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Marathon heart-rate revisited

My recent minor detonation in the Frankfurt marathon has me looking at my training data more objectively again. I got caught up in shorter race performances and mission-creep set in on my lead-up to Frankfurt.

Plotting out the heart rate based marathon estimate (assuming a marathon heart rate of 171 bpm and a linear relationship between speed and heart rate) you can see how well the HR data is at setting an (upper) limit to marathon performance. Covering 10 marathons over 2.5 years this is rather convincing and I shouldn’t let mission-creep and shorter distance racing sabotage my marathons in future! That said it was (for 7/10th anyway) good fun to run on feel and try to push the pace a little… quite often you’ll have to pay the piper though!

With Malaga now 3 weeks away I’ll attempt to keep the pace up a bit and the mileage in the 160-180k region at minimum. The trajectory is looking good, I just need good conditions and a cool head to execute the sub 240 plan B … and ideally Axel or Matthew to run with me 

For those that want to read more into the plot here are some details on the individual marathons with the half split difference:

(10) 2:40:50 Frankfurt +2:00 great conditions, calf pain from 32k
(9) 2:44:26 Edinburgh +2:26 gave up 7k out
(8) 2:42:08 London +0:51 great conditions, dull pain throughout
(7) 2:44:14 Malaga +0:16 cool start, hot at end, feeling ‘good’
(6) 2:45:01 Frankfurt +0:07 great conditions, right on the edge
(5) 2:49:12 Reykjavik +2:00 solo last 10 miles
(4) 2:53:04 Liverpool +3:00, windy, undulating, pulled hamstring
(3) 2:59:00 Paris -1:30 good conditions, strong finish
(2) 3:02:21 Pisa +1:30 great conditions (400m short!)
(1) 3:13:39 Amsterdam +3:39 warm, very sore from 28k

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Frankfurt marathon 2016

Here we go again! Frankfurt marathon for the second year in a row. Conditions are excellent and I feel pretty good. With recent half marathons of 73/74 mins and a good chunk of mileage in the bank can Matt, Axel and I poke in under 2:38? Maybe today is my day, as Frankfurt keeps telling me.

Platinum: 2:37:59
Gold: 2:39:11
Silver: 2:39:59
Bronze: 2:42:07 (PB)
Detonation salvage operation: 2:44:59
Oh god please let this be over and let’s never speak of it again: 2:59

Edit post race: Bronze it is then! 2:40:50 with a minor detonation in the last 7k costing me 2 minutes… new experience – crushing calf pain! Now off to the pub.

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Thunder Run 2016

I’m sure you’ve all been dying to hear some of the gory details of our Thunder Run pair effort…

The race in the end was won with 26 laps of 10km in 24 hours and 15 minutes. Christof and I ran 13 laps each following a rather simple plan of alternating laps. I managed an average of 55:48 per lap and Christof 56:10 (had to squeeze that little detail in) so very even in our distribution of effort! Christof was the more consistent with his laps only varying by 3 minutes and mine by 4. The path to our win seemed to come about 5am on Sunday, when after 18 laps or so the team just ahead of us began to slow dramatically and eventually stopped. Whereas we kept going, ticking off the ~ 1 hour laps one after another eventually outdistancing the competition by 3 laps. What was the difference, fitness conditioning or nutrition and planning? Possibly even injury – we’ll never know.

Heading into the event we felt that we had the fitness to run 26 laps. This left us thinking the biggest challenge to running for such a long period of time would be fuelling and comfort. As such we did our back-of-the-envelope calculations to see how much we would lose in terms of fat, glucose, sodium and fluid. So we got to pouring over easily digestible foods in the supermarket to find a good combination to make up a lap’s worth of fuel. My stand-out choices were a coffee milk drink (which had just about everything on the list with the added bonus of caffeine), rather cheap crisps absolutely stuffed with salt (Space Invaders/Frazzles) and a snickers hazelnut variant with more salt than the normal variety. I would then top this up with whatever extra fluid I needed to replace (we had scales to get an idea of how much we lost each lap).

So the execution would be simple right? Run 10k up hills, over tree roots and rutted fields before trudging back to the tent to stuff a snickers bar, packet of crisps and a milkshake down my throat, change into fresh clothes, curl up in a sleeping bag for 30 mins, then get up, put the trainers on and head to the start line again. And that’s what we did, 13


times. 13. Thirteen. The first 5 or 6 weren’t so bad but then it got dark. Those laps through the night will haunt me for some time. Not the near twisted ankles or pangs of pain from my knee or growing blister on my right toe. It was the anticipation in the tent. Lying there, half-asleep knowing it was subjectively the briefest of reprieves. Then the alarm would sound, or Max would prompt me to head to the start line. In some ways beginning to run again was the better bit, you just had to do it. The wait in sweet comfort before the run was mental agony.

With light beginning to sneak through the clouds on the horizon the struggle seemed to ease. Maybe it was the knowledge it would ‘soon’ be over or simply that it was easier to see where we were going but running was suddenly easier. Several minutes dropped off our lap times (especially Christof’s) and we knew we could keep on plugging away and would get those 26 laps. And so we did.

If anyone is ever tempted to do this as a pair my advice is get a solid routine, with agreed lap times so you can plan to make it through the night with as much rest as possible. One person running a slightly quick time gives the other less rest and uncertainty when to be at the changeover – so they take even less rest and will be slower (ironically giving the first runner even more rest to go even quicker the next time – exacerbating the situation!). Also taking longer leaves them standing about at the changeover. Make it through the night with a fixed schedule and with proper fuelling the following morning will take care of itself.

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Supermaratona dell’Etna 2016

Up at 4:00am in Millazo. Quietly have a shower and eat porridge in the car as Angelo drives us to Linguaglossa. We are then driven down to Fiumefreddo on the coast. After applying sun cream and signing in we sit on the stony beach and wait. It’s twenty degrees already. The atmosphere is calm, small waves quietly lapping the shore. A few minutes before 8:00am we muster at the start area. The sounding horn goes and we set off.

As with any race, there is an unrealistic number of people in the front few groups. Only a few of us will remain as the hours tick by. I fall into an effort I believe I can hold for four hours. Within that margin of effort I also try and stay in a group (there are two or three solo brave souls gone ahead).The group is going up steep slopes too hard and taking the shallower roads too easily. As such I yo-yo from the front of the pack on the shallow drives and hang onto the back on the steeper roads. Eventually the group slows but I feel okay at this pace so I head on with one other.

The route up to Linguaglossa is rather uneventful and not so memorable – it’s the warm-up for the warm-up. But it is hot. Up to thirty degrees in the bright exposed roads. There are thankfully may water stations – mobile ones too. I take every opportunity I get to drench myself.

I hit the streets of Linguaglossa in about 1:09 into the race. This is the first handover in the relay race and we suddenly have company . Linguaglossa is a fairly ‘flat’ part of the race and saw the fastest 5k of the whole distance for me.

The road leading out of the town is very long and straight. It gently gets steeper until we hit a winding series of switchbacks. It is at this point in the race I feel in my element. The roads were beautiful tarmac, the gradient steep but constant. It was there, winding through the forest that I picked off many runners who had gone off way too fast. Soon I was on my own as I spiralled up the mountain through Sicily’s largest forest. I felt I had nailed my ‘forever pace’ on these slopes. I periodically had company from cyclists and a small car bouncing between runners shouting out positions and time gaps. All I could understand was I was fourth and closing.

Getting into 25+ km I could see third place. I was gaining on him smoothly. It took several patient kilometres for me to pull up next to him. Company gave us a boost and we ran on together. From 30km we were coming out of the forest and starting to see volcanic rock and ice lining the roads. The road was also getting steeper still – a trend I knew would only continue.

Briefly the road flattened as we approached Piano Provenzana at 33km (and 1800m high). This junction was busy with spectators as it sees the race transition to volcanic ask and rock. I hit the transition in just under three hours and although my legs were tight and tiring I felt good. It only took a few minutes for me to be treated to a lesson in just exactly how remainder of the race was going to unfold. A few hundred metres in, crunching through ash, we hit the first of the serious upwards swings. My feet were sinking in the ash, like rough sand, sucking all the energy out. It hurt to push hard against this sponge that was sucking the life out of my legs at an alarming rate. I had to walk. That’s okay, that’s what’s required on such steep, tough terrain. For the next kilometre I employed a frequent walk, ‘jog’ strategy.

Had I gone off too fast? I asked myself, power walking my way past petrified trees and the remaining green life up in this hostile landscape I had felt so in control, so strong on the tarmac, only to be brought down so swiftly, so brutally by the never-ending wall of black ash in-front of me.

Gradually, I walk, plod, jog, walk, walk, jog, walk, walk, walk and with some hands-on-knees efforts walk some more, up, up,up. All the green now gone, just black ash, ice and peaks in the distance. Every ten minutes or so I get to count off another kilometre as I power-walk my way past bemused hikers. Routinely I look back and I can see the runner in 5th place. It’s a strange situation, watching this inevitable overtaking unfold. He was clearly gaining on me and would pass but I had a good five minute of hearing him crunching away at the ash behind me before passing. I make a ridiculous token effort to stay with him that lasted all of thirty seconds before I went back to my sustainable, and less painful, plod. This happened at the 39km mark, he would go on to put five minutes into me I was struggling so much.

Three kilometres on I look back and see the next runner is in sight. He’s walking like I am but slowly gaining on me. This is even more comical than the last time. He’s only a few hundred metres behind me but we’re walking at such a similar pace it could take a while. The track leading through the 42 km mark is steep and this comically slow smackdown looks in danger of not going my way. Luckily just past 42 was almost flat track… and the finish only 800m away. It was like I could turn a key and start an angine, my legs sputtered back to life on the ‘flat’ ground and I was able to make Guiseppe eat black ash. Just 100m from the end the ground pitched up to a sickening gradient and my newly re-animated engine groaned, forcing a brief power-walk, before coming back online to let me cross the finish line in 5th place and 4:24:02 in the shadow of Mount Etna’s crater.

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Super maratona dell’Etna 2016 (brief)

I’ve never had such a chilled out start to a race – sitting on the beach calmly watching the waves roll in. Pity we then had to get up and do a horrendously long run! Anyway, all the horrible details to come soon but for the time being I’ll say I finished the Vertical Etna in 5th place with a time of 4:24:02. I hit 33km just shy of 3 hours and spent the next 84 minutes finding out just how hard ‘running’ up a 15% slope of volcanic ash is! Despite the unforseen amount of power-walking the run was incredible, from the sea up through Sicily’s largest forest and then finally out onto the exposed volcanic terrain. One for the bucket list maybe?

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More scribblings of a madman or the battle plan for tomorrow? Well the plan is somewhat loose this time as the course has big ranges in temperature, gradient (although always up), wind and terrain. Plus I’ve never done anything quite like this before. So I’m going to go by feel and use my heart rate to set upper-limits on how fast I go. Okay, time for sleep as we have to be up at 4am, fun!

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Monotonous miles for London 2016

I meant to put this together before the London Marathon… a little peek into the monotonous time consuming effort that is marathon training (well, rather extreme marathon training). This was my second 130 mile week about three weeks before the race. I carried a GoPro set to take images at least every km and then put them together with some short video clips. Apologies for the sound… I’m a notorious mumbler, and also for just how boring the video is in general to those who stick it out!

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Marathon plans for 2017

As my IOMS (Instant Onset Muscle Soreness) abate I’m planning out the year’s racing ahead. A few (such as Mount Etna, the Thunder Run and Frankfurt) are already definites, but what about the rest of the year? This is what I’m thinking…

Mount Etna marathon 11th June
Thunder Run 24hr race 23rd July
Glasgow half marathon 2nd October 
Frankfurt marathon 30th October
Malaga marathon 4th December
Seville marathon 19th February 2017
Alloa half marathon, 19th March 2017
London marathon 23rd April 2017
Stirling marathon 21st May 2017

I’m sure Axel Finke is game for most of these. Any other suggestions, alternatives or takers?

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2:40 Mulligan (Edinburgh Marathon 2016)

It’s that time again…. avert your eyes if you’re allergic to running and graphs!

This weekend I’ll be in Edinburgh for my 2:40 mulligan after my 2:42 in London. This time the training has been limited by, well, time! Seeing as Edinburgh is just 5 weeks after London there was only time for a medium week that led into a big one of 120 miles. I bookended that big week with some racing. A 10k PB of 34:51 in a sweltering heat and a 5k PB of 17:00 on semi-knackered legs have certainly given me some confidence in my speed!

Attached is the updated picture of my training. I now have an outpost in what was the barren wasteland further out than 4:30 min kms. That nice little lump up near 2:40 race pace is due to the London attempt itself and the shorter races I followed it up with.

Even the rather detailed snapshot of 8 weeks of training doesn’t tell the whole story as, of course, one block is built on top of all that precede it. So to finish my geeking-out for today I’ve plotted my entire training distribution over an 11 month period, with each month coloured in differently.

I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in Edinburgh, which is looking a little warm (15-17 degrees) and a bit windy (10mph), but thankfully the wind will carry me home on the last 10k – there’s just the little matter of completing ‘operation human-shield’ on the opening 30k!

Post-race edit: So… 2:44:26… ho hum. That’s the end of my 7 marathon PB streak! Was never on for 2:40, the expected headwind on the first half meant halfway in just under 1:21 but with a tailwind on the last 10k a slight PB looked possible. By 32k that was slipping, not being able to speed up but just hold pace. A high 2:42 looked like the best I could painfully squeeze out. I tried not to become demotivated but it had set in and the result was a rather pedestrian last 7k or so to tick off another sub 2:45. It’s been ‘fun’ but the streak had to end somewhere! Enjoyed the post race beers and junk food and happy with my ever-improving batting average! And a huge congrats to Stacy Wheat for bagging her London qualifying time and a PB to boot!

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Training and racing

Training and racing… after a week to digest the result from London I can say that the “train easy race hard” approach still works even when taken to the extreme. Doing all my training miles near or around 5 mins/km and racing at 3:50 min/km was a success. The attached plot shows the distributions of my 9 weeks of training pace and my pace in the London marathon (race shown in red). There is a little overlap caused by two 5k race-pace tests I did in the week leading up to the race and a few fast kilometres from a relay race I did 5 weeks before London but that’s it. It’s really quite an incredible result to see that applying the stress of the ‘blue’ training load to the system can give a performance in a marathon of the ‘red’ distribution – one which you would think is way outside what your body has been exposed to and therefore not capable!

So what now, how am I going to claw my to under 2:40 and even to 2:35? Although the approach of metronomic miles at easy pace does work, there is certainly plenty evidence that having a larger range of pace-work would give an improvement. So, I will take an approach with the same flavour as my pre-London training but with some modifications. I will add a few more races and race-pace practice to add a little bump (emphasis on the little) to give a larger range of stress to my system and spread the speed out more to the lower pace range to compensate for the stress of higher speeds. Watch this space!