Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Ultra Running

Being under the mistaken impression that I know what I’m doing, Grellan asked a few questions a few days ago.

1 - Pace. If you're planning on 8 minute pace average (or sub 8 as the case may be), how do you think it would vary from start to finish & would you consider introducing walking breaks (before being forced to)

2. Nutrition, Would you vary it much from your recent approach to marathon nutrition or do you think you need to revert to the rice milk or an equivalent substitute or are you thinking of something completely different.

Now that I'm zoned in I have a third question/suggestion. Would you think compression socks would help prevent/relieve the calf cramps that are likely to arise during a road race of that distance.

Let’s see. I’d feel much more comfortable giving out advice had I been able to crack the Connemara Ultra in my two previous attempts. However, as things stand, I do know how to finish but still don’t know how to race the damn thing. Keep that disclaimer in mind.

Pace: As with virtually all long distance races I think that even pace is your best bet. Connemara complicates things a bit by becoming tougher with each section. However, I would not start out at faster than goal pace. If things are going smoothly at mile 30 you still have a lot of time to speed up. Therefore I’m planning on going out at 8:00 pace. On the other hand, I’ve changed my mind about walking breaks. At 39 miles, Connemara is still a short race by ultra standards and is more a long marathon. After the 2008 race I thought I had the answer when, following a break, my quads suddenly returned to life at mile 35 after being immensely painful for the previous 5. However, when I inserted a short walk break in this year’s Dublin marathon the effect was exactly 0, which put me off the idea again.

If you’re planning on walk breaks then 1) train that way and 2) do them early in the race. I, however, won’t be joining you in that. I feel that walk breaks disrupt my rhythm and do more harm than good. Things are different for longer ultras, but we’re strictly talking Connemara here.

Nutrition: I was really pleased how well my rice milk/slim fast mixture worked in 2007 and will most likely use it again, horrific as that combination might sound. Learning from my 2008 mistake I won’t be using chocolate milk on the course, but that still works as a recovery drink afterwards. You can always check out more professional nutrition, but since I seem to have stumbled on something that works for me personally, I’ll stick to that. I know I can’t take more than 3 gels in a marathon without retching, so I’ll keep maybe 2 of them in my pockets as emergency supply, but won’t rely on them. On the other hand, anyone who has more luck with gels (like you, Grellan), will probably be able to use them in an ultra as well. It’s very much an individual thing. Again, try it out in training and see what works.

Socks: The jury is still out, but I will probably wear my compression socks in Connemara. They may or may not have a positive effect, but I’m reasonably sure they won’t have a negative one, apart from looking even more ridiculous than usual. I might go one step further and get some compression shorts as well. My role model in this case is Tsuyoshi Kaburaki who came second in this year’s Western States. As the photo shows (and you can google for more) he wore that attire at that race. But I haven’t made my final decision yet.

Keep in mind, though, that the most important part of the race is already behind you when you stand at the start line. Training is where it is, and mine is finally beginning to take shape.

I increased the mileage of my long run to 16.5 miles on Monday, which was not that much of a jump from last week, but still enough to be taxing. The weather wasn’t the best. It was raining at the start, then stopped but returned with a vengeance after 5 miles. 10 minutes in these conditions left me utterly drenched, but it did stop eventually, only to return 2 or 3 more times before I got back home. Unlike last week I did not chicken out of the Caragh Lake loop but ran it counter-clockwise for a change. That way I hit the big hill later on, which is more like Connemara, and the 3 mile climb from miles 7.5 to 10.5 turned out to be quite a challenge. The moon was bright enough to shine even through the thick cloud cover, which enabled me to leave the headlamp at home (I really seem to have taken a dislike to the thing). What did surprise me was the complete lack of soreness after Sunday’s race, but the hamstrings started to complain after 13 miles. The same thing used to happen during most long runs this summer and the only option is to work through the discomfort. Since time on feet is more important than pace when training for an ultra I stuck to my easy pace at all times and intend on doing that for all of my long runs this training cycle.

I was sore this morning, though, and accordingly cut my run down to 6 miles, and slow ones at that. I think that as long as the swimming lessons are on Wednesday it would make more sense to move the long run to Tuesday to make better use of the following day’s recovery. However, we will be in Dublin early next week, which might complicate things a bit, but I’ll keep that in mind for the weeks after that.

7 Dec
16.5 miles, 2:14:01, 8:07 pace, HR 149
8 Dec
6 miles, 49:41, 8:17 pace, HR 143


  1. Thomas, do you think your tight hams might be the result of your dislike of stretching!
    I think as you get older and into your 40's maintance stretches [ done at the end of your run] are very important to stop the muscles getting shorter and causing problems.

  2. I really enjoyed reading your tips on running. Especially the nutrition part.
    Do you take any medicines for your tight hamstrings? Something that may help is a spray called Ibunex. Have you heard of it?
    I have it posted on my blog if you want to check it out. http://injuredrunner.com/blog/
    Good luck with running!


  4. Some good advice there Thomas (not that I'll ever be an ultra runner). I agree with practising for walking breaks and doing them early (if you use that method... but as you say, 39 miles isn't that long.