Ultramarathons. What , why and how are the questions I'm most commonly asked. Hopefully you find some answers here from my own personal perspective. My other blog at www.mile27.com.au/blog is full of information on running and health and fitness in general.

Saturday, 31 January 2009

A few more jelly beans for the jar.

My brother used to refer to training sessions as putting jelly beans in a jar. The harder the training sessions the more jelly beans you put in the jar. The more jelly beans you had in the jar the more reserves you had to call upon come race day. I deposited quite a few jelly beans in that jar today!

My plan for training for the celtic 100km is based on the principle that running 50km in 3hours 45 minutes is easy, it's running the next 50km in that time is the hard bit. What I wanted to do is get used to running that pace when my legs are already tired. So this weeks plan was to tire the legs out as much as possible during the week then do a 45km run on Saturday.

So the week included weights on monday including lots of plyometric work ;jump lunges and hops. Tuesday 10 miles including a solid session at the track, Wednesday was 19 miles in 2 hours 15 including a couple of big hills, weights again on Thursday, then just to make sure the legs were really tired, 2 hours of hills on Friday evening.

So I headed off on Saturday morning with legs that were giving me all the signs that they really didn't want to be running today. The plan was run to Regents Park ( 2.5 miles) and then do 8 laps of the 4.4km Regents Park circumference with a 2 minute rest after each lap. I chose to rest after each lap because I wanted the pace up - under 4minutes 15 seconds per km (6.48 per mile)if possible.

As I set off for the first lap my legs still weren't too happy with the thought of running so I decided that if I couldn't run quicker than 4.30 per km or 7.12 per mile I'd run home and have an easy day. No point running lot's of slow km when the aim is to get used to running faster ones when tired.

First lap 18.40 or 4.15 pace - that's ok I thought , although it didn't feel very easy.

Second lap 18.33 (4.10 pace). Wasn't sure if I'd make 8 laps of this as I felt like I was working pretty hard.

Third lap 18.27 (4.09 pace).Still not easy but holding the pace so thought I'd push on until the pace dropped below 4.30 pace.

Fourth lap 18.34 (4.11 pace). Halfway. Felt completely stuffed and still had another 23km to go.

Fifth lap 18.23 (4.10 pace).Mentally felt stronger as three more laps seemed achievable

Sixth lap 18.30 (4.12 pace). Only two laps to go!

Seventh lap 18.27 (4.09 pace). In a world of pain but only 1 lap to go.

Last lap. I was lucky with the last lap as a runner went past me just before I started the last lap so I set off in pursuit. Half way round I noticed we'd been sitting under 4 min k's. I was working very hard and legs were screaming to slow down but couldn't let him get away from me. Outsprinted him at the end to finish the lap in 17.35 ( 3.56 pace) He probably thought I was a bit of a tosser outsprinting him over the last 400m especially as he kept on running but I consoled myself with the fact that he probably hadn't run 42km up to that point.

Ran back up the hill to home feeling very satisfied with the days run, legs sore but not destroyed. Big confidence builder for the 100km.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Goals for the year.

On my personal training blog recently I've written about the importance of goals, and of the importance of making these goals known to people as a means of holding yourself accountable to them. Well in the interests of practicing what I preach here's my major goals for the year.

Qaulify for the Australian Team to run in the 100km Commonwealth Championships being held in the Lake District in September. In communication with the selectors from Australia I've been informed that if I can run the distance in a time of less than 8 hours it should be sufficient for me to make the team. I am targeting the Celtic 100km as the race in which to do that. Held in Galway on March 28th it also doubles as the UK and Irish 100km Championships.

I am aiming for 7 hours 45 minutes just to be sure but deep down I think if all goes well I can sneak under 7 hours 30. This would mean running 4 mins 30 sec per kilometre for 100km, equivalent to running a marathon in 3hours 10minutes, then doing it again and doing almost half of it again. The UK Champion Jez Bragg (see blogs) has a pb of 7.02 so I wont be challenging for the win with a time that quick but hopefully will make the Australian team.

Some of you have already asked if that will be easy since I've already run 100 miles. Well the big difference is the speed. During an off road 100miler you get to walk the hills and the up and down nature of the course breaks up the pace quite a lot. The 100km is dead flat so it's a matter of finding a pace and trying to maintain it as long as possible.

The scenery will be a bit different - it is a 2.5km out and back course which means 20 laps! Not exactly exciting stuff and a far cry from the Alps or english countryside of the Peak District. Normally I'd stay right away from this type of race but the chance to represent your country doesn't come around very often and only for a small select group of people so I felt I had to seize the oppurtunity whilst I can.

So training for the next couple of months will focus on back to back runs friday and saturday running 35-45km at 4min 30 pace or quicker to get the legs used to running that pace for a long time when they are already tired.

So that's my goal - what about yours? Love to hear about peoples goals so let me know.

Is weight training any good for runners?

I am often asked this question and the answer is very much dependant on the type of exercises you do. A good weight training program can increase endurance, improve running technique, increase flexibility, decrease risk of injury, balance any muscular asymmetries throughout the body allowing your body to function more effectively, increase the strength of the body for going up and more importantly down hills, increase lactate tolerance,increase strength of tendons and ligaments, not to mention general health benefits such as increasing bone density, maintain muscle mass, increase metabolic rate, decrease blood pressure and having a positive effect on insulin resistance.

It is relatively easy to come up with a program to obtain the general health benefits but a lot more thought has to go into designing a program with the running benefits. It is not as simple as thinking that running works your thighs so any exercise that works you thighs must help.

There are a few basic principles to keep in mind. The first is the body's response to exercise is specific to the actual exercise performed. What this means is if you perform a squat for example then you will become better at squatting but just because it works the legs doesnt mean any of the benefit you gained squatting will transfer into running. If you want to get better at running then you need to pick exercises that challenge the body in a similar way to running.

A common exercise I am asked about is the leg extension ( sitting down, starting with bent legs and straightening your legs with a weight on your shins). If we look at this in a bit of detail I'm sure you'll understand what I mean. The leg extension works both legs at once, you are seated, your feet aren't touching the ground, your thigh muscles ( quadriceps) work to extend the leg. When you run, you land on 1 leg, and as your foot hits the ground it has to absorb all the weight of the body , your quadriceps work to slow the rate at which your knee bends. If they didn't work your knee would keep bending until you colapsed on the ground.

So one exercise starightens your leg in a seated position and the other slows down the rate at which your knee bends in a standing position. Those two desciptions sound very different.Consequently doing leg extension will have very little effect or carry over benefit to your running.

The second point to consider is that the body moves in three planes of movement. The three planes are forward/backward, sideways, and rotational. To understand this a little better think of a tennis player, when he runs forward he is moving in what we call the sagittal plane, when he goes sideways he is moving in the frontal plane and when he hits the ball his arm, raquet and upper body are moving in the transverse(rotational )plane.

On a smaller scale, every bone in your body moves in all three planes. Take running - as our foot lands our arch rolls in which causes our shin bone to rotate in, which causes our thigh bone to rotate in, our hip also drops on the opposite to our landing foot, this movements happen all the way up to our head. If we aren't able to control these forces then we lose power and efficiency and it leads to injuries. For example the inability of the lower leg and foot muscles to control the inward roll of the foot can cause shin splints.

When was the last time you ever did any lower leg rotational exercises to strengthen those mucles? When did you do any upper thigh rotational exercises to control the inwards rotation of the thigh bone?, what about any exercises to control the movement of the pelvis as it drops on one side when the other foot lands? Lack of strength in this area commonly leads to ITB problems.

The final point I want you to consider is the type of muscle contractions that running primarily uses. There are two main types of muscles contractions - concentric and eccentric. Concentric means the muscle is shortening as it is working eg as it does in when you straighten your leg in the Leg Extension exercise, eccentric means the muscle is lengthening whilst trying to work. This happens in almost every muscle in the body when you run. For example after your foot hits the ground your knee starts to travel forward and your calf muscles help slow this movement down so you can power off for the next stride.

Your exercises should emphasise the eccentric part of the movement as much as possible. You might be thinking well what happens when I push off onto the other leg, isn't that concentric? Yes it is but concentric action becomes a lot stronger when you begin with an eccentric action first. For example if you are standing up and I told you to jump as high as you can the first thing you would do is squat down (try it if you don't believe me). Why do you squat down when you goal is to jump up? Squatting down loads up the muscles eccentrically so now they have more strength concentrically. Think of it as stretching a rubber band. If you want to fire a rubber band across the room the more you stretch it first the further it will go. Our muscles work in the same way.

So when you are designing your next weight training program to help your running ask yourself - does this exercise look similar to running, does it challenge me in all thre planes of movement and am I loading the eccentric part of the movement first.