A week before the Glasshouse 50km race, I decided to head back up to the Blue Mountains after a number of weeks on the Great North Walk. There were a few reasons for this, namely to have a change of scenery, but to also run on more runnable terrain and open fire trail. The Glasshouse race will be run entirely over wider open fire trails, so for this very reason I wanted to open up the legs, but to also get some big hills in too and smash the legs up.
I had the pleasure of some company from Ian Gallagher, another Englishman and a very tidy runner too. Ian finished third at the Mount Solitary 45km race earlier this year, and is also an 11hr 30min North Face 100km runner too, so I knew I’d be chasing my tail somewhat during our run.
Mentally, I’d set a goal of 6 hours for our 52km run, which would see us start at Explorers Tree, before turning around once we’d reached the top of Pluvi (26kms) for the return leg. As far as my ability was concerned, this would be a fair clip for me, perhaps not so much for Ian, but I was glad to have him along as it would push me a little harder than if I was on my own.
The first 7kms of the run, after the descent down Nellie’s Glen, is along wide open fire trail where it’s very easy to rock along at sub 5 minute kms, before hitting the single file stuff down to Cox’s River. The track here is the only bit of technical track along the whole run, and with it being a downhill of around 300m over 7kms, it’s time to open up a little and practice some technical running at pace. Mentally I’d set a goal of hitting Cox’s River in around 1hr 35mins, with a view of running as much of the hills as possible in around 1hr 25mins and a 3 hour overall time limit to the top of Pluvi.
The good news is that we hit Cox’s five minutes ahead of schedule in 1hr 30mins, having taken the rope bridge across the river based upon the fact that we thought the river would be fairly high after recent rainfall. From there on, it’s 10km of mainly uphill running and an overall climb of around 800m. My first goal was to try to run as much of the hills as possible, and to see what is possible ahead of next year’s 6ft track race. In my previous two other 6ft attempts, I’ve always walked the hills, so it would be interesting to see what kind of time difference it makes running up the hills. The short of it is that I managed to run all of Mini Mini and Mini Mini Saddle, but walked/ran Pluvi, reaching the top at 2hrs 51mins. The interesting thing to note is that if I compared this to my last race day splits, I was overall 9 minutes down on my Cox’s River split (1hr 21min in 2011 race day compared to 1hr 30mins yesterday), and then only 2 minutes down on my top of Pluvi split having run a lot more of the hills (2hrs 51mins compared to 2hrs 49mins on race day).
The interesting thing however would be the return leg. The pace on the outward journey had made me a little tired nonetheless, but run hard downhill we did, covering the 10kms back to Cox’s River in just under an hour. The real test though was the climb out of Cox’s River and back to Explorer’s Tree. We moved well for the first 3-4kms out of the River, but as the climb rose, my legs started to feel like lead weights. Reaching Megalong Valley Road and 8kms to go, I was pretty shot, but some of my favourite running was soon upon us as the trails opened up into some nice dirt track and some gradual uphill to ease on the hips. Again it’s possible to tick over at 5:30min kms with relative ease.
As we approached more of the steeper climbing, it was here that I got a little lazy, having done 45kms in around 5hrs 10mins, with just the climb up towards Nellie’s to finish off. We let the foot off the peddle here, and eased our way up Nellie’s before Ian mentioned that we only had 15mins to beat the 6 hour marker we’d set ourselves. The final climb back up Nellie’s is a bit of a killer, around 400m over 1.5kms, so we had to open the lungs somewhat to push ourselves to the top. Ian moved ahead here and finished in 5hrs 59mins with me pulling in the rear around a minute or so later.
On the plus side, I’d set out what I wanted to do, a fast 52kms in under 6 hours with over 2,100m of climbing. What was slightly disappointing was that we probably could have gone a little quicker had we not let the foot off the pedal a little. But in all fairness, I for one was pretty ‘pooped’ by the time I got to the car – there was that feeling of light-headedness, so I had taken a few cookies out of the jar in the final climb. The good thing was that we didn’t stop once on the run, not even to refill the bladders. Due to it being pretty cold and wet, water consumption was only around 2.5 litres, along with only a couple of Hammer bars for food, but some real good hurtin was had 🙂
What does this mean for training and GNW?
The run also ignited a conversation with Ian about ideal distances to run when training for a 100 miler, but more importantly how to structure a training programme for such race. There’s one school of thought that believes in the longer slower stuff, and by that I mean big long training runs at weekends, but at a slow-ish pace. There’s another school of thought that believes that up to 50km is enough, but as long as it’s done at pace.
It’s a bit of a tough one to call I think, and a lot does depend on the individual and what works for them. I’ve been chatting to a few other members of Ultra168 about this too, and I do think it warrants a more in-depth discussion article elsewhere on this site. Having moved up to the longer distance runs in the last 12-18 months, I’ve been of the mindset to go for the longer runs, but now I’m starting to question the benefit of such runs if they’re not done at pace, and realistically what kind of pace can you hold once you’re above 70kms? Where do the diminishing returns set in?
Interestingly, the longest run I did prior to the Northburn 100 miler was 70kms, but it was done at a fairly good clip. I thought that I needed to go longer, but to be honest, I really didn’t as was proven on race day. One thing I’ve been focusing on for my next race (the Glasshouse 50kms next weekend), is to be running the longer runs at a higher pace than I have typically been. For example, this weekend’s run was done at an average pace of 8.66kms per hour, which for me is a decent clip with some significant hill climbing thrown in too. Admittedly this is nothing compared to the higher echelons of the trail elite in this country, but it marks a significant increase in pace for me, compared to the 7kms per hour training runs I’ve done in the past when doing longer distance runs.
I do believe the longer, slower stuff is important, but only to an extent. I’m surprised at how quickly I seem to have slipped back into the training with only 5 solid weeks behind me for this race, and that’s down to the base I built up for Northburn. My point being that having done a good 6 month block for that race, I do believe that my endurance is pretty solid right now, so I question whether I need to be out there doing 70 or 80km training runs? Wouldn’t it be better to do 50kms at a really solid whack, with similar hard sessions during the week? Look at the Kilian’s and Geoff Roes of this World, they’re comparatively low mileage runners when compared to the Krupicka’s. The important thing however is that it seems to suit the individual and that’s the important point here.
When do you reach a point of diminishing returns in your training? I’ve often thought that anything over 160kms a week would not be beneficial for me, and also because of the balance you need in life. At the end of the day, most of us ‘amateurs’ have made a decision to work, we also for the most part have significant others which we also need to factor in too. So my approach for GNW is going to be an interesting one. I’m not an experienced 100 miler by any stretch of the imagination and I admit I have a lot to learn in this game too. But I see it like this… if you practice running slow, then you’re going to run slow… if you practice running quickly, then surely you’re going to be fitter and run quicker?
Are you better doing a regular 60-70km training run at the weekend, but at a constant and relatively slower pace e.g. 6.5 – 7kms per hour? Is it better to just go out and thrash 40-50kms up at 8-9kms per hour? Or a hybrid of the two. For example, the first 45kms at pace, followed by a 10-15km at 6-7kms per hour? Who knows? I do know that I’m not talking about dropping mileage down during the week, just making sure that it’s done quicker. Perhaps this is not a massive revelation to most, and it’s all about making the longer runs at the weekend slightly more serious and a bit less hand-holding.