Thursday, February 14, 2013

More on LSD in Ultra Training

It looks like my last post on long, slow distance (aka, "LSD") training for ultras set off a veritable firestorm, relatively speaking. In the spirit of continuous improvement and challenging even my own assumptions (I like to go fast), I'm going to go deeper into my thought process, at the risk of offending those who think the very thought of LSD is akin to blasphemy and idiocy.

When you train for a marathon, usually you have a goal time in mind. If that goal is 2:59, then that means you need to train a lot at 6:50 pace--with many long runs hitting that pace. The more volume you can put in at 6:50 pace, the more prepared you will be for 26.2 miles. Goal-pace training is a big part of what we refer to as specificity.

But specificity is about more than goal-pace training. It's also about preparing yourself for the conditions and contours of the course. If the course has hills, like what you find in Boston, then you'd better put in some time on ups and downs. If your race is likely going to be in the heat, then you'd better be ready for that. Etc., etc.

I think that, in many respects, the principles of successful marathoning are fairly well established, even as new understandings come about regularly. It's a safe bet that Renato Canova, Jack Daniels, Brad Hudson and others are onto something.

Like many, I do not think the same principles that guide successful marathoning necessarily apply to racing 100-milers, especially 100-milers of the mountainous, high-altitude variety. Hundred-milers require a lot of mental toughness, but they also require a lot of physical preparation. You have to run a ton in your training, and it's best if most of your training is in the same conditions and environment as the race itself. Ah, but proper pacing is also critical.

Let's go back to the marathon. If your goal is a 2:59, then it's probably best that you attack that goal with relatively even splits the whole way. You wouldn't want to go out and do the first half in 1:25 if you'd trained specifically for a 2:59. To do so would be to risk blowing up.

Especially in mountain 100s, oftentimes we see huge variations in splits between the first half and the second half. The Leadville 100 is Exhibit A for this phenomenon. It takes a special (and smart) Leadville runner to do a negative split on that course (unless they were totally sand-bagging it for the first 50 miles). In 2011, when I ran a rather decent 22:35, my first-half split was in the neighborhood of 9:15 (11:06/mile, including stops), meaning it took me 13:20 (16:00/mile) to do the second half.

In 2009, I won a 100-mile race in the last 20 miles because I'd started conservatively enough to save my energy for a strong final push.

What if I'd run the first half of Leadville in 2011 in, say, a time of 10:00 or 10:30 (~12:00-12:30/mile including stops)? Would a slower start have allowed me to have a stronger second half? Ah, perhaps we have an example to work from!

At the 2012 Leadville 100, the runner who, in my opinion, executed the smartest race was Brandon Stapanowich, a young up-and-comer from Colorado Springs who has a very bright future in the sport. Brandon, who, unlike me, has a lot of talent and brains, finished the race in a very impressive 19:32, which was good for seventh overall. But that's not what most impresses me. What most impresses me is the intelligence behind Brandon's race strategy. Guess what his first-half split was? It was 9:06. He went into Mayqueen, the 13.5-mile mark, in a rather pedestrian 1:57. As many of us know, Brandon could have run to Mayqueen and covered the first half a lot faster than he ultimately did last August. Instead, he chose a conservative first-half approach, which then helped set the table for an impressive second-half split. I also think Brandon arranged his approach around the fact that he's a super strong climber, which helped him excel at the Hope Pass and Powerline sections. To wit: I believe he was the only top finisher whose return trip on Hope was faster than his outbound. So, it's quite obvious that Brandon held back a bit in the first half, and then decided to up his intensity in the second half.

While some of the guys in front of Brandon may have run faster second halves, few achieved a more consistently paced first and second half.

When I think about running 100s, it seems to me that proper pacing, like what we see in Brandon's 2012 Leadville 100, is critical. Does it make sense to go out in a 100 at 8:00/mile pace, when deep down you know you're not going to be able to hold that pace in the end? Or, does it make better sense to go out at, say, 10:00/mile pace and save energy that you'll need in the end? A 100-miler doesn't have to end in a death march to the finish. If one paces themselves correctly, one can stay strong from start to finish. Herein lies my own $60,000 question: What is the ideal pace for me in a 100 like Leadville? And by ideal pace I mean the pace at which I achieve optimal efficiency. Is my optimal pace the pace I purposely train at for months, or is it some arbitrary pacing schedule I choose on race day?

Again, in 2011 I ran a 9:15 first half and a 13:20 second half at Leadville, clearly a larger than ideal separation. What if I'd come into Winfield in 10 hours rather than 9:15. Would my second half have then been much faster than 13:20 since I'd held back even more for the first 50 miles? Could I have maybe run the second half in 11 hours or 11:30 instead of 13:20? Which begs the question: Does it make better sense to train a lot at that pace (about 10:00-11:00/mile) rather than at 7:00 or 8:00 pace? For me, being a guy who likes to run fast, it's hard to imagine training at paces that slow, but maybe doing so, along with plenty of exposure to the Leadville course itself (which I'm going to get this summer), would enable my body to achieve super efficiency--a level of efficiency I've never had in 100s.

It's good to ask these questions in February, when my training hasn't really begun. Questions are good. It's healthy to probe deeply into one's training habits, because there are almost always better ways to do things. My search for those better ways continues.


  1. I think one option for your Leadville pacing question may be in walk/run breaks. If running a 10 minute mile in the first half is just unnatural and not efficient for you, then run 8 minute miles, or whatever feels good but not hard. Then take walking breaks every couple miles.

    PS: I hate the robot verification. It took four of them this time before I could discern the right combination of letters and numbers to read.

  2. Second that robot verification is not necessary if you are approving comments.

    This is a different question (at least in my eyes) than what you initially asked or postulated. Your initial question was really if training at 12 minute pace was the specificity required to prepare for the Leadville 100. I think we are in agreement that it is not.

    Your question now is what is the best pace to go out at, and subsequently look to maintain to get a sub 20 at Leadville. I see that as a different question and a better one. I can empathize with that one as my one 100 mile experience is similar to yours - blowing up in the second 50, and particularly in the last 30.

    I think the best way to determine what a sub 20 pace is to look at the charts that are out there of those that have done that. I believe it is dialed in for all the major sections.

    Then to your point of specificity - practice those paces as part of a more comprehensive training program on the course.

  3. Tina Lewis ran a faster return than Brandon. She ran slower out to Winfield than the top 16 finishers (that's only as far as I looked, so could be more). She ran one of the best races of the day. She trains about 3 days per week.

    My favorite part of 100s is that there is no placing plan that really works. So, there's no really training pace that's best. You train for each race individually. Marathon training is pretty much marathon training, whether it's boston, chicago, or new york. I watched that speedy New Zealand dude (big hype before the race with video crew, 20 coaches, and all - yet I can't remember his name) run like a smooth gazelle out to Hope Pass and then pop like a truck hit him on the climb. You know he was trained to his potential for the race with tons of miles and strength runs but not to run past 50 miles with strong competition (that's in the head).

    I guess my point is that 100s are as much about mental prep as physical. I don't care what pace you run in training or how many miles you do, if you don't put yourself through some miserable runs that are identical to what you'll face in the event, then you'll probably be weak in the race.

    In other words, specific to Wyatt, jogging around Parker, CO 100 miles a week won't get you sub 20 at Leadville.

  4. I enjoy this line of thinking you are going through. Keep it up.

    My thoughts on training are generally this: Be grounded with lots and lots of aerobic training. Lots of low heart rate easy running. I absolutely LOVE Lucho's philosophy about getting as fast as possible at your LT heart rate minus 20 bpm. In other words, get speedy and fit in your aerobic zone. But at some point, even as an ultra runner, you need to add quality. You need to teach your body to push out those LT and anaerobic zones and sustain in them without fatigue. And you need to learn to shift quickly from high HR zones back down into moderate ones. There will be times in an ultra when you push hard, and you need to recover quickly. What paces those aerobic zones equate to depends on the runner and the course.

    As for strategy in an ultra, that is so difficult and depends on numerous factors. I will say that what I plan to experiment with is a sort of three phase strategy. Phase I would be an approach where I try and take the first 15 - 20% of the race pretty easy, but not ridiculously easy either. Really allow my body to warm up and get firmly entrenched in the aerobic zone while I am still fresh. Phase II would be the middle 50 - 60 percent where I hope to work my butt off while continuing good nutrition and hydration. And Phase III is anybody's guess. If you are having a good day, try to finish strong. If not, try to keep the wheels on, I guess. I don't have the mileage base you do, so I don't think I can count on even splits or consistent strong finishes. It is inevitable fatigue will set in just do to time on my feet alone. Starting out too slow and only to fatigue and finish slow leads to a poor result.

    My two cents. Keep up the debate, I love reading everyone's thoughts.


  5. Brett: Good point. I used a run-walk strategy at the 2012 Leadville, which as you know I DNF'd. I was running for 8 minutes and then walking for 2 minutes. My wife told me I looked too relaxed out there. I reasoned that proactive walking would result in better strength in the second half. I don't think my knee issue, which led to my DNF, was related to my run/walk strategy. I think it was connected to lack of sleep and too many road miles. But I continue to wonder if a run-walk strategy like what you propose is the ticket.

    Also, I've kind of put 20 hours at Leadville behind me. At this point, I just want to finish again wth that big buckle in hand.


  6. Also, thanks Brett and GZ for the feedback on word verification. I've removed it for now. Hopefully I won't get too much spam.

  7. Go out hard. When it hurts, speed up. It's too easy.

    I'm inspired to include lots of Jack Daniels and LSD in my Hardrock training. I'll let you know how that works out.

    And Stap has no brains. An elliptical marathon? Get out of town.

    Seriously though, I thought I heard the proper split for a fast hundy is 40% for the first fifty and 60% for the final fifty. Remember the last half usually includes night running which also slows you down.

  8. JT nails it above, an obvious penalty of night-time and sheer increased probability that something will happen to slow you down along the way, but otherwise aiming for closer to even splits.

    "But I also realize that some people don't want to question what they do, because they want to believe their way is the right way. "
    That's an odd comment, Wyatt, because everyone that commented in the previous thread, IMHO, enjoys mixing things up, experimenting, and appreciates different ways of training -- that's exactly why we're on these blogs.

    Respectfully, in regard to the vast majority of marathon training plans, I think the 2nd paragraph regarding MP training runs is still fundamentally inaccurate.

  9. I am sort of not sure where you are going with this anymore.

    I think you trying to determine the best pace for you to achieve a goal at Leadville and then back your training plan into that.

    I don't think an average pace for the Leadville race goal is the path to that plan. That sort of approach might work for a marathon because of the now typical uniform nature of those sort of courses, and the fact that they are 1/4 the distance.

    I do agree that smart and appropriate pacing will be more LIKELY (but not a guarantee) to lead to greater success if you are appropriately trained. And certainly I agree that for a 100, that is based more on a volume-is-important-get-the-long-run-in-every-week then worrying about what your 400s or mile repeats are gonna be.

    But I think that if you just train at MAF or LSD exclusively to prepare your LT pace will slow to where (hypothetically I guess) they become nearly one and the same. That would be a problem probably at all race distances - right?

    But hell, convince me. If you went with the average pace specificity thing all the time, and it worked, I'd be cheering for you just as loud as if some other method worked.

  10. This is why I love the 100 mile game. Sure a lot of people have run it but has anyone REALLY figured it out? In my mind splits, pace, all of that is important but then again not. I mean that the race truly doesn't start till mile 60 really, because until mile 60 all that is happening is qualifying in a sense, regardless of what part of the pack you are in. Just my oversimplified view of it all. Focus on "simple."

    I read somewhere that you just can't train to run 100 miles. At least not by running 100 miles. When I used to "just" do marathons my longest runs were two 20 milers like three weeks out from the race. If I were to translate that to 100 miles I'd be doing back back 76 mile weekends approximately and no way would I be able to recover either between the workouts and more than likely not before the race. Anyway...

    Great subject Wyatt! I am a huge fan of the LSD run, the MSD run and the SSD run... cause all of my stuff is slow! :)

  11. Sure, if you plan on doing 100mile training runs, than carry the 100mi pace. Otherwise, inevitably you will be slower on race day, when the distance increases substantially beyond what you train at.

    I don't really think you can apply marathon split time training to ultras, because its a whole different animal. The fatigue factor comes into play. Your sustainable speed over a "short" marathon, will be much closer to what your maximum min/mi times would be, and in fact its possible you will be faster than the pace you trained at due to being psychologically pumped during the event. Where as an ultra, good luck maintaining the pace of your usual long run, but now over 100miles. Obviously slowing down to put in large mileage has its place in training, but to focus on that, there seems to be the likelyhood that you will just slow yourself down for race day.

    Train your body to run 30miles at a 10min/mi pace, and on race day you will pull 12min/mi splits over the 100mi course.

    Maybe hold a 100mi pace, during a long run, if you decide to wear a weight vest or "elevation" mask to induce a little more fatigue and effort at that pace, like you will be feeling on race day.