The sub 3 hour marathon training plan

With the 2014 Gold Coast Marathon fast approaching (13 weeks away), it’s time I mapped out a marathon training plan. The goal is simple: a sub 3 hour marathon. In theory, this is achievable based on last November’s 5km time of 17:50, and 2012’s half marathon time of 1:22 - the McMillan calculator has me running between 2:53 and 2:54. But as last year’s 3:38 detonation proved, there will be no sub 3 hour marathon without some serious training. Cue the marathon training plan!

I’ve looked at three different plans, each quite different from the other. Here’s a summary of them:

1. The Gold Coast Airport Marathon’s own (2009) Advanced 20 week plan. 

Up until a couple of years ago, entering the GC Marathon would give you access to a suite of Pat Carroll designed training plans in PDF format – beginner, intermediate and advanced – across the marathon, half marathon and 10km distances. 

GCM advanced plan

The “Advanced” plan has you running 5 days a week. There’s typically two speed sessions, one long session and the other two sessions are easy runs. The long run builds to 3 hours at 6, 5 and 4 weeks out, and then tapers down. It is periodised with a recovery week roughly every 4 weeks. There’s the option of doing a race in place of the long run on the weekend before the recovery week.  Volume-wise, it peaks at about 7 hours per week, which (depending on pace) is probably around 85km per week.

I really like the balance of this plan, and had great success using the half-marathon plan. My only complaint is that it is completely generic and doesn’t take your target race time into consideration. For example, the long runs are all done at “Comfortable” (conversational) pace. If I don’t have someone to chat with (and for most of the long runs I won’t), that pace could be tricky to judge. I’d like to target a specific pace range, and perhaps even have that pace vary during the run (it might increase in thirds, or have some faster intervals within it). 

2. The MyAsics Website

This year the Gold Coast Marathon provides targeted training plans through the MyAsics website. You tell them what event you want to do, and what your current PB is over any distance, and it generates a 14 week plan for you. It took a few attempts before I found the right PB to generate a 2:54 marathon plan (that ought to give me enough of a buffer). 

Myasics plan

There’s a lot to like about this plan. You can choose whether to run 2, 3 or 4 days a week, and you can move the run days (which suits me as I like to run my long run on Saturday, and most plans do it on Sunday). Each week there tends to be 1 or 2 easy jogs, 1 or 2 fast runs and one long run. Each run has a target pace, and sometimes the pace is mixed up during the run. My favourite feature is the ability to import the plan into your calendar (by subscribing to an ICS) so I don’t have to manually enter the runs each week, and I don’t have to keep going back to the website! (you can print it too).

The plan is not obviously periodised but there are a couple of easier weeks in there. The long run builds quite sharply (in 5-7km increments) to a peak of 37km at 3 weeks out – and that’s run at a cracking 4:11 min/km pace. That’s 2:56 marathon pace, and would leave you 25 mins to cover the last 5.2km for your sub 3 hour marathon… in training!!. Volume-wise it peaks at 57km per week.

My concern with this plan is twofold. First, the short runs are too short: two of the four weekly runs are 5km jogs. Who runs 5km?!? My second concern is the aggressiveness of the long run build-up. I’m not sure my legs can handle such a fast increase, nor sustain the pace required through the final month. BUT, if they did, the sub 3 hour marathon would be a shoo-in!

3. Runners World “SmartCoach” plan

The SmartCoach training plan is a customisable 16 week plan which is keyed off your current PB time. Plugging in an 18 min 5km generates a plan for a 2:50 marathon. It has you running 4 days a week, and again you can set your long run day, and also your initial weekly mileage (I went for 58-66km). As with the MyAsics plan, the four runs tend to be two easy runs, one tempo/speedwork, and one long run. You can print the plan (I print to PDF) so you don’t have to go back to the website. If you pay them some dosh, you can get more features.

Smartcoach plan

The plan is periodised with an easier week every 4 weeks. The runs all have pace targets, but the long runs are all run at the same pace – 4:35 min/km – which is also the pace for the easy runs. This is very similar to the Pat Carroll plans, except “Comfortable” has been defined as a set pace. The long run peaks at 32km on four occasions at 3, 5, 7 and 10 weeks out from the race; at the prescribed pace, this is roughly 2.5 hours long. Volume-wise it peaks at 74km per week.

Which Plan?

three cup trickNone of the plans are quite what I’m after. There are two areas where they don’t quite deliver.

The first area is volume. Last year I increased my weekly volume from my typical 40-60km per week up to 80-100km. This coincided with me setting my 5km PB, and led to me comfortably completing my first ultra-marathon. I concluded that running more is better. But to temper this, I tried to run every day for 100 days and broke down with a calf injury after 35. I concluded that recovery is important. So I’d like to increase my run volume up to 80km per week, but still include plenty of recovery days.

The second area is variety - specifically, my current fortnightly crop of trail running, hill running and track running. These sessions don’t really fit into any of these plans, but they are a regular routine, one that I enjoy, and one that I want to keep doing after this marathon is over, so I’d like to fit them in somehow. 

Prior to doing this analysis, I’d spent a week on the MyAsics plan, and then switched over to the SmartCoach plan for two weeks. Now that I’ve reviewed them, I’m leaning back towards the MyAsics plan, but with modifications:

  • Where it says to jog 5km, I’ll jog 10km (unless I’m feeling weary). That gives me an extra 5-10km per week.
     
  • Some Tuesdays I’ll run track intervals instead of the “10-15km fast”… maybe… those 4 min/km fast runs could be vital to hitting and holding that 4:04 min/km marathon pace in July! 
     
  • When I need some green, I can simply swap one of those Monday/Friday “easy jogs” for an easy trail run
     
  • My Thursday hills run – well, that just doesn’t fit…. BUT I could perhaps incorporate the plan’s “10km fast” as a warm-up for my 10km hills session? That’d be a tough 20km and I’d have to be ready to scratch the hills if they began to compromise my ability to perform the most crucial run every week – the Saturday morning long run.

With the MyAsics plan and these tweaks, I get everything I want: runs with target paces, trail runs, my track sessions, my hills, and an extra 15-20km per week to push the maximum weekly mileage up close to the magic 80km.  If I want more recovery, I can drop the extras and still feel like I’m on plan, and on target!

Lock it in, Eddy!

Lock it in eddie

 

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Watch your Step!

Is your foot landing where you think it is?

Several months ago I made an interesting discovery. I was running a pretty rough trail in Nerang Forest Park. Big loose rocks littered the fire-road, and beneath them were ruts and ridges. I was picking a path two strides ahead – building a semi-smooth map across the landscape – my mind barely able to keep up with my feet.  Anticipating the gaps in the terrain is like Galaga for your feet!

Galaga
Trail running – it’s like Galaga for your feet!

I was a bit rusty at this trail running lark – I hadn’t been running off-road much lately. But I knew from my years as a kid running around the hills up behind our house, that it should feel smooth and fluid. Instead, it felt lumpy and unstable. I was rolling my foot on rocks I hadn’t seen; the feedback from the ground through my shoe described a different terrain to the one I was navigating. It was as if I was running on a different trail to the one I was looking at. Rather than building confidence as the run went on, I was losing confidence – I was slowing down and becoming more cautious.

How had I become so bad at this? A fortnight earlier I’d taken a massive tumble, tripping on a hidden rock going down the Warrie trail. A week before that I’d caught my foot several times running Polly’s Kitchen, but luckily managed to stay upright (a fall down Polly’s is likely a bone-breaker!).

Initially I’d blamed my trail running shoes. My Inov-8 285′s have big protruding lugs, and taper to a slight point (think “ballet”) at the toes. They are a joy to run in – light and flexible,  giving great rock protection underfoot while still allowing me to feel the ground. But every now and then those lugs were catching rocks and sending me plummeting earthwards.

Inov-8 Roclite 285s

But the big lugs and pointy toes couldn’t explain why the smooth patch of ground I was aiming my foot into, felt like a lumpy riverbed when my foot landed. What the hell was going on down there?

And this was the revelation: I decided to look down.

Let’s be clear, looking down while running over uneven ground is not a very smart thing to do. Continue for any period of time and you’ll be inspecting the ground from a lot closer than you intended. But I didn’t need to look for long – I immediately saw the problem: I had no feet. My feet must’ve fallen off several kms earlier and I was now running on raw, bloodied stumps – the protruding bones and mangled flesh struggling to gain any traction on the rocky ground… Ahh the joy of a long run and a wandering imagination!

BACK IT UP!

The problem was far less gruesome: My feet weren’t landing where I was aiming them. They were falling short – several inches short.

To test this, I began picking out rocks ahead, trying to land with my toes just touching them. Every single time my foot would land short of the mark. And the longer the stride, the further short they’d land. My proprioception was screwed!

Proprioception. It’s a fancy word for an ability we all take for granted: knowing where your body parts are without looking at them. Juggling is great proprioception training for your hands. Trail running is great proprioception training for your feet.

Trail running proprioception
Full-flight trail proprioception – Building the map in Numinbah Valley (tongue out helps?)

How had my proprioception gotten so out of whack? Had my hamstrings shortened with age and too much sitting? Was it because I’ve been consciously trying to increase my cadence and therefore shortened my natural stride? Or was it simply a lack of practice?

Just by becoming aware of the problem, it started to rectify itself. Within a kilometre I was able to land my foot pretty close to where I was aiming it. My landing targets were still a bit out when taking a longer stride, or springing over something, but already I could feel the smoothness returning. I could feel the rocks under my feet where I was expecting to feel them! My confidence returned and my speed increased.

Now I make a point of practising foot placement whenever I hit the trails. Aside from less face-plants, I’ve noticed a couple of other benefits. Sometimes my stride will shorten during a run; practising foot placement helps lengthen it back out.  But the biggest win is that concentrating on foot placement (particularly up climbs) distracts me from the pain and effort, and I go faster without realising it! 

So the next time you head out onto a trail, Watch Your Step! You mightn’t be running where you think you are!

Watch your step

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Trails and tribulations with the Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 1.0

As I assemble my trail running gear and reach for a hydration pack, the SJ Ultra Vest presents a conundrum. On one hand, this is simply the most comfortable, lightest and least noticeable pack I’ve owned. But on the other hand, it sputters where it should shine: delivering hydration.

The Perfect Bag?

I bought the SJ Ultra Vest to replace my collection of Camelbaks which all take 2 or 3L bladders and were purchased primarily for mountain-biking. When it came to trail running they were “OK”, but the big Camelbaks were too big (and heavy), and the small Camelbak could carry a cell phone and that’s all. I wanted a bag designed for running – one that could carry 1-2L of water, but also accommodate my minimum trail gear (PLB, phone, first aid kit, survival blanket, pocket knife and jacket), plus have room for a bit more gear if I wanted to run longer and/or colder. The SJ Ultra Vest looked to be the perfect bag.

Front and back of SJ Ultra Vest

Light and Pocket-y

This bag is light and very packable. When my order arrived, I opened the box to see what appeared to be two bottles and a pair of socks – it packs down that small! The SJ Ultra Vest is a feat of design excellence. It has breathable hex-mesh back/shoulder panels, cuben fiber sides, and a stretchy power-mesh back compartment.  

The second thing I noticed is pockets. Millions and millions of pockets. Probably too many pockets to be honest! There’s four pockets for gels, two for bottles, two chest pockets, two side pockets, a waterproof key pocket, another small pocket, a back pocket. The first few times out on the trail,  it’d sometimes take me a few pockets to find what I was looking for. And when I got home from a run, it would take ages to go through all the pockets and unload everything. But hey, better too many pockets than too few, and after a while I got into a routine and knew exactly where things were, and which pockets to unload.

Jiggle, Jiggle, Splosh!

So, Day 1, I loaded it up, and out I went. I love the feel of this backpack! It sits nice and high on your shoulders, leaving your back ventilated and keeping you cool. It carries loads effortlessly and I barely notice it’s there. But, as soon as I started running, those full water bottles, sitting right over my breasts, started to wobble and bounce. It’s an unusual sensation (for a slim-ish guy) to have any weight in that location, and I wondered if  this is what it feels like to run with an ample bossum? Things felt a little… out of control! I really wanted to be able to cinch them down somehow.

A few months later and I’m still not convinced that it’s the right place to carry bottles. The jiggling settles down as the bottles get emptier, but then you’re faced with the other issue this bottle placement raises: the splashing noise. It’s noticeably louder having the bottles sloshing around just in front and under your ears. While you do get used to it, it can detract from the peace and stillness of an early morning trail run.

So…Very…Thirsty!

The SJ Ultra Vest comes with two 600ml “kicker valve” bottles. I’m not a fan of the kicker valve. The first time I went to take a drink, it took me a few minutes to work out that you need to pull the rubber valve out, and then bite the valve a little (but not too much) to get the water flowing. I’m constantly frustrated by the small volume of water that comes out (sometimes you just want a great big mouthful of water!) but I do like the big loop handles on top of the bottles, and I love how easily I can reach the bottles. I experimented with slicing the valve wider, but while that gave great flow, it also led to a leaky valve that showered me with water as I ran! So I’ve swapped off the lids for some Camelbak Podium bottle lids, which have been pretty good.

Leaky valve

I soon found that 1.2L of water is not quite enough. As I was slowly imploding on a hot 3 hour trail run, I realised that I need to be able to carry more water. To date I’ve resolved this by carrying an additional 750ml soft bottle in the back pocket. The bag promises to accommodate a 2L bladder, but I’ve yet to find one short enough to fit inside (it’s quite a short bag and certainly can’t take a standard length Camelbak bladder), and the Ultimate Direction bladder is difficult to source. Also, there is no separate internal pocket for the bladder, so it would have to sit in with your gear, making it difficult to refill.

Is that a House on Your Back?

I’m astounded how much stuff I can fit in this bag. Last month I decided to run the Tongariro Crossing in NZ. Although it was summer, this is an alpine crossing – the temperatures were sub-zero, and the weather forecast was not great. But I was there, and I had a window, so I was going to give it a crack. As I laid my gear out on the bed, I despaired that I’d be able to carry it all:

  • polypro top
  • long-johns
  • warm hat
  • warm gloves
  • wind-proof gloves
  • down jacket
  • waterproof jacket
  • waterproof overtrouw
  • map and compass
  • zip-ties (a throwback to my MTB days where a zip-tie could solve any problem!)
  • lots of bars and gels
  • and the rest of my standard running stuff (PLB etc)

Tongariro gear

Admittedly, I’ve got some very packable versions of these items, but that is still a LOT of gear to fit in a lightweight running pack. Yet the SJ Ultra swallowed the lot – easily – and (most importantly) comfortably! If anything, the bag felt even more comfortable with a full load of gear! Even if there wasn’t going to be rain, I knew there’d be plenty of sweat, so the things I wanted to stay dry (like the down jacket) I packed inside a plastic grocery bag. The rain jacket was attached to the outside via the bungee cords.

I still shake my head in amazement. It was a wonderful feeling to be on top of a mountain in adverse conditions, wearing warm gear, and knowing that, if I had to stop, I had plenty more layers of toasty, windproof gear I could put on. Ahhh, what a bag!

SJ Ultra Vest in action

(action photos courtesy of a car window reflection in the carpark!)

Conclusion

I’m not sure whether I’d recommend the Scott Jurek Ultra Vest or not. The load-carrying performance is phenomenal, and both comfort and quality are outstanding. Unfortunately, the water carrying capabilities don’t quite work for me. I found I like using water bottles, where I can easily see how much is left – but the breast-mount location and feeble kicker valves put me off.

I like this bag enough that I’m going to continue to experiment with it. I’ll try to track down a bladder (I see version 2 of this pack now has a separate bladder pocket), and I’ll also try to find some soft bottles for the front pockets to see if they sit better (and quieter). It’s frustratingly close to being the perfect bag, but its flaws cannot be overlooked!

Tongariro crossing

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100 runs in 100 days

I’m 35 days into my – possibly insane – mission of 100 runs in 100 days.

To qualify as a run it must be either 6km long, or 30 mins – whichever comes first. I’m not worried if it gets split over multiple runs in the same day, although I haven’t done this yet. The idea is to build a habit of running, and to force myself to keep exercising over the Xmas holiday period.

Rocky trails Hemi Matenga

So far it’s been mostly great. I’ve been forced into a few late night head-torch runs, a few soggy runs, and a few headcold runs. But aside from that, I’ve had the opportunity to explore some new trails all over the North Island of NZ. The highlight so far has been an out-and-back run over the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, but I’ve also explored several sections to the Te Araroa Trail (the length of NZ trail) near Kapiti, I’ve found new trails in the hills above Wellington, I’ve run down river to the Huka Falls in Taupo and I’ve circled around and over Mount Maunganui. With another 69 days to go, it’s exciting to think where else I might end up!

The new Strava training log is a very useful tool to monitor progress, with the picture below showing how many kms I’ve run each day (“Look Ma, no gaps!”):

Training log after 28 days

I’m happy to knock out a slow 6km run as a recovery session, but I’ve got to be careful not to fall into the trap of running everything at the same slow mono-pace. It’s a little tricky right now, because the legs rarely feel fresh enough to smash out a tempo session. Once I get back home from holiday, regular 5km parkruns and track sessions will help.

Meanwhile, I’ve somehow got to squeeze 6 hilly trail runs into the next 7 days. I’m not sure that I’ll manage, but it’ll be fun trying. Happy trails!

Emerald lake - Tongariro Alpine Crossing

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Ultramarathon

I went into this race SCARED, so scared that I almost didn’t go into this race at all! The biggest challenge I faced in my maiden 50km race was the mind games that happened before I even got to the start line.

Fighting the fear

It’s typical for me to get nerves in the final week leading up to a race. I’ll sometimes feel a few injury niggles come on, perhaps a head cold will threaten, and excuses why I shouldn’t race will start popping into my head. I’ve found that having a race plan helps reduce my nerves, and come race morning I’ll be pumped and looking forward to it. 

This time was different. This time I wasn’t racing. I was going to treat this as a 50km training run. I hadn’t trained specifically for the distance, but I’d been building my long run up to 3 hours, and three times I’d run 100km weeks. A 50km run might be achievable.

So when the nerves kicked in and I sat down to write my race plan, it all fell apart. My race plans are full of pace targets, time estimates and nutrition schedules. These are all geared to cove rein gthe distance as quickly and efficiently as possible – I immediately started thinking about it as a race and got caught up in planning my perfect 50km. The McMillan Running Calculator (which is accurate for my half marathon time) had me running 50km in 3:30 at 4:12min/km based on my recent 17:50 5km. This would have been 5 mins off the race record!

Mcmillan for 5k

Clearly I wasn’t being realistic about what I could achieve based on the training I’d done, and was setting myself up for a repeat of the Gold Coast Marathon implosion. I had to forget the race plan.  If this was going to be a training run, I needed to go in casually. But would I be able to stay casual once the race started? And more, would I be happy having a slow race against my name? I really needed to get my head around this whole social-racing thing!

Without my race plan blankie, the excuses arose; the niggles too. But this time they seemed very real. I was certain I had some minor injuries which were going to crystallise into “months off running” injuries under the pressure of 50km.

But the biggest obstacle was FEAR – fear of PAIN. The last 6km of the Gold Coast Marathon must have scarred me more than I’d realised.  The thought of putting myself in a situation where I would feel that same 6km of pain, and then an additional 8km of pain, filled me with dread. Yes, I’d made it through last time, BUT I’d had a clear mission: “Complete a Marathon”. Plus, last time I already knew I could run that distance because I’d run it in an ironman. This time I was heading into the unknown. 50km. And why? Without a strong goal, I would falter the minute it got too tough.

Why run 50km?

During the race I asked several people why they were running 50km. For one it was an opportunity to work on her mental toughness. For another it was for the pride of saying he had done an “Ultramarathon”. One guy was taking a break from longer distances!?!  

For me, there was a bit of soul-searching the night before the race. One reason I was doing it, was because it was too good an opportunity to miss – a 50km race covering much of the ground I run on every week, and me probably as run-fit as I’ve ever been with a good, solid month of running behind me. Secondly, I needed to erase the demons of the last 6km at the 2013 Gold Coast Marathon – and the only way I was going to do that was by having a strong finish in a marathon or similar distance. Thirdly, I felt obliged to run it because I’d told people I’d entered. This guilt was the main reason I didn’t withdraw during race week when the injuries were chipping away at me.

But the strong goal, that thing was going to drive me to the finish line, was that I wanted to go under 3 hours at the 2014 Gold Coast Marathon. I figured that running 50km would make 42.2km seem a doddle.

Lying in bed on race night, unable to sleep, I stumbled across my “Bucket List” on my phone. There I saw an entry that resolved my determination: “Run an Ultramarathon”. Game on!

The 50km Race Training Run begins

Race morning was yet another sunny and clear day on the Gold Coast. With a 5am start, temperatures were pleasant, but by mid-morning it would be unpleasantly hot. Clothes would get sweaty and heavy, so tight and grippy was the order of the day.  I made a last minute decision to run with my trusty Fuel Belt, rather than the Ultimate Directions SJ Ultra Vest I’d been using on my trail runs. I wasn’t completely comfortable with the bottles up front (I felt they slowed me down), and I thought a backpack might be a little too hot. Without a pocket that could fit 10 gels, I cut 7 open and pored them into one of the Fuel Belt bottles and tucked an additional caffeine gel into my shirt pocket. As it turned out, the Fuel Belt worked perfectly.

Tight and grippies

Walking breaks

I positioned myself at the back and set off at a very relaxed pace – 5:30-5:45min/km. In training I’d decided that this was my “run all day” pace (well, that was the plan anyway!). The run/walk alert on my watch was set to beep every 4 mins for a 1 min walk. Although I’d trialled this the previous weekend, it hadn’t been a great success and I’d found myself surprisingly spent after just 20km. I’m a big fan of the run/walk approach and have used it in all of my long races – but usually at a 9min/1min ratio. I’d recently read that Galloway reckons shorter, more frequent breaks are better, so I was going to give it a go.
 
But when the watch beeped at 4mins, I didn’t start walking. I was already near the back of the field and didn’t want to have the “tail-end Charlie” bike riding with me. “Next time.” I thought. When the watch beeped at 9 mins, I still didn’t stop. This time there were too many people around me and none of these veteran 50kmers were walking. At 14 mins the watched beeped a third time – just as the 2.5km aid station appeared. I grabbed a drink of water and walked as I drank it, letting the field flow past me. I took my time, emptied my cup, and watched my heart rate drop. “This will be my strategy.” I decided. “I’ll walk the aid stations.”  So I switched off my run/walk alert and walked every 2.5km aid station for the rest of the race (barring the one I missed at 7.5km and the final one at 47.5km).
 

Walking breaks

In total, I walked for almost 17 mins – roughly 1 min per aid station. I also walked all of the hills, but there were only a few little bumps. I ran a near-even split race: it took me 2:22 to get to the 25km turn around, and 2:23 to get back (excluding a 3min walk through the turnaround aid station, where I rather foolishly tackled a mammoth piece of watermelon which refused to go down!). I never timed my walk breaks but I did I occasionally check my walking HR to ensure that it had dropped below 70% of MAX (125 bpm) before I started running again. I felt the walk breaks were pretty consistent, so I was quite surprised to later find that they averaged a mere 30 secs on the way out and stretched out to 70 secs on the way back. I certainly enjoyed the walks on the return leg!

What fun!

This has to be my most enjoyable race, ever!  Yes, the scenery was gorgeous, the weather great, the volunteers friendly and the food and drink plentiful. But the real jewel in this race were the other runners. Everyone was relaxed, friendly and up for a chat. It was like a group training run! Perhaps it was because I was a bit further back in the field where people were more interested in finishing than winning, but I met some lovely people out there and had some very enjoyable conversations. I found myself disappointed when an aid station appeared and my walk break would kill the conversation. But sometimes the person I was chatting with would walk the aid station with me, and if they didn’t, there was inevitably another person to chat with just up the road. I spent the first 35km discussing everything from endurance running to raising children. But then conversations got shorter, faces started to tighten up, and this thing got a wee bit more serious. I had to be content with my own company for the final 15km .

Chatting

What happened to the wall?

Being alone was OK, because I was waiting for “the wall”: that dead-leg feeling and crippling pain that had terrorised my marathon 5 months earlier. From chatting with a few of the seasoned racers, I knew that the two really tough parts of the course would be the hot and airless stretch along Jefferson Lane at around 35km, and then all of Hedges Avenue in the final 5km.  Jefferson came and went and I still felt fine. I was starting to pass more and more people as they faltered, and everyone looked very hot.  I’d barely broken a sweat on the 25km out (I was looking at my skin to see how sweaty it got), but now my pace was a little quicker and I was starting to warm-up. After carrying a full water bottle for the first 35km and not touching it, I began sipping from it between drink stations as I felt thirsty. Following another competitors lead, I stopped at one of the beachside showers and stuck my head under for a minute – it was delightfully cooling and left me feeling refreshed for the next 10 mins (once I’d gotten the salt out of my eyes!).

Finishing strong

42.2km was the next milestone, which I celebrated in exactly 4 hours. Still no wall, and now only 8km to go, all of which was along my weekly run route from Burleigh to Kurrawa. I knew I could run that stretch no matter what, so I suddenly realised that I was actually going to complete this run! It was a bizarre trot to the finish from here, as fading racers got curious looks from beach-goers, joggers and fitness groups. Still feeling strong with one km to go, I couldn’t help myself and strode out to a 4:25min final km (it felt like a sub 4 minute km but the legs were obviously a bit tight by then).

As I hit the finish line I felt a surge of satisfaction:

Ultramarathon? Check!

Finish

Lessons learned

  • I can now trust my gut on nutrition – I  didn’t take any nutrition in the first half but did in the second, and all went well.
  • I took too much stuff for a race with aid stations. I didn’t use any of this stuff in the first 25km! Next time forget the extra gels and suncream; reconsider the iPod; only take one water bottle and leave it empty until required; consider collecting nutrition at the halfway mark. 

    Stuff carried

  • The lycra triathlon top was ideal, but white is not flattering!
  • Racing can be fun! 
  • A post-race ice bath is gooood! 
  • Miles in the legs (eg. 100km weeks) makes a big difference!
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Parkrunning

Two long years ago I was slumped forwards, hands on knees, gasping for breath and grinning wildly. I’d just run an 18:11 parkrun, dropped 1km from the line after a ding-dong duel that had been on almost from the start. Only two months before that, I’d run the inaugural Main Beach parkrun and an 18:XX time had seemed impossible. As I sucked in another almightly, yet insufficient, lungful of air, I tentatively wondered whether a 17:XX could be achievable.

As happens, the trajectory of results was interrupted – first by injury and then by life. The sub-18 idea waned and was soon left forgotten like an old suit gathering dust in the back of the closet. Attempts to return to parkrun were thwarted by injuries and by the busy weekend schedule of a family with four young children. It seemed my brief but bright dance with parkrun was over.

But the very nature of parkrun doesn’t lend itself to being so easily forgotten. A community-focused event that gathers lovers of fresh air and exercise together, to share tales and rivalries and soak up the happy positive energy of like-minded individuals, leaves a hook in your soul that reels you back in. As I grew bored of swimming, cycling and triathlon, I found myself rearranging my schedule to accommodate a Saturday morning 7am start – parkrun.

Two months ago I found myself standing under the tall pine trees at Main Beach, surrounded by a colourful crowd of chattering and fidgeting people – parkrunners. I was back. And as my parkrun adventure revived, so did the sub-18 idea. It became a target. My 2013 goal. Break the 18 minute barrier.

Six times I’ve battered myself against the 18 minute barrier. I got close, then I got further away. I was hopeful, then I was frustrated. Only two weeks ago I decided it was destroying my run fitness and I needed to forget it for a while. I started running to and from parkrun – 7km+ each way – clearly not the best way to smoke your parkrun PB! But, finally, I cracked it. A 17:53 at Varsity Lakes last week was a “pinch me, am I awake?” moment. And now a 17:50 at Main Beach has confirmed it: I’ve knocked the bugger off!

Main Beach parkrun results

What followed was a couple of days of elation. I told people who were interested. I told people who weren’t interested! I analysed, I hypothesised, and I generally felt quite chuffed. And then… well… I didn’t really know quite what to do anymore.

The sub-18 was my 2013 Goal. I suppose I’d imagined it would take right up until the end of 2013 to achieve the goal – but clearly I hadn’t really thought about that at all. Now there’s still a month and a half left of 2013 and I seem to be foundering somewhat – I’ve lost my drive to train. The post-goal blues?

So I’ve decided to take it easy this week. Give the body a chance to recover, and the mind a chance to latch onto something.

I keep thinking about running long. I’ve built my long run up to 2.5 hours. I still want to get it to 3 hours before Xmas. And maybe to 30km+ (if I can stomach 3 hours on the road!). The last three weekends I’ve totalled 40, 44, and 47km. This week I hit 100km for the first time ever. I’m finding it noticeably easier (and nicer!) to run for 90 mins. Running’s starting to feel like it did when I was a kid – effortless! I know that the other part of the equation is a healthy diet – I think it’s only a matter of time before I succumb.

One trail run which keeps calling to me is a round-trip on the 21km section of the Hinterland Great Walk, from Binna Burra to O’Reilly’s, along the caldera of the enormous Tweed Volcano. I figure it’ll be 2.5 hours each way, with a stop for a snack at O’Reilly’s. The distance is just far enough that I’m not game to tackle it on my own… yet. But it’s going to happen soon. Before Xmas I reckon.

Walking on the Hinterland Great Walk
Walking the Hinterland Great Walk with the kids. Look at that delicious trail!

But for now, it’s feet up, job done. Bugger – knocked off!

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The 100km running week

I am edging tantalisingly close to cracking the sub-18 for 5km, with an 18:05 PB at Main Beach parkrun a few weeks back. Surely, it’s mine? Any week now!

Unfortunately, the desire to hit this goal has started to have a negative effect on my running. I’ve been concentrating on speed and strength training, and then resting my legs so they are fresh for the Saturday morning parkrun. This has seen my mileage drop away from 60-70km per week to about 40km per week. And that 40km pretty much consists of three hard-out threshold sessions: a hills run, a track session and then the 5km parkrun. With all of that hard running, my legs have been getting tighter and sorer, and although I’ve been getting faster, my endurance is in danger of falling away.

I was OK to let the endurance slide for a few weeks because the sub-18 5km goal seemed imminent. But I also want to build my long run up to 3 hours before Xmas. It seems these goals aren’t completely compatible! Having given the 5km a couple more cracks (and come up short with 18:30s), it’s time to work on the endurance again. And that means more runs, and longer runs.

Last week I was chatting with a fellow parkrunner who had a very similar record to mine, except he continued on where I blew up for a few years with dodgy calves. He eventually got his 5km time down to a low 17min, but even more impressively, his half marathon to 1:16 and his marathon to sub 2:40! My hopes – that my steady 40-60km per week would yield similar results – were dashed when he revealed that he was running at least 120km per week! (It’s also worth noting that he got a stress fracture when he built to 170km per week!) I’ve got no sub-2:40 marathon dreams, but sub-2:50 is one of my Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals.

So I’m going to forget about the 5km for a month and try to build up to 100km/week. The easiest way for me to add mileage is to arrive an hour earlier to my regular Tuesday and Thursday runs and do an extra 10km warmup; on Saturday, I can run to and from the parkrun which will make that a 25km roundtrip. That gets me to 65km. If I add a 15km trail run on Sunday, all I need to get to 100km is a couple of 10km runs during the week – probably on Monday and Friday. I’m going to feel six runs a week!

I’ll need to decide which run I’ll build to 3 hours – either the Saturday 25km (with parkrun), or the Sunday trail run. Actually, there’s no choice there – it’s got to be 3 hours on the trails! As I increase that Sunday trail run, I can probably reduce the Monday 10km to give a bit more recovery.

100km run plan.jpg

So there we have it: a plan for a 100km running week! Sounds easy enough. All of the kms I’ve added will be run at easy/steady pace.

I’ve already started building towards this – last week I ran 90km over 5 runs. That brought on a few little niggles, so I’m being cautious and it might be a couple more weeks before I get to 100km.

Now, what to do with that run fitness? Interestingly, in five weeks there is the Kurrawa to Duranbah 50km (with options for 30km and 15km). Gold Coast. Summer. Hot. Humid. 50km. Hmmm…

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