Saturday, 27 October 2012

Cold Virus One : Ultra Nil

Last night I struggled with another interrupted night sleep, only getting about 5 hours sleep, again down to my cold.  This morning I woke with the feeling of being hang over from too much partying.  I sit here now feeling crap, worse than same time yesterday.

Last night when awake I came to conclusion that the chance of being well by Sunday morning was basically zero and decided it best to pull out, but left the door open to making a final decision in light of day.  I still feel rotten, and while I'm familiar the marathon taper madness that can suppress ones feeling of well being prior to a big race what I have is in a different snotty league of it's own, I'm ill plain and simple.

Lessons learned from past bravado

About ten years ago I faced a similar situation, a heavy cold prior to a two day hiking expedition across to Knoydart on the west coast of Scotland.  It rained for the whole first day and I just put my hood up and got on with it.  We camped in the boonies and the next day I awoke to having a cold and painful inner ear.  As we were out in the wilderness with no roads we had only one choice - to go on to our destination Inverie or back to our car, both were equal distances and at that stage I was just uncomfortable so we pressed on.  Through the day my ear got progressively more painful until the last few hours I could really speak to me friends, I was just hunkered down in my own world of pain putting one foot in front of the other to get the youth hostel where I could rest.

We arrived at Inverie and headed to the pub for tea, but I was in so much pain that I had to leave early unable to eat, and couldn't sleep either, during the night my ear drum burst.  The only route out from Inverie is by boat and the first one headed out the next morning so we caught the first one back to Malaig we could and found the doctors and was given a presciption for pain killers.  This helped but on the drive back I was close to passing out so we had to pop into A&E in Fort William where they prescribed even stronger pain killers.

On returning home I was bed ridden for two weeks and got prescribed several rounds of anti-biotics to clear up the ear infection.  I had never known discomfort like this in my life and never been bed ridden before so it was pretty humbling.  I lost the most of the hearing in my left ear during this period, and didn't fully get it back for many months afterwards.  Even now a decade on my hearing, especially in noisy environments, isn't as good as it once was.

Risks and rewards

I have really been looking forward to running the Jedburgh Ultra.  It's a perfect distanced ultra to end my race year and the route looks great, and save for problems with my plantar fascii that have dogged me over the last 8 weeks I knew I was in good shape both physically and mentally for race.

This time last year I did the Glen Ogle 33 Ultra on the back of rather insufficient training due to injury, but was realistic I raced well within my fitness level and finished strong.  I really really enjoyed the race and it gave me a new sense of confidence about my ability to run longer races.  It's this race that gave me the confidence to sign up for the Highland Fling 53 mile tour of the first half of the west highland way, this represented a big step up from my previous longest race which was the 41 mile River Ayr Way Challenge race back in 2010.   The confidence was well founded as my training this year and my races have all gone well with PB's on almost all the races I've run this year.

I really wanted to be able to gauge things again, and sign off the year with a good race.  With this done it would be time to re-evlauate prospects for next year and what races I should considered signing up for.

Another motivating factor of doing the race is the inner science geek in me what to know just how well one can predict race performance on a new route based on training data.  This science geek also was curious about just how the body would respond during and after the race given my rather unfortunate illness during taper.

Counter to all this, I'm a family man and I run my own business and have clients that depend upon my ability to function efficiently and intelligently.  The big risk is not that I might have a crappy snot filled death march of race but doing an ultra would break down my body enough that opportunistic infections would take hold.  Having had a bad ear infection floor me before I know just how foolhardy it can be ignoring illness when undertaking big physical challenges.

Sense over Bravado

In my heart I really wanted to race, and still do, but even with a foggy head I know that it makes sense to pull out and not risk getting more ill than I already am.  So with a heavy heart I've decided to pull out.

Best of luck to all those who will be toeing the line at all the races in Jedburgh and elsewhere tomorrow, my envious thoughts will be with you!

Friday, 26 October 2012

When Tapers go bad

Taper plans meets the Reality of Life

October has been a peculiar month training wise - in the first week of the month I was in the last week of tapering for the Kielder Marathon.  With my Kielder Marathon taper I cut back in volume and concentrated on marathon pace runs of 6 to 7 miles over a similar route to the hilly Kielder course.  This worked well, with my efficiency at target place remaining pretty stable and I got a good sense of the level of effort for my target place and was able to knock out impeccable splits for the first 20 miles till an ill judged drink led to me faltering a bit in the last few miles.

The past three weeks has been been my second Taper, this time for the Jedburgh Ultra to be run this Sunday.  My plan was to recover from the marathon then build back up to doing a long run about 10 days before the Ultra then back to taper, throughout this period concentrating of practicing race pace - around 9 min/miles and lots of hills.

The week after the marathon I had a very busy week with family and work commitments so didn't run till the following Saturday.  This was fine as I still had some residual stiffness after the marathon that took most of the week to shake down.  For the second week of taper (last week) I was on a family holiday at the Sherwood forest Center Parcs, with has little scope for much more than 3 mile loops around the campus, so I got a few short runs in at the target race pace, but with nothing more than 50ft hills to contend with couldn't really get much race specific training in.

Middle the way through last week I caught a cold, and the following day having signed up for it already did a 1hour Spin class and a 3 mile recovery run to follow up.  I felt fine when doing the training but the cold got worse in subsequent days, along with the usual stuffed up head, sneezing and coughs I struggled to get any full nights sleep.

On my return last weekend the cold was showing a few positive signs of getting better, and with great weather in Callander and still my long run to get in I headed out on the Sunday for hill walk/run on a route with a similar elevation profile to the Eildons.  The long run was only 11.6 miles long, but included over 2000ft of ascent/descent and took 2hours 20minutes.  It was a stunning autumn day on the Trossachs so it was a real pleasure to be out on the trail, and my cold didn't seem to hold me back too much. 

After the long run my body came down from the elation of a good run to being exhausted.  In subsequent nights and days the cold got worse, with all nights being interrupted.  My original plan was to do race pace (9min/mile) runs on the Tuesday and Thursday, but with the cold not getting better I held off till today Friday.  While I didn't get a good nights sleep I still felt the best I had for ten days so was optimistic.  My plan was for a gentle 6 miler, but cut it short to 4 on finding my heart rate 10 to 15 bpm higher than usual for the pace.  My plantar fascii injuries were also a more uncomfortable than had been.  Post run I've recovered fine, cold still looks to be on the mend, but my feet feel more uncomfortable now.

I reviewed the efficiencies on my training runs through the taper and they are mostly stable till the last two where my efficiency has got much worse, and todays run was the least efficient calories/per mile wise that I've done in the whole year.  My cold is better today than it had been in the previous ten days so to see such a regression is a bit alarming.  I usually notice higher heart rates in the week prior to big races but it's normally a few bpm not 10bpm+ more.

The following graph plots the effective efficiency (after normalizing for elevation and duration of run) on my runs in October, September and August, with today run on the far left, progress to the 1st run in August on the right.  Early August my effective efficiency was around 70 calories/mile, and September it stabilised around the mid 70's as I wasn't able to keep the mileage up due to my Plantar fascii injuries, this month I expected to not stray too far from this, but in the last two runs on the left you can see a significant regression upwards to now over 90 Calories per mile.

I now have one day, and two more sleep till the race.  My cold is steadily getting better so I'm hopeful it'll mostly be gone by Sunday, but I'm not so sure about where the rest of my fitness is at. The regression in my plantar fascii is another concern.  Will it all just shake out on the day?

Estimating Realistic Jedburgh Race Time

With my current fitness markers looking rather sorry I will have to be realistic about what I can achieve on Sunday.  For the Kielder Marathon I came up with a technique of analysing training runs to make predications about how the training runs would map to average heart rate and pace when running the full marathon route and over the elevation profile of the race.  I have applied the same technique to my training runs this month and get the following predictions of the finish time and extrapolated heart rate.  Below is a graph of extrapolated time to finish the race and extrapolated average heart for all this months runs except for the last two cold effected runs.

The area of interest is around the 158 to 162 mark as this is average heart than I'm likely to be able to sustain for 6 to 7 hours (based on previous runs of similar length).  This would suggest a time of 6:30 to 6:45 should be possible.  Given that the estimate I provided on entry was 6:30 it was good see the analysis falling in the same ballpark.

However, if I look at the graph that includes the last two days then instead of getting a pretty straight line we get two points that sit above the original straight line at a slower pace - around an hour slower for a given higher heart rate for todays run.

So should I be realistic I start looking at a 7:30 time?  I had thought that 7 hours should be possible given my runs last week, but as going out too fast is usually a bigger mistake than going out too slow then logic would suggest that starting off with splits for a slow time would be sensible.

And then there is my feet, it seems not running regularly has led to a set back, or might it simply be extra inflammation due to my cold that will clear up with the cold?

Finally might doing a hilly 38mile ultra just be too much for my body right now? I am cutting it too fine with recovery from the cold?  Might it be more sensible to graceful bow out and live to fight another day? 

Lots of questions, alas the only way to answer is to go out a do the race which I've been looking forward to doing for several months now.  Time for me do my best to get better now and rest up!

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultramarathon Splits

As part of my preparation for the Jedburgh Ultramarathon I decided to have a bash at estimating the splits that might be reasonable to expect for the route. As the complete route hasn't been run before I've had to based my estimates on my own experience from others similar routes, the route profile and terrain and where possible feedback from others that have run parts of the route.

I started off with some preliminary estimates and sent these to John Kaynaston as we've exchanged splits for Highland Fling earlier this year, and knew that he was very likely thinking along the same lines.  Indeed he was and he kindly sent me his splits, and he's now posted them on his blog.  While we've chosen some different legs division for our splits the actual paces we both estimated were surprisingly close, with my original splits a bit more optimistic about the hills times, and all little more pessimistic on the return leg.  John's far more experienced an Ultramarathoner than I so I more than happy to defer to estimates so I've amended mine a little to be more in line with John's.

Once I had reasonable estimates for the % time of each leg it's then an easy to recalibrate the paces so that we can provide split for a range of finish times.  Follows are the splits from 6 hour to the 10hour cut off, with hopefully no one will need to go near as it'll mean staggering home in the dark!

6 hours



7 hours



8 hours

9 hours

10 hours

I expect that the winners will be under 6 hours, and pretty confident John will go under 7 hours.  While I originally estimated 6:30 for myself when entering the Jedburgh Ultra I now feel given my current health (I've had a stubborn cold for the last 8 days) that aiming for around 7 hours would be more sensible and any time under 7:30 would be great.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultramarathon Q&A

With just five days left to go till Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultramarathon I have moved from focusing on training and taper to logistics of the big day.  The main sources of information can be found at:

These didn't answer all my questions though so I contacted David Knox, one of the race organizers, and posed my remaining questions and David kindly answered them and was OK with posting the results on my blog so that others can benefit too.  David's answer below in bold.
Q1: Best places to park for race day?

A: The best place to park are the free car parks next to the town centre.
As ultra runners will be arriving a couple of hours before everyone
else there will be plenty room.

Q2: Will a Drop bag facility be available for dropping off supplies?

A: After several requests for drop bags, we will operate a service out to the Rhymer's Stone Water Station. Just see us during registration.

Q3: Are their suitable places for meeting up with supporters, or for
spectating on route? 

A: We posted a When and Where on our Facebook page. The villages of Bowden and Newtown provide a good opportunity to see the runners - although there are lots of other places.

Q4: Has the whole route been run before? If so what time was it run in
and by whom? 

A: We have only run the route in two sections as part of our own training for other races. We feel that if the course dries out it can be run in just over six hours by the the best runners, although the recent downpours have created a lot of mud and it will likely add up to half an hour onto the time.

Q5: From the entry list do you have any male and female favourites to
be in the top three? How fast do you think the winning male and female runners will do the course? 

A: We only know about 20 or so of the runners so it is difficult to say who the favourites are. The estimated times which have come in with the entries range from under six hours to bang on the ten.

Q6: I have three daughters, aged 8, 10 and 13.  Any recommendations for
entertaining children in Jedburgh whilst the race is under way. 

A: You can lock your kids up in the town's jail, which is quite good fun.
It's a Victorian prison set inside an old castle and they usually have a bit of fun on for children. There's also a deer park just outside the town.

Q7: I'm planning to put together some split times for race day, and
would appreciate a reality check from  one more knowledgeable of the route. Follows is my current steps towards estimating splits.

Looking at the elevation trace and route map online I've eyeballed
a rough division of the route into three parts:
  1. 14 miles, ~800ft ascent/descent from Jedburgh to the junction where the Eildons loop starts
  2. 10 miles, ~1600ft ascent/descent around the Eildons loop
  3. 14 miles, ~800ft ascent/descent from the Elidons loop start back to Jedburgh
For myself I'm guessing that these times for each of these part will broadly similar, and around 2hrs to 2hrs 30mins.  For point of reference I completed the Highland Fling in 10:46 this year.   I'm currently thinking that an average pace of 9 min/mile should possible for the first third, 13 min/mile for Eildons loop, and 10 min/mile on return leg.

If you were doing the route yourself what would estimate as paces for these sections? 

A: Predicting split times is difficult with the amount of mud on some sections - normally fast parts of the course are ankle deep in the stuff just now. I think nine minute mile pace is  achievable for the first 15/16 miles where it will then slow down in the mile or so before the Eildons. On a good day with fresh legs we can get over the three Eildons in around half an hour - with tired legs a good ten or 15 minutes more. The next four miles is relatively quick down through Bowden and Newtown - and it's back to the riverside section which can be run at nine to ten minute miles depending on the legs. I would be happy, myself, with ten or eleven minute miles from Bowden back to Jedburgh. Going by your Highland Fling time - you are a couple of hours quicker than me - so you could maybe shave a wee bit off my suggestions.

Many thanks to David for answering these questions and allowing them to be published, and also thanks to David and the rest of the Jedburgh team organizing and marshaling the festival.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Kielder Marathon 2012 : Race Report

Three week run up: Injuries, Training and Predictions 

 I signed up for the Kielder Marathon just three weeks ago and now three weeks on I have the race report to write up!  Signing up so near to a marathon was all down to trying to judge how well Plantar Fasciitis in both feet and a knee injury would clear up - progress had been very slow but in a positive direction so I decided to task the risk.  At the same time I also signed up for the Jedburgh 3 Peeks Ultra that will be run for the first time in 3 weeks time, this meant the Keilder Marathon would make a perfectly timed last long training run for the Jedburgh Ultra. 

Over the last three weeks my right knee has improved significantly and had given little discomfort over the last week before the race.  I couldn't report the same progress with Plantar Fasciitis though, while improvement was evident it was very slow, everyday I that I've got up in the morning it's been uncomfortable to walk, and when getting up from working at my desk it's also been uncomfortable.  When running my feet would be sore for the couple of miles of 6 mile run, then be comfortable for three of four miles, then often discomfort would return, especially on faster or routes with steep descents.

Keeping training stimulus low enough to not strain my feet and train for a marathon has been a delicate balance - I've wanted to maintain fitness as much as possible whilst still giving my injuries the time they need to get better.  Long runs, steep hill runs and fast tempo runs were all tough on my injuries so I has largely cut them out, instead most of my training consisted of 6 mile easy to marathon paced runs, with only one tempo run and one long run of 16 miles.  The keep the training as race specific as I could I made sure the average elevation/descent per mile was around the same as Kielder marathon (~65ft/mile), with last ten days of taper mostly consisting of marathon paced/intensity 6 mile runs.  With these runs I was able to get a reasonable gauge of my fitness level and predict appropriate pace to run the marathon at.

With only three before the Jedburgh Ultra it was important that Kielder Marathon served as a good training run - providing stimulus for aerobic and endurance adaptations whilst avoiding making worse existing injuries or introducing new ones.  For this goal it was sensible to aim for a slower marathon.  My time predictions for the hilly Kielder Marathon route based on training suggested a time of mid 3:22 to 3:28 should be possible, equivalent to a 3:04 to 3:10 flat marathon time but this would require running a perfect marathon and higher intensity.  Rather that take the risk of training to run red lined marathon I decided a few days before to aim for 3:30, and noted the split times for every 5km for each just over 25 minutes.  From my marathon paced taper runs I also knew the feeling of intensity this would involve - around what the limit of what I could run whilst still breathing through just my nose.

I did my last training run on the Wednesday, got everything ready by Thursday and was all geared up to relax for a few days.  Friday morning came and after my wife took one of our daughters to the doctors she came back and reported that our doctor wanted us to all have the Flu vaccine that same day.  I haven't ever had a flu jab before, and it certainly wasn't something I'd normally choose to risk so close to big race but running a perfect race is so far below the priority of keeping my family healthy that it was just something I had to do.  Friday night I was pretty achy and didn't sleep well, clearly my bodies immune system had been given a kick and was now doing it stuff, but with it I felt every injury niggle that had haunted me over the last year.  Thankfully through Saturday my bodies inflammation response calmed down and the niggles mostly melted away, leaving just my Plantar Fascii complaining.

Race day:  Beautiful Weather, Beautiful Scenery

I stayed overnight at a guest house in Hawick in the Scottish border, got up at 6:30am to a bright but frosty morning, perfect conditions to run, but perhaps a tad chilly at the start line.  I dressed in my running kit with extra layers to keep warm and applied zinc sticky tape to both feet to support my Plantar Fascii.  The taping up is something I only decided upon in the day before the race as it's something I really didn't want to have to do, but with the last minute set back of the Flu jab my confidence in just roughing out tender feet changed to wishing to minimizing risks.  Deciding to tape myself up without ever having run was a concern, but it felt comfortable enough when jogging so I went with it.

The running kit I'd chosen was 2011 Kielder Marathon T-Shirt, Ronhill Trail Cargo shorts for ample pockets for snacks+phone it provides, Smartwool Toe Socks, Inov-8 Trailroc 245's trail running shoes.  Trail shoes aren't strictly necessarily for the rather well maintained and non technical trails of the Kielder Marathon but I don't ever run in anything other than trail shoes these days.

The drive from Hawick to Kielder Water took an hour, and was simply stunning crossing the moors with mist clinging to valleys and crystal clear visibility over the frosty hills above.  I arrived at the race car par at Falstone at 9:00am and then waited in a line for the shuttle bus along with several hundred other impatient of runners.  It took 50 minutes to get the front of the queue on a bus.  On arrival the official over the loud speakers declared that the race would be delayed from 10:15am to 10:30 to allow for all the runners to arrive on the shuttle buses.  Exactly the same problem hadn't in the last years, it's the weakest bit of Kielder Marathon experience - it just adds stress not knowing whether you'll get to the start in time.

With the delayed start I had twenty minutes to strip down to shorts, tshirt and head along the start.  I positioned myself about 50m back from the start, guessing that was probably around hundred runners and roughly the same number ahead as I'd expect there to be my the end. 

First 10k

The horn went off at 10:30 and we all shuffled across the line. The first km is on road that loops uphill before descending back down to near the start and goes through the final finish arch and then heads west in a clockwise direction around the side of Kielder Water.  I start at my planned intensity, breathing through my nose and attempting to keep my HR below 160.  Right away I was being swallowed up by hundreds of runners and this continued all the way to the top of the hill, on the descent I stayed relaxed and took back a few dozen places.

Within the first mile my Heart Rate (HR) had already hit 160, according to MARCO calculator this is where I should be at the 10k point, not by 1km.  My breathing and pace all felt very comfortable though, it felt around the 8min/mile that I was planning for so I just stuck to judging pace by my breathing as clearly the adrenalin of race day was skewing the HR readings too far pacing purposes. I kept my intensity nice and steady, with my pace naturally slowing down on hills, speeding up on descents as I relaxed letting gravity do it's thing and then just taking it nice and easy along the flats.

I was steadily passing runners from the mile one to mile 6, especially on the flat and descents.  Often runners would still keep with me or go past me on ascents but at a cost - laboured breathing a sure give away of them pushing too hard.  As soon as we'd crest the hill I'd glide effortless past them.  Knowing how to efficiently run hills has to be one of key benefits of living and training in the foothills of the highlands!

I ran through the 5km and them 10km markers just outside my loose target of 25 and 50 minutes, while my HR was now heading to mid 160's I was still able to comfortably breath through my nose and the level of effort felt easy.  My feet were a little uncomfortable but the rest of my body was perfectly relaxed.  The sun was shining, the supporters, strewards and other runners were all in great spirits - life was good!

10km to 20km

Not long after the 10k mark the route heads back north east along the north short of Lake.  At the one hour point I took on water and ate a brioche.  My using of breathing to judge pace was working well, despite all the ups and downs I was continuing to average around 8min/mile pace.  The steady pace meant that I continued passing runners.

Occasionally I'd strike up a conversation with fellow runners and run together for a while, but each time the marathon target time was discussed it was clear I was on pace while others were going out too fast for their planned time.  By the end of the second 10km mark I was now over taking runners on the hills, flats and descents.

The trail along the north shore is more open than the south shore so we were rewarded with great views looking across the Lake.  I didn't feel that I could take photo's whilst running so you'll have to do without on this occasion.  The views were not too dissimilar to some for the loch side trails I do here in the Trossachs, but with gently hills rather than mountains for backdrop.  The organizes claim it's Britain's most beautiful marathon, which might I'm sure a few Welsh and Scottish marathons would contest, but it still is very pretty and certainly adds to joy of running a marathon.

20km to 30km

Shortly after the 20km marker one passes the halfway point and according HR monitor watch I pass in 1:44:54.  I do a body scan to double check everything is OK.  My feet are sore by comfortable enough, my HR is now in high 160's and finally nearing to where the MARCO calculator suggests I should be, my knee hasn't complained at all, my hips, quads and calves are not showing signs of fatigue and my breathing is still easy - I can still comfortably breath through my nose.  I have to pinch myself as it really has been going so well so far, body is fresh and pacing spot on.

I take my first 200ml electrolyte drink at the 14mile aid station and run with it till it's empty.  I haven't tried this type before by it seems to go down OK.  While passing runners has been a one way street for the last 10 miles I finally caught a runner who clearly didn't want to be overtaken as each time I came within a metre behind he'd accelerate and pull away a few metres.  Amused for a couple of minutes I just kept my pace steady and once a next small ascent arrived he just gave up surging and I eased quietly past.

The Dam at the end of Lake was now in view and felt quite close but still three miles away according to the signs on the trail.  The mis-matched soon explained by turned a corner to run into an inlet the heads into the hills for half a mile and then back out gain.  You follow the trail around the inlet, and to add to merriment three yachts were mored up together in the middle of the inlet with their occupants sounding horns and cheering the runners.  You can see runners stretched out ahead and on the other side of the inlet so it's both majestic and a little daunting - the runners on the other side are all half a mile ahead and heading uphill.

Feeling good I keep up the intensity slightly as per the MARCO's guidelines with my HR now in the low 170's but still feel totally in control with few signs of fatigue.  At mile 17 we cross the Dam and I continue my steady passing of runners with my pace around 7:30min/mile on the first and last long bit of flat course.  Mile 18 passes soon after arriving back on the South Shore and I still feel good, with only my feet and a little discomfort accumulating in what feels like my hip joints.  Everything has good perfectly and now confidently looking to a strong finish and a sub 3:30 time.

30km to finish

I take another electrolyte drink and consume the whole carton but it doesn't sit that well in my stomach.  A couple of minutes later, at around mile 19, I start to get a stitch on the right hand side that quickly spreads right under my rib cage.  I work hard to keep my breathing steady and deep whilst keeping the intensity constant with the hope that it'll just pass.  The discomfort doesn't pass but gets worse so with hills of Bull Crags half a mile away I decide to easy off on the pass get my HR back below 170 and see if I can fix the problem.  For the first time since the ascent of first hill in the first half my steady passing of runners ahead slows down, I am still catching them but at half the rate, my pace is also slipping with 8:30 pace a struggle.  To underline my loss of pace a runner passes me running strong, I pass on words of encouragement and she reciprocates - we've both been passing runners steadily but now it's my turn to be be humbled.

I head up the Bull Crags switch backs keeping running uphill, while I'm not running fluently as I was I'm still passing runners, or should I say walkers as I'm one of the few left running uphill at this stage.  Once we crest I open up my legs and pick up the pace on the gentle downhill to sub 7:30 pace.  Reducing the intensity has helped with the stitch but it's still sore, and what was just a minor discomfort in the hips had now turned into significant discomfort with my hip flexors tightening up.  Previously I was running with no tension in my body but now my hips and torso were locking up, managing 8min/mile pace on the descents was now painful.  The next mile marker now let me know that I was in the last three miles to go but now I would have to run near to 7 min/mile pace to get in under 3:30, and while half an hour before this would have seemed easy my body was now fighting ever step.  The last three miles I was passed by around half a dozen runners finishing strong, and was able to pass a similar number in my 8:30 to 9:30min/mile shuffle.

The course heads back to the finish at the Waterside Centre with the crowds lining the last 100ms of road to under the finishing arch.  The lure and excitement of the finish overcomes my physical woes and I'm able to pick up the pace and finish in some semblance of good form.  I cross the line,  stop my watch at 3:36:34 and approach ladies handing out water slowing to a jog then a stop and my right quad starts to cramp up, so I just stood their looking pained and perplexed at the friendly faces in front of me.  The cramps eases off just by standing for a few seconds and allows me to hobble over to get my water. 

Official race time f*ck up

Right after the finish the timing company had a tent for giving runners official times and places right away, even providing a print out right there.  I was impressed till the guy manning the timing computer said that my number hadn't been recorded and declared it was my fault for folding my number over to just display the number.  He claimed the number with integral timing foil wouldn't be picked up correct because the fold would shield it.  I knew this was BS as the timing element was only behind one layer of paper no mater whether it was on unfolded or folded, and paper wouldn't shield a magnetic field anyway.  He then went on to lecture me that it was against UK Athletic rules to fold race numbers.  He did however say they had a backup system of recording finishers manually.

I always fold my race numbers to just show the numbers as I've had numbers tear during fell races in the past so fold them over to avoid catching the wind and to make sure there is double material where I put the pins through.  I had never been informed of this rule about not folding the race number.  I've since double checked the Kielder Marathon website and all the materials sent from Kielder and no information about not folding race numbers, just says to fix the race number securely...  The UK Athletics rules do include it, but one has to go looking closely at rules.

Today (Monday, day after race) the that provided the timings has posted their results for the race and my time isn't up, plenty of runners before and after my time, but when I search for my entry I get:

StatusPosOverallBibCompetitorCategoryHalfChip timeFinish
Not yet started 13511Robert Osfield V40

So... I've done the race, I've got my medal, race T-Shirt and aching muscles but still officially I haven't started yet... What happened to the backup system?  What's more my bib number according to them is 3511 but what number I was sent and wore was 4502.  Might this be the source of the screw up?  Incompetence somewhere along the line rather than BS about me folding my number?

Looking at others on the official time it looks like I came around 100th out of 1400 or so runners.  I don't know if I'll ever find out officially what my time and place was.

Postrace analysis

I finished in a time of 3:36:34, which I know I should be chuffed with as it looks likely on a flat course this would be worth a time of 3:16 to 3:20 which would be a huge PB.  It's still slower than my pre-race predictions suggested was possible and more than 6 minutes off what I was very confident of achieving at the 18 mile mark, and 4 minutes outside of my 3:32:26 PB done in Edinburgh two years.

My average HR was 169 for the day, which is higher than the MARCO guidelines suggested of an average 168, I would say this shows that I didn't miss my predications due to lack of effort, but the reality was I didn't put any particular effort until the 18 mile mark, up till then I was simply gliding along completely within myself, my HR was high, but breathing was very easy with little signs of fatigue from my legs and energy levels we all good.  At this point I was actually cruising along wondering just how far I could go at pace, 30miles? More?

What sapped my pace in the end was the combination of the stitch and hip flexors ceasing up.  It may have been the drink that caused the stitch, or perhaps more likely running with a HR of 170+ and drinking 200ml of drink over a few minutes.  Perhaps if my HR had been a tad lower my stomach might have had enough activity to properly handle the influx of a cold calorie rich drink.

My hip flexors ceasing up caught me unexpected.  While I struggled with hip flexor injuries this time last year, mostly this year I have got over these injuries and in all my training over the past 8 weeks haven't had any signs of weakness.  However, the marathon I did 8 weeks ago was at a slow ultra marathon style pace, walking the steeper hills rather than running.  I suspect my lack of hard hills and long runs since doing that marathon have not kept the robustness in all my running muscles and tendons to handle over three hours running a quick marathon over hilly terrain.

Or... can I just blame it all on the Flu jab that I had 40 hours earlier.  My inflammation response through Friday night was quite noticeable.  This response calmed down through Saturday and by evening seemed mostly fixed.  Running a marathon isn't any ordinary endeavor though, could it be a factor in my body fatiguing/suffering greater inflammation in unexpected ways.

One last bit of jigsaw is why such a high average HR when the pace and intensity wasn't that high.  My analysis of training and how this would map to a marathon finishing time of 3:36 would have suggested an average HR around around 162 to 164bpm would have been required.  Seeing a race day HR 5 higher than this is disappointing but not totally without precedent - my HR of 178 was around 5 higher than my normal HR when I run a hard 6 mile run in training.  The obvious candidate to explain this elevated HR during races would be adrenelin.

Having an elevated HR during race day isn't necessarily a problem, the key thing is how you feel when you run and how your overall race goes, no race is won based on HR readings.  However, I do wonder for these longer races whether digestion of calories and fluids is compromised by elevated HR's, or simply whether adrenalin and associated hormones make the stomach less friendly to consumption.  The races I primarily run are Ultramarathons so digestion is something I really need to get a proper handle on so I'd like to unravel this particular part of the mystery.

Recovery and beyond

Today I've been generally stiff but most surprisingly is that my plantar fascii has been better today than they were in the days running up to the marathon.  During and right after the marathon my left plantar fascii was very sore and I was concerned that I had made the injury worse, so to find today that it's improved to better than it was in previous weeks is encouraging.  Could it be that I've broken down scar tissue?

My plan for the rest of the week is take it easy training wise, partly out of interest in recovery, and partly just out of having a frantic week with the last of my life.  I'd like to squeeze in a recovery run or two this week just to get the legs moving, but if I don't get the chance I won't fret.

Next week I'll be away on a family holiday and will take my kit with me, perhaps run when I can, by the time I return from that family holiday it'll be one week before Jedburgh Ultra and I'll be back in full taper once more.   This time rather practicing averaging 7:40 to 8:00min/mile pace I'll be aiming to average nearer 9 to 10min/mile pace and add in some steep hills to walk up to prep for the 3 peaks!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Kielder Marathon : Predicting Finish Time, Part 2, Using Training Logs

In Part 1 I of my little essay on predicting Kielder Marathon finish time I covered using online calculators and use of PowerOfTen website comparing other runners race Kielder results and their 10k times to my own race times.  As the Kielder Marathon is hilly the online calculators are way out - typically 10 to 20+ minutes out.  Using race result comparisons does allow one to look at the effect of the hills at the Kielder Marathon but is also imperfect as there is huge range of variability between how well different runners convert their 10k times to Kielder race times.  So... the hunt continues for a better, more personalized method. 

Personalized Sports Science : Measure -> Analysis

Through this years training and races I've been wearing my Heart Rate (HR) monitor and recording my heart rate, calories consumed, distance ran and ascent/descent.  My intention has been to try and track the effect of training on fitness and how how this relates to race performances, the end goal is to know what works/doesn't work training wise and also what paces to run when doing races.

The first step in accessing fitness was to come up with a representative value for my current level of fitness, while there are plenty of physiological variables to measure that related to fitness I'm only armed with only a HR monitor and GPS on a phone so I have to make do with just these.  The most representative value that I could easily measure was calories per mile (using HR monitor), based on the principle the fitter I am the more efficient I'll be.

However, calories per mile measured by a HR monitor is effected by how hilly a route is, how long the run is due to HR drift and how hot the day is, as well as actual fitness/stress levels etc.  Rather than try and resolve all these variables this this year I've settled upon just trying to factor out the effect of hills and HR drift on the measured calories per mile, giving me an effective efficiency value for any given run.  The model I've used for effective efficiency is:

  EffectiveEfficiency = RecordedCaloriesPerMile * CourseRatio
  CourseRatio = 1/ (1 + RecordedElevationPerMile*ElevationRatio)*
                              (1+ RecordedDuration*DurationRatio)

The RecordedCaloriePerMile is the calories recorded by my HR monitor for a run, the RecordedElevationPerMile is the elevation divided by distance as recorded by Phone's GPS route tracking software (SportyPal).  The RecordedDuration is how long the run took.

The ElevationRatio and DurationRatio are there to calibrate the run so that runs during a similar period of time will have a similar EffectiveEfficiency despite runs being hillier or longer than others.  For this year I've simply been estimating what these ratio are based on how consistent I can get EffectiveEfficiency across training runs. I've found an ElevationRatio of 1/500 (units mile/feet),  and a DurationRatio of 1/20 (units 1/hours) work reasonably well for the data I've recorded this year.   To see how EffectiveEfficiency smooths out the recorded data have a look at the my logs for Measured Efficiency (calories per mile, in blue) and Effective Efficiency ((calories per mile, in red) for this years training and racing. 

Note how the big peaks in measured efficiency are largely removed so we get a more consistent signal of relative fitness, these big peaks are the big training runs and ultra's that I've run this year.  To the right hand side we have January, progressing month by moth to October on the left, the gaps are the month boundaries. I'll leave analysis of what the month by efficiencies mean w.r.t how my training went on another blog entry as I still have plenty to get to my final conclusions on pacing...

The key take away is that Effective Efficiency normalizes my recorded efficiency so I can more easily look at trends and relate how my fitness is at different times.  The EffectiveEfficiency might been seen as the efficiency I can achieve during the first few steps during a run, while this is useful for general comparisons on it's own it doesn't tell use what will happen when we run further or on hiller courses.

Extrapolating Shorter Training Runs to Marathon Distance

The formula I came up with for EffectiveEfficiency while very simple does a reasonable job at smoothing out the effects of hills and HR drift during long runs, but it also offer the tantalizing possibility that it might be able to predict what will happen to efficiency per mile if we run for longer or over a course with a different amount of ascent/descent.  From the computed efficiency per mile for this theoretical run we can also work out what the average HR would likely be.  The computed efficiency and HR rate can also be used to estimate the intensity and from this the pace that would theoretically be achieved.

I'll write up the maths for these computations in another post when I have more time available, for now I'll move on to what happens when I use this approach to extrapolate my recent training runs to the 26.2miles and ~65ft/mile ascent/descent per mile of the Kielder Marathon.  Below are the results from the last two weeks of training, comprising some laid back long runs, easy runs, marathon paced runs and one tempo run.

On the left is what time is a time of 4:16 at an average predicted HR of 152, which for me is very gentle amble, and on the right is a 3:03 at an average predicted HR of 177.  The extreme case was extrapolated from a 10k tempo run where my actual HR was 166, with HR drift it goes up to 177 and there is no way I could sustain that type of HR for a 3 hours so it's only theoretical mapping.

As a point of validation the Modulen Marathon I did around the Trossachs back at the beginning of August I did in 4:18 with an average HR of 145 over hillier terrain than the Kielder.  This marathon actually maps to 4:13 Kielder marathon once we factor in the difference in hills.  Unfortunately I've lost fitness since then so the higher 152 HR for a similar time is probably not far off.  Have my injuries to blame for lack of training for that loss of fitness :-|

Achievable Average HR for different duration of races

The next big question is just what HR might I be able to sustain on average over the whole marathon.  To answer this question I have to look back to my races over different distances, and the below is graph that plots my average HR for races from my Killin 10km (HR 178, time 39m:36s) through to Highland Fling (HR 152, time 10h:46m).

The most relevant area is around the 3:30 mark, and my 3:22 time doing the Stuc a'Chroin race back in 2011 is the nearest point of interest.  My average HR for the Stuc a'Chroin race was 168.  Curiously if I plan my max HR of 192 into the MACRO calculator it suggests my average HR should be 167 for the marathon which fits in surprisingly well with Stuc a'Chroin race record.

Another surprising aspect about the graph is just how straight it is between my 3:32/ HR 168/Stuc a'Chroin, 5:12/HR 164/Dirty 30 and 10:46/HR 152/Highland Fling.  The only point that bucks the trend is the 1:28:58/HR 169 data point I collected when I ran half marathon PB during a frosty and still Buchlyvie marathon back in November 2010.

So from this data it probably quite reasonable to assume that an average HR of 168 is achievable for the Kielder Marathon.  When we take HR drift into account this maps to an average HR of around 157/158 when running a ~10k marathon paced training run.  This also maps to the average HR range that the MARCO calculates for me for the first 10k of the marathon.  Having two completely different sources of fitting reasonably closely is encouraging and suggests my method is not far off.

Armed with this target range of 157/158 for my ~10km marathon paced training runs I've been able to do test runs where I follow as best I can the HR progression suggested by the MARCO calculator and run over local trails that best mirror the type of elevation/descent that the Kielder Marathon has.  Choosing routes that mirror the Kielder Marathon helps get keep the pace estimates based on training more accurate and also has allowed me to practice the feel of intensity as I go up and down hill.

For my taper I've concentrated on marathon paced training runs, so 6 out 7 of my last training runs have all been around marathon paced intensity, with pace around 7:36 min/mile to 7:52 min/mile pace.  The pace feels reasonably comfortable, I'm able to breath just through my nose, but only just, so I'll know when I'm racing if I shut my mouth and start to struggle just breathing through my nose I'm working too hard.  I do find that it's hard to keep my HR down on ascents, and on the flats after descents I have to consciously pick up the pace to keep my HR in appropriate zone.  This pace does feel like a plausible pace for a marathon, the thought of doing it for 3 and half hours is still pretty daunting.

If I look at just my last seven runs, 6 marathon paced, 1 easy the extrapolated to Kielder Marathon HR and times look like:

What you'll see from this is that the extrapolated times and HR from my marathon paced runs all bring me in the 3:21 to 3:28 range, but this will require a level of effort similar to what I did in the Stuc a'Chroin feel race last year, and it was tough so it's no easy call.

In the first part 1 of my estimates I came to conclusion based on other runners who look to have relatively close 10k's to me a sub 3:30 should be possible, and the three runners I looked at fitted into the 3:21 to 3:28 range as well so I again we are seeing a reasonable correlation of data from totally different sources which is encoraging.

Another source of validation is to look back the very little bit of training that I was able to do before last years disastrous Kielder Marathon where I did 3:55.  Use the same extrapolation methods a 3:46 time would have been plausible given an average HR of 169, to do this one would have have done a perfect race with an even split.  However, I screwed up totally and started too fast, completing the first half in 1:39 and slumped to a 2:16 second half, rather than do 1:52 half that I should in hind-sight should have been targeting.

I believe this retrospective look at my 2011 Kielder Marathon performance is particularly interesting when judging the value of the method that I've been discussing here - the most conservative of the online calculators (MARCO) suggested 3:12 time based on my then most recent 10k time while I actually did 3:55 which is a 43 minute difference.  While my new method of extrapolating training run performance would have mean look at 3:45 to 3:50 as being possible.  Instead I settled for aiming for a 3:30 time, adding 20 minutes in for the hills, which might not have been too bad, but totally ignored how much fitness I had lost while recuperating from last years Achilles injury.  If I had the extrapolation method last year I believe there is good chance I would have done a sub 3:50 time.

So... after all this model development, collecting and analysis data what is my final prediction for my 2012 Kielder Marathon?  I believe a sub 3:25 time is on if I run a perfect race, put everything into it, and am not held back my niggling knee and plantar fasciitis in both feet.

However, I also have the Jedbugh Three Peaks 38mile Ultra coming up, it's just three weeks after the Kielder so coming away from this Sunday's race fresh and without exacerbating existing injuries has to be worthwhile goal.  I have the option of just taking it easy, beating my time from last year should be easy, and even beating my Marathon PB of 3:32:26 done back in May 2010 during the Edinburgh Marathon should be possible without red-lining it.

Balancing the desire to set a big PB and saving myself for Jeburgh I feel that a compromise time of targeting 3:30 would give me a PB, and on a tougher course too, but shouldn't in theory require pushing myself to my limit.

For those wondering how to work out their own Kielder Marathon time I would suggest using the MARCO calculator and use input race times that best represent your current level of fitness and add 10% to account for hills you'll encounter at Kielder.  In the longer term I'd like to refine the methods that I've used a bit more and make them accessible to others, input and suggestions from others would be very welcome.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Kielder Marathon : Predicting/Estimating Finish Time, Part 1

With just 5 days to go till the Kielder Marathon my preparation has turned to working out what time I time might be capable of given my current fitness, this time in will give me an idea of what pace I should be expecting to run at. The pace to run at isn't just important for the day, but also when practicing running at that pace during the last runs during taper.  With this post I hope to illuminate a little of how I've gone about working out a target time and how to practice it in the run up to big day on Sunday 7th October.

Avoiding past mistakes

One of my motivations in being so thorough with preparation such as trying to get a good handle on what pace to target is down to wanting to avoid the experience I had last year at Kielder Marathon.  My 2011 performance was rather an epic fail, I finished in 3 hours 55 minutes, part in due to having a severe lack of running training due to an Achilles injury that I had a few months before, and partly down to a going out way too fast - my splits were 1:39 and 2:16.  I felt great in the first half and did actually try to hold myself back, but by mile 16 my lack of running in training showed itself in my running out of energy and my hips, quads, knees and calves hell bent on self destruction.

Clearly I don't want to repeat this miserable experience, the first part has been putting in the required training - I was only able to run 44 miles in September last year, this year despite my knee and plantar fascii injuries have put away 138 miles, and the months of before have also all been much better so I have a much stronger base. Sure it would have been nice to not have injuries and put away more long and tempo runs but I am in much better place than last year.

The other aspect of avoiding the mistakes of last year is to be realistic about what pace I'm capable of and actually getting out and practicing it on similar terrain to what I'll be running on during the Kielder Marathon.

Kielder Marathon specifics

The Kielder Marathon is rather unusual for a marathon - it's hilly trail marathon so the pace one will run will fluctuate, for myself I'll be expecting to be running between 10min/miles uphill and 7min/mile or under on the downhills.  Not only does such a hilly marathon present it's own problems with taxing the body but it also makes judging average pace very difficult, so rather than just practice race pace my plan has been practice the feeling of the intensity that relates to the average pace, using my breathing, HR and the feeling of leg turn over as a guide.

All the undulations also makes estimates of finishing time more complicated,  with around 1700ft of total ascent/descent on route, and several 200ft+ hills and many many smaller ones one can't easily predicate how much difference this will make.  There are three broad ways that I've looked at to estimate my finishing possible time range:
  1. Use online calculators that extropolate race paces at shorter distances to the marathon.
  2. Looking at similar classed runners in last years Kielder Marathon results.
  3. Using my own training logs and my previous marathon performances.

Estimating Finishing Time using online Calculators

If one does a search of the Internet on the topic of estimating marathon finishing time you'll come across a range of different tools that use your times from other distances to compute the likely finishing time at marathon or other distances.

Of the ones I've come across the three that look the most useful are:
  1. MARCO Marathon Calculator
  2. McMillan Running Calculator
  3. Daniels Running Formulas
The MARCO calculator is the most marathon specific and provides and guide of HR and pacing that you should use to maximize your chances of achieving the time.

For each of the calculators I plugged in my most recent 10k times in 2011 and 2012, which are my 40:32 10k from the Trossachs 10k in May 2011, and my 39:36 10k from the Killin 10k in August 2012.

Year                            2011               2012
10k time                        40:32              39:36
MARCO Estimate:                 3:11:57            3:07:30
McMilland Estimate:             3:10:10            3:05:48
Daniels Running Formula:        3:07:39            3:04:36
Actual Kielder finishing time:  3:55:19            ????

Clearly the 45 minute gulf between the estimates in 2011 and what I actually achieved suggest for 2011 using these calculators was hopelessly inaccurate and using them as a guide for a racing pace completely inappropriate.

So why might they be so inaccurate?  First up in 2011 I had 6 weeks completely off running while recuperating from my Achilles injury and then had to cramp all my training into four runs in the final couple of weeks before the race.  Secondly Kielder Marathon is more hilly than either of the Trossachs or Killin 10k, although both themselves are quite hilly for 10ks.

Estimating using 2011 Kielder Marathon Finishing Times.

To look at how much difference the hills make it's useful to look that actual results of last years Kielder Marathon and cross reference these to other marathon and 10k performances of runners to see just how much slower the hills make it.  Thankfully the Power of Ten website is really useful in doing this cross referencing as it provides the results as well as links to athletes results from other races.

Last years results can be found at thepowerof10 website: 2011Kielder Marathon Results.

Next if we look up some athletes to see how their Kielder marathon and nearest 10k times match relate to what online calculators listed above would suggest:

Athlete          10k    MACRO    McMillan  Daniels  Kielder

Top three places:

Ricky Lightfoot  32:26  2:33:28  2:31:51   2:30:36  2:35:14     
Marcus Scotney   33:30  2:38:36  2:37:10   2:36:44  2:47:26
Steve Cairns     32:49  2:35:41  2:33:58   2:32:35  2:55:22

Around 3:20 to 3:30 finishing time (more relevant to me):

Richard Dennis   37:50  2:59:09  2:57:30   2:56:01  3:21:47
Catriona Ried    39:23  3:06:09  3:04:47   3:04:36  3:23:26
Tom Crossley     39:36  3:07:30  3:05:48   3:04:36  3:28:55

What can we deduce from all of this?  The variation between the calculators and the actual times varies a lot between athletes, from +2 minutes slower for Ricky and the MACRO times, through to +22 minutes for Steve, Richard and Tom.  Looking at actual marathon times achieved by these athletes Kielder does tend to be 10 to 20 minutes slower, with the calculator results generally still a bit too optimistic but at least a bit more realistic.

For myself it would look like a sub 3:30 or perhaps even sub 3:25 time should be possible based on that how others with similar 10k times have  done.   However, my result last year was still way off what the calculators suggested even when adding 22 minutes as this would have given me a 3:33 time (MACRO + 22m) rather the 3:55 that I actually did.  Two things are responsible for this - going out to fast (on 3:20 pace) and my lack of training due to injury as I wasn't in the shape I was when I did my 40:32 10k four months earlier.

This time around my 10k used in the calculations was only back at the end of August and my training since has roughly maintained my fitness so will be more relevant.  Going out at with a more realistic pace is something that is yet to be determined...

Estimating Finishing time based on training logs

While it looks possible that I might be able to do a sub 3:30 given my recent 10k and the results of others with similar 10k times, as a science geek I can't help be curious to see if it's possible to develop estimates based on training logs.  The advantage of this is that one needn't have a recent 10k or other race time to go by, instead one can look at how training has been going in the run up to actual event being planned for.  One can also start estimating results for races that calculators don't cover like ultra's or very hilly routes.

I have done the leg work in this, but don't yet have time to write it up... so will leave this element of of the estimation process to a Part 2 blog entry.