Monday, 29 April 2013

The Challenges of TOTAL Training - Application in Relation to the Hoka Highland Fling Race


Usually I start my race report not really knowing where the report will lead, however, tonight, having already given some time reflecting on Saturday's race I already have a feeling of what I have learnt, and what message I wish to share.

The Hoka Highland Fling covers the first 53 miles of the West Highland Way.  This year was the third time I had raced this excellent event, having finished 10th in 2009 after running significantly off route (yes, I know difficult to do as the entire path is clearly signposted!), and finishing 6th in 2011.  Apart from the Fling consisting of a fantastic scenic course and the race being extremely well organised, the other main reason that I enjoy the event is that due to the race being the UK Ultra Trail Championships and a UK Athletics selection race for the IAU World Trail Championships, it draws a really strong field, arguably the most competitive ultra trail race of the year within the UK.

In preparation for the race, I had been carrying out TOTAL Training.  What I mean by TOTAL Training is preparing both physically and non-physically.  This need to prepare non-physically relates to understanding what causes fatigue and what influences performance in ultra trail racing.  With it being a lot more than just ones physiology and their physical training.

One of the first things I consider when developing my training schedule is to answer the following three questions in relation to the key race:

What do I want?
Why do I want it?
How much do I want it?

Asking yourself these three questions, and providing yourself with the three answers, which are a result of detailed self analysis and reflection, is essential in order to maximise ones performance.  Although I don't want to dwell too much on the distant past, reflecting on past performances is important in terms of learning and developing as an athlete, and as a person.  So tonight's race report will include comparisons with 2011.

Back in 2011, although it was selection race for the GB Team, with a team of up to five runners being selected, in response to the three important questions, my aims for the race weren't about finishing in the top five.  No back in April 2011, having run well during 2010, with some good race wins; Hardmoors 55, Lakeland 100, South Downs Way Marathon, Beachy Head Marathon, and some high placings to top quality opposition; 3rd Marlborough Challenge (33 miles) to Allen Smalls and Paul Fernandez, 3rd Pumlumon Challenge (26 miles) to Jon Morgan and Ben Abdelnoor, and 4th High Peak (40 mile) to Duncan Harris, Brian Cole, and Ian Bishop, I felt that I was one of the best ultra trail runners within the country.  But what was more important was that I didn't just think that possibly I was one of the best, I believed that come race day, if all went well, then I could get close to the best in the UK, who at the time was recent 2010 UTMB winner Jez Bragg.  And looking at my 2010 results there was some evidence to support my belief.  So it wasn't just wanting, wishing, hoping that I could perform at the very front of the race, there was deep down belief!  There was the expectation that, if all went well, it would happen!

I am highlighting here the need to have a race goal, but more importantly a race goal that you believe in, as I feel that getting ones race goal 'right' plays a massive part in determining ones race day performance.  The only problem is, that getting it right isn't easy.  As with many things, it takes loads of time, loads of practise, loads of training, TOTAL Training.

Just before I move on to this year's race, I will just reflect back once more to the 2011 race, as much can be learnt from comparing the 2011 and 2013 experiences.  So leading up to the 2011 Fling, I had the strong belief that I could get close to winning the UK Champs, however, I had just recovered from a fractured shoulder from a skiing accident, so the confidence was lacking.  Although the terms belief and confidence are often interchanged, there is a difference between the two.  To me, belief, is a deeper emotion, something that takes time to change, to evolve.  It is more related to ones inner core, their inner spirit, their 'heart'.  Confidence, is closer to the surface, it can fluctuate more readily.  Both contribute to performance, but it is the belief, which is the more influential of the two traits / qualities.

Race day 2011, I have the belief that I have what is required to win, but I don't have the confidence.  So instead of adopting my usual 'blast out from the gun' tactic, due to the reduced confidence, I simply adopt a strategy of run with the leaders for as long as possible.  I am there to do the utmost to win, not to get fifth, not to simply make the GB team, even though being selecting to represent ones country had always been a 'dream' since seeing Dick Taylor win Commonwealth Games Gold in the 10,000 metres on the track way back in 1974!  No, 2011 was about racing hard, racing to my beliefs, and letting the finish place, the finish time, look after itself!  More specific details on the 2011 Highland Fling race can be found within that year's race report, but now it's time to finally look at what happened last Saturday. (Interestingly having just re-read my 2011 Fling race report, it appears that back then I used the two terms belief and confidence interchangeably, so it does get a bit confusing especially in relation to my defining of the two terms above.)

So leading up to last Saturday's race, my TOTAL Training had been going well.  So I thought!  I have mentioned in previous posts how I have changed quite a bit in terms of my preparation during 2013, including changes to physical training (a large increase in mileage, and changes in intensity) and to nutrition (a periodised carbohydrate availability programme including long runs within a fasted state, and increased carbohydrate fuelling during races).  I also continued with my non-physical training, including answering the three important questions, spending extensive time visualising the race, reviewing the race route, calculating split times for each leg, etc.

My physical training for the year had gone really well.  I had ran more miles than I have ever run, I was the lightest I had been since I was sixteen, and overall I felt physically very fit.  I had raced twice so far during 2013, winning both trail marathons.  Although the winning times weren't  super fast, with the Steyning Stinger Marathon, taking into account going off course a wee bit, my time was around four minutes slower than my quickest time.  What was really positive though, was the manner in which I was able to run strong throughout the entire duration of the race.  I wasn't finding the races so challenging, in terms of struggling to maintain my focus, to maintain my pace to the finish.  So my confidence was high.  I knew I was fit, I was expecting a strong performance come race day at the 'Fling'.

What about my belief though?  Remember, confidence isn't the same as belief.  In answering the three important questions, what was interesting was that this year, I didn't answer "I want to win".  No, whether it was due to my race performances in 2012 being not so great, or whether is was due to two small digits, i.e. the number 50, I don't know.  Most likely a combination of the two.  But I no longer had the belief that I could win the 2013 Highland Fling.  And therefore to avoid disappointment, I decided that all I simply wanted to achieve was to finish within the top five, which in conjunction with my previous race performances, including being the first GB finisher at the most recent IAU World Trail Championships, should then have been sufficient to get selected in the GB team again for this year's world champs, as indicated within the UK Athletics selection criteria.

Why do I want it?  Why do I want to be selected for the GB team?  Well as stated above, to represent ones country at a World Championships had been an ambition, something which many people dream of, but never expect to happen.  Back in 2011 it happened to me.  Not because I expected it to happen, but more of a consequence of my believing that I was good enough to perform at the very front of the 2011 Fling field.  But, come 2013, I had already achieved the 'school boy dream'.  Also, there was in the back of my mind, what if I did get selected in the GB Team, could I expect to perform to such a high level as I did in 2011, where I finished in 15th place?  That 2011 Worlds performance I rate as my best ever running performance, so in reality, I was never going to be able to perform to that level again.  My best running days were over!  I am now 50 years old.  Accept it, no 50 year olds are really still able to compete at the elite level.

So although, I felt that my training had been going well, I hadn't really sorted out these underlying thoughts.  My deep down beliefs, what I really wanted to achieve and why.  I had spent too much time focusing on the physical, which had gone superbly well, but I had not paid sufficient attention to the non-physical training.

Racing through Milngavie town centre after 150 metres.
From left of photo: Matt Wiliamson (3rd), Paul Tierney partly obscured directly behind me (DNF, hamstring issues), Me (8th), Hugh McInnes? (16th), Ricky Lightfoot (2nd), and Duncan Harris (6th)

As mentioned in my quick update blog post the other day.  For the first few miles, the pace wasn't excessively quick.  Then when the pace was quickened, which looking at my heart rate trace, looks like it occurred during the fourth mile, rather than maintaining the increased intensity to stay with the lead group, I simply let the three lead runners go.  There was no real fight, no competitive instinct to stay in contact with the leaders.  I had decided that 5th place was what I wanted, so no need to increase the focus, increase the challenge and stay with them.

The bunch near 11 miles?, just before getting dropped!
From left of photo: Paul Giblin (10th), Paul Fernandez (9th), Hugh McInnes? (16th), obscured behind Marco Consani (7th), Me (8th) and Matt Williamson (3rd)

Now, some may consider that I didn't stay with the initial increase in pace at around the 4 mile mark, and the next increase in pace at around the 11 mile mark, where I later got dropped from the bunch of six or so runners, as because I just wasn't physiologically fit enough!  Those that put too much emphasis on the influence of physiology on trail running performance are most likely to perhaps offer this as a possible reason.  However, I know otherwise, as I am the actual subject involved, and I was there!  But to help illustrate why it wasn't physiology that led to me getting dropped, but other factors, one simply needs to view my heart rate trace, for the Highland Fling race and the Steyning Stinger Trail Marathon a month earlier.  Yes, I know heart rate can vary between races due to many factors including air temperature / body temperature, but in the graphs below, which display the heart rate data, from the Garmin GPS data which provides an average heart rate (and maximum HR) for the entire mile, it should be clear that getting dropped wasn't physiologically determined!  With an average heart rate of only 160 bpm (max for the mile of 165bpm) for mile four, where the three lead runners moved away, and then only an average of 155 bpm, (but a max of 167bpm), when I lost the bunch and then ran on my own in 10th place.  In comparison to the heart rate data for the Steyning Stinger Marathon, one can clearly see that physiologically during the Fling I was working at a substantially lower physiological intensity!

So hopefully the heart rate data illustrates that it was other factors that contributed to me getting dropped, when the change in gradient of the short steep undulations after we left the disused railway required an increase in intensity.  I initially responded to the need for an increase in intensity, however, due to my poor non-physical preparation, the physiological intensity required resulted in a much more substantial demand in mental effort, in concentration, what I refer to within my Race Focus Energy (RFE) model as RFE, than what was physiologically demanded, i.e. what the increased heart rate should have created.  It wasn't that I didn't try to stay with the bunch at around the 11 mile mark.  I did try.  But it just felt too hard, and reflecting back now I also feel that it did perhaps seem too easy to readily accept to let them go.   Which I attribute now to my TOTAL preparation being lacking, not having resolved the conflict between my wants, i,e, finishing in 5th place, and my underlying belief, i.e. I am now too old to compete at elite level, even though I had thought the TOTAL preparation had been good.  What is most strange from Saturday' performance is that in comparison to 2012 when I was at times just 'going through the motions' in terms of my running.  This year I have been really excited by the prospect of racing.  I have been really enjoying my running.  So to not have the total competitive drive on race day was, like I say, strange!

I attribute this unproportional increase in mental effort (RFE) in response to the increased physiological demand is as a result of poor TOTAL Training.  Rather than trying to explain the concept here.  I suggest that you have a good look around my blog, especially my Race Focus Energy Fatigue Model article.

Those of you that know me, those that have raced against me, will know that I am more than a little bit competitive.  I love being involved in a battle, and this is one aspect of ultra trail running that I love.  I am fortunate in that usually I am able to battle it out near the front of the field, so I get this enjoyment in addition to the tremendous enjoyment of running in amazing scenery, and the satisfaction from the internal challenge as I focus hard to get the very best out of myself.  Once I had lost touch with the top ten runners, and then having dropped down to 11th place going up Conic Hill,  I then quite happily forgot about the competitive side of ultra trail racing, and ensured I got enjoyment from being within such a spectacular outdoor environment, and also from the personal challenge.  My approach was that I would still run hard in an effort to obtain a personal best, but with the key emphasis now being dominated by maximising the enjoyment of the present moment.  My rationale was if I focused on the enjoyment, my pace would remain pretty quick, and a personal best (PB) finish time could result.  I also decided that if any other runners did catch me up, (none did though), I would immediately get back into competitive mode, up the focus, the concentration and not drop to a lower place.

Running in 11th place, I also had in the back on my mind, that it is likely that a few runners ahead may struggle and slow down,  So I was expecting to gain one or two places, so was expecting to finish within the top ten, and with this placing I concluded that this position was 'respectable'.  This is what actually happened later along the route, and I moved into 8th place at around the 48 mile mark.  After crossing the busy A road, at around the 50 mile mark, I noticed that Paul Fernandez, who had been struggling quite a bit as I had overtaken him about five miles earlier, was now running strongly again, and not too far behind.  Within an instant I was back fully into competitive mode.  There was no way that I was going to let him overtake me.  Back in 2010 in the 33 Marlborough Challenge Paul had finished ahead of me in 2nd place, when I had finished 3rd.  I was not going to let him beat me again!  So for the last 3 miles, it was back into full race mode.  Maximum focus, maximum concentration, and yes maximum 'enjoyment'.  But a different form of enjoyment, now from really extending myself, as I gave it everything right though to the finish line.

Working hard right to the finish line

I managed to hold Paul off by a little over a minute and a half, and finish in 8th place overall in a time of 7:59:03.  This time, being nearly seven and half minutes slower that my 2011 finish time (6th place) of 7:51:36.  This year's course was however slightly longer due to being re-routed near Drymen.  John Kynaston had measured the changed route and compared it to the normal route and concluded that the route was 0.36 miles longer.  So this would equate to being around 3 minutes longer.  So in real terms my finish time was only four minutes slower than 2011  Not a PB for the Fling, but not too far off!

Looking at the Garmin GPS/HR data, available on GarminConnect, there is quite clearly an increase in intensity which results in an increase in pace over the last three miles.  However, although I may have felt that I wasn't really going as hard as possible for the majority of the race, since Conic Hill, it is pleasing to see that I hadn't actually eased off that much, as giving it one hundred percent for the last three miles didn't actually increase my running pace that much.  I was still unable to go quicker that a 8:06 mile!  So looking at the data it is pleasing to see that I did run not too far off my maximum the entire way.  But with better TOTAL preparation, with the RPE - RFE needle consequently being rotated downwards, what could have been achieved?   See RFE articles for detail.

After the race, the atmosphere was fantastic.  Yes, there is more to ultra trail racing than the actual racing / running of the course.  The ultra trail community is so friendly and the positive energy that was at the finish line, even though people were pretty exhausted from running 53 miles, was again amazing.  A few runners asked me, "Was I disappointed with my finish place and finish time?"  I gave it some thought, and replied that I was actually disappointed in that I wasn't disappointed!  In the past, running slower than a previous year, would have upset me.  Not having that 'never ending competitive fight' would have upset me.  But, it was strange, I wasn't upset.  I really enjoyed the whole day.  Not running faster, not finishing higher up didn't really seem to really matter!

Having just typed the above, I can't actually believe I have typed those words!!!  "Not running faster, not finishing higher up didn't really seem to really matter!"  I am in definite need of working on my TOTAL Training!  Or maybe it is something to do with getting a bit more 'mellow' as one gets older.  On paper I may have moved up into the next age category, but in my mind and spirit I'm not yet ready.  So as much as 'smashing' the 50+ Highland Fling record by 70 minutes is pleasing, I am not yet ready to change my trail racing focus.  So, having already spent significant time reflecting on Saturday's race, I know what I need to work on, in preparation for my next race.  Yes, every race is a learning experience.  After 35 years of endurance racing, I am still learning, still trying to get the best performance from myself in each and every race.

I would just like to finish this post with a few thank yous.

Firstly to John and Katrina Kynaston who were such fantastic hosts, and making my weekend in Scotland so very enjoyable.  John is famous for his Ultra Trail Running Blog at  If you haven't been to it before check it out, and take a look at his extremely high blog viewing numbers, clearly reflecting the quality of his blog.  Whilst staying with John and Katrina, John interviewed me for Episode 39 of the West Highland Way 95 mile Trail Race Podcast.  Click HERE to listen to the one hour interview which includes both pre-race, and post race discussions.  (Just one note though in relation to the interview.  Having just listened to the podast, there is one bit that could be a bit confusing, where I am talking about how in a race getting to a checkpoint too quickly can be seen as a negative.  Off course this isn't my view, as the quicker the better.  But I was trying to illustrate how this is often interpreted, i.e. the generally accepted view being a negative response.  Within the podcast I don't think I made that point clear, so it does sound as though I am contradicting myself, especially in relation to my approach of starting fast in a race as being ideal.)

Secondly, I would like to thank John Duncan and his massive team that put on the Highland Fling.  Having run the event three times, every year it just gets better and better.  Your time and effort, and attention to detail are massively appreciated.

And lastly I would like to thanks the many readers/ followers out there who wished me well for the Fling race.  The support does really aid my performance.  If you have read a little bit of my Race Focus Energy (RFE) Fatigue Model, you will understand just how important the surrounding positivity can boost ones RFE tanks prior to the race day.

May you all have enjoyable, satisfying trail running experiences,


PS To those of you I have recently met on the recent TORQ Trail Team days, reading some of the words above, especially the "Not running faster, not finishing higher up didn't really seem to really matter!" are probably quite a surprise, especially after I had spent quite a large portion of my TORQ presentation trying to get you to reflect on your aims, your self perceptions, and to challenge yourself to question whether you should focus on a faster time or a higher finishing place.  Well, although I seem not to be putting what I say into action, it has been very, very rewarding to read how many of the TORQ community runners have been reflecting on some of my messages from my TORQ presentations, and have been achieving some great performances.  So below are a few comments I have received which I would like to share with you, to help increase the level of positivity with the running community:

First, Ashley, who recently raced the Snowdonia road half marathon.  "My first road race, and potentially a good placing. I'm happy with the mental approach though thanks to Stuart Mills " Click this link to read his blog post.  But here are a few bits from Ashley's post: "I don't know what it was about the TORQ trail team assessment but it tempted me to run a road race. My first road race. Eeugh!  There was something about what Stuart Mills was saying about belief, and mental attitude that I wanted to test, and a half marathon with hills was just the right thing to do it on."  ....  "Look at the watch, just under 1hr 35 and a 4:29 min/km pace. Tick. I ask whether I might of made the top quarter. "Definitely" says Michaela, "Probably top 40".I can't quite believe that. The finish area is pretty quiet, maybe that is why. I still can't quite process that though." ....  "Did I enjoy it? I enjoyed running well, I enjoyed controlling my mind and I enjoyed my finishing position."

Next, Sally, who ran the North Lincolnshire Half.  "Your motto worked for me today, I got a massive pb in my half, ran the 2 quickest mile splits in the first 2 miles (despite the headwind!) and gradually slowed, but managed to hang in to get 3rd lady and 32nd overall in North Lincolnshire Half in 1:22:26. It was also a 10k and 10m mile pb along the way."

Also Sotiris, who recently ran the Paris Marathon: "The weekend after (the TORQ trail team day) and having run a fastest of 3:35 in the five previous road marathons I had attempted, I was determined to go below 3:30.  That was my target. Being late (to the TORQ day), I ended up sitting at the back of the room and I was absorbing, thinking and analysing the information I was receiving.  It  made sense to me, I was convinced and I decided to use some of your tips for my race on Sunday." ....  "To cut a long story short, before your talk I would have run the marathon probably do 3:29 and be very happy.  Having gone through the changes, I ran my fastest marathon at 3:13 and it was a highly enjoyable experience and I managed to maintain my positive approach throughout.  I had just delivered a performance that I did not consider possible. I learnt a lot in one day about how your frame of mind determines your performance and unleashes your potential and how physical training is not the main determinant."

And lastly Simon, who ran London Marathon:  "So I had decided that I would try out the Stuart Mills method - I was trying quite a few new things anyway, so why not that?"  ....  "I was delighted when I came round on to the Mall and saw the time. I think that undoubtedly your strategy paid off and thank you so much for taking the time to advise me."  .... "I was delighted to get a PB - they are not as easy to get as they once were."

"TOTAL Training does work, but as with all training, it can be difficult to get totally right, hence the need for patience and perseverance, but most important, BELIEF is the key!"  Stuart Mills, 2013

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Hoka Highland Fling - Quick Update


Just a few words tonight as it's time for bed after a early rise for the 6:00am start this morning at the Hoka Highland Fling

It was a chilly start, around 3 degrees Celsius, but it didn't take long to warm up.  Ricky Lightfoot and Duncan Harris set the pace for the first 5 miles or so, with me tucked in nicely behind, with two guys tucked in behind me.  A second bunch of five or so were only 20 metres back.  Then Ricky decides to lift the pace, and only Duncan and one other guy went with it.  We were already running at around 6:30s on trails, so it was plenty quick enough for me.  My "Run as fast as you can, while you can", doesn't seem to be so fast nowadays!

I drifted back to join the larger group behind, and all was going pretty well to plan.  Then just before the first checkpoint at 12 miles, I couldn't stay with the bunch, and drift off, so on my own in 10th place. Then going up Conic Hill at around 17 miles one guy over took me, and that was pretty well the end of my racing for the day.  I ran entirely on my own for the remaining 36 miles, which I really enjoyed.  Managed to overtake three runners who were all struggling, so it was a quick hello and goodbye.  So I ended up in 8th place in 7:59:03.  Seven and a half minutes slower that two years ago.  So a 'respectable' effort, but I was really hoping for, and expecting around 15 - 20 minutes quicker.

Having lost the bunch so early on at 12 miles, there was a huge gap of nearly fifteen minutes to 7th place.  The winning time was pretty incredible 7:03 by Lee Kemp, with Ricky Lightfoot six minutes behind.  First women was Tracy Dean in a time of 9:12.

Overall an excellent race.  The scenery was amazing, blue sky and sunshine for most of the day, with a cool air temperature, which probably aided the super quick times.

Most of the details are covered above, but I will expand a wee bit more later in the week, regarding the positives and the things I need to work on!


Thursday, 25 April 2013

A Tiny Bit More on Pacing, and Trail Running Sussex Develops


Tonight's post will be just a short post.  Firstly, a little bit more on race pacing, and then an announcement of an exciting development for Trail Running Sussex.

Last Sunday morning I had a great time watching the BBC TV coverage of the London Marathon, whilst at the same time, watching on the London Marathon website the live progress of five runners I were tracking.  The London Marathon website was excellent.  It would automatically update every 5 kilometres and at halfway, with the runners last 5km (1.1km) running pace, and a predicted finish time.  It would also predict (based on the runner's pace to date) where they were on the course every ten seconds or so.  So a great feature that added to the enjoyment of watching the elite races.

The women's elite race had a pretty small field, and straight away it became clear that the elite women runners weren't interested in the pace that the two pacemakers were setting.  So, in terms of elite women standards, a reasonably large bunch 'dawdled to the 20 km mark, passed through halfway in a time of 71:49, and then they started racing.  The 5km split time decreased from 17:11 for 15 - 20km, to 16:01 for the 20 - 25km split.  The race was won, with a negative split of 3:23, running 68:26, for a finish time of 2:20:15.  The second placed women, also achieved a negative split of 2:06, but all of the other 15 elite women finishers positive split the race, with the largest positive split of 13:17 by the current Olympic champion, although she did get knocked down by a wheelchair racer!

The elite men's race was quite different with the men's field keeping in contact with the pacemakers who were running at sub world record pace.  They actually ran the first 5km in a time of 14:23, which is quite amazing being a marathon pace resulting in the time of 2:01:23!  No wonder that was the fastest 5km split of the race, and pretty well every subsequent 5km split got progressively slower.  Now this was a demonstration of taking my motto of "Run as fast as you can, while you can!" to the extreme!!!  So with the men's elite field going unbelievably quick, there was actually still a lead bunch of 7 runners at halfway, reached in 61:34, still under world record pace, with the reigning Olympic champion just 14 seconds back. 

All of these eight runners filled the first eight finish places, all slowing down significantly so none of them, in fact, none of the entire men's elite field achieved a negative split.  The winner ran a positive split of 2:52, and the largest positive split was 5:31 (8th place) and the smallest positive split was 0:19 (9th place).

Around two years ago I analysed the London Marathon 2011 results to help understand the 'stupidity' of trying to run a negative split in a marathon.  (Check out the Pacing article.) So I didn't feel that there was a need to repeat this analysis, so I thought I would look at some results data in a different way, and this time just looking at the top end of the field.

I therefore downloaded the top 500 finish times and their half marathon split times from the massed start field.  With the belief that running a negative split is detrimental to ones performance, I thought it would then be simple to produce a scatter diagram plotting the amount of the positive/negative split against finishing place, to illustrate this performance inhibiting relationship, with those who run a negative split finishing in lower places. 

First I ranked the 500 runners in terms of the positive split, with a rank of 1 is the runner that slows down the most, and the rank of 500 is the runner that speeds up the most during the second half of the race.  Well take a look at this scatter diagram below, with a coefficient of determination of 0.00001.  This data is pretty well as close as as you could ever get to illustrating that there is absolutely no relationship at all between the amount of the positive/negative split and finishing pace.

I then instead of looking at the relationship between the positive/negative ranking and finish place, I looked at the relationship between the actual positive/negative time and the finish time.  Again there appears to be pretty well no relationship! Why?

I then had to really think, why no relationship?  Surely those that run a negative split, have only achieved this because they have run the first half of the race so slowly.  It then jumped out at me.  Yes, those that negative split perform poorly, but they just simply move lower down the finishing place list.  Throughout the field people will finish with a certain time due to many factors, so there is a massive spread of finish times.  Within this spread of finish times, some runners will perform well in relation to their fitness, ability, belief, whatever else, and hence move further up the field, finish faster.  Whereas some runners will perform poorly, i.e. finish slower.  But the good or poor performances will not stand out within the results, they simply move upwards or downwards amongst the finish results.  Hence the zero relationship.

However, if we look at the very top end of the field, those who run a poor performance, which I believe is due to running a negative split, will move down the results list, and those who run a good performance, those who I believe who run a positive split, i.e. start out fast and then slow during the second half of the race, will move up the result list.  And being at the top end of the field, simply moving up or down into the next portion of the results list can't occur, so this true relationship wont then be lost!

So what do the results fro the London Marathon 2013 show us.  As already described, all 19 elite men finishers ran a positive split, and 15 out of the 17 elite women finishers also ran a positive split.  But what the elite do may not translate to the non elite.  So looking at the top level club runners from the London Marathon, as expected, those that run a good performance move up the result list, and those that run a poor performance move down the results list.  For the massed start field, out of the first 118 finishers, from a finish time of 2:17:10 through to 2:37:30, so the best non-elite performers, ONLY ONE runner achieved a negative split.  All of the other 117 runners ran positive splits.  I don't think I need to discuss this topic again.  The idea that running a negative split is a sign of a good running performance has now been totally 'blown out of the water'.  End of story!

Well that first subject of tonight's post wasn't quite as brief as I thought!

My second topic tonight is related to the running venture I am involved with, Trail Running Sussex.  You may recall that I mentioned last month that Trail Running Sussex has recently been established and provides guided runs and trail running camps within Sussex.  The first running camp has an ultra trail running focus, and takes place from Friday 21st June through to Sunday 23rd June, based at the National Trust Slindon Estate, near Arundel. Well, Trail Running Sussex has just set up a relationship with the newly established online running store The Ultra Runner Shop.  So, in association with The Ultra Runner Shop, all trail running camp participants, and those that attend a guided trail running weekend break, will receive a 15% discount on all running kit purchased from The Ultra Runner Store.

I am really excited with this development, as The Ultra Runner Store, which has been set up by ultra runner Tony Holland and his partner Helen, not only stocks top quality kit, but they are also raising money for and awareness of the Downs Syndrome Association.  So if you have a spare moment, check out their website at the following address and if you need any running kit, see what they have and give them a go.

Time to sign off.  I shouldn't really be having any late nights at the moment, with my first key race of the year taking place this Saturday, being the 53 mile Highland Fling.  To those of you racing the Fling, I wish you all the best.  I'll see you on the start line at 6:00am, and whatever you do, don't try to attempt to run a negative split!

I will sign off with some appropriate words that were within a comment left on my blog by Tom back in September 2011 following my UTMB DNF:
"Training is just that, (the ability to tune in), and it is during this period you need to build your confidence and physical ability. This is the time to build mental strength and grow and in that respect I agree 100% with your model.  Once this is achieved you have the physical and mental tools to perform on race day but you also need to have these set to auto so that you can trust without thought. I see it like the auto neuro response that makes your heart beat - you don't give it thought you just trust it will happen.  The secret, in my view, is on race day to be able to forget everything (trust the heart will beat) but tuning into the environment that nature throws your way and flow with it and thus enjoy it (vital).

I believe we can all 'mentally horde' without realising it and maybe all this preparation is taking away from what matters. Maybe we can forget to trust and not separate training from the joy of racing.

Training = build the physical off the mental.
Race Day = Trust and enjoy."
See you on the trails,


Wednesday, 17 April 2013

TORQ Trail Running Team - The Enjoyment of the Trail Running Community

It should be a short post tonight, looking back at my enjoyable time at the TORQ Trail Running Team day in Shropshire last weekend.  And don't worry, there are no academic journal articles tonight, so hopefully it won't feel like 'school work'!
Yes, last weekend was the second TORQ Trail Running Team day following on from the successful first TORQ Trail Team day at London two weeks earlier, which I commented on in an earlier post.  The venue was the Ratlinghope Youth Hostel over the hill from Church Stretton.  I arrived late Friday afternoon, having travelled up with Simon and Julie from freestak, the two people that created the concept of the TORQ Trail Running Team.  Upon arriving I recognise a familiar face, Simon, who I had met at a trail running camp out in France back in 2011.  There were a few other runners that had arrived early, so a small group of us headed into the very undulating, no, rather hilly, surrounding countryside to stretch the legs.
 Fridays Run in the Snow
During the run I got talking to Mike Evans from Wales, who as part of his 'taper' for the London Marathon had won a 32 mile trail race the weekend before.  Mike told me about how he had been running marathons for years, had  a PB of 2:32, had run in the 2:30s about eight times, but had never broken the magical 2:30 barrier.  So I started questioning him regarding why?  Why no sub 2:30?  Could it be his pacing?  Could it be that he always tried to achieve the negative split, which is 95% guaranteed to fail!  No, there were other reasons, not pacing, that had resulted in a lack of a sub 2:30 time.  As it transpired, or perhaps Mike was just agreeing with me to 'keep me happy', but we came to the same conclusion on what would be an ideal half marathon time which would result in a sub 2:30 time.  So, Mike is just one of many runners I met during the weekend who I will be following this Sunday.  No pressure now Mike, with the whole world, well maybe not that many, perhaps only in the thousands / hundreds(?) of blog followers who will now be tracking your progress on Sunday.
Following an enjoyable hostel meal, it was off to the local pub, a walk of 100 metres, to sample some of the local beers, and to talk, yes you guessed it, talk trail running all night.  Over the weekend I spoke to loads of runners, most with some amazing achievements, not just running, including getting to the top of Everest.  So as you can imagine, with there being fifty high level achievers, the energy the entire weekend was pretty unreal!
Saturday morning, some of the 15 or so runners that had stayed the night at the hostel had gone out quite early to get a few miles in.  Since the day wasn't starting until after 10am I headed out a little later, just for a gentle hour or so with two other runners, Simon, a local from the area, and Matty, a kiwi from Hokitika.  The surrounding area was fantastic, loads of trails, loads of climbing, and still plenty of snow on the ground.    It was then back to the hostel ready for a presentation by Ben from TORQ, and then my presentation.
Ben's talk went really well and created some discussion regarding the trade-off between consuming carbohydrate food during ultra trail races, which is the best fuel, compared to consuming less ideal food for fuelling, but which is heaps more enjoyable, so results in psychological benefits. As with most things related to trail running, one really needs to experiment and try things with an open mind.
It was then my turn, Julie introduced me, explaining how she had first met be on the 4:00am bus ride from Lands End to the start line of the Endurancelife Classic Quarter last June.  She experienced my talking for close to an hour on the bus, so when her and Simon were thinking of a trail runner to do a talk for the TORQ days, I immediately came to mind.  Back in London, I was allocated 1 hour 15 minutes and went slightly over time.  So for Shropshire I was allocated 1 hour 30 minutes.  I therefore started my talk at a relaxed, comfortable pace, knowing with the extra fifteen minutes I would have plenty of time.  Well what a mistake!  I should have stuck to my philosophy for ultra trail racing "Go as fast as you can, while you can!"  As before I knew it, one and a half hours were up, and I was only two thirds through my slides!  Apart from my timing, the talk went pretty well, and it achieved what I had set out for it to achieve, i.e. to get the audience to question their approach to training, to racing.  To highlight that there are alternative approaches.
 Confusion! Someone Isn't Totally Convinced!
I think I got one or two of my key messages across, in that ones performance is massively influenced by ones self-expectations, and the importance of focusing on positivity and not letting negativity have an impact.  However, due to my poor pacing, I didn't really have time to explain strategies to develop heightened self-expectations and strategies to maximise positivity.  So below are a few slides that I didn't have time to explain.
So developing Race Focus Endurance is the key to trail running performance.  And as the slide directly above states there are two aspects, preparation prior to race day, and then strategies during the actual race.  In terms of preparation, obviously improving physiological fitness is important, but it isn't the only thing to focus on whilst preparing.  I didn't have time to explain my concepts on physical preparation during the weekend's presentation, and so I summarised very concisely with the statement "In terms of physical training, it doesn't really matter what you do, you just have to do it!"  In essence this short statement is reasonably true, in that often people make physical training a lot more complicated than it actually needs to be.  They will scrutinise other peoples training plans, ideas, and often want to include every type of physical training possible, and then still think they need to do more, or haven't done it right.  In terms of physical training there are some important principles, so the phase "it doesn't really matter what you do" I guess is a bit misleading.  But as long as one uses their commonsense and doesn't attempt to do too much, or too little, then they shouldn't go too far wrong.  
I seem to getting myself in a mess here "too much or too little" how do you know???  I guess the best solution is to come along to the South Downs Ultra Trail Running Camp, that I am leading that takes place within the National Trust Slindon Estate, near Arundel, Sussex, on the 21st - 23rd June 2013.  The intention is to live, talk, eat, experience, and sleep trail running for the entire weekend.  So there will be more than enough time to have all of your questions answered, hopefully!  Click the following link to get to the Trail Running Sussex website  to obtain more information on what the Running Camp involves.
In terms of preparation, it is important that you carry out research on the demands of the race, so you are totally aware of what you may encounter.  Encountering the unexpected whilst racing tends to reduce performance.  Carrying out TOTAL preparation will hopefully result in increased confidence, which is an extremely important commodity that is needed in order to maximise ones performance.
In terms of strategies to respond to the challenges you will encounter whilst racing.  Remember the idea of a race is to challenge yourself.  So it should get challenging, which is a much more positive expression than "finding it hard or tough", or the very negative expressions "hurting or painful"!  Terminology is important, so use positive terminology all of the time.  So strategies that will enhance performance, are heavily focused on visualisations.  Visualising what could happen during the race, the many possibilities, the many challenges one could face, and then visualise the positive response to them all.  A simple concept, but often quite difficult to carry out.  Somehow the negative response seems to try to dominate.  As with most training, it takes time for the benefits to eventuate.  Hopefully the above slides and brief comments help fill some gaps, especially to those runners that were present during the weekend.
After the trail runners had displayed true ultra qualities through enduring me going on and on and on, we all headed off for a, yes, hilly run.  But by now the glorious blue sky and sunshine from the morning had been replaced with wind and rain.  Although it didn't seem to 'dampen' any ones spirits.
 Saturday Afternoons Run - Still All Smiles in the Rain
Following another great night in the pub chatting non stop, come Sunday morning there were I guess around 30 runners that had stayed for a choice of three runs, of different distances and speeds.  Not sure whether it was the planned duration of four hours, or that the group I was in was being led by Jon Hedger, the winner of the 2012 Osmotherley Phoenix 33 mile Ultra Trail race, but our group consisted of only five runners, with the majority of the runners going in the 2 - 3 hour groups.
 Sunday Mornings Awesome Run
Anyway, Jon a local, was a fantastic guide.  He took us on an amazingly scenic route around Church Stretton, where we summited many steep hills.  The first hour was pretty solid, as everyone wasn't really sure at what pace to run at, and off course none of us wanted to acknowledge that the pace was pretty quickish.  Luckily, the pace then settled down, as we continued our great tour of the undulating countryside.  The weather was variable in terms of sunshine and showers, but not in terms of the wind.  I would have to say that the wind was pretty well the strongest I have run in whilst living in Britain.  It reminded me of good old windy Wellington, back home in New Zealand.
 Struggling to Stay Upright in the Wind! With James Harris (red top), Jon Hedger, and Dwane Dixon (black)
After over three hours of running, we started climbing the last big hill of the day.  With it being two weeks out from my first key race of the year, the 53 mile Hoka Highland Fling, and with this run going to be my last bit of strenuous training, I felt I needed a bit of a blast out, to finish off my 18 weeks of consistent quality physical training.  So being well aware that I could be setting myself up for a tough battle, as there had been a little bit of 'smack talk' during the run, as the gradient of the hill steepened, I simply maintained my pace.  Expecting the other guys, especially Australian Dwane , to take up a Kiwi - Aussie battle, I was prepared for a good ten minutes or so of focus.  Unfortunately, or actually more probably fortunately, none of the other four runners took my increase in intensity as a challenge, and they maintained their sensible pace to the top, and were most likely thinking "Bloody Kiwi, he should know better, to keep the racing to race day!"
So another tremendous weekend as I experienced the great friendship of the Trail Running Community.  Yes, one may focus on the performance aspect of the racing, or on the scenery, adventure aspect of the outdoor environment, but often the most rewarding aspect of ultra trail running is simply feeling part of a supportive friendly community.
I hope what has been initiated over these two TORQ Trail Running Team days, is just the start.  I am looking forward to many more great weekends full of positivity, either associated with the TORQ Trail Running Team, or otherwise.
Hopefully see you out on the trails somewhere, sometime.
PS  I nearly forgot to sign off without a quote.  So here is one I have used before, probably twice before, but I think worth repeating again.  Taken from one of my presentation slides last weekend.

“Stay 'within the now' whilst racing. Focus on enjoying every moment, staying confident in that your preparation has been sufficient for the realistic goal you have set yourself, and feel assured that the fast, but comfortable pace you have started at, is correct. Listen to your own 'deep and inner beliefs', and ignore the comments, views and actions of others if they are in conflict with your well thought out and planned strategies.”
(What Determines Performance in Ultra Running? - Part Two – UltraStu, May 2010)
PPS I received an e-mail the other day from ultra trail runner Andy Mouncey and he asked if I could spread the word regarding his latest project.  His new project involves writing another ultra trail running book, following on from his Magic, Madness and UltraMarathon Running book.  This time the book will include short case studies from ultrarunners of all abilities.  So Andy is looking for ultra runners to contribute to the book.  Below are the details he sent me.

Wanted: Ultrarunning Life Through Your Lens

Andy has been commissioned by Crowood Publishing to write a new ‘How To’ book about ultrarunning. The book will include short case studies from ultrarunners of all abilities on a specific topic e.g.
  • Work-Life-Running Balance
  • Why I Do It/How I’m Different Now
  • 3 Things I Know Now That I Wish I Had When I Started
  • Lessons From My Success
  • Lessons From My DNFs
  • Building Confidence
  • Eating & Drinking On The Move
  • Living With An Ultrarunner: The Significant Other Speaks
Submissions should be 250-500 words long on a WORD document to a template Andy will specify.
You will receive a free 45 minute coaching call with Andy worth £49.00 by way of thank you.
If you would like to contribute part of your experience please email Andy.  His e-mail address is 

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Pacing - Still a Mystery!


Should be a short post tonight, mainly responding to the many comments that have been left during the last week.

Firstly thanks to the many comments left, both the feedback from last weekend's TORQ day and in response to my blog post on hydration, nutrition and pacing.  With regards to the blog post comments, to summarise the comments, it seemed to be agree my hydration observations, pretty well agree with my nutrition/carbohydrate views, but really mixed reaction to my pacing ideas" Hence tonight's post title "Pacing Still a Mystery!.

Just before I move onto the pacing issue, I just want to mention one more bit of evidence from the scientific literature regarding carbohydrate and fatigue.  I have just come across an interesting 2013 article titled "Running Pace Decrease during a Marathon Is Positively Related to Blood Markers of Muscle Damage" which is a free available journal at this link.  I will come back to this article later in the post but one key finding that is reported is as follows:
During exercise, glucose supply for the active skeletal muscle comes from glycogen stores in the muscle and liver. However, if the exercise bout is of long duration (> 1 hour), muscle and liver glycogen stores deplete [17] and blood borne glucose has to be used to provide energy, threatening blood glucose homeostasis [38]. It has been found that hypoglycemia attenuates the activation of the CNS and hence produces reduced exercise performance [39]. For this reason, the reduction in blood glucose concentration has been proposed as a source of muscle fatigue during the marathon [40]. When blood glucose is maintained by ingesting carbohydrates during exercise, muscle force and CNS activation are better preserved [39]. Interestingly, participants in this investigation increased the blood glucose concentration by 0.6 + 0.6 mmol per litre, from pre-to-post exercise (Table 2), as has been previously found in other athletes participating in endurance events [41]. Although we did not record carbohydrate ingestion during the race, previous studies have found that marathoners have appropriate rates of carbohydrate intake [42]. According to our data, blood glucose concentration was well maintained during a marathon in a warm environment, reducing the influence of hypoglycemia as a source of fatigue during this race [43].
So therefore confirming what I have read previously in other journal articles, in that now carbohydrate gels / bars are commonly used DURING marathons, the issue of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and glycogen depletion now seldom occurs.  Therefore fatigue during marathons is due to other fatigues, which I believe is when Race Focus Energy is depleted (see my Race Focus Energy / Fatigue Post).  

Back to pacing, as mentioned above their was mixed reaction to my most recent blog post, where I totally 'slated' the concept of the negative split.  One reader commented that they had "never heard anyone say that their goal for a race was to run a negative split".  Well Richard obviously doesn't listen to MarathonTalk (unlike I believe around 15,000 other runners per week!)  If he did, he would then know how this negative split is totally 'raved' about!  There were many comments, including Tom from MarathonTalk, back in December 2011 when I first blogged about the fallacy of the negative split, who present evidence that even pace works for them, or for other people they know including elite runners.  But then others state that a fast start worked well for them.  So it appears simply from this small sample size that no one approach appears superior to the other, and it really gets down to trial and error, and what works for you.  

Although, that does appear to be the 'safe' conclusion, I am not really convinced, so I will continue to try to find evidence to dispel the negative split / even pace myth!  So before I finish tonight's post, a few more comments.   The key focus of the article mentioned above was related to muscle damage, and there finding tends to reinforce what I believe is one of the main cause of fatigue during marathons and ultra events, yes muscle damage.  Their key finding was "Running pace decline during a marathon was positively related with muscle breakdown blood markers.".  Therefore those runners with the most muscle damage, slowed down the most.  However, the mechanism in which the muscle damage slows the runner down I feel is not entirely directly related to the muscle damage, as the muscles are still able to generate more than enough force to run, but indirectly.  Yes, the fatigue will be partly related to the reduced efficiency of the muscles due to the damage, so it will take more energy to produce the same amount of force, so an increase in intensity for the same running pace.  But more important is that the discomfort resulting from the damaged muscles will require increased focus, increased mental effort to deal with this discomfort.  This will therefore increase the rate at which you consume 'race focus energy' (RFE), so you will become mentally tired as your RFE stores deplete, and will therefore be unable to maintain that mental drive, that push, focus to keep running at the hard/demanding pace you were able to manage earlier.  Hence you will slow down. 

 I particularly like one of the comments left during the week, from Chris:
I think with the ultra pacing side of things it's really about finding the correct balance for you as an individual. If you are always going to slow to a certain speed then it makes sense to leg it whilst you can, but the ability to get data with a real true control group is impossible to draw a true conclusion; e.g., what if you had run 10 seconds per mile slower on average for the first 50, what would you have done in the second 50? would you have been more than 10 seconds per mile faster to give you a faster overall time? You'll never know with absolute certainty.  For me this leads to two conclusions (1) you have to experiment to find your right personal blend, preferably on the same course and conditions to give you the best control possible - does running faster to start with make you hit the slow down point significantly earlier? essentially experience counts for a lot and you have to be prepared to fail to get your personal data; (2) assess through experience what happens to you in the latter stages - mental state, concentration on maintaining speed and pushing on (rather than mentally drifting) if prone to mental drifting then you probably adopt a default "knackered pace" so the focus is then on getting as far as possible before you hit this and training to up your knackered pace.
Particularly the importance of "assess through experience what happens to you in the latter stages - mental state, concentration on maintaining speed and pushing on".  Yes, it is really important to reflect on your previous races and try to identify what caused you to slow down.  I did this extensively at the end of 2012, and identified that it was the muscle damage that caused me to slow down, hence my training this year is focused on trying to reduce the muscle damage I experience during the second half of ultra trail races.  Please not that I don't attribute my slowing down in races being due to starting fast, as Sp Lane states "I know it doesn't make much difference if I start slow or fast, I'm still going to die later on.  Hence, it's my best interest to get as far as I can as a short a time as possible."  Exactly, I couldn't have said it better!  

Anyway, I could go on and on, I feel I need more than personal opinion.  So time to get my analytical brain in action, and gather some data, and last weeks Anglo Celtic Plate 100km road race in Perth, Scotland, provided the data I needed.  I took quite a big interest in last Sunday's race as I have raced quite a few of the guys running.  Thanks to John Kynaston's tweets, I was able to keep up to date as the race progressed.  From John's tweets it looked like it was a two man race between running friend Dan Docherty from Ireland, but lives in Berkshire, and England's Thomas Payn, who I didn't know.  Dan's running has really come on in the last two years, so I was surprised when he wasn't leading during the first few hours, with Payn out in front.  John would tweet the leader board every hour or so, so I could see the race positions, but no time gaps.  Then shortly after the 5 hour mark, Dan takes the lead and goes on to win in a very respectable time of 7:05:23.  Yes, that magical 6:59 still eludes Dan!  

Back to some evidence regarding pacing strategy.  Well, the 100 km race consisted of 42 laps, each 2.38km in length, and each lap time was available on the web.  So I downloaded these and got to work!   First I looked only at Dan and Tom's splits.  I was also interested in how far ahead Tom got, and when did Dan hit the lead.  The following to graphs display this data.    

  So you can see both athletes slow down, but Tom's decline in pace was much more dramatic!  Tom started out faster, got up to a 5 min 48 sec lead, and then Dan pulled this back, and got in front on lap 32 or 42.   Next I decided to look at all 31 finishers to see how their pace decline over the 42 laps.    
  Two runners had some really slow laps, and two others had laps slower than 14 minute mile pace, so I deleted these four runners, and carried out further analysis on the 27 other runners, who never got slower than 13:45 min mile pace.   I think it is reasonably clear to see that the trend for the 31 runners is that they slow down during the second half of the race.  I then plotted the average , fastest and slowest min mile rate for each lap, so the average slow down would be clearer to see.    
  This graph illustrates some interesting points regarding slowing down. Firstly it confirms that the average pace slows down a reasonable amount from around half way.  But was is really interesting is that the slowest average lap was lap 37 with an average pace of 9:19, and then speeds up on each of the following last five laps, so the last lap average pace is 8:44.  Now this data clearly illustrates just how rubbish the old physiological model of fatigue was.  I challenge any physiologist to explain what has happened during the last part of the race physiologically!  Hence why a new model of fatigue was required, and I haven't seen any better than my Race Focus Energy (RFE) model.  Yes, a bit of bias there, but if any psycho-physiologist out there are aware of any better models, then please let me know.  

Why is the slowest lap six laps out from the finish.  I propose that the main reason is that as the race draws closer to the end, five laps is less that 12 km, so around 7 miles, the subconscious no longer needs to maintain it's reserve tank of RFE.  Up to this point it keeps stored safely away an emergency supply of RFE because of the unknown, the doubt of what could happen, a safety supply to deal with experiencing the un-encountered,  But with only 7 miles to go, the subconcious is well aware that 7 miles is easily manageable so therefore makes this emergency supply of RFE available, and hence the running pace can increase as there is more Race Focus Energy.  In addition, the negativity from the unknown, the doubt of possibly DNFing, struggling etc. is reduced during this late stage of the race, and this reduction in doubt / fear / negativity swings the RPE - RFE arrow downwards, so able to run quicker for the same rating of perceived exertion (RPE).  

Next for the 27 runners I wanted to get an even more clearer indication of the degree of the slowing down during the race.  To achieve this I decide to break the race into six sections of 7 laps each, so a little over 10 miles per section.  I then calculated the average decline in pace during the 2nd to 6yth section, i.e. each 10 mile split from 10 to 61 miles, in relation to the time split for the first 10 miles.  Here is the graph below.    
  Yes, some interesting percentage slow down data here, with the pace nearly being maintained until halfway, and then slowing down in relation to the first ten mile split, by 9, 17 and 19% for splits 30 - 40, 40 - 50, 50 - 61 miles respectivelyy.  

Lastly I wanted to see what the relationship was between the percentage that the runners slowed down in terms of their first ten mile split and their final ten mile split, and their finishing time.  As it is commonly believed, as stated by Christof "Slowing down has a very profound effect on finishing time, so a near flat pace theoretically produces the fastest result."  If this myth actually true.  Or as I belief, the only reason anyone actually achieves a negative split, i/r/ doesn't slow down during the race, is that they have run the first section so very slow, that the time they have lost during this section is never regained!  What does the data show us.  In order to try to relate directly to elite ultra runners, I decided to delete from my 27 runners, any that did not break 10 hours, so four more runners were deleted (sorry if you were one of these four runners!), and the slowest finishing time from my sample of now 23 'elite' runners is now 9 hours 37 minutes.    
  The graph above clearly suggests that Christof's statement is incorrect (sorry Christof, but you are most welcome to reply and counter my evidence), with a correlation of only r = 0,23.  And if one looks at the coefficient of determination (R squared), which is thought to indicate the amount of commonality between the two variables, it would suggest that only five percent of the factors that contribute to ones finishing time can be attributed to the percentage one slows down during the race.   So five percent is a very low percentage, barely above zero, but the correlation is a positive correlation, which indicates that the more you slow down during the race, the slower your finishing time.  Which is rather disappointing for me in providing evidence that "Run as fast as you can, while you can" is the best way to go.  I would have need a negative relationship between the two variable in the above graph for my approach to be supported by the data. 

However, time to cherry pick.  If we look at the winner, Dan's ranking in terms of slowing down during the race, he ranks in only 16th place out of 23 runners under 10 hours,  in terms of slowing down the least.  He has a massive slowing down percentage of over 17%, but yet quite easily wins the race!  One runner, Antonia Johnson, 3rd placed women, actually run her fastest split of the race during the last 10 miles.  Second place male Craig Holgate also displays some, in my view, less than ideal data.  How much quicker, and higher up would have these two runners finished if they had adopted a less 'strange' pacing strategy???  None know, hence why pacing is "Still a Mystery!"  

Well enough for tonight, it wasn't as brief as I thought.  They never are!  Time to sign off, again from a quote from Tom from Marathon Talk.  

"I'd rather know I was wrong than think I was right"  Tom Williams, 2011.  

Will we ever know in terms of pacing, what is the wrong or right strategy?  


PS  You may recall that within my recent Endurancelife Sussex Coastal Trail Marathon posts I mentioned Scott Forbes, who finished in third place after he started earlier with ultra runners and the slower marathon runners.  Well a bizarre thing happened the other day.  I was sorting out a few filing cabinets / folders in my office and came across an old 220 Triathlon magazine from 1996.  
  The reason that I had kept this specific issue of 220 was that there was  photo of me and my wife Frances on our wedding say in it.   
  Anyway, I started flicking through the pages and got reading the article on the French Triathlon Tour that was a pretty unique event that had taken place in 1996, which involved the top triathletes in Europe, racing a triathlon every day for over a week!  I then noticed that  Scott Forbes from the UK finished in 50th place.  
  Now this got me thinking, could this Scott Forbes from the Sussex Coastal Trail marathon, be the same Scott Forbes, the elite triathlete from the nineties.  Chatting to Scott following the race, he mentioned that he was just getting into ultra running after previously being a mountain biker, but he had suffered a horrendous bike accident, breaking his neck along with many other injuries, and had decided to try ultra running.  I then remembered that back in 1996 while I was studying for my Masters in Sports Science at Loughborough University, every Wednesday at 1:00pm I used to go out with the triathletes and cyclists from the University.  There used to be around 20 or so riders, and we would go for around 3 - 4 hours, staying in a group for the first 2 hours, and then it was flat out coming back.  It was awesome fun.   

Anyway, I began to remember that on one of the rides I got chatting to one of the young students who mentioned he had raced the French Triathlon Tour, and that he was an elite triathlete, which he clearly would demonstrate on the ride back, as the pace got substantially quicker and quicker.  Could this guy I used to ride with most Wednesday afternoons nearly seventeen years ago, be the same guy I raced last month?  Well a bit of searching on the internet, and yes.  I discovered a few  interesting articles on Scott, and it is the same guy.  Amazing, what a small world it is.  And Scott, if you are reading this, hi again from 1996.  You may remember me, I was the ancient 33 year old guy with a faint NZ accent on the Wednesday that used to somehow keep up with the front group all the way back to Loughborough, even though it looked like I was really suffering and dieing.  I'm sure you will remember me with that description!   

As I mentioned after the race.  Come down to the Classic Quarter 44 mile race in June, down in Cornwall, and we can have a good battle there, assuming you don't start at the wrong time!  Sorry, about that dig.  I'm just excited about the prospect of 'pay back day' for the suffering I endured on those Wednesday afternoon bike rides in 1996/97!  Yes, as I mentioned earlier, those rides were great fun!  The interesting article on Scott an airline pilot, is at this link  and a bit more about him as a mountain biker here.  Keep an eye on his name, I'm sure it will crop up in future ultra trail results, hopefully at this June's Classic Quarter!  

PPS I got a phone call yesterday from a company involved with marketing Asics kit.  They had been to the new Trail Running Sussex website, as well as to this UltraStu blog.  They thought that visitors to both the Trail Running Sussex website and my blog might appreciate the latest promo video they have just released on Austrian Ultra Trail Runner CHRISTIAN SCHIESTER.  So I took a look at the video, and it is pretty inspiring, with some pretty good footage, so here is the link.  

But then also today I came across the Guardian Article on Jez Bragg's amazing New Zealand adventure, and if you haven't seen this article, follow this link.  Within the Guardian article there is a link to some fantastic footage of New Zealand.  So two great videos to watch.  

PPPS I have attempted to put a link to my 100km analysis excel file, but it keeps saying file corrupt when downloading!  If anyone would like a copy of the excel file simply zap me an e-mail at or my new e-mail address  

PPPPS Finally time for bed!

Monday, 1 April 2013

TORQ Trail Team Assessment Day - Loads of Positivity


Hopefully just a quick post tonight, commenting on an excellent day I attended yesterday at Parliament Hill, London.  You may have seen my Trail Running Sussex launch blog post last week.  Well yesterday was the first outing for Trail Running Sussex.  I had been invited to do a talk to around forty keen, ambitious trail runners who were hoping to get selected for the newly formed TORQ Trail Running Team.  These runners had been shortlisted from apparently loads of runners that had applied after seeing the following information:
TORQ is looking for runners who will join the TORQ Trail Team for 2013 and enjoy many of the benefits of a professional running team.

Anyone who is committed to running on the trails and exploring the outdoors - as well as their own limits - is encouraged to apply to be part of the team: this is not just for elite runners.
Those successful in being selected for the team will spend a year as part of the TORQ Trail Team, with many of the benefits usually only available to professional teams, including:
  • A nutritional assessment and nutrition products from TORQ Fitness
  • Team-branded kit for training and racing
  • A three day training and preparation trip running in the Alps on the UTMB course around Chamonix from Thursday 20th to Sunday 23rd June 2013
  • Appearances in features in Trail Running Magazine
  • Support and advice throughout the season
As you can see, with the team not focusing on elite runners, it created quite a bit of interest.  There is also a second assessment day in Shropshire in two weeks time for around another forty runners, and I have been invited to do a talk there as well.

The day was a great opportunity to meet and chat to loads of super positive trail runners.  It was also really nice to have an audience paying full attention, listening and interacting with me during my talk. (Just a wee bit different to lecturing biomechanics to University students!)  Unfortunately I really enjoyed their enthusiasm for my 'words of wisedom', that I went on, and on, and on!  The amazing thing was that they didn't seem to wilt, a true demonstration of ultra endurance qualities!

Rather than me describing the overall day, one of the runners has provided a well written summary on his blog.  Click this link to read Chris' blog post.  As Chris describes, the day consisted of three talks and then an easy off road run up Parliament Hill, with some awesome views of the high rise buildings of London.

During my talk I covered quite a few topics. One or two of these topics I was quite vocal in terms of that what I was saying had been clearly demonstrated either within the academic literature or as evidenced during running races. I have since thought, that for these topics where I was more certain of my ideas, that perhaps I should provide a little bit of evidence to substantiate my statements.

Firstly, my statement that dehydration is not the problem in relation to decreasing performance that it is made out to be!

The first talk of the day was a talk on nutrition by Martin from TORQ.  By the way I haven't actually mentioned who TORQ are.  In a sentence they are a company that produce nutritional products, and are well used within the Mountain Biking community.  I have tasted their TORQ bar, and it tastes good.  But haven't yet tried their gels, although Luke my physio uses them and states that they are really good.

I spent quite some time checking out the TORQ website last week, and overall I was pretty impressed with the website, the material they present, and how the science is translated into their products.  Similarly, the talk by Martin was very good, and he clearly explained the purpose and benefits of adopting an appropriate nutritional strategy.  However, there were two small aspects of Martin's talk that I wasn't in total agreement with, and a little unfairly I highlighted my concerns regarding these two aspects during my talk, without providing the opportunity for Martin to reply, sorry Martin.

So, with regards to dehydration,  Martin put up the following slide.
Now this slide corresponds to data from the eighties which has since been clearly shown to be totally flawed when it comes to real life marathon running!  The following is the abstract/summary from a scientific journal article from 2012.
Drinking Behaviors of Elite Male Runners During Marathon Competition

Author(s): Beis, LY (Beis, Lukas Y.)[ 1 ] ; Wright-Whyte, M (Wright-Whyte, Moray)[ 1 ] ; Fudge, B (Fudge, Barry)[ 2 ] ; Noakes, T (Noakes, Timothy)[ 3,4 ] ; Pitsiladis, YP (Pitsiladis, Yannis P.)[ 1,5 ]

Source: CLINICAL JOURNAL OF SPORT MEDICINE Volume: 22 Issue: 3 Pages: 254-261 Published: MAY 2012

Participants: Ten (9 winners and 1 second position) male marathon runners during 13 major city marathons.

Main Outcome Measures: Total drinking durations and fluid intake rates during major city marathons.

Results: The ambient conditions during the 13 studied marathon races were 15.3 degrees C +/- 8.6 degrees C and 59% +/- 17% relative humidity; average marathon competition time was 02:06:31 +/- 00:01:08 (hours: minutes:seconds). Total drinking duration during these races was 25.5 +/- 15.0 seconds (range, 1.6-50.7 seconds) equating to an extrapolated fluid intake rate of 0.55 +/- 0.34 L/h (range, 0.03-1.09 L/h). No significant correlations were found between total drink duration, fluid intake (rate and total), running speed, and ambient temperature. Estimated body mass (BM) loss based on calculated sweat rates and rates of fluid ingestion was 8.8% +/- 2.1% (range, 6.6%-11.7%). Measurements of the winner in the 2009 Dubai marathon (Haile Gebrselassie) revealed a BM loss of 9.8%.

Conclusions: The most successful runners, during major city marathons, drink fluids ad libitum for less than approximately 60 seconds at an extrapolated fluid ingestion rate of 0.55 +/- 0.34 L/h and comparable to the current American College of Sports Medicine's recommendations of 0.4-0.8 L/h. Nevertheless, these elite runners do not seem to maintain their BM within current recommended ranges of 2%-3%.
So it is quite clearly demonstrated that elite marathon runners experience dehydration well in excess of 5% bodyweight, which according to the above figure would correspond to performance well less than 70%, but yet Gebrselassie set the world marathon record, also with a similar 9 - 10% dehydration that he had at Dubai!

But, the above article refers to elite marathon runners.  Does the same findings apply to the non-elite?  Well there is another recent 2011 article, that investigated this and here is the abstract/summary:

Inverse relationship between percentage body weight change and finishing time in 643 forty-two-kilometre marathon runners Hassane Zouhal, 1 Carole Groussard,1 Guenolé Minter, 1 Sophie Vincent, 1 Armel Cretual, 1 Arlette Gratas-Delamarche, 1 Paul Delamarche, 1 Timothy David Noakes 2

Objective The purpose of this study was to determine the relationship between athletic performance and the change in body weight (BW) during a 42 km marathon in a large cohort of runners.  Methods The study took place during the 2009 Mont Saint-Michel Marathon (France). 643 marathon finishers (560 males and 83 females) were studied. The change in BW during the race was calculated from measurements of each runner’s BW immediately before and after the race.

Results BW loss was 2.3+2.2% (mean + SEM).  BW loss was -3.1+1.9% for runners finishing the marathon in less than 3 hours; -2.5+2.1% for runners finishing between 3 and 4 hours; and -1.8+2.1 for runners who required more than 4 hours to complete the marathon. The degree of BW loss was linearly related to 42 km race finishing time.  Neither age or gender influenced BW loss during the race. Conclusions BW loss during the marathon was inversely related to race fi nishing time in 643 marathon runners and was >3% in runners completing the race in less than 3 h. These data are not compatible with laboratory-derived data suggesting that BW loss greater than 2% during exercise impairs athletic performance.
They match an extensive body of evidence showing that the most successful athletes in marathon and ultramarathon running and triathlon events are frequently those who lose substantially more than 3–4% BW during competition. So the issue of dehydration severely affecting performance at even 5% dehydration clearly doesn't seem to occur!

So even for non-elite runners, it appears that dehyration of 3.1% results in a better performance than dehydration of only 1.8% of bodyweight!

My second point of concern regarding Martin's presentation was the issue regarding how much carbohydrate does one need to consume during an ultra trail race.  Martin clearly explained the latest research that has demonstrated that with the use of a Maltodextrin (glucose polymer): Fructose blend, at a 2:1 ratio, the amount of carbohydrate that can transported across the intestine is increased from the previous thought maximum of 60 grams per hour, up to 90 grams per hour.  The real issue what was being discussed yesterday was, is there really a need to consume 90 grams an hour during an ultra trail race.

Well, I am pretty confident in stating NO!  My reason for this is that the intensity one runs at during an ultra trail race, say of 100 miles, is so low, that the body is not consuming much carbohydrate.  This relationship between exercise intensity and utilisation of fat or carbohydrates comes mainly from the nineties, but is still regarded as being correct.

Below are some figures that illustrate how the percentage of fuel from carbohydrate decreases as the exercise intensity decreases.

So these two figures above show that as the intensity of the exercise decreases more energy is created through the metabolism of fat, not carbohydrate.  The figure below clearly illustrates this relationship.

Now during the second half of a 100 mile ultra, and I guess for those runners that attempt to try to run at a constant pace/effort, then during the entire race, the intensity is going to be rather low.  For me, with a maximum heart rate of around 185 bpm, and a resting heart rate of around 45 bpm, during the last 50 miles of the Lakeland 100, my heart rate is typically at only around 120 - 125 bpm which equates to around 54 - 57% of heart rate reserve (HRR) which is max HR - rest HR, which equals 140 bpm.  It has traditionally been thought that the %HRR corresponds reasonably closely with %VO2max, so it would indicate that for the second half of the race I am exercising at only around 54 - 57% of my VO2max. (Although the latest research suggests that the % HRR would more closely equals the %VO2 reserve, either way the value will be reasonably similar.) Which from the figure above would give me a fat:carbohydrate ratio of around 65% fat and only 35% carbohydrate. It is therefore clearly obvious that there is no need to consume 90 grams of carbohydrate per hour, as the body isn't using carbohydrate at a high rate!

The final aspects from my talk yesterday that some evidence may be useful to demonstrate the point I made, is to do with slowing down during ultra races, and marathons.  I discussed this in some detail in a previous post back in December 2011, after I raced Martin Yelling from Marathon Talk at the Endurancelife Dorset Coastal Trail Marathon, and I raised this aspect of him getting it totally wrong regarding pacing!  He wasn't convinced.  I'll present the key figures and some text from my previous post that clearly demonstrate that the concept of the negative split is totally wrong, and leads to 'failure' for over 95% of all marathon runners.

To help provide evidence for the flawed concept of the negative split, back in December 2011 I looked at the results from that year’s Virgin London Marathon. Perhaps as one would expect, based on the status the negative split has, both the male and female winners ran negative splits. So therefore why have I wasted all of this time typing up this blog post, attempting to get you to consider that the negative split isn’t what it is made out to be? But let’s look a little deeper at the results. How many of the other 99 runners in the top 100 in the massed start race also achieved a negative split? Remember these runners are the very best, at the very front of a field of over 35,000 finishers. Surely then one would expect around half of the top 100, or at least a third! No, only seven other runners in the top 100 finishers ran a negative split. This ‘strange’ result could however be because at the front of the race many of the runners went out with the pace makers at nearly world record pace, in the hope of hanging in there to the finish, they therefore were never going to achieve a negative split. So if I look at how many within the next 100 places from 101 – 200 achieved a negative split, this would give perhaps a more true representation of the frequency of the negative split occurring. These runners from 101 – 200 are still top quality runners, and in relation to the overall field, very, very fast runners, with an average finish time of 2 hours 39 minutes. The results show that there were only 6 negative split runners from the 100.

If you look at the graph above, it shows the number of runners that negative split from samples of 100 runners at different time gaps for the first 10,000 finishers, then you will see that there is ABSOLUTELY no relationship at all between the finish time of the runners and the percentage that achieve a negative split. If running a negative split was a quality of being a good runner, of a good performance, then surely one would expect that further towards the front of the field there would be a higher percentage? With a correlation of pretty well zero, one shouldn’t need any more evidence that the negative split is NOT something to aim for, NOT something that indicates that you performed well!

Another key statistic is the percentage of runners within the first 10,000 finishers that actually achieve it, being only 5.8%. With this evidence it therefore still amazes me that there seems to be the message ‘out there’ that the negative split is something all runners should aim for. If we look at a 10% sample, in batches of 100 runners, spread throughout the 23,600 runners that finished within 5 hours at London, then the percentage that achieve a negative split drops even lower to only 4.3% of finishers! The graph above also shows how the positive split slowing down time increases as the finishing time increases.

A real issue that needs attention, is in terms of the potential effect this low percentage of negative splits may have on the marathon finishers, when 95.7% of them do not achieve probably the number one goal that is drummed into them apart from finishing! Remember the message ‘out there’ that the negative split indicates that you ran well, probably even more important than your actual finishing time. So 95.7% of runners are potentially disappointed because they didn’t achieve one of their goals.  No wonder most endurance runners think negatively towards themselves!

The above figures relate to a road marathon, what about some ultra trail race data?  Well I dug out some results and did some analysis.  Hopefully it makes some sense.

Data from the 2012 Montane Lakeland 100:

So, even the widely regarded 'super human' performance by winner Terry, still involved him slowing down during the second half of the race by nine percent!  In comparison to Gancho, who obviously took it really easy during the first half of the race, being over an hour and a quarter behind me at Dalemain.  He still slowed down during the second half of the race by twenty one percent.  Yes, a reduced slowing down rate, in comparison to Paul (and Barry 2nd=, same slowdown as Paul, and also 4th place Ian with 33% slowdown) and me, with a massive 42% decrease in pace!  So only Terry slowed down less than Gancho, but Gancho only finished in 6th place.  Did his attempt to run even pace, cost him second place?  Did he gain back the time he lost during the first half of the race when running purposely slowly, by going faster in the second half of the race.  An interesting question?  I think not!

Just one last example to finish with, this time from the 2011 IAU World Ultra Trail Championships in Connemara, Ireland.  Comparing my slowing down during the second half of the race, with Julian Rendall from GB, who finished one place behind me in sixteenth place.

With regards to the percentage slowdown at the Worlds, it is much smaller than the Lakeland 100, as the first half of the Worlds course involved two very tough steep climbs of Diamond Hill, of around 400 metres climb each time!  Again the question could be asked, did Julian manage to run that much substantially faster during the second half of the race, significantly faster to gain back all of the time he lost during the first half of the race by purposely running slowly?  Again I think not!

Just to conclude "Run as fast as you can, while you can!"  The negative split is a flawed concept!

I hope that the above information has helped provide some evidence for some of the statements I made during my talk.  However, as I mentioned yesterday, the majority of the content of my talk are my views, so it doesn't automatically mean that they are correct.  The main goal from my talk was to get the audience to start questioning their ideas to training and racing.  Is there an alternative approach?

Time to sign off, and I think the words from Tom at Marathon Talk are quite appropriate.
“A large amount of what we achieve is governed by our mental state and how we see ourselves. (It is) a lot about opening the mind to what might be possible when we throw away the self imposed limitations of our mind.” Tom Williams, 2011.
To those of you that attended yesterday's TORQ Trail Team Day, thanks for making the day an enjoyable experience.  To everyone else, hopefully the above information makes some sense, even without the context of my TORQ talk!

I hope to see you all 'positive splitting' in the future,