Ultra training part 2

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Long runs. Just mentioning them leads to a variety of responses, depending on who the runner is, their ability, and their goal. As I prepare to enter the ultra world, there really isn’t any part of my training that is more necessary than the long run, especially since I didn’t do enough of them before any of my marathons, and in my opinion, paid for it.

As discussed in my last post, on August 27th I ran with some of the people signed up for the Daytona 100 and Daytona 50 on the actual course. It was later in the day than I normally run (a big deal in the Florida summer) and it may have been tougher on me than necessary, simply because I have done many of my long runs on the treadmill. I have since reconsidered the value of training in the heat and have been doing more of just that.

However, my first long run following the debacle that was the on-course group run needed to be a solid effort in order to boost my mental strength. After all of the struggling that I did on A1A and on the beach I spent way too much time questioning my ability and my desire to press on for the 50-miler that was just 3 months away. I felt that a solid treadmill long run would confirm that I could indeed complete this mission that I’ve signed up for. A week after the group run I climbed on the treadmill, equipped with water, Gatorade, PBJ, and Swedish fish. Doesn’t everyone do that? I ran the first hour at 6.2 mph all the way through. For the second hour I stayed at 6.3 mph, and for the third hour I sprinkled in a few minutes of 6.4 here and there as I was feeling like I wanted to go faster, but even by the end of three hours I was only at 19 miles (too early to push). For the 4th hour I stayed at 6.3 mph, putting me at 25.3 miles in 4:02. I was nine-tenths of a mile from a bunch of things I had never accomplished before.

I restarted the treadmill again and ran another 8:56, completing my first treadmill marathon in 4:10:56. This was the first time I stayed on the treadmill over 4 hours, the first time I did a training run of 26.2 miles, and the first time I ran 26.2 without taking walk breaks. I did have to stop every hour to reset the treadmill, but honestly that’s more of a nuisance than a break. Oh, and my marathon PR is 4:31:37, and this run was 20:41 faster than that PR! Mission accomplished: I managed to turn my thoughts in a positive direction and felt a renewed confidence that I might actually be able to complete this craziness.

Fast forward one week to 9/10. My return to doing long runs outside started at 4:45am. I had made a plan to take a bottle of water, a bottle of Gatorade, 2 Clif Shots, and some Swedish fish with me and keep backup supplies and additional food in a cooler by my front door. I knew my pace would need to be slower than the treadmill marathon because of the extra heat and humidity so I settled on about a 10:15 pace and decided that after each mile I’d walk for one minute while I took on fluids and calories. This seemed to work really well and I made it back to the house after about 90 minutes and 8.5 miles. I swapped out water and Gatorade bottles and grabbed a quarter of a PBJ sandwich and headed back out.

Another 6 1/4 miles and 70 minutes or so and I was back at the house for more fluids, more PBJ, more fish, and some ice water over my head. The sun was just starting to come up and it felt like the temperature was jumping every minute. Back out there I went, running for another hour, now taking walk breaks after each half mile. In total I ran 20.05 miles in about 3:45, a pace of over 11:20/mile. A week ago I ran 6.15 miles further at a pace that was more than 1:40/mile faster, and felt so much better after. It’s amazing the extra toll that 75-80 degrees and 95% humidity will take on the body. I did, however, learn some things about my “aid station” setup that I could improve upon and I learned that the run/walk schedule that I was trying seemed to be good for me; I think I’ll stick with it.

One more long run to add in here and then I’m pretty much caught up. Last Saturday had the same basic plan: Running near the house with my own personal aid station set up at the front door. I wanted to get out there closer to 4:15, but managed a 4:30am start, and this time I was running with my new headlamp for the first time. I usually run on sidewalks under streetlights so a headlamp isn’t critical, but I know I’ll need one during the 50-miler as I’ll be running on the beach at night and there just aren’t enough streetlights on the beach!

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For this run I decided to go two miles before my first walk break, and kept the pace at 10:13 for those first two. Perfect! I stayed with walking for one minute following each mile from that point on and returned to the aid station after 90 minutes. Swap, sandwich, and go! This time out was about 85 minutes and I was right at 16 miles when I made my second aid station stop. Back out on the road and watching the sun come up I knew that things were going to get more difficult. After about mile 18 I started taking walk breaks after about 3/4 mile running. Around mile 20 I was down to 1/2 mile run to 1 minute walking. I stopped back home for a quick refill on my water at about mile 21 and then managed to run another mile-plus without stopping (only because I knew this was the end). In all I did 22.36 miles in 4:06 (11:00 average pace).

The bright spot here is that I can do long runs in this heat, just not quite as well as I’d like to. Considering this 50-mile race will be in December I’ll have the chance to do several more (and longer) long runs, and the weather should start to become more conducive to running soon, in theory. For my long run this week I’m going to try an earlier start and a longer run in the neighborhood since my second on-course group run was cancelled. Next group run will be in 4 weeks and it’ll be 30 miles of the 50 that I’ll race in December. That could prove to be my most important training run of the year!

Heart Rate Training Seems to Work!

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For the past 8 days now I have been focused on heart rate training, and surprisingly I am seeing positive results already. I expected to see improvement but assumed that it would take some time before I saw the type of results that I’ve seen. I also want to point out the fact that I use words like slow and slower in this post. In no way am I attempting to compare myself to anyone else or label anyone as a slow runner. A 12:00 mile pace may be a goal for some runners and that’s fine because we all work from where we are. Having run a 22:04 5k, backing down to some of the speeds necessary to stay within my target heart range has been quite an adjustment for me. Your mileage may vary 😉 I also want to note that I have been fasting for each of the runs that are discussed here as I’m teaching my body to burn fat more efficiently (also in the Maffetone plan).

What is heart rate training? Basically it’s a system that was put together by Phil Maffetone that helps determine your optimal training heart rate zone; a zone that keeps you in your body’s aerobic system rather than the anaerobic system which stresses your body more. After reading all of the details I was able to determine that my training heart rate should be between 135-140 beats per minute (the formula allows for 130-140, but I have elected to shorten that window). In order to benefit from the heart rate training I will need to keep my heart rate in the 135-140 zone during all runs as well as all cross-training activities. Using running as an example, this means that once I get my heart rate up to 135 I need to stay between 135 and 140 until the workout is finished. The bad news is that this pretty much eliminates the possibility of run/walking for those that typically run using the Galloway Method because walking would lower the heart rate below the bottom end of the range. This also eliminates strides, intervals, repeats, tempo runs, fartleks, ladders, progression runs and any other attempts at working on speed. It’s temporary.

Last Tuesday I set out for my first crack at this different type of training before the sun came up. As it sometimes does, my heart rate jumped way up right off the bat (164 max), but after about three minutes I was back in my target range, finishing the first mile in 10:27 with an average  of 141 bpm. Yeah, this type of training takes a little getting used to, especially if you’re used to running by pace more than feel. As expected the remaining miles were each slower than the previous mile: 11:12, 11:45, and 12:00. The final half mile was on pace to be even slower than 12:00. Overall I averaged 11:27 per mile and a 138 heart rate.

Without knowing exactly what to expect I just accepted these numbers as my starting point and decided to run the same distance each of the next two days to make comparing data from day to day a little easier (#NumbersNerd). On Wednesday my first mile was about the same (10:29/131bpm) but the other miles showed more and more improvement: 10:31, 10:47, 11:07, and the final half at 11:19 pace. The day’s averages were 10:48 and 135bpm. Interesting…. About 40 seconds faster per mile with a lower heart rate. Thursday was a split compared to Wednesday, with some numbers better than Wednesday and some worse. I’ll post the specifics below if you’re interested.

Saturday’s run was different on many levels (non-fasting, run later in the day under hot sun, higher stress, etc.) and the results reflected the differences. I’m going to skip the specifics until I can determine which elements affected me and which ones didn’t, but the entire run was done trying to stay in the 135-140 range.

Sunday was a longer run, so I checked the numbers for 5 miles (to compare to previous runs) and for the full 8.2 miles. More improvements! At five miles I was averaging a 10:44 pace and 135 bpm, and for the full run, an 11:09 pace and 136. Yeah, I averaged a faster pace for 8.2 miles than I did 5 days ago for 4.5 miles and at a lower heart rate. Hmmmm, I’m seeing a trend that I like. My sixth run, a week after my first run: 10:20 average pace for 5 miles at 134 bpm. Last Tuesday was 11:27/138 bpm! That’s 67 seconds per mile faster at a lower heart rate. Today’s first mile was at 9:44 and a 127 heart rate! I’m actually having trouble getting my average heart rate for the first mile high enough without going over the 140 mark because it is increasing so slowly.

I have plans to continue this training for about six weeks and if the improvements keep coming the way that they have so far….. I am getting excited to think of the possibilities! If you have any questions about this training method that I might be able to answer please feel free to contact me. There are more details about the Garmin that I use here. If you are looking for more details about the Maffetone Method, the formula to find your training zone, etc. then please click here. Other useful Maffetone links include the MAF test and The New Aerobic Revolution. Thanks for listening to me ramble and best of luck on your training.

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Chart 2

Heart rate values are average/max for each mile




Running with a Timing Device

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Maybe you run for the fun of it. Maybe you’re training for your first race. Maybe you have a definite time goal that you are striving for in a goal race that’s not too far away. Just about everyone who runs uses some sort of timing device to give them an idea of how their run went.

Some people want to know only the distance that they’ve run. Some only want to know how long they were running. And some want to know every possible detail, including distance for warm up, stats on the intervals that just cost a lung, time between intervals, cool down pace, distance, and time, heart rate, elevation change, or even the ability to compare this week’s long run to last week’s long run. How much information you desire may steer you toward one device or another.

For those that only want to know the amount of time that you spent running, I suggest you consider a watch 🙂 If you just want to track your distance then there are dozens of apps that you can put on your cell phone that will do a reasonably good job. Most use a single satellite and will give you a good approximation. What I have found is that the Runtastic app shorted me a tad on the mileage, mostly by cutting corners shorter than I had run them. Conversely, the Map My Run app seems to pad the mileage on the corners just a bit so I ended up with a few extra hundredths on short runs. No big deal, you say? Consider all of the turns in a full marathon. Using the Map My Run app during the (certified) Disney Marathon in January, I apparently ran 26.9 miles instead of the traditional 26.2. The difference here is a very big deal when you’re attempting to pace yourself, either so you hit a goal time or to avoid over-extending yourself and burning out.

I also tried Runkeeper for a run or two, but found the voice reading back my mid-run stats to be annoying. If you think that using a phone app is sufficient for your needs, there are a bunch of reviews online. A couple other popular candidates to look for are Nike+ and Strava. Many of the apps are free to use (with ads) and upgradeable with extra features and fewer ads.

Like I said, I’ve used three different phone apps, and at that point in my running career they served their purpose. I am now doing more interval training and working with a HR monitor so I have stepped up to the next level. I debated moving up for quite a while because, like many of you, cost is a big factor for me to consider. I asked several runners who have been at this longer than I have and considered several options. In the end I purchased a Garmin Forerunner 310XT. It is not the latest and greatest product that Garmin offers but it does what I need it to do and more. And it is more affordable because it’s not the latest and greatest.

When I run with the Garmin I typically use the chest strap in order to monitor my heart rate. This is probably the biggest difference between a watch-type GPS device and a phone app GPS device. And it has made a huge difference in my training. I wore the Garmin and strap during a recent 5k where I achieved a PR and ran so hard at the end that I literally felt like I was going to fall down. From that race I learned that my maximum heart rate is 192. Using the old-style generic formula (220 minus age) I was led to believe that my max heart rate was 174. Huge difference there! And that difference gives me different heart rate ranges to train in for different paces. If you think you might want this feature be sure that the model that you purchase includes the strap – not all of them do! I also like the wireless transfer of data from the watch to my PC – it will upload the data to my Garmin page while I’m still wearing the watch.

I’ll let some pictures do the talking for some of the other features that come with using a Garmin, with a couple of side notes. The screens shown below are completely customizable. I set them up this way because it works for me – you can choose different data to look at, set up 1-4 screens, and set up 1-4 fields on each screen. I also have mine set so that every mile becomes a new “lap” so I get different data for each mile. When I do intervals I can begin a new lap for each interval and for each recovery period.

Screen 1 includes total time, last lap pace, total distance, average pace.

Screen 1 includes total time, last lap pace, total distance, average pace.

Screen 2 includes current lap time and distance, current heart rate, average HR

Screen 2 includes current lap time and distance, current heart rate, average HR

Screen 3 includes calories burned, average speed (mph), and time of day

Screen 3 includes calories burned, average speed (mph), and time of day

2 minutes after ending the run the watch displays recovery heart rate

2 minutes after ending the run the watch displays recovery heart rate

This model of Garmin is typically available on Amazon and eBay for under $150 including the chest strap. Bonus… it’s waterproof because it’s designed to be used in triathlons. Yes, you can program it to switch from swim to bike to run with the push of a button. Garmin (and other companies) have newer and perhaps better products, but some of them can run in the several hundred dollar range. If I had to guess I’d say the newer ones a probably a little lighter. This watch takes a couple of runs to get used to because of the weight, but it took me less than a week to get used to and I haven’t worn a watch at all since the 1980s. I’m also a big fan of Garmin’s use of multiple satellites, which makes it more accurate than the GPS phone apps.

Once the data is uploaded wirelessly to my PC, I am able to look at each split for time, distance, max HR, average HR, elevation change, and many other details. I am also able to see graphs of elevation change, speed, and heart rate for the entire run. IN other words I am able to analyze every aspect of the run and even look at a particular piece of the run that seemed really good or really bad.

Graphs of elevation, pace and heart rate

Graphs of elevation, pace and heart rate

Some of the data from a recent run. Too much to fit in one pic

Some of the data from a recent run. Too much to fit in one pic

I have only been using a Garmin for three months now, but I would highly recommend it to anyone that is looking to take their training to the next level. Have questions? Leave them for me in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them!

Hydrating for most of your runs

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    Proper hydration is nothing new for most runners. All it takes is one story or experience involving dehydration and the lessen is ingrained. Most race directors will ensure that water, at a minimum, is available both during and after races longer than 5k. Many runners also make use of hydration belts, hand-held water bottles, or CamelPaks during races to suit their style and have better control over hydration needs. So, that pretty much covers it right?

    If you’re anything like me that hardly solves the problem. There are how many long training runs between races? How many race volunteers are ready to greet you at 6am on a Saturday morning after you make your first of five three-mile loops around the neighborhood? What if you’re out for a 20-mile training run? Should you attempt to start your run with a gallon of water and a quart of Gatorade? Probably not. So now what?

Fitletic Hydration Belt

Fitletic Hydration Belt

     I have come up with a solution, though I realize that it won’t work for everyone. However, it should be something that you can add your own tweaks to in order to devise your own solution. When I head out for a long run (13.1 or more) I run a loop of 6.55 miles. Two loops for a half and four for 26.2. With the starting/ending point for each loop being at my driveway, the obvious answer was to make use of the mailbox. I start with the hydration belt stocked with a water and a Gatorade and then put backup bottles in the mailbox for a quick, easy exchange when I loop around. If needed I can also throw some extra nutrition, snacks, and even a 32-ounce water bottle in the mailbox to allow for unusual needs along my run.

     The best part of this technique is that even the last bottle I grab is still cold. We can all agree that cold fluids just hit the spot better than warm water, right? But how? 

Bottle

Bottle half filled with Gatorade

     With a little planning it’s simple. The night before my run I fill two bottles halfway (one water, one Gatorade), and the rest to 3/4 full. Then I stick them in the freezer overnight. Just before I head out on my run I take them out and top them off. The two that started half full go in the belt and the rest go in the mailbox. After about 20 minutes of running there is just a small portion of ice left and it’s quite easy to drink as needed. After a loop I just stop at the mailbox, bottles in hand, and toss the old ones in and take the next set out. Just a few seconds and I am ready for another loop, and I have ice cold refreshment. You may need to adjust the amount that you put in the freezer depending on the weather, but this method works well in mid to upper 70’s (5am temps) in August in Central Florida.

Has this been a struggle for you as well? Have you found any other tricks that work for hydration during training runs?