Sunday, 27 January 2013

P.I.T. #2: 27th January 2013

My last "Point in Time" ended on Jan 22nd with a 2M streak saver. Sadly this one starts again the same way...

Jan 23rd
Another late night, 2M, treadmill streak saver! Double UGH! Maybe I need the break and I'll come back fresher and faster. Combination of snow, ice and mental slump (caused by snow and ice).

Jan 24th
Was due to break the rut with Lydia asking me if she could do 12M with me (she has never run more than 10M before) before going to track in the evening, but she wasn't feeling great so we only did 4.5M in 53:00 (11:29 pace).
9.5M session on the track.  1M w/u, drills, 2M in 12:34 @133bpm (max 141); 3 x 2km in 7:00 (@146, max 154), 7:01 (@149, max 154) and 7:05(@149, max 153). Legs shot so did 4th 2km @6:16 pace and then another 1M @6:16 pace (94/lap) with "The Tank" after he did his 4th rep. Then 800m jog down.
Not best pleased. Had hoped for some decent progress, especially after the previous easy days.  Definitely aerobic (probably right under AnT), but still struggle with running 5:36 pace.  Need more work at this pace to get the speed endurance up.  And some faster VO2max running to get more comfortable at faster speeds.

Jan 25th
12M on NDW to Charing in 1:49:37 (9:02 pace) @100bpm. Snow is becoming compacted and icy up on the Downs - can't wait for it all to go.  This weekend perhaps...
5M plod in the cold and dark with Lydia - kept short as she's not feeling well. We turned around after a nasty coughing fit. 52:57 (10:28 pace)
I seem to have the same bug - sore throat. Not had a proper sickness since 2010, so I doubt it will develop into anything serious, but icky, tickly throat can raise HR...

Jan 26th
Was at a coaching course all day and snuck in another streak saver with Lydia in the evening - 3M.  Neither of us 100% - my throat is a bit worse and her cough still there. 33:11 (10:55 pace).
In two minds about the race tomorrow now - on the one hand the three days of streak savers create a down week for recovery and a kind of taper for the race (although it's only a "C" race for me); on the other hand this throat is not great and not getting much better.  Whereas it is no real problem for training a 10M race may not be ideal treatment.  But as I've already entered online and paid, I suppose I'm doing it...

Jan 27th
Barretts Canterbury 10M (Kent County Champs)
Started with a 2M warm up.  Didn't check all the data until tonight - very glad I didn't.  8:59 pace; 103bpm. HR way too high.  Still under the weather. And talking of weather, the snow has all gone and it is mild (10C).
My stated goal for the race was to break the hour.  I suspected, from the track workouts, that my anaerobic / lactate threshold was around 5:35-5:40 pace on a track.  But I knew that I didn't have the speed endurance to hold that very far - certainly not to 10M and probably not to half way.  In addition I knew there was a hill or two on the course. So I wanted to pace it so as not to slow too much in the latter stages and allow for a few hills - I figured the pacing would call for 5:50 or so and the hills would take it to 6mm pace.
Had I known what the course was like (two decent hills, undulating most of the remainder, poor surface underfoot in a lot of places) and what the conditions would be (very windy - downhill into the wind at on point was like running uphill), I would have adjusted the goal by a few minutes.  And that poor HR on the w/u would have led to further adjustment.  Ignorance is sometimes bliss...

Here is the raw data (time; avHr, maxHR; elevation gain (in ft) / elevation loss):
Mile 1 - 5:39; 141, 150; 36/23
Mile 2 - 5:45; 150, 153; 30/10
Mile 3 - 5:47; 150, 153; 36/43
Mile 4 - 5:35; 148, 151; 0/56
Mile 5 - 6:14; 150, 155; 98/33
Mile 6 - 6:06; 149, 152; 56/39
Mile 7 - 5:53; 145, 151; 23/125
Mile 8 - 6:28; 149, 153; 98/0
Mile 9 - 6:21; 146, 148; 3/16
Mile 10 - 6:11; 145, 151; 20/85
Total = 59:59 @147bpm (155max), 404ft elevation.

Did a longer 5M cool down (43:50, 8:46 pace, 107bpm) with team mate Matt "The Tank" Britton afterwards - he had promised me 8M but bailed.  During the race, I was catching him at halfway when, at a 90 degree turn, he saw how close I was and immediately went shooting off like somebody had put a firecracker where the sun doesn't shine! So much for team camaraderie! I'm guessing that's where my extra 3M of cool down went...

Week #4
Total = 67M

Thoughts on the race
Where to start with the race?  Well, firstly, I was delighted.  It was a good result while under the weather that suggests better progress than I had thought (maybe I was under the weather for  track on Thursday too).  Can't read too much into each mile split as, even with elevation info, you cannot see the crazy wind nor the road surface.  What you can see, however, is the HR dropping in the second half and especially in the last 2M.  And that was, in a nutshell, what happened.  I started out much faster than I expected and felt very comfortable both aerobically and biomechanically (always a surprise!) for the first half.  The HR inevitably dropped on the 4th mile which was downhill, but otherwise I was good for the first half - longer than I had expected to be and at a faster pace.  On the first big hill in the 5th mile I hit my highest HR in the race and was probably bang on AnT / LT - what was really encouraging was how comfortable I was feeling just a few bpm lower.

In the second half, bit by bit, my lack of speed endurance (the ability to hold a pace) started to show.  The lower HRs were indicative of me just not being able to continue to work the legs hard enough.  Over the last 2M in particular the wheels came off, so to speak.  And I got passed by 3 people in the last 400M!  No gears left, legs not going any faster and very comfortably aerobic! I finished 15th overall (out of 771 finishers) and was 4th Vet (40+) - missing out on a County medal by less than a minute.

Overall, though 40ft/mile is nothing compared to my ultra races this coming summer, it was fairly hilly and definitely nothing vaguely close to PB chasing territory.  Add in a muddy, potholed farm lane for decent sections and some really nasty wind and you had a slow course.  At least 2 min, I would estimate, maybe even 3, probably 2.5 - which puts me at PB levels or thereabouts (57:36 from 2005).

Positives I take from the race:
  • Achieved target time despite conditions and course
  • Good training session for future progress - will help me get more used to holding this kind of tempo effort for longer.
  • I am likely in 5:45 pace shape for 10M when in good health and on a fast course - much better than expected.
  • My speed at threshold and my ability to hold it for longer should both continue to improve with training
  • I am feeling as comfortable biomechanically at that kind of pace as I ever have done.
Actions to take following the race:
  • Keep working at AnT and speed endurance on Thursday nights with the club.
  • Get some VO2 Max work and some hill reps done to enable pace to continue to improve.  Had this scheduled but got lost in snow and ice, plus my inability to get to club training on Tuesdays due do daughter's ballet lesson. No excuse now snow has gone.
  • Get the mileage back up after "down week".
8.5M and the wheels are coming off

Next race is another County Championship - the Deal Half Marathon in just 2 weeks time.  Another hillier course, I am hoping to run around the same pace (6 min/mile).  To hold the same average pace for a race 3 miles longer would require a chunk of progress, but I think it is achievable so long as it is not too much hillier.
Then, after another "C-" jaunt at the Gravesend Cyclopark, comes my first "B" race of the year and a third County Championship, the Thanet 20M, which is a much faster course and 5 weeks away, may afford me a chance to crack the magic 2hr barrier if things keep progressing.
And all this is working towards my first "A" race of the year - a crack at a sub 75min Half Marathon (5:44 pace) in April at Paddock Wood (a more reasonable 13ft/mile of elevation).  A tough target, to be sure, but one that I think I am on track to have a decent chance of realising.

The glass is half full tonight.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Nutrition 101: Macronutrients vs micronutrients

I want to blog a fair bit about nutrition and sport.  With my first ultra running season lying ahead of me I am particularly conscious of the huge effect that nutrition can have on performance in an ultra.

There are hundreds of different viewpoints out there on nutrition and what is best for us in our sport.  What I want to address in this post, as a foundation to all other posts on nutrition, is the crucial difference between macronutrients and micronutrients.

Macronutrients are the larger building blocks of our nutrition: fats, carbohydrates and proteins.  Most sports nutrition tends to be about macronutrients - what proportion of your diet should each macronutrient have, what macronutrients should you have to enable recovery and what macronutrients in what quantities help you acheieve race weight?  Yes, there is a shift happening in people's thinking, but it is early days and this is where the focus still is in people's minds.

So, in running circles, people are interested in whether you are still on a high-carb diet, a high-fat diet, a paleo diet or whatever; their thinking is that the perfect running diet is found by moving these big building blocks around until you get them in the right quantities at the right time. Sorted!

It is this approach to sports nutrition that results in recommendations as patently stupid as the classic "chocolate milk for recovery". Ugh!  The idea is that it has the perfect 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein that has been "scientifically proven" (cue to turn your brain off and stop actually thinking critically) to "maximise recovery".
Just say "no"!

In contrast, micronutrients are not you big blocks, but your little blocks (so to speak).  They are your vitamins and minerals, and, more so, antioxidants and phytonutrients that are found in varying quantities in our food.

The science of nutrition is exploding currently.  A hundred or so years ago we thought we had solved our health woes by discovering the main vitamins and minerals.  We could now extract them, replicate them and ensure good health by placing them in our produce.  But now we know that there are probably tens of thosuands of micronutrients all working together in a symbiotic harmony in plants and vegetables.

For people who, like me, have been schooled in the macro-centric mentality regarding nutrition, micronutrients tend to be the things you take in pills as your "insurance policy" for your health.  Finish your run and grab a chocolate milk to help you recover and just so long as you take your daily multi-vit you should, touch wood, be okay.  These days we are moving forward a little and people are talking more about antioxidants and so people may stretch to a few berries and feel good about themselves for doing so.

A different approach
I have so much more I want to say about all this in future posts and this is only intended to be an introduction to it all that I can refer back to later, but let me simply, for now, suggest an alternative approach.

I am a nutritarian these days.  What that basically means is this:  no matter how many calories my body needs in a day, I want to get as many micronutrients as I can into those calories. That's it.  I don't put so much focus (though there is still some) on what macronutrients I eat, as much as what micronutrients I eat.

So when I finish a hard session and have inflamed muscle fibres that need to recover, I'm not bothered about whether I am going to refuel with a 4:1 carb to protein ratio and I am certainly not going to have a glass of chocolate milk which is laden with all sorts of stuff that will produce additional inflammation on a cellular level and has almost no micronutrients.  I am wanting to eat fruit, berries, nuts and even salad that will flush my body with the necessary micronutrients to reduce the inflammation and restore, repair and refresh my body.

I have run a lot of miles over the years and, having studied Sports Science at university, knew the standard line about the right amounts of macronutrients to maximise recovery.  While holding 30+ weeks of 100+M in 2010, I was, unsurprisingly, struggling to recover.  Via a friend, I checked with a sports nutritionist whether I was getting enough protein - the consensus was that running 140-160mpw required more than the textbooks said.  So I started eating a lot more meat. And I felt the effect - I definitely started recovering better. 

In 2012 I really started taking the nutritarian approach to eating and immediately shocked me was that I could run the same amount, eat a fraction of the amount of protein I was eating before I increased it in 2010 and yet recover better than ever before. My legs had never felt so fresh on such a high mileage!

2012 was a learning curve nutritionally, but I started the year experimenting with nutritarianism and finished the year fully committed.  I eat less protein than before, ignore many of the "golden rules" and yet recover much better.  Food for thought... (pun intended).

So, for now, I simply suggest that when you think about sports nutrition you start to give more focus to your micronutrients than you may have done in the past.   More to come on this in the future...

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

P.I.T. #1: 22nd Jan 2013

After introducing the "Point in Time" approach to blogging my training in my last post, here is the first instalment, taking us from the start of the year to the present day.  It'll be a long one...

2012 ended with a so-so marathon pace (MP) session, but I was in pretty good fitness, a decent weight and mostly healthy (physically anyway).   In the final days of last year I had been getting in a mixture of VO2 max workouts and long runs (inc. 20M @6:53pace and 30M@7:40pace).   The most notable difference in the last few months had been a distinct lowering of mileage.  This was partly as I focused on getting faster, but mostly just due to not having the mental strength to double on the dark evenings.  Either way, the one good sign was that, while I have had to maintain high mileage to maintain weight in the past, this time I even lost a few pounds.  I will post later about health/nutrition, but I feel so much more free from the shackles of bad food than I ever have done.

The plan for the beginning of 2013 was to try and crank the mileage back up and maintain the speed then, if I adapted okay, keep progressing the faster stuff while holding a higher mileage.  I had been doing 50-80mpw at the end of 2012, but have always found 100-160 to be my favourite zone; 140-160 has always been a sweet spot from which great things come.  We'll see...

Jan 1st
15.5M in 2:06:15 (8:07 pace) @103bpm - very easy run.
4M easy double with Tim (15) and his pal Dec (14) (another quality runner in the making) as they did hill reps.  I let them shoot of after the warm up and ran with my youngest daughter Lydia (11) to ensure it was a recovery run. 2 reps of Liverton Hill done by all. Well, all except Mat Brooks who bailed on us due to a hangover...

At this juncture, let me point out a couple of things.
  1. Yes, 15.5M can be an easy run. I'm not naturally fast, but I have discovered that with the right approach and the right shoes I can maintain a lot of miles. It's my gift, so to speak, and so it's what I do when I can.
  2. Yes, 103bpm.  I have a low resting HR (31bpm is personal best) and a low maximum (no idea - I don't run hard enough to find out), so I get some silly HRs for some easy runs.  At my best fitness in 2010 I did lots of sub 100bpm runs to see how fast I could get at such a HR.  Got it down to 7:40s over 10M.  I distinctly remember thinking, "I could do this all day!" and then, "How long could I do it for?"  I knew I'd be doing ultras at some point.
Jan 2nd
15.5M in 2:09:06 (8:18 pace)  - HR data sporadic (100bpm?) - feeling the return to mileage a little already. Letting the legs lead pace-wise.
YRG Fatburner workout video (will post about these later, but this series of workouts are what Arthur did - great for old, inflexible, weak runners too).
5M treadmill run - slow and easy - watching "Unbreakable" again (90% of treadmill runs are spent watching that movie).

Jan 3rd
Got to meet Nick Clark and run 10M with him. 1:18:06 (7:51 pace). HR not working properly - corrupt data.  Great time but longer and faster than I'd normally run before a track session. Wasn't going to miss the opportunity though.

Track night. 10M total. 1M w/u; 2M @6:40 pace; 4 x 1M (1min rec.) in 5:41, 5:41, 5:42, 5:38; 2M @6:24 pace; 1M c/d. Legs tired, but strong. Very pleased with this session.

Jan 4th
15.5M in 2:08:51 (8:19 pace) - started out slower and picked up as I loosened up.  The key to high mileage is keeping as easy as the legs want on easy days.
7M with Lydia in 1:09:30 (9:50 pace) - easy for us both. The girl's getting good again.

Jan 5th
15.5M in 2:07:51 (8:16 pace)

Jan 6th
23.5+M in 2:39:50 (6:46 pace). Short w/u and c/d with 3 laps in the middle: #1 50:39 (6:42), #2 50:24 (6:40), #3 52:02 (6:53 pace).  Very pleased, despite slowing slightly at the end: first 100+M week for months and I do my 2nd fastest long training run ever. Another step forward in the journey.
6.5-M with kids - first 1.6M with my youngest son (Joe), Tim and Lydia. Tim did a little bit more but wasn't feeling great. Lydia did the rest with me.

Week #1 (inc. Dec 31st 2012)
Total = 143M

Jan 7th
16M in 2:14:30 (8:25 pace). Legs tired, but plodded around okay.
7M in 1:10:41 (9:59 pace) with Lydia

Jan 8th 
15.5M in 2:07:03 (8:10 pace).  Really starting to feel like I'm adapting to this increased mileage now. Was ready for a longer run today.
Rare opportunity to visit gym and do some weights - took it! Not ideal the day before a race, but then it's only a C race at best.
7M in 1:00:27 (8:34 pace) - relaxed and easy. Started slower and picked up as I loosened up. Threw in an effort on "concussion hill" - sharp climb, flattens out and dips ever so slightly - 38 secs of effort flat out.

Jan 9th 
7M in 58:48 (8:21 pace) - another effort on concussion hill (37secs). Feeling ready for race tonight.

10km race in Gravesend on the Cyclopark courtesy of Nice Work.  I had planned to run with the Matt "the Tank" Britton for as long as could and then slow down as little as possible in the latter stages when he inevitably dropped me. But "The Tank" no-showed. In a last minute change of plan I said to Tim that we should not go out too hard and just wait see what developed at the front.  Within the first 400m or so I said to Tim's friend Dec (who had ran an excellent 17:38 PB in the earlier 5km), "we've got this!" as we ran past him.  I was comfortably aerobic and the only person around me who wasn't clearly in the red was Tim.
My thoughts immediately turned to my recently written New Year's Running Resolutions and in particular #10: "Finish a race in first place (equal), arm in arm with my wonderful son, Timothy."We soon got into a lead pack of 5 and within a lap we were down to 3.  I expected to be clear by 5km, but the third runner, Dan Walsh, was chasing a PB and doing really well to cling on.  At this point I was trying to simply hold place (which was sub Lactate Threshold and pretty comfortable), but once we had a small gap on Dan it was clear that I was going to have to slow a bit if I wanted to finish with Tim.  Resolution #10 has been a dream for years and it definitely trumped any notion of holding pace for a slightly faster time, so it became a question of making sure we dropped Dan without dropping Tim.  After plenty of geeing up and encouraging, Tim, not in the greatest of shape right now, did what was required and we crossed the line in 36:59 arm in arm.  A dream realised!
Lydia and Joe ran as well. Joe struggled in the cold, but finished okay, while the ever improving Lydia ran a new PB of 54:57.  Great job, Looby!
As for me, I definitely could have run under 36min and I could've kept the pace going for another lap or so.  Pleased with that after all the miles. (8M total for the night).

Coming into the finish line ticking resolution #10 off the list

Jan 10th
10M in 1:19:10 (7:52 pace).  Surprised to see the pace pick up after the race / tempo run last night - legs leading the pace as always.
7M in 58:05 (8:15 pace).

Jan 11th
5K(ish) reps @MP (marathon pace).  Best done with a HRM, but mine is still playing up, so I estimated it. #1: 18:58 (6:10 pace), #2 18:53 (6:08), #3 19:11 (6:13).  15M total. Wasn't really up for any kind of effort today, but chugged it out.  The pace is feeling more comfortable biomechanically (which has been a real issue for me historically) which is a plus; bit annoyed at the third rep though. Just mentally not there.
8.5M with Lydia in 1:26:21 (10:12 pace) - lovely time together.

Jan 12th
12M - first 7M alone (other than Buddy the dog who is with me for most of these runs) in 56:10 (7:59 pace) and then the other 5M with Lydia in 50:27 (10:04).
5M on treadmill which I hate. 42:41. Easy plod.

Jan 13th 
Longest run ever - 37.7M! Having done some mostly flat 30M runs at the end of 2012 to get me ready for proper ultra training, this was the real beginning.  I took the course up onto the North Downs in places and got it from 10ft of climb per mile to 30ft/mile - three times more hilly, but the 50M races and, more importantly, the 100M are all 100ft/mile - three times hillier still! And, of course, three times longer too! Early days, but here it begins...
4:57:12 (7:53 pace) - very happy with that. 8mm pace had been my best case scenario! Felt comfortable throughout (apart from first few miles) and definitely could have run for a good while longer.  So, early days, but a very good start!

Week #2
Total = 155.5M

Jan 14th 
10M on North Downs Way (NDW) n 1:27:35 (8:53 pace) - Snow has arrived and hillier route hence slower pace. Slow plod, but felt relatively good after yesterday.
5.5M in 59:35 (10:45) with Lydia. We were going to do 7M but cut it short as she wasn't feeling great.

Jan 15th
Okay, I hate snow. 5M treadmill (which I also hate). 42:00. Done. Ugh!
Was supposed to do a workout today, but couldn't face it on the treadmill.  Did a kind of progression run for 7.5M mostly involving incline rather than speed. Got HR up more than usual, all aerobic though - incline tested the legs sufficiently.  On the plus side, I watched all of "Unbreakable" yet again between both runs.

Jan 16th
16M on NDW in 2:30:04 (9:18 pace). Hillier as I go further out (83ft/mile now). Lots of snow, ice and mud.  Consoling myself that conditions will be better in July.  Trying to embrace the conditions like a true ultra guy would, but not so much as to do a double in the evening...

Jan 17th
10M on NDW with Lydia and Buddy in 1:43:55 (10:32 pace) - her first 10M for 18 months! And how come she doesn't slow down in hills and snow as much as I do?
Track session. 8M total. 800m w/u; 2m @6:16 pace; 3 x 1M (1min rec.) in 5:36, 5:36, 5:38; 2M @6:16 pace; 800m c/d.  Too icy, even with track spikes on. Had to cut the session short on the faster stuff as I was really starting to slip and it was getting uncomfortable. Very frustrating. On the plus side though the reps were slightly faster than 2 weeks ago and felt a chunk easier too.  Feel like I'm moving forward.

Jan 18th
20+M on NDW all the way to Detling. Now climbing 2000ft = 100ft/mile = same as on ultra race days! YAY! 3:08:50 (9:20) in -2C, snow and horrid wind chill. Water bottle nozzle froze! 105bpm (new HR strap arrived!)  Pretty easy run - didn't feel like a long run physically or mentally, which I guess is a good sign for the ultra season ahead.  Really embracing this weather now, but no doubles when it's like this.

Over looking Hollingbourne on the way out - it was much whiter on my return
Steps! UGH! Like a snowy rollercoaster out there.

Buddy waits for me on some of the steps that make the NDW much tougher than the elevation suggests

Jan 19th
Did the YRG Fatburner Plus workout video this morning - much tougher than the Fatburner. Ouch!
10M on the NDW with Jenny and Lydia (and Buddy) in 1:47:23 (10:49 pace) at 91/92bpm. Used Yaktrax Pros - very icy wouldn't have got round without them.  Pleasant run.  first 10M for sometime for my wife who has struggled with chronic fatigue for years due to Lyme's Disease.  Utterly delighted for her!

Jan 20th
29M on NDW in 5:22:02 (11:06 pace) @103bpm.  Heavy snow and -1C. Broke Yaktrax on the trail. Then struggled with them falling off for the remainder of the run - very frustrating. Should've taken them off for the trail and put them back on for the road sections.  Fed up with the weather now - beautiful, but a real pain for running.   Fell over a few times too.  Legs were fine though and it is my longest run time wise. Getting used to running for this long which is good I guess.  2900ft of climbing = 100ft/mile again.

Looking up from Detling onto the Downs.

Steps (again!) up through Westfield Woods - my favourite sections of the NDW thus far.

Week #3
Total = 121M  
Lower mileage due to weather, but pleased with the effort this week.

Jan 21st
12M on NDW to Charing in 1:55:06 (9:30 pace). No HRM. Easy plod with Buddy.  Legs okay. Conditions suck - fed up with the snow now.  Really fed up. Novelty long gone.  Want to do doubles and speedwork on the road.

Jan 22nd
UGH!  Just didn't have it mentally today.  Token 2M done on the treadmill just before midnight to maintain running streak (since Boxing Day) - a real "streak saver" run.  Heart just not in it today.  Need to get some miles done tomorrow and get back into it...

So that's where I am at. Phew!

Overall very happy with the progress.  The weather is for a short season; it will pass in time.   Just need to keep the fitness in place until it goes.  But ultra training is under way and going well. So far, so good.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Points in Time: An Introduction

This is an introduction to what I am going to be calling my "Point in Time" posts.  Let me explain...

Some runners who blog never give details of their training at all - I have always disliked the "keep your training secret" approach as I have benefited so much from the "freely you have received, freely give" approach.  Others will give details of key runs and key principles, but not all the minutiae of details - this is great but I often find it frustrating as the details are often the crucial part.  Others will tell us every they have done in training routinely - that is a huge blessing to me and if you don't want those kind of details, you can skim over those posts or ignore them altogether.

As you can tell, I lean to the "more detail" approach of blogging one's training, but for me personally there needs to be a couple of caveats:

  1. I have not posted up my training details fully before for several reasons, one of which is that I really am nothing special in the running world.  Please do not take me now doing so as any delusion of grandeur!  It's just that I am unusual in my approach (higher mileage) and am now doing ultras; I myself have scoured the web looking for all the information that would help me cover a ridiculous 100 miles as quickly as possible.  I will approach it my way and I am aiming to be fairly competitive - I'm not looking to simply complete a challenge in the middle of the pack.  So any reader can, like me, look back at what I have done in training, how I have performed in races and learn what they can from it.  Even if it is a case of learning not to do this or that, it has been a productive exercise.
  2. I do not ever want the pressure of getting my training up on a weekly or bi-weekly basis routinely.  My life is not conducive to that right now (for many reasons). 
So what I am going to do is put the training up, sometimes more detailed and sometimes less so, but it will all be there.  However, it will be posted sporadically - I may go for a month or more without posting it, I may do it weekly or I may have a great session and post up just a few days after my last "point in time" post.

I would love to be able to see Ryan Hall's training log for the 12 months leading up to this race!

If you read it and if it is helpful, do let me know, either in the comments below, on Facebook or privately.  If nobody says they want to see it I may not bother. But, like I said, I love reading this kind of stuff from others, and there must be others like me out there.

So, 16 days into 2013, I better get on with the first update...

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

The ABCs of race prioritising

There is something special for a runner when he or she pins a number on.  It's as if our VO2 max increases, our lactate threshold rises and our endurance extends all with that simple act.  But all races are not equal.

We all have our own various ways of categorising races; ways of delineating their priority in comparison with each other.  Some people have "A" races and "B" races (most common), others do it somewhat differently.  What I want to share with you is my own form of categorisation that I use.


An "A" race is one of the big ones.  Typically there will only be a few of these each year/season. If you have 10-12 "A" races, then they are probably not "A" races. These are the big few - the ones that really matter.

The way I approach an "A" race is that, when planning my training for the days preceding the race, I ask myself: "Will this help me race better on the big day?"  If the answer is "yes" then that is how I will train.  Other considerations such as maintaining fitness, acheiving mileage goals and looking ahead to future races all become irrelevant.  The only thing to consider is how to be the best you can be on race day. Ultimately, we are talking about the tricky topic of tapering (one for a future post, no doubt) - that act of resting up to get the body ready to rumble without resting so much as to lose fitness and perform less well.  However you do it, the goal is to be ready to perform as well as you can on race day.

Practically speaking, in my case, I'd be careful not to rest to much. I've learnt over the years that my body thrives on plenty of easy miles and so I'd not drop the mileage too much.  I would ease back on both the intensity and the duration of any hard workouts.  But, as I said, more of that in a post on tapering some day.

Now if we drop down to "C" races, these are the races that are more like workouts.  The results don't really matter so much, they are there to see your progress, to assess your fitness or simply to get a decent workout in.

The way I approach "C" races is that, when planning my training for the days preceding the race, I ask myself: "Will this detract from the bigger goals?" If the answer is "yes" then I accept that I may not do as well as I could in the race but I keep my eyes on the prize: the future "A" races.  I will continue to train with the big goals in mind and treat the "C" races more like a workout.

Lydia enjoying the local road relays (a bunch of C- races) for the fun of it!

Practically speaking, I would rest up for a "C" race in a similar way that I would for a decent workout.  For example, tonight is my first race of the year: a 10km on a closed circuit cycle track and most definitely a "C" race.  I have been working on increasing my speed endurance at faster paces in training and this is a chance to see how I am getting on.  So, if tonight were a track session, I would be doing my easy "double" recovery run in the morning (I usually do it in the evening) for 5-7M.  Tonight is a "C" race so this morning I did an easy recovery run of 5-7M. Simple.

"B" races are trickier.  You have to walk that middle ground between "A" races and "C" races.  They are more important than "C" races and you want to be more rested up, get a clearer picture of your form and perform better.   But they are less important than "A" races and you don't want to risk losing fitness and detract too much from the greater goals.

Tim racing himself into shape with a B- 10km a few years ago

Practically speaking, training before an "A" race can change a typical training routine for a week or, occasionally, even 2 or 3 weeks while, as we have seen, a "C" race does not affect it at all.  For  a "B" race I would adjust training for just 1 day typically; 2 days maximum.  My sons and youngest daughter are racing with me tonight and for them this same race is a "B" race, but perhaps closer to "C" than "A".  So they all had an easier day's training yesterday so that they come into this race a little bit fresher.  In comparison, yesterday I did a total of 22.5M in two runs and even did some weights too. No resting up for "C" races!

The extremes: A+ and C-

You can, of course, continue to distinguish races even within those three main categories; as I said, the kids' race tonight is close to a "C" than an "A" and so we could split "B" races into "B+" and "B-".  The "B+" races would be the 2 day adjustment races typically and the "B-" races would be the 1 day adjustment ones, though this of course would be affected by training, fitness and other factors.

The other two further distinctions that I find handy are at the extremes: "A+" and "C-" races.  For me, tonight is definitely a "C-" - I opted for the longest option for my morning run and, when the rare opportunity arose, squeezed in a bonus weights session yesterday without a care for the race ahead of me.  It is a glorified workout with the benefit of the competition, the timing and the all the small scale pomp of number pinning and the like.

The ultimate goal is the "A+" race.  You only get one per year. if you have two then at least one of them, truth be told, is an "A" race.  It is the "big dance"; it is what you are thinking of each training session; it is what gets you out the door when you are tired and it is dark, cold and wet; it is what you dream about; it is what all the training is working towards. It is D day.
Nailing the big one: winning my A+ race of 2005, the North Downs 30K

Summary and Conclusion

So here is the summary of my categorisation of races:
A+  - one race - all year works towards this big goal
A    - 3-5 races max - you turn up tapered and ready, adjusting the training wherever necessary to ensure that you do.
   - races you want to do well in and allow modest training adjustments so that you get a good result; B+ races will have more training adjustment, sacrifice to the "A" race goals and resting than B- races.
C   - the "filler" races that you do to test yourself without any major alteration from the training plan.
C-  - glorified workouts with numbers, timing and more company than usual.

The advantage of thinking to this degree about race categorisation is that you ensure that you are forced to consider why you are racing, what you hope to acheive and what you are (or are not) prepared to sacrifice for it.

I will be referring back to this post throughout the year as we do our races.

And, in case you wondered, my A+ race is the North Downs 100M in August :)

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Running with the Elite #1

I have titled this post somewhat optimistically; I may never get the chance to go and train with an elite runner ever again, but in this crazy sport you never know. 

Think about it for a minute: if you were a keen football ("soccer" to my friends acroos the pond) player / fan you couldn't send a quick email over to Lionel Messi and ask to join him for a training session if he was travelling locally.  Even in the wonderful world of running where you can run in the same race on the same roads at the same time as the Paula Radcliffes and Haille Gebresellasies of the world, it would be very unlikely that they'd let you pop over for a training session.  But in the small but rapidly growing pond of ultra running we seem to have this unusual privilege for a little while longer...

I was continuing in my quest to try and catch up on the past episodes of the wonderful podcast that is Talk Ultra and in one of the first few episodes there was a mention of Nick Clark's blog.  For those who don't follow ultra running so keenly, Nick Clark is one of the top 100M trail runners out there.  The Anton Krupickas and Geoff Roes of the ultra world are more well-known but at the "big dance" (the Western States 100) there is nobody who has been more consistent in recent years. Anton and Geoff raced spectacularly to 1st and 2nd in 2010, ever immortalised by the outstanding documentary "Unbreakable", with a dehydrated Kilian Jornet behind them in 3rd.  Just seconds behind Kilian in 4th (having caught and passed him shortly before the finish, only for Kilian to surge again) was a barely mentioned Nick Clark.  Kilian returned to win in 2011, Geoff dropped out, Anton never made the start line and Nick improved to 3rd.  Just 3 weeks later he also placed 3rd at the ridiculously tough Hardrock 100.  When the course records were shattered in 2012 (Tim Olsen getting the men's, Ellie Greenwood the women's and Dave Mackey the Masters/Veterans), Kilian, Anton and Geoff were not there, but Nick was 3rd again.  Add in a win on another grand slam 100M trail race (Wasaach 100 in 2010) and, even without all the other multiple wins and podium placings at significant races, you have one of the greats in the sport today.

So, anyway, when I heard mention of Nick's blog, I looked it up and was surprised to see pictures of him racing our nearest Park Run in Whitstable.  Although he is based in Colorado, he is actually a Brit who married an American and returns at Christmas to visit his family in Canterbury.  A polite email or two later, with reassurances of my running ability and that I wouldn't slow him down too much on a shorter, easy run, he had kindly agreed to run with me the following morning.  Needless to say I was as excited as a kid at Christmas!

Nick was a great guy and very welcoming.  We ran an easy 10M on the trail down to Whitstable and back and from the first few metres I asked a multitude of questions and delighted in hearing all the wisdom he had to share. We talked about the sport, the elite runners, how to train, nutrition, his sponsorship (Pearl Izumi), his racing plans, the future of the sport and my summer ultra plans.

It was one of those occasions where time just flies past way too quickly: I was shocked when it was time to turn and head back.  I learnt more in that short run than hours of perusing all the available information on the internet would have garnered; such is the way with spending time in the company of an expert who is passionate in his expertise.

But more than anything I came away from our brief meeting with great confidence.  He assured me of all I was doing right, corrected a couple of things I was about to do not-so-right and spoke confidently of what I might accomplish in my first ultras this coming summer.

No doubt I could have picked up most of the information he gave me from a decent book or on the web, but none of that can substitute for the kind of interaction we had on the trail that day.  And the spring in my step, the growing optimism and the determination to train to the best of my potential that have developed in the days since are priceless.

Thanks, Nick!

New Year Running Resolutions

So, apologies for the long break from blogging, but here we are in a new year: 2013 has arrived!

I find myself in decent shape and hopeful of further improvements.
Despite having lost my trademark optimism in every other area of life, and despite never having had a running year that has been even close to smooth sailing, I feel illogically and relentlessly optimistic with regards to my running in the next 12 months.
The big goal this year is to enter, boldly, bravely and brilliantly (if at all possible), into the world of ultras.  For many years (on and off) I have been a high mileage guy and I seem to get better as the distance gets longer.  I should have run ultras years ago, but the inevitable cannot be postponed any longer.

You, like me, probably have your own goals and resolutions for the coming year of running.  I'd be interested to read yours if you want to post them in the comments below; here are mine:

  1. Don't get injured.
  2. Run 6000 miles in total.
  3. Successfully complete my first ultras (South Downs 50M in April, North Downs 50M in May, North Downs 100M in August). Would ideally like to be relatively competitive in the second two.
  4. Set PBs at all distances from 5K to Half Marathon - in particular I want to crack 75min for the half. I would like a marathon PB towards the end of the year too ideally, but I have no idea what kind of state I'll be in after the 100 miler.
  5. Get at least 5 people running regularly for the first time.
  6. Help coach, to some degree or other, at least 5 people to their best ever running.
  7. Help pace/crew someone in their ultra race at least once.
  8. Help get my wife, Jenny, healthy enough to run, and enjoy, a decent half marathon.
  9. Help my family to enjoy their running and fulfill their potential, running with them more often, putting aside my own immediate goals so that they can have my company as they pursue theirs.
  10. Finish a race in first place (equal), arm in arm with my wonderful son, Timothy.
 Some big ones and truly tough ones there; we'll see how it goes.

And, as a bonus, here are my 11yr old daughter Lydia's goals.
She has, after about a year's break, really got back into her running since the summer. Not quite back to her best from 2011 (83min 10M; sub40min 5M; low 23min 5K), but getting close. Here are the goals she has chosen for her running in 2013:
  1. Keep her daily running streak going (ongoing since August 23rd).
  2. Run 2000 miles total for the year - almost 6M per day average.
  3. Break 80min for 10M, 45min for 10K and 21min for 5K.
  4. Run 15M non-stop
  5. Be relatively competitive in her first ever Kent XC league races at the end of year.
  6. Beat all Daddy's old school friends at the 10K in May.

If she does even a fraction of all that then she's a total legend in my book!