Nonbinding advice

September 19, 2010

Joseph Binder is the latest addition to the United States 100K team; he’s taking the slot that I vacated due to injury. Joe recently sent me a very nice email with some questions about how I train. Our exchange is reproduced below with his permission.

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Dear Greg,

I am really sorry to hear that you are hurt and unable to continue training for the 100k world cup. It must be very frustrating. Being injured any time is no fun, and it’s certainly even worse when you’re looking forward to an event like this one. On the other hand, as you said in your blog, it should be helpful not to have to both write several grant proposals and train at the same time.

I’m writing because I’m the alternate who has been offered your spot on the team. In fact, I would not be running ultras if it weren’t for your inspiration. When I was in chemistry grad school at UW-Madison, my coach watched you win the 2007 and then started a campaign to convince me to try to make the 100k team. It took about six months, but I was crazy enough to listen to him. In 2008 I did the Mad City as a relay and ran the first 50k. This spring I finally ran my first 50 mi in 5:37 to hit the qualifier. Thanks! Yours is the only blog I really read, and I’ve been trying to inform my training from what you do (although my coach and I thought the long, hard runs you were doing back in 2007 would be a good way for me to overtrain).

Now, though, I’m faced with the problem of running the 100k world cup as my first 100k. I’m confident that I can do it. What worries me, though, is that in my 50 mi I struggled with the last 10 miles. My pace slowed about 30 s per mile during this part of the race after being fairly steady before. I don’t think that this was a nutrition effect, because my guts felt fine and I was taking in about the maximum carbohydrate possible. It felt more as if my muscles were refusing to continue at my earlier pace.

It seems like the key to a good 100k performance would be to avoid this dramatic slow down, especially if one hits it at 64k and has another 36k to go! I noticed that all of the top men at Mad City this year also hit a major barrier from 60 to 70k, except Matt Woods, who slowed at 80k, and you, who didn’t slow quite as dramatically as anyone else.

Clearly steady pacing in the race is important, and I plan to work on this and hold myself to a conservative pace. Do you have any other recommendations? Is there a particular length of training run that works for you to train this aspect (I would normally do 50k tops)?

Thanks again, and I hope that you are feeling better soon. Good luck with the grant writing and your research!

Joe Binder

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Hi Joe —

Thanks for your very interesting and kind message, and congrats on making the national team!

For avoiding dramatic slowdowns, I have the following suggestions. (Some may already be obvious to you and others may apply differently to you than to me.)

1. Determine a realistic goal pace. Then don’t run more than 5 seconds per mile faster than this goal pace for at least the first half of the race. Setting a good goal pace can be based on a recent race and how your training and fitness have progressed since then. For example, your 5:37 50-miler might be considered roughly equivalent to a 7:15 100K, or 7:00-per-mile pace, assuming that the two courses have similar terrain. If you’ve gotten a bit fitter and wiser since that 50-miler, you might say that your 100K goal will be 7:05, or 6:50-per-mile pace. One way to test the suitability of the goal pace is to try to maintain it for a long run of maybe half the race distance. I have found that if I am unable to maintain my 100K goal pace in a 30- to 35-mile training run (for which I am somewhat rested), or can do so only with extreme effort, my goal is probably too ambitious.

2. If doing long and hard training runs (such as 30-35 miles at goal pace), do the last one at least four weeks before the race. I think I have hit some late-race fatigue that was due in part to not being fully recovered from previous training runs or races.

3. If the goal pace feels harder than expected during the first half of the race, slow down! Yes, this is a concession that you probably won’t hit your goal … but better to fall a few minutes short than to stubbornly cling to the goal pace and crash hard later on. I have been overly stubborn in the past and have since learned my lesson, I think. The 2010 Mad City race was a good example of me modulating my pace according to how I felt on race day. I really wanted to run 7:05 or better, but that pace just did not feel comfortable to me, so I slowed down and salvaged a somewhat acceptable result.

I hope this is helpful. Follow-up questions or comments are welcome. Also, this exchange might be interesting to other blog readers. Would you mind if I posted it to my blog?

Best wishes,

One comment

  1. This certainly isn't unusual. Check this study: http://www.jssm.org/vol3/n3/7/v3n3-7pdf.pdf However, it isn't inevitable. The best runners have close to even splits. Check the 5th placed runner at Winschoten – 2007 (Take(hiro?) Matsushita: http://www.runwinschoten.nl/images/pdf/100-rondetijden.pdf (sorry Greg) who ran negative splits.

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