March 2017

Look out there’s a marathon coming. How to go quicker without running.

We all run for different reasons. Personally I live for the thrill of the race, trying to go faster than you’ve ever gone before. This can be from any distance from 4k to 100k. I’ve raced them all and each one presents its own challenges but the blue ribbon event will always be the marathon. The marathon is short enough to allow you to race and set an expectation that is achievable , give or take a minute or two, but long enough to test yourself. Anything longer than a marathon and the margin for error increases significantly as other factors come into play, conditions on the day, hydration and nutrition strategies and just general ability to complete the distance due to the extra time required. Shorter races, although testing , don’t put you in the ‘ dead zone’ from 32k to the finish of a marathon, here wondrous things can happen. Alternatively this final 10k is where you are exceeding what your body is built to do without outside assistance, by outside assistance I mean extra nutrition, extra training and a string mental attitude. Similar to the last few hundred metres of ascent on Everest in the final 10k of a marathon you are somewhere you shouldn’t be.

It is from 32k onwards that you will see glimpses of the real ‘you’, who you really are, stripped back to the bare primeval goal of finishing something. In that last 10k there is no tax worries, family troubles, job insecurities, hell you even stop worrying about what Donald Trump is going to ‘tweet’ next, the only thing that matters is getting to the end of the race. As I have said many time if you look on the Strava mobile app you’ll see the first 32k of a marathon runners pace chart and be able to draw a straight line down the side of the pace bars; all within 10-15 seconds of the previous one. At 32k instantly that pace bar begins to lengthen and this will continue for the next 10k normally as the runner struggles with themselves as fatigue sets in and , trying to protect the body, puts on the brakes. I’ve mentioned many times this central governor , as Tin Noakes describes it in the ‘Lore of Running’, is only trying to protect you from doing more damage to yourself and apparently it can be tricked into either not coming on at all (probably by Kenyans only?) or maybe not as aggressively. This is the mental part of finishing a marathon, worth a good 5-10 minutes over the last 10k minimum.  This ‘central governor’ is not present in shorter distances, what holds you back then is good old fashioned lack of either training, fitness  or talent. All of these can be improved on, to some extent, but unfortunately the talent issue is probably genetic in most people, this does not mean we can’t chase our own personal PB times, whatever they turn out to be.

So back to the marathon, while running this evening I thought of all the ways you can improve your marathon time without actually running. There are quite a few which are largely ignored by the running population. So here they are :-

  1. Weight. Lose as much as possible as the lighter you are the quicker you will run. This is common sense but ignored by so many runners, even in my close knit circle of running friends there’s a few who may ‘over-indulge’ on a regular basis. They shall remain nameless but know who they are….. The old adage of ‘I run a lot so can eat what I want’ unfortunately does not ring true. A good runner is always hungry because they don’t eat enough, thus they lose weight and get to their ‘racing weight’ which is always lighter than you can normally survive on. This is why it’s a racing weight, to be achieved before a race and then ignored until the next one. Be careful not to ignore it too much of course as it makes the next time you try to get down to it more challenging.
  2. Racing Shoes. The number of Asics Kayano’s I see at the start of a marathon is criminal. These bad boys are like wearing concrete boots. Ok for long distance training (I suppose) but not for racing marathons. Get yourself a good pair of racing shows. I’d recommend the Nike Lunaracer (assuming you can find any) as they were the perfect combination of protection and lightness. My choice lately is the Adidas Takumi Sen 3, beware though these really are racing flats and you need to be light on your feet,and generally light all over,  to get the benefit of these. If you can’t wear racing flats then any racing shoe lighter than your normal training shoe will give you a boost, a turbo charger without doing anything more than buying a pair of shoes, too easy.
  3. Carboloading and tapering. C’mon, eating more pancakes and muffins for 3 days before a marathon and running less for two weeks before. How good is marathon training ? Seriously though a good 3 days of carboloading is an enjoyable experience  and although you may feel bloated this is mainly due to the extra hydration and overall this will help when you are in the last 10k, the most important part of any marathon. Search on google for ‘best carboloading diets’ and you’ll get the idea of what to eat. I normally work on 10g of carbohydrates for every kilogram of weight a day , for three days before the race. So for me, at 69kg,  I aim to eat 690g of carbohydrates a day for three days. Which is actually quite hard to do.
  4. Pacing the race. Set yourself an achievable goal, either through past experience or from the may indicator tables available on the internet which can turn your 5k/10k or half time into a marathon prediction. Probably best to at least try and use a half marathon time as using a 5k or 10k time leaves yourself open to wild swings of finishing times and can be fatal if you go out too fast, it’ll make the last 10k even more interesting if the wheels have fallen of the wagon. The Macmillan calculator is pretty good ( https://www.mcmillanrunning.com ) Get the pace right and the whole experience is so much more pleasant.
  5. Race hydration and nutrition. Another ignored ,but so important, part of the marathon is by getting the hydration and nutrition plan right. Do a good job and the 32k ‘wall’ can be pushed back past the finish distance. Matt Fitzgerald (In Matt we trust!) has written a good book on this. (https://mattfitzgerald.org/books/ ) He’s written good books on most running subjects and I recommend you read them all. There maybe should be a Matt Fitzgerald paragraph for this blog. Reading his books will help your marathon time, without running, by putting his teaching into your daily routine.
  6. Get a coach. This may or may not involve more running but from the angle of working smarter compared to working harder a coach will help your marathon time without more running.

This list is by no means exhaustive and due to time constraints, i.e. it’s late and I’m up early tomorrow for a 14k progressive run with the boys, I’m going to cut this post short. Maybe I’ll do a part two later in the week…. until then remember you don’t always have to run more to go quicker. (Though you can of course if you want to, speaking from experience but that’s a post for another day….)

Racing is life, the rest is details.

Sunday long run, the social side of running.

Time is getting away from me lately. My twice daily posts have morphed into daily and now weekly posts. Life is getting in the way it seems. Although this may have affected my ability to get to the keyboard you’ll be glad to hear I’m still putting in the kilometres, some things really are sacred. After Darlington half last weekend I managed to drag myself out for a recovery run in the evening, after first posting about the race of course, priorities.

The recovery run on the same day as the event is normally an exercise in pain management and this one was no different. I struggled, and I mean struggled, to hold anywhere near 5min/k average and my right ‘hammy’ , which is as fickle as a Donald Trump voter, was threatening to let go the whole way. Luckily it survived long enough to get me home and immerse myself in deep heat. (Much to the kids disgust of course, some people just don’t appreciate the soothing smell of Deep Heat at the dinner table, these non-runners are a funny bunch?) The next day was no better with recovery run #2 at lunchtime, much to the amusement of Jon and Mike who recover a lot better than me obviously. Both of them look forward to the recovery run after a race as they both save something so they can tease me with a pace just outside what I can achieve before slowing down to let me catch up, before repeating the process. Got to love running humour ? This lack of pace continued until the Thursday morning progressive where I managed to salvage some pride with a half decent hit out before a similar run in the afternoon. On the second run I actually nailed a perfect 10k progressive for the first time in months. I’m blaming the company I keep on the Thursday morning run where we get to sub 4 pace far too early in the 14k distance leaving you nowhere to go at 10k but slower; well for me anyhow. It then stops being a progressive and turns into a 5k tempo. (I’ve written a few posts on progressive runs and their benefits, if you search on the word ‘progressive’ you should get access to them.)

After Thursday my confidence was restored and even ran a good double up on Friday  to prepare me for my first Park Run of the year. I have certainly advocated the park run on this blog many times and I firmly believe this is a must-have for all wanna-be runners of all distance. The 5k is long enough it will test you (and bite you in the backside if you go out too quick!) but not long enough that you can’t race it and still put in a good training week.

On Saturday I wasn’t expecting to much but with the help of my mate Andy went off like a rocket and managed a 3:09min/k first kilometre (when will I learn?). I did manage to hold 3:20min/k for the next 2k but let myself down a bit on kilometre four with a 3:29. I kicked for home and registered a 3:20 but the damage was done in kilometre four and I missed a PB by 8 seconds. No problem, I wasn’t expecting one and I felt good for the duration. A bonus was grabbing the Carine 50-55 age group record (from Andy funnily enough, remember him at the start!) to go with my 45-50 age group record. Also managed a top 10 finish nationally among all the ‘age grade’ champions for the park run courses. When you get to 50 it’s all about age grades and groups. (Sorry Mark Lee but it’s all us old timers have left to chase, quality twenty year old runners are now something we read about,  not catch!)

Carine Park Run, first lap. Holding on to a slender lead….

 

Sunday came and luckily we had decided in the week to go with the Mark Conway plan (which Mike is copying , you didn’t hear that here.) and run a 20k easy, for no other reason than we were all a tad jaded after Darlington and fancied a shorter-long run. Due to family commitments I couldn’t start until 6:30am so we all decided to meet at Yelo at that time and either start from there or at least meet the rest of us and continue (if you needed a few extra kilometres.) My 9 year old Daughter did find this amusing as the main reason for this delayed start was her and here were 10 runners changing their lives because of her. We’re a funny lot runners, but accommodating, thanks lads.

So off on the short 20k run we went, ten of us started which normally calls for road closures in Western Australia. (We did pass Mark Lee running in the opposite direction dressed like a Christmas Tree which amused the group greatly ..?) Ten is a good number because it takes about 10k before you actually run out of the ‘initial banter’, this can be stories from the week regarding anything the group would find of interest. Truth be told there are a few subjects which are mandatory of course. Jon’s height and weight are also discussed early as well as Mike’s VO2 max score, add in Mark C’s training plan from Matt Fitzgerald and you’re good for 5k minimum. We then discuss politics for at least 2-3k but lately because of Donald Trump this has started to last a bit longer and normally involves a lot more laughter than previously. (American voters, c’mon, it is a joke isn’t it…?) My training plans are then fair game and also discussions about possible posts. Add in a few Phil quotes and before you know it you’re turning around for the run home.

This of course is when the real running happens. The outward journey is social, we’ve generally not met since the previous Sunday so we have a lot to catch up on. I mean as runners we live very full lives. We sleep, worry about our weight, distance, ‘niggles’, pace, alcohol intake (well my group for some reason doesn’t seem to be too worried ?) and then, well that’s about it really but all of this needs to be discussed at great length. Add in potential races and I’m surprised we have time for anything else bar eating muffins, pancakes and drinking coffee.

So back to the journey home. I must admit without the T-train lately (he’s still injured from the ADU 100K in January.) the last 5-10k has been a tad pedestrian. Tony would always push the finish and we often found ourselves at 5k tempo pace at the end of a long run. Luckily this is considered one of your ‘go to runs’ (a long run, fast finish) but I always felt the T-train just enjoyed putting us all through then ‘ringer’ at the end of a 30k, lovely guy Tone. (maybe we don’t miss him?….) Today was no different and I up’d the pace and split the group as we all moved towards Yelo and the final goal, a berry and white chocolate muffin and coffee combo. (see below!)

The holy grail of running…Yeo muffin and coffee combo.

Being it was only 20k the end came around sooner rather than later and we all continued the conversations we had started 90 minutes previously outside Yelo, The topic of conversation didn’t really change much, (and never does truth be told but that’s the point isn’t it?) Jon’s weight and Mike’s VO2 score were discussed and Phil came out with some more gems which funnily enough were mostly already on the internet. This brings me to the reason behind the post. (Finally I hear you all shout !) … The Sunday long run is more the one time when you can let your hair down (excuse the pun in my case!) and just run with good friends who love the same things you love and then at the end celebrate the whole ‘running thing‘ over good coffee and ‘tukka’. If it does you good as well then that’s a bonus but it’s not the real reason we all run long on Sunday, there’s something far more important , running with your mates. (It is also important to know Mike’s VO2 score and Jon’s current weight battles but that’s secondary, I think?)

 

The boys, Mark L., Mike, Phil, Al, Jon and me, Mark C. and Zac.

 

At Darlington, what goes up normally comes down quicker.

This weekend I ran one of my favourites half marathons, the Darlington half. Favourite for a number of reasons but the main one being the finish. The first half is 11k uphill initially and, being a point to point , there is a 10k downhill for the return. (For the more intelligent amongst you there is a small loop section which explains why its not a 50/50 split between up and down.) So if you get to the turn around with something left in the tank the final 10k is normally the quickest. It really is built for the holy grail of running , the negative split, often talked about but rarely achieved. At Darlington to positive split is actually harder than a negative split with gravity as your co-pilot you are normally caressed home. This year we even had a head wind up the hill to make sure it was negative splits all around !

Darlington half start, maybe the return to the pack can be put off for another year or two ?

So back to the race. We drove to the start in Jon’s new BMW and this certainly set the tone for a fast start. Jon is certainly a young man on a mission behind the wheel of a weapon of mass destruction that is his 330d . Please note I do not advocate speeding but if you do indulge it might as well be in a German sports car. So to the start line. The Darlington half starts downhill for the first 100 or so metres and then it’s 11k up, in different degrees of ‘hard’; i.e. hard, very hard, very very hard and this is surely classed as a wall hard !! As always I started way to fast and found myself sitting in 4th place after the first kilometre with another runner who I knew. We settled into the hill climbing part of the half and a stiff headwind, which meant we took turns at the front. Truth be told I think Chris took more time at the front than me but I played the ‘I’m 50 and so, being older, am entitled to sit behind you longer’ card. I’m not sure if this is proper running etiquette but in my mind it worked and I was more than happy to take it a read this was the way. Darlington is always a struggle initially as you race up a 10k hill. You feel you should be running faster than you actually are (according to your Garmin or GPS watch. Sometimes technology can be a curse!) but know you need to save something for the return journey. There is more ‘pacing‘ involved with Darlington as the race really is two different races in one; one a 10k slog uphill and then a ‘run as fast as you can without falling over‘ return 10k.  The 1k in between these two races is flat and serves as a divide between the two seperate terrains.

Myself and Chris ran past the half-way cone (well I think it’s about 11k?) together and then started on the 1k in-between flat part of the course,  pre-downhill. This also gives you an opportunity to see who is behind you without looking around (as we all know a cardinal sin in racing is looking behind you, never, never do this !) I noted that there was a group of 3-4 runners who were closer than I would have liked and all would be gunning for me on the downhill section, joy, just what you need when you’re knackered and still have 10k to run. (albeit downhill) I up’d the pace in a desperate attempt to put some distance between me and the chasing pack and started on the downhill section with a ‘spring in my step‘ as gravity and the tail wind combined to push me forward. The next 5-6k’s were eventful only in my continued effort to pull back 3rd place, a young man I could see was slightly slowing giving me renewed hope of a top 3 finish. (My best Darlington finish was 5th in 2014 and this becomes important with 2k to go…)

Unfortunately the faster I ran I was still unable to bridge the gap to 3rd and about 18k into the race I resigned myself to a 4th place finish as Chris had dropped off a tad, probably a by product of dragging a 50 year old up the hill earlier. This was going to come back and bite me as, at 19k, I heard footsteps behind me and my friend Luke went past after checking all was good. Luke, being probably 25 years younger than me , was cruising home and had left his dash for the line as late as possible. I moved back to 5th place, which given the race so far,  I would have been happy with. Alas, not to be, another runner probably half my age (and then some) went past me with less than 1k to go and down to 6th I tumbled. All in all a 1:19:16 and 6th place was a reasonable hit out for the day. it was my second fastest finishing time on my 6th Darlington half.

What did I learn from the race ? Yet again I struggled at the 5-10k part of the race and felt better for the second half. Not sure if this was gravity and tail wind assisted but it was certainly less painful than the 16k race a few weeks earlier. I still feel I am struggling a bit with my form at the moment but I’m managing to hang on to some respectable times. I have 3 weeks to my next race which is a 10k so this will give me some focus to concentrate on shorter, faster training runs and maybe drop the odd double day; what will I do with all my free time I wonder ?

On a side note Darlington was also witness to a World Record as young Tom Alexander ran 1:24:22. You may wonder why it was a World Record, well Tom is 10 years old. ! He beat the current World Record by nearly a minute running a notoriously slow course . I personally reckon it is at least 2 minutes slower than a flat course, thus young Tom has it in him, on a flat course, to probably put 3 minutes on the 10 year old WR . Now that is impressive.  As well as worried about being ‘chicked’ I know need to worry about being beaten by a 10 year old,  life as a runner can be a stressful one.

Negative split guaranteed, what a course.

So it was back with the boys this afternoon on the 10k recovery. Mike and Jon enjoy this run as they seem to recover better than me. I struggle to keep up with them as they discuss the race and I hang off the back cursing getting old and recovering like a 90 year old. I personally put this down to leaving very little in the tank after a race where as I sometimes think Jon enjoys the social side of racing a bit too much. Mike was chastising him for striking up conversations with strangers while racing and must admit this is not something I have ever down myself. Give Jon his due he did finish like Usain Bolt but I feel this had more to do with the free breakfast , including muffins,  rather than the finishing time. Priorities Jon, priorities !! Once we dragged Jon away from the free breakfast it was back to his BMW and his best Lewis Hamilton impression on the way home. I did feel sorry for Mike in the back trying to eat his croissants and fruit as we went round corners faster that the space shuttle reentering orbit !  Oh well, that’s racing……

My favourite part of any race, the finishing straight ! Mission accomplished , 6th place finish and time not too shabby…

Is this the return to the pack I have been dreading ?

I have been quiet the last couple of weeks as I digest the findings from my last WAMC (West Australian Marathon Club) race where I worked very hard for a podium finish. The race itself was harder than expected and although I was happy with the end result it has certainly left me ‘scarred’, and this explains the lack of posts.

As runners we all run for different reasons, some for health, some wellness, some to escape life and others to embrace life. For me it has always been about racing myself and trying to better my best time, always looking to be my best or even beat my best. Over the years I have been very successful at this and ran many PB’s . This though has come at a cost and truth be told it has always been one I have been more than willing to pay. Each year I have increased my weekly distance and still ran the hard sessions when needed. It was always worth the extra effort as the PB’s kept coming and I even started to grab some podium spots as I hit my late forties. I had successfully moved from the middle of the pack to the front and this is an addiction that is stronger than any illegal drug. (Please note I assuming this to be true as being a dedicated runner my only vice is pancakes and muffins !.) Last year was perhaps my best ever as I left the forties and moved into my fifties. Admittedly I put in more distance than ever before and also changed my diet but the results came and they were better than I ever could have imagined.

Thus 2017 I started off on the same foot (excuse the pun) and kept up the double days and hard sessions assuming this PB trajectory would continue. The first hint of trouble was a 5k race at the beginning of the year where I ran over 17 minutes for the first time in a year. I put this down to the conditions and a tough training week pre-race. Looking at my training log I had ran the same race 3 years ago and go the same time so it wasn’t a complete disaster, or was it? Next was the ADU 100K, my first 100k ultra. This was a complete success with a 2nd place finish and a strong race throughout. The video was even good documenting the experience, thanks to Rob’s talent rather the subject. Next came a 16k race that I had run twice previously (for two 2nd place finishes.). This race was going to be the tester for the season and I was expecting to do well and try and break my 59:59:07 time from last year. The race report can be read here :-

How can a race so short teach you so much ?

This race has made me question my training and I am certainly more worried about what the future holds rather than usual excited anticipation you experience at the start of a racing season. With the Darlington half this weekend I need to make sure I work on my mindset as currently I am not in the right frame of mind to ‘attack’ the course and I feel similar to the last time I ran Darlington in 2014 where I was a few minutes slower than planned. This doesn’t sound a lot but when you race as much as me a few minutes is a lifetime and I certainly spent some serious time reflecting on that 120 seconds slippage! All of a sudden runners who I would normally never see where chasing me in the closing stages and when I finished there was a procession of runners behind me, far too close for my liking; I was being dragged back to the pack.

I understand that at fifty my time at the pointy-end of the race is limited and truth be told I was actually looking forward to moving back to the pack and relaxing my arduous training load but as I mentioned before being near the front is addictive and it’s not something I am willing to give up without a fight. I need my fix of ‘success’ and last year was a good year where I over dosed on medals. I’m just not ready to go back to the pack just yet but maybe I don’t have a choice?

Point Walter was hard in many ways but what was hardest to digest was the feeling that maybe I have ‘shot my bolt’ and the downward spiral of finishing times is over. I had the same feeling in 2014, after a particularly good previous year, and was prepared for the return to the pack. Last year though I reignited my PB streak but now I feel I am again facing the prospect of slowing down. Am I ready for this, no, can I do anything about it, I’m not sure and this is the problem. I have mentioned many times the mental part of running is so important and I need to ‘toughen up’ my approach as this took quite a hit after my last race.

So we’ll see what Darlington has to offer and I am hopeful I can put in a good performance, rather than excited about chasing faster times. Even typing this I feel it is an admittance of the first stage of accepting moving back to the pack and this may be a necessary journey because if the effort required to stand still is so great it becomes undoable you would soon lose your love of racing and then for me running, as the two for me are joined. I had already resigned myself for this journey in 2014 and last year was a bonus which was unexpected , albeit hard work to achieve. Is this my second attempt at accepting my times are now set in stone and no longer beatable, we’ll see, maybe as soon as this weekend at the Darlington half?

Darlington half start, maybe the return to the pack can be put off for another year or two ?

As you can see from the photograph above I did manage to keep ahead of the pace at Darlington and although I dropped a few places from my start sprint I still managed a top 10 finish so maybe I can keep myself ahead of the pack for another year or two? It’ll be fun trying……