"The goal is to become the unique, awesome, never to be repeated human being that we were called to be." -Patricia Deegan

Saturday, February 21, 2015

All the Advice You'll Ever Need

Now that I've got your attention.

I'll admit that this probably isn't all the advice you'll ever need. But it's most of it :)

Over the past couple years, I've been receiving increasing numbers of emails from runners far and wide, some I've never even met, asking me for training and race preparation advice as they embark on a journey towards an ultramarathon. I finally thought it's time to try to summarise what I think are the gems I've learned over the years. Hopefully you, the reader, will find at least one pearl of help in here for yourself.

How many miles should I run per week? 

Don't neglect the power of resting on the sofa sometimes!
Sure, I could just say "It depends." On your prior history of running, injury history, experience, current fitness, time commitments, stress levels....but let's keep it simple. The take home message is "Run as many miles as your body says you can without breaking." BEWARE THE ONLINE TRAINING PROGRAM. I bounced off injuries for a couple years trying to run 100km/weeks and back-to-back long runs on weekends when my body clearly hadn't made the necessary musculoskeletal adaptations to tolerate it. I won the 6 Inch Trail Marathon some years ago on a max week of 85km. And I didn't sit at that week after week, either. The first time I ran that race, in 2008, I did it on 65km weeks, as that's what I could fit in my schedule and run without breaking. By 2010, I was able to do ONE peak week of 100km building to races such as the Sri Chinmoy 24hr (200.886km run) and the Moe 6hr (70.4km run).

How long should my longest run be? Should I do/change/increase speedwork?

The adage of Easy-Hard is often applied to weekly training. Run easy one day, then do speedwork (very roughly, we could lump them all: tempo, interval, fartlek) the next. The Easy-Hard principle makes good sense. I think it can also be applied to back-to-back long runs, too. Just because a 5 hour run is done at an easy pace does not mean it's an easy run. It needs to be put in context. If you run 4 hour runs all the time, maybe it is indeed easy. And if the day before and day after you run 10 or 15km (or not at all), maybe it is indeed easy. But if you run a 4 hour run and then wake up the next day to run another 4 hour run, can that second run REALLY be called easy? Only if it really feels bloody easy to you - and not to anyone else or any program's advice. That second run might really be a hard run.
Barefoot beach running. One man's easy, another man's hard.

But I heard one should learn to run on tired legs!

I can't swallow this logic. Should I eat 2 greasy burgers and some hot chips before a 5k race, so that I can learn to run with nausea? (Because I surely might have nausea during my ultra.) Should I run with knee pain in training, as I might get knee pain during an ultra?

Tired legs equals bad form. If I've got no glutes left, my adductors and other smaller muscles, tendons, and ligaments are going to have to start doing more work than they are meant to. That is an injury in the making.

I think this statement could be useful to the development of a mind state - to toughening up the mind to run with a tired body. Well, if you need to toughen up your mind, I'm sure we can come up with options that don't require a leg injury to get you there! How about running early in the morning on a cold rainy day? Or late afternoon on a hot, humid day after work? That will develop mental toughness! :)

Perhaps a person could practice somewhat to run on "tired legs," but should probably do said run alone, so that you can really be aware of your running form and keep consciously reminding yourself (hips forward, activate the glutes, don't slouch, pick up your feet).

Should I run 7 days/week? Should I have 1 rest day? Can I run an ultra if I can only run 4 times per week?

I recently heard a saying, though can't find the original source to attribute it: "Optimal stress plus optimal rest equals optimal progress." This is somewhat akin to the easy-hard principle. If the idea of "rest" sounds like "slacker" and puts your brain into meltdown, change the term. Call it a "recovery day" or a "consolidation week." This is when your gains are made, when muscle fibres knit themselves back together stronger and fresh oxygenated blood comes into your ligaments and tendons.
Track kms, including elevation if you're doing hilly stuff. Hills add to load.

So it's never possible to say everyone should run 6 days per week or that 4 days per week is enough. It's relative to your individual body and to your individual lifestyle. Back in 2009, I was often running just three times per week. More running means more maintenance. Once you up the running mileage, you'd better add in 10% of that additional running time for icing, rolling, massage, and stretching! (As well as extra showers and laundry loads!)

For an ultramarathoner, I think the essential base comes from two key sessions. One long run on the weekend and one mid-week 1.5 hour easy paced, preferably hilly (trail) run. Get those done. And build sessions into the week around those, using all the tips above, including the "easy-hard" principle.

Can I backup one race with another very quickly? There's "This Other 50/100km Race" just two weeks after "That Special 50/100km Race"....

Greedy, greedy, aren't we at times? :)

In most cases, the answer is no. What if it's three weeks between events? Usually, no. Unless your body is really well adapted to racing ultra distances, you will not have recovered in time. You might feel great for 20k, but then almost surely the wheels are going to fall off magnificently.

If your body is adapted to ultras, if you track your resting heart rate and can see it's come back down to its low normal, and probably if you didn't race the first race in an all-out best effort, you might be able to "capitalise" on your fitness and get another race in so close. But if you ran your best effort in race #1, don't expect that your endocrine system and tendons have finished their internal mop up job, just because you think you "feel fine" running an easy 15k around the local lake.

How should I pace myself for this ultra I'm doing?
Don't take too much from the token jar at once!

I read a great tip from a 10k to half marathon runner in R4YL magazine a couple years ago (can't remember who it was, unfortunately). She said that at the half way point, she should not yet be struggling or feeling it's too hard, or she's in big trouble. An ultra is quite similar. You shouldn't be going so fast that when you reach halfway, you're already in Hurtsville. Conversation pace. You should be able to sing the national anthem easily in the first third of the event (if you know your national anthem, that is!) Your pace will slow, that's inevitable, so don't think to try to keep it even. But similarly, don't think you can "bank" time for later. The faster you remove your "tokens" from the "energy" jar in the first part of the race, the fewer tokens you have left at the end. Expect a hard physical start to equate to a hard mental - and slow physical - finish. More even splits are proven winners.

When should I do my longest run for this ultra?

Five weeks out is pretty standard. Go further out - closer to eight weeks, if you feel you're pushing your boundaries and/or are prone to injury. This will give you a good couple weeks to rest any niggles without feeling the pressure of the race looming.

How do I prevent injury?
Food to refill muscle glycogen after a night run - setting up for the next run

Other than adhering to the above related to taking recovery days, doing mileage your body can cope with, and such, I attribute my injury-free state the past three years (no injury since Nov 2011 compartment syndrome during the Bibbulmun FKT) to: (1) healthy diet, including anti-oxidants (just think fresh fruit and veg, lots of colours - that keeps it simple) and daily anti-inflammatories (e.g., avocado, Udo's Oil, chia, and salmon if you're a fish-eater) (2) weekly massage (twice weekly if things are getting out of hand), (3) ice baths (optimal temp about 13 degrees, not freezing) and ice cup massage on lower legs/shins (technique described elsewhere in my blog), (4) strength work (e.g., core work, glute strength exercises), (5) biweekly (or more) sports chiropractic (this is more than just "cracking your back" in case you've never been), (6) planned rest/recovery months into each year (I usually plan two).