Marathons

Faster running without running, sounds too good to be true?

Although runners have less opportunities to increase pace without actually putting in the hard yards there are limited options to increase your race pace and bring down your finishing time. Of course we are offered the easy options experienced and embraced by cyclists. While running long on Sunday we were once again passed by a ‘gaggle’ of cyclists freewheeling down a hill merrily chit-chatting away, cocooned in lycra, and excited about another stop for frothy light frappacino’s and banana bread. As runners we can’t free wheel, when we run downhill we actually have to run downhill, funny that ? We can’t spend thousands of dollars on Zip Wheels, silly helmets or extra-extra light carbon-fibre bikes to shave that few minutes of our finishing time. Admittedly there is the Nike Vaporflys 4% now available which offer a 4% improvement in running economy but that is about all us runners can hope to achieve without doing the extra hard yards, or is it ? ( I have attached a review of the Vaporflys at the end of this post from http://www.roadtrailrun.com at the end of this post. I have mine and will be testing them tonight, very excited !!)

So how do runners gain that few extra seconds without training more or harder. I’ve added a list of things below which are guaranteed to improve your finishing time and you don’t even have to lace up your runners

Race shoes on race day. Sounds obvious right, you train in comfortable, high heel, extra padded trainers which help with the constant pounding you subject yourself to while you train. On race day though you can add a turbo-charger by bringing out the race shoes, lighter, less forgiving but a race-only treat. These race shoes make you feel like you’ve been running in concrete , or Kayano’s as I like to call that feeling, and as well as a placebo effect, they also make the whole running process easier due to good old fashioned physics, less weight attached to the end of your legs. I’m lucky that I can run marathons in racing flats and have used Asics Piranha’s, Adidias Takumi Sen3, Nike LunaRacers  and Saucony Kinvara’s on a number of occasions. All these are light , around 210g , compared to a ‘training’ shoe like the Asics Kayano which is about 326g. So my first tip to shave those seconds (or even minutes) off your time is to find your favourite shoe manufacturer racing version of your everyday runner

A free turbo-charger .

Taper properly. One of the hardest thing for a runner is to stop running just before a goal race. It is counter-intuitive to stop doing what you love to do and, paranoid as all runners are, you grapple with the ‘I’ll lose my fitness’ argument that always rages as you taper towards the big day.  Well I’m here to tell you that the week before the marathon (we’re doing a marathon right?) there is nothing you can do to add to your fitness levels, all you can do it too much.  Thus you could do nothing all week and this would actually help towards your finish time. Of course no runner can do nothing, especially with a marathon on the horizon. I generally run a 10k Tuesday and Thursday of marathon week and that’s it. Twenty kilometres in a week (bar the 42k on Sunday of course) when I’m use to running 6-8 times that. How do I do it ? Easy, I tell myself that I am improving my finish time for every day I don’t run and also with the experience of running 41 marathons I know this is a tried and tested method that works for me. When I first started running I use to taper for three weeks before the big day and I look back now and I’m amazed I even finished. A good week of tapering may be extended to two at a push (assuming you put in good numbers in training) but three weeks is too many for me. I’m more of a ‘aggressive two week taper’ rather than a gradual three week taper. As with all things running though you need to find the ideal fit for you and that comes with experience but the last week doing little or nothing is a guaranteed finish time improver

Carboload well, some pass me a muffin ! Running is an unforgiving mistress, she (she is a she isn’t she ?) insists you train hard, eat right, get up early, miss family time and spend quality time in the pain box on a regular basis. For three days before a marathon though she relents and turns into your best friend EVER. This is because she allows you to carboload to improve your finishing time. Hallelujah , for three days you get to eat just about as much carbohydrates as you can physically stomach. I use the 10g of carbs per kilogram of body weight , per day for three days before the marathon. For me this equates to 700g of carbs a day. Trying to eat 700g of quality carbs a day is actually very hard and you need to be careful you don’t add too much sugar into the mix or you and the bathroom scales are going to fall out big time. For me I aim for a toast for breakfast,  pasta meal every evening, orange juice and electrolytes, honey on toast (probably twice a day), yoghurt, bananas  and more pasta for lunch. This gets me to around the 700g I need. Very few runners actually make the right mix of carbohydrates to protein and the other major food groups, they either fall short on the carbohydrate count or add too much sugar (assuming a ‘if  looks good I can eat it mentality’) This can lead to weight gain (rather than the ‘good’ weight gain due to more water in the last few days. This also needs to be addressed, you should be ‘peeing’ clear the three days before a marathon as you hydrate before the big day.)

Got to love marathon training for the last 3 days, pass me a muffin !

 

 

Of course there is the one day carboload for runners who feel that three days of gorging on carbs makes them feel bloated, heavy and generally lethargic.  Dr. Paul Fournier from The Conversation published this post on the subject below:-

During the London Olympics, and beyond, many endurance athletes will attempt to increase their muscle glycogen stores by carbohydrate loading. This is because, despite its importance, glycogen is a fuel present only in small amounts in skeletal muscles and can be rapidly depleted during prolonged intense aerobic exercise, thus causing fatigue.

Unfortunately, many athletes aiming to increase their glycogen stores find this aspect of their preparation challenging. It is thus important to remind them that nearly a decade ago my colleagues and I developed some carbohydrate loading regimens to make this task easier.

Six-day regimen

Close to the end of the 1960s, a team of scientists from Northern Europe introduced a carbohydrate loading regimen that resulted in a near two-fold increase in muscle glycogen stores.

treehouse1977

This regimen involved a glycogen-depleting bout of exercise followed by three days of a carbohydrate-poor diet. Another bout of exercise was then performed to deplete once more the stores of muscle glycogen.

For the next three days the athletes were asked to eat a carbohydrate-rich diet and to avoid any strenuous physical activity.

As one would expect, despite its benefits, this regimen was difficult to tolerate and highly impractical, particularly for athletes wishing to train during the carbohydrate-deprivation phase of this regimen.

Three-day regimen

It is in part for this reason that nearly 30 years ago, Sherman and colleagues introduced an improved carbohydrate-loading regimen that resulted in comparable increases in muscle glycogen levels, but without the disadvantages associated with the classical regimen.

These investigators found that the accumulation of high levels of muscle glycogen is possible without any glycogen-depletion phase.

Emily Barney

All that is required is for athletes to taper their training over several days and rest on the day before competition while ingesting a carbohydrate-rich diet for three days prior to competing.

Unfortunately, even this three-day carbohydrate loading regimen was difficult to adhere to given the large amounts of carbohydrate that needed to be ingested over several consecutive days.

For this reason, nearly a decade ago my colleagues and I at UWA undertook to develop an improved carbohydrate-loading regimen that allows the attainment of maximal muscle glycogen levels within a shorter time period.

One-day regimen

As a result, we introduced two novel one-day long carbohydrate loading regimens (published here and here).

Since the rates of muscle glycogen synthesis are generally higher during recovery from a short bout of high intensity exercise than during recovery from prolonged exercise of moderate intensity, we examined whether combining a short bout of high intensity exercise with a one day high-carbohydrate intake could provide a faster way to carbohydrate load.

To this end, we asked a group of participants to cycle for 150 seconds at 130% of their maximal aerobic capacity followed by a 30-second all-out sprint. For the next 24 hours, we fed them the equivalent of 10 grams of carbohydrate-rich food per kilo of body mass.

To our surprise, after only 24 hours their muscle glycogen stores increased to levels comparable to or higher than those reported in previous studies on carbohydrate loading.

foodiesathome.com

One limitation with this regimen is that many endurance athletes may not wish to perform three minutes of intense exercise on the day before competing. Ideally, it would be better if they could accumulate as much glycogen within one day but without a glycogen-depleting exercise bout.

Sherman and colleagues had shown it was possible without a glycogen-depleting period of exercise to store maximal amounts of muscle glycogen if a carbohydrate-rich diet was adopted for three days while tapering exercise-training.

We examined whether this approach could work in endurance-trained athletes fed the equivalent of 10 g of carbohydrate-rich food per kilo of body mass while remaining physically inactive for a whole day.

We found that muscle glycogen stores reach maximal levels within only one day of starting this regimen, with no added benefits by extending the high-carbohydrate intake period for up to three days.

In other words, all that is required of our endurance athletes who trained regularly and want to carbohydrate load before competing is simply to interrupt their training for one day and eat the equivalent of 10 grams of carbohydrate-rich food (e.g. pasta, bread, rice, potatoes) per kilo of body mass during that day.

Simply, the best

To the best of our knowledge, no better carbohydrate loading regimen has been published since then, but many athletes still rely on earlier regimens.

Our carbohydrate loading protocol sounds simple, and it is simple – but it works.

 

A good review of the Nike Vaporflys 4%, basically save up your pennies and buy a pair when they become available, nuff said !

 

Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% Detailed Breakdown and First Run and Race Impressions Review: Sensational, A Game Changer

The Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% ($250) is the non customized version of the shoe worn by Eliud Kipchoge at the recent Breaking 2 attempt where he ran the fastest (unofficial) marathon time of 2:00.25. It was worn by both the men’s and women’s winners of the 2017 Boston Marathon.

The Vaporfly 4% is the product of extensive bio mechanics and materials research as part of the goal of  Nike’s goal of breaking 2 hours in the marathon, the 4% representing Nike estimate of the potential improvement  in running economy, with individual runners varying up or down from the shoes. Added to running economy are the ideal training, course conditions and nutrition required to break the magic barrier.
Stats
Official Nike weight: 6.5 oz/184 g size 10, equivalent to approx. 6.2 oz size 9
My production pair in US size 8.5 weighed 6.56 oz /186 g, so a size 9 would weigh approx. 6.8 oz.
-approx.1.6 oz/145 g less weight than Zoom Fly)
Stack height: 31mm heel/21 mm forefoot, 10mm drop.
-2mm less stack heel and forefoot than Zoom Fly)

RoadTrailRun first tried on a single VaporFly 4% at the Boston Marathon here, tested and reviewed the heavier, “similar” Zoom Fly ($150) here and now have had a chance to take a first run in a pair of our own.
Unlike the Zoom Fly, with nearly identical stack heights and midsole geometry, the lighter weight (by approx. 1.6 oz), Vaporfly with its soft and bouncy ZoomX Pebax midsole foam and full carbon plate provided me in my first test run a similar but far more cushioned, responsive, shock free and fluid ride than the Zoom Fly.
The Vaporfly 4% is far more forgiving on the legs than the Zoom Fly and for sure the Zoom Streak 6, easier on the legs is part of the Breaking 2 goal of getting runners to the marathon’s later stages with something left.
Time will tell as to durability of all these new materials but I would not hesitate to not only race but do all faster workouts in them.

First Run
I struggled at faster than my marathon paces in the Zoom Fly but not at all in VaporFly. While of course I was excited to try them, my 4 mile run at 6800 foot altitude on a fairly hilly course with lots of sun and temperatures above 85 F was a solid 15-20 seconds per mile faster than I would have expected for the effort, coming in at 8:17 pace.  It was my second run of the day, the first being a slower 4 mile run. The only place I struggled was on a very steep 600 meter hill, the stiffness of the carbon fiber plate, the Vaporfly being a completely flex free shoe in the conventional sense, requiring knee lift and drive something I do not have.  I walked away from the workout with fresh legs but a touch of soreness in the achilles.

First Impressions and Fit

  • Impossibly light and yet highly cushioned.
  • Step in is soft and slipper like, a bit squishy up front.
  • The “falling forward” I felt when I first tried them on at Boston is noticeable but not extreme when walking and becomes part of the flow when running.
  • The sole is literally tacky and sticks ever so slightly to pavement.
  • Trying them on with light socks at true to size I was initially concerned that the very minimal heel counter and collar would not stabilize the heel.  On my first run no issues or concern with heel hold so far and my test run had steep uphills, downhills and flats but it was short run so more testing is required
  • The fit everywhere was impeccable, roomy secure, and pressure free.
  • This is not a race flat type such as with the Zoom Streak 6 or even I would say the Pegasus but a marathon fit, clearly designed for some foot expansion. The toe box has high vertical volume.
  • The mid foot is eerily secure without any pressure as the VaporFly does away with Flywire and uses an internal underlay tied into the laces. I felt a touch of pressure under the arch trying them on but not on the run.

Upper

Fit was true to size with light socks. 
The upper is a single layer Nike’s Flymesh with no lining and with lots of ventilation across the top. There is a touch of stiffener baked into the toe area to create a soft toe bumper and vertical volume.There is only one visible overlay, a strap running from the last lace hole to the rear and only on the medial side. It is bonded on the outside and stitched on the inside so this strap means business and is effective.

The mid foot hold does away with any Flywire, as the Zoom Fly has, adopting a similar approach to the fine Zoom Terra Kiger 4 trail shoe (RTR review).

An inner ventilated suede like “strap” is attached at the top of the midsole bucket seat side walls on both sides, the foot does slightly sit down into the midsole on both sides of the mid foot. It free floats up to the lace loops, wraps to the outer upper where it is attached becoming the lace loops.

As in the Kiger (which also adds a second inner stretch bootie sleeve) the wrap is consistent and pressure free.The sock liner is flat and securely glued down..
The heel counter construction or lack of it had me initially concerned as for sure I am a heel striker.

The far rear at the red “timing themed strap” is moderately firm down low then gets softer up to the heel tab. A thin wishbone of decently firm padding wraps the heel collar just below the top of the knit upper.

Part of what I initially felt, and which concerned me, was the fairly loose last rim of mesh. On the run the  hold action is down lower at the padded collar. While I might prefer a bit more heel counter especially given the pointy rear foot landing all has been just fine so far and in fact more securely held than the Zoom Fly, although I was a half size up in those which was not really necessary and maybe contributed to some of the instability I felt.

The bottom of the tongue is an extension of the forefoot mesh material with the top an asymmetrical plasticky but soft enough material covering most of the lace up and then lower down running down each side in strips on either side of the mesh to provide some structure to keep the tongue from bunching and folding.

Lace up was perfect. I found that over tightening the laces creates some top pressure as the tendency given the unstructured upper is to cinch down which I found was un necessary as foot hold is more than adequate without over tightening.

Midsole
The midsole is Nike new ZoomX Pebax foam with the embedded 100% carbon plate. The plate is located as illustrated by the pen line drawn on the midsole in the picture below.

Once the plate reaches the outsole it runs directly above the outsole, at ground level. The location of the plate appears to be the same as in the Zoom Fly with the Zoom Fly’s is a polymer carbon composite and not full carbon.
It is clear the combination of 2mm less stack, ZoomX foam, removal of the full heel counter and carbon plate is where most of the weight reduction comes from compared to the Zoom Fly with its more conventional EVA and carbon polymer composite plate.

Essentially Nike has put a spike plate in the Vapor Fly. It is close to the heel at landing with 20 mm plus of foam below to cushion impact and provide 10mm of drop, accommodating for the fact that marathoners don’t run on as much on the forefoot as track runners do but also cleverly given the plate near the foot even heel strikers won’t linger long. As the foot transitions it sinks into the front foam which is effectively thicker over the plate than at the heel.

So from contact at the rear where the plate is close to the foot it is clear the design wants us

  • to not feel shock at the heel but also to move along, all that cushion below the plate at the heel,
  • then get/fall forward as the foot compresses the front foam on the way to toe off.

The front cushion is sublime  and when the foot pushes down and forces meet the plate at ground level the toe off is immediate but smooth and fluid quite unlike the firm harsh response of most road flats. So while response is not as instant as a firm midsole race shoe, even Zoom Air ones such as the Streak, or the Zoom Fly which relies on EVA, there is much less shock transmitted to the legs. The shoe is forgiving where it needs to be for long races and then just at the right moment.  Pop!

Usually saving such weight or putting a shoe way down below 7 oz means that in comparison the ride will be firmer and more responsive. Well here the Zoom X carbon combination is actually far easier on the legs than the Zoom Fly. The cushion is silky smooth and softer under load, softer, more forgiving but at the same time with far more bounce back when combined with the carbon plate which surely plays a role.  The softer yet more dynamic cushion and response upfront is particularly noticeable when compared to the Zoom Fly . There is a distinct sensation of  sinking into the foam on transition and “falling” forward to toe off.  While the stiffness takes some adjusting to, as the Vapor Fly is completely and totally stiff the stiffness is far less noticeable here than in the Zoom Fly. With my poor knee lift and drive I didn’t struggle at all to transition and drive up and away expect on a very steep uphill where things went south.

Some have commented on the wrinkling of the outer midsole side walls as being a sign of compression of the midsole.  After 4 miles I see some wrinkles but think the midsole has an outer “skin” which will for sure wrinkle and something I have seen in other shoes. I have no idea yet how long this super light and lively new midsole will last. This is after all a race shoe.  I will carefully tabulate miles for our full review.
Outsole

The outsole is full contact up front and patches at the rear with very thin sipes cut in to the material.

It is literally tacky and slightly sticky on the pavement. I could feel the slight stick both walking and running.  The heel rubber feels slightly firmer than the forefoot rubber which makes sense as that carbon plate is right under the forefoot rubber.  It is not particularly thick.  I do wish, as with the Zoom Fly that the rear of the heel geometry on the ground was more conventional less pointed and more rounded.  While the elites likely land further forward most of the rest of us could use more ground contact back there.
It is important to note that while the Vaporfly 4% is a very comfortable up tempo trainer this is a racing shoe which was not designed for trainer class mileage. Depending on your landing, foot scuffing during gait, etc… the outsole has significant areas of exposed midsole which can scuff and wear. I have seen some wear at one heel in particular. Use a layer of Shoe Goo as I have to protect these areas.

Initial on the Run Data from a Road Trail Run Reader
Road Trail Run reader Joshua Sun also received an early pair from Running Warehouse where I also purchased my Vaporfly. Joshua is a former avid cyclist who has run a marathon and several halves. He focuses his running on short fast efforts on the same loop and has also run the Zoom Fly. He was kind enough to share his first run impressions and comparative data using a Garmin Forerunner 935 and Running Dynamics Pod (see our article here) with us:

“There’s a 3.25 mile route that I run frequently near my home.  I use this route to benchmark my performance and to test out running shoes.  Basically I run this route as fast as I can.  There’s not much room for placebo effect because I’m pushing myself about as hard as I can without blowing up.  Over the years, I’ve developed a good sense of how hard I can push without blowing up and I run this route with a very consistent effort.  I track these runs using my Garmin 935 with RD pod.  Based on how much better the numbers were with the Vaporfly, I’m pretty certain that I would run faster in the Vaporfly than any other shoe out there.  I’m less confident in exactly how much better it is without a lot more data.

Here is some data about my runs in the Zoom Fly and Vaporfly – about 1 week apart so fitness level shouldn’t be much of a factor.

Distance 3.25m
Pace: Vaporfly 7:18; Zoom Fly 7:33
HR Avg: Vaporfly 156; Zoom Fly 155 (However, both of these are about 4% lower than my average heart rate when I try to run this route fast – so it matches up well with Nike’s claims.  I think the range is about 2-6% in Nike’s testing.)
Cadence: Vaporfly 157 Zoom Fly 160
Stride Length: Vaporfly 1.39m; Zoom Fly 1.31m
Vertical Oscillation: Vaporfly 10cm; Zoom Fly 10.9cm
Ground Contact Time: Vaporfly 264ms; Zoom Fly 248ms

What this shows is that I’m running at a slightly slower cadence but that my stride has gotten longer and lower (more horizontal and less vertical, which is how better runners usually run).  You can see from the ground contact time that the shoe really takes longer to compress but then propels me forward longer and lower than with the Zoom Fly.  (And I’ve run faster in the Zoom Fly than any other shoe.  I ran about a 7:37 pace in the Zoom Streak, which is next fastest.) ”

Ride and Conclusions
What more can I say. Only one run in, the ride and performance is incredible. Vapor Fly is light, cushioned, dynamic and despite the stiffness of the shoe far more fluid than the Zoom Fly for me.  I ran 15-20 seconds faster per mile than I would have expected to for the course and effort in my first run. Can I sustain those kinds of improved paces over longer distances given the unusual stiff geometry? Only more runs will tell.  I will be running a downhill 10K race Monday and will update this post.  I am particularly curious as to how they will perform at faster than half marathon pace for me. I had difficulty running faster paces in the Zoom Fly as I had difficulty transitioning to toe off rapidly enough with my poor knee lift and drive.  Here I am almost sure I will not struggle nearly as much but racing will tell.
More testing to come but I will certainly reach for them for 10K and  half marathon and if the heel stability is adequate and the stiffness not issues when tired for a full marathon. Faster runners may still reach for “racing flats” for up to a half but many will consider the Vapor Fly for the marathon.

Considerations
Are the VaporFly 4% worth $250? Well sports “toys” can cost big money, just think bikes and ski equipment. Lighter weight and performance advantages claimed, real or otherwise, always come at a premium cost and some downsides as well.
Are they only for world record setting elites? Absolutely not!  These are very forgiving if unusual shoes. I think they will provide at least some of the advantages of Breaking 2 to serious recreational runners, not the least of which is the demonstrated advantages of lighter weight for racing shoes yet here with plenty of cushion. Here incredibly light weight is combined with outstanding bouncy cushion, plenty of it and response.  My initial run was considerably faster than I would have expected.
Are they only for racing? I say for most yes.
While they are fabulous for up tempo training the exposed midsole under foot may see accelerated wear depending on your foot strike and scuffing patterns. I see some at 25 miles I am saving mine for races, their intended use, and will protect these high wear areas with Shoe Goo. To date apart from some creasing of the midsole walls the cushion and stability is intact.
Some caution advised
Some may struggle with the stiffness so caution getting used to them is advised as I think you will work your achilles and calves more than usual if you have poor knee drive and the narrow landing in the back may not be for everyone.

Update: My 10K went very well. 1st in my 60-64 age group at 7:04 pace on my watch which is certainly faster than my marathon pace and with no issues. The course was at altitude between 5100 and 4500 feet so downhill with about 1.5 miles of flats and the Vaporfly performed magnificently on flats, moderate downhills, and uphills. The first half mile was a very steep downhill where they did feel somewhat unstable at the heel. The combination of the outstanding cushion, fluid transitions, snappy response was outstanding and truly unique. My legs were none the worse for wear the next day.
Update: Ran another 10K race in the Vapor Fly, this time a flat course at sea level. I have run this race 3 times since 2013 and this was race was my fastest time by 7 seconds. Faster isn’t easy at my age… 60.   The entire difference came in the last 1.2 miles. My legs were just fresher in the finishing stretch. I had no soreness the next day and the day after “ran” a very mountainous (over 4000 feet of vertical)  half on slick trails none the worse for the 10K race. While there may be faster shoes, even for me, for a 10K as race distances increase the advantages of the VaporFly in terms of performance also seem to increase.

 

Once in a while the magic happens.

Recovery going as well as could be expected.

With the Chevron City to Surf Marathon now less than 4 weeks away it is time to start to dial in a predicted finish time. Normally I’m pretty accurate with my predictions as with the experience of 59 marathon (or longer) finishes I know the distance well enough. Of course its not to say each one doesn’t hurt and I’d be kidding you if I said they got easier the more you do but with experience does come wisdom.

This marathon though is different,  I am coming off the biggest break in the last 7 years and, truth be told, am not 100% sure how this will affect my finishing time, albeit how much slower than the last time I ran this course last year where I ran a 2:41:41 for 5th place. There is no way I am in that form after such a long lay-off but I certainly feel the old cardio fitness returning. I have Mark L. looking at sub3 (his first of many I predict, if he can stay away from triathlons!) , Mark C. looking good for a sub 2:55 (minimum) and Jon, the wild card , probably closer to 2:50. Who do I choose to run with as when you make your decision it will be near impossible to change as you won’t know until around the 32k mark (when you come out of Kings Park) if you have made the right decision. Leave Kings park ‘full of beans’  and you probably went out too slow, ‘stagger‘ out of Kings Park and you went out too fast, logical really.

So how can you decide on a goal marathon pace without experience to guide you. There are several websites that offer good predictor times using race distance from 5k up to the near race distance. Anything under 5k and you’d be hard to predict a marathon time and even 5k is probably a tad short IMHO. (Note, Mike K. use to predict his marathon time on metres rather then kilometres but he is a special case, in every sense of the work. )

The best, in my opinion, is the McMillan Running website ( https://www.mcmillanrunning.com/ )  In the example below I typed in my last 10k time of 35:12 (ground zero for my calf tear , in April) and put in a predicted 2:39:59 marathon finish.  The resulting table shows my current numbers in the left column, as predicted by my last 10k time , the numbers I’d need to run in the right column to hit my sub 2:40 goal. As you can see they don’t marry up showing running a 35:12 is not going to be enough, probably, to hit a sub 2:40 marathon time. This is a fair call.

 

Sometimes the truth hurts but dialing in your marathon pace correctly is so important , it’s better to find out now than 21k into the marathon when you have nothing left !

Looking at the times needed to run a 2:39:59 I have the 1/2 marathon time covered (my PB is 1:15) but not the 10 Miles (57mins.  required, my PB is just over 58mins.) , the 10k (34:06 while my best is 34:18) or 5k ( 16:25 while I have ran 16:40). Admittedly I’m close but all these near misses probably add up. (the 50km time of 3:14 is way quicker than I’ve ran a 50k , currently!)  So it looks like the McMillan calculator has got my number, literally, and in my current form (or even when I was running well at the end of last year)  I was always doomed to fail.

Of course what the calculator does miss is the ‘run of your life’ type races. When these happen all tables are thrown out the window and you get to rewrite the record books. This happened last year at the Fremantle half when I was in the middle of a hard training block for the World Masters which involved a massive increase in weekly distance and many races. I remember sitting in the car before the start of the race hoping I wouldn’t embarrass myself after racing a 10k the previous week and a massive weekly training total. The conditions weren’t that good either with a strong wind.  I even turned up late to the start and made it by about 2 seconds, everything was going wrong. When the race started I decided I’d run with the leaders until I couldn’t hang on and then gradually work my way back to the pack and chalk up the race as a nice training run with a medal at the end. The first 10k was painful but I hung on and even managed to get to halfway with the lead group. It got better within the next 5k when my friend Ross decided he had enough and it left myself and two others in the leading group. Now both these two runners were better runners than me but both seemed to be off their game, to such an extent that at 18k I found myself leading and actually feeling comfortable (well as comfortable as you can be 18k into a 21k race.) Anyhow a kilometer later both the other runners in the group suddenly realised they were in a race and I was dropped back to third place,  which would be where I would finish. (Truth be told I was distracted at the time practicing  my winners speech in my head.)   The placing wasn’t important though as I managed to run 1:15 dead. A massive PB when, less than 90 minutes earlier, I had to making all sort of excuses to justify the bad run I was about to have.

There really was no rhyme or reason why I ran a PB on that day and I still don’t really understand what happened but when a ‘run of your life’ happens just go with it, don’t hold back or ask questions just enjoy the moment and cherish the time you are in ‘the zone’ . These runs are few and far between , otherwise they’d become the norm, and how or why they happen is a mystery. I was tired, over trained and mentally ready for failure before the start of the race but something magical occurred and I managed to run a time I doubt I will ever threaten. My only regret on the day is a rookie error of checking my watch as I crossed the line rather than smiling like a Cheshire cat at what will probably be my fastest ever half finish, luckily of course I have photoshop trickery, so this can be ‘amended’ to show my true emotion at a later date. (I may even adjust the time, what is the current half world record I wonder ?)

Lesson learnt, when you have a ‘run of your life’ look happy at the finish and don’t check your watch !

 

Helium filled arm-bands, an Ultra Runners dream.

Today registrations opened for one of the best trail ultras in WA, the 6 inch ultra marathon. http://www.6inchtrailmarathon.com  

The event was started by Dave Kennedy 13 years ago as a fat-ass (free entry with no volunteers) and has morphed into this powerhouse of an ultra that sells out in days and is the highlight of the ultra racing calendar. It offers everything a good ultra should and then a bit extra for good measure. Dave explains the thinking behind the ultra below.

Six Inch Trail Marathon is inspired by the famous Six Foot Track Marathon in the Blue Mountains near Sydney.Returning from New Zealand in January 2005 I bemoaned the lack of trail races in Western Australia. I wanted to move to the land of the long white cloud but family and circumstances warranted at least another year in WA. One evening I headed out to run a gravel road signposted “Goldmine Hill”. What followed was a soaking wet 15K with the highlight being running into the Munda Biddi Mountain Bike trail. The Munda Biddi was built to keep cyclists off the 964K Bibbulmun walking track. The first 335K section from Mundaring in the Perth hills to Collie was completed in 2004. I had seen some road crossing signs during the construction and was keen to one day experience the track either by bike or foot. Finding the track so close to my house in Mandurah had me pondering a race in the near future. On my return from New Zealand I had been discussing a possible trail race on a local runner’s message board. I bought the map and found that this town to town section was about 44K. Six Foot which I had dreamed of running for years sprang to mind. “We could have our own version”. I had ridden between the 2 towns, North Dandalup and Dwellingup, and the road was super hilly. I was a little disappointed by the lack of hills when I ran the trail but some less masochistic runners didn’t agree with me. The result is a 46K trail race starting at the foot of Goldmine Hill 1K from North Dandalup and finishing in Dwellingup. This run is designed to be tough but most marathoners can expect to finish within an hour or 2 of their best marathon time

He wasn’t joking about adding an hour or two to your marathon time. I raced it 9 times and my best is a 55 minute marathon delta. That is due to many ‘trail’ challenges including hills (and lots of them), single track trail where you have to watch every step, navigation challenges (I wear two Garmin’s for the race , one with the course plugged in and I still get lost?) , did I mention the hills ? and also just the whole ‘trail running’ thing where you can’t really judge pace as the lay of the land dictates how fast or slow you can run. With the 6 inch you can never get into a road marathon type rhythm where you can concentrate on average pace and enjoy the scenery and the journey. A trail marathon will kick you in the backside the moment you let down your guard and start too drift off, add in ‘pea-gravel‘ ,which is God’s way of teaching ultra runners how to fall over , and unless you bring your end game you are going to end up covered in ‘claret‘. Actually this seems to be the in-thing for the 6 inch finisher, some sort of wound weeping claret, if you don’t have one you are ostracised and scorned !

I’ve done several posts on there 6 inch so search the archives to read about last years run and other general comments. You’ll see I’m a big fan and typing this post now am getting excited of the prospect of lining up again at 4:30am faced with Gold Mine Hill and what is to come. The BK running posse has already entered and it promises to be another Stella event with Jon getting his red spike this year, although there is some conjecture over a possible disqualification pending over the use of (potentially) helium filled arm bands he wore in 2014. Bart’s is conducting an enquiry into this heinous crime (if proved) and his red spike (you get a red spike for completing 6 events) could be in jeopardy.  It probably doesn’t bode well for Jon as last year Bart’s got his red spike despite getting an official DQ asterix against name for getting lost one year. Jon, being the owner of the official spreadsheet, was not happy with Bart’s receiving his red spike a year early, in his view. This could turn nasty for all concerned.

Helium filled arm bands, an Ultra runners best friend?

Truth be told the reason Jon is wearing the arm bands was the previous year he found the only puddle on the whole course, in WA it doesn’t rain for months, and then proceeded to through himself into it , get up and slip into again. Of course he was left to struggle alone as is tradition in these events and stumbled to the finish line a long way back, covered in mud. The following year he was made to wear a climbers rope as he fell into the deep ruts up the ‘escalator hill‘ and Bart’s had to jump over him while he again struggled to find his feet.

This is why I love this race, so many happy memories and that is why we keep going back year in year out to these events to add to the memory banks of ‘great  times spent with great  people, racing great events’, and of course documenting Jon and all his adventures.

 

Look busy the City to Surf Marathon is coming…

This week has been a break through week for me with my calf finally feeling under control, I won’t tempt fate and say completely healed as I saw the scan a week last Tuesday and the tear is there, albeit a new one and a lot smaller. I spoke to my physio on Wednesday and he is the most pessimistic (or realist?) person you could ever meet when it comes to recovering from injury and even he said if I could run 10k without any issue then I should continue to run and build up my cardio fitness. He did recommend not running the City to Surf Marathon in August and I was vague on this point knowing full well I had entered only a few days before. I suggested we discuss this subject again in 4 weeks time, knowing full well that in 4 weeks, if I’m still running, then I’m lining up for my 9th City to Surf in a row, come hell or waters high.

Letting the boys know I’d entered spurred on an avalanche of entires and it seems I won’t be alone on the big day with the two Mark’s entering and Jon. Gareth has ‘footy’ coaching but I’m sure he’ll find a replacement for the big day  as , speaking from experience, missing out on these marathons is frustrating, and that’s putting it nicely.

Training wise I have to walk a tight rope for the next few weeks. It’ll be a lot of Elliptigo time (which I love at the moment) and any running will be at a very relaxed and slow pace. This morning for instance I was awoke by one of the puppies early so had an hour to kill. What could I do but go for a run but this was to be a rest day so I had to make sure the run was at a pedestrian pace at best. As it was 5:30am and pitch dark outside this was easy enough and I managed a 5:45min/k average for the 10k. Returning back to the family nest very happy that I managed to maintain this pace and truth be told at the end I was quite tired , which doesn’t bode well.

The Elliptigo is my new weapon in the sub3 attempt arsenal…..I wonder if I can sneak it onto the course ?

 

Can I break sub 3 ? It’ll be a big ask and my training will need to go very well but that is the target. I’ll plan for 50k this week (maximum) and then increase that to 70k next week and maybe nudge 100k the following week. This will then give me 3-4 more training weeks of volume before a 1 week taper. Add in some serious time on the Elliptigo and I should be in sub3 form. The only fly in my ointment is the last time I was out for a 4 week period I ran the Bunbury Marathon a month later and ran a 2:59.xx time, cutting it very fine. I remember running through halfway at 1:28 feeling absolutely ‘goosed’ and I had to work very hard to scrape under three hours, very hard ! I have the finishing shots and you can see the emotion on my face, it was one of the highlights of my running career, not for the time but for the effort required to dig very deep to get out of a very big hole.

The City to Surf will require another lazarus like comeback to go sub3 but I’m hoping the Elliptigo will be the extra weapon in my arsenal that will allow me to get some serious time on legs without the pounding of running but with the added benefit of being a better workout than cycling. I’ll know so much more in a week or two as my last attempt at returning from my original calf tear went well for a week and then ended up with a new tear,  probably due to over training so soon after injury. I certainly ate a large portion of humble pie but it was a risk I had to take with the Perth marathon as a carrot dangled infront of me.

What’s different this time ? The original tear is healed and the new tear is a lot smaller and probably nearly healed as well. I still haven’t got the confidence to add pace to my runs but I don’t have to for a few weeks. I will of course need to eventually add pace as I need to be comfortable running 4:15min/k or better to break the sub 3hr barrier for the 29th time (and hopefully number 26 in a row; remember what I said about runners and streaks; if I was to go over 3hrs I would be devastated, and that’s putting it mildly!)

Right back to training, a big week so far for me , 25k and with a 10k pencilled in for tomorrow I should be able to find 15k over the weekend to hit my 50k target. this will be the first hurdle; next week I add another 20k, hurdle number two. I will feel a lot more confident once I move towards hurdle number three as by then all calf tears will be well and truely healed.

What have I taken from this injury ? The main point is it could have been avoided. I knew I was pushing my limits and the calf had felt tight and sore for weeks before it eventually gave way. If I had rested more, even visited a physio for a massage, done some calf stretching exercises or hydrated better I’m confident I could have avoided this situation. Moving forward I really need to listen to my body more but the old saying about old dogs and new tricks seems to resonate in my mind for some reason. I suppose the only thing on my side is my youth? Still making rookie errors but hopefully learning from them, after all at 50 I still have another 50 years of running ahead of me, I hope my Elliptigo is up to the job, may have to check the warranty ?

Look busy there’s a marathon coming.

Well this Sunday I get to run the Bunbury Marathon for the 5th time. The previous four occasions have all had very different outcomes. The first time I ran it I PB’d and ran a 2:52 but was probably in better form. I remember in the first 10k leading a group of runners and actually running backwards in a ‘Rocky‘ like way encouraging them on. This bravado came back to bite me about 10k down the line when the group left me and I struggled home.

The following year I was returning from injury and did just about everything wrong on the day. I had new shoes for the marathon and I hadn’t even tried them on. On the morning of the race I realised they were too tight so took on the course in a pair of shoes I had travelled down in. Needless to say these were past their best. I remember getting to halfway in 1:28 realising I was in trouble and in serious danger of losing my sub-3 hour marathon streak. I had to work very hard to finally finish on 2 hours 59 minutes and change. To this day this was one of the most satisfying finishes to a marathon albeit the time was one of my slowest.

The next year I was back into some good form and actually won the event running a 2 hour 43 minute PB time. I was racing my good friend Steve ‘Twinkle Toes’ McKean and we were neck and neck until the last 8k where I managed to grab a few hundred metres, which in the end was enough. My one and only marathon victory and one I will always cherish. This was 2013 and in 2014 I returned to defend my title. This was to prove my undoing when I went out way too quick with a group of three other runners and basically ran myself into the ground at 10k. Mentally shot I was walking through drink stops and staggered home in 2:54,  when I was in 2:45 form all day. This really taught me how much mental preparation is so important in marathon running as physically I was in great form coming into the race but I had just given up when it all started to get too hard. It was definitely the added pressure of being the defending champion which had been my undoing.

On Sunday, as well as taking on my 42nd marathon, I’ll be taking on the disaster that was 2014 and hopefully putting that behind me. This will of course be dictated by other runners in the field. It would be nice to podium  at Bunbury or better but truth be told this is a ‘B’ race which means it’s more of a tempo run,  with a medal at the end. My three ‘A’ races are the Perth marathon in June, the City to Surf marathon in August and my favourite the Rottnest marathon in October. After that we have the 6 inch ultra in December and my assault on the AURA Australian age group record in the 100k ultra in January. As I have mentioned before I don’t believe in ‘down time‘ and always have a goal race to work towards, always.

So with Bunbury happening on Sunday it means tomorrow starts my favourite time as a marathon runner, carbo-loading, As you can imagine the first place I am going to start this exercise is my usual 14k progressive run pre-Yelo muffin and coffee tomorrow morning.  ( http://yelocornerstore.com.au ) As I’m tapering it will be a shorter run but as I’m carbo-loading it should be a longer post-run food and coffee smorgasbord. Unfortunately this has been the undoing of many a runner, they get to three days before the big day and assume carbo-loading translates to eat as much chocolate as possible. Sorry people it’s about carbohydrates and although chocolate does contain some carbs there is certainly not enough to justify going overboard. ! Life could never be that good. The odd extra muffin may be accepted but it’s mainly orange juice, pasta, honey on toast and bagels. (or such like). I aim for 10g of carbohydrates for every kilo of body weight. So for me at 70kg it’s about 700g of carbs a day. This is actually quite difficult and you need to stay hydrated of course for this exercise to work , so add in about 600ml per hour and you are one eating and drinking machine.

You will put on weight if you carbo-load properly but a lot of that is water so you shouldn’t be too worried. Carbo-loading, done well, will ensure you avoid the dreaded 32k wall or at least push it back a few kilometres. (pushing it back 10k would be very nice of course!) You’ll need gels or similar on the course if you are aiming to run longer than 2hours 30 minutes, which I’m sure all the readers of this post probably are.  As I mentioned earlier in the post this will be my 42nd marathon so I am well versed in carbo-loading and what is required for the big day. I am actually quite relaxed pre-race but will become more nervous (excited?) as we move closer to Sunday.

Conditions are also a big influence when you run a marathon. Too hot, humid or windy and you’ll need to adjust your predicted finish time. Going out chasing a time you would have achieved if the conditions had been better is fraught with danger. Heat and humidity can be especially damaging and both of these command respect. Once you start the race I always keep an eye on my average pace and last kilometre split, the total time takes care of itself I find. I’ll have a goal average pace set before I start and will adjust my pace to match it during the race. It’s only after the 32k point in a race I’ll start to think about increasing my pace, if I can, to try to finish ahead of my predicted time. This has been rare in most of my marathons but each time I have PB’d I’ve been able to raise my game towards the end. As my mate Jon is fond of saying’ the runner who slows down the least wins’. Find your pace early and maintain it for as long as possible, hell even negative split if you can. (After 41 marathons I have come close but never have I had the pleasure of a negative split.)

Right, as well as tapering (running less to allow your body to recover, and also blogging more) and carbo-loading,  another marathon pre-requisite is sleep. As with the tapering it helps the body recover from the months of hard training. To this end I’m off to bed as I’m up early tomorrow to start carbo-loading at Yelo, sometimes being a runner is just the best thing EVER !

 

The holy grail of running…Yeo muffin and coffee combo. (and for three days before a marathon it is actually recommended!)

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.

The Secret to Running a Faster Marathon, Slow Down.

Great article I’ve been sent a few times by my running friends so it must be good, if nothing else for the great photos.

https://www.wired.com/2017/02/nike-two-hour-marathon-2/

On Wednesday, January 26, I ran 10 kilometers through a forest in Kaptagat, Kenya, with Eliud Kipchoge, a few of his friends, and some of the scientists from Nike’s Breaking2 project. It was 4 pm and still blazing hot. We were at 8,000 feet of altitude. The atmosphere was jovial. Philemon Rono, a relentlessly cheerful athlete known to his friends as askari kidogu—“Small Police”—cracked jokes at my expense for at least the first 20 minutes. To be sure, little could have been funnier than me, a very hot 6-foot-5 British man, sweating next to Rono, 5 feet 31/2 inches of pure runner.

All of a sudden, our curious-looking gang went quiet. Having lost a couple of hard-breathing scientists on the way out, casualties to the altitude, we turned around at halfway. For a brief period, with the sun muffled by an avenue of dense trees, nobody in the group said a thing. The pace gently increased from around 5 minutes per kilometer to a little north of 4:40 per kilometer. All you could hear was the hi-hat beat of sneakers on dust and the straining bellows of an outsized mzungu attempting to hang with the Olympic marathon champion.

 

Breaking2 shot by Cait Oppermann for WIRED

It was during this period that I reflected upon the happy fact that I was not dead. Kipchoge has run whole marathons almost twice as fast as we were moving at that moment. Why had he chosen not to crank up the pace? Why hadn’t he killed us? Kipchoge is polite to a fault. Was he simply humoring his guests? When we returned to his training camp, another possibility emerged. This was a recovery run, and Kipchoge really does take his recovery runs that slowly. The data the Nike science team analyzed from his GPS watch shows that the kind of run he had done with us was exactly the kind of run he would have done anyway.

The thought remained with me. The previous day, at a dusty athletics track, I’d watched Kipchoge and his training group run 12 repetitions of 1,200 meters at roughly world-record pace for the marathon. (Kipchoge later told me it was “an 80 percent session”—hard but not crazy.) The day after our jog in Kaptagat, I’d watch the same group scorch 40 kilometers—or 25 miles, nearly a whole marathon—in 2 hours, 17 minutes. That, too, was real work. But on the Wednesday in between two intense days, Kipchoge had ambled his way to 20 easy kilometers, jogging in the morning and evening. Meanwhile, at his camp—a simple plot next to fields with cows, containing two tin-roofed bungalows, with no running water and long-drop toilets—he and his friends had spent their non-running time performing chores, listening to the radio, sleeping, and drinking gallons of sweet, milky tea.

I knew Kipchoge was fast. I didn’t understand how slow he could be. This, I thought, might be a moment to learn something.

Breaking2 shot by Cait Oppermann for WIRED

Stress vs. Rest

A few weeks earlier, I had been training at Paddington Recreation Ground, in London, just starting on a set of mile repetitions, when I felt a little pop in my left calf. I ground to a halt. The injury was frustrating, to say the least. I’d been training hard and had been making progress. My times were coming down, my fitness was improving, I felt light. And now—out of nowhere—a setback.

But then I thought: Cowboy up. The leg didn’t feel so bad. I rested for a couple of days, then tried out the calf on a short jog. After two days of decent training—a glorious “progression run,” each kilometer faster than the last, with my friend Pete the Trumpet, plus a great track session—I felt that little pop again and once more stopped dead. I was about 3 miles from home, with no money in my pocket. It was freezing cold. The walk back seemed to take forever.

The Nike team begged me to rest properly. I saw a physiotherapist named Matt Fox, who has worked at Manchester City and Bolton Wanderers football clubs and has seen more than his share of injured calf muscles. He thought the strain was most likely a grade 1 tear of my soleus. He also counseled inactivity. “You can either rest properly now, or you can turn a one-week injury into a six-week injury,” he said. Foxes are smart, I knew.

During my eight days off, I rethought other aspects of my training. Perhaps I’d injured myself because I was working too hard. In addition to five or six runs, many of which were intense, I was also training at CrossFit twice a week—throwing weights around, jumping on boxes, and so on. The CrossFit had been excellent for me but, with the running, I was exhausted. Eventually, something was going to give. Eventually, it did.

The data that the scientists had collected on me also altered my thinking. Nike has recently contracted a garrulous Chicago physician named Phil Skiba, who has trained many elite endurance athletes, to work on Breaking2. Skiba has developed algorithms that accurately measure and predict training loads. He is particularly interested by fatigue, and the balance between what he calls the “positive and negative effects of training.” In particular, Skiba uses athletes’ training data to predict when, before a race, they should begin their taper—that is, to progressively decrease their volume of training so that they arrive on race day fresh and fast.

Every athlete has a different taper point. Some people need only a few days. Some people need weeks. The variations are explained both by differences in workload and by our physiological differences. Some athletes simply recover quicker from hard training than others, in ways that geneticists and physiologists are still trying to fully understand. Skiba’s data, however, is precise. He and the Breaking2 crew believe that Kipchoge’s taper may have started a day or two late before his previous marathons and that he would have benefitted from around a week of rest rather than his normal five days.

 

Breaking2 shot by Cait Oppermann for WIRED

Whether it’s worth shifting Kipchoge from his normal patterns for this one race is a concern among the Breaking2 team, especially because routine is psychologically important to athletes. But their analysis shows how a data-augmented approach might yield benefits even for the greatest runners. (As for Lelisa Desisa, another of the three elite runners contesting Breaking2, the Nike scientists believe his taper may be a few days too long.) In my case, based on how I’ve reacted to my training load so far, they believe I should taper for 21 days. 21 days! Clearly, I am more in need of rest than the average lummox.

Slowly by Slowly

Back to Kenya. Watching Kipchoge’s group at work, I saw that they never did two intense days back to back; they were always committed to developing their fitness, in the Kenyan parlance, “slowly by slowly.” Patrick Sang, Kipchoge’s coach and a formidable presence in the athlete’s life, explained to me the basis of this philosophy as he stood at the side of the track with a stopwatch in his hand and his red-and-black hoodie fastened tightly around his head. Our conversation had begun when I asked Sang why Kipchoge’s group were doing a 12 x 1,200-meter session on that day.

Sang said this session was to build “speed-endurance”—the ability to maintain a high speed for a long time. But if you thought about only one workout, you missed the point. The idea of a training program, Sang told me, was to improve every aspect of a runner. The approach was holistic. If you scheduled a speed-endurance session for a Tuesday, you needed to make sure that the following day would be light, so that the guys had time to recover before the Thursday long run. Friday would again be light, before a different kind of speed workout on Saturday. Sunday was a day of rest. A good day of training was worth little on its own, but a good month was worth plenty. Slowly by slowly, the athlete’s shape came. “Every session is a building block,” Sang said.

Breaking2 shot by Cait Oppermann for WIRED

Valentijn Trouw, Kipchoge’s Dutch manager, told me something else interesting: He thought Kipchoge never killed himself in training. The only day on which he would drain every resource he possessed was on race day. “Never 100 percent in any session,” Trouw said. “That’s the philosophy.” This approach made sense to Skiba. “The time to open up a can of whup-ass is on race day,” he told me. “Otherwise, you risk leaving your best performance in training, where nobody sees it.”

“Slowly by slowly” is not a mantra that lends itself to hard-charging Western approaches to fitness. How often do we hear that only hard work brings rewards—that the more you put in, the more you get out? Also, many average Western athletes, like me, do so much of their training at a consistent pace. There’s not enough variation or rest in their schedules. The Kenyans, particularly those in Sang’s group, are more sophisticated in their approach. I’ve never seen more-committed athletes, in any sport, anywhere in the world. But they also know it would be crazy to grind themselves into the dust.

On my last day in Kenya, I was talking to Geoffrey Kamworor, a runner with a wide gap-toothed smile and an easy manner that masks a profound belief in his own talents. As a runner, everything about him is purposeful. In training, he leans into bends with his shoulder, kicking up dust behind him, like a young bull on the charge. In competitions, he is fearless. Now in his mid-twenties, he is the reigning world half-marathon champion and the world cross-country champion. He also won a silver medal in the 10,000 meters at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing.

 

Breaking2 shot by Cait Oppermann for WIRED

When I asked him what tips he could give to a mzungu attempting to break 90 minutes for the half-marathon, his first thought was to get a good pacemaker. He offered his services. “If you want 4:20 [minutes per kilometer], that’s no problem, I will bring a newspaper,” he said, a bright smile on his face. “If you want 2:50 [minutes per kilometer; 2-hour-marathon pace] that’s also no problem.”

He then became more serious and gave me some real advice.

“Work hard,” he said. “But not every day.”

I wrote that one down.

 

 

Ultras are for old men ?

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……

 

Is recovery easier after an Ultra or a marathon ?

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:

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.”
  3. 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)

 

Thursday is Yelo muffin time. Phil, Mike, Gareth, Myself and Mark L., with Jon and his selfie stick. 

ADU 100K, about as much fun as you can have in 8 hours 4 minutes.

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…..

 

Jon experiencing the runners high ? Probably too many potatoes.?

 

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 !

 

This is why we run..they taste so much better after running 100k funnily enough? (no fruit for Jon today, he’d earned those pancakes.)

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.

 

How bad was it, I got a nice medal and trophy? with race director Ron Mcglinn.

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 ).