Sunday, April 05, 2015

Race Strategy

Grellan asked about race strategy in a comment. I'm actually not a big believer in setting detailed targets. There are too many variables, plenty of which I have no control over, and the basic idea is to run by feel. However, that doesn't mean I'll be flying entirely by the seats of my pants.

Last year in Belfast I went through 100k in 9:48. That's 9:27 pace.
I went through 100 miles in about 16:10. That's 9:42 pace.
I did almost 140 miles. That's 10:17 pace.

Ideally I would like to avoid the last hour in Belfast when I was reduced to walking and could not run a single step (I tried). On the plus side my walking pace was surprisingly solid, still faster than at least one other athlete's running pace at that time. I do wonder occasionally if I could have pushed myself a bit harder and at least give John and Eddie something to worry about (and actually get over 140 miles rather than falling 37 meters short!), but considering that I basically collapsed immediately after stopping (thankfully Niamh caught me and they propped me up until a chair was ready) I'd say I got pretty damn close to my limit that day. Niamh took a couple of photos at what must have been around 23:30 into the race and I do look exhausted, alright.

Parco Ruffini, part of the race course.
Pictured here is Florian Reus, reigning European champion
The biggest mistake I made that day wasn't lack of effort but quite the opposite, running too hard halfway through the race. I'm not sure of the exact timing but I took the lead around 10 hours into the race and started getting excited at some point. I remember running past Grellan, who comfortably won the 12 hours race, and leaving him in the dust by doing 7:30 pace! I figured that since I was 11 or so hours into the race, running too fast was not a problem as my already tired legs would have been screaming if I pushed too hard. Wrong. Around 14 hours I reached the point of apparently total exhaustion and the last 10 hours were mind over matter. In Bangor I had actually enjoyed the last few hours and had a big smile on my face for most of it, so if I run sensibly I can indeed keep going for a very, very long time. The hope is that I can find that edge where I push just hard enough to last for 24 hours, or at least close to that.

Start slowly and then taper off. I think I started at 9-minute pace in Belfast (give or take a bit) and was sensible enough for the first 10 hours. The damn Garmin lost my GPS track when the battery died after 16 hours, so I can't go over that data (that's the main reason why there is a Suunto Ambit on my wrist now).

As I've said, I'm not one for detailed planning, which is why I struggled with the very detailed nutrition plan that our team manager insisted we all prepare. I have never done anything like that, in my previous races my instructions more or less came down to "give me something every 30 minutes". I think I have something reasonable in place now, though I put a note on the sheet that it's only a rough guidance. However, if things go well I will of course use that new feeding strategy for future races.

I also changed the setting on my Ambit to 5-seconds GPS, which should hopefully make the battery last the entire race. One more sign that it's getting close now. I noticed that it slightly overreports distance at that setting - about 8.1 miles compared to 8 miles at the 1 second setting, roughly 1% out.


Ramp to the stadium. It will become a mountain after a while.
Picture by Florian Reus.
In training I am now trying to run at slow pace. It was 8:44 on Thursday, which was too fast but every time my mind started wandering the legs started to accelerate.

Despite all the best intentions, Friday was even quicker at 8:39 pace. I ran covered in three layers as well as tights in the hope of getting some heat acclimatisation going, but the biting cold Atlantic wind meant any heat adaptation was unlikely. Maybe I should have worn that fleece jacket that I had already put on but took off because it was black and I wondered if it was safe on the road that way.

By Saturday I had given up on forcing myself slower than the legs were willing to move so I just ran at the easiest effort that came naturally, which averaged out at 8:35 pace - so close to yesterday's pace that it is unlikely to make any difference. This time I wore that fleece jacket but the wind still made me feel cold at times. I was sweating loads, though, so maybe it did help.

On Sunday I did the last proper workout before Turin, going up into the mountains one last time to give the legs one more push. I felt really good on the climbs; the fact that it was a gorgeous day most likely helped.

Forecast for Turin is about 20 degrees, sunny; I'd prefer a cooler day. Obviously it's still a bit early to pay too much attention to the weather forecast. It may still rain!

There have been a few organistorial hiccups from the Italian side that I could do without. I won't go into any details, though I'm dying to go off on a rant. I'll try to ignore all that. Saturday at 10 am I will be at that start line with the best ultra runners on the planet, come what may.
2 Apr
8 miles, 1:11:10, 8:44 pace, HR 130
3 Apr
8 miles, 1:10:06, 8:39 pace, HR 136
4 Apr
8 miles, 1:09:37, 8:35 pace, HR 132
5 Apr
12.35 miles, 1:49:07, 8:50 pace, HR 148
   Windy Gap x 2


  1. Best of luck Thomas. How hard can it be to organise a 24 hour race. Did they forget to book the running track? ;-) It will be interesting to see what it will be like running in a team setting.

  2. I'll take that back. Looked at the website. 1600 metres for the first lap and then 2km after that- all on road and path. That will be tough. Still though I hope it goes off well. I ran a marathon in Rome many years ago and it was a bit mad at the start.

  3. Thomas, i wish you the best race of your life! Good luck!

  4. The very best of luck Thomas - will be rooting for you. Just as you're finishing, the Connemara Ultra will be starting! Good luck!

  5. The very best to you Thomas, you've come a long way on this journey, time to do your country proud now, run well and stay safe.

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  7. good luck and say hello to Edi Okan

  8. Good to hear that your final hill run went well. It's great to finish a training cycle and ready to race having finished on a training high.

    The struggles at ultra race pace attempts are an indication of how rarely you run at this pace. Perhaps mixing walking in with the running will help keep the average pace down/intensity down enough to allow you to run more relaxed at a slightly faster speed.

    Somehow I strained a tendon above my toe last weekend so have been forced into doing very slow recovery runs to help it heal/avoid any extra strain. I was able to quite happily run along at 10:40 pace, with HR bobbing around 120. This is quite a contrast to your own struggles to run at even 8:40 pace. While you are better runner than me you aren't 2 min/mile faster than me - our racing paces are within 30 sec/mile of each other. I suspect the ease at which I can run 10 min/mile+ is simply down to doing more recovery runs at this pace. Curiously three years ago I used to really struggle to run slower than 9 min/mile pace, these super slow recovery runs are something I've added to training over the last two years - so it is possible to adapt, but it does take time.

    For the race though, perhaps having a bigger field could be used to your advantage. Working together with others who do pace really evenly and happily knock out 9 min/mile be useful. I know some of the UK ladies are fantastic at pacing.

    Heat may be the biggest challenge. Hot baths and sauna's work well for heat adaptation for me. If you are still sweating for half and hour after a heat session then you know it's properly raised your core temperature and adaptations will follow on. Heat adaptations can occur much quicker than other fitness adaptations so doing last minute cramming can still help, ideally two weeks is best, but even with a few days left you'll still be able to see benefits with doing more heat stress sessions.


    Will there be online race reporting?

  9. Hi, it’s very informative. You have set and communicated your goals, planned and executed your training, and are managing your taper. Most distance world "records are set by running even pace . The best time to learn race pace is during training. When you learn what it feels like to run at your goal pace, it becomes natural for you to maintain that pace during the race. Never look back to see where someone else is just proceed on.