It’s been awhile since I posted an ultrarunning article. This one was inspired by a 34 mile training run with Jesse Scott. We’re training for the Mind the Ducks 12 12 Hour ultra in Rochester, NY on May 14th. To help prepare us trail runners prepare for half a day on asphalt, we did this run on a paved bike path.
At about mile 20, Jesse decided to mix things up a bit by adding the occasional “speed up.” At a specific landmark, we’d essentially start sprinting until we reached another landmark. The distances varied from about 50 meters to 100 meters or so. Our pace throughout the run was in the ballpark of 9-9:45 minute miles; the sprint pace was probably about 5:15 for Jesse and 6:40 for me. It was a good method to add interest to an otherwise torturous run.
I noticed something else, too. Even though it was tough to initiate the sprint, the sprint itself felt shockingly good. After we slowed down, my muscles felt loose and free. I was able to cruise at a faster pace. My mood improved. I was shocked that I felt great, even after 20+ miles on roads. We ended up doing seven or eight of these “speed ups” in fairly rapids succession.
Between speed ups, we talked about the typical walking strategy used in ultras. Many runners will begin walking at a very early pace to conserve energy to perform better later in the race. I tried this strategy in my early ultra days but found it didn’t work for me. I slowed my overall pace to the point where cut-offs became an issue. It also didn’t seem to delay the point of extreme fatigue.
I found a more effective strategy was to run as long as I could, then add walk breaks when necessary. Note- I walk uphills the entire course for anything over a 50k. This resulted in a pretty good improvement in finish times.
I still had a problem, though. Once I started walking, the transition from running to walking and back would be painful. I didn’t get much relief from walking, and it killed my pace once I started running again. In essence, walking made me feel worse.
After this last experiment with speed ups, I think I may try implementing this in my races. Instead of walking, I will try speeding up instead of taking walk breaks. I have to find the ideal ratio of speed ups. Jesse and I did one about every half mile, which was far too often. I may start at every 2-3 miles and observe the results. It defies conventional wisdom, but I’ve had a great deal of success doing the opposite of everybody else.
Logic seems to predict this idea will be an abysmal failure. It would seem as though the strategy would be excessively taxing on your body. Or would it? From a physiological standpoint, I can’t hypothesize what effects this has. Would the net effects be better or worse?
My optimism toward this strategy stems from seeing it in action. The strategy has worked very well for Jesse. During the Woodstock 50 miler, he dramatically sped up whenever he hit gravel roads. He won the race by about an hour. I also cannot deny the effect it had on our run. I felt MUCH better after our speedup than after stopping to eat.
Two questions to you:
1. Do you use a run/walk strategy in races and what are the results?
2. What do you think of the “speed up” idea?