The end of the taper

It is two days from the end of my taper for the Robin Hood half-marathon on Sunday.  Tomorrow will be a rest day.  On Saturday I will run about 4 Km easily, including several short stride-outs at estimated race effort to dispel any of the sluggishness that can develop during rest days, and consolidate the neuromuscular coordination required for racing.

I am pleased with how my legs have responded to the taper.  In the final few weeks of training I had been disappointed by the fact that I found it difficult to achieve pace anywhere near a reasonable race pace during tempo runs.  I hoped that this was due at least in part to chronic tiredness of my leg muscles, so the main goals of the taper were to allow my legs to recover, while including enough running in the vicinity of race pace to develop the neuromuscular coordination required for racing.

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The figure shows the profile of time spent in each of the training zones over the past three weeks.  Despite a 50%  reduction in training volume I have maintained a near constant proportion of around 25% of training time in the upper aerobic zone, throughout the taper    I have been pleased to discover that whereas two weeks ago a pace of 5 min/Km required an effort somewhat greater than I could imagine sustaining for the HM distance, today, I felt comfortable and fluent at pace of 4:50 /Km.   In part this is surely because my legs are less tried, but I think it is likely that incorporating some faster running, together with two sessions of Pete Magill’s drills, has helped re-awaken the muscle fibres required for racing.

So the taper has produced the intended improvement in fluency.  But what does this tell me about my prospect of maintaining that fluency and pace for the full distance? In several of the long runs during the previous 6 weeks I had planned to maintain a pace near HM race pace for the final few Km.  However, the fastest pace I had achieved in a long run was 5:14 /Km – a pace which would produce a time of  110 minutes for the HM.  The evidence from the short runs during the taper suggests that I can do substantially better than 110 minutes, but there is no way in which I can answer the  question of how my legs will cope with the full 21.1 Km distance, in advance of the race itself.

So planning a sensible pace for Sunday is still tricky.  If I start at around 4:50 pace, it is not clear how long I would be able to maintain that pace.  Commonsense dictates that if my goal is to maximise my chance of recording a ‘creditable’ time, I should start at around 5 min/Km pace or even a little slower, and hope that I can run a negative split to get me to the finish in around 104-105 minutes.   However, somewhere deeper in the intuitive recesses of my brain, where less tangible evidence based on my running history is weighed up alongside the numerical data recorded in recent training runs, I believe that I can run a time faster than 104 minutes.  Therefore, provided I feel comfortable after I have emerged from the initial melee of the massed start, I will abandon rationality and prudence, and let the intuitive recesses of my brain set the pace. I will trust that these intuitive reaches of the brain will weigh up the various non-conscious feed-back signals from my body together with subliminal memories from the past in way that allows me to extract the maximum performance that my body is capable of achieving.  In the end, it will be my body rather than the stop-watch that tells me whether or not I have run a well-judged race.

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8 Responses to “The end of the taper”

  1. Ewen Says:

    Canute, good to read that the taper has produced those improvements and given you the confidence that you’ll run a ‘credible’ time in the Robin Hood Half. It’s interesting that your leg muscles have recovered from the chronic tiredness. Looking beyond the half-marathon, I’m wondering if this could point to a possible training pattern. Perhaps alternating 2 weeks of low mileage including faster running & drills with 2 weeks of higher mileage lower HR running? So recovery is built-in to the plan, as is stimulation from the variation.

    I think the ‘run by feel’ (no looking at the watch) method I’ve employed in recent races could serve you well. Of course, there is a danger that race-day freshness might see your legs producing an overly fast start. A compromise could be to watch splits for the first km or two then run by feel.

    • canute1 Says:

      Ewen,

      Thanks. It is an interesting suggestion to alternate between high volume and fast running on a two week cycle. Lydiard considered that the benefits of base-building were locked-in for the season once the speed work started, which might be an argument against repeatedly going back to base-building. However, while at least some evidence indicates that the acidosis generated at anaerobic paces might limit the further development of aerobic capacity during that session, I am not aware of any evidence that indicates the anaerobic sessions one week can inhibit aerobic development the next, so there might not be a problem with repeatedly going back to base-building.

      My experience of the past six months is that I get progressively exhausted by sustained high volume training (even 70-80 Km/week left me very tired) so it is almost certain that periodization with a relatively rapid alternation of cycles would suit me better. However I think cycles somewhat longer than two weeks might be preferable, to provide scope for progression within each cycle. At present I am thinking about 5 week cycles. For example, 5 weeks of increasing volume of predominantly low aerobic running (including an increasing length of long run) in successive weeks; followed by 5 weeks in which I do speed work together with steadily progressive lifting of free weights. The speed work would not be taxing but instead would be oriented towards incorporating the benefits of increased strength into running action. For example, I might include easy sessions with drills and stride-outs, or fairly easy tempo sessions. It would be interesting see what carry-over there is from one 5 week cycle to the next cycle of the same type.

      Yes, I agree I need to avoid an over-energetic start on Sunday. Provided my mild asthma does not intervene, I am fairly good at estimating upper aerobic effort on the basis of depth and frequency of breathing. I can maintain steady breathing at a rate of one breath every six steps for a period of several hours with little difficulty. I can sense this rhythm without the need to actually count the steps. At least in the first few miles I will aim for one breath every 6 steps, but might increase to an effort requiring a faster breathing rate after half-way if I feel OK. I will probably also check my watch from time to time, but provided the watch confirms that I am not unreasonably fast, I will rely on ‘feel’. This might be a bit risky, but I am prepared to take that risk.

      • Ewen Says:

        Yes, blocks of 5 weeks might work well. I’m trying to think of a system that would reduce the chance of chronic tiredness/fatigue that often happens with large (12+ weeks) blocks of high mileage base-building. I think especially a danger for older runners (who also need to ‘stay in touch’ with strength/speed). I would have the low volume weeks as not containing any highly anaerobic running, just 5 or 10k race-paced intervals, drills, short hills, ‘aerobic’ hill repeats, sprint work & short tempo runs. If I used 3-block weeks I could monitor each block to the previous similar one and see how I was progressing.

    • canute1 Says:

      Ewen

      I agree that the speed blocks should not be taxing, with the emphasis on the pace one’s preferred races, though I would probably add some faster down-hill strides, as I am interested to see if I can produce a significant recovery of sprinting speed, even though this is only minimally related to my goal of running a good marathon. As for three weeks v five, I think a lot would depend on what produces the most effective carry-over from block to the next block of the same type. This depends on the rate of loss of a particular aspect of fitness. With five week alternation, one might start each new block with a fairly easy week, but I am not sure where the esy weeks would be built into a 3 week alternation – perhaps they would not be necessary at all if the speed blocks were not taxing.

  2. Thomas Says:

    Good luck!

  3. Robert Osfield Says:

    Knowing what time you are capable of is very hard to guess, I’m going through this same process right now with trying to work out what pace/intensity level to use for the Kielder Marathon in 8 days time. With a half marathon I think there is more leeway in pacing as your are unlikely to run out carbs in the last few miles so it’s more a matter of managing fatigue, or more specifically not accumulating fatigue at rate that will erode your pace in the last miles.

    If you had run more races recently you’d have a better feel at just what intensity you can handle, in absence of this I would suggest your tempo runs are probably the next best source of information given that the half marathon is run a just a bit slower than threshold pace. You don’t seem to want to use this as it isn’t fast enough as you have a nice round number in your head that is enticing you.

    I would be wary of this temptation though, last year I ran the Kielder Marathon on the back of training on the bike and very small amount of running and couldn’t bring myself to aim for the type of pace that my training was suggesting that was sensible. Instead in my heart I still wanted to do the time I knew I could do if I was fully fit rather than coming back from injury. Race day adrenalin kicked in on the day I ran the first 10k several minutes faster than my more sensible (but in hindsight still unrealistic schedule) and went through the half marathon point in 1:39 which was still on target for my widely optimistic time of 3:20. I had tried to hold myself back but for that first half I felt good.

    Things started to unravel at 15 miles, and the wheels had totally come off my 19 miles, and was walking all the final hills and struggling to shuffle along on the flat and downhills. The last half marathon took me 2:16 and the suffering throughout my body was etched deep.

    In hindsight looking at my training results it would have been more sensible for me to aim for a 3:45 time and if I had stuck to the ~8:30 pace required for he first half I’m sure my muscles wouldn’t have self destructed like they did and would have achieved something closer to this time rather than the 3:55 that I ended up with.

    I mention this as a cautionary tale. The half marathon won’t be quite as critical to getting the early pace right but I feel it’s still long enough to reward being cautious in the first half. Running by feel is good, but with the adrenalin of race day and having so many runners and supporters around it can be easy to be caught up and not gauge the perceived effort level vs actual effort level perfectly.

    One thing I’ve found useful in defusing some of the pre race anxiety/over excitement is have other near term races in the pipeline so I don’t get too hung up on on just one performance. If you had another half marathon in a month or two then you’d be able to view this one as a build up and one which to explore just where you are physically.

    Good luck 😉

  4. canute1 Says:

    Robert,

    You are absolutely right. The sensible thing would be to be guided by recent tempo paces. However I am prepared to take a bit of a risk. I think that my recent tempo paces were substantially impeded by the tiredness of my legs. As you point out, the risk in a HM is not as serious as in a marathon, and if by halfway I realise that I have over-cooked the pace I can slacken off a bit without fear of hitting the marathon wall. However, I do know from past experience that the final few Km of a HM can be painful, so my strategy is risky.

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