Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Ultra Training

I do get asked fairly regularly how I manage to get up early every single morning to go running. For a start, running in the evening is simply not an option for me, with 4 small (or not so small any more) children at home it's all hands on deck, so early morning it has to be. I have been doing this for so long by now that it really has become second nature. I don't even need the alarm clock any more. Point in case, the last 3 days I got up at 3 different times yet I was awake 5 minutes before the alarm would have gone off on each occasions. I have no idea how that works, but it does. Once I get up I follow a set routine that I can do entirely on autopilot while still being half asleep; that way I can get out of the door in about 15 minutes. On weekends, when I have time to faff around, it can take me much longer. That routine has become so ingrained that usually I am already half a mile down the road before my first conscious thought of the day (and sometimes that even has to wait until after my return back home).

As for my training, I'm trying to find a way to build myself up for 100 miles on the road. Following last year's lessons from Bangor I definitely want to incorporate steep mountain trails like the one up to Windy Gap on a regular basis. There is no better way to bullet-proof your quads. At the same time I need to get my long runs done on tarmac to get the legs used to the pounding, therefore long runs on the Kerry Way are not the way to go. Right now I'm thinking I can do the mountain run as my mid-week medium-long effort and my long run every weekend on the roads around Caragh Lake. This is exactly what I have been doing the last few days.

The legs felt rather stiff during the early miles on Sunday, no doubt because of the faster pace of the preceding days, but they came round soon enough and I was cruising on autopilot for most of the rest. The pace came down gradually and naturally as well, just the way it should be.

I took it a bit easier on Monday, but on Tuesday I was up on the Kerry Way, crossing Windy Gap on my way to Glenbeigh before turning around and doing the same thing in reverse, which gave me about 2000 feet of accumulated elevation gain. The last time I had done that run, 9 days earlier, I could clearly feel it in the legs for the following two days. This time round recovery was already much improved; there was definitely some fatigue in the legs but not much - though of course it could still be a lot worse tomorrow.

What I'm most unsure about right now is the pace I should be running at. 7:30 pace is very easy at the moment and I have always subscribed to the theory your pace for the easy runs should be whatever pace comes naturally, and the Garmin's input should not be used, neither to slow down nor to speed up. That has served me very well up to now. At the same time I can't help but realise that a 100-mile race is run at a much slower pace (7:30 pace would get me close to world record!). Right now I'm thinking that I should keep doing what I'm doing for the time being and the 10in10 will slow me down to get me used to ultra-race pace. It is the equivalent of marathon training where you start at your generic speed and gradually run more and more faster miles until you are used to race pace, except that in this case I'd be slowing down to race pace instead. Since nobody seems to have figured out training for long ultras for good I suppose we're all guessing here.
21 Apr
18 miles, 2:12:08, 7:20 pace, HR 150
22 Apr
8 miles, 58:35, 7:19 pace, HR 143
23 Apr
12.25 miles, 1:48:41, 8:55 pace, HR 145
   mountain run, Windy Gap x 2
24 Apr
10 miles, 1:15:54, 7:35 pace, HR 145


  1. You do like a challenge. You are right about running early in the morning. It does become automatic after a while and it is the best way to set up your day. The only problem is probably the anti social nature involved in early morning. Having a short commute to work helps too.

    Continued good running and training in the ultimate race in Ireland

  2. Practising ultra ace pace is hard as so much slower than even an easy pace. last year to work regular ultra paced runs in I started doing recovery runs wearing zero drop, zero cushioned shoes. This combination gave me something else to focus on when going along a snails pace - I could get a good workout on my running form and strengthening for my feet whilst recovering from tougher workouts and getting more time at the slow pace.

    Spending time at race pace enables the body to do fine tune muscle activation which in turn improves running economy and minimizes unwanted muscle tension that can cause injury as the hours tick by.

  3. Hi Thomas,
    I've signed up for Belfast also. Interested to hear your training ideas as I myself will be doing the Leinster League IMRA on Wed nights and maintaining LSRs with at least 4 marathons(probably more but I will be racing Portumna for a 3:10 target). I've not gone further than Conn Ultra distance before but I was planning to run at approx 9min mile pace and take walking breaks every 45 mins or so in the early hours and then every 20-30mins once I'm 4-5 hrs into it.
    Any feedback on these loose plans would be appreciated,
    Thanks, John.

    1. John, I presume you mean Connemara rather than Belfast? I can tell you afterwards if my training was good enough or not, until then it's more like "let's hope for the best".

      Keep in mind that 9 minute miles might feel painfully slow for a 3:10 marathon runner, but would be Irish record pace for 100 miles!

      Last year, Mick Rice was way behind the early leaders after 10 miles after they had all stormed off at 8-minute pace, and in the end he was hours ahead of the ones who had not dropped out.

    2. Ahhh, I had assumed it was the Belfast 24hr you were training for, and not the Conn 100 but I understand now.
      Notwithstanding, do you have any simple pointers for me doing Belfast? Your feedback so far seems pretty relevant for both races (even though the track is flat I imagine the quads will still be pretty sore after a while!)
      When is your race?

    3. John, yes, pretty much anything that applies to the Connemara 100 will also apply to the 24 hrs race. I think last year's success in Bangor mainly came down to 2 factors: bullet-proofing my quads with plenty of very steep mountain trails and being patient during the early hours of the race itself. I had a 5 minute walking break every half hour that I used to take on some food and drink, which worked exceedingly well. Ever since I wondered if I would have done more miles had I tried to do more running and less walking, but my head says that the answer would most likely be "no".

      Being used to torrential rain and wind was a help as well. I'm sure Eddie Gallen, who is living in Madrid, was a lot less comfortable in those conditions.

      I'm sure you have already read my race report from last year. Keep in mind that I'm still experimenting with training and race strategies. I sure have not managed to work it all out yet.

  4. Definitely a good idea to keep conscious thoughts to a minimum when ultra training ;-)
    How do you go with leg stiffness in the early mornings? Do you start all runs with jogging? I know Deek was painfully slow for the first few miles of his Sunday long runs.

    1. I always start out easily, and the first mile is always the slowest of the day. When I post an average pace of, say, 7:20, you can safely assume that I did the first mile in about 8 minutes and the last one in less than 7.

  5. It's very hard to slow down past about 9:30 in training without feeling like a fraud. In an ultra 10:00+/mile is still quite fast but things like terrain, food stops, walking breaks and so forth can either make up part of this or add to it.

    On the subject of scheduled walking breaks: This only works on a pretty flat course. Otherwise you'll find yourself slogging up hills and possibly walking down hills. I'd advise that you should walk when you need to (anything with an up-hill)

    Apart from that all running for the first third or half of the course should feel very very easy (i.e. aerobic)you'll need your mental reserves to push yourself to run the second half of the event.