Ultramarathon

45a) West Highland Way Race – Training

After a big Autumn / Fall of racing, I took a rest over Christmas and new year. Keeping mileage around 20-30 miles a week but all at an easy pace to let my body recover.

During this time, I did lots of research into training plans to build up to a 100 mile race. I settled on a plan from Relentless Forward Progress (Bryon Powell). The split of in week vs weekend mileage seemed to fit with life, and the book also includes two 100 mile training programs, one building to 50 and one to 70 miles a week. I used both as a starting point, with intention of starting on the higher mileage but reducing it if my body was telling me it was too much. Previously 50 miles a week had felt like the most I could run without sustaining injury but I knew part of that was a psychological barrier. I then adapted the plan to fit with life and pre-planned events e.g. Boston Marathon on Patriots Day Monday, adding an extra week towards the end so that it started the first week in January.

January

I started on the training program and began seeing Terrel Hale at Georgetown Physical Therapy for regular sports massage (1-2 times a week depending on schedules). Terrel’s interest in biofeedback and the mental side of endurance sports also helped me bring together various things I’d been doing consciously or unconsciously into a more coherent training plan focusing on the mental as well as the physical side of running.

Two weeks into the training plan I started to get knee pain on a training run in Pittsburgh. I replaced running miles with cycling miles over next week (3 miles cycling for 1 mile running). I did a lot of stretching and Terrel focused on muscles around the knee. This sorted the problem out and after a week off I was walking and doing short runs again.

February

I focused the first 4 week block on building distance and the second was similar but I also started to introduce nutrition training (eating real food on the run – see separate nutrition post).

The block went very well with no reaction from the knee so I decided to round it off with back to back trail marathons (Xterra Thrill in the Hills Georgia on the Saturday and Dry Creek Trail 26.2 near Nashville on the Sunday). The idea was to treat them as back to back long trail runs i.e. not racing, practice running on heart rate and not get carried away by others racing around me, and to have the confidence boost of having run 52 miles in a weekend. I ran both races on heart rate and felt good in both and strong at the end though I realized I should have eaten more on the Saturday to ensure I was fueled for the Sunday. Still it was great training running tired and the Nashville run was similar terrain and weather to West Highland Way. The following week I ran the mileage as per the training program but shifted the longer runs towards the end of the week.

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March

Now that I had built up a good base mileage I started building more hills into my training. Winter weather meant I couldn’t get to the hills around DC so I ended up doing multiple loops of the hilly trails in Rock Creek Park which was a good psychological challenge too. The four mile loop south from the nature center included similar ascent and descent to the West Highland Way route, a tip I’d picked up from Training Essentials for Ultrarunning by Jason Koop. A very interesting read and I picked up lots of new ideas as well as reinforcing many things that I had already discovered or was doing.

I also read several books on mental training for sport, which really helped develop the psychological side of my training. Some of the best tips were:

  • Believe in your training
  • positive mantras for when the going gets tough (“Embrace the pain”, think about all the sac
  • rifices made in training etc to get to the race start line)
  • Refocusing through neutral when you hit low points, then replace with positives.
  • Prepare for the worst in order to have the best race.

The books I read were:

  • The Champions Mind, Jim Afremow
  • Brain Training For Runners, Matt Fitzgerald
  • How Bad Do You Want It, Matt Fitzgerald
  • The Ultra Mindset, Travis Macy
  • The Art Of Mental Training, DC Gonzalez

April

I decided to use April as a month of using races as long runs as these were logistically easier and safer than running on my own in the wilds. It was also a good chance to practice race pacing and maintaining my own pace whilst surrounded by others.

I ran a hilly 50k in Virginia (NUTT Endurance Run) on April 1st, ten 5k loops, 2.5km up hill and 2.5km down meaning more average elevation change per mile than WHWR. I ran on feel (HR and breathing) and felt strong at the end, then the next day I ran the Cherry Blossom 10 miler in DC and achieved a PR, again focusing on breathing and heart rate and deliberately starting slow to see how my body coped after the previous day. The training was paying off as I got progressively quicker through the race after feeling sluggish at the start.

The following weekend I headed up to Vermont for Runamuck 50k, again running on heart rate and feel, letting people fly off, but passing them in second half when I was still feeling strong which put me in 5th place! After the race, I drove to Rhode Island for the Fighting Seabees Marathon the next day where I applied similar tactics, only pushing the last 6 miles. I felt good after these races and recovered quickly with Terrel’s help, again adjusting my mid-week runs to back load the week.

I’d qualified for Boston Marathon for the first time the previous year and had entered before finding out about the West Highland Way, so this went from being a goal race to a training run. I decided to run it as a long speed session, focusing on Heart Rate, breathing and feel rather than pace but pushing it for as long as I could, keeping in mind that this was just a training race in the run up to the West Highland Way. I knew I was in good shape but was very happy to take 5 minutes of my PR and finish feeling strong, and to recover quickly. Again, another big mental boost that the training was working. I adapted the training plan to do a 12 mile run on the Saturday before the marathon, and lower mileage the following week.

The final race in May was the North Face Endurance Challenge DC. I’d originally entered the 50k but having already completed a couple of those on hilly courses, chatting through with Terrel, I decided to upgrade to the 50 mile race as a better learning experience. My thinking was that completing a flattish 50 mile race would stand me in good stead going into the hilly bear mountain 50 miler in May. Again, I set out to run a pace based on HR and breathing, with the goal of finishing feeling like I could carry on. I felt good until mile 45 when the heat and humidity caught up with me but still managed to finish in 8 hours and in 8th place, and compared to previous 50 mile races I felt good and recovered quickly, doing a short run on the Sunday.

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May

Another training block using races for long runs and pulling together everything I’d learnt.

The big race of the block was North Face Bear Mountain in mid May. This was the last big race before the West Highland Way and a chance to test final kit choices. It turned out to be a very wet day which I was secretly pleased with – I saw it as a positive because of the chance to test wet weather running gear. The OMM Kamleika smock was great as were my Altra Lone Peak Neos (waterproof). I suffered chafing from my Under Armour compression so decided to switch to skins compression shorts and shirt for the West Highland Way. Again I raced on feel worked well and I finished strongly and recovered quickly.

I did another back to back racing weekend the following weekend to test the Skins gear. Running the Kettletown State Park Challenge 50k in Connecticut on the Saturday, which I managed to win! And the Gate City marathon in Nashua, New Hampshire on the Sunday. The latter was a tough race, in part due to the 50 mile race the weekend before. Another good test of running when tired and I knew that I was backing off mileage after the weekend until the race.

The following week was a recovery week but a trip to Arizona was a great opportunity for trail running and hiking. Lack of stretching led to a tight left calf on my final run and a twisted ankle on a rock contributed to pain in my right foot on my first run back in DC.

June

I knew that I had done everything I could in training and felt ok dropping the running mileage to rest my foot. I did lots of stretching and Terrel worked hard on it. I was feeling better by the following weekend and I managed 40 miles on it the following weekend, with some pain, more so when I stopped. This gave me the confidence that I could run on it and would be able to make the start. For the final 3 weeks I did very little running but replaced the running mileage with cycling (roughly 3 miles cycling for each running mile) to keep the fitness up.

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