"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

New Year's Irresolution

My resolution for the new year was to pick a running plan and stick with it. I lasted 3 days.

I can't convince myself to train for 9 months and spend $500-$600 to run one race I can't do more in than finish. So, the whole "get Sawtooth monkey off my back" is gone again. [The cost includes entry, lodging, gas, food, new equipment, etc.]

And, since I'm not planning on running it, the lead-up races are off as well and I start the year with nothing but a plan I won't be using. Here's what I came up with; there's nothing you haven't heard before.

Marathon times and types of runner

There's little correlation between road marathon times and Sawtooth 100 finish times, partly because the races are so different, but mostly because there are subcategories of finishers. Take your marathon time, multiply it by 8.5 and you get the time should be able to finish Sawtooth. The winners are (generally) all about 2:31-2:36 marathoners and that gives them a finish of about 21.5 hours, which would be a record; the actual finish times are more reflective of the weather in each year. That also means a 4:30 marathoner should be able to beat the 38 hour cut-off, but there again, the subtypes are important.

Here's the skinny: If you can run a marathon in 3:30, you can finish Sawtooth and how you train isn't important; just finish a couple of trail ultras in preparation to get a feel for it. The slower you are in the marathon, the harder it gets to beat the cut-off and, by 4:30 it gets iffy. If you can't break 5:00, you probably can't finish the 100.

Some people run a 4:30 as an all-out race, training at 11-12 minutes per mile and doing very specific faster runs. Others train more at 9.5-10 minutes per mile and the marathon is more of a glorified long training run. Still others could run much faster than 4:30, but just cruise through comfortably, including many that see the marathon as just a short training run in their preparation for 100 milers. If you're in the first category, your chances of finishing are much worse than if you're one of the others.

Long runs

One of the hardest things for me to learn was that in long runs, longer is not always better, nor is faster better.

There are two main ways to race. In shorter races, even pacing is the best plan; as you get closer to the end, the pace gets harder to maintain and your heart rate increases. In 100 milers, even pacing is impossible, even if one ran on flat ground; it's just impractical to try to start a race that slowly. Instead, one goes with constant effort, where one's heart rate stays constant, but the pace slows.

There's four stages of race. There's a period at the start of even pace, then a period of gradual slowing, then a period of sharply decreasing pace, then a death march shuffle that also gradually slows. Some people start slowing immediately, some manage to run 5-7 hours at a relatively constant speed. Starting at too hard an effort level means hitting that steep decrease - the faster you start, the sooner the dropoff comes.

Wearing a heart rate monitor in long races, I found a mathematical model that told me what heart rate I could maintain for races of different duration. It wouldn't work for others. Good ultrarunners find the right effort level by experience. For finishing, it's better to underestimate what one can do.

For 100 miles on a hilly trail, a long run of 4-5 hours is about right. It should be done at the effort level one plans for the race. Improvement is measured by how much mileage one can do in that time and by how little one slows over that time.

Running this too fast turns it into a race and one doesn't recover for about 5 weeks. If you can't do it every week and improve a bit each time, you're working too hard.

The hill run.

The long run, even though it seems glacially slow, is a hard run. One can only manage two long hard runs per week and the other one should be on hills of at least the steepness of the race course (200 feet of climb per mile for Sawtooth). People had always told me that one does the hills to strengthen the legs and that is the reason at the beginning, but it's not the whole story. Because the 100 is being done at constant effort, one has to be able to go uphill without one's heartrate skyrocketing; walking uphill is the common way to do it, but one can learn to slowly run uphill without much increase in effort. One's heart rate drops on downhills unless running extremely fast, so the faster one can run downhill - and stay in control and not hurt oneself - the better. Watching ultras, you can see the experienced runners by how they run downhill.

This hill run I make 2.5-3 hours long and I put it in the middle of the week, with the long run on the weekend. This usually means either running in the dark or after a meal, both of which are useful in a 100 miler. There are those who put two long runs back-to-back on the weekend, which they say forces one to not run the first long run too hard, but I think it's more a matter of convenience of scheduling and the way I've set things, it'd be way too hard. Adding the two long runs together gives 6.5-8 hours, which is a not uncommon time for a hilly 50K or a flat 50 mile, which can be substituted on occasion.


The other days of the week, I have 1 hour of running on roads, done at the pace one would use in training for a marathon, the week's total being about 12 hours of running, which is a lot for the slowest runners and not very much for the fastest. These runs bring consistency, let one know if one's recovering adequately and give one a gauge of finishing times [Run pace times 0.85 equals marathon pace. Then multiply by 26.2 and then by the 8.5 multiplier above]. High mileage runners would want a second workout on these easy days, which I would make 30-60 minutes, but cross-trained.

This turns out, because the two long runs are done so slowly, to be the same number of miles per week I'd recommend for a marathon.


It's 100 miles. Don't bother.


Anonymous said...

Heres an interesting fitness test I was recently introduced to, give it a try sometime if you have access to a treadmill.

For the first 6 minutes you walk at 4mph. 4% grade the first minute, increasing 2% each minute until the 6th minute is done at 14%.

At the 6 minute mark you keep grade at 14% for the remainder of the test, but increase the speed by 1mph, and continue to do that each minute until you must quit.

Haven't heard of Nybody doing more than 10 mi utes, although I don't know any accomplished runners that have tried it.

Wayne said...

Seems like the 9 months and $500-600 would be to see if you can finish it – and experience all that’s involved in trying.

Jordan Hanlon said...

Well at least you made it 3 days Steve that's better than some people. Nice post too, I wish I had read it at this time last year before doing my first 100. Probably would have saved me some pain out on the trails.

joyRuN said...

What's a "DRE"?

I still can't decide what's worse - the mammo or the colonoscopy. At least the mammo is quick, but the prep for the colonoscopy is brutal.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Wayne. Give it a try. Plan on finishing. At some point you might find yourself in a position to do more.

John K.

Matt Lutz said...

Can't disagree with that - simple, clean and easy to follow. Two objections: I like to include some speed work and 12 hours of running sounds upward of 80 miles/week - likely too much for the average runner.

And investing $500-600 is well worth finishing Sawtooth.

SteveQ said...

Matt: The mileage looks high when you try to convert from time to distance, but the long runs are done almost ridiculously slowly, so the mileage turns out to be more reasonable - about 55 miles per week to run 38 hours, 65 to run 33, 80 to run 22 hours. I'm a speed demon, so I love speedwork, but anything done faster than race pace is speedwork and for 100 miles, that's every run.