Category Archives: Journey

Starting My Running Story

We all start somewhere. Why do we start running? My running story started back in primary school.

 

The Early Years

 

It was clear I wasn’t fast when I was a kid. In primary school races were short and I was a tail ender. I wanted to be quick, but it didn’t take too much enjoyment away. I still loved sport, even if I thought I wasn’t very good at it.

 

At 12 years old I had my first hint there was something in running for me. I did the school cross country. I didn’t win, but 2 points stuck out:

  1. I really enjoyed the run
  2. I didn’t feel I could run faster, but  felt like I could run again

Over the next few years I didn’t do anything with running beyond the yearly cross country in high school. Each time the above two points were reinforced. Because of this I went on a few extra runs up and around the local park. Then my knee hurt.

 

A doctor and podiatrist later had me in some orthotics and a suggestion to not run for a while. That I took up and played table tennis instead.

 

Running Calls Me

 

At the end of high school I rediscovered running. At first it was just a means to add some fitness around my table tennis training. Running soon took over. Albert Park Lake was next to where we trained and the different squads would run a lap. Somehow I joined the different squads for their runs. Each run was about 5km, and I would do 2 to 4 in a day once or twice a week. It took others to point out it was a lot of running.

 

Around this time my Dad asked me, “You like running and maps don’t you?” A few minutes later I found myself up the road in my first orienteering race. I got lost.

 

A few more orienteering races. I didn’t get lost as much. Why not try a road race? The Victorian Road Runners offered a 10km race at Westerfolds Park. It seemed like the distance I should run for some reason. So I did.

 

It hurt. I struggled. I blew up. I crossed the finish line hurting. It was absolutely fantastic. Wanting more, the next obvious step was to run a marathon.

 

Melbourne Marathon

 

It  was 1996 and I was toying with the idea of running a marathon. I went down to watch the Melbourne Marathon. My sister and I set up spot at about the 33km mark on the course. It was astounding to see how most runners were hurting and struggling through this section. It was the point where many hit the so-called wall. They are also far enough from the finish they doubt if they can make it. There was something in all this suffering that sung to me. I had to have a go.

 

My first marathon was to be the Melbourne Marathon in 1997. That gave me a year to build up. With a strong fear of failure I felt I needed the full year. For some reason I plucked sub-3 hours out as my goal. Over that year I ran, ran some more, read as much as I could on running, got injured, ran more and then some more. It was a big learning curve. In the final 3 months I took a program from Runner’s World magazine and followed it pretty closely.

 

The race was amazing. I crossed the finish in 3:18:27. Outside the sub-3 hour goal, but it was best I could get out of myself on the day. It felt like the hardest thing I could ever do, and I loved it.

 

 

Ironman Triathlon

 

While preparing for the marathon I had a bit of injury time out. Trying to keep up some fitness I took to swimming and cycling while I healed. That had me explore the world of triathlon. I got hold of the book Scott Tinley’s Winning Guide To Sports Endurance: How To Maximize Speed, Strength & Stamina. It has some timeless advice and still worth a read today.

Pick up a copy at Amazon by clicking on the book…(affiliate link)

 

The more I read, the more I wanted to race triathlon, but it just seemed like a sport other people did .

In 1997, after the marathon I watched the coverage of the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon. The footage of aussie Chris Legh staggering and collapsing just before the finish was mesmerising.

 

 

Running Became My Lifestyle

 

This was the launch pad to years of running and triathlon. I joined the Jones Cycles Triathlon Club. Raced marathons, Ironman, triathlon, rogaines, orienteering and many different endurance events. I changed my direction at university and studied human movement. Became a coach and worked different jobs related to sport.

 

My whole life was sport related, and I loved it. Yet I wanted more. But that’s another story.

 

How did your running story start?

When You Have A System That Works: Mess With It

When you have a system that’s working why not mess with it?

 

One day hard followed by two days easy has been working well for me lately. In fact it seems to be the gold standard for progressing my running. This training block I’ve decided to mess with that. I’m not sure if it’s impatience, the drive to get more out of myself, or simply a bad tendency to fit in more. Is it a mistake, or will it raise my fitness to the next level?

 

The Format That Works

 

  1. Easy
  2. Easy
  3. VO2max Intervals
  4. Easy
  5. Easy
  6. Long Run
  7. Easy
  8. Easy
  9. Hill Repeats

New Format

 

  1. Easy
  2. Easy
  3. Anaerobic Threshold (Continuous) 10km
  4. Anaerobic Tolerance: 12 x 300-100m, 1min recovery
  5. Easy
  6. Long Run
  7. Easy
  8. Easy
  9. Anaerobic Threshold Intervals 4-6 x 2000m / 1000m float

 

In the new format, day 3 is not crazy hard. It would be better to think of this run as a medium effort. The continuous threshold run is still a solid effort. I’m hoping it doesn’t suck anything out of my legs for the following day. I often feel a bit quicker the day after some faster running, as long as it doesn’t leave my legs wasted. It may give me a little extra kick for the tolerance intervals.

 

The 300m tolerance intervals are meant to be at about 1500m race pace. That’s a speed I haven’t run at for a long time. That will leave me sore the next day.

 

Now I’ve I’ve added a little extra faster running and taken away an easy day. All before my long run. This is the day of truth. When training for ultra marathons you need to nail the long run. If this wrecks my long run it isn’t worth doing. On the other hand, if I can also hit my targets in the long run then I expect some big benefits.

 

First Time Through

 

The easy days were exactly as they should be…. easy.

 

The first key was the 10km at just under my anaerobic threshold. All on feel over an undulating course. The intensity felt right. I felt quite fast during the run. However, once I downloaded the data, turns out I was a lot slower than I felt or expected.

 

That dampened how good I was feeling about the run. Still I shouldn’t complain. It was only one aspect that wasn’t up to what I expected. I’ll be curious to see how the repeat of this run goes next week.

 

Anaerobic Tolerance

 

Next day I hit the athletics track. The goal was to run 12 x 300m at 1500m race pace with 1 rest in between. I got through 7 of them right on target. How good does it feel to run fast?

 

Repeat number 8 was where the concept of anaerobic tolerance explained itself. It hurt and it was slow. More important to keep the speed up here. The remaining 4 repeats were dropped down to 200m. I was just able to hold onto 1500m race pace in these.

 

Next day I was sore.

 

But the day after that… still sore.

 

Long Run

 

Hmm, not so sure how the long run will go. I’ll give a go anyway. So out I went. At first I wondered how the 40km would unfold. Luckily I see found myself caught up in the act of running. I allowed myself to relax and resist holding back. My running felt good. Even easier than my last few long runs. I definitely had sore spots, but they weren’t a problem.

 

This feeling good got me to 36km faster than I have been in so long. The drop off over the final 4km was quite brutal. I still finished 5 minutes quicker than last week’s 40km. This became the first run I’ve done that gives me confidence I can hit my race goals this year. Better than the doubts I’ve taken out of most key runs.

 

Maybe it was a good to take my training and mess with it.

 

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Sometimes there’s a mismatch between how you feel, what you expect and the outcome. 🤯 This morning’s #run was 10km at just under anaerobic threshold. All on feel over an undulating course. The intensity felt right. I felt quite fast during the run. However, once I downloaded the data, turns out I was a lot slower than I felt or expected. 🐌 That dampened how good I was feeling about the run. Still I shouldn’t complain. It was only one aspect that wasn’t up to what I expected. 🏃🏼 ______________________________ #anaerobic #threshold #temporun #at #10km #runningalive #expectations #runbeforework #melbournerunners #keeptraining #buildthehouse #anaerobicthreshold #morningrun #runnerclick #running_highlight #runnerscommunity #runnerschat #pursuitwithpurpose

A post shared by Jason Montfort Running Alive (@jason_monty) on

 

How do structure your training?

 

 

Ultra Marathon Training: Block 3 Weeks 9-12

The last 4 weeks of training was a bigger challenge than I anticipated. Well off target for quite a few sessions. I tried not to dwell on them too much. Took a little extra recovery. Tested myself in the last week. Surprisingly I still ended up pretty close to where I hoped to be. Now ready for training block 3.

 

Focus

 

Following the Training Plan Overview the focus is:

  1. Increase pace at Anaerobic Threshold
  2. Increase pace of long run.
  3. Small amount of anaerobic tolerance development

 

 

Increase Pace At Anaerobic Threshold

 

Anaerobic threshold training provides big improvements. I start to feel invincible and find the faster paces feel easier and easier. Anything powerful tends to come with strong side effects. Anaerobic threshold training has a big impact on me. I find it easy to over do. I get caught up in the feeling. So many times I have over shot the mark. It tends to give my immune system a hit and I am prone to getting sick. After a week or 2 of feeling fast, my legs tend to come crashing back down as if wrapped in concrete.

 

Trying to sort out how to get the benefit without the downside had me searching through my training logs. Looking back over the years there is a trend. Over training with anaerobic threshold work has been related to 2 main issues:

  1. Trying to extend anaerobic threshold work beyond 60 minutes in a session.
  2. Pushing the pace too high on continuous threshold training runs.

This training block I’ll avoid the above 2 ways of training.

  • I’ll save pushing the pace up for the interval runs.
  • Hold back a little on the continuous threshold runs.
  • Limit any session to well under 60 minutes.

 

Increase Pace Of The Long Run

 

The distance will be limited to 40km or 4 hours, whichever comes first. With how my long runs have unfolded over the last 2 months, it is clear increasing pace isn’t about going hard in the first half. Long runs of 40km are definitely not easy. Where will the improved speed come from?

 

Most of that pace will be from maintaining my form and pace all the way to the end. Avoiding the drop off in speed that has occurred in almost all long runs will be my priority. Just holding it together over the final 5km will bring my average pace back by about 20 sec per kilometre.

 

The secondary push up on pace will feel subtle. It involves attempting to relax and allow my body to open up. So far I’ve had to artificially slow down the first part of my long runs and it still feels quite restrained. I want to gradually release those restraints and let the legs find a more natural rhythm and pace. The risk is that pace is too fast for the full distance.

 

Small Amount Of Anaerobic Tolerance Development

 

There’s 2 reasons for this:

  1. Creating a stimulus to maintain or enhance the VO2max gains from the past 2 weeks.
  2. Be able to maintain run form in the closing stages of the races at the Emergency Services Game in a few weeks.

VO2max can be maintained with less than it takes to raise it. So a couple of sessions over the month that have me gasping for air should be enough. Hopefully it helps me with a little extra kick in my legs for the end of races.

 

Anaerobic tolerance training intervals track

 

The Template

 

A training week covers 9 days for me at the moment. There will be some variation to fit around the other areas of my life, but here’s the basic template I’ll be working from:

  1. Easy
  2. Easy
  3. Anaerobic Threshold (Continuous): 10km
  4. Anaerobic Tolerance: 12 x 300-100m, 1min recovery
  5. Easy
  6. Long Run 40km/ 4hours
  7. Easy
  8. Easy
  9. Anaerobic Threshold Intervals 4-6 x 2000m / 1000m float

 

I’m curious to see if the Anaerobic Threshold (Continuous) and Anaerobic Tolerance combination over days 3 and 4 will work for me. I think it will, but am open to adjustments if needed.

 

There is definitely a nice dose of faster running injected into the program. None of the fast running should feel forced. While there are physiological adaptations I’m going for, it is more important I develop the right feel in my running. Block 3 is about trying to develop that right feel in running faster.

 

 

Ultra Marathon Training: Block 2 Weeks 5-8

There’s a reason we skip hard training. It is hard.

 

The past 4 weeks were a re-education for my body on hard training. I started to feel really good after the first couple of weeks. It was okay though, I soon got over it and struggled in the 4th week.

 

 

Lessons Learnt

 

I came out of that first training block with the following lessons:

  1. The more I do VO2max intervals the better they feel. They still don’t feel easier.
  2. Long runs are well off where I want them to be
  3. I skipped most of my strength training
  4. My headspace has a big influence on how my runs go.

 

The 2 main points of Block 2 are an extension of the same from Block 1:

  1. Increase VO2max
  2. Increase distance of long run

These two will be over laid with a 3rd concept:

Increase over all work capacity

 

Training Structure

 

I’ve moved from 8 out to 9 day cycles for training. Mainly because I’m on a different roster cycle for work. It also does work in quite well with what I am trying to achieve. It makes for a simple structure of 1 day hard followed by 2 easy days.

  1. Easy
  2. Easy
  3. VO2max Intervals
  4. Easy
  5. Easy
  6. Long Run
  7. Easy
  8. Easy
  9. Hill Repeats

 

feet on the track

 

1. VO2max Intervals

 

I’ll continue with 1000m intervals at something heading towards 3000m race pace. Starting this block with 6 repeats, I’ll try to add one repeat every 9 days. There is enjoyment in the exactness and repeatability of intervals on the track.

 

As part of increasing and supporting my VO2max I will continue with the hill repeats. Mixing it up with a different hill each week. There are plenty of options around me.  The outline will be about 2-3 minutes per repeat at a similar effort to the track intervals.

 

2. Long Runs

 

While I want to get the speed up, it is more important to build volume at this stage. I’ll throw out set paces. A lot less watch watching. Instead I’ll focus on keeping my running form in check. Something well above the ultra shuffle. I’m hoping if I get the process right the speed will creep in naturally.

 

3. Strength Training

 

Instead of skipping most of what I thought were well planned strength sessions, it would be best to at least do something. Out the window is a strict plan. In is a commitment to do 15-30 minutes of strength work most days. It should lead to more work than trying to save it all for a bigger workouts. Most will be at the end of my easy runs.

 

4. Headspace

 

Thinking has been getting in the way on my hard runs. Especially the long runs. While great for the planning, too much going on in the head has my brain explain to my body why it shouldn’t keep going. My brain can be very convincing.

 

When I’m at my best I tend to hit flow state reasonably often. Time to rebuild my skills and practice to better tap into that. A mixture of mind training is now back in the training mix.

 

Training Balance: Going Fast and Far

I can shuffle out some long distances. The pace won’t get me anywhere near my goals. This brings me to the classic dilemma of most runners:

How do you balance going fast with going far?

 

Going Fast

 

My first attempt at 3 x 1000m repeats was a struggle. There wasn’t snap in my stride that I look for at the faster paces. It had been a long time since I really tried to run this fast. The running felt forced. I managed to just get within the pace range I was aiming for. It was the start I should expect.

 

The next week I wanted to add an extra repeat. As if 1000m repeats at between 3-5km race pace aren’t hard enough, the heat was on this day. 35 degrees Celsius was the highlight of the day. I thought I could handle it by taking the recoveries extra easy.

 

I couldn’t handle it.

 

The heat and intensity was overwhelming. All energy seemed to suck out of my body. I was disappointed. Deep down I knew it was a big ask. I struggled through 3 repeats. Each one slower than the previous. The 4th just wasn’t going to happen. To salvage some ego and get a better training stimulus I took a good rest in the shade, poured plenty of water over myself and ran a few angry 200m efforts.

In the 3rd week I felt redeemed. Not being able to finish 4 repeats last time,  why not try for 5?

 

Five it was. All on target. It is a good feeling being able to do more. Improvement in running is never a straight line.

 

Going Far

 

That’s only one part of the going faster challenge. Pushing up my VO2max pace is needed, but it certainly isn’t enough to reach my goals. I need to be able to run long. After all, that is basic concept of ultra marathons. The problem is I’ve given myself the goal of running ultra marathons on the fast side. This is where I am struggling.

 

What pace should the long run be?

 

Search the internet and you can find plenty of different guides and formulae to tell you how fast to run the long run. Unfortunately they are often gross generalisations or don’t take your fitness and goals into account. Is there an exact answer?

 

For myself there isn’t. I see the long run as an ever evolving tool to use. There are many different ways to approach it. It isn’t always just about time on your feet. I can do time on feet at very slow paces for ages. That may work for some goals, but it certainly won’t get me down to 4:27/km or faster for an ultra marathon.

 

Super slow is also very different to fast running. Slow running takes out the glutes and hamstrings a lot. That leaves those muscles under trained for when you try to race long at faster speeds. The solution appears to be simple. Run faster on the long runs. I wish it was that easy.

 

Training Balance

 

How much faster? How far? What’s the cost versus benefit?

 

To find a starting I point I plugged in some numbers through a variety of resources. Taking in some race times, looking through my Strava history and plugging the numbers into some pace predictors. Shooting back at me was the suggestion my long run pace should be about 5:30/km. It didn’t sound unreasonable. Let’s see if I can hold it for 30km.

 

Turns out I couldn’t. Not even close. I finished with my tail between my legs at under 27km

 

Trying for a slower 30km the next week worked a bit better.  I fell right off the pace beyond 27km. A lesson my faster long run pace was a lot slower than I wanted.

 

This wasn’t working for getting the length of the long run up. Third time around my approach was to focus more on kilometres rather than pace. In fact I ignored my pace. I made sure my stride felt like running and was removed from the slow, ultra marathon shuffle. As an added bonus I go to follow the coast line along the George Bass Coastal Trail for this run. Some slightly tougher terrain than my recent runs, but an awesome location to run. It helped get me through.

 

 

The balance point is moving in the right direction. I am getting a little faster. Just small gains over the weeks should add up to some substantial improvement. The difficulty will be in handling sustaining the speeds I want over long distances. When I first set the goal of running further than a marathon at the Wings For Life World Run, I knew it was going to be very challenging. I didn’t appreciate how far away I was when I set the goal.

Let’s see if I can reach it.

 

Training Balance going far and fast

 

Training Plan Overview 2018: 7 Steps To Setup Your Running

How do you plan your training? Do you get the most out of yourself? Will you achieve your goals?

 

There are 7 steps I take to developing my training plan. Join me as I take you through my process. At the end I’ll share my overview for the 20 weeks leading up to the Wings For Life World Run.

  1. Gather The Essentials
  2. Know Your Goals
  3. Create An Overview
  4. Pen In Important Dates
  5. Pencil In Key Training
  6. Details, Details, Details
  7. Train, Adjust, Train

 

How do you plan your run training? I sit down with my calendar, goals, commitments and make the most of what I have

 

1. Gather The Essentials

 

 

2. Know Your Goals

 

There are two key races I am focussing on in 2018.

Check out those goals in 2018 Running Goals.

 

Along the way I’ll throw in a few shorter distance events. Most will be based on what is available when my work roster allows me to race. Not to be missed will be the 2018 Victorian Police and Emergency Services Games in March.

 

3. Create An Overview

 

My training started part way into December 2017. This gives me 20 weeks until the first main race, The Wings For Life World Run. Then there is 11 weeks to the Hard Core 100.

 

Break up the 20 weeks. I work in 4 week blocks. It is a manageable time frame, plus it fits with how my work roster is scheduled. The easier training fits in with life, the easier it is to do.

 

Pick a main focus for each cycle coupled with a secondary focus. Remember you can be great at anything, but you can’t be great at everything. Choose wisely.

 

4. Pen In Important Dates

 

Put in everything you know. This should include your fixed commitments and anything that may affect training.

  • Work days
  • Family events
  • Holidays
  • Races

 

5. Pencil In Key Training

 

Think of the bench mark training sessions when want to hit. Pencil them into the overview of your training plan.

  • Do they work?
  • Do they fit in with your other commitments?
  • Is there enough time between the sessions?

I find I rewrite this quite a few times. The first draft is always too optimistic.

 

6. Details, Details, Details

 

Plan out each session of your first training block. For me it is 4 weeks. Start with the main sessions such as long runs, intervals, tempo runs.

 

Next fill in the recovery or regeneration sessions. This can include the very easy runs, days off or anything else you do to help recover and absorb from you training.

 

Fill the remaining runs. These will usually be easy runs.

 

Finally schedule your supplementary training. Weights, yoga, pilates or anything else you do.

 

After the first training block, I will then pencil in the main sessions for the following block of training.

 

Now we have a detailed view of the first block plus a reasonable idea of the following block of training. Compare it to the over view of your training plan and make sure it all fits together. It is at this point I find the reality of the rest of my life means my main sessions don’t quite work. Usually I have less time between then than I first thought. Again it usually involves a rewrite.

 

7. Train, Adjust, Train

 

Now for the fun part. Start training.

 

Have some patience and confidence in your plan. Allow time to see results, but be honest with how you handle it. What looks good on paper doesn’t always work in real life. Take note and adjust. Keeping the plan in line with your overview.

 

Training Plan Overview 20 Weeks

 

I break 20 weeks down into 5 blocks of 4 weeks.

 

20 Week Training Plan Overview: Wings For Life World Run 2018 then 11 weeks to the Hard Core 100 mile ultra marathon

 

Block 1: Weeks 1-4

 

  • Increase VO2max
  • Increase distance of long run

Different and bigger goals require a change in approach. The main difference is a regular inclusion of faster running. The fast running won’t work on it’s own. It is only part of a bigger picture. Let’s break it down… read more here

Block 2: Weeks 5-8

 

  • Increase VO2max
  • Increase distance of long run

I’ve moved from 8 out to 9 day cycles for training. Mainly because I’m on a different roster cycle for work. It also does work in quite well with what I am trying to achieve. It makes for a simple structure of 1 day hard followed by 2 easy days… read more here

Block 3: Weeks 9-12

 

  • Increase pace at Anaerobic Threshold
  • Increase pace of long run
  • Small amount of anaerobic tolerance development

The last 4 weeks of training was a bigger challenge than I anticipated. Well off target for quite a few sessions. I tried not to dwell on them too much. Took a little extra recovery. Tested myself in the last week. Surprisingly I still ended up pretty close to where I hoped to be. Now ready for training block 3… read more here

 

 

Block 4: Weeks 13-16

 

  • Increase Wings For Life race pace
  • Emergency Services Games

 

 

Block 5: Weeks 17-20

 

2.5 Weeks targeting efficiency at Wings For Life race pace

1.5 Weeks of taper

Race: Wings For Life World Run: Melbourne

All the preparation work has been done. The focus of these last 4 weeks is only on being ready for race day. My goal is to make the WIngs For Life World Run an ultra marathon. That is run further than 42.195km before the car catches me… read more

 

 

Final Word

 

Having a clear plan helps you make the most of what you have. How do you plan your training?

 

 

2018 Running Goals

Big goals have you do more than just go through the motions. I need to make my running come alive.

 

It has been too long since I’ve run something that feels big. Big doesn’t have to be distance. It is bigger than that. By big, I mean something that really excites me. Something that pushes me.  Goals need to feel just outside my reach.

 

I’ve brought my health and fitness back up to a level I’m happy with. It is a level from which I can direct my training towards bigger goals. It has taken more time to get here than I thought it would.

 

Over the last couple of months I’ve looked through race calendars. There are so many races now. Spoilt for choice. It doesn’t make it easier for me. The races tend to blur into each other. Nothing immediately stood out as a must do event above all the others.

 

I kept searching. Reading all I could. Reading blogs. Followed discussions in running groups. Eventually I kept coming back to the same events. These events put some extra fuel on my fire. They are the races that make me want to push my limits.

 

The Races

 

Two key races are in my sights for next year. They are:

 

Wings For Life World Run

 

There is a uniqueness to this event. Being chased by the finish line is an awesome concept.

 

I want to make this event an ultra marathon. Running further than 42.195km is a big ask for me.  It will require getting back to speeds I haven’t hit for years. I’ll need to be around my marathon PR shape and then hold it for longer.

 

Right now I’m at 19:13 for a flat 5km. A long of way off the marathon 2:58:44 I set 8 years ago. Am I a marathon has been? Living in the past? Only one way to find out.

 

 

Hardcore 100 Mile

 

This will be my first 100 mile ultra marathon. Further than I have run before. Finishing will be a massive challenge in itself. I want to do more than finish. I want to find push it out to as fast as I can go.

This is an ultra marathon that is likely to teach me new lessons. I want to be a student.

It is set up as 20km loop in the You Yangs. That’s 8 laps to bring up the full race distance. On each loop you go up and down Flinders Peak. Apparently it is a very runnable course. Nothing crazy technical. That doesn’t make it easier than an ultra marathon with big mountains. It is a different challenge when you can potentially run it all. I may be looking for an excuse to walk.

 

 

 

 

Both these races scare me. They are in a setting that makes it impossible to hide. There is no faking these races. They give me a fear of failure, and I like it.

 

The Wings For Life World Run should be a good lead in to the Hardcore 100. There are other races I’ll throw into the mix. They won’t be my training priority which means I won’t be peaking for them. In the races I won’t be holding back either.

 

Stay tuned and I’ll take you through my training program. That’s for another post. Make sure you keep up and subscribe:

Ultra Marathon Races: Lessons Learnt

Why run an ultra marathon?

 

There is more to ultra marathon races than just completing the distance. More than just the finish line. Ultra marathons take you on a journey of discovery. You can learn a lot about yourself. Both good and bad.

 

This post isn’t the usual short tips and tricks on how to race an ultra marathon. These races can break us down to our core. The extras get stripped away. You can find out if you have what it takes… whatever that really means.

 

I have taken 3 key lessons from my ultra marathons

  1. Pain is information
  2. You can do more than you realise
  3. The body does have limits

 

Surf Coast Century rock scrambling

Pain Is Information

If anything is guaranteed, it is you will experience pain during an 100km ultra marathon.

 

Pain is powerful. It can wear us down or bring us to an abrupt stop. It can weaken our resolve, change our emotions or snatch away our goals. We don’t have to let pain have this influence on us. It may not be easy, but it is possible to change our response to pain.

 

I’ve learnt pain can be an amazing source of information. Assessing pain as it happens in an objective way, rather than responding in a subjective manner can make pain a useful tool.

 

Pain is a defence mechanism. It is designed to protect us from harm. The obvious example is if we place our hand on a hot stove top we will feel an intense burning pain. We’ll pull our hand away to protect ourselves from being burnt. When we push our limits in an ultra marathon it gets a little more complex.

 

If you listen properly pain can tell you a lot of things. We all know the burning pain from running fast, above our anaerobic threshold. If we experience this in the early stages of an 100km race it is telling us we are going too fast. Other times it’s not that simple.

 

Once past the 40km mark in my first 100km race (the Surf Coast Century) I developed a deep ache in my muscles. It was cross between the feeling of burning and bruising. This was the same pain I usually experienced in the late stages of a marathon. Just not quite as intense. What to do with this pain? I didn’t know. So I took note of it, tried to accept it and kept racing. Over the next 20km it didn’t change and didn’t seem to slow me down. When I had trouble later the pain changed. I discovered some pain may just be a reflection of effort and it is the trend or the way the pain changes that is more important.

 

Making the effort to understand the different pain experienced can be a useful tool. It can also be a way of handling the pain itself.

 

 

You Can Do More Than You Realise

Going into big races I have had some lofty goals. Do I truly believe I can hit those goals? To be honest  I’ve always had significant doubts. It is easier to write something down on paper than to actually do it. The doubts are a blessing and a curse. The fear of failure can be a powerful force. We often don’t know what it really takes to reach these goals until we have achieved them. Ultra marathons are really good at feeding those doubts as they reveal what it takes during the race.

Ultra marathons tear away your perceptions of how good you are. Each race has revealed the reality of what is required to reach my goals. Almost always it is harder than I hope. Every big event requires digging deep into my abilities. It is different each time. What has worked in the past doesn’t seem to be enough next time. This creates massive doubts before and during races.

 

Once the crutches and comforts are stripped away, you are left with the reality and doubt. Responding to these moments is what defines your races. It is a large part of why I race. In these moments I have discovered I am capable of more than I knew I was.

 

At the 55km check point of the Great Ocean Walk 100km in 2016 I felt destroyed. A combination of the brutality of the course, less than adequate training and going out too hard early didn’t get me to this point in good shape. My support team asked “How are you feeling?”

“Worse than I ‘ve ever felt in a 100km race,” was my answer. I still had 45km to go. The next 25km were considered the toughest section. How was I going to get through that? It didn’t seem possible. Yet I did. Better than just surviving this section, it was the closest I got to any goal times all day. I was able to do more than I realised.

 

 

Surf Coast Century 2012 Leg 3

The Body Has Limits

Ultra marathons are meant to test us. Many times our minds keep us in check or stop us from achieving more. Sometimes we discover our body’s limits. To truly know your limit you have to exceed them.

 

After discovering I could do more than I thought in the third quarter of the Great Ocean Walk, I found some limits in the closing kilometres of the race. My mind was strong. The pain was intense, but I had come to terms with it. As the kilometres ticked over, my muscles began to progressively fail. No matter how much I wanted to keep running. No matter how hard I tried. I couldn’t make my body do what I wanted. It had reached the point it was physically failing me. Running became impossible. Walking no longer resembled what it should. This race  brought me to and past my physical limits. I finished, but hours beyond my goal times.

 

The above is a safe example of finding those limits. A big part of racing successfully is we override our body’s defence mechanisms. Pain is now information. We find tricks and techniques to keep going. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it gets us in trouble. For this exact reason I have been taken off a course in ambulance. It is worth thinking about those limits. Having good support around you can keep you out of long term trouble if you exceed your body’s current capabilities.

 

 

Keep your running alive.

Training Recap October: Training To Train

Base Training

Working within my training limits I tried to set up a base to launch future improvements over the next few months. Many think of base training as low intensity and high volume. It’s not how I define it. For years I’ve run from the working definition of base training:

 

To develop a well balanced athlete capable of optimally responding to the stress of competition specific training

 

The aches and tightness from the previous month dissipated and my running felt smoother. My ego still tried to get in the way. It argued against dropping the volume on my easy runs. Yet dropping a couple of kilometres on those runs has made a big difference.

 

No monster sessions. They are still some months off. Instead, I’m creating habits. Trying to make my training a day after day thing. The volume will come out of consistency and progression. Not from pushing it crazy hard now.

 

Time management is important. I’ve let it slip lately. Over the last year I’ve worked on accepting last minute changes to my schedule because of kids, life and work. I’ve seen improvement in a lack of stress when I’m presented with changes. It’s also morphed into a lack of planning ahead. As a result I’ve lost a lot of efficiency. This needs to change if I want to increase my training. I need to get other stuff done. Life is more than just running.

 

Habits

Willpower is limited in how far it can take you over time. It can work as a bridge, but is almost impossible to rely on every day. Habits are more useful. The brain works well with habits. We become what we do. I use triggers and repetition to change and create habits. It takes some deliberate action and critical thinking. Over the last few weeks I haven’t been doing this. Time to start again and follow these general steps:

  1. Decide on the action I want to take and when.
  2. Use a trigger to prompt me to take that action.
  3. Develop a protection against negative actions around that trigger

 

It sounds simple, but it takes repetition to make it work. Procrastination is the biggest enemy here. It’s become a habit to procrastinate.

 

Running

The running bit wasn’t too bad. Each week I covered about 50-60km. Kept my long runs relatively short, but focussed on making sure I was running and not shuffling. I sprinkled in a few hill repeats, but mainly kept it all conservative. Most importantly I’m getting the right feel and flow in my running. It not just about the paces I hit, but how I achieve those paces. Anyone can force up the speed, but it takes a bit more time, patience and skill to achieve the speed and keep it relaxed. That is what I am aiming for. I’m just starting to see the early hints of it since coming back from injury.

 

Coburg Lake Classic 10km: Race Report 2018

Coburg Lake Classic 10k

The Coburg Lake Classic could well be Melbourne’s longest running fun run. The inaugural event was back in my birth year of 1977. I

didn’t run it then. A classic it is. In charge of the event are the Coburg Harriers. They focus on getting the basics right. No extras.

No fanfare. Just a friendly, relaxed and accurate race. I really love the old school style.

 

During the week I wondered if I should skip the race. I knew I wasn’t race fit. A combination of school holidays and some unexpected extra

work hours meant a lot of training was skipped. My long run earlier in the week was missed. I could justify not racing the 10km event

and just put in some longer and easier kilometres. It would also be pretty easy to write a blog post about the importance of not missing

the long run. But that would just be an excuse. The reality is I was scared of racing 10km.

 

I know I raced 5km a couple of weeks ago. To a degree I can fake a 5km. Doubling the distance will show up fitness gaps. It

could be better staying in ignorant bliss. I could skip the 10km and claim I’m an ultra runner. Sprinkle over a bit of acceptance

and go on about still coming back from injury. The truth is racing a 10km hurts and it can hurt a lot.

 

At times we are faced with a choice between what is easy and what will be best.

 

Don’t choose what is easy.

 

The not so easy option

On the morning I didn’t feel like was about to race. I didn’t have my usual buzz of anticipation.  Best to take a long gradual warm up. Working up from a ridiculously slow shuffle to a few run throughs at race pace eventually uncovered some of that buzz. We assembled in the club rooms for the briefing.

 

I was now ready to race.

 

Simplicity is my preferred option in race plans.  I haven’t trained at around 10km race pace. Best to avoid smashing my weakness and try to suck some advantage out of my endurance. The plan:

  • Go out conservative for a 10km.
  • Ignore the front runners. Today is not the day to try and stay out front.
  •  Keep that pace until 7km and try and pick up in the closing 3km.

 

That seemed doable when bounced around inside my head.

 

Time to Race

 

The opening kilometre is interesting. The 5km runners start about 200m ahead of the 10km. Despite the faster 10’ers passing the slower 5’ers  it works. The numbers are small enough. The path is wide enough. Plus the friendliness of this race shows up. No one is held up.

 

The course can be thought of as 2 main sections. First is a mildly undulating out and back covering 4km. The return takes you almost back to the start before turning into a different out of back of 6km with a good size hill in the middle. You get to hit the hill from both sides.

 

I keep my speed in check and feel I could hold it for the full distance. The legs are happy. I’m not breathing too hard. I trust my experience to know I am a bit above threshold. Hopefully I’ve picked the sweet spot.

 

Over the mild undulations of the 2km brings up the first turnaround. I find myself in 5th place. The front 3 are moving off ahead and I know they are likely to stay that way. I’m feeling pretty good at this point. Retracing my steps back over the 2km seemed ok. I didn’t feel as comfortable and my pace seemed a little erratic. Honestly, I just felt out of practice.

 

Onto the second section. Out by myself, 3rd place was well ahead of me. It was just myself against the course. A brief flat section and then into the first climb. I tried to make the hill feel good.  It didn’t work.

 

The down hill is usually my friend. Not for today. I felt like I was playing just behind the beat.

 

Part 2

 

Off the hill and it’s mostly flat with some very mild undulations to the turn around. Now past 5km I was struggling. My pace was lagging. I knew I was working hard, but it wasn’t hurting in the way a 10km should. It was more I lacked the strength to keep up my speed. My legs just seemed to be failing me. This was disappointing. It wasn’t part of my race plan. I was still meant to be running at my opening speed. Picking it up over the final 3km seemed unlikely.

 

The turnaround allowed me to check on the top 3 runners. First and second were challenging each and well in front of me. Third certainly had a clear gap on me. Just not as big as I thought it would be. Maybe I could catch him. It was a thought I made sure I grabbed hold of. Maybe I could get myself out of this slump. The idea was appealing. Make it more than just an idea.

 

Now I was hurting. Around the turnaround. Forcing the idea out of my head and into my legs. I managed to get my pace back up. There was plenty of space between those behind me, so no point looking back. Best to set my sites in front. Over the next kilometre I was able to keep up the speed. The lactic acid burn flooded through my legs. In a strange way I was enjoying the burn. It made me feel like I was truly racing again. My muscles didn’t enjoy it. They reminded me I wasn’t race fit. They struggled in the acidic environment and just wouldn’t fire properly. Running coordination seemed to dwindle quickly, and with it went any speed I’d been able to muster.

 

It wasn’t through a lack of trying, but the final 2km were relatively slow. I’m not so sure I could call it running. Was I getting any air time in my stride? Maybe I was just walking quickly. This took me back over the hill, which wasn’t pretty. Eventually back onto the athletics track and across the finish line. Still in 4th place, and a time of 41:52. Far from my faster 10km races and slower than predicted off my 5km race time. I learnt a lot this day.