Friday, 30 September 2011

change of plan - a winter WHW

I was writing a comment on SteveQ's blog the other day when I realised my comment could equally apply to my circumstances, in more ways than I intended it.

It was about flexibiltity within training programmes i.e. changing things around. So now instead of aiming to gung-ho a medium length ultra, I'm going to give myself a meater challenge to take some memories from.

I'm planning to do the West Highland Way, starting the evening of Friday Dec 9th. I know that most of this will be done under the hours of dark so i really don't know what time to aim for. I would say that my fitness could get me in anywhere between 20 - 24hrs but thats under summertime conditions.

Well it is what it is. My reasoning?
I'm very comfortable with the progress I'm making - the likes of which I have never before witnessed. Therefore, I'm 100% confident of my standing within medium length ultra's and am equally confident that I have amassed enough information in a bid to peak and train properly for a race like the Devil' or the Fling'. Thus, I feel I would simply reinforce this belief come December should I run one of these type of ultra's.

Instead; what about pushing the boundaries a bit? There are supplementary reasons for me wishing to do this. My final year of my degree is next year. It's where all the marks are so I really need to knuckle down. I have found out this year that I cannot fully focus on running and studying. Sure, if they were the only things going on it'd be a squiz but my wife and kids need some time too, thankfully.

Also, if things go to plan I'll get the operation I need on my posterior impingement early next year. This means that not only will I be out of running action for a while but I'll have a ready made excuse to crack on with the studying.

So if I get this winter WHW under my belt, I feel that it will really set me up for the lengthy lay off that I will be forced to take in 2012.

I've already recruited vehicle support and a couple of mates have even said they'll run the whole thing with me. Debs has said she'll spot me on some sections too. This women is really concreting her legendary status in my eyes! I know that running in the dark will pose a few problems but I've done a fair bit of night nav' in years gone by. Besides, I'm going to cover the whole of the way between now and December in a bid to leave no stone unturned!!

Now all I need is this unseasonal warm weather to continue through to December 11th, please.......

Monday, 19 September 2011

End of Base Training; the experiment continues.......

I suppose to start this it might be useful to give some facts and figures.

At the end of previous base training phases my pace has been as follows;
·         Long Slow Distances (LSD) = 9:20min/miles
·         Up Tempo (UT) = 8:10min/miles
·         Submaximal (SM) = 7:10min/miles (without a 17lb pack on)

At the end this base training phase my pace has averaged;
·         LSD = 8:20min/miles
·         UT = 7:10min/miles
·         SM = 7:10min/miles (with a 17lb pack on). I haven’t done any SM training runs without a pack on.

It is now important to point out a few things;
1.    Any base training done in the past wasn’t carried out with the focus I have now. It was more intended to pre-empt my next phase of training which was always in the hills.
2.    I never paid too much attention to my pace in the past (refer to No.1) but I did occasionally record my times so that I had a rough guide to any improvements being made – hence my comparisons above.
3.    I now wear a Heart Rate Monitor (HRM) for most of my runs. It’s the cheapest one I could find and only tells me what my HR is whilst training. I don’t think you need to know much more than that as you can often work out your pace when you’ve finished, if you know the distance you’ve run.
4.    As I moved home earlier this year, the rural roads I run on are on different terrain i.e. inclines and declines. This may account for a slight difference in pace. That said, overall I think they’re pretty similar.

There is some truth in that but to counter it I would say that I’m a decent fell runner. My legs seem more efficient going up and down hills and I get more out of them in the hills than I do running on roads and trails. But until I can get my injury operated on I am prevented from doing the type of running I love and am most suited too. So that combined with the information I have learnt post Fling has led me to this training program. I have always viewed my all-round running as quite weak so took this opportunity as good a time as any to iron out any niggles. Hopefully, from what I have recorded so far, I am progressing well.

Base training philosophy
The idea held by many is that in base you should run at a low intensity; the quantity and duration of those workouts is dependent on your ability and experience. This is designed to improve your aerobic ability, muscular endurance and tolerance to exercise.

I have a slightly different idea. I believe you should include one very difficult session per week in your base training and this should be as far away from your LSD as possible. Therefore my SM session is always done on a Wednesday and my LSD on a Saturday. I have explained my reasoning for this in the previous post.

However, I also think you can separate base training into 2 phases. The first would be the type of training you would do if you were returning from injury or a long layoff i.e. anything that gets the heart pumping and helps to lose that bit of extra weight you may have picked up. This phase should also be about strengthening the specific muscles that will be used a lot in later training. Flexibility also needs to be prioritised. By doing these things you get back into the habit of regular training but without the guilty complex you might get for missing the odd session.

Base 2 is probably what I started in about 8 or 9 weeks ago and I imagine is what most people will get into when maintaining a reasonable level of health and fitness without really focussing on any specific type of training.   

Before I point out what I have observed so far it might be useful to recap on the aim of my training program;
1.    To run a 43mile ultra on xmas eve, this year. This will be a combination of rural back roads (27miles) and mountain bike trail (16miles at Ae forest).
2.    To be methodical in my observations. By doing so it is hoped they will help me to avoid overtraining.
3.    And therefore complete the program to give myself the best time possible for my ultra which will then be used to benchmark my future.
4.    And finally to ensure I cope with my injury and make it no worse.

What have I found out? I hope that some of this will be of use to anyone reading this as it is also quite useful to me.
1.    My Resting Heart Rate (RHR) dropped fairly quickly; part of the process to avoid overtraining is observing my RHR. It started at 45 and within 5 weeks had dropped to 41. However, at around the same time I started revising for my exams and my RHR started spiking. One morning it was 49, the next 51, the next 47. I was quite alarmed by this and altered the training accordingly. As said in an earlier post the lowest my RHR has been is 38. By the time I get round to doing the UTMB I would hope to go beyond this. I have not recorded my RHR since then but will resume soon.
2.    I have IBS. Around the same time as my RHR started going off the chart I was getting some very sore stomach problems so when I went to see the doc, he suggested it might be IBS. You may recall that I moved home earlier this year so I have a different GP now. Quite how this has never been suggested before to me is unbelievable considering the problems I’ve had with my stomach over the last 15 years. I have been operated on twice, had all sorts of blood and stool samples taken, things put where things aren’t meant to go, regular tummy pains especially in the middle of the night and had some issues when trying to run long distances. There are no less than 7 different types of IBS. I will write a post soon on how I plan to deal with this inconvenience.
3.    Stress plays a big part in preventing you from reaching your intended targets. When stressed you carry tension in your muscles without knowing it. When trying to juggle many balls in the air and under stress your mind and body take a bigger drain than would do otherwise – see Nos 1 & 2 above for proof. What I noticed is that for the same Heart Rate effort my pace declined over those weeks. For example, my easy/recovery runs are done at around 141bpm or about 67% of maximum HR; before I started getting stressed I was down around 8min/miles but more recently have been up at around 8:30min/miles. This might look like fatigue and in one sense it is. Essentially I believe the fatigue was more mental than physical. I will put this theory to the test over the next few weeks now that my exams are over and I have no studying to do until mid December. This is another reason for doing my ultra when I have planned it i.e. so that my most intense training is done without the studying looming over me.
4.    Recovery is absolutely critical. After my Wednesday night session and Saturday session I tend to really focus on recovery – again I have outlined how I do this in my previous post. What I have found is that within 2 days I am able to go for it again. However, about 2 and a-half weeks ago I sprained my ankle half way round my 4 mile SM run. I was in a lot of pain and had to abort the rest of the run to hobble home. When I got home I found we had unexpected visitors. This meant I was unable to get stuck into my recovery process. By the time they left and I had helped the missus with the kids my recovery was non-existent. Besides the sprain I had muscular pain for almost 4 days i.e. double the amount of time than I am used too. Clearly this is very important if you wish to fulfil all of the rigours within your program.
5.    With regards the leg weights I increased the weight by about 50% after a couple of weeks. I felt it was too easy so increased the weight to what is just about manageable. One thing about the leg weights though; I’m not sure where I would be if I didn’t do them. For example, would I be a quicker runner? The reason they’re in the program is because I always did them to build my legs up for the rigours of the hills. However, I’m not fell running any time soon! One day I might be brave enough to take these out of my program but for the time being as I fully intend on being a good fell and ultra runner, they’re staying.
6.    My injury (posterior impingement) is holding up well. I am a firm believer in compression socks as to date I have had no Achilles niggles whatsoever. I think the Hoka’s have done the trick too. What I have noticed with regards differences in recovery from fell running and long distance road running is that the legs seem to recovery much quicker from a session in the hills. Now that I run long distances on the road with Hoka’s recovery has been similar to that experienced when coming off the hills. I understand the need for minimalist running but think that my injury wouldn’t hold up to this right now. That said, it will be one of my aims in the future to do at least one minimalist run per week in a bid to strengthen the muscles and structure of the feet – but this is a long way off. Hopefully I’ll get operated on next year whilst in the final year of my honours degree (distance learning) which means I’ll be in rehab for most of the year. Then in 2013 I will pick up from where I left off this xmas eve and start with maybe the Paddey Buckley Round with my mate Rob.

So to close then, I’ve got a few more things up my sleeve. To highlight why this is important please refer to the pace I am now running at; (A quick reminder)
At the end this base training phase my pace has averaged;
·         LSD = 8:20min/miles
·         UT = 7:10min/miles
·         SM = 7:10min/miles (with a 17lb pack on)

This is eerily close to my best recorded pace, post previous intensity training;
·         LSD = 8:20min/miles
·         UT = 7:10min/miles
·         SM = 6:10min/miles (without a 17lb pack on)

Looking at this it might look like I’ve peaked already but I strongly feel that there is a lot left in the tank. I aim to get the most out of my training by employing the various techniques that I have discussed in previous posts and by modifying things slightly to increase the overall mileage and pace. There are also a couple of other minor things that I am going to add to my training routine;
·         Beetroot juice: I am going to take 250ml of this 60mins before I do my SM and LSD workout. Apparently this can provide you with as much as 20% more efficiency in SM workouts and 10% in your LSD workouts. Time will tell.
·         Cherry Juice: This will be added (2 tablespoons) to my Rego recovery drink after my SM and LSD workouts as it is full of stuff that help rid the body of antioxidants which will therefore help me recovery quicker.
·         Magnesium spray: I will be adding this to my legs pre LSD workouts in a bid to boost efficiency and recovery.

Notwithstanding the above, in the past whenever I moved from base to intensity my pace always picked up. This was, I believe, due to a reduction in the volume of leg weights carried out in base. It will be interesting to see if this pattern continues............

Comments greatly appreciated.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

to pre-empt the next post.........

Over the next week and a half I am sitting my exams. Preparation for this years’ has been exceedingly last minute dot com and maybe if I fail them I’ll have a fantastic reason to stop moaning about them.

My heads still got all this running stuff in it though, so whilst there’s some residue I’m going try and get rid of it here. Essentially I can tell that my next blog is going to be rather lengthy so in a bid to shorten it I am going to put some filler in here.

What follows are details of my base level training. In the subsequent blog post will be my results, findings and recommendations – this will be done after my exams and when I complete base training.

But let’s not forget my goal; I aim to run a 44 miler on xmas eve at a decent tempo. It is this run that will benchmark all future training, events and goals. It is a slight step backwards from where my aspirations were some time ago but as I’ve said before, I strongly believe this is the right approach to take.

In other words, strip training right back to the basics and methodically train so that faults and signs of overtraining are highlighted in good time before they seriously set me back – as has always happened in the past.

Life, as we know, does have its obstacles though. One being the injury I’m carrying; others which are similar to everyone else’s and another I have discovered which I will discuss in the next post.

So onto my own training program; this one is designed to include priorities and non-critical sessions. The reason for doing this is so that I mentally prepare myself to commit to the priorities and also so that I don’t beat myself up so much if I have to give a non-critical session a miss. I have my mate Rob to thank for this ethos.

He witnessed the state of me at the Highlander Mountain Marathon this year after flogging myself half to death for the 25 weeks beforehand. We actually finished day one in 7th place - but to the expense of my injuries. Day 2 was hell on earth. Two weeks later I did the fling! After all that Rob pointed out that someone as dedicated as me didn’t deserve that sort of luck so it was time to work out where I was going wrong once and for all. Hence this blog....

So onto my priorities; they all carry equal weight but are done in isolation. I have given specifics to these items in previous posts, my intention here is to summarise and conclude why they are included.

Priority No1: Leg weights followed by a sub-max run with a weighted pack on.
WHY? This is done to build fatigue resistance and increase my race pace.

Submaximal training is the cornerstone of any training program and is between 85-95% of max heart rate. When one considers that up-tempo running is classified as up to 85% then one understands that training beyond this is quite difficult. However when you understand that it is this element which increases your race pace more than anything else then the effort should be justified.  

You should find it quite difficult to train beyond 85% effort and when you do you need to be really careful with your recovery thereafter. At first you may just be flirting with 85%, 86%, 87% effort but as you progress through the weeks you will manage to train further into this zone. It is up to you how you do it, whether it be intervals or an all out session like I do.

The thing is – there are many people who say that in base you shouldn’t be doing any of this type of stuff. They can say what they want as far as I’m concerned. I don’t consider myself a novice but by the same token I don’t consider myself an Olympian. There’s a lot you can do with this. So in 2011 I run 4 miles with 17llb on my back (after I’ve done a serious leg weights session) – in the first half of 2012 that could go up to 5 miles and then in the second half, 6 miles, I could add more weight to the pack, I could remove some weight and run faster. But for now as I’m only at about 88-89% effort I’ve still got some way to go on my 4 miler (starting to give some details away there). And besides, I’ve got the intermediate stage to come where I’ll want to keep making progress.

Priority No2: Long Slow Distance (LSD).
WHY? This is done to experience the pain, confusion and lethargy associated with running when fatigued – as is often the case with ultras.

Remember, in a training program there is always an element of training with fatigue – you don’t get fitter otherwise. But the importance of the LSD for me is that it helps me with embracing the pain. When it starts I tell myself that it’s good, it’s supposed to feel that way. This is when the journey starts ;-)

Priority No3: Recovery and conditioning.
WHY? Without these sessions my priority sessions would not be as effective.

Conditioning for me is tabbing (fast walking with a 50llb pack on), cross training & core training. Recovery is jogging slowly (at a similar pace to my LSD), stretching, foam roller massage, TENS pain relief and massage, ice applied to major muscle groups, eating sensibly, drinking plenty of fluids and taking supplements.

So a typical week looks like this;
·         Mon: am - conditioning, lunch – recovery
·         Tues: am – conditioning, lunch – recovery, now an up-tempo session due to being in the last few weeks of base.
·         Wed: am – conditioning, pm – leg strength followed by 4 miler with 17llb pack on at sub-max pace followed by 1 mile cool down jog followed by recovery. I will typically spend a full 2-3 hours in total for this session.
·         Thur: am – conditioning, lunch – recovery
·         Fri: am – conditioning, lunch – recovery, now an up-tempo run.
·         Sat: LSD followed by recovery
·         Sun: conditioning for min 60mins

In the grand scheme of things I actually run very little. There’s a lot more I could do – and that is in the pipeline. Put it this way if I’m going to do the UTMB in under 30hrs (I’ve got 2018 in my head) I strongly believe I will need to be capable of living with much more training. But that’s a long way away – I still have many hoops to jump through before then. But I know that the more training one exposes themselves to, the bigger challenges they are capable of completing – especially for events such as the UTMB which have a cut-off-time for completion.

In about three weeks I aim to make the progression from base to intermediate. In that phase I will attempt to increase the overall mileage and pace. I will manage this by reducing the leg weights to half of what I do now and by introducing a Plyometrics session per week – oh and obviously by continuing to increase the length of the LSD.

I am also toying with the idea of running a half marathon on the 25th Sept. Obviously I haven’t trained for this and I won’t be tapering for it. I would intend on replacing my LSD for that weekend with the race. It would also be my intention to run it at around an 85% effort until I get to mile 10 and then let loose. This is in contrast to how I have ran these in the past where I have ran myself ragged and then crawled in for the last 3 miles. My pb is 1:28 but that was when I was a stone and a half to 2 stones lighter so I’m really not sure what to expect from myself. The last half I did was done in 1:38 and that was with next to zero training!

Anyway, hopefully my next insert will be quite lighter due to this interlude........