Monday, 18 June 2012

Focus...............or Relax and Enjoy it?

The reports by Thomas and Marco on their recent Edinburgh Marathon runs were fascinating. Thomas had targetted the race, done some specific preparation, worked out a detailed plan for the day, and was rewarded with what he was aiming for, a great race and a PB. Marco on the other hand decided to enter quite late in the game, ran 36 miles the weekend before and a 10k race during the week. He thought the marathon would be a training run, no time target involved but he too got a great run and a PB. So how come?

There's a lot discussed about focus. Get your act together, decide what you want, plan for it, make it happen. Some nerves on race day are good, channel the energy, you won't go so well without them. But I have two little tales of my own to tell, apologies if you've heard them before.

I came to running quite late, decided the shorter distances were probably a bit fast for my ageing muscles so my first real race was a marathon. I trained for a few months and got round in 3 hours 37 minutes. This is OK, I thought, should be able to crack 3:30 next time. But I couldn't. I ran a 3:40, another 3:37, a couple of 3:34's and on one frustrating day a 3:31, but I couldn't get under the magic number. Focus, I told myself, take care of the details, get a plan and stick to it, don't be distracted. It eventually worked, and I completed a race in 3:24. I was totally knackered. Quads shot, took me half an hour to walk the quarter mile back to the hotel, had to sleep for the rest of the day. That's it I thought, that was my best shot, mission accomplished but I'm not going to get any better, in future just enjoy the day out, no pressure on times. The next marathon was the following year, I was working towards the Highland Fling two weeks later, the marathon would be a training run, there was no tapering involved. On the day I looked at the watch twice, once at half way and once at six miles to go. I finished in 3:17, it was a walk in the park, we spent the afternoon sightseeing.

By then I had got involved in the West Highland Way Race. First time out I just wanted to finish, but after that I read that an average performer ought to expect to get under 24 hours, so I worked at it. Each year I learned a bit more, improved a bit more, focussed a bit more, and on my fourth attempt at the race I got there with a finish just over  23 and a half hours, job done. The following year (last year) I turned up totally relaxed, nothing to prove. I was as fit if not fitter than previously, had done more miles and fewer races that year, but then struggled badly over the latter stages to finish a second or two over 26 hours, worst result for 3 years.

So this makes me think that Thomas/Marco results were probably not down to different approaches suiting different individuals, but that different approaches can work (or not work!) for any of us on different days. If you knew on any given day  what  was going to work for you, you could plan your approach accordingly..............and that would be a very cute trick.  Keep calm and carry on everyone.


Debs M-C said...

I think a lot of it boils down to luck on the day too :-)

Debs M-C

Ps: My marathon PB still stands at 3:31:00!

Thomas said...

Andy, although there is always luck involved when it comes to racing but our good performances were no coincidence.

Consistent training the endurance over a longer period will always prepare you for a Marathon. And in particular ultra runners have little issues with fatigue and hitting the wall over 26 miles.

All an ultra runner has to do is sharpening in the last two or three weeks before the race to be ready for actually racing a Marathon.

I am convinced that constant excessive speedwork over the entire season does NOT help your marathon performance. You cannot stay sharp over the entire season.
In other words: The weekly (or even twice a week) speed session can be very counter productive to any long term seasonal planning and particular Marathon racing.
In particular when you go eyeballs out once or twice (or even three times) a week.

The macro cycle for a Marathon needs to look like this:
1) Base building (over several month). Basically long slow runs. High mileage.
2) Sharpening (over the weeks preceeding the race).
Less mileage but more faster efforts.

And here "sharpening" will look different for preparing for 1 mile races (it will be very short and very,very fast efforts), 5k races (very fast), 10k, Half Marathon, and Marathon (less fast, perhaps 10k pace). And of course ultra Marathon (here it is called "taper").

Anyway, this is surely a very complex topic and there is a lot of luck involved to. 1) not to get injured in training 2) actually peaking on race day
3) And having a 'good race' because there is so much which can go wrong

The common factor for me and Marco was certainly that we both have heaps of endurance from all our good long runs and all the ultra running we had done. For me it was never a question that we would be able to run PB's (since we both had not done a Marathon for ages and surely had evolved since).
Marco deliberately took a slightly counter proactive approach of running a 10k only a few days before the Marathon. IMHO If he hadn't he would have had an easier (=faster) race.

In fact I believe most ultra runners will be able to run Marathon PBs. And most of them do anyway.
All they have to do is going though a normal cycle of 3 month patiently slow runs and 2-3 weeks of sharpening. Debs should be able to run towards 3:00 hours now.

Anonymous said...

Andy, I think you should stay focussed, AND enjoy it! Not a case of "OR".

Look forward to seeing you above BoO. Would you like encouragement OR abuse OR jelly babies? ;-)


Dale Jamieson said...

Andy, as ever an intriguing post and something re Marco and Thomas that hadn't escaped my notice either.

You posted a while ago about speedwork which would work for ultra runners and I think this relates to that in some way.

I'm not here to give any answers though as quite simply it's a real learni9ng curve for me. However, I read a book recently and for the life of me I can't remember if it was one advised by Debs - 'I'm here to win'.

Something struck me in that book that I feel could be easily overlooked and that was a point made about natural energy levels as opposed to anything to do with fatigue. I believe Geoff Roes also has this underbellie to most of his musings.

Essentially, something occurs in each individual which is not related to training and perhaps explains why we have good days and bad despite sometimes what the training programme or schedule would portray.

Certainly I know I am frustrated by analysis of my own training which despite being consistent in terms of volume and intesity keeps throwing up large differences in performance on a weekly basis. Which brings me back to the question of natural energy and whether or not this is cyclical. If so, how do we tap into this and save a lot of potentially wasted time trying to gain an endurance advantage when all we're metaphorically doing is pushing water up a hill, with our hands?