For new readers

To get an idea of what I'm trying to do and why I think it's possible, check out the following entries, they'll help get you up to speed.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

How slow can you go?

I have to remind myself not to read Mike's blog too often (around and around and around) because it makes me feel really slow.  But I read it today which is ok because 'slowness' is kind of the subject of this post.

The longer a race, the less important it is how much your training raises your speed 'ceiling'.  What really matters is how much it raises your 'floor', after all, thats where you'll be spending the bulk of your time (hopefully not literally, though you may feel like you need to get down there and crawl at times).  It's this idea of 'raising the floor' that i think is a key factor in my belief that for a mentally disciplined runner a low volume training program can produce similar or better results in ultra-distance races than high mileage programs.

I like long hours with demons
One of the things that i discovered when switching to low-volume training 4 years ago was that i got much faster, not only at the top end, but also at the bottom.  Because i was spending nearly all of my miles 'revving' my engine so to speak, paces i'd previously held to be 'long run paces' felt like active recovery - it became virtually impossible for me to run, no matter how tired, slower than what was suggested as my marathon training pace.  I'm not sure the reason for this adaptation - some of it undoubtedly came from the shift towards a higher cadence running style - but much of it may also have been mental.  Spending my few weekly miles at a 9 mph pace made 8 mph feel easy, and 6.5 mph (9-12 min mile) feel like walking.  

So when it comes to running an ultra this plays out in a couple of ways - I tend to go out pretty fast compared to folks using more conservative (and traditional) pacing strategies.  With only one hour a week of training i find i can only hold these quicker paces for 1.5-2 hours before i feel destroyed.  I hit the 'floor' but am usually reasonably well positioned in the field.  My strategy at this point is simply to stay on the floor - old man shuffling and then run/walking at some minimum pace and confronting my demons.

Compare this to people using a more traditional program.  Higher mileage moderate pace running might equip a racer to go much longer at their typical training paces.  When i looked into ultra training programs based on my paces, most had me running 40-60 miles a week, almost exclusively at 8 min miles or slower.  Assuming these prepared me to run for 30 miles continuously at a 9 min mile pace before hitting the floor, but also that that floor was a bit lower - a 15 min per mile average, we can do some calculations (for a 50 mile race lets say):

  • My race: 2 hours at 8 mph = 16 miles.  Remaining 34 miles at 5 mph yields sub 9 hour 50 miler.

  • Higher volume race: 30 miles at 6.6 mph (9 min pace) = 4 hours 33 min.  Remaining 20 miles at 4 miles per hour yields a 9.5 hour 50 miler.  
The main difference between the approaches is that the demons get more time to try to persuade me that i've got no business continuing my race.  For others looking to employ a low volume plan, this might prove catastrophic - for me, it's part of the reason I do these crazy things in the first place (more on that in my next post). 

But we'll may get to see how this works - I'm thinking about signing up for a 50 miler in May.  My training goes better when there's a more immediate goal to help get me through those damned hard 10 minute workouts of mine, and my June 29th adventure race is just a little too far out.  

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