Base buildingThe approach to training for the last few months is to tailor the conventional Aerobic Base Building phase that most Marathon training plans include to make it more specific to the needs of ultra-marathoning. The goals for this phase has been to:
- Develop my ability to comfortably run at the slow pace that will be required on race day.
- Use fat as the primary fuel for running muscles at the ultra-marathon pace
- Steadily build my structural resilience to delay the onset of fatigue
- Build ability to quickly recover from training and racing
Previous years I've tried to steadily build up an aerobic base but have almost always been blighted by injury after a two or three months of serious training. To lower this risk, this year I have built my mileage and intensity up very steadily, cutting weekly mileage and intensity the times when I have felt niggles building. So far this approach has worked, and while I've had plenty of niggles from my feet through to my back so far have only a needed few days of rest, or easier week has been enough for the niggles to mostly melt away. Elements of training that appear to have helped are:
- Regular recovery runs (9 to 10min/mile) pace, with around 50% of volume at around this pace.
- Longer runs at an easy to recovery pace, 9:30 to 8:30 pace.
- Doing several modest length long runs per week,
- No really long runs, longest so far this cycle has been an 18 miler.
- Following more stressful runs with recovery run days
- One faster run per week, but keeping pace to just marathon pace and distance at 8 miles.
- Regular use of foam roller and self massage to keep the muscles loose
- Eating well
Following this approach I have been able to steadily up the weekly mileage from ~35 mile per week in December, to ~45 mile per week in January and then averaged 56 mile/week in February. In February in one week I pushed the mileage up to 62 miles, which was my longest weekly training mileage up to that point.
My plan for March was to aim for a weekly mileage in the mid sixties, but both calves had become a bit tight by the end of February, with a niggle in the left calf so I decided to put in a down week in the first week of March and only ran 42 miles, this seemed be enough to relax and heal my calves and last week put in a 65 miles, with three long runs of 14 miles, 18 miles and 15 miles each with only a recovery day in between. There wasn't a prior plan to do all these so close together, but the weather was sunny for once and my body just seemed to be recovering really quickly so I just went out and enjoyed myself.
This week my calves, have been a little tight each morning, my quads have felt fatigued and my hip flexors a bit over stressed so I'll be taking the rest of this week bit easier than originally planned. I do have the Loch Katrine marathon on Sunday so I'm figuring that I'll get better training effect from the marathon if I am rested properly and the niggles have melted away. I really can't complain though, 65 miles in week is half marathon more than I ever been able to handle in a training week before.
So far in this training cycle my body seems to have coped really well with the mileage, my recovery from runs has been astounding compared to my usual aches and pains for days after a long or faster run, with niggles melting away with just a small easing back of mileage/intensity. Times when I've thought I've over done it for sure a day or two later I'm back running smoothly.
In contrast to this excellent recovery the efficiency I've been recording via my Heat Rate (HR) monitor has improved on average, but no where near as much as I usually see when I'm well into training. My resting HR has also been elevated right through from January to now. I had a cold at the end of February that raised my HR into the mid 50's, and since it's come down each week but now sits around 46-48 each morning. Just once in the last month has my HR go done to 45 where I'd normally expect it to be when I'm well into a training cycle.
With this much volume of training I had expected my resting HR to be down at 44 or below - where it was when I was at my peak last October just before the Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultra-marathon. The only day when my HR was where I expected it to be I had my most efficient day in this training cycle, surpassing what I achieve back in October, but this was just one fleeting day. A couple of days later I recorded my worst efficiency of this training cycle - my HR elevated my around 10 bpm for a given pace and using 20% more calories per mile according to my HR monitor. Then two days later my HR was back down, but still not elevated compared to where I would have expected.
Below is a graph of my Effective Efficiency (calories per mile, adjusted for HR drift and hills) from December to mid March. General trend is downwards, but it's very noisy, far more than I'd expect, and there are so startling spikes. When I'm at my peak I usually see Effective Efficiency values in the 78 to 80 calories/mile range. Something I've only achieved on one day so far.
Would the sporadic nature of my resting HR and HR for a given pace suggest that my sympathetic nervous system is all over the place? Is it a sign of over training? I'm torn as my recovery rates are really good, but clearly something is quite right.
Thankfully this week my HR has been reasonably stable so far, a half marathon test run I did on Monday was one of my most efficient in this training cycle, with HR drift being very modest. Fingers crossed things are settling down in time for my biggest challenge this year so far.
Plan for Loch Katrine MarathonThe Loch Katrine marathon will be my fourth marathon, but only my second road marathon. My marathon PB of 3:32 I did on my first marathon race back in 2010 during a very hot Edinburgh Marathon. This Sunday's marathon I'll just run as a training run so the actual finishing time is not critical, but... it would be great boost to get close or set a new PB.
My fitness for distance running is now so much better than it was back in 2010 that I should be capable of time in theory of around 3:05 to 3:10 on flat course. Loch Katrine marathon is very hilly though, I know of estimates of 1800 to 2200 foot ascent/descent so it'll not be far off the challenge presented by the Kielder Marathon than I did in 3:36 back in 2012. I estimate the hills will probably take 10 minutes off the time I might be able to achieve on flat marathon, so 3:15 to 3:20 might be possible if I had training specifically for the marathon or was planning on racing it.
My plan isn't to race though, my plan is for a tiny 6 day taper, do the marathon without pushing into the red, then have an easy week and be back into full on training at beginning of April in prep for the Fling at the end of April. To dial down the intensity I have decided to aim for lower average HR than I'd usually see in a marathon - normally I'd see an average HR for 168 to 170 in a marathon, for Loch Katrine I'm currently looking at 161 as my target. I have a spreadsheet that I plug in the stats for all my runs and have column for estimates of how each run would map to what I could achieve at different races, and the figures currently point to a time around the 3:25 to 3:40 mark being possible at around a HR of 161.
As trail on Monday's half marathon run I used the MARCO to give me an idea of what pacing and HR progression to use during the race for a target time of 3:30 and average HR of 161. During my run I followed the HR guide for each mile segment - progressing from the suggested HR or 145 through to the 161 HR at mile 13. The MARCO pacing guide for this mile segments suggests progressing from 8:15 pace to 8:01 by mile 13. The pacing I saw though was 8:30 for the first mile, and 7:30 for the last. So I started too slow and finished way too fast. The whole second half of my run was too fast, and I ended finishing 4 minutes ahead of the schedule.
The discrepancy with the MARCO calculator probably isn't too surprising - it was a hilly course which will complicate things and all humans are different, and physiologically I was in totally different place - a half marathon training run rather than the first half of marathon race. However, even we've these factors it would seem that my starting HR needs to be higher to avoid starting so slower, and at least on this training run I saw far less HR drift than the MARCO calculator assumes, keeping to it's HR profile had me running 30 seconds a mile too fast for the last four mile. It felt too fast as well, with my quads feeling fatigued from the previous weeks high mileage and my hip flexors complained in the last few miles, I'm glad that I'm not attempting to run 3:15 right now.
Having a high HR for a slow pace at the start isn't too encouraging, but a lower HR drift is very encouraging so a bit like my up and down resting HR/sporadic efficiency I seem to be getting mixed signals about my fitness/possible over training status. I'm hoping a five more days of easy paced running will settle things down and allow me to see a clearer picture of my fitness.
Come race day on Sunday we'll find out for sure just how well my body is responding to training. I haven't done any marathon specific training, I haven't attempted to reach peak aerobic fitness, I've just been building on the key ingredients I'll need come the 21st of June when I line up at 1am to run the West Highland Way. Even without any specific training for the Loch Katrine Marathon I'm still hoping that I now have the capacity to run a solid marathon and have a stab at an new PB, with the proviso it's the actual training effect that is most important right now so will need to be done without pushing on too hard.