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 !
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 :-
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….)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thanks to my very talented friend Rob Donkersloot from why walk when (http://www.whywalkwhen.com ) I have attached a short video documentary on my first attempt at a 100k ultra. I ran the Australia Day Ultra ( http://www.australiadayultra.com ) last week and after the posting about the experience the video below captures its beautifully, they say a picture is worth a thousand words, video is so much more.
Running the ultra was hard work, of course, but the feeling of finishing and running outside your comfort zone, attempting something new, is worth the hardship and extra time in the ‘pain box‘. Can’t wait for next year……
After the Australia Day Ultra ( http://australiadayultra.com ) I actually felt good the following day. You would have thought that after running 100k your legs would have been ‘goosed’ but not the case. I actually felt a lot better compared to running a marathon. On the Sunday after the race, while taking my dog Stanley out for a walk, I reflected on why the legs felt so good. (Note: I use the term ‘so good’ loosely of course, in context to running a marathon.) I felt refreshed enough to run Monday and Tuesday and even doubled up Wednesday and Thursday. So maybe going longer but slower is easier on the legs, can a 100k be easier to recover from a marathon.? I really believe the answer is yes, well in my case anyhow. This has been a pleasant surprise from the race that keeps on giving.
It looks like I am not alone in my theory, the quote below is from Alex Varner.
“A high level road marathon takes me longer to recover from,” admits Varner, 29, a member of the Nike Trail Elite team. “For me, it’s the repetition and pounding that occurs in the same few muscle groups in a road marathon—in my case, calves and quads—while a 50 miler requires some usage out of a much wider range of muscles. So, while I may be sore in more areas after a 50 miler, the damage is far less acute than it is in my calves and quads after a road marathon. The road marathon results in soreness that’s an inch wide and a mile deep while a trail ultra results in soreness that’s a mile wide and an inch deep, and for me, the latter has proven easier in terms of recovery.”
Different Soreness, Different Recovery Strategy?
Given that, should runners who race different distances that affect the body (and mind) in different ways, employ different recovery strategies afterward? Surprisingly not, according to many top athletes and coaches.
“The short answer is: the distance or gnarliness of the event doesn’t dictate recovery,” says Flagstaff, Ariz., ultrarunner Ian Torrence, the ultra coach for McMillan Running and a winner of over 50 ultra-distance races in his own right.
Torrence, 42, says post-race recovery boils down to three key factors, regardless of distance, duration or terrain:
- Specificity in training. “If an athlete trains appropriately for a trail 50-mile or road marathon they will train on terrain, surfaces and for durations that the event requires,” he advises. “Do this and recovery from the event will be easier than if you had not.”
- Experience. “Subsequent efforts are easier to recover from than the first,” he says. “The mind and body are more prepared for the next time the rigors of the event are presented.”
- Race-day strategy. “Running harder than warranted in hot and humid weather, improper pacing tactics and unacceptable hydrating or fueling plans will negatively impact post-race recovery for both a marathoner or ultrarunner.”
Varner, who lives and trains in Mill Valley, Calif., follows a similar recovery protocol after any race that’s marathon distance or longer, usually taking 1-2 days completely off from running immediately after the race, followed by another 1-2 weeks of easy running before he attempts any faster workouts.
‘If I can, I get a massage, stretch, roll and take an ice bath if I’m feeling up to it,” Varner says of his post-race recovery protocol. “The biggest difference is that after a road marathon, I have to concentrate much more on those few muscle groups that are really sore while after a trail ultra, everything is kind of sore, so I go with more general rolling and stretching.”
It’s important to keep in mind that everyone recovers at different rates, emphasizes Torrence, and that rushing back into training after a tough race, regardless of how long it was, is usually a recipe for injury or burnout. “Take the time you need to feel good again, both physically and mentally,” he advises.
It took about five days after this year’s Boston Marathon until my hamstrings felt like they were functioning normally again, and at least another five before I could wrap my head around resuming any kind of regular running schedule. For me, this is pretty much par for the course following a road marathon. It hits me hard and the after-effects tend to linger for a while. Compare this to last December’s North Face Endurance Challenge 50K—my second trail ultra—where my feet, hip flexors and quads took a brunt of the beating, while my upper arms and lower back were also quite sore for a day or two afterward. Interestingly, I was ready, willing and able to start running again just three days post-race—empirical evidence that on some level, an ultra-distance trail race appears to take less of a toll on my body and mind.
While the speed in which you bounce back from a road marathon versus a trail ultra will likely differ from my experience or that of other runners, the universal take-home message after a long race is clear: respect the recovery afterward and give both your body and mind the time they need to fully recharge.
The best recovery of course , as we all know, is Yelo muffins and seeing Thursday is progressive day it was an ideal time to pop along and run a recovery 10k while some of the boys ran the normal progressive 14k. Must admit the legs felt better after the best muffin and coffee in the Southern Hemisphere. (and probably Northern Hemisphere as well)
Today I ran the Australia Day Ultra , my first (and probably only ) 100k ultra. I had entered this race last year and got cold feet and parachuted down to the 50k instead where I managed to pick up a podium finish. This race jump started my racing year and I had my best year yet winning three events and placing in many more. To this end I entered the 100k determined to see it through and at least start.
So midnight last night I lined up with 50 other ultra runners and set off on my first 100k ultra. The more observant among you would have noticed the start time in the previous sentence. Not many races start at midnight but because of the possibility of a hot day in sunny Perth the safest option is the late (or really early depending on which way you look at) start. I had managed to get a few hours sleep before the race by paying for a hotel, an expensive option but with hindsight a good one. Running for 100k would be difficult, starting at midnight wouldn’t have helped but with no sleep it would be suicidal.
The start at all smaller ultras is the same with the race director usually having to coax the runners to the start line like a pied piper. Once we did get running myself and Jon found ourselves in the lead for the first few kilometres and we joked we couldn’t actually see what pace we were running as it was too dark to see our Garmin displays. Anyhow we waited for the rest of the field to catch up and joined with two others runners, the T-train and Mikey Mike, and set off into the night.
The race is a 12.5k out and back loop which you need to run 8 times (do the math) for a 100k. Being this was my first 100k I had no idea what to expect but have decided to set out at around 4:50min/k pace and try and hold it. The plan was 50k in around 4 hours 5-10 minutes and then maybe a tad slower for the second half for a 8 hour 30 minute finish, or there abouts’. With ultras there are so many variables it really is a lottery when predicting finishing times but you need a goal in any race, in my view. The first lap was very verbal in our group of four runners who had settled into 4th place overall, with 3 runners ahead of us. (which is the norm apparently when you’re fourth.) Second lap was similar to the first with all of us confident at the pace and, being so early in the race, generally relaxed and easing into the event.
Running in the dark has it’s own challenges and for me the most challenging part was my choice of weapon. I had gone for the hand torch option as I’ve never been that keen on the head torch, I left that to Jon who had invested in a head torch that you could probably see from space. It was bright and I’m sure the runners coming the other way would have been temporarily blinded with the halogen glow a tad less powerful than the sun ! The only fly in our oitnment was the battery life of Jon’s head torch, good for only just over 2-3 hours , so as we moved into the 4th lap we were on borrowed time and the glow soon starting to lose it’s ‘blinding’ option. I feel this was why the T-tone put a move on as we reached the end of the 4th lap and Jon was dropped. The T-train can be unforgiving when challenged and all Jon’s good work was forgotten in an instant. I must admit to being torn between going with Tony as although Jon’s head torch was dying a slow death it was still brighter than the alternative. Thinking long term, and knowing the sunrise was coming in less than 90 minutes, I went with Tony but the next lap was ran in a dark place without the virtual sunshine of the Jon’s head torch. This was actually quite depressing because we were also entering the second half of the race and when you’ve ran 50k and still have 50k to go it ain’t a ‘nice warm, fuzzy feeling’, trust me on this.
Never having ran a 100k I was always prepared for a situation where I would need to dig deep to be able to carry on churning out sub 5min/k kilometres. It was to come at the beginning of lap 5 when the T-train blew a head gasket (and a groin strain I think) and Mikey Mike also departed the BK ‘pain train’, leaving just me and my dodgy hand torch. On the bright side I had managed to sneak up a few positions as two runners ahead of me had pulled out. All of sudden I was in second place and only had to run 36k to cement the place on the poduim, how difficult could that be, especially after already running 64k? The answer is very difficult. In a marathon you normally hit the wall at 32k and can then negotiate the last 10k , in an ultra the wall may manifest itself any time after half way and worse case scenario you could have nearly 50k of post wall race to run, gotta love an ultra? I did manage to avoid the wall in this race thanks to good pacing and an esky filled to the brim with nutrition and hydration that kept me fully fuelled. As I have mentioned on many occasions it is generally acknowledged an ultra is really an eating and drinking conception with running between the aid tables. I can concur this is the truth, get the fuelling wrong and it doesn’t matter how good a runner you are you will stop and it will turn ugly very quickly. On a side note Jon loves his nutrition strategy and food in general, truth be told, and the highlight of the race for me was Jon offering me some potatoes as we crossed on one of the later laps. I swear his bag of potatoes was enough for every running in the event!
I have attached a photo of Jon below just before the presentations, I’m not sure it he was coming down from a sugar high or just plain ‘goosed’ after the run. It’s hard to tell with Jon sometimes…..
Right, I digress for a change, where was I, oh yes just entering the second half of the race and I was running alone after all the members of the T-train ‘train of pain’ had deserted me. Lap 5 (kilometres 50-62.5k) was uneventful bar the sunrise which meant we could jettison the reflective tops which were mandatory (health and safety apparently) and my hand torch (which was just about useless anyway). It was good to be running in daylight and I even got a second wind as I started lap 6 (kilometres 62.5 -75k) and threw in a 4:25min/k early on. I remember thinking to myself this ultra running wasn’t that hard and even contemplating a good negative split and maybe even a sub8 finish. Silly boy, about 3k later it was back to the maintaining a sub5 min/k and grinding them out. Amazing how quickly the whole race changes and I suppose in an ultra the ‘swings and roundabouts‘ come thick and fast and it’s about trying to maintain an ‘even keel’ throughout.
I continued on my merry way for lap6 feeling very tired (surprising that.) and starting to understand the pain an ultra puts you through. Compared to a marathon this is certainly more mental and I prepared myself for lap 7 which I knew would be the hardest as the finish line would be in sight on the final lap. Starting lap 7 (75k – 87.5k , wow these numbers are starting to add up!) I had to dig deep and this lap was always going to hurt. You’re already struggling to keep to your required pace and you still have 25k to go, which is 2 hours of running minimum. I remember thinking this when I set off on lap 7 knowing this next 12.5k would be a test and I wasn’t disappointed. They say an ultra is a good mix of metal strength and running fitness and lap 7 showcased this. I was counting down the kilometres one by one as I struggled through what I considered would be the race decider, get through it and I knew I would make the distance but start walking and the last 20k would be a real struggle. Eventually I got to the start/finish line for the 7th and final time. (87.5k – 100k) Starting out on the final lap was uplifting and mentally I knew I would now make the distance.
Although I was confident of now finishing it didn’t make the actually racing any easier. I was now determined not to ‘blow out’ and set myself a goal of keeping each kilometre below 5min/k. Being the last lap made every step easier as I knew it was the last time I would be doing it , after 7 previous iterations. Again it was still a painful last hour but made easier by knowing the finish line was insight.
Eventually I get to the end of lap 8 and after a final flurry into the finishing straight it was time for a few press ups and a medal. Mission accomplished, a good time and, due to so many people dropping out , a 2nd place finish. (Amazing how easy the last 500m is with the finish line in sight. If you could somehow persuade the brain to release this ‘finishing spurt’ stretch a bit earlier the race it would be so much easier. I say a bit earlier I’m thinking like 25 k earlier !)
Of course no BK post would be complete without the post race celebrations and it was off to the Dome cafe for waffles with maple syrup and extra bacon as a finishing treat. I mentioned this in a previous post and for the last 25k this feast was at the forefront of my mind. These treats in the last few hours of an ultra are priceless and can get you to the finishing line. Also I’m a big believer in treating yourself after you’ve achieved any running milestone, actually treating yourself full stop is good but you need a good reason for the treat before the treat becomes the norm; you’re then in a world of trouble as pancakes become your staple diet !
Will I run another 100k ? Once I finished I would say ‘not a chance in hell’, but now typing this I’m thinking it would be nice to go sub 8 and how bad was it really ? The classic ‘women and childbirth’ question, ask any of them after they have just given birth and none would ever envisage reporting the process, but a few days (months?) later with that ‘bundle of joy’ in their hands most would contemplate the whole process again. It’s the same with runners, the mind plays tricks on you and once the rose coloured glasses are on all you can remember is the great feeling of finishing, the previous 8 hours of pain are conveniently wiped from your memory.
To sum up, an ultra 100k is a long way and there are two ways to run it. Most run it to finish it and have that achievement and the bucket list option ticked. Others race it for a time which could be personal or podium hunting. Either way along the way you are going to need to ask yourself some serious questions and if you have all the answers you will finish, the running fitness is of course also important and the fitter you are the easier the questions will be to answer. Watching all the other runners finish in times ranging from 8 hours up to well over 12 hours you can see the personal achievement in all their faces as they cross the line. It is certainly a step up from the marathon and one I would recommend , as a runner, you need to experience. As I have mentioned many times the comradely at these events is so much more than other shorter distances and I highly recommend you experience it. This actually goes for the whole trail and ultra fraternity , they’re a friendly lot. (must be all that tree hugging that goes on, makes them better people?)
Finally a big thankyou to all the volunteers as they were up before the race started (remember midnight kick off) and probably helped with the cleaning up at the end. Outstanding effort. Also the two race directors Ron Mcglinn and Shaun Kaesler, these guys have transformed the ultra running scene in Western Australia and if you want to get into the whole ultra and trail scene check out their race series. ( http://ultraserieswa.com.au ).
Being mainly a marathon runner I’m not as confident or sure of the taper period for an ultra. For the 6 inch ultra marathon in December last year I experimented by not tapering nearly as much as I would for a marathon. On the week of the event I actually ran twice a day Monday through Thursday and only had 48 hours rest before the race. Admittedly all runs on race week were slow and easy but I still managed over 80km’s pre-race. On the day I felt great and ran a good race for a 7th place finish but more importantly I was 4th quickest over the second half of the race. I actually ran my first negative split for an ultra. The week before the ultra I had ran 140k so there really wasn’t a taper period to talk off. ( http://www.6inchtrailmarathon.com )
Could this work for a marathon ? I don’t think so. The ultra is normally ran at a more subdued pace and although longer I feel not as testing as ‘racing’ a marathon. (Well ultras less than 100k, when you get above 100k I’m sure it becomes a tad more testing that a marathon. Once I run further than 100k I’ll confirm?) In an ultra the race pace normally decreases brings your overall cardio fitness in to play more than resting the legs a few weeks before. If you haven’t got the fitness a two week taper will not help, you’ll still be underdone. With a marathon, as the distance is less, you normally have the fitness required to finish the event, the tapering helps more by letting tired muscles recovery.
Also I feel running a good ultra is more dependant on the nutrition and hydration plan, get this right will benefit you so much more than a taper period. Again get this plan wrong and the taper will not save you. In an ultra any mistakes will be paid for, that is a certainty. In an ultra there is no where to hide.
Researching tapering and ultras on the web and there are stories advocating no tapering and setting PB’s while others advocate a 3 week steep taper and lean more towards relaxing rather than stressing about the event. All have their pro’s and con’s and as with all things running there’s no one shoe fits all. It really depends on the runner and also their experience and fitness. The more experienced runner with a good foundation of distance training under their belt will be more likely to be able to go into an event without tapering. They will not need the confidence boost that comes from a good taper as much as someone with less experience. Remember a good taper will also aid confidence and going into any race this is important, anything that helps put you in a positive mindset is welcome and needs to be embraced,
Of course if you have any niggling injuries an enforced taper may be called for. When this happens there is nothing you can do about it, just sit back and smell the roses concentrating on things you can influence like carboloading. Now carboloading, that is a whole new post and one I shall tackle next. Until then enjoy this article below by Ian Torrence which highlights ‘peaking’ rather than tapering as a benefit, pre-ultra. Ian is part of the Greg McMillan stable of writers so has a wealth of knowledge and experience to call upon. (Please note I do not advocate the Joe Kulak method of peaking described below but as you can see in the photo below my friend Jon is convinced it works… ?)
The final weeks before an event are the toughest to get right. The common notion that all hard work must cease and inactivity must ensue is incorrect. It’s also foolhardy to continue amassing mileage and tough workouts as race day nears in hopes of improving fitness. Depending on your approach to this all-important time period, you may be left feeling lethargic or simply exhausted. A runner with the proper peak will feel rejuvenated and ready to go on race day.
Greg McMillan, my mentor, has devised a set of rules to live by as race day approaches. Greg explains, “By studying peak performance research – both physiological as well as psychological – as opposed to just the tapering research, I’ve been able to dial in how to truly peak on race day. It works for all athletes no matter where you find yourself in the pack come race day.” By placing Greg’s simple and effective system into context, let’s get you prepared for your next ultra.
1. Do not drop running volume drastically
Though there are some that prefer three weeks to peak, two weeks seems to be the most popular choice. During the first week of a peak, drop the length of each run by 10 to 20 minutes. The week before your event, drop volume by 20 to 30 minutes per run. I recommend that ultrarunners limit their last long run(s), done a week before the key event, to 90 easy minutes (regardless of the distance of the event). This is enough to give you that long run feeling, but short enough that muscle recovery and glycogen-storage continue. Light, non-impact cross training can be done in lieu of runs, but only if you are used to those forms of exercise.
2. Keep the routine
Run, eat, sleep, work, and socialize when you do normally. Your body and mind have achieved stasis over the past few months of training. Keep them both happy and the keel even. Now is not the time to experiment with new workouts, forms of exercise, foods, and social events. Use the extra time not spent running for sleeping and sticking to “safe” hobbies.
3. Keep the intensity and build confidence
Before the 2007 JFK 50 Mile, I had an exchange with fellow competitor Andy Mason. Nine days before the race, he completed a round of very quick mile repeats on the track; his last quality workout before the race. I knew he was fit and feeling confident. That year, Andy finished in the top ten.
Though most ultrarunners do not need to perform a tough round of mile repeats before their next race, they might consider doing some sort of confidence-building workout 10 days to two weeks out from their event. This workout, however, should be in tune with recent training. Running a 30-mile training run or time trialing up and down Hope Pass (like the author) a few days before a race is neither smart nor beneficial. A moderate length workout that you’re familiar with, that is aerobically challenging, allows for adequate recovery before race day, and demonstrates your fitness should be the order of the day. If you don’t routinely perform hard hill, stamina-building, fartlek, or fast finish workouts then this is not the time to start. Maintain your current training and follow the guidelines for reduction in mileage as mentioned above.
Now is also the time to reflect on all of the training you’ve done thus far. Remember that you’ve done the work necessary to get you to the finish line.
4. Stick to the original race plan and have fun
No one starts a race without a goal. Whether it be to keep your Grand Slam hopes alive, finish your first ultra, or win the event outright, don’t lose sight of why you’re out there. Be deliberate in your actions and calculate each move you make on the race course. Run your own race and enjoy the time you’re having on the trail or road. Greg McMillan sums this up perfectly, “Let’s face it. Most of us aren’t going for an Olympic gold medal here. We are simply enjoying the challenge of doing our best. There is no real pressure, so quit putting so much on yourself. We run for fun, and you should remember that. Have fun!”
PEAKING FOR MULTIPLE RACES
What if you’re gearing up for several important races that are separated by a few weeks or less? The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, as well as others of that genre, and several race series like the NorCal and SoCal Ultra Grand Prix are perfect examples. In essence, you are recovering and peaking in unison between events. There are two ways to approach situations like this:
1. Reverse taper
This is like returning from injury. Gradually and slowly increase the length of your post-race easy runs and avoid fast and difficult workouts. You won’t reach your normal training level, but you’ll satisfy the need for a few runs before your next event.
2. The Joe Kulak Method
When I asked Joe Kulak what he did between each of his four 2003 Grand Slam record- setting 100-mile races, he quipped, “I sat on the couch and drank beer.” If beer is not your drink of choice, water works just as well. The reality is that you can’t gain fitness in the two or three weeks between long ultras. Recovery will be your best “workout” while preparing for your next event.
The Australian Day Ultra ( http://australiadayultra.com ) is less then 2 weeks away which means it’s taper time. Of course the taper should start today but I reckon I can fit in one more 30k with the boys tomorrow before I ease of the distance and try and remain sane as I grapple with the usual hunger pains without the exercise. This is then compounded with the 3 days carbo loading, I wonder as I’m running an ultra do I start carbo loading earlier ? Hell, should I beat eating a muffin right now as I type this post ? I would ask my mate Jon who is also running the ADU but I worry that his answer will always be ‘to eat’ , regardless of the question !
On the subject of nutrition I still haven’t totally worked out my plan. I think I’m going with the Comrades ( http://www.comrades.com ) diet of a gu/carbo-shotz every hour. It got me through three Comrade campaigns in a reasonable fashion and at least this time I don’t have to carry them as the ADU is a 12.5 loop so I’ll have an esky of goodies at the side of the track to delve into every 6.25k if needed. Carrying 10 gu’s using a belt sounded like a good idea but in practice it was a disaster as the weight of the gu’s made the belt jump up and down on my back. I only realised this at the start of the race and as you can imagine I wasn’t that excited having 89k ahead of me. On the bright side the more I ate the less of an annoyance the belt became. At around 80k I hardly felt it, albeit at 80 k I could hardly feel anything, truth be told.
Reading articles on ultra marathons there really is a wealth of information on all sorts of different diets and I’ve posted a few lately on this site as I study different approaches. I feel the best way forward is to eat when I hungry and stay hydrated. The race starts at midnight so the sun won’t be an issue initially but after the sunrise this could all change if we run into a Perth scorcher. A hot morning will certainly add to the challenge of the event as I’ll still have around 30-40k to run, and as I mentioned in a previous post when you hit the wall in an ultra you could still have 30k to go.
Hydration wise I’ll be alternating between one small drink bottle of water and then one of electrolytes for the duration of the event per lap. (probably 600ml an hour) Before the race of course I’ll carbo load (muffin time!) and that also includes drinking water and electrolyte drinks a lot, so normally at the start of the race I’m hydrated enough. (For a marathon of course, I’ll need extra for the ultra.) Maybe some flat coke on the last lap or some red bull to give me a final boost. I’m lucky to have an ‘iron stomach’ so have never suffered any issues but then I’m normally done racing in less than 3 hours so maybe the extra food, combined with another 5 hours of running, may become an issue. This is something that will not become apparent till about 60-70k I suppose. ? About the same time as hitting the wall. It seems that around the 60-70k mark things will become clearer and no amount of blogging is going to help my cause now. On the bright side whatever happens there’ll be a post in there somewhere.
Great article here on hydration worth a read :- https://www.hammernutrition.com.au/info-centre/hydration-what-you-need-to-know/
Training wise I’m still running twice a day but taking it easy bar the progressive hour run on Thursdays. Probably manage another 160k week this week (100 miles) before dropping down next week by about 40-50% and then just a couple of slow 10k’s the week of the ultra. After that a week or two of blogging and then straight back into half marathon training for my one of my favourite races the Darlington half, before possibly having a tilt at the 50-55 year old age group Australian record for the 50k at Bunbury. (assuming it is AURU registered; if not could be off to Canberra. ) Then the races come thick and fast for the rest of the year, no rest for the wicked, racing is what keeps me quick, the fear of returning to the pack keeps me honest and the fear of slowing motivates me to go faster. There must be a quote in there somewhere…..
Finally I need to share the T-train’s approach to ultra-marathons . To quote Tony ‘eating is cheating’ ,now I can remember saying this as a young man during many nights on the ‘pop’ in sunny Penzance but never in an ultra. The T-train being the T-train has his own ways of doing things and the running community may go one way the T-train normally goes the opposite. That being said he just ran over 125k for a 12 hour race a week after racing a marathon so he is doing something right. I have yet to read anywhere his ‘eating is cheating’ mantra on any running website , no matter the ultra ones, so feel he is in a community of one, just the way he’d like it. I’ll keep an eye on him in the race and let you know if I catch him cheating.
For the first time ever I ran over 200km in a week (made 206.2k in the end, thanks Strava.) , beating my previous best of 190k. Could have probably got another 10k but was forced out by my Wife for a meal one night and couldn’t fit in my second run for the day. The sacrifices us runners make, didn’t Karen realise I was on for a record week, do you think she cared ? Anyhow mission accomplished and I gained entry to the double century club. Maybe I’ll start a website and sell medals for runners who can prove they’ve ran 200k in a week. ? Funnily enough there are websites similar to this which actually sell bling for cold hard cash. ( https://www.virtualstrides.com/philosophy/ and http://www.fullmedalruns.com) These sites apparently donate proceeds to charities so I suppose they are doing some good but these ‘virtual medals‘ for some reason just don’t sit well with me. Call me old fashioned but to me you have to earn bling by actually entering a race, turning up at the race and then running the race. Maybe I’m just old fashioned.
Right back to the point of running 200k in a week. First of all it was to prove I could do it and really I only decided on day 7 of the week to give it a shot. I was running my go-to ‘old faithful’ 10k when, feeling good, I decided to add another 10k with a view to maybe adding a final 10k in the afternoon and giving me a 192k total. Of course once I started to do the maths I knew it was on and turned my 10k into a 34k which was the most I could have run as I was unprepared for a long run with no breakfast and no hydration. As soon as it started to heat up I was in trouble and managed to ‘borrow’ some water from a couple of houses on the way back which had taps at the front of their properties. Believe me when I say I was running in an area where borrowing water would be considered a risk but desperate times call for desperate measures, luckily I live to tell the tale.
Thus Sunday afternoon I ran the 4k I needed and added another 6k as I was again feeling good and had the wind behind me for the first 5k (thus the return journey had to made into a strong headwind, when will I learn?) A 206k total for the week and the double century box had been ticked. Will I repeat this ? Not sure, I’ve read a lot of material where it looks like 100-160k is about all you really need and anything else has negligible benefits but comes with a high injury risk. Most, if not all , of the 206k’s were slow and easy and I’m finding I’m avoiding the faster runs due to fatigue, although the fatigue is not as bad as when I use to run quicker all the time. As ultra training I can see the benefit of these 160k+ weeks but for the marathon and shorter distances I feel you can get away with 100-160k but add some pace work. I’ll certainly be dropping down the mileage after the ADU ( http://australiadayultra.com ) and am looking forward to some good old fashioned mona fartlek and tempo runs.
First though I have the impending 100k race in less than 3 weeks. Weekly distance I’m very confident I’m doing enough but still not really done the ‘long time on legs runs’ that I know I should be doing but just haven’t the inclination. It really will be a case of finding out at around the 70k mark if my cardio fitness as well as a good nutrition and hydration plan is enough to get me to the finish. That reminds me I still haven’t got a nutrition and hydration plan sorted out. Maybe I better get onto that this week ? How difficult can it be with my mate Google as my co-pilot?
Actually looking at the graphic below, a screen shot from Strava, there seems to be a few photos of me and the boys doing more eating than running. Maybe my Yelo Muffin and City Beach Pancakes is the nutrition plan I need ? I wonder how many muffins and pancakes a runner can digest, while running a 100k, without doing serious damage ? What is the tipping point for the number of muffins a runner can ingest before they become an issue and start to do more harm than good ? Probably around one I reckon, more’s the pity. Maybe I could blend then into small Gu like packets ? No, it’s back to Google and ‘proper’ ultra diets, remember I’m old fashioned.
As I move towards my first 100k ultra at the end of January ( http://australiadayultra.com ) I’m in a quandary as to the right amount of weekly distance versus the weekend long run distance. The weekly distance I have covered as I’ve been averaging 130k a week since June but the long runs have been very marathon focussed, by this I mean always around the 30k distance and no more. Will this come back to bite me around the 70k mark in the ultra ? This has been playing on my mind lately but I personally don’t enjoy running over 30k unless there’s a bib on my chest and I’m being measured for time. The thought of a time on feet 3-5 hour run has never appealed to me and I much prefer to run twice a day to achieve the required distance. Jon on the other hand revels in the long lonely run, normally at some God forsaken time in the morning. Recently he woke at 3am and ran 70k, by himself ! I know he has a 55k run planned Thursday but have been deliberately avoiding him as I am not that excited about the distance or the starting time knowing Jon. I did say I’d meet him at Yelo at 7am. (Just didn’t mention I’d probably be starting at 6am.)
I suppose because I’m still chasing a marathon PB I haven’t found the need to look further afield to get my PB fix. As well as the marathon PB I feel in 2017 I may have a good tilt at all the shorter distances and would like to think there may be the odd PB still there for the taking if I keep putting in the hard yards. I’m not a total beginner when it comes to ultra marathons as currently I’ve ran 18 of them but none further than 89k ( http://www.comrades.com ) Admittedly I did train very hard for my three Comrade campaigns (2008 /09 /10) and this training included the 50k runs that now days I find so hard to complete. On the plus side I running so much quicker now than when I ran Comrades and consider myself a lot fitter than those years, I’m certainly running further. So the question is does a better prepared runner beat a fitter runner over 100k ? I suppose we’ll find out next January as I have no inclination to run further than my normal 30k marathon long runs but I will be maintaining my 130k weekly average and may even nudge that up a bit over the next two weeks.
Tapering will be a two week exercise for this ultra as I feel the distance demands respect and I really need my legs to be as rested as much possible without losing fitness, the old taper tightrope we all walk pre-marathon or ultra. I believe you start to lose fitness after 2-3 weeks of no training so as long as you keep the legs ticking over, with a few rest days, you’ll be ok for a 2 week taper. When I first started marathons I use to give myself a 3 week taper but now I realise this was probably too long and I felt I lost some fitness which combined with the normal 3 day carbo-loading made the marathon uncomfortable. As it’s a 100k I may even treat myself to a leg massage, my friend Mike has recommended a good masseur but after a discussion over a Yelo muffin on Boxing Day I’m not so sure this is the type of massage I’m after. (There was talk of special garments which raised a few concerns amongst us?) It’s important to make sure the legs are ready for the onslaught of running for at least 8 hours (and probably more!) and the massage and a good taper will certainly help.
Once I get the legs ready next will be the mind. Looking at the quotes below it looks like the mind plays as much a part of a successful ultra run than the legs, a lot more than in the marathon when it becomes an issue at the 32k mark with 10k to go. In an Ultra it looks like the wall may be a tad longer to get to but unfortunately there is more distance the other side to overcome. By this I mean if you hit the wall at 70k in a 100k race you still have 30k to use all your mental strength to get you to the finish line, not the normal 10k in a marathon. I’m not selling this to you am I ? Actually I’m not selling it to me either.!
- “If you start to feel good during an ultra, don’t worry, you will get over it.”
-Gene Thibeault, ultrarunner
- “We ultrarunners alternate between depression and stupidity.”
- It hurts up to a point and then it doesn’t get any worse.”
- “Ultrarunners understand, perhaps better than anyone, that the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In running such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of their being–a call that asks who they are.”
Finally once I get the legs ready and the mind prepared the final piece in the jigsaw is the food and hydration that is so important in an ultra. Haven’t really nailed that one either , truth be told. Typing this has not given me the confidence I felt it would but has instead left me with some unanswered questions and the feeling of what is ahead of me will be a challenge. Would I want it any different, no way ! This is why we run to challenge ourselves and be that by distance or time the end result is always worth the effort we put in. I shall of course draw down on this post at the 70k mark of the Australia Day ultra and hopefully it’ll bring a smile to my face as I power on to the finish…..
An article below from Ian Corless form the Run Ultra website describes the Long Run……
Every weekend, runners all over the world lace up their shoes and head out for a long run. But what is a long run and how long should the long run be?
Running long depends on what type of ultra you are training for, what your objectives are, what the date of the event is and so on. If you don’t have answers to these three questions, stop, find the answers and then start planning. Read an article about planning and running a race here.
If you are used to running 5km and 10km events, a long run for you may well be 75-90 minutes. If you are a marathon runner, your long run will typically be 21/22 miles or 3 to 3.5-hours. If you are running an ultra, mmmmm, this is where it gets tricky.
First of all, let’s look at why we run long. This is something discussed in a previous article on ‘Base Training,’ it would be a good idea to read that here. In summary, we put an emphasis on three key points: Efficiency to use fat as a fuel, muscular and physical adaptation and mental strength.
If you never run for more than one hour in training, then three hours on your feet just feels like a really long time so you need to adapt mentally for the challenge ahead and you need to be strong to get the job done.
You have had sore legs from running, yes? We have all been there, it comes from running fast and hard and building up lactic acid or it comes from running long. Muscle soreness will come for everyone, however, we can train to reduce the impact or delay the process. Progressively running longer with recovery periods allows our muscles to adapt to the stress and become stronger. The term DOMS refers to the ‘Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness’. You may well feel muscle pain during a training event or race but it’s usually in the 24/48/72-hour period after that the soreness really kicks in. By running long in training we adapt to delay or reduce the DOMS.
You need fuel to do anything, even a shopping trip. Our bodies can only store so much carbohydrate and once those stores are used up we have only two options left: top them up or slow down and maybe even stop if they have got very low. As an endurance athlete we need to tap into our almost unlimited fat stores. We do this by teaching our body to use fat as a fuel in the long run. The more efficient you become at this, the longer you can run and the longer you can maintain a pace. Ultimately it means the whole race/training experience will be better and more enjoyable. Check out our diet advice for training here.
The Long Run
Let’s be clear here, running longer requires running slower, especially if we are going to switch fat burning on, mentally make you strong and allow you to last the distance. Running hard has its place for sure but be specific and think of your objectives and what you are trying to achieve.
Think of long runs in terms of time and not distance. Distance adds some confusion and also as runners we get stressed and worried by mileage. Time on feet does very much depend on the terrain we are running on, for example in three hours on the road you may well cover 20-miles, but on the trails or in the mountains you may only cover 12-miles.
This brings in another very important and key point, make long runs specific and in line with your objectives. No point doing three hours on the road if you are doing a 50 mile mountain race with 4000m of vertical gain.
Slow down! Many runners run the long run too hard which impacts on the following days’ training and it also impacts on the long run session. Maybe use a heart rate monitor or GPS to keep on top of this and don’t worry about walking. Walking is a key element in completing ultra distance events. You can read an article on this here.
The big question, how long should the long run be?
Short distance runners often run over distance in training. Think about it, a 10km runner may run a long slow half marathon to build endurance. A half marathon runner may run a long and slow steady 16 miles in preparation for a fast race.
This all falls apart when we go to the marathon and beyond. How often have you heard in marathon training that the long run should be 21/22 miles or 3 hours and 30 minutes in preparation for a race.
Long runs and adapting for an endurance run such as an ultra comes from not one run but a combination of all runs. It’s about your accumulative run history. They all add up to make you an endurance machine.
First and foremost, consistency is key and long runs should be progressive and based on ability and experience. A long run should test you but not break you.
What do I mean by progressive?
Let’s use a 12-week scenario based on a runner who can currently run two hours in a long run. I am not looking at base training here, but the specifics of a long run and how to make the long run longer. I’m a big fan of building over three weeks and recovering for one week, I call this 3/1.
Week 1 – Sunday 2:30 hours
Week 2 – Sunday 2:45 hours
Week 3 – Sunday 3:00 hours
Week 4 – 2 hours
Week 1 – Sunday 2:45 hours
Week 2 – Wednesday 90min / Sunday 3:00 hours
Week 3 – Wednesday 90min/ Sunday 3:20 hours
Week 4 – Sunday 2:30 hours
Week 1 – Wednesday 90min/ Sunday 3:00 hours
Week 2 – Wednesday 1:45 hours/ Sunday 3:30 hours
Week 3 – Wednesday 2:00 hours/ Sunday 4:00 hours
Week 4 – Wednesday 60min/ Sunday 3:00 hours
The above scenario provides a structured example on how to build up from running two hours comfortably to four hours. But remember the above scenario is 12 weeks of running with over 37 hours of running, just in the long runs! That is huge and a great place to start for any endurance challenge.
But my race is 50 miles, can I run the distance?
As mentioned above, it’s not wise or sensible to run too long in anyone session. But the 12-week plan above on a 3/1 scenario shows you how it’s possible to build time and confidence. As you gain more experience you can look at doing back-to-back sessions and plan long training weekends all as part of a long term plan. Ultimately though, running too long in terms of distance or time is something that should be very carefully planned. You will always here about runners who can do 200 mile weeks or 50-mile training runs; they are exceptions and not the norm. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security and don’t feel inadequate, we are all individuals and this is maybe the most important aspect. Running long is a voyage of discovery. Check out our 50km training plan to start you towards your 50 miler here.
Training should be about preparing you to tackle the challenge, but it will never FULLY prepare you. There’s always going to be a bit of extra and a bit of unknown on the day of the event, but surely that’s why you’ve entered?