Simples. But interesting how we can deny the obvious if it appears that tiny bit unpalatable.
I've been running ultras for the best part of five years now, and although I look forward to, enjoy, and have fond memories of each race, I started to wonder a bit about what comes next. Apart from my particular bete noir the UTMB, I can do the races. Doing them again is fun, but the challenge isn't quite the same. So, I decided, before I really get too old and decrepit for this game, what's to lose, I should have a go at doing some of them a bit faster. And rather than bumbling on in my own disorganised way I would get a bit of properly informed advice.
So I got myself along to one of these breathe in the bag and run until you drop test sessions, to be specific at the sports clinic run by Marc Laithwaite the Lakeland 100 RD, which is in St Helens quite near me. If you've done one of these you'll know the score, in case you haven't this is the process. You do a test on a treadmill while wearing a mask so that the volume and composition of your exaust breaths can be measured, from which a fair bit of analysis of your abilities can be made.
So I explain what my objectives are and we start with a warm up jog. Now I've got a low resting heart rate, in the 30's on waking stabilising to low 40's later in the day. I can't claim any particular achievement here, it's hereditary I think. And I've self-tested my maximum heart rate a few weeks ago at around 158, not impressive but I'm not really in the first flush of youth and it's not far off the 220 minus your age approximation. So I jog along really not warming much up at all, so the speed is increased a bit and I manage to break into a bit of a sweat, and we carry on for 5 minutes or so.
Then come a few minutes rest and the real business begins. Every minute, the treadmill speed increases until we're at 15 kph.Then the speed stays the same but every minute the angle of the treadmill increases. Only it doesn't, because after the second increase my HR is at 162 and I'm done, game over. From jogging to exhaustion in no time at all, something of a disappointment really. My tester Angela plugs the figures into the computer and we try to make something of the results. Some peripherally interesting stuff here and there but the basic conclusion is clear - I'm good at running very slowly. My aerobic efficiency is, well, deficient. The problem is, she says, that how well you can perform over 10k or even shorter distances will have a direct effect on how well you do over 100 miles. So it's not speed versus endurance, it's speed and endurance that gets you there.
I go home, have a think, then dig out the records of my training runs for the first three quarters of this year. They look like this:
Miles Jan-Mar Miles Apr-Jun Miles Jul-Sep
Pace T M T M T M
7 -8 118 6.5 51 7.2 18 4.6
8-9 112 6.2 148 9.2 132 6.9
9+ 395 16.0 404 20.2 425 26.5
Pace is in minutes per mile. I don't run faster than 7 minute miles.
T is the total mileage at that pace for the quarter. M is the mean length of run.
This stuff backs up the test result of course, and I guess deep down I know it already. I enjoy long slow runs in the country and on the hills. If I feel tired I slow down, running is for fun, right.
After this Marc and Angela work out an initial 16 week programme for me to follow. To begin with, it's a lot of short and fast. Outings lasting longer than an hour only allowed once in two weeks. Concentrate on flat courses to keep heart rate steady. But I did get started. Everything hurt. 4 minute intervals, 30 minute tempo runs, lamp-post sprints, every session left me knackered, and all for a total of around 25 miles a week.
But I've just had a break, a week's paid work in Chicago couldn't be turned down, and in some strange way I've missed it, sort of like a bit of unpleasant medicine, must be doing you good. I'm rather looking forward to that next feeling of "but it can't still be another minute until I can slow down.....".
Will it work? Who knows? At least the winter will feel a bit different this year.