Festina Lente

The past 2 weeks have been filled with all the usual ups and downs after an enjoyable day out in the hills.

There has been the inevitable continuation of the ultra marathon diet (mainly liquid) and frequent unrealistic dreams of other ultras in the very near future that my mind is ready for but my body is not.
All of that is normal and my only promise to myself is that I will try to do something else long-ish before the end of the year or the start of next year as I find that when I take the foot off the gas I’m like the proverbial bicycle wheel with the sticky brake – I come to a stop very quickly.  That’s fine but the re-start can take a bit of time with me.
I have several random non-running related ideas swimming around inside my head that are bursting to spill out onto this blog but I though a few (vaguely) technical posts would be of use – and well deserved to those who are good enough to list me as a running blog on their own blogs.
Despite the appearance of this blog I collect stats on every mile I run. This is inevitable as, being an civil engineer by education and employment, I tend to enjoy numbers.  I’m not that excited about analysing them as I think change is a gradual thing and there’s no point in getting excited because of one good session. At least at my level of performance. Running is not my core existence (you might have picked that up from the blog previously ;-)) so to sweat it about an interval session this week versus last week  is fooling nobody but myself.

First up is an analysis of the RAW race from 2 weeks ago.

If you had the stamina to finish the race report you might have left with the impression that I ‘enjoyed’ that ultra more than the others. The fact that I had also performed better than last year lead me to think that maybe there was something in it.

The Garmin normally dies before the end of the race so any of the stats you see after this are the comparison of the first 35 miles of the race from this year and last year. The Garmin died this year in the 36th mile and in the 38th mile last year (a sign of battery deterioration I’m guessing).

Below is a table of mile splits for both 2011 and 2012.

Split Distance 2011 Average pace Distance 2012 Average pace
1 1 09:53 1 09:42
2 1 09:15 1 09:00
3 1 08:56 1 08:39
4 1 09:18 1 09:18
5 1 09:38 1 09:42
6 1 09:07 1 08:56
7 1 08:59 1 09:14
8 1 09:35 1 09:49
9 1 09:37 1 09:56
10 1 08:50 1 09:14
11 1 09:54 1 10:46
12 1 09:37 1 10:07
13 1 10:18 1 11:11
14 1 10:37 1 10:42
15 1 10:19 1 09:48
16 1 09:42 1 10:08
17 1 10:53 1 10:19
18 1 11:59 1 11:19
19 1 10:19 1 10:03
20 1 11:42 1 10:42
21 1 12:26 1 11:14
22 1 11:18 1 12:15
23 1 09:53 1 09:42
24 1 12:18 1 12:25
25 1 13:45 1 10:40
26 1 13:16 1 12:31
27 1 11:41 1 12:51
28 1 12:45 1 13:33
29 1 12:45 1 11:03
30 1 10:41 1 10:50
31 1 13:57 1 14:20
32 1 12:31 1 11:16
33 1 14:45 1 12:26
34 1 12:53 1 14:35
35 1 11:57 1 12:10
36 1 13:22 0.86 13:26
37 1 10:28
38 1 11:15
39 0.14 09:38
Total 38.14 35.86

As you can see from this data the splits are fairly consistent…………..OK, hands up if you just ignored it. I know I would have.

I looked at it in excel and after 35 miles I was faster in 2012 on 16 of the 35 miles – a cumulative gain of 13 min 24 sec over 2011.

The interesting thing about the faster miles is that after my ‘feeling’ that the race was starting too fast for me – it was: the first 3 miles were all between 11 – 17 sec faster than last year- only one of them occurred in the first 14 miles. I was overall much slower over the first third of the race. The fact that I was stopping less at the checkpoints indicates that my overall pace for this segment of the race was slower – i.e. it wasn’t because of any outside factor apart from running speed.

After miles 15 & 16  – more or less 30 seconds faster and slower than last year the miles from 17 – 35 showed 11 miles faster than last year.

And much faster as well.  5 of the miles were between 60 and 185 seconds faster than 2011. This indicates that there was less fade (running speak for enforced walking breaks due to being shagged) over the second third of the race.

Of the slower miles from 17 – 35 only 2 of them were slower by more than 60 seconds. Many of them were only marginally slower – 4 – 11 seconds a mile. Easily accounted for by ground conditions.

At the end of the first 35 miles in 2012 I was ahead of 2011 by 3min 53 sec (faster splits minus slower splits). Given that I passed the 2011 finishing post 6 minutes earlier in 2012 than 2011 this gain must have continued until the end.

Yawn, I hear you say. And rightly so.

What does this tell us? That I was fitter? I don’t think so.

It tells me two things:

1 – That specific training pays off.

2 – The slower you start an ultra the faster you’ll finish.

Last year I took part in the race – it was my first ultra – and I had come off a base of marathon training. This entailed running with my training HR in the high 140’s and into the mid 150’s. endurance wasn’t an issue – I’d run up to 32 miles in training (very boring in case you’re wondering).

I was physically able for the race and finished it. That said, I was trashed and took a few months to get over it physically. I remember the next day – I could barely move – complete bodily shut down with DOMS and that achy ‘flu like feeling you get when you leave it all out there on the course.

My heart rate for last year was 155 average and maxed out at 171 BPM. These are comfortable marathon heart rates by are too high for an ultra.

This year, after at least 12 months of specific ultra marathon training – a very fancy way of saying I ran slowly all year – I completed the ultra with a heart rate average of 147 and a max of 164.  I realise that the difference might not be that amazing but it means that you can complete the course comfortably as opposed to being in agony.  I also recovered very quickly and apart from some  training specific pains I am fine now.

The more telling thing is that I can now train in the mid- high 8 minute miles (somewhere around 8:30 – 8:50min/mile) over 20 miles with a heart rate between 133 and 143. This means that I can keep going for longer as I am well within the aerobic zone for most of the race.

The fact that my legs are trashed is a separate issue altogether.

Now, if you’ve ever run a marathon to the edge of you ability or run an ultra to the best of you ability you’ll realise that anybody who talks about race strategy in the last quarter of the race is bullshitting you. In reality, the only race strategy you can really deploy is hold on, it’s nearly over. At mile 25 of a marathon all you want is for the finish to come and for the medical personnel to keep their beady eyes off of you. Pace, that final push, running form – they’re all stuff you put in the blog or save for the finishing chute after you’ve stopped running.  All that said, the last quarter of these races is where your training will come into play. Without specific training you’ll fade desperately and have the mythical death march from hell. Everybody has done it, the trick is to learn from it.  And I think I have. My only advice is if you like running slowly and enjoy a good day out then you could do worse than migrate to ultras.

The second thing – specifically for ultras – start slow.

This is, from my experience and data, the only way to complete these races and stay intact  – and to finish  in your fastest possible time. In the RAW this year I was passed by only 1 person between mile 12 and mile 41. I think I counted about 13 or 14 who I passed in this time.  The promise of passing someone in front of you can be all the motivation you need to keep going on an up-hill slog where a walking break is your normal option.

So that’s the end of the first non-rambling blog post in a long time………

Did I tell you about my trip to the barbers and the teenager with the mullet and…………laters.

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One response to “Festina Lente

  1. Excellent report and analysis. Some excellent tips. Love the comment about wanting to to simply get it over with by mile 25.

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