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!

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Ultra Training part one

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It’s been a while since I’ve really had anything to post but I think it’s time to get back behind the keyboard and document this process called ultra training. It’s new territory for me, and from the reactions I’ve seen across social media, it’s not familiar territory for very many people. A few months ago I decided to jump into the ultra world when I saw a race advertised that looked too good to pass up. When I signed up for the race, the hardest part was deciding between the 50-mile and 100-mile distance. Seriously, I was just seconds away from clicking on the 100-mile option for my first ultra, but I opted to play it safe and chose the 50. Now race day is less than 3 months away and I’m getting into the meat of my training.

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The lighthouse in Ponce Inlet

The race I’m training for is the Daytona 50 (part of the Daytona 100), which is a point-to-point race down the east coast of Florida. The 100 starts in Jacksonville at 6am, while the 50 starts in Marineland, FL at noon. The finish line for both races is on the beach in Ponce Inlet after circling the second biggest lighthouse in the country. 50 miles…. sounds like an enormous undertaking, but by race day I will have devoted close to 9 months getting myself ready for it. This post covers part of the experience, and once I get caught up then I’ll try to be a little more timely with my posting.

My training started in March with a long stretch of heart rate training. You can see my updates here, here and here. Much of the heart rate training was done on the treadmill simply because it was easier for me to track progress if as many factors as possible are consistent from day to day, and being inside was my way to control the weather differences. In May I started bumping up my long runs and my weekly mileage, first hitting 40 miles per week in early May and 20 mile long runs on July 23rd. By the time it’s May in central Florida the heat and humidity are already off the charts (even before dawn) so I continued most of my long runs inside while moving about half of my short runs outside. Here’s the reasoning: I needed to stay outside regularly in order to stay used to the heat and humidity, but I found it difficult to make it to 20 miles or more in those conditions. Knowing the troubles I experienced in my six marathons I felt that becoming comfortable with the distance was top priority and I could move the long runs outside if/when it cools down. I also kept one 5-6 mile run inside every 10-14 days for a progress update on the heart rate training.

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Now for the fun part: On August 27th there was an opportunity for anyone registered for the Daytona 100 or 50 to run part of the course as a group run. There would be aid available on the course to help out as well. Even though the selected part of the course covered in this run is not part of the 50-mile race, I signed up and made my way to St. Augustine on the 27th, parking at the designated end of the run. We carpooled up to Jacksonville and started our run at the race’s actual start line. I quickly learned that I was the only member of the group with no ultra experience. There was good motivation to do well on this run since my car was parked 28 miles away. The bad part of this experience was that the start time was 9am. In August. In Florida. It was 82 degrees and cloud-free when we started running. Here’s the part where running more outside would have been beneficial.

I ran fairly conservatively (I thought) through Jacksonville, around 10:10-10:40 per mile. Since my long runs for the past three months had been in the 9:30-9:40 range and I had done so much heart rate training, I assumed that taking this run about a minute per mile slower would be about right. You know what happens when you assume, right? By the end of the 4th mile I was averaging 165 bpm and peaked over 170. I still have 24 miles to go and it’s going to get hotter? I’m in trouble. For the next couple of miles I stayed with someone who had run this course last year and was taking walk breaks. I’m not a run/walker, more of a run until you’re dead and then walk as needed, but I needed to find a way to survive this run. We were doing 5/1 and after 3 miles of that I slowed it down even more and let the veteran run ahead of me. Mile 8 was 14:03 with 14:46 at mile 9.

This was exactly why I wanted to do this run. Not to destroy myself physically, but to learn what’s working and what’s not. The hard part is going to be applying things I’ve learned about running in August to a race in December, assuming that it won’t be quite as warm. So I continued down the road under the impression that this road would never end. Around mile 12.5 I saw a friendly face, Dave Krupski’s (race director) wife. She was at the edge of a parking lot with a cooler full of water, Gatorade, some snacks and ice. Lots of ice. I explained to her that I was struggling with the heat and she said that they weren’t worried about how long they’d be out there and that I should keep going as far as I could. I started through the parking lot and just before crossing the bridge onto the beach I spotted a couple of showers intended for rinsing off after being in the ocean. I spent a good 30 seconds letting that water cool off my head, and soaking the rest of me pretty well.

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Sunscreen wasn’t working, still 2 hours to go!

Next up was the bridge to the beach. There were quite a few people walking on the bridge and most of them looked at me like I had lost my mind. I wasn’t prepared to argue. Onto the beach I went and headed south. The sand here was very well packed and was almost as firm as running on the road. After the first quarter mile there was no one on the beach in front of me as far as I could see. And the sun was still blazing away.

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Hello? Anyone there???

 

I’ve been in a place during a marathon where I was physically spent and questioning my ability. After about 2 miles of beach isolation, seeing no one in front of me and no one behind me I was in a place mentally that I had never imagined. I was not only considering giving up the run, but dropping out of the race as well. This was crazy. And it looked like it would never end. I was just about out of food and each mile was taking about a year. From miles 12-16 I ran only mile 14 in less than 15 minutes. Mile 17 took me over 20 minutes. I was seriously out of gas. At about 18.3 I saw Dave’s wife again, waiting next to another cooler. I explained my situation and again she gave me some positives to look at and told me that the tide was on its way in so the course was being adjusted back out to the road (we were supposed to stay on the beach until we finished, mile 28).

 

I let her talk me into continuing over another bridge and back to the road. She said that the next cooler was 4 miles away and if I was still in bad shape that I could wait at that cooler and Dave would take me back to my car. I regretted my decision after about 5 minutes. The sun was relentless. I kept up a pace of one minute run and one minute walk as best I could. About 2 miles after I got back on the road I started wondering if a person would find me before the vultures did. I needed to stop and kept hoping that Dave would drive by. Eventually he did, just before I got to that cooler, just before mile 22. He asked how I was doing and I replied with “front seat or back?” I packed it in and gave up for the first time ever. As we drove Dave said a lot of things that I will try to remember and incorporate in my continued training for the Daytona 50 and beyond. Dave would know what works and what doesn’t after all, he’s run 25 races of 100 miles or more, including Badwater twice. The thing that Dave said to me that stuck with me the most…. If you can last 5 hours in this heat you’re doing well. Apparently the same training run last year had two finishers out of about a dozen people.

Final numbers for the day: 21.93 miles, 5:06:57, end of run weather:

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Heart rate training update

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It’s been a while since I’ve posted an update on my heart rate training, but I’m still at it and the results are beyond what I ever hoped to get out of this. During this training phase I have been able to fully understand why I have struggled in the past in the last quarter of the six marathons that I’ve run. Put simply, my heart rate was too high for too long and I was completely out of gas. I realize that there are some people who can run faster and longer than me and have never had to do intentional heart rate training. I’m not sure how they trained their system to be as efficient as it is, but I’m not one of those people, probably because I didn’t start running until I was 44 years old.

I started my heart rate training on March 15th and did 9 runs as a trial, then took about 3 weeks away from it to train for a 10k and half on back-to-back days. I needed to work on a little speed which is not allowed using the Maffetone method. I returned to my heart rate training on April 20th and have been averaging about 4 runs per week following the plan, plus a long run each weekend. The guidelines of the Maffetone method call for EVERY run to be in your specific heart rate zone 100%, but with the Florida heat I would end up walking 8-10 miles of my long runs, if not more. The plan also calls for a 2 week specific diet that is beyond clean eating. Though I have greatly improved my diet I’ll admit I did not follow the two-week plan. I’m getting better, but decades of bad habits must be broken piece by piece in order to be successful.

OK, on to the training. My goal heart rate zone is 132-142 beats per minute. I’m pretty good about staying in this range (once I get up to 132) but I do tend to push the top end toward the end of the run. Most of my HR training runs are 5 miles and I keep a spreadsheet for every run, the 5-mile total time, 5-mile average time, and the BPM and time for each individual mile. I’m a data analyzer and I look for patterns and exceptions so I can learn what works and what doesn’t work. In addition, almost all of my runs are early in the morning and are fasting runs in an attempt to teach my body to burn fat for fuel (a main purpose of HR training). I also try to do most of my HR training runs on the treadmill just so I can compare apples to apples as far as the weather is concerned.

Day 1 of my training back in March was only 4.5 miles because the pace was getting slow enough that it was difficult to keep running. If I started walking then my HR would dip too low, so I just went as far as I could and stopped. Please note, I am not calling anyone else slow if he/she runs at these paces. I’m simply stating that the pace is too slow for me to continue “running”. My miles for day 1 were 10:27, 11:12, 11:45, 12:00, and 6:02 for the last half mile. These splits were completed at 138 average BPM, 11:27 average pace, and the total time was 51:27 for 4.5 miles. For comparison, my easy runs have been typically run at a 10:00 pace.

About 7 weeks later for my 22nd run in my HR training zone (including the 3 weeks away from the plan) and broke into new territory: my average pace for 5 miles was 9:59. I had improved by one minute and 28 seconds per mile while staying at the same heart rate, 138, over the course of those miles. The individual miles were 9:43, 9:43, 9:54, 10:12, and 10:21 and I finished in 49:53. I couldn’t believe that I made it so far so fast. However, the next 5 runs that I did were in the 10:04 to 10:24 per mile range. Several factors may have come into play here, such as elevated stress, lack of sleep, not warming up enough, etc., but sticking with it is the key.

Let’s fast forward another 22 runs to yesterday. Five miles completed in 46:47!! Running within the same  HR range I ran miles of 9:12, 9:07, 9:15, 9:33, and 9:40 for an average of 9:21. That’s 2:06 per mile faster than my first attempt in March, and the 8th time that I ran all five miles in less than 10 minutes. Now it’s turning into a “how low can you go” thing.

New day, new times. Today’s run: five miles completed in 46:11, again at 138 BPM average. My mile splits were my best times in 45 runs for each and every mile: 8:57, 9:00, 9:10, 9:29, and 9:35 for a 9:14 average. I finally managed to dip below a 9:00 mile! Today’s run was 7 seconds per mile faster than my record run yesterday, and I’ve been sick for the past 5 days.

In addition to my running I have been helping myself out with some cross training on the spin bike, recumbent bike and outdoor bike, plenty of stretching, and a lot of core work. I do abdominal workouts at the gym 3-4 days per week, just completed a plank-a-day challenge of 30 days, and am now doing a push up challenge. I’ve still got about ten pounds to get rid of, but piece by piece this is coming together. I plan to keep about 3 HR training runs per week through the summer because the progress is incredible!

 

Progress is occuring!

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Happy Star Wars day! It’s been a week since my last update on my Maffetone-style heart rate training and I am happy to report that the results are encouraging. How they will translate to long distance runs and/or races is yet to be seen, but as of today I am happy.

To quickly review, I did about two weeks of heart rate training in March just to try it out, knowing I’d have to give it up for a few weeks because of a couple of races on my calendar. My objective with this training is to adjust my pace as needed in order to keep my heart rate in the target zone, which for me is 131-140 bpm. My first run was 4.50 miles, completed in 51:27 (average 11:27 pace). My fastest mile was 10:27 and I quickly fell to 11:12 and eventually to 12:00. For comparison, I typically do my long runs (15-20 miles) at a 10:00 pace, so this was really slow for me. Walking is only an option for a few seconds at a time unless you’re walking fast enough to keep your heart rate in the target zone; falling below the zone will slow your heart’s adaptation (the point of this training).

I made some decent progress on paper in those two weeks in March, but my last HR training run at that time showed me that it was mostly on paper. My pace was improving rapidly, but the weather was consistently getting cooler at the same time. For my last run it was almost 70 degrees with 93% humidity and my pace slowed way down. At that point I decided to take most of my runs inside on the treadmill in order to gauge progress better by eliminating the weather variable.

You can find more background on my training as well as results from last week here.

Over the past week I ran every day, twice outside and 5 times on the treadmill. As could be expected, my slowest pace (10:56) came on Monday when I ran outside, and my fastest run was yesterday on the treadmill (9:59). Not only did I break the 10:00 average barrier for the first time yesterday, I also recorded my fastest times for every mile except the first (out of 23 runs). Today’s run was even a little faster through 3 miles but I had to slow down more than expected for miles 4 and 5 and finished at a 10:04 pace. I think the slow down was due to pushing hard on the leg presses after yesterday’s run. Either way, my times for this week have been MUCH better than the 11:27 that I started March with, and this week’s average pace was 17 seconds per mile faster than last week’s average.

That’s progress! My schedule has one more month of heart rate training right now, with plenty of room to add another 2-4 weeks if I continue to see this type of progress. I admit that at first I was a bit skeptical and frustrated at the pace that I was running, but since my pace has picked up at the same heart rate I think I’m liking this idea right about now!

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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Heart rate values are average/max for each mile