Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Highland Fling Analysis

Hi Again,

It's been a while since my last post. Hopefully tonight's post will be (i) shorter, and (ii) without the detailed statistics of last week!

You may be wondering Highland Fling?! Did I run it this year? Well I didn't, but with it being such a good race I have been taking an interest in the results and various runner's reports from the race. Although I stated above that I will avoid detailed statistics, I feel I need to finish my pacing strategy discussion.

Although I am a firm believer that there is NOT ONE correct strategy, my last post was attempting to try to get a guide, by using statistics, at what could be more likely to work. Having re-read what I wrote, apart from probably confusing you all, and to be honest, even myself! I think the only thing one can conclude from the statistical analysis of the results of the Highland Fling 2009 is that for the top three quarters of the field the pacing strategy in terms of the percentage time to get to halfway in the race, pretty well, has no influence on one's finishing time.

What about last Saturday's Highland Fling? I thought I would have one last try at attempting to get some guidance from the results at what pacing strategy may improve finishing time. This time though the plan adopted was to look at the difference in performance for those runners that finished both 2009 and 2010 races.

I wont present all of my analysis as I have promised that I will keep this post short so below is my summary.

87 runners ran in both 2009 and 2010.
48 people ran faster this year ranging from 13 seconds to 2:50:31 faster, with an average time for these 48 runners of 37 minutes and 48 seconds faster.
39 people ran slower this year ranging from 30 seconds to 2:07:04 slower, with an average time for these 39 runners of exactly 40 minutes slower.

If we look at the data for the 48 people who ran faster in terms of pacing strategy, we can use the split times at Drymen (12.6miles) and Rowardennan (27.2miles).

To keep things simple, there are three scenarios into why someone has ran faster:
(i) they could simply be fitter, and therefore run faster through the entire race
(ii) they have adopted the UltraStu strategy of "Run as fast as you can while you can" and cover the first sections faster and then slow down at the same rate so the second half of the race is run in the same time.
(iii) they have adopted the careful approach and started slower and therefore able to run the second half of the race more quickly, resulting in an overall improved time.

So what does the data tell us?

Of the 48 people that ran faster in 2010:
33 of them got to Drymen quicker, 15 got to Drymen slower.
33 of them (30 out of the 33 the same as for Drymen) got to Rowardennan quicker.

Did they continue to run faster over the second half of the race, or run at the same speed as 2009? 44 out of the 48 ran the second half of the race faster. So only 4 runners appeared to adopt strategy (ii)!

I have looked into more detail at the split times for the 87 runners, especially the 48 that ran faster, but the only conclusion I can really draw out from all of my number crunching is:


Just to further emphasis this conclusion I will present the data on three runners who have over the last few weeks contributed to my blog.

Case study 1. Thomas Loehndorf
Thomas finished in 2nd place overall in a time of 8:09:05, an improvement of 11minutes 35 seconds. Thomas indicated within his blog prior to the race that his intention was to start faster. He was 2:27 faster at Drymen, 11:53 faster at Rowardennan, and then ran the second half of the race in pretty well an identical time to 2009, actually 18 seconds slower. Was he fitter this year? Or does he simply illustrate my belief, that no matter what pace you start at you will slow down the same amount, so start fast, gain time during the first half and then run the same pace.

Unfortunately, this approach doesn't seem to work for everyone!

Case study 2. John Kynaston (Hi John, your personal coach here again!)
John finished in 51st place overall, 6th Super Vet, in a time of 10:14:09, this being 24 minutes 58 seconds slower than 2009 (sorry John for reminding you of this fact!) John indicated within his blog prior to the race that he was tempted to try starting out at a faster pace, but in the end his approach was for a target starting pace similar to 2009. However, he was 1:06 faster at Drymen, but by the time he arrived at Rowardennan he was 2:55 slower and then continued to slow more during the second half of the race. Was he fitter this year, or less fit this year? Or does he simply illustrate that you should not start too fast as you will 'pay for it' later in the race!

And finally:

Case study 3. Andy Cole
Andy finished in 47th place overall, winning the 60+ category, in a time of 10:10:43, this being 12 minutes and 19 seconds faster than 2009. Andy indicated within his blog that his intention was to get to Drymen in 2 hours or slower, this deliberately being a slower starting pace than the 1:55 it took him in 2009. He arrived at Drymen in 1:58:56, so 3:56 slower and at Rowardennan was still 3:53 slower than 2009. However, he then ran the second half of the race 16 minutes and 12 seconds faster. Was he fitter this year? Or does he simply illustrate that it best to start slowly so one is able to run quicker during the second half of the race!

Three different case studies, three different answers to which strategy works best. I will let you decide!

Well I haven't quite achieved tonight what I set out to do, there is a bit of maths, but at least it is shorter.

Within my post above I ask the question "Was he fitter this year?" Many or maybe most of you would have interpreted this question as was he physically/physiologically fitter this year? However, I was asking the question, was he overall / totally / 'globally' fitter, to do with every aspect that contributes to performance. With regards to this overall / total / global fitness, I will sign off with a quote from Charlie Spedding from his book titled "From Last to First".

"I was sure that it was almost impossible to achieve a performance that my mind, or self image, thought was beyond me.....I would train my mind to accept the reality of the performances I imagined." p85.

To everyone that ran the Highland Fling, well done on your achievements. After deciding not to run this years race, I have pencilled it in the diary for next April. So see you all next year at Millgavie.

Enjoy the running experiences,


Monday, 19 April 2010

Pace Judgement - A Statistical Look

Hi to everyone, especially to Thomas L and John K.

A few days ago Thomas on his blog added to the discussion on pace judgement and compared his split time at Rowardennan and his finish time during last year's Highland Fling, with the winner's Jez Bragg. He calculated what his time at Rowardennan was in terms of a percentage of his overall finishing time. It happened to be identical to the winners, being 47%. Thomas therefore concluded "... my race was in fact paced exactly like Jez, and although it felt I was going too slow in the first half I was probably not."

It got me thinking, "Is what the winner does the correct strategy?"

If you have read my earlier posts, especially on pace judgement, you will know instantly the answer to my question! There is not one correct strategy, everyone is different. However, this conclusion of mine doesn't really help anyone in trying to possibly identify what is a strategy that is more likely to lead to an improved performance. Well before I could add a comment to Thomas' blog, John K then raised some further questions by calculating the halfway split time percentages for everyone during last year's Highland Fling race! He then made an interesting comment that got me thinking even more!

Firstly Rowardennan is at 50.6% distance. John then comments "If we take that 50.6% is the 'perfect' equal split then Jez came 2nd and Thomas 7th in the list"

So, is it as simple as that? Is the aim to run as even paced as possible throughout the race?

Well I have my pretty well exactly opposite views, but I thought maybe there is some way to look at the data from last year's Highland Fling to help answer the above question regarding even pace judgement. So here is my attempt at using statistics. Not one of my strengths but maybe worth giving it a go!

Logically, you would think that an even paced split i.e. the closer to 50.6%, the better. This would mean that you haven't slowed down very much during the second half of the race. However, one can also achieve an even paced split by going extremely slow during the first half of the race, so therefore able to maintain the same pace. This strategy therefore 'looses' time during the first half, hence my approach "Run as fast as you can while you can!"

Time for some statistics. If it was as simple as the closer to 50% half way time split the better the performance, then you would expect a strong relationship between the two variables. Scatter diagrams illustrate relationships and the correlation coefficient (r), that is a number between 0 and 1, indicates the strength of the relationship, with 0 being absolutely no relationship and 1 being the perfect relationship.

Before looking at the statistics, one needs to be aware of a few other factors. During the Highland Fling last year it was amazingly hot! This caused problems for a number of runners in terms of dehydration, as experienced by my training partner James Wallis. His halfway percentage was 37.6% ranking him in the halfway time split percentage list as 6th to last! However, this low percentage was not due to poor pace judgement, but to other unforeseen circumstances. This may also have affected a number of other runners who were required to dramatically slow down during the second half of the race, for example due to a strained muscle or twisted ankle, i.e. unforeseen circumstances. I therefore need to remove these abnormalities from the 'equation'. Of the 237 results with the Rowardennan time split I ranked these in halfway time split percentage order and then removed the bottom 10%, i.e 24 runners. This left 213 runners. I then calculated the correlation coefficient between the halfway time split percentage and finishing time for these 213 runners. The correlation coefficient was r = -0.32. What does this value mean? This means that there is a very weak relationship between halfway time split percentage and finishing time. Taking account of all 213 data points , if the halfway time split percentage is higher, i.e. closer to 50%, then the finish time is statistically likely to be slightly lower. However,that result is an overall conclusion, which doesn't always work out for each individual. This is illustrated by the three red circles on the graph below. Nearly identical halfway time split percentages but massive differences in the finish times.

There is a term called 'common variance'. This refers to how much of the variability of one variable, e.g. finish time, is explained by the variance of the other variable e.g. halfway time split percentage. Common variance is given by the r value being multiplied by itself, i.e. r squared. For an r value of -0.32, the common variance is 10%. So only 10% of the variance of the finish time is explained by the halfway time split percentage, the other 90% of finish time variance is determined by other factors.

So to answer the question I asked above, "Is it as simple as the closer to 50% halfway time split, the better the performance", the answer is yes, but to a very small extent, only 10%, the other 90% variation in finish time is due to other factors.

I guess I could stop this post there, however, if you have read a few of my previous posts you will know that they tend to be quite lengthy. I do try to give true value for money! So I will expand on this issue a little more, with a bit more statistics. Hopefully the above hasn't already brought back nightmares of GCSE (O Level) maths!

With regards to the recent discussion on pace judgement, there has been an assumption that the rate at which you slow down during the second half of an ultra race is largely determined by how fast you have run the first half of the race. Now I believe, along with Gavin Woodward (see earlier post) that "no matter what pace you start at, you will slow eventually, so start at a fast pace". Is there any way that the data from last year's Highland Fling can help support this belief? So I started thinking a bit more. What follows is what I came up with. Warning, I am not a statistician so I may be abusing the laws of statistics, but this is a blog, not an academic journal! I think it makes sense. I just hope you are able to follow my logic!

The next question I asked was: "Is the halfway time split percentage influenced by a runner's level of fitness?" For example, do the fitter runners tend to have a higher or lower halfway time split percentage? To try to answer this question I took the runner's time at halfway as a measure of the runner's fitness level, and then calculated the average halfway time split percentage for the fastest 53 runners to halfway, also the average halfway time split percentage for runners at halfway from 54 - 106 place, also 107 - 160 place, and 161 - 213 place. If the halfway time split percentage was influenced by the runner's fitness level then you would expect to see differences between these group averages. The results were:

1 - 53 halfway average time = 4:00:26, halfway time split percentage average = 43.35
54 - 106 halfway average time = 4:35:11, halfway time split percentage average = 43.12
107 - 160 halfway average time = 4:59:10, halfway time split percentage average = 43.37
161 - 213 halfway average time = 5:32:58, halfway time split percentage average = 42.87.

It therefore appears that for the fittest three quarters of the field (1 - 160), the fitness level does not influence the halfway time split percentage. Although for the least fit quarter of the field (160 - 213) there does appear to be an influence with the least fit runners having a lower percentage, i.e. they slow down more in the second half of the race.

So to further my statistical analysis, I then removed the slowest 53 runners, leaving the fastest 160 runners. Which for these runners it appears that the halfway time split percentage is independent from their fitness level.

The question I next wished to answer was "Does the pace you run at for the first half of the race have a strong influence on how much your pace will slow during the second half of the race?" The halfway time split percentage represents how much your pace slows down during the second half of the race in relation to the pace during the first half. So if the race pace to halfway does influence the rate at which you slow down then this would be illustrated in a scatter diagram of halfway time plotted against halfway time split percentage, and the larger the correlation coefficient value (r), the stronger the relationship.

The RESULT! Take a look at the graph below. In all of my reading of journal articles I don't think I have ever seen a correlation coefficient ( r = -0.017) as close to zero as the value representing the relationship between halfway time and halfway time split percentage! In other words, based on the fastest 160 runners in last year's Highland Fling there appears to be absolutely no relationship between the pace one runs the first half of the race and the rate at which they slow down during the second half of the race!

Well all of my effort in giving thought to this topic, and in thinking that all of this data must be able to show us something, appears to have been worthwhile. Obviously if one takes this lack of a relationship to extremes, and runs a ridiculously fast pace for the first half of the race, then one may then expect a rapid decrease in pace during the second half. But by using the database of the 160 runners from last year, where we are only talking about small variations in race pace / race intensities during the first half of the race, not extremes, it appears that it may well be better to run that little bit faster at the start, now knowing that it wont cause you to slow down at a greater rate later in the race.

Just to finish off, with one alternative way to look at the data. I put the 160 runners in halfway time split percentage ranked order ranging from 47.8% at the top, down to 40.0% at the bottom, and again looked at the average values for each quartile i.e. each 40 runners, to see how the average values for each quartile group differ. Here are the results:

% ranking 1 - 40, average % = 45.43, average halfway time = 4:45:22
% ranking 41 - 80, average % = 43.63, average halfway time = 4:45:14
% ranking 81 - 120, average % = 42.60, average halfway time = 4:49:22
% ranking 121 - 160, average % = 41.09, average halfway time = 4:47:38

If the pace one ran at during the first half of the race did directly influence how much one slowed down during the second half of the race, then you would expect that those runners with the highest halfway time split percentage would have a slower time at halfway. This is expected because those runners with the highest halfway time split percentage would have taken it slower over the first half of the race to ensure that they didn't excessively slow down during the second half of the race. As you can see from the results directly above, there is pretty well no difference at all between any of the four quartile groups average halfway times!

If you have managed to get to the end of this post, well done. Even I am getting a bit fed up with numbers. Many apologies for such a boring?, well maybe for some, but more likely many apologies for such a possibly confusing and mathematical post. I will get back to easier reading in my next post, whatever that will me.

All the best to those of you running the Highland Fling this Saturday. I am not running the race this year. It was extremely tempting after last year's disappointment, with the temptation to improve my result after going off course last year. However, I already have four ultra races scheduled for the year, and trying to fit in a fifth ultra race just seemed a bit too much! After all there is more to life than ultra trail running.

This post has talked alot about slowing down during the second half of the race. To sign off, I will leave you with some words from Steve Gurney, arguably New Zealand's greatest ever multisport adventure racer. "If you keep focusing on the problem, it will surely happen. My strategy is to look at the goal, and enhance the positive things that will lead to success." Steve Gurney (2008) p198 Lucky Legs - What I've Learned About Winning and Losing. Auckland: Random House.

Enjoy your next ultra trail race,


Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Marathon Number 1 - Fletcher Marathon, Rotorua, NZ - 26th April 1980

Hi, welcome back.

As I promised in my last two posts, time for some Millsy Memories. I will get back to the issue of running economy and what this means with regards to training in my next post. Thanks for the two comments which I totally agree with, and hopefully will expand upon after I've casted my mind back 30 years!!!

Well as the title of the post states, I ran my first marathon on the 26th April 1980, as a 17 year old. Yes I lied about my age on the entry form! I joined Hutt Valley Harriers in April 1977, so I had 3 years of running prior to my first marathon. Before joining harriers I was your typical New Zealand boy, playing rugby from the age of 8 for Naenae Old Boys, but also due to living in the Hutt Valley, a very strong area for softball, playing softball from the age of 9 for Cardinals. For various reasons, hard to remember now, I stopped both of those sports in 1977 and started running.

Hutt Valley Harriers was a well established club, being formed in 1923 and was located underneath the tiered seating area of the Naenae Olympic Swimming Pool. The season tended to alternate with a club run and a race, (either a club race or an interclub race), each Saturday. During most of 1977 I don't recall doing any other running apart from on the Saturday, except for the occasion run during PE at school.

It was during 1977 that a new music teacher joined the staff of Naenae College, where I was in the 4th form (year10). Gary Wilby was a runner who had previously lived in Christchurch. It wasn't long before he had established a small group of runners that ran together after school. For the last 2- 3 months of the school year, from September onwards I joined the group and really enjoyed the running. Whether I would have got into running to such an extent, that I am still a runner now, if it wasn't for Gary's influence is hard to say, but I sure have much to thank him for. I still stay in contact with Gary whenever I get back to NZ. Actually I think 'The Wizard' as we used to call Mr Wilby back then and the Naenae College running group (Lucocks, Ritchies, Wah, Bryant, Higham, Teapot, Reille, Pirie, etc.) are well worthy of a Millsy Memory post in the coming months! So for now I will get back to the Fletcher Marathon and my training leading up to it.

My proper running training began on the 1st of January 1978, when I also started recorded down my training in a diary, which if you have read one of my earlier posts, I have continued to record to this day! During 1978 and 1979 I ran 1044 and 1169 miles respectively. During these years of running I was gradually improving, having improved my finishing position in the Wellington Schools cross country championships from 77th place out of 95 finishers in October 1977 to 29th place out of 69 finishers in October 1979. However, by the end of 1979 I realised that I wasn't going to be the next John Walker, world recorder holder for the mile in 1975 and Olympic 1500metre champion in 1976, but maybe the marathon was my distance, as I knew one thing way back then, I did not possess any fast twitch muscle fibres (check out my PB for 400metres!). Was I to be the next Jack Foster, who finished 2nd in the 1974 Commonwealth Games in a time of 2:11:18 (at the age of 41!)? So I decided I would run New Zealand's premier marathon, the Fletcher Marathon that attracted around 2000 entries each year, even before the marathon boom of the 80s, the following April.

The year started with running track, where I set my still existing PB for 3000metres at my key goal race of the track season, the Hutt Valley Intercollegiates, finishing 3rd in a time of 9:15.5. My best track result ever! This was a massive improvement on my PB of exactly 30 seconds. Maybe just the thought of possibly being capable of being a good runner, was actually turning me into a good runner! (How much does self expectation determine one's performance? Yes a topic for a future post there.) I had run a total of 333 miles in the first 10 weeks of 1980 leading up to 3000m race, amazingly not much different from the average of 34.3 miles a week last year training for and racing in 5 Ultras including the 103mile Mont Blanc! (but that's a different story!).

So with the track season finished I then had exactly 6 weeks and 1 day of marathon training to complete, in order to achieve my clearly established goal of 2 hours 59 minutes and 59 seconds or faster. I concluded that if I could run 2 hours something! at the age of 17, then 2 hours 8mins (the world record at the time) would be well within my capabilities sometime before I reached Jack Foster's ripe old age of 41.

The 5 weeks training consisted of weekly mileages of 41, 37, 58, 71, 50, before easing down during the final week. I ran every day for the 10 weeks leading up to the marathon except for the Friday before the race. Amazing how disciplined I was then. I can't recall when I last ran every day for just one week! (Yes, a quick check of my training diaries, well not that quick I had to go all the way back to the week of the 23rd - 29th July 2001) (Another story there as well, regarding the need for recovery!)

So race day quickly arrived. Joe Franklin our club captain at the time at Hutt Valley Harriers worked within the police force so on the Friday we had a whole bus load of runners from the harrier club and the local police force runners take the 7 hour journey up to Rotorua from Wellington. Rotorua is a touristy town, even way back then, so we all stayed in two 'flash' motels. I remember sharing the room with Gary Wilby, Bernie Jensen and Clive Chandler. The morning of the race arrived and it was a beautiful sunny day, clear blue sky. It was going to get hot, probably around the mid twenties celsius. Bernie Jensen was your typically beer drinking runner with a rather rounded belly as proof of his drinking habits. I still vividly recall him appearing at the breakfast table getting his bright orange Hutt Valley singlet (vest) ready with elastoplast over both of his nipples. It was quite a sight for a young 17 year old. He had completed many marathons and was 100% sure that you had to put elastoplast over your nipples when running a marathon to avoid 'runners nipple'. I recall thinking "do I do what this guy says, listen to his 'words of wisdom'?" I then took another look at his belly and decided that maybe his approach to running wasn't the most effective, and has I have often done throughout my running, I did what I thought was best and let my nipples remain exposed, willing to accept the guaranteed bleeding nipples, as part of running a marathon. (Hi Bernie, if for an amazing reason you ever read this, many apologies, your beer tum wasn't that big, but it definitely wasn't the elite marathoners physique that I was hoping to emulate! Cheers, thanks for your contribution to the great trip 30 years ago!)

So the 2000+ runners gathered at the start. I don't remember there being signs for different speed runners to assemble at so I stood next to some of the other runners from Hutt Valley Harriers, I guess around a third of the way back from the front. I had spent quite a bit of time planning my race in order to achieve a sub 3 hour time. I decided upon running 20:30 5km pace until 20km. This being 6:36 miling, 2:52:58 pace. This would allow me some spare time to slow down in the second half of the race and still run under three hours. It wasn't quite the "run as fast as you can, while you can" philosophy I currently adopt, but even right back then it seemed logical that running a constant pace throughout the entire race was just not possible.

The gun goes, and being a third of the way back in the field, nothing happens, I am just standing still unable to move forward. I remember the frustration at not being able to start running. There was no computer chip timing back then in 1980. I finally get moving and start my adventure into marathon running.

The course at Rotorua is quite unique. It covers exactly one complete lap of the lake, starting and finishing in the picturesque Government Gardens. There are a few undulations on the course but nothing severe, the largest climb being a rise of 40 metres. At the 5 km mark I am only 7 seconds down on schedule, but I am pleased as it felt like I had lost loads more time than that at the start. At 10 kms I am now 25 seconds up on schedule and all is going well. The course between 10 and 20 kms is the most beautiful as it runs close to the lakes edge. At the age of 17 I wasn't really into the natural beauty of the surrounding environment, but this section of the race was absolutely amazing. The road was closed, so it was quiet and peaceful as I continued to run fast, running the 5kms from 10 - 15 kms in 19:55, this being 6:24 mile pace, as I ran into the unknown of my first ever marathon. I recall thinking, am I going to fast, when will I start 'dieing', when will I hit the famous marathon wall? I ignore these doubts and just enjoy the occasion, and complete the undulating section from 15 - 20 kms only 5 seconds slower in exactly 20 minutes.

At about the 23 km mark the course joins back onto a main road, where instantly the peaceful quietness is interrupted with hundreds of the runner's friends and family cheering everyone on. Just prior to rejoining the main road I catch up to Steve Malanchak, a runner from my club who is also doing his first marathon, but not only is he 2-3 years older than me, but he is a good runner, having usually finished in the first 5 places, racing as an under 20 year old junior. I am pretty excited with the way I am performing and enjoy hearing my name being called out by supporters from Hutt Valley Harriers. The photo below shows me running next to Steve at around the 23km mark. Although the photo is a bit blurred it clearly shows it was a hot day. I am race number 364.

Not too much later at around 26kms the course starts a slow gradual climb. It only climbs around 25 metres over 2 kms, but whatever it was, whether it was this climb, or the heat, or the fact that the scenery wasn't as pleasant, it being noisy as supporter's car continually overtake and stop and then re-overtake you, or I let my expectation to start dieing to lead to reality, I just don't know. Probably a combination of all of the above, but whatever it was, as if instantly I begin to struggle. I get to the top of this small rise, only 25metres, and feel really negative. How will I manage this last 14 kms?
The next 14kms are a real struggle. Although it is a cliche, I really did dig deep. I think one thing no one could ever accuse me of in my earlier days of racing, was that I was not trying hard enough. I was determined to break 3 hours, this was my last chance to be good at running. A distance that just had to suit me. Yes, I had these thoughts as a 17 year old. (Isn't it not surprising that so many teenagers drop out of sport, the expectations/ need to be in a county squad. What about the late developers, what about them? Yet another story!)

As we get closer to Rotorua the crowds on the side of the road get bigger. I remember thinking to myself, what are the crowds thinking as they see me really struggling. Was I foolish to try to run a marathon at the age of 17? Maybe there is a reason for the minimum age being set at 18? Although the crowds are cheering I do not absorb any of their positive energy, in fact I feel negative energy from the crowds. Reinforcing the foolishness of thinking that I could be a decent runner. Thinking back now, if only I knew then what I know now, on how one can really take on board the positive energy from the spectators, to truly enhance one's performance, the last 14kms to the finish would have been a cruise. However, it takes years to become wise, to learn how to run endurance events, so I 'gritted my teeth' and focused on different strategies to get me through this unpleasant experience, such as when only 10km from the finish visualising myself starting on my standard 6 mile training run that I had completed many times.

My how things had changed from the absolute joy of running just an hour earlier, which had felt so easy. Well, I somehow manage to get back into Rotorua and then the last 2 kms becomes great again as I realise that I will achieve my goal. I begin to relax, well as much as one can, being totally dehydrated, and no doubt hypoglycemic as well, as there were no carbohydrate gels back in those days, just simply water! I start to enjoy the atmosphere of the crowds cheering, lining the sides of the street. I really start to 'buzz'. All of a sudden the 'pain' of running dissipates. The pain is still there, my leg muscles are still absolutely 'shot', (as I don't have the 35000 miles in my legs like I do now), but I choose to ignore it, and focus on the positive, the achievement of the goal I set, a rather demanding goal, but a goal that meant that I could achieve at running. Although my actual running pace didn't drop that significantly over the last 14 kms (see race splits at the bottom), the effort required was substantially much, much more!

100metres before the finish line, entering Governement Gardens

I cross the line in 182nd place out of 1953 finishers, in a time of 2 hours 56 minutes and 51 seconds. I have never forgotten that time. I could now call myself a good runner!

Well, recalling that memory was quite amazing. As I got into writing the above, the memories just got stronger and stronger. I started this post thinking that it would just be a few comments and two photographs. Well I have found it quite amazing. It has made me consider, how have I changed over the last 30 years? Have I changed? Am I still wanting to call myself a good runner? I know in many aspects I have changed, I sure don't push myself during races like I used to back then. But how much of the inner self, the goals, the determination, the desires, the joy in running. How much of it is still the same?

One of the aims of setting up this blog was to get other ultra runners to think about their approach to running, little did I realise that it would get me thinking so deeply!

Time to finish this rather lengthy post. I will sign off with a thought to illustrate my current state of mind after reflecting back thirty years to my first ever marathon. "Enjoy the experience of running, try to 'live in the now' as you run, as what you engage in while you run will be a lasting memory to re-live, to re-enjoy, and to provide an opportunity to get to know your true inner self, if you allow it".

From a thoughtful and reflective Stuart, may you have many more wonderful experiences running.

PS Gary Wilby finished in 2:46:53 (81st), Steve Malanchak 2:56:32 (177th) and Bernie Jensen finished with bleeding nipples in 3:25:17 (635th)!

Friday, 9 April 2010

The Importance of Running Economy

Hi to those of you following my Memories and Mutterings.

At the moment my posts have consisted mainly of mutterings. This post was to be on my first ever marathon 30 years ago, but this can wait. I would like to expand upon some of the points I raised in my last post.

Thanks to those of you that have left comments. It is great to see that my posts are being read and are initiating thoughts. Rather than replying directly to your comments, I will take them on board and then respond to them in following posts. It may take a few posts until I respond to your comment, however, please be patient, your comment hasn't been ignored, rather I would like to fit it into the theme of a future post.

Having run for 32+ years I have many views on running that I would like to share. The problem is deciding upon what to share first. I raised two issues within my last post; (i) the need to have a strong belief in your preparation/ability, and (ii) the importance of the total mileage you have run ever. It is the second issue that I will expand upon tonight.

Although I stated within one of my earlier posts that my comments will be simply my views without the need to provide evidence/the need to reference the source of what I say. At times it is useful to support what I write with evidence. The Cavin Woodward 100 mile world record was a perfect example, to illustrate that I don't 'talk rubbish!'

After all, why should you the readers of my blog value what I write? Sure, I have won a few ultras (6 out of the 9 I have run in the last two years to be precise!), but simply getting across the line first doesn't mean I talk sense. I guess the reason why I think I talk sense is a combination of what I have learnt over 3o years of endurance running (2 years of ultra running) and from my job as a sports science lecturer, where along with other things I get paid to read, evaluate and then present to students the most recent findings from the sports science research.
Which of these two has been more beneficial? Without doubt, what I have discovered from my own self research conducted through my training and racing. It is the methods of enquiry, the ability to critique, to interpret the literature that is most important, what I have learnt most from being a lecturer. Not so much in terms of what the actual research states. A key warning when it comes to scientific evidence, just because it has been published doesn't automatically mean it is correct!!! There is plenty of rubbish that has been published, hence the need to be able to critique. Sorry, I have got a bit side tracked there.
Back to the importance of the total mileage you have run ever, in this particular case, supported by some published evidence!

Many publications will state something like the following:
"Endurance running performance depends on a complex interplay of factors, including: (1) a high maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max), (2) the ability to sustain a high percentage of VO2 max for long periods of time (fractional utilisation of VO2 max, or lactate threshold), and (3) the ability to move efficiently (i.e., cost of running, or RUNNING ECONOMY." Lucia, A. et al (2008) p172.

The image above illustrates how these three factors influence performance. However, what about ultra running performance? Well I believe that it is the running economy that is most important for ultra running. If I look at the data from some of my ultra races, my average heart rate during the following races are: Hardmoors55, duration 8 hours 59 mins = 138bpm, Ultra Trail Mont Blanc, 13 hours duration before battery ran out = 136bpm, Classic Cliffs57, duration 11 hours 59 mins = 137bpm, Highland Fling53(56!), duration 8 hours 33 minutes = 152bpm, London to Brighton Trail56, duration 7 hours 59 minutes = 154bpm.

Apart from noting that I tend to finish just under the next hour (a bit of psychology there!), with regards to the heart rate, the longer the race duration the lower the heart rate, but most significant is just how low my average heart rate is. With a current maximum heart rate of 187bpm, I am averaging between 73% - 82% of my maximum heart rate. I haven't actually got the data of my lactate profile laboratory test (the advantages of working within a sports science department!) here with me now, but I am pretty sure my lactate turnpoint (also known as onset of blood lactate accumulation OBLA, or maximal lactate steady state MLSS) occurs at a higher heart rate.
I have just remembered a graph of my lactate profile is provided on a University of Brighton news item from October 2008. If you follow this link you will see that my lactate threshold (when there is a first initial rise in blood lactate above the resting value) occurs at a heart rate of 165, and my lactate turnpoint (the second 'sudden and sustained' increase in blood lactate) occurs at a heart rate of 178! As I thought well above ultra racing average heart rates of 136 - 154bpm. At heart rates above this lactate turnpoint value, lactate will continue to increase with time until no longer able to continue. At lactate turnpoint, also known as maximal lactate steady state MLSS, the blood lactate level remains elevated above baseline values, but will remain relativley stable over time. Terminology used is based on Jones (2006).
I would also expect that my heart rate percentages during ultra runs are probably a little bit higher than other runners, so for most runners they are running at an intensity well below their lactate turnpoint. So whether your lactate turnpoint occurs at 75 or 85% of VO2 max is pretty irrelevant as you are nowhere near this intensity during ultra running. (Please note % HR does not equate to % VO2 max.)

What about one's actual VO2 max value. Yes, one does have to have a reasonable VO2 max value in order to perform in ultra runs, but how high is very debatable. However, just as with lactate turnpoint, because one is running at an intensity nowhere near VO2 max then, the actual VO2 max value becomes rather irrelevant.

This then leads to the third factor, RUNNING ECONOMY. As Lucia et al (2008) p172 states "... by comparison, running economy has been relatively ignored in the scientific literature, though it may be the critical factor determining endurance running performance." Great these researchers agree with me, this therefore must be one of the good quality scientific articles!

"Running economy (RE) can be defined as the O2 cost (in ml/kg/min) of running at a certain speed." Andy Jones, 2006, the physiologist to Paula Radcliffe since 1991, so therefore someone who talks sense! What you want as a runner is to be very economical, i.e use minimal oxygen when running at a particular pace, i.e. your typical ultra running pace, as it is this intensity that you are running at during an ultra race, not VO2 max or lactate turnpoint intensity. Hence the importance of running economy.

The question I hear you all asking is "what determines running economy?" Well there are loads of factors, and there is no clear consensus within the literature on what is most important. The factors are classified as physiological, anthropometric and biomechanical and include too many to type out, but the following image from Sauders et al, 2004 shows a few.
However what is the most interesting finding, is that " .... the years of training is significantly correlated (r = 0.62) with running economy in relatively well trained distance runners. The critically important factor in the enhancement of running economy may therefore be the cumulative distance the runner has covered over the years of training and not training volume per se." Midgley et al, 2007, p870. Hence my statement from by last post "It isn't so much the mileage that you have 'put in' over the preceding months, or even the preceding year or two, but it is the TOTAL MILEAGE you have run EVER that is important" is therefore supported by evidence!

So to Brian Mc, who left a comment on my last post (thanks), you are not alone in recognising that you are getting better as your years of endurance running increases. Andy Jones, remember the physiologist for Paula Radcliffe, concludes in a really interesting article written in 2006 that "it appears that enhanced exercise economy is central to the continued improvements in endurance exercise performance noted in elite athletes." p112, as he reports that between 1992 and 2003 Paula Radcliffe's running economy demonstrated a 15% improvement, whilst her VO2 max decreased .

I could go on and on and start explaining what various authors suggest are the mechanisms that lead to improved running economy as the cumulative distance run increases, but I think I have written enough for one post.

Within my posts, my aim is to be thought provoking, inspiring and encouraging. Many apologies with this post, as in some ways it hasn't really been encouraging, as to put it simply, it takes time, years in fact to improve running economy, so there's no 'quick fix'!

I will sign off with a comment from Kilian Jornet, double winner of the 166km Ultra Trail Mont Blanc, who climbed his first 3000 metre summit at the age of four. "... my school was in La Seu d'Urgell, 21 miles round trip. As a child there were days that I ran a marathon, 42km." Even at the age of 20, how many miles had he ran?

A parting thought: a day older, not only a day wiser, but an improved running economy!


Monday, 5 April 2010

Is More Always Better?

Hi again. Yes only one day since my last post, but being Easter enables this privilege(?)!

Those of you who have been following my blog since it started last week will recall that it was John Kynaston's Ultra Running blog that got me inspired to start my own blog. Well last night John finished his post with the following comment:

"I sometimes wonder whether I do enough. I realise averaging around 50miles a week will be a lot to some but to other ultra runners it's on the low side. Maybe one year I should experiment with say 70miles a week and see what happens."

After reading this, it provoked me to leave the following comment:

"Why not try averaging 30-35 miles a week for a year, before trying 70miles average. It may produce better results, as well as taking a lot less time." And then I signed off stating that my weekly average for 2009 was 34.5 miles.

Reading John's blog tonight, my comments could be interpreted as being a bit arrogant, e.g. "Why not do as little training as I do and run quicker!" This was not the intention. The comment was made to encourage John to consider the alternative. As the title of today's post reads: "Is More Always Better?"

So what is the answer? As with pace judgement in ultras (my previous post), there isn't just ONE answer. However, this doesn't mean I shouldn't share my views and a few statistics!

Logically one would think that in order to run Ultras well you would require a reasonably high weekly mileage. As John suggests even 50 miles a week is possibly/probably too low!
Although there is more to training than simply mileage. Thinking about training does lead into some interesting questions "What are we wanting to improve with ultra training? What does it mean to be fit for ultra running? Without wishing to 'blow my own trumpet' I will present a few statistics, comparing myself and John in terms off running mileage.

I have only met John on two occasions, so I don't really know him, but there is a wealth of information available on his blog!

John is 51 years old, I am 47 years old. So I have an advantage(?) of 4 years over John.

If we look at our training in terms of weekly mileage for the last 3 years and 3 months, John has ran a few more miles than me:
2007 - John = 1894 miles, Stuart = 1592 miles
2008 - John = 2208 miles, Stuart = 1806 miles
2009 - John = 2326 miles, Stuart = 1783 miles
2010 to date - John = 585 miles, Stuart = 506 miles
Total - John = 7013 miles, Stuart = 5687 miles
So what is the secret? Why have I finished ahead of John in both of the races we have raced together?

I haven't got time to explain the secret now, but will introduce two possible areas which may help to explain the mystery to Ultra Running Performance. These being:
(i) The need to have a strong self-belief in your preparation/your ability. If there is any doubt, any questioning of whether your preparation has been adequate then I strongly believe that this lingering doubt will hinder your performance come race day. As you can see this is a rather large topic, so I will leave it for another day!

and (ii) It isn't so much the mileage that you have 'put in' over the preceding months, or even the previous year or two, but it is the TOTAL MILEAGE that you have run EVER that is important!

I am very fortunate that since the 1st of January 1978, this being my 15th birthday, I have recorded in my training diaries every running training session I have completed. (I have also actually recorded every bike, swim, kayak training session as well.) This information is invaluable as one is able to learn so much from oneself.

So who has run more miles in total? On John's blog it states that he has run in total 22, 420 miles. Well including this mornings 10 mile run, I have run in total 35,674 miles. This 13,000 miles extra that I have run over John, I consider is one large factor that contributes to why I am able to finish ahead of John in an Ultra Race.

You may be saying "What about Kilian Jornet, the winner of the last two Ultra Trail Mont Blanc races at the age of 20 and 21 years? He can't have completed many miles." Well I did say this topic is too big to explain today. Apologies again, my ideas will have to wait to another post!

However, since I have mentioned my 32 years of training diaries, at the bottom of this post are three graphs displaying the yearly mileages for these 32 years, presented for the 70s and 80s, 90s, and the 00s. The yearly average for each decade is: 70s and 80s = 1328miles, 90s = 705 miles, and 00s = 1218 miles. With the overall average for all 32 years = 1099 miles. The two lines on each graph represent the decade yearly average and the overall yearly average.

As you can imagine, I have many many training and racing memories within these 35,674 miles. Hence the subtitle of my blog Millsy's MEMORIES and Muttering. Perhaps it is time to start sharing some memories.

What happened 30 years ago today?

Easter Monday 7th April 1980 - Training Diary reads: "22miles with Wilby, 2 hrs 42mins, to Johnsonville - Makara. Good run, strong relaxed, legs tired at end, worst part at 14 miles."

My estimation of miles was never very good, so I doubt it was 22 miles, but good for the confidence as I was preparing for my first ever marathon, New Zealand's most popular marathon, the Fletcher Marathon held in Rotorua each year. Yes, I ran my first ever marathon at the age of 17, on Saturday 26th April 1980. How did I get on? The topic of my next post!

Although many of my comments within this post and other posts have focussed on performance, I think it is important to remind ourselves of the bigger picture, as highlighted by Dan Millman from the movie Peaceful Warrior - "It's journeys that bring us happiness, not the destination."

Enjoy the journey,

PS Sorry about the size of the graphs, I'm hoping to sort it out next week. Perhaps try saving the photo and then zooming in if it is too small.
I think I have finally managed to sort this out. Try clicking the following link to see larger graphs:

Sunday, 4 April 2010

UltraStu or UltraStupid!

Hi to everyone out there,

Thanks to all of you that commented on my last post. I received a mixture of responses, which is great to see. Giving me satisfaction in that my 'mutterings' are perhaps providing a catalyst for people to question what they do with regards to ultra running.
One of my friends suggested that I rename by blog from UltraStu to UltraStupid! I particularly liked his response, and Peter Duggan's response "I'm ..... predicting mass self destruction if everyone else starts off running 'as fast as they can while they can'! I also enjoyed. But what I found most interesting is the website link that Richie posted

Thanks for the link Richie, it was great reading.

For those of you that didn't follow the link it was about Ultra Runner Cavin Woodward, from Leamington Cycling and Athletic Club, setting the World record for 100miles on the track in 1975. What was so amazing about Cavin Woodward was his approach to pacing ultra events, very similar to my thoughts expressed in my last post:
"Run as fast as you can, while you can!" and "... no matter what pace you run at, ... , after 5 hours of running you feel tired." Stuart Mills, 2010.

Well compare this to Cavin Woodward, 1975 - World Record Holder 100 miles - 1975-1977.
The article quotes his strategy as "... to go off as fast as he could for as long as he could." With Cavin quoted as saying "No matter what pace you start at, you will slow eventually, so start at a fast pace ..." Cavin Woodward, 1975.

It is great to see that the approach I proposed in my last post led to a World Record in 1975. What was so interesting about the article is that it also listed the 10 mile split times for not only Woodward's world record in 1975, but also Don Ritchie's world record in 1977, which stood for 25 years until Oleg Kharitinov broke the record in 2002. (
(And Kouros running 100 miles on the road in 1984)

The absolutely amazing thing is that Kharitinov and Woodward used completely opposite extremes in terms of pace judgement. Clearly illustrated by the difference in running the first and second 50 km split times, being 1 hour 41 mins slower for Woodward, compared to only 13 minutes slower for Kharitinov!

The main conclusion I draw from these articles is that there is NO "one correct way" to run ultras. As much as science tries to provide the one answer, one answer does NOT exist, and whoever tries to tell you that "this is how things should be done" needs to be referred to the history of the 100 mile world record, especially to Cavin Woodward.

Sadly Cavin recently died in February this year. Upon reading about his approach to racing I was so inspired that I wanted to chat to him. I had loads of questions to ask him ... did he try even paced racing? what did he consider to cause him to slow down? what fuel did he use? etc. etc. One can learn so much from others, as well as from oneself.

So should I rename my blog UltraStupid? I now have evidence to support my ideas. So no way, the name UltraStu stays. How can setting a world record be stupid?

I am truly inspired by what I have read, so please look out for me in my next Ultra. To try to honour Cavin Woodward, on how he did things his way, not following the norm, my aim is to run the first mile in the same time as he ran the first mile of his world record - 5 minutes and 19 seconds. Lets hope it's a downhill start!

To all of you reading my 'mutterings', whatever your approach is at the start of your next Ultra, my signing off quote is from Steve Black - coach, motivator, counsellor and friend to rugby great Jonny Wilkinson.

"You've got to believe in what it is you are trying to achieve. Without that belief you've little chance of accomplishing anything of worth." Steve Black, 2008. Page 29: Jonny Wilkinson, Tackling Life - Striving for Perfection. Headline Publishing: London.

Enjoy, as you achieve.


PS. I have finally got around to downloading the photos that my family took of me as I ran the Hardmoors55. Take a look at the two photos below. They really illustrate the tough conditions.

Running out of the mist!

Wearing a balaclava for the first time ever in a race. But still all smiles!!!!!!!!!!