Sunday, March 05, 2006

Running Through the Demons

I have a problem. Somewhere between mile 16 and mile 22 of every marathon I've run (that's six, by the way) I've run into difficulties. I get that "bonking" feeling, where I get a bit light-headed, the legs feel shot and hard to pick up, and my breathing becomes labored and shallow. It's hit me at different points (sometimes earlier and sometimes later) and burdened me with varying amounts of torture, but it's hit me everytime. Even with Lydiard training. Yes, I went out too fast for my January marathon after training the Lydiard way for six months, but I worry that it would have hit me regardless. My reserves, or what carries me through to the finish after the crash have also varied. Sometimes I've managed to cruise in at only 5-10 seconds slower per mile, sometimes it's meant adding a minute to each mile split.

So what's a guy to do? One answer, something Nobby suggested and something I read in Ron Daws' "Running Your Best" as well as Lydiard, is to simply run longer long runs on occasion. How long? It depends, but in my case I'm settling on 28 miles, which was on my plate today. The goal was to run far enough to get past that bonking feeling and teach my body to conserve fuel while teaching my mind to be tough enough to endure the strain put on my body. I wrote about this a bit here.

My original plan was to drive down to the flatlands and do the entire 28 miles on the Rillito River path, where bathrooms, water-fountains and soft dirt are available in spades. However, after waking up early I heard Finn and Haiden as I was making coffee. I decided to let Kiera sleep a bit more, so I got Haiden some water and put her back to bed, then made a bottle for Finn. He still wouldn't sleep after eating, so everyone ended up awake by 6 or so. I stalled some more, sliding back into bed with the whole family for a few minutes to play, then I knew I had to get going. Since it was so late now, I didn't want to add to the time I'd be away so I decided to just run from the house.

First I ran a six mile loop that ended back in our driveway, where I downed a water-bottle full of gatorade I'd left there. This left me with my usual 22 mile long run, which seemed a bit daunting after already being out for 43 minutes or so. I set off and ran straight to the half-way point at 7:15 pace, stopping once for water along the way. While eating a gel and getting a sip of water eleven miles away from home with 17 miles covered, I have to admit I was a little doubtful. I chose to put myself in this spot, knowing full well I'd have to contend with getting back home. I set back out and felt fine until about two hours in, when my reserves started to run low. Ah, yes, that splendid feeling of running out of fuel before running out of road. Still well over an hour to go, so no use stewing about it. I downed a second gel with 7 miles left and drank a little more water, which got me going again. The four uphill miles that lead to the last two downhill miles were the worst, just as I knew they would be. Still, I did get my marathon split at the end of the hill, which was 3:09:52. Two miles to go and I'm done.

This was my hardest week of training, and I'm still trying to figure out exactly why. I've been eating well and getting more sleep, but I'm starting to think that doing all the miles in singles isn't letting my body recover. Most of my "shorter" runs are 12 miles, and I just don't think the body is able to repair itself. I may try breaking things up next week while keeping the mileage up. I think the trick is to make small adjustments and listen to the feedback my body is giving me. Just like any science experiment, change one variable at a time and monitor its effects. We'll see.

Sidenote: Duncan ran the Napa Marathon today, pay him a visit and keep your fingers crossed for a great result, he's put the work in. UPDATE! Duncan ran to a 2nd place overall finish today with a time of 2:36! Now stop reading this and go congratulate him!

Training: Today, 28 miles, 3:22:41, 7:14 pace
Yesterday, 6 miles, around 44:30, 7:26ish pace, with Haiden in the jog-stroller for a muffin run
Miles for the week: 93.5 in 7 sessions


Love2Run said...

28 miles!!!! that's just insane!?@#! pure torture to trick the body into building up reserves for the next attack... is this what Haile does with his altitude long runs etc? keep up the good work Mike! it'll pay off bigtime ;-)

edinburghrunner said...

Impressive - there ought to be pyschological benefits in running beyond marathon distance in training if you have concerns over 'bonking' (sorry, but coming from Scotland I end up in stitches every time you post about bonking - I'm just immature I guess).

Evan said...

Good stuff. I think the over-distance run has a place in marathon training. Although rules say that slower runners can't give advice to faster runners I'll try to do just that ;-)

I wouldn't worry too much about the pace on them, 30 minutes over your marathon time sounds like a lot, but that's only just over a minute per mile. Even backing off by another 10 seconds a mile can make the 28 mile run just that much more recoverable.

Another thing I like to do with my over-distance runs is go places I wouldn't get to on a mere 20 mile run. Makes it mentally easier to see new stuff and not see the same old mile splits going by. But maybe that's just me and my low tolerance for standard routes I repeat frequently.

Apropos of getting the mileage in, I find just splitting two days up into 10 miles total in doubles (Monday and Friday for me) allows Saturday/Sunday and Tuesday-Thursday to be good solid training blocks. You can do 100 all in singles, but then you just need to take a recovery week sooner.

Happy running.

Hunter said...

Yesterday while I ran that 20 miler in over 3 hours, I was thinking that since those elites can run it within 2:20, it would be interesting to know how they would feel for running over 3 hours, and here I got the answer :)

Mike said...

Thanks for the positive comments. I guess I need a new word for "bonking", eh? What's this "recovery week" people speak of? Is that when you get injured and can't run as much? Seriously, I may actually need one of those weeks someday if I don't recover a bit by the end of this week.

Dallen said...

Congratulations on the boston qualifier. Seriously, I am amazed that the were brave/crazy enough to try the 28 miler. Very few runners can clain that type of training run.

Mike said...

Those are some impressive stats and love your blog- a ton of great info here! Just wondering if you wear a HR monitor at all? If so, do you have an ave HR that you are running the bulk of the longer stuff at? Just wondering how close all this training mileage is to your AT / LT HR- thanks!

Thomas said...

From what little I know about Lydiard training, it is very important to listen to your body. Splitting some of the singles up into doubles might mean you're doing just that.

Sasha Pachev said...


I've tried this before. Take a look at
the log entries
. After two PRs in the marathon 2 weeks apart, I began to think my body could easily handle a sub-3:00 marathon once a week. For a while it did, but then I saw a decrease in fitness and absolutely no improvement in fixing the bonking. I learned from this experience that just because you can does not mean you should.

I've also tried weekly 24 mile runs in January 1999 with dismal results.

My thoughts on bonking - after you've done your homework (mileage, long runs, long tempos, good diet, clean liver), if it still happens the problem is in the economy. If you run like an SUV, a bigger gas tank is not the solution. You need to do something to the engine and the vehicle body to burn less gas.

Scooter said...

My sense is that the problem may be two-fold: physical AND mental. I usually feel a down stage about 2/3 through a race. I know that it is at least in part my head that is doing this to me. I searched around a bit and found Jerry Lynch's book Running Within. I actually became aware of it from the BroJos at LetsRun. I found it very helpful. It may or may not do you good, but can't hurt much aside from lightening the wallet a bit.

Evan said...

You asked" "What's this "recovery week" people speak of? Is that when you get injured and can't run as much?

Actually no, the funny thing is that if you're susceptible to injury you're not as likely to overtrain since the body makes you stop in a more dramatic way before you get overtrained (not that I'd really know) See this article for another perspective:

Overtraining is a funny thing. You have to accept some tiredness when you're putting in the miles, but you don't want to become too used to the feeling of being tired that you just accept it as normal.

I think that people who are highly motivated (like yourself), intrinsically enjoy putting in lots of miles, and not susceptible to injury (given how you handled the increase in mileage from 70 to 100, probably not) are the most likely to get into this point. I [think I] know this because that's what I have to guard against in my own training. It sounds like you also don't have too many things interfering with your training (travel or really demanding family) that would let real life impose a recovery week for you. So you have to schedule it yourself.

I don't think you have to go with whatever wisdom is out there on the internet or in books about taking a recovery week every 2 or 3 weeks. We're all an experiment of one. In the base phase I find I can string 5 big weeks together before I need a break. I imagine you'll be the same, that you can get a lot of big weeks in before needing a break.

In the end it's about erring just on the side of caution and making sure you don't end up too tired to make use of the fitness you have.