Races for Training: Spring 2016 Edition

Last Fall I posted about using races as workouts (here) in my build up for the Fall 50 and Desert Solstice. Using races in training had been something really appealing to me, and last Fall was my first real good block of training in which I was able to exicute it properly. I was really happy with how it worked both from a physical training stimulus as well as good race day/weeekend mental and logistic practice. Recently I have reincorperated this strategy in my build up for the Comrades Marathon in South Africa. This time around I focused more on longer events than during my Fall experiment with this, but the same general principles applied: these aren't "go to the well" A races and therefore should not require extensive recovery or skipped workouts, have a specifc set of goals or objectives going into the event, and enjoy the awesome running community that is present at these events.

In my previous posting on races in training I outlined three tips: Identify a purpose, aid station and transition practice, and practicing mental preperation. These three tips were once again the framework for my goals/objectives.

This time I picked four training races: Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, Mokelumne River Trail Half Marathon, Mendocino 50k, and The San Luis Obispo Marathon. In reality Lake Sonoma was a much harder push than what I would typically call a "training race" because it was far enough out from Comrades and also was appealing in that it allowed me to get an idea of where I am physically with extensive climbing and descending. Although I didn't taper for Lake Sonoma, I still treated it at least in part as a race; meaning I didn't back off the throttle nearly as much as the other three events. For this reason a full race report for Lake Sonoma can be found here, so I will bipass a description of my goals/objectives on this post.

Mokelumne River Half Marathonevent is the third leg of a three part three day series (day 1: 5k/10k, day 2: 50k/50mi, day 3 Half Marathon). I was fortunate to be involved in supporting the event on the afternoon of day 2, so got a good feel for the event and it's race director, Paolo Medina, vision for it. I had two main goals with this event: preparing and racing in an unfamiliar environment and a tempo effort on somewhat tired legs. Since I camped out the night before it was good practice in resting the night before in an environment away from home. It allowed me to prepare as I would the night before a race and the morning of a race in an unfamiliar area. The tempo effort on somewhat tired legs was logistcally simple. Mokelumne was a week after Lake Sonoma, so simply dialing in tempo effort on the rolling hills and winding trails was fairly straight forward.

Mokelumne River Trail Collage.jpg

Photo Credit: Paolo Medina (Single Track Running)

Mendocino 50k was the following weekend. Being much longer than Mokelumne and further along the recovery path from Lake Sonoma my goals changed a bit. I was still looking for a hard effort, which I would define as somewhere between just a casual 50k long run and an all out push for 50k. This meant basically cruising at around 75-80% 50k effort and picking 3-4 sections that looked inticing to push closer to 90% for a brief period of time. The increase in distance meant a slower pace for the same desired affect, but also more specific to what I would feel at Comrades, which stretches 89 kilometers. My second goal at Mendocino was to get some climbing and eccentric muscle contraction over a prolonged period of time. With approx 5,000 feet of climbing and an equal amount of descending this fit the bill. My third goal was to practice aid station transitions. Since there are no crews at this event it meant planning to stop as efficiently as possible at the five aid stations provided.

Mendo50k Collage.jpgPhoto Credit: Cyd Ross

The San Luis Opispo Marathon was one week after Mendocino 50k, so I went in feeling a bit of cumulative effect from the previous three weekends of racing, but had been careful to respect recovery from each of the events in order to maximize gains from them. My first goal for SLO Marathon was to get a hard push in whithout having to go to the well so to speak. Given I didn't have a taper for it the likelyhood of being able to go to the well was slim anyhow. My thought going in was that a pace just under 6 min. per mile on the rolling hills of San Luis Opispo would be just right. I ended up averaging about 5:55/mile and it felt like it matched what I wanted it to very nicely. I didn't feel like I was every throttling down really hard, but at the same time felt like I was putting in some solid work. My second goal very much to mimic aid station transitions at Comrades. I started out with a small bottle of Fuel 5, but after that I made a point of grabbing a cup of water or sports drink (ends up being 2-4 oz depending on how efficient you are at grabbing and drinking from a dixie cup on the run) from each aid station to pracice receiving a hand off on the move. My third goal was to getting one more long mental effort. I find that one of the biggest hurdles to ultra running is getting mentally prepared for the push in the late stages of the race. I find that having recent exposure to this pays off. With Lake Sonoma being over 7 hours and Mendocino being just under 4 hours I already had some ground work layed, but one more hard push over 2 hours felt right and the SLO Marathon delivered.

SLO Collage.jpgPhoto Credit: Luiza Gomes (left) and Luis Escobar (middle and right)

I found my second real approach to peaking using races as workouts to be really enjoyable. You definitely walk a fine line in risking the desire to push harder than planned given the race atmosphere and potentially neglect the right amount of recovery, but if you hold yourself accountable to what your goals are at each event then they become much more rewarding and meaningful training stimulus than setting up a workout from home. The ability to be active in the communtiy and enjoy some really cool events adds greatly to it. I have found it to often introduces me to an area that I otherwise may have not sought out.