Monday 3 November 2008

Kalahari Marathon - Training and Performance review

My race report for the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon is here.
My equipment review is here, and my hydration and nutrition review is here.

So, now for the final part, performance and training critique.

Well, I came 6th, out of 20 starters. So my goal to finish in the top half of the field was more than achieved. Still, I lost a great deal of hours in total to time spent at checkpoints. Most damaging was 45 minutes at checkpoint 1 on day 4, and then 2 hours at checkpoint 2. I spent about 40 minutes at checkpoint 3 on day 2, feeling rough. Maybe on a couple of other occasions I spent up to 15 minutes as well. Now, these can't all be counted as 'bad', because at the time I was doing what I needed to do to complete the race. So, describing these as 'lost' time is not strictly accurate. If I would have not rested for those combined hours would I have finished 5th or 4th? Probably not. Because I would have probably fallen to pieces further along the route.

So, I rested when I felt I needed to, to ensure that I finished the whole event. As was said to me during the MDS, you don't get a better medal or T-shirt for finishing first or last.

So having established that I 'needed' to rest when and for how long I did, I need to ask myself why? The heat in the Kalahari was certainly the big factor, coupled with the difficult terrain. The in MDS the heat had not bothered me as much, and the terrain is without doubt far easier. The days that I performed best in the Kalahari I started slowly, quite happily languishing towards the rear of the field, and then speeding up in the second half of the race; running a negative split (much like Paula Radcliff yesterday in the NY marathon. Well done Paula). Well, when I say 'much like', I mean negative split and not 4/5 minute miles!
I think I paced myself better than some other competitors, as I would overtake many in the latter half or closing legs of the stage. However, I remember on day 2 I started more quickly than I should, the competitiveness in me taking over. Initially I did well, getting up to 4th with only 5 or 6 miles remaining. However I got to the CP in such a bad state I had to rest for 40 mins and lost 3 places. I should have taken 5 minutes break in between checkpoints, under a tree and ate something, and just cooled down. 5 minutes then, would have meant nothing overall.

Ok, so cautious pacing and running negative splits seem to suit me. That's one lesson learned, as is taking a break between checkpoints if I am overheating.

The other huge factor in my lack on consistency was the sleep problem. This is my estimation of sleep for the event.

Day before the race (in a bed) - 6/7 hours
Day 1 - 2 hours broken
day 2 - 2 hours broken
day 3 - 1.5 hours broken
day 4 - 5 hours solid (after the 75km stage)
day 5 - 3-4 hours broken
day 6 - 6 hours solid

This also goes hand in hand with my finishing positions each day. I did very well on day 1 (5th), worse on day 2(7th), worse again on day 3 (8th), 7th on day 4 after taking 2:45 rest mid stage, 7th on stage 5 (again mediocre sleep the night before), stage 6 (4th) after my best nights sleep all week.
What is interesting is that my MDS performance was the same. I did well, then got gradually worse, improving after the long day when I started to sleep well.

I always perform well after a goods night sleep. Doesn't sound like rocket science, but it needs pointing out. The difference between getting 3 hours of broken sleep vs 4-6 hours of solid sleep is priceless, for me at least.

So, what can I do to improve it? Well, I'm not into taking sleeping pills for starters, though I would have done in the Kalahari on night 3 if I could have!
As an ongoing strategy I need to understand why I am not sleeping well.
It was very hot until probably 2am, but that alone was not the main problem, as I could roll down or sleep on top of my sleeping bag.

I can't get comfortable - The ground isn't nice and soft! This was made worse by my Thermarest bursting on night 2 I think.

The pillows I make out of rolled up clothes put into the stuff sack is not a nice feather pillow I sleep on at home!

Finally, the big one, knowing that I need to sleep is preventing me from doing so. Trying to force myself to sleep, the inability to switch off and drift off. It's psychosomatic now; I've made it that way. I've made it into a big issue, and that is the major hurdle.

I can solve some of the issues above. I can take a repair kit for the Thermarest, and I can look into a lightweight down pillow (inflatable’s are not comfortable). The inability to switch off I don't know though. I sleep fine at home, except not always well when I have an event the next day, so it's the same issue. People have suggested Yoga and breathing techniques etc. Frankly, I'm open to suggestions on this one? I need to crack this. If I do, my performance will become more consistent and I will do better still.

Ok, moving onto the next part, my training. It was radically different to my MDS training. For the MDS I was running up to 80 miles a week. I would typically run 12 miles on a Tues, Wed and Thursday, then perhaps 15 on a Saturday and 20 on a Sunday. Gym twice a week. At the weekends I would be carrying a full or even overweight backpack; up to 12 kilos towards the end of the training. I had been running with 7-8 kilo's for well over 6 months before the event every weekend. I was not doing much speed training, but I did do some hill reps. I took part in a couple of LDWA events each month.

I think the MDS training fatigued me. I don't think running all those mid week 10/12 milers at a medium pace was beneficial at all. I don't think running with a heavy backpack every weekend, for so many months, was beneficial either; my pace became stale and slowed.

All of those things I recognised myself, and I'd also recognised the need to do speed training as well. I asked AndyW on forum for some help with speed training sessions, and he suggested a couple of speed sessions a week, doing 400m and 800m splits. I resolved not to carry any weight whatsoever, until the last few weeks before the event, and even then only a light pack, perhaps equivalent to the weight of my pack for the long day 4 (say 5kg).

After taking a month off after the MDS, I fairly quickly ramped up to 25-30 miles a week, incorporating a tempo run for speed work initially. I maintained that 25 miles a week for 2-3 months, my tempo run times improving dramatically. Then I changed my tempo run for 2x speed sessions as per Andy's advice. I entered the Kalahari marathon with just 7 weeks to go, and put together the training plan you can see here.
Very roughly, I did speed work on a Tuesday, easy run on a Wednesday, speed work on a Thursday, and Saturday I did a long run. Initially Sunday, Monday and Friday were rest days. I also went to the gym once or twice a week and did strength and stability work. I then started to increase my weekly mileage by 10%, introducing a Friday run, rather than increasing the length of my 'quality' speed work sessions. My mileage was to peak at 50 miles. In fact I think maybe I did 45 in the final big week before taper. I continued to go to LDWA events, which I believe are invaluable.

So, how did I feel? Well, I didn't feel fatigued. The speed work sessions were always hard, but I could feel the benefit and see the improvements. Because I was not carrying a backpack on the long runs I kept my pace very sharp. I did intend to add up to 8kg on my training plan, but I didn't, and I am pleased I didn't. The heaviest I carried was 5kg at the 30 mile Open to Offas LDWA event a few weeks before the Kalahari marathon. When at the event, my pace didn't suffer, and I didn't even notice the backpack (8kg starting weight).

So, in conclusion, I trained less and I am fitter than I was for the MDS! Quality, not quantity. Speed sessions, not stupid mileage. The strength work in the gym instead of carrying a heavy backpack on my long runs at the weekend. I won't be going back to running 80 miles a week, because I don't think there is any value for me.

For everyone else, well I can't advise you. I've told you what worked for me. You can't ignore your backpack totally. You need to see how it fits and learn to live with it, but there just is no need or point training with a heavy weight months and months before the event. Even when you do start adding weight, don't bother with your estimated starting pack weight because you will only be carrying it for day 1. Why not just concentrate on the weight you will have some time later in the week. Give your knee joints a break, and keep your pace sharp!

I'm happy with this training regime. I'm dropped back down to 25 miles a week now.
This week I did 2 x 5 mile steady runs to easy myself back into training, and did an 11 mile, 2650ft ascent, run over the Peak District at the weekend. Next week I’ll get back to the speed work too. I'll tick-over on 25-30 miles a week, and then ramp it up after Christmas. The Atacama Crossing is on at the same time as the MDS in 2009; the end of March. I'll be doing plenty of LDWA events between now and then too, starting with the Six Dales Circuit on the 15th November.

So for me I have two things to do.

1) Learn to sleep on event
2) Keep thinking quality not quantity.

Have a good week!

1 comment:

  1. That's a great post Rich and something I have learnt over the last 5 months or so. I started off carrying a backpack on all of my training runs and was knackered. Now I train in a very similar way to you. Big distances at the weekend with a lightish pack and then speed sessions during the week. I just posted last night how I thoguht all of this stupid distance during the weeke is a waste of time. Quick short sessions during the week, then some long slow shuffles at the weekend. Nice to see you carrying on with all this malarky, it gets addictive doesnt it?

    By the way, if you're interested, the Racing the Planet series is doing a multi-stage day event in Australia in 2010, should be awesome. If you register, they hold a place for you, and contact you when you need to make the first payment. So a nice easy way to go about it all. Good luck and hope the training carries on well for you.