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.

Monday, 30 March 2009

The best laid plans .......

The jab of pain in my left knee is not good. I hope it will be one of those aches that goes within a few minutes but deep down I know it won't. I've felt this pain before, a while ago now but it is familiar. I stop and stretch in the vain hope it will relieve it. With a momentary release it feels ok for a while and I complete another lap. I'm 48km into the race. Twenty four 2km laps down, twenty six to go! I completed the marathon in 3.04 and was feeling ok until this.

I push on hoping it will fade but it just gets worse. I stop again and stretch and it gets me through another lap, half way in 3.43. If I could keep this up I could break 7.30. I've run this pace in training on tired legs so I know that it's possible but I also know I can't do it with this pain in my knee. I finish another lap and sit down, much to Catherine's concern. I stretch and massage, hoping for a miracle and after more than 5 minutes try again. I make another lap but half way around the next lap it comes back with another sharp jab of pain that forces me to walk.

All sorts of emotions and thoughts run through my head. From disappointment, frustration, a sense of failure, to relief that if I quit the pain will stop. Just to make sure that I can't go on I finish the lap, stopping to walk several times due to the pain. Reaching the end I sit down and my day is done.

I didn't even consider trying to finish the race but it is something I have thought about a lot since. I've never not finished a race and it was something I was very proud of. That record has finished now, like a boxer who can no longer claim to be undefeated when he finally loses a fight.

Why didn't I try and finish? Well for me this race was about one thing only - finishing in less than eight hours and qaulifying for the Australian team. I never thought about finishing or not finishing it was always about the time. With other Ultra's and Ironmans it has been about finishing first of all and then worrying about the time. I've finished both Ultra's and Ironmans having to walk large portions due to getting injured and I've proven to myself that I can endure lots of pain for long periods of time to finish a race. I don't need to prove that to myself again.

I knew the knee pain I was feeling was due to my ITB flaring up and I knew the longer I continued the longer the recovery would be. Although I wish I could have kept my dnf record intact I didnt want to put myself through that much pain and have 4-8 weeks off running afterwards just for that.

Now I can take an easy week and get back into training for the next race, whatever that might be.

Why did it happen? Well I'd had no indication of ITB problems in training at all. In fact since doing the Edinburgh marathon in 2005 when my ITB flared up very badly I've worked hard at making sure it wouldn't be a problem again. In training for the UTMB and P100 which involved large amounts of hills my ITB never gave me any grief.

The problem (for those interested, if not just skip this paragraph) lies in a tight and weak left hip flexor. When it fatigues it forces another muscle called the TFL to overwork. The TFL connects into the ITB so overworking the TFL flares up the ITB. ITB problems commonly occur due to weak glutes and is worse going downhill. Well there wasn't any hills on saturday so it wasn't that. I slightly strained that hip flexor a week before the race. Very minor and I though it wouldn't affect me. However I felt it tighten up around the 40km mark and that sent a few warning bells off in my head. Hoping it would ease but infortunately it didn't.

I sat down at the finish feeling a little sorry for myself while Catherine went and got me a coke. I felt more sorry for letting her down and friends and family and although I know they would never think like that and I know thats not a rational thought as I race for myself not for anyone else, it was still hard to put those emotions out of my head.

Heading back to the hotel I decided I may as well enjoy the rest of the weekend. Galway is a lovely spot and although I couldn't quite come at watching the rest of the race I did manage to enjoy the rest of the weekend.

Life doesn't go to plan sometimes and we have a choice on how we deal with it. We can mull over it and dwell in our misery or deal with it and move on. I'm a big beliver in things happen for a reason so I'm looking at the positives for the weeekend. I had a great first 40km, felt like my pacing was about spot on. My nutrition strategy needs fine tuning as I think I didnt have enough in the first hour or two. My mental approach worked really well, I ran my own pace, letting people pass me if they were running faster and just stuck to my own pace.

Training wise I think my taper wasn't quite right. My legs didnt feel as fresh in the final week as before other races so will look at what I did wrong there. I also think I need to keep up the hill training as although the race was totally flat the hills are so good for training your legs to cope with the ache in the quads that comes from a lot of miles.

So all in all lots of positives, lots of lessons learnt which can all be put in practice for the next race. I did contemplate giving up the 100k races and going back to trails for a moment but I feel like I've put a lot of work into training over the last 6 months and learnt so much it would be a shame not to use that and do at least one 100km race.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

The countdown begins

With only three weeks to go until the Celtic 100km the countdown has well and truly begun. Now is when I start to look back and wonder if I have done enough training (not that anything can be done about it now) and look ahead at what I should do for the next three weeks.

Looking back I am fairly confident with the training I've done. I did my last really long run last weekend - 51km. Felt very sluggish to start with but got quicker as I went without trying to and ran the last half 5 minutes quicker than the first, finishing in 3 hours 38 minutes, which if I could keep that pace up would give me a time for the 100km of around 7 hours 8min! Would be stoked with that! However running 51km in training when you can stop , fill up the water bottle, have a little rest at the traffic lights etc is different to a race and running 51km is very different to running 100km so I'm not getting carried away just yet. I will still be very happy with anything under 7 hours 45 and delighted with anything under 7.5hours. Checking through the records I noticed that only a couple of Aussies have run faster than 7.5 hours over the last few years so it is obviously not an easy thing to do.

So what do I do over the last three weeks to fully prepare myself?

The task of the next three weeks is to manage both the physical and mental aspects to get me into the best shape possible for the race.

Physically my endurance has reached is peak and will remain there for at least a month. Endurance training takes a lot out of the legs and time is needed to let them fully recover so I can derive the full benefit of all those long miles. This means no more really long runs and a decrease in overall mileage. When we run on tired legs they dont function as efficiently as if they were fully rested so it is important to make sure you start a race with legs as fresh and recovered as possible.

The problem is if you rest them by doing nothing they very quickly start losing the conditioning you have worked so hard to put into them. The trick is to reduce the overall mileage but increase the speed of the runs so you still achieve a training effect but without the damage to the muscles the long runs cause.

With this in mind I have already dropped my weekly mileage down to 65 this week from 80 last week, next weeks will be 50-60, the week after 40-50 and the final week around 10.

I already do one speed session at the track but I will include two other sessions where I perform intervals of around 10-15 mins running sub 4min k's. I've managed to run all my long runs at or faster than 7 hour 30 min 100km pace. The idea being that doing so many miles at that pace conditions the legs to be able to run at that pace no matter how tired they are. The idea of increasing the speed work now is if I spend the next thre weeks running around 4mins per km then running 4mins 30 per km will seem very easy. It is impossible to do this with high mileage as the legs are just too tired but with the decreased mileage it now becomes possible.

The other factor to pay careful attention to is any litte niggles, aches, strains etc. A small niggle that doesn't really bother you in a 22 mile run may turn into something major after 40 miles so every little ache needs to be addressed. This means more stretching, hot/cold treatments, massage and functional movement exercises to ensure every muscle is ready to go come March 28. It also means really listening to your body and not sticking rigidly to a training plan. I was supposed to go out for a run today but tight calves from yesterdays run meant I have erred on the side of caution and will have a day off and stretch, apply ice/heat and massage instead. It is not worth the risk of injury now.

It is a nervous time when every little niggle can feel like a disaster and so many what/ifs go through your mind. I know if I can stick to a regular massage, stretching and exercise routine I can get myself into the best possible state and give myself a great chance of a good race.

The mental preparation becomes even more important and I'll share a few of my tips on the next blog.