just plain ‘goosed’ after the run. It’s hard to tell with Jon sometimes…..
Right, I digress for a change, where was I, oh yes just entering the second half of the race and I was running alone after all the members of the T-train ‘train of pain’ had deserted me. Lap 5 (kilometres 50-62.5k) was uneventful bar the sunrise which meant we could jettison the reflective tops which were mandatory (health and safety apparently) and my hand torch (which was just about useless anyway). It was good to be running in daylight and I even got a second wind as I started lap 6 (kilometres 62.5 -75k) and threw in a 4:25min/k early on. I remember thinking to myself this ultra running wasn’t that hard and even contemplating a good negative split and maybe even a sub8 finish. Silly boy, about 3k later it was back to the maintaining a sub5 min/k and grinding them out. Amazing how quickly the whole race changes and I suppose in an ultra the ‘swings and roundabouts‘ come thick and fast and it’s about trying to maintain an ‘even keel’ throughout.
I continued on my merry way for lap6 feeling very tired (surprising that.) and starting to understand the pain an ultra puts you through. Compared to a marathon this is certainly more mental and I prepared myself for lap 7 which I knew would be the hardest as the finish line would be in sight on the final lap. Starting lap 7 (75k – 87.5k , wow these numbers are starting to add up!) I had to dig deep and this lap was always going to hurt. You’re already struggling to keep to your required pace and you still have 25k to go, which is 2 hours of running minimum. I remember thinking this when I set off on lap 7 knowing this next 12.5k would be a test and I wasn’t disappointed. They say an ultra is a good mix of metal strength and running fitness and lap 7 showcased this. I was counting down the kilometres one by one as I struggled through what I considered would be the race decider, get through it and I knew I would make the distance but start walking and the last 20k would be a real struggle. Eventually I got to the start/finish line for the 7th and final time. (87.5k – 100k) Starting out on the final lap was uplifting and mentally I knew I would now make the distance.
Although I was confident of now finishing it didn’t make the actually racing any easier. I was now determined not to ‘blow out’ and set myself a goal of keeping each kilometre below 5min/k. Being the last lap made every step easier as I knew it was the last time I would be doing it , after 7 previous iterations. Again it was still a painful last hour but made easier by knowing the finish line was insight.
Eventually I get to the end of lap 8 and after a final flurry into the finishing straight it was time for a few press ups and a medal. Mission accomplished, a good time and, due to so many people dropping out , a 2nd place finish. (Amazing how easy the last 500m is with the finish line in sight. If you could somehow persuade the brain to release this ‘finishing spurt’ stretch a bit earlier the race it would be so much easier. I say a bit earlier I’m thinking like 25 k earlier !)
Of course no BK post would be complete without the post race celebrations and it was off to the Dome cafe for waffles with maple syrup and extra bacon as a finishing treat. I mentioned this in a previous post and for the last 25k this feast was at the forefront of my mind. These treats in the last few hours of an ultra are priceless and can get you to the finishing line. Also I’m a big believer in treating yourself after you’ve achieved any running milestone, actually treating yourself full stop is good but you need a good reason for the treat before the treat becomes the norm; you’re then in a world of trouble as pancakes become your staple diet !
Will I run another 100k ? Once I finished I would say ‘not a chance in hell’, but now typing this I’m thinking it would be nice to go sub 8 and how bad was it really ? The classic ‘women and childbirth’ question, ask any of them after they have just given birth and none would ever envisage reporting the process, but a few days (months?) later with that ‘bundle of joy’ in their hands most would contemplate the whole process again. It’s the same with runners, the mind plays tricks on you and once the rose coloured glasses are on all you can remember is the great feeling of finishing, the previous 8 hours of pain are conveniently wiped from your memory.
To sum up, an ultra 100k is a long way and there are two ways to run it. Most run it to finish it and have that achievement and the bucket list option ticked. Others race it for a time which could be personal or podium hunting. Either way along the way you are going to need to ask yourself some serious questions and if you have all the answers you will finish, the running fitness is of course also important and the fitter you are the easier the questions will be to answer. Watching all the other runners finish in times ranging from 8 hours up to well over 12 hours you can see the personal achievement in all their faces as they cross the line. It is certainly a step up from the marathon and one I would recommend , as a runner, you need to experience. As I have mentioned many times the comradely at these events is so much more than other shorter distances and I highly recommend you experience it. This actually goes for the whole trail and ultra fraternity , they’re a friendly lot. (must be all that tree hugging that goes on, makes them better people?)
Finally a big thankyou to all the volunteers as they were up before the race started (remember midnight kick off) and probably helped with the cleaning up at the end. Outstanding effort. Also the two race directors Ron Mcglinn and Shaun Kaesler, these guys have transformed the ultra running scene in Western Australia and if you want to get into the whole ultra and trail scene check out their race series. ( http://ultraserieswa.com.au ).
With the ADU ( http://australiadayultra.com/ ) only a few days away I am in the runners limbo that is ‘tapering and carboloading’ at the same time. This period, the last few days before an ultra, is the most testing for any runner. A runner is nervous enough about the upcoming challenge without adding in eating more (carboloading) than they normally would coupled with running less, (tapering) two things alien to most runners. Add in the constant fear of injury and worse, picking up a cold or flu, and this make runners very unhappy people to be around. My Wife and kids know to avoid me the weekend of a marathon and are unsure why I’m grumpy so early in the week. (They haven’t worked out the ADU starts at midnight Friday so I’m a few days early for my ‘grumpy Dad’ phase.)
As this is my first 100k I have taken the approach of still running daily but dropping the second run each day this week. This is tapering enough in my view as the runs all week have been pedestrian at best and I have run on the heart rate rather than pace. I even ran less than 100k last week albeit I did run a 5k race at the end of the week and managed to sneak in 95k total for the period. I take the approach that the legs will recover in 5 days after a 5k race so should be firing on all cylinders tomorrow, just in time for the Friday start. I have already discussed my tapering views for an ultra arguing that if you treat it as a very long run you don’t need to taper that much, just make sure you’re fresh for the start. The proof will be in the pudding on this one unfortunately. (Talking of pudding, must be time for another muffin ?)
Food wise I have been carboloading since yesterday going back to my ‘old faithful’ diet which has served me well the last 58 marathons (including 17 ultra-marathons) . Basically lots of honey on toast, orange juice, pasta or rice and the odd muffin for good luck. Repeat this for 3 days prior to the event and you’re done. I’ve written a post on carboloading on the blog before and if you search on the subject you’ll find it. Written by the nutrition and exercise guru Matt Fitzgerald the article discusses whether you need to carboload if you are going to eats carbohydrates while racing. Obviously in an ultra, over the 8 hour plus racing time, you are going to have to ingest some serious carbs so am I wasting my time carboloading ? Is it really an excuse to eat more Yelo muffins.? Probably, as I have booked in a 10k easy run tomorrow morning with a few friends to celebrate carboloading, the one time you can eat a Yelo muffin ( http://yelocornerstore.com.au/ ) and not feel guilty. (Truth be told I never actually feel guilty eating Yelo muffins but must be seen to advocate a healthy diet, most of the time.)
Final piece in the ultra jigsaw will be the mental attitude which I must admit to be struggling with at the moment. Two reasons really, first the race starts at midnight and is a 3 hour drive to the start. Current plan is to work all day Friday then go home to grab some food and then drive to the start to arrive an hour before. This would be 11pm. Spend an hour preparing myself and then start at midnight with no sleep hoping I can get to the end of the race before sleep depravation kicks in. Even typing this I can see a plan thwart with danger. Of course the biggest issue is the ‘no sleep’ before the start and obviously during the race. (Unless I can learn to sleep-run in the next few days, which is highly unlikely.) I had planned to drive down on Friday with No.2 Daughter and grab a few hours’ sleep before the race but she had a better offer apparently. I may need to offer her some incentives to come down with me as this would be the better solution. Another issue will be running for 5 hours in the dark before the sunrise and then of course you’re faced with the heat problems. Funnily enough the more I type on this post the more I ask myself what have I let myself in for !
Pacing is another piece of the jigsaw I need to get right. (This jigsaw is getting bigger, and harder, by the minute) . The game plan is to set a target pace early on and stick to it for 100k. How difficult can that be? Seriously, reading up on the way to run an ultra it seems all ultra-runners slow down towards the end (funny that, can’t think why?) but it is the ultra-runner who slows the least that eventually triumphs. After typing this post I’m now more in the ‘I just want to finish and not die’ mode rather than worrying about podium placing. Because this distance is new to me it really is set the pace early and hang on for as long as possible, hopefully somewhere around 99k I’ll have to dig deep. (Rather than the 70k mark which I feel is more realistic.)
Enough of looking at all the issues associated with the ADU, let’s concentrate on the good things to look forward to. It’ll be fun running for so long (I assume?) and achieving a running milestone with good friends. The experience will make me a stronger runner no matter the outcome and as with all ultra’s you will learn something about yourself along the way. The event itself is special with a great bunch of runners joined together in their own personal challenges. The comradery in an ultra is like nothing else in the running world, it really is a ‘one for all and all for one’ attitude that you do not find in any other distance. Best part though is last year when I finished the 50k I treated myself to pancakes, bacon, banana, maple syrup and ice cream which I can assure you will be the carrot dangling in front of me at around 70k when I’m physically spent and need that mental toughness to get me to the finish line. It’s amazing what pancakes can get a runner to do and as I’m running a 100k race this year maybe I can order two portions, is that wrong ?
This weekend I yet again ran a 5k the wrong way. Exploding out of the start like a rocket and hanging with the leaders for the first kilometre is always going to end badly and I was not disappointed. It quickly became an exercise in damage limitation and the final result was acceptable but with a caveat that I could have done better. I blame my training buddy Mark Lee who is probably on a par with me with the fast starts and after the first kilometre we were both set adrift as the ‘proper’ 5k runners (I say ‘proper’ by that I mean young and ‘full of beans’.) accelerated away.
Myself and Mark then maintained a gradual decline before both collapsing over the line, well I collapsed and I’m assuming Mark was probably in the same boat. Position wise a 5th place finish, beaten by runners I would expect to be beaten by at this distance, was not that bad but it was the manner of the race which was disappointing.
Started too fast and although the decline in pace was not significant it was not the way to race a 5k. Ideally you should ease into the race with the first kilometre probably not your fastest, this is saved for the finish. The second kilometre should be similar to the first, maybe a tad quicker and then you should see a progressive pace increase as you accelerate to the finish. Overall the 5k splits should be within 1-5 seconds of each other with the last a tad quicker. Easy to type but in the heat of battle so many runners forget all about pacing and ‘gun it’ from the start. The distance is not significant but when your legs are gone it doesn’t matter how long you have to finish, it’s going hurt. I consider a badly run 5k one of the most painful experiences in running, on the bright side it shouldn’t be that long before the finish comes into sight and you can always find something for that last sprint.
This last minute sprint I feel is related to the mental side of running. It’s amazing how many runners sprint for the finish when just previously they are just about jogging in a world of pain. The mental limiter has been lifted when the finish line is in sight and all of a sudden the mind lets the body go for broke confident that nothing will ‘break’ in the final few metres.
After the race on the journey home is when you start to question what has just transpired. Could I have gone out slower and finished stronger? Why do I always fall for the ‘follow Mark Lee’ race strategy? Why does a 5k hurt so much and at my age why am I still bothering to race them? Is 17:12 a good enough time, am I slowing down or was this a blip? So many questions and answering these will allow you to learn for the next time and believe me there will always be a next time.
So excuse wise I have a few. It was windy which is a two edged sword as I must admit to not being overly bothered about the conditions as I was caressed to a 3:08 min/k first kilometre. Although on the way back I was cursing the wind, and running in general truth be told, got to love the last kilometre of a 5k race when you’ve already shot your bolt. Another reason for the below par performance I am putting down to the start time. This 5k was a 6pm start and thinking back to all the races that I have run starting in the evening I have never performed that well. Spending all day stressing about the race, combined with a Yelo muffin, is normally a bad combination which ends up with me in a the pain box cursing the start time but never the muffin, funny that. I could always give up the pre-race muffin or maybe just give up the late start race, a quandary? (Not really, I’m never going to give up my Yelo muffin.) I have also been concentrating on distance as I work towards the ADU 100k this Friday evening. (There’s that evening start again but this time on steroids, it’s a midnight start! Actually is a midnight start an early start i.e. Saturday morning 0:01am or a really late start, Friday evening 11:59pm; I’m going for early start more for the mental benefit this will give me and for a 100k it’s all about mental strength.) Since the 6 inch in December I have avoided any speed work as I always give myself a few weeks to gently ease back into training. After a marathon you need to be very careful with regards picking up an injury, for me it’s a four week recovery period, avoiding pace. Wow, with all these excuses I actually ran a blinder yesterday and now feel so much better. This blogging lark is great for the confidence.
What did I take from this race? I need to run more 5k’s to better pace the distance correctly which I can do this with Saturday Park Runs. After the 4 week recovery period from the ADU I need to add more pace to my training runs as distance wise I am covered but I can feel my top end pace has suffered. Finally I need to stop chasing Mark Lee but after so many races over the years I feel this will be the hardest thing to implement, remember old dogs and new tricks is never a good combination.
An article below from Pete Magill who holds three American age-group records and is the oldest American to break 15:00 for 5K, which he did at age 47. I need to read this myself…….
The 5K is the race where runners come to meet. It’s the race where real distance runners drop down, taking a break from the usual smorgasbord of 15Ks, marathons, and 24-hour relays to snack on an event that seems nothing more than a sustained sprint. And it’s the place where middle-distance runners go up, figuring to grit their teeth and hang for three miles, then streak past all the slow-moving shufflers like cheetahs picking apart a herd of gazelle.
The 5K is where these two distinct groups of runners face off and where a third group, the 5K specialists, are likely to steal the show. Because the 5K specialist knows what neither the mileage junkie nor the speed racer seems to grasp: The 5K is a unique effort that demands a full range of physiological and psychological preparation.
And blending the correct components of that preparation takes more than marking down miles in a training log or recording splits during an interval session. It takes collecting and then putting together all the pieces of the 5K puzzle.
THE 5K PUZZLE
Zen master Yuan-tong noted, “When the task is done beforehand, then it is easy.”
I’ve coached hundreds of 5K runners over the past 25 years, from college All-Americans to middle-aged mortgage brokers to seniors battling osteoarthritis. And those who met their 5K race goal arrived at the start line properly trained in every aspect of the 5K. They had completed their “task” beforehand.
Surprisingly, most runners don’t practice this simple concept. Volume enthusiasts assume that big numbers in training logs ensure success in a race that is only 3.1 miles long. Interval warriors pound out 5K-pace repetitions, convinced that all they’ll have to do is connect the dots come race day. Both groups arrive at the start line with their task unfinished. Both are missing pieces of the 5K puzzle.
In a puzzle, we start with lots of little pieces, then match those pieces to build small islands (in a landscape puzzle, these islands might be patches of blue sky or a cluster of redwoods), which we then bring together to complete the puzzle.
For our 5K puzzle, we assemble pieces to create these six islands:.
- Stride Efficiency
- Aerobic Endurance
- 5K-Specific Endurance
- Intermediate Fast-Twitch Endurance
- Versatile Race Pace Efficiency
- Post-Run Recovery & Injury Prevention
On race day, we join these islands to complete our 5K puzzle. Voila! Our task is done beforehand.
THE PIECES OF OUR PUZZLE
There is an ancient Chinese proverb, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” So does our training program…
1) STRIDE EFFICIENCY
It all begins with our stride. Stride efficiency is the single most important element of our future training and racing success. An efficient stride allows us to meet the demands of training without falling prey to injury. And a smoother, longer stride is an essential ingredient of a fast 5K. So how do we improve our stride?
If we wanted to improve as a ballet dancer, we wouldn’t throw on a CD of the Nutcracker, then twirl madly across the floor. Instead, we’d do drills to develop proper posture, correct placement, and alignment. We’d improve strength, flexibility, movement skills, and artistry. And we’d train until we could perform individual movements automatically, without having to think our way through every plié or pirouette.
It’s the same with running. If we want to improve our running stride, we don’t dash madly through the streets, across a park, or around a track. Instead, we begin by developing the parts — the individual actions that make up our stride. And we do this using two methods:
Technique drills involve variations of movements such as skipping, bounding, and marching. These drills are designed to promote muscle fiber recruitment, improve nervous system function, increase strength, and correct muscle and form imbalances. Click here to see some key drills demonstrated.
Short hill repeats are 40-to 60-meter sprints up reasonably steep hills. Our effort level should be slightly less than an “all-out” sprint — but just slightly. Also, remember that this workout is designed to challenge our legs, not our lungs. Our legs should feel momentary fatigue as we recruit their full range of muscle fiber, but we should recover quickly. Don’t make the mistake of turning this stride-efficiency workout into a fitness session. After each repetition, we walk back down the hill, wait until a full two to three minutes have passed, and then sprint up the hill again. Eight to 10 reps will do the trick.
Of the two workouts, technique drills are better for improving stride. But short hill reps will do in a pinch. A half dozen sessions of either during the first 8-12 weeks of your 5K training (no more than one session per week) should provide 100 percent benefit. Naturally, each session should include a proper warm-up and cool-down.
I tell my athletes, “Run first, train later.” When we focus on mechanics at the outset of our program, we set the stage for better overall training in the weeks and months to come.
2) AEROBIC ENDURANCE
This is just a fancy way of saying, “Run long and run often.” But understand that long is about duration, not distance. Our bodies are not odometers. Our legs don’t know a mile from a kilometer. Or a kilometer from a run to the park and back. Runners who focus on “mileage” miss the point of aerobic endurance training. The point is to keep our bodies working at a moderate level of exertion for a sustained period of time — not distance.
Think about it. Let’s say we decide that 50 miles per week is the optimal volume for 5K training. It would take a 30:00 5K runner approximately twice as long to complete that training as a 15:00 5K runner. Do we really believe that slower runners should train for twice as long as faster runners?
Instead, we focus on time. Whatever our ability, we’ll gain similar benefits from 60 minutes of lower-intensity running (65-75 percent VO2 max). Or from 90 minutes. Or from 30.
Long also refers to an accumulation of volume. “Volume” is not a single long run, a single week of high mileage, or even a single season of training. It is a long-term, consistent amassing of lower-intensity, aerobic conditioning.
For our purposes, there are three types of aerobic distance runs:
- Short: up to 40 minutes in duration. Short runs aid recovery from hard workouts and add to our overall volume.
- Medium: 1 1/2 to 2 times the duration of our short run. Medium runs are “normal” distance runs and provide the bulk of our volume.
- Long: up to (approximately) twice the duration of our medium run. Long runs build capillary density, increase mitochondria (our body’s cellular power plants), improve stride efficiency, burn fat, expand glycogen stores, and do all kinds of other wonderful stuff.
For the beginner, there might not be much difference among short, medium, and long runs. Don’t worry about it. Just make sure to increase the duration of aerobic runs gradually, focusing first on the medium and long runs.
3) 5K-SPECIFIC ENDURANCE
The 5K race demands a unique mix of aerobically and anaerobically generated energy. The only way to prepare our bodies for this demand is to train at 5K effort. We do this by running repetitions. This is the place where most of us make our biggest mistake: We base the pace for our repetitions on the fitness we’d like to have rather than on the fitness we already possess.
If our goal is a 20:00 5K, we want to run repetitions at 20:00 5K pace right now. We want to skip ahead to the glorious conclusion of our training program. Only one problem: We aren’t in shape to run goal pace yet.
Remember, we don’t run repetitions to practice running faster. We run repetitions to improve the physiological systems that will allow us to run faster in the future. To accomplish this goal, we train 5K “effort” rather than 5K “pace.” As our fitness improves, our pace will improve. But our perceived effort will remain the same, allowing us to become well-versed in the effort level we’ll use in the race itself.
To avoid the trap of training by pace, we go off-track for our workouts, running on the trails or the road. This eliminates the temptation to check split times during our reps. It also allows us to practice adjusting for race-day variables: weather, terrain, our fatigue level, etc. The ability to adjust for variables is essential to race-day success.
Some runners bristle at leaving the security of the track. Let’s face it, there’s comfort in a perfect 400m oval and the equally perfect splits we can record while running around it. But that’s the problem. Road 5Ks are not perfect ovals. We won’t record perfect splits as we dodge runners, climb hills, and make 180-degree turns. Our goal is to become efficient at the race we’re training to run, and training on trails and the road is the best way to make that happen.
5K-specific workouts should be run once a week. This is a typical progression of sessions. All reps are followed by three minutes of jogging unless otherwise indicated:
- 5-10 x 1 minute (2-minute recovery)
- 5 x 2 minutes
- 5 x 3 minutes
- 4 x 4 minutes
- 5 x 4 minutes
- 4 x 5 minutes
- 5 x 5 minutes
It makes no difference whether we’re 15:00 5K runners or 45:00 5K runners. Our repetitions last the same amount of time. We’re targeting specific physiological processes, not mimicking race distance.
If you’re unsure whether you’re running 5K effort, try this simple test: As you’re running, ask yourself, “Is this an effort I can maintain for an entire 5K?” Be honest. If the answer is yes, keep up the effort. If it’s no, slow down.
Still unsure about proper repetition effort? Then here’s another guideline guaranteed to keep you within the proper range: Whatever pace you run your repetitions, you should finish your last one feeling as if you could run one or two more. If you’re completely exhausted at the end of your repetition session, you ran too hard. Adjust the next week by decreasing your effort. If you’re barely winded, then increase your effort the following week.
“But how will I know if I’m on track to meet my time goal?” Many athletes set specific time goals and crave reassurance in training that they’re on track to hit that pace in a race.
Two of my athletes, K and M, fell into this camp. Both were 19:00 5K runners. Both wanted to run mid-18:00. Both balked when I explained that we’d be training off-track. They didn’t want to waste months of training only to discover that they hadn’t improved. I explained that workouts are not races, that training “race pace” on the track has little bearing on what they’d run in an actual race. I also told them that they were limiting their potential. Why train for mid-18:00? Why not train the physiological systems involved in 5K racing and see where the chips fell?
K and M finally agreed. Three months later, K ran 16:40 and M ran 17:50.
There is one exception to the off-track rule. As race day approaches, some runners like to add a couple track sessions (also at 5K effort) to “sharpen” their fitness. This isn’t about testing pace. It’s about solidifying our stride efficiency at 5K effort. While adding hills and turns and uneven terrain has prepared us for actual race conditions, doing one or two training sessions on a perfectly flat surface helps to hardwire the relationship between stride efficiency and 5K-specific endurance. Two workouts I recommend for this are
- 16-20 x 400m (100m jog recovery)
- 6-8 x 1,000m (400m jog recovery)
4) INTERMEDIATE FAST-TWITCH ENDURANCE
Our best 5K effort results from a combination of stamina and speed. And it just so happens that we have a type of muscle fiber that’s perfectly suited to this task. Fast-twitch type IIa muscle fiber provides much of the “speed” associated with fast-twitch type IIx (sprinter) fiber, but it also has the capacity to function aerobically.
Bingo! This combination allows us to run faster longer — the definition of 5K racing.
The best way to train this intermediate fast-twitch fiber is to run long hill repeats. This has nothing to do with whether we’ll be racing on hills, flats, roads, or the track. Long hill repeats make us faster — period.
The first step is to find a hill that’s not too steep and not too flat. The incline should be challenging, but it shouldn’t chop our stride or require mountain climbing gear. I prefer about a 6 percent grade. This increases the workload for each stride while allowing us to maintain full range of motion.
We use our watches to time the first hill repeat of each week’s session. Let’s say our rep for that week is supposed to last 60 seconds. We stop running as soon as a minute is up. That’s our finish line. We won’t have to time the rest of our repetitions, allowing us to focus on correct effort and form. Recovery between reps is four to five minutes, including our jog back down the hill and some walking at the bottom. Less recovery won’t give us a better workout, but it will increase our risk of injury and burnout. Remember that we’re targeting a specific muscle fiber type that is recruited during a specific range of effort. Too little recovery forces us to recruit the other type of fast-twitch fiber and/or to burn through our muscle glycogen stores.
The correct effort level for each repetition varies depending on its length. As with our 5K-specific workout, the guiding principle is to finish our long hill repeat session with enough energy remaining to run one or two more reps. We want to finish with gas in the tank.
This is typical progression for long hill repeat sessions:
- 8 x 30 seconds
- 6 x 60 seconds
- 8 x 60 seconds
- 4 x 90 seconds
- 6 x 90 seconds
Long hill repeats should be run two to three times a month until we’ve accumulated six to eight sessions. My preference is to alternate hill repeats with technique drills on a weekly basis. If you’re already in fairly good shape, you can begin incorporating these reps at the outset of your 5K program. If you’re a beginner, wait three to four weeks. Never do long hill repeats the week of a race. Also, on weeks that don’t include hill reps or a race, it’s beneficial to incorporate a few hills into our long runs. This reinforces the gains we’ve made.
5) VERSATILE RACE PACE EFFICIENCY
A 5K puzzle isn’t complete without pieces obtained from training at efforts above and below our 5K goal pace.
Training faster than goal pace serves two purposes. Physiologically, it makes us efficient at paces that might be required in the race (at the start, during surges, and for our finishing kick). Psychologically, it makes our actual 5K pace feel “slow” — our race pace feels relaxed since it’s less than 100 percent of the effort we’ve trained to run.
Two faster workouts are:
- Track: 16 x 200m at 3K effort, with 200m jog recovery
- Park or Trail Fartlek: 8-10 x 30-to 90-second surges at >3K effort, with jogging recovery equal in time to each surge
3K effort isn’t meant to imply an exact pace; rather, the point is to run harder than 5K effort but not quite as hard as we’d run during a mile race.
Training slower than goal pace allows us to increase the duration of higher-intensity endurance sessions without overstressing our bodies.
Two examples of this type of workout are:
- Tempo Runs
- Progression Runs
Tempo runs are one of the great misunderstood workouts of our sport. In his seminal book, Daniels’ Running Formula, ubercoach Jack Daniels writes that “the intensity of effort associated with [tempo] running is comfortably hard. [Y]our effort should be one that you could maintain for about an hour in a race.” This is what tempo is not: a time trial. To be on the safe side, when preparing for the 5K we should tempo train at an effort approximately equal to half marathon race pace.
Because the 5K doesn’t require the sustained endurance effort of longer races, it’s OK to break tempo runs into two sections. This gives us most of the benefit while reducing the chance of overtraining. For example:
- 2 x 10 minutes, with 2-minute jog recovery
- 2 x 15 minutes, with 3-minute jog recovery
Progression runs begin at our normal distance pace, then drop 10-15 seconds per mile until we can’t go any faster (or until we reach 5K race pace). This usually occurs at between 6-9 miles. A Garmin is great for this workout, but it’s OK to guesstimate pace while using a watch to trigger each increase in effort.
Varied pace work should be introduced four to six weeks before our 5K race. Faster work can take the place of the weekly drills or hills session. Slower than goal pace work can substitute for the 5K effort repetitions. Always make sure to subtract one hard workout from your weekly schedule before adding one of these.
6) POST-RUN RECOVERY & INJURY PREVENTION
One of the biggest mistakes we runners make is to call it quits on our workout once the running part is finished. We figure we’ve done the work, so what can it hurt to skip the stretching, injury prevention exercises, and icing?
Answer: It can hurt a lot.
Running depletes muscle glycogen, generates minispasms in our muscles, triggers inflammation, and leaves us dehydrated. The most important 15 minutes of our workout is the time we spend post-run counteracting these effects. In order, we need to incorporate:
- Glycogen replacement and rehydration
- Injury-prevention exercises
Glycogen replacement and rehydration is easy. We simply consume 300-500 calories of carbohydrates, washing them down with lots of water. Bagels, bananas, and sports bars are great sources of carbs. Or choose chocolate milk or a sports drink to get a combination of carbs and fluids.
Static stretching has gotten a bad reputation in recent years. Done before running, it can reduce strength and even cause injury. Post-run is a different story, however, as stretching releases pesky muscle spasms that can lead to pain and inflammation.
Injury-prevention exercises are geared toward preventing and rehabilitating conditions like plantar fasciitis and iliotibial band syndrome. Towel toe curls and foot orbits can reverse many cases of plantar fasciitis, while a revised hurdler’s stretch can sometimes erase iliotibial band pain in the space of a minute. These exercises and stretches should be incorporated into our post-run routine on a daily basis. Click here to watch a video of a good post-run routine.
Icing is the silver bullet that makes our sport possible. We need to ice each and every sore spot that could potentially progress to injury. And we need to begin our icing within 15 minutes after completing our run. This is truly a case of a stitch in time saving nine.
COMPLETING THE PUZZLE
Finally, race day arrives. We step to the start line injury free. The gun goes off, and we immediately fall into a pace that matches the 5K effort we’ve been practicing for weeks. Our stride is effortless as we blend aerobic endurance with speed and strength gained from the hills. We make adjustments in our effort level based upon feedback from our bodies, a method we rehearsed during all those repetitions on the roads and trails. And when finally the finish banner comes into view, we call upon our fartlek-trained fast-twitch muscles to carry us to the finish line, then cross at the exact moment we reach 100 percent effort.
There’s no part of the race for which we’re not prepared. There are no surprises awaiting us. We completed our task before race day. We assembled all the pieces of our puzzle. Our race is no longer a test. It’s show and tell. It’s graduation. It’s a foregone conclusion. It’s a celebration.
Best of all, the race itself now adds to our overall fitness, locking our puzzle pieces into place. We can look forward to improved 5K performances in our next races. And as an added bonus, the same training that’s prepared us for the 5K has also prepared us for races like the 10K — even the marathon! That’s right. Since we’ve focused on improving the essential aspects of training — from stride efficiency to muscle fiber recruitment to aerobic endurance — rather than simply adding miles to our training logs, we’ve emerged as better overall runners: fitter, faster, and more efficient.
Being mainly a marathon runner I’m not as confident or sure of the taper period for an ultra. For the 6 inch ultra marathon in December last year I experimented by not tapering nearly as much as I would for a marathon. On the week of the event I actually ran twice a day Monday through Thursday and only had 48 hours rest before the race. Admittedly all runs on race week were slow and easy but I still managed over 80km’s pre-race. On the day I felt great and ran a good race for a 7th place finish but more importantly I was 4th quickest over the second half of the race. I actually ran my first negative split for an ultra. The week before the ultra I had ran 140k so there really wasn’t a taper period to talk off. ( http://www.6inchtrailmarathon.com )
Could this work for a marathon ? I don’t think so. The ultra is normally ran at a more subdued pace and although longer I feel not as testing as ‘racing’ a marathon. (Well ultras less than 100k, when you get above 100k I’m sure it becomes a tad more testing that a marathon. Once I run further than 100k I’ll confirm?) In an ultra the race pace normally decreases brings your overall cardio fitness in to play more than resting the legs a few weeks before. If you haven’t got the fitness a two week taper will not help, you’ll still be underdone. With a marathon, as the distance is less, you normally have the fitness required to finish the event, the tapering helps more by letting tired muscles recovery.
Also I feel running a good ultra is more dependant on the nutrition and hydration plan, get this right will benefit you so much more than a taper period. Again get this plan wrong and the taper will not save you. In an ultra any mistakes will be paid for, that is a certainty. In an ultra there is no where to hide.
Researching tapering and ultras on the web and there are stories advocating no tapering and setting PB’s while others advocate a 3 week steep taper and lean more towards relaxing rather than stressing about the event. All have their pro’s and con’s and as with all things running there’s no one shoe fits all. It really depends on the runner and also their experience and fitness. The more experienced runner with a good foundation of distance training under their belt will be more likely to be able to go into an event without tapering. They will not need the confidence boost that comes from a good taper as much as someone with less experience. Remember a good taper will also aid confidence and going into any race this is important, anything that helps put you in a positive mindset is welcome and needs to be embraced,
Of course if you have any niggling injuries an enforced taper may be called for. When this happens there is nothing you can do about it, just sit back and smell the roses concentrating on things you can influence like carboloading. Now carboloading, that is a whole new post and one I shall tackle next. Until then enjoy this article below by Ian Torrence which highlights ‘peaking’ rather than tapering as a benefit, pre-ultra. Ian is part of the Greg McMillan stable of writers so has a wealth of knowledge and experience to call upon. (Please note I do not advocate the Joe Kulak method of peaking described below but as you can see in the photo below my friend Jon is convinced it works… ?)
The final weeks before an event are the toughest to get right. The common notion that all hard work must cease and inactivity must ensue is incorrect. It’s also foolhardy to continue amassing mileage and tough workouts as race day nears in hopes of improving fitness. Depending on your approach to this all-important time period, you may be left feeling lethargic or simply exhausted. A runner with the proper peak will feel rejuvenated and ready to go on race day.
Greg McMillan, my mentor, has devised a set of rules to live by as race day approaches. Greg explains, “By studying peak performance research – both physiological as well as psychological – as opposed to just the tapering research, I’ve been able to dial in how to truly peak on race day. It works for all athletes no matter where you find yourself in the pack come race day.” By placing Greg’s simple and effective system into context, let’s get you prepared for your next ultra.
1. Do not drop running volume drastically
Though there are some that prefer three weeks to peak, two weeks seems to be the most popular choice. During the first week of a peak, drop the length of each run by 10 to 20 minutes. The week before your event, drop volume by 20 to 30 minutes per run. I recommend that ultrarunners limit their last long run(s), done a week before the key event, to 90 easy minutes (regardless of the distance of the event). This is enough to give you that long run feeling, but short enough that muscle recovery and glycogen-storage continue. Light, non-impact cross training can be done in lieu of runs, but only if you are used to those forms of exercise.
2. Keep the routine
Run, eat, sleep, work, and socialize when you do normally. Your body and mind have achieved stasis over the past few months of training. Keep them both happy and the keel even. Now is not the time to experiment with new workouts, forms of exercise, foods, and social events. Use the extra time not spent running for sleeping and sticking to “safe” hobbies.
3. Keep the intensity and build confidence
Before the 2007 JFK 50 Mile, I had an exchange with fellow competitor Andy Mason. Nine days before the race, he completed a round of very quick mile repeats on the track; his last quality workout before the race. I knew he was fit and feeling confident. That year, Andy finished in the top ten.
Though most ultrarunners do not need to perform a tough round of mile repeats before their next race, they might consider doing some sort of confidence-building workout 10 days to two weeks out from their event. This workout, however, should be in tune with recent training. Running a 30-mile training run or time trialing up and down Hope Pass (like the author) a few days before a race is neither smart nor beneficial. A moderate length workout that you’re familiar with, that is aerobically challenging, allows for adequate recovery before race day, and demonstrates your fitness should be the order of the day. If you don’t routinely perform hard hill, stamina-building, fartlek, or fast finish workouts then this is not the time to start. Maintain your current training and follow the guidelines for reduction in mileage as mentioned above.
Now is also the time to reflect on all of the training you’ve done thus far. Remember that you’ve done the work necessary to get you to the finish line.
4. Stick to the original race plan and have fun
No one starts a race without a goal. Whether it be to keep your Grand Slam hopes alive, finish your first ultra, or win the event outright, don’t lose sight of why you’re out there. Be deliberate in your actions and calculate each move you make on the race course. Run your own race and enjoy the time you’re having on the trail or road. Greg McMillan sums this up perfectly, “Let’s face it. Most of us aren’t going for an Olympic gold medal here. We are simply enjoying the challenge of doing our best. There is no real pressure, so quit putting so much on yourself. We run for fun, and you should remember that. Have fun!”
PEAKING FOR MULTIPLE RACES
What if you’re gearing up for several important races that are separated by a few weeks or less? The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, as well as others of that genre, and several race series like the NorCal and SoCal Ultra Grand Prix are perfect examples. In essence, you are recovering and peaking in unison between events. There are two ways to approach situations like this:
1. Reverse taper
This is like returning from injury. Gradually and slowly increase the length of your post-race easy runs and avoid fast and difficult workouts. You won’t reach your normal training level, but you’ll satisfy the need for a few runs before your next event.
2. The Joe Kulak Method
When I asked Joe Kulak what he did between each of his four 2003 Grand Slam record- setting 100-mile races, he quipped, “I sat on the couch and drank beer.” If beer is not your drink of choice, water works just as well. The reality is that you can’t gain fitness in the two or three weeks between long ultras. Recovery will be your best “workout” while preparing for your next event.
Baseline, document and evaluate everything. If it isn’t on www.strava.com it didn’t happen. Once you set a goal you have to be able to know how far you have come to achieving this, small steps but constant feedback. So buy a Garmin and start recording , everything !!! Contentious subject here. I’m a Strava addict and I know it but the purest will be horrified. You need a baseline to see improvement, set new goals and realize your goals. Buy a Garmin and to quote a small clothing company ‘just do it’.
One of my Golden Rules is quoted above. It’s all about recording information and then using this to build future training plans. Of course there are thousands of coaches who will do this for you and probably do a better job but even then if you decide to go this route you still need to record everything. (or ask your coach but you might as well have the information for your own records.)
I first heard about Strava ( http://www.strava.com ) about 4 years ago (from my Dentist actually, a triathlete training for a half-ironman. ) and only really started using it religiously about 2 years ago. There was nothing , for runners, before Strava to record, save and show your training runs to the world. I suppose Strava is the Facebook for runners. As with Facebook there are people who do Facebook and people who don’t. I suppose the same thing is true of Strava users, you either get it or you don’t, all or nothing, I remember when you use to run with a watch and record your distance, normally estimated (and normally estimated up!) in an excel sheet or better still a notebook. (and I don’t meant an electronic notebook, one with paper. For the younger readers of this blog don’t worry, paper is something you will never probably use.) Even now I still have an Excel spreadsheet where I record all my runs, albeit just distance, as a backup to my Strava information. This spreadsheet has all my runs backs to 2008 and I never miss a run, sort of old school but there is something satisfying about typing in the data rather than downloading it from a GPS watch via Garmin Connect straight into Strava. I’ve attached the Excel table detailing my running adventures during the last 8 years updated manually on a daily basis. Must admit to never owning a running notebook though.
Before Strava we use to use a website called Coolrunning ( http://www.coolrunning.com.au/runningguide/wiki/index.php/Main_Page ) but Facebook and Stava put an end to its userbase, in WA anyway. I suppose it became the Nokia or Blackberry when Apple turned up. Either way now it’s all about Strava. Is Strava perfect, no. It is still mainly aimed at the cyclist and has more functionality for our free wheeling friends but it does do enough to make it indispensable to some runners, me included.
Is this a bad thing? In my view no as it allows you to document everything automatically and there is enough functionality built in to make the software very useful to spot trends and set targets for training sessions. Also it allows you to encourage your friends with kudos and helpful comments. This can be a double edges sword of course if you have a bad session as everybody knows about it instantly. Runners , though, being a forgiving lot will normally even give you kudos and encouragement on any run, it’s about building a running community I suppose. Of course a bit of banter is also encouraged and I’ve left a few comments asking ‘if they ran the whole way’ to gee people up . (In a nice way.)
If you haven’t got a GPS watch and an app to connect said watch to Strava then I recommend you remedy this as quickly as possible. Strava really is life and the rest is details as I’ve said many times in this blog. I really cannot recommend it enough and my four Garmin watches and iPhone6 make it impossible for me to run unrecorded. Please note I think I ran twice last year, out of the 464+ runs (thanks Strava) , without a watch and both times I hated it, sorry people but that’s just the way it is.
What Strava gives you is a way to record your run with kilometre splits, heart rate, elevation, cadence and even VO2 max figure (with some GPS watches) All of these can then be checked against previous runs of the same distance and terrain and compared. This will hopefully allow you to see improvement and then set new goals, reach these goals and then set even faster, longer ones. Keep reporting this and eventually you will be the best you can be. Without a baseline of information and then continued data logging of running information to compare how can you see improvement. How did we survive without Strava ?
So back to my post title, if it’s not on Strava did it happen ? I think the answer is no, in this world of online running data collection verbal boasting just doesn’t cut it anymore. Pity as this morning I ran the first sub 2hour marathon but forgot to turn on my Garmin, and if it’s not on Strava it didn’t happen!
I’ve mentioned both these topics before but they are important enough to warrant another post as in the last few days I have seen for myself how these two runners traits manifest themselves. First on Sunday after our long run we were all blown away when, at the cafe afterwards over the obligatory pancakes and coffee , Jon’s order turned up and it was a fruit salad. There was a hush around the table before some light hearted banter about Jon’s last minute effort to ditch weight for the upcoming Australia Day Ultra. (http://australiadayultra.com ) I must admit I feel Jon is probably leaving it a bit late but the sacrifice was there and although he made a good effort in disguising his disappointment it was obvious to all.
Runners need to make sacrifices almost daily to ‘be the best they can be’. Every meal needs to be planned , organised, researched and digested. This can be a daily battle if we are thrust out with our comfort zone. This happened to me recently when I was on a family holiday and had to visit restaurants and then faced with menus not designed with health and well being in mind. I had to scour the menu and find the meal that, in my view, would do the least about of damage to my body. On both occasions I was saved by Salmon and mash potato with dill sauce and asparagus, which I think is a ‘super food‘, apparently. ? The garlic bread was justifiable as it contained carbs and as runners we love carbs. Sweet was a definite no-no as the portions were far too big and I remember thinking I would have to go long the next day in an attempt to cancel out some of the calories I would be digesting.
You wonder why most runners have no social life. I personally am just about tea total , though will admit to one glass of red wine over the festive period. Note, I did run a record week on Christmas week which is probably sad but made me feel good about myself. I suppose this really is a case of only a runner knows the feeling. ?
What sacrifices do I make. I have a sweet tooth and as you’ll see in most posts my running can sometimes seem like an excuse to eat pancakes at Clancy’s in City Beach or Muffins at Yelo in Trigg. (I highly recommend both by the way.) I can semi-justify both of these are being ‘running friendly’ in the fact that they can aid the recovery process and we normally eat these after a run. (Never tried before a run but after my Christmas Day nightmare when I ran a few hours after a full Sunday Roast I suspect it really would be a bad idea. It seems cyclists are the only true athletes who can stop in the middle of a ride, drink soya light-frappacinos in lycra and then continue as if nothing has happened? Go figure ?) Tea and biscuits are another weakness of mine and only eaten as a treat after a marathon. I have been known to destroy a packet of dark chocolate digestives with a good cuppa’ but insist on running a marathon first. Again sacrifices, a runner can never really let themselves go and enjoy the ‘good things in life’ , these ‘good things‘ are different things to different people but as runners we are all in the same boat when we are usually denied them. Otherwise I suppose it wouldn’t be a sacrifice. ?
Another important runners trait is routine. I bumped into Nic Harman this morning at the traffic lights, I invited Nic along to our Thursday morning Yelo progressive run. (We could probably keep up with Nic for the first 4-5k until he would have got bored with our pace and turned on the afterburners!) Nic turned down my invitation as he had a tempo session Thursday evening and would need to be fresh for that . (Truth be told a 14k progressive with myself and the BK posse would not test young Nic and I’d be surprised if he managed to move to third gear.) Either way the point of this story is the routine is there and it is not to be wavered from, even being tempted by Yelo muffins and my company would now sway Nic. (Maybe he doesn’t like muffin’s, what other reason could it be ?)
So is all this sacrifice and routine worth it ? You lose most of your non-running friends, your wife will start to organise a social life alone and her friends will start to see her as single with no ‘significant other’, you’ll be first to rise for your morning run with the sunrise and also first to bed after reading the 9 year old her bedtime story. Alcohol and restaurants will become no-no’s and weight will be a constant niggling voice in the back of your mind as you move towards the sweet stall or hover in the chocolate isle at your local deli. Routine dictates you wake every morning, no matter how fatigued, and stumble out of bed and up to the top of your street before turning on the GPS function on your watch and heading off on anther 10k to go with the previous hundreds you’ve already completed and knowing there are probably thousands still to do.
Is it all worth it ? Of course it is. When you get one of those runs when it all comes together and you make a time you thought beyond you everything pales into insignificance. Sacrifice and routine are just two pieces of the jigsaw that make up the whole picture and when it all comes together it can be a wondrous thing to behold.
Finally, if nothing else, it allows us runners to eat pancakes and the odd muffin to aid recovery and that in itself is enough for me, the rest is a bonus.