I wouldn’t usually blog about training ahead of a race since it’s rather useless if I fail to finish the said race, particularly as my DNFs at my last two (respectively the longest road run and longest mountain trail run I’ve ever attempted) were primarily due not to lack of training but misguided training. Hence calling on a professional to draft a training plan for the GUCR, hence the blogging about it since presumably it should get me to the start in proper shape and then it’s just up to me... But I want to be able to read back whatever the result and see what my thoughts and impressions were at the time, untainted by hindsight, since I think it can help me in the future.
So these past four weeks have been a gradual build-up of mileage, but still well within reasonable amounts even for me (from 52km/32.5 miles first week to 64km/40 miles 4th week), primarily focused on intensity and running efficiency. Five runs a week; two at medium comfortable pace, one of which includes 5mn up to 20mn tempo at just over marathon pace; short intervals at 5k pace of increasing time; a longish run that includes longer intervals at 10k pace (I think, at least that’s how it feels – apparently on paper it’s supposed to be close to marathon pace, but ha!), and a not-yet-very-long run a slow-poke race.
All in all I’m feeling pleasantly and manageably fatigued, which I think is the perfect state to be in. The training is specifically targeted to my weaknesses, which is the ability to sustain a higher speed for a longer (increase endurance fitness) and lock into a slow race pace that I should presumably be able ultimately to sustain for hours on end (running efficiency). And it’s working: the tempo runs have become quite pleasant; the longer intervals which I dread have become easier (especially when there’s no ice and snow to watch out for!); and the slow race pace run (approx 8km/h, 5mph) feels weird, which means it's good to be working at it now! And the niggles that always appear when I start on a new training regimen have disappeared without any type of injury (stretching and foam rolling have helped!). I haven’t kept up with the strength and core training that I’d been doing in November-December (but it wasn’t mentioned in the training plan and I’m lazy…)
So I’m not exhausted but am looking forward to the 5th week which is for recovery – I think I’m looking at about 40km/25 miles approximately, and only short intervals and long intervals for intensity. I’ve been wondering a bit about the low mileage but how I feel physically and the improvements I have seen already are, to me, a better indication of the training’s effect on me, and it will certainly avoid burning out too fast mentally with over-strenuous miles to fit in a busy lifestyle.
Besides, as Stuart Mills says in his excellent article on training for ultras, what's important is expectations - and this is why I turned to a professional: to remove any negative thoughts related to my training. I didn't want to find myself suffering at the GUCR and doubting my training and therefore using that as an excuse to quit. I fully expect to be properly prepared for this, so when the time comes there will be no doubts in my mind and I'll just have to buckle down and get the job done.
For that, of course, I have to trust the professional, and in this case I do: French ultra marathoner Bruno Heubi, who boasts a 6h 51'25" finishing time for 100km, 242.3km at a 24h timed race, and 2nd place at the 2008 Transe Gaule race across France (1,156km in 99h, or 11.67km/h, 7.3mph average!). Training plan and weekly feedback for a very reasonable price. And even in four weeks I can feel that I am being "race focus" trained.
In any case, it’s going to ramp up in the next four weeks, both in mileage and intensity, with longer short intervals, faster long intervals, and a long Sunday run extending to over 2h. Also, I’m quite amused by the fact that the next 5th recovery week will include my first race of the season, the Marseilles marathon – which of course must be run at GUCR race pace (starting race pace), which means about a 5h15-5h30 finish. Thankfully I’m doing it with an undertrained friend, so I won’t risk going too fast and compromising the following week of training.