Friday, 14 November 2008

Autumn marathon lessons learned

Its now 6 weeks since Geneva and I've had plenty of time to reflect on the race and my build up and put in some serious thinking about what I need to do next time to improve my performance.

Looking back there were several objectives that I set myself for this autumn's marathon beyond just getting into 2.17 shape: 1. Be involved in a 'race' with the possibility of being in contention for top 3 position in the closing stages 2. Try out returning from altitude approx 16 day pre-marathon 3. Develop the long run into something more challenging.

The first one shaped my decision to go for Geneva rather than Berlin or Amsterdam. Its a harsh reality that these days if you are running between 2.13 and 2.20 its very difficult to find races where you are going to have people around you. Even the smaller marathons won in 2.13 have the leaders going through in 65 for halfway and the big city races tend to thin out seriously after a first group in 63 and a second group in 65. So Geneva looked like a good option. On the day the leaders indeed went through in 65 and although they were coming back I wasn't close enough to them to pick up the pieces in the closing stages. Having run 40k alone/leading a small chasing group I can honestly say I dont want to do that again ! But if I find myself in that position i'm at least prepared. It really was a different experience from what I have had before in London, Amsterdam and Toronto.

The altitude experiment was a success and also part of my downfall, but not for the usual reasons which get many athletes when going to altitude i.e. overtraining. After a terrific 3 weeks stretch in St Moritz in July I was really fit - and carrying an injury. Having put my pelvis slightly out of alignmenent 3 weeks hard training had inflamed the muscles in the hip. What was really required was a rest to let things settle but I was in damage limitation mode for the last 7 weeks training. Next time I will be visiting Claire just before going away for a training camp.

This had a couple of effects. Firstly my training just wasn't as consistent as before Toronto. I was able to hit most of the key workouts but in between it was just injury management. To compound this I made a decision to focus on hitting the MP work and dropping some faster workouts when I was forced to choose. Looking back it meant that I did quite a bit of MP at altitude at a speed around 3:20/km and in reality did very little running actually at target sea level MP (3:14) or 10k pace. Come race day I had bucket loads of stamina but running target pace felt mechanically challenging i.e. I felt like I was really legging it to run at 2.17 pace. So I finished full of running (last 2.2km in 6:54) but couldn't sustain it earlier in the race. With hindset I was probably optimally trained to race 50km at about 3:23/km - just don't tell Norman Wilson !

The big reminder for me is that I am a 'slow' runner and need to keep some long, faster (10k pace) efforts in my training pretty much year round. Just doing the hill sprints and strides isn't enough. The other reality check was that training the fuel systems with MP effort running is one thing and training the muscles to run at target MP is another. I need to do both if I'm training at altitude.

And finally the long run. I've found over the years that just going out for 2-2.45 hours doesn't really challenge me much anymore. I'm pretty well adapted and can go out and nail a 20 miler any time of year. So I wanted to make things more demanding by adding some faster efforts. The first time I did this was quite tough. Running some short fast bursts in the first hour makes the last hour a bit more uncomfortable from a combination of having burned off fuel and fatigued the faster twitch muscles fibres which normally get recruited towards the end of a long run when the slow twitch are exhausted. What was really pleasing was that over the course of just three of these more demanding long runs I was able to adapt to the point where I was putting in a significant amount of fast running in the first 2 hours then able to finish with a progressive 5k finish at faster than MP. A big step forward and one that made the closing stages of the race a much more appealing proposition come the day.

So plenty to take in and work with come my next marathon in the spring.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


A pleasure to write to you and support your elite running and racing!

Hope to see you on the roads of Canada again (my city of Montreal perhaps?) and our sister cities of Ottawa and Toronto...

All the best to a fellow runner, and may 2009 allow you some new personal bests!

Gary Rush, 42, Montreal/Canada
(marathoner since age 15-1981!!)