Monday, 7 July 2014

Pre race blues!

What's the race?

I've had a busy few months training and getting my body in shape for a tumultuous weekend ahead. I'm going to drag my body around 117km of road and trail over Saturday and Sunday morning. The event is the Stone Mad Ultra and the distance is split between running 62km on the first morning and 55km the following morning which, includes running up and down mount Leinster.

The training started as the year did in early January. My average speed while running in zone 2 was about 5min24sec per kilometer. The goal for January was to increase my lactate threshold and therefore increase the average speed while main instating a steady heart rate in zone 2.

The following months goal was quite simple, increase the average distance week on week, month on month. Training went well. Most weeks I was able to increase my distance very slowly and gradually. That's the key to building distance and staying injury free. 

I've only had one very minor injury so far this year. In late February while doing a speed session with my running club I jumped a puddle of water roughly about 2m wide. I landed down on my left foot and felt a twinge in my calf muscle instantaneously. We were doing 8x200m repeats and this happened on number 6. I tried to remain optimistic and attempted to keep pace on number 7. The pain was obvious but not too bad. I slowed up and jogged the remainder of the session.
The following morning it felt OK, I ran 10k that afternoon, it was fine during the run but quite sore after. I used active rest (biking) for 2 days and returned to training on the Sunday morning with a long run. I had no pain and was fully recovered.
I attribute my fast recovery to a plant based diet. 

As the months unfolded my body got stronger and stronger. I noticed the little bit of speed I once had in my leg muscle was slowly dwindling away. My training was mostly long and slow and the emphasis was on developing slow twitch muscle fibres, generating more mitochondria and opening new vascular pathways to aid fuel supply to muscles and excretion of waste products such as lactic acid.
As my long runs got longer and longer I began to feel stronger later on in the run. 2 weeks ago while doing a 42 km run I felt tired for the first 10 km. Then almost miraculously after 10 km my body seemed to switch and every kilometer of the remaining 32 km I felt stronger and stronger. 

All the real running is done and I'm in taper mode now. For a race like an ultra marathon, or Ironman triathlon a taper session begins about 2 weeks before the event. I understand the benefit of taper periods, I do however, struggle to stay restless during this time. The goal of a taper period is to keep the body stable at the fitness level you had reached while also allowing it to rest and recover a bit more than you have over the months leading up to the race. It's a tricky period but essential for feeling fresh on race day if done correct. 
I like to cross-train during a taper period and since I've only been running, I can use my bike to maintain my fitness while allowing the usual running muscles to rest up. 

I'm in week one of my taper period and I feel a bit flat and sluggish while running. This is a worry and it's also a very common occurrence. I call this Pre race blues!

I'm hoping that next week I feel a bit better. Since I've eased off the running my body feels a bit weird. I'm one of those people who feels guilty when I'm not out pounding the pavement. I suppose most people feel that way and we always see the self doubt in ourselves and assume that everybody else is feeling great all the time. I know I do!

"You have to wonder at times what you're doing out there. Over the years, I've given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to the self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement." Steve Prefontaine

There are lots of differing thoughts and explanations on why we get Pre race blues during taper week. I'm not entirely sure that there is ever one real cause but I do believe this,

When exercising at a fairly high volume and for a prolonged period of time your body produces and releases a hormone called endorphins. Endorphins make you feel good and gives you a high or energised feeling after training (if you are a low carb guy and you destroy your body during every session I doubt you'll ever really feel the endorphin affect due to thyroid dysfunction.)
During a taper period the endorphin level will drop due to exercise volume drop. We do this to allow the body repairs the micro damage accumulated from progressive over load. Now we have an unbalanced hormonal system which, will take a few days to re-balance or return to homeostasis. A high functioning thyroid gland is essential for hormonal homeostasis. This period will make you feel really,,, Shitty for a day or two, or three!
Then as your hormones return to a balanced level you should start to feel really good. I start to get a little jumpy and restless during this short period before the race. The best way to describe it is, feeling like a wound up spring, ready to release some energy.

It is essential to do some sort of specific training (in my case running) during this period. However, you don't want that training to over load or stress your muscles to a point of micro trauma. If you do you run the risk of not recovering in time for your event and therefore not being 100% come race day. You also don't want to spend too much time being in-active because this will cause the closure of vascular pathways and the cessation of functioning mitochondria. Both of these scenarios will cause below par performance come race day!

I wrote this a few days ago and omitted to post it on the day I wrote it. It is now a few days later and I'm feeling really good, ready to race and injury free.  

Run far, run fast but most of all RunSensible!

@RunSensible on twitter