As noted in my last post, I’ve had a bit of a crisis of confidence in recent weeks. I’ve been questioning my progress and the effectiveness of this year’s training and been concerned that I’m not even in as good shape as I was this time last year – before my debut ultra marathon – despite having a further 12 months of trail running and race experience.
However, I’d forgotten some key differences between my training last year and this:
2013 – Most of my long runs were on a mixture of country roads and trails. If the trails were very muddy or flooded I opted for the road as I was (unduly) concerned about the possibility of injuring myself and ruining my trail shoes ahead of race day.
2014 – All of my long runs have been on trails, only on roads where these connect trails not instead of trails. It’s been a very wet Winter and the trails have only started to dry out in the last couple of weeks so I’ve run through lots of mud, muddy puddles, boggy fields and flooded ground. Yes, I’ve destroyed a pair of trail shoes in the process but it’s been bloody good fun! A year ago, for example, I’d have turned around when faced with a flooded footpath under a bridge but I’ve been through this on 3 separate occasions!
2013 – Training took the form of weekday runs at a steady pace which increased over the weeks with back to back long runs at a slower pace which I felt I could sustain for the distance of the run (and I was often wrong and struggled home). Warm up and cool down was a few static stretches.
2014 – Since last Summer I’ve been following the Maffetone Method (or at least a close approximation as I’ve not changed my diet radically) and all of my runs until March – races excepted – were run with a heart rate monitor. During these runs I’ve been paying close attention to the heart rate data and aiming to stay as close as possible to my target heart rate (138bpm) to build my aerobic base and boost my endurance. These runs now include a warm up and cool down (from walking to slow jogging to running to increase heart rate gradually and reduce heart rate by end of the workout) so my times have been affected. However, I have noticed my pace at the target heart rate has increased over time. It’s been frustratingly slow at times but it’s making a difference.
2013 – I made a conscious decision to run hills as much as possible on my long runs and this definitely helped me on NDW50 race day. On weekday runs I mostly to the flat roads though.
2014 – When writing my own training plan this year – based upon last year’s plan but with a few tweaks based upon my Maffetone Method training and experience – I decided to introduce some hill work into the weekday runs. I’ve made a point of running steady with a few hilly roads (running slowly up one in particular which I walked up last year on the few occasions I took that route) or doing hill repeats (Kenyan hill sessions). The latter have seen me running repeatedly up and down a road less than 1/2 mile away much to the bemusement of the locals. On one occasion I ran 18 repeats, accounting for nearly 7 miles.
On the long runs I’ve discovered and explored new trails and hills and enjoyed rather than endured them. I also ran the 21 mile Meon Valley Plod and Steyning Stinger marathon, 2 very hill traces which I would never have had the confidence to run last year. I still love the downhills, especially the technical ones, and can be seen careering down them arms outstretched and calling out “Woohoo!” on occasion!
So where does this leave me with 7 weeks to go until the North Downs Way 50?
I checked my Garmin data for March 2013 and 2014 to get some perspective:
2013 – 18 runs, 202 miles, 37 hours, average speed 5.4mph, elevation gain 10,535 ft
2014 – 15 runs, 190 miles, 42 hours, average speed 4.5mph, elevation gain 15,135 ft
So I’ve missed a few runs this March and run fewer miles (I missed some runs due to illness). I’ve spent more time on my feet and slowed down (down to the slower pace from heart rate based training). Most surprisingly, I’ve run almost 50% more hills than last March.
Having compared the data for the first 3 months of 2013 and 2014 I now feel even better:
2013 – 56 runs, 412 miles, 74 hours, average speed 5.6mph, elevation gain 19,306 ft
2014 – 53 runs, 440 miles, 92 hours, average speed 4.8mph, elevation gain 28,940 ft
That means that I’ve run further, lonnger and higher than in the same period last year. The lower average speed is down to the heart rate based training and the extra elevation on the runs so doesn’t concern me.
Now I’m feeling much better about my training, preparation and progress. My goal in 2013 was to finish the race before the 13h30m cut off and I was delighted to cross the finish line after 11h53m. This year I’ve set myself the goal of finishing in under 11 hours – 10h59m59s will do fine – and this means increasing my average pace by just over 1 minute per mile. I was doubtful about this recently. Now I’m feeling much more confident.
Bring on NDW50 take 2.