Tag Archives: racing

Rotterdam Marathon – how to piggyback on your partner’s achievements

Besides being reassigned to kitchen responsibilities, another benefit that (alpha?) male gets from his faster female partner are free entries to races. Having such luck, my girlfriend Žana’s marathon personal best enabled her to get an invitation to 2014 Rotterdam marathon. And on preposition, that I would be pacing her, I managed to piggyback on her achievements and get a “pace-maker invitation”. Rotterdam marathon was chosen for its wonderfully fast course, on which I set the household marathon record exactly 3 years ago. Those were the days of 3-day carbo-loading, low-fat milk and plasma cookies. Good times!

Leaving nothing to chance: in-room meal preparation!

Leaving nothing to chance: in-room meal preparation!

Much have changed for me since then though, as “specializing” for Ironman triathlons meant exchanging quite a bit of speed for muscular endurance. Substantial change was on the nutrition side as well, living Low Carb High Fat for the last 16 months. Žana made even greater progress in her endurance foray, running 3:10 in 2011, participating in marathon in 2012 London Olympics and setting her marathon PB last year with 2:38:59. Her skeptical attitude coupled with my “pleasant” side effects of ketogenic miss-adventure (i.e. depression, lack of motivation and generally not-nice-to-be-around behavior) delayed her entry into Low Carb world. Though I didn’t push her, she made a choice to go gluten-free in the second part of 2013, while still adding carbs to the meals we were eating together. And after the end of the season, she started going Low(er) Carb, which meant eating the same main meals as me while still retaining some carbs in her diet in the form of fruit before and/or after harder runs. Eating a lot more healthy fats, she leaned out quite substantially, though she never had any weight problems. Her performance improved in trainings and B-level races as well.

My Saturday Low Carb launch (cooked bovine tongue, sardines, hard boiled eggs, cheese and olive oil)

My Saturday Low Carb launch (cooked bovine tongue, sardines, hard boiled eggs, cheese and olive oil)

Training went well for her over the winter and in early spring, so the spirit was high leading to Rotterdam. The only question that bothered me was, how long I was going to last.

The arrival to Rotterdam was hassle free, with organized transfer to race hotel. After some unpleasant experience with hotel meals at one of last year’s marathons, we brought all our food and portable stove to Rotterdam. Therefore the meals were a bit improvised, but high quality nonetheless.

My carbo loading meal (banana & peach & cottage cheese & full fat cream & maltodextrin)

My carbo loading meal (banana & peach & cottage cheese & full fat cream & maltodextrin)

On Friday evening I started my usual carbo-loading protocol, being in quite heavy training through the week on only around 120 g of carbs per day. So a 170 g carb dinner in the form of banana & peach & cottage cheese & cream & maltodextrin was a full blown desert for me. On day before marathon I continued to carbo-load with fruit, maltodextrin and full-fat dairy products, consuming a total of 400 g of carbs. On Saturday we also had a short run with few strides and in the afternoon was time for race briefing. Needless to say, I felt a bit strange surrounded with African runners with PBs in the range of 2:0x. Kind of like a black swan 😉 

My race equipment

My race equipment

Organization was top notch. Even pace makers received their own drinking bottles, all transfers to start and back to hotel were organized, each participant had his own bed in a center right near the start, and there were no waiting lines for toilets. I could certainly get used to doing marathons in such manner!

Though, when we walked to the starting lines on the next morning with all those top African runners I felt a bit strange. But I got a fair share of “discrimination” in pro-warm-up area, where I was asked for my bib-number twice! In such situations it would be better if my skin wasn’t white 😉

Race briefing

Race briefing

We both started just after the first line super-fast athletes and the first kilometers flew by in set tempo. Žana’s plan was to run under 2:37, which meant a 3:43 per km. My plan was to pace her for as long as I could, hopefully to at least 27th km, as the difficult part was from 23 – 27th km into full headwind over a big bridge. Opening kilometers flew by and the half marathon mark came in 1:18 flat, which meant we were (or better, she was) around 30s under the plan, so all was OK. From then on, I started to suffer progressively, showing lack of appropriate marathon training and also knowing, that the hard part was still ahead. I really worked hard to stay in front of Žana from 23 km on, going well into my red zone into headwind and over the bridge. After 26th km I was in survival mode, and just before 28th km, when seeing how strongly she ran, I called an end to my pace making duties. I barely managed a few encouraging words before she was out of my sight.

Resting areas 300 m from the start

Resting areas 300 m from the start

The last 14 km seemed like eternity for me and running through less populated districts of Rotterdam certainly didn’t help. The atmosphere before the finish lifted my spirit a couple of notches and made me forget about my tired legs so the relief at the finish line was quite substantial.

Back at the race center I found Žana in all smiles, running a PB of 2:35:55! She managed a negative split for a second half (1:18:01 + 1:17:54), so she finished very strong, still feeling good after I dropped off. And that time meant that my 3 year old household marathon record was trashed! Finally! Needless to say, we were both happy!

We were not so pleased about drug testing, the second time for her in Rotterdam. Being tested on a day before the race, she got “lucky” again as a random pick after the race. It’s not easy to provide a urine sample after a marathon, believe me!

Post marathon recovery meal

Post marathon recovery meal

After the test it was time to get to hotel for a dinner with, unfortunately, not many non-gluten choices. Though lasagna and sandwiches were very appealing, I ate hard boiled eggs, cheese and roasted ham. Not an optimal meal, but who would complain after such a perfect day!

To round up the voyage, I must emphasize two important points learned along the way. First of all, I am more and more impressed on the way she ran the whole marathon. If I ever saw a perfect realization of hard training, this would be it, as indicated by her splits bellow. Her consistent pace from 25 km on, when the marathon really starts is very promising for future races. She consumed only one and a half sport gels and never faded, which is quite contrary to what happened to me back in 2011. This only confirmed my prior belief, that the importance of even pacing throughout the marathon is vital for optimal result.

Split time comparison of current (left, hers) and previous (right, mine) household marathon records

Split time comparison of current (left, hers) and previous (right, mine) household marathon records

The other lesson we learned is that preparing your own food is worth of extra hassle. Although the food at the hotel was probably top quality, it is still better to fuel yourself with food your body is used to. Gastric issues are really the last thing you want to encounter on 30 km with no toilets around!

So all in all, I am very happy and proud to hand over the household marathon record! And looking forward to spending (even) more time in the kitchen 🙂

Good times ahead!

Happy!

Happy!

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Training Low

Carbohydrates are undisputedly ergogenic aids for endurance exercise training. There basically isn’t a single study out there that shows a negative effect of carbs on performance. So when going Low carb in training period, your training performance will suffer, either in volume, intensity or RPE (rating of perceived exertion). I finally managed to perform an analysis of my key training periods before Hawaii Ironman triathlon 2012 (High Carb) and before Hawaii 2013 (Low Carb), that confirmed my initial observations and findings from scientific literature.

I compared the last 14 weeks of training heading into Hawaii Ironman in 2012 or 2013 (three 4-week training blocks + 2-week taper), as this is considered the most important training period before Ironman race. In 2012 I was still on “traditional endurance” High Carb diet, in accordance with all guidelines and with no junk food. For 2013 season I changed to Low Carb nutrition at the start of the year, so the compared period in 2013 was well after adaptation to new nutrition (i.e. 8 months after the switch to Low Carb).

VOLUME COMPARISON

The first (and easiest) comparison is of course the volume of training, represented in km or hours.

B01101 Volume comparison

The numbers speak for themselves, as 11% reduction in total training time was hard to overlook even back when I was training for 2013 Hawaii. I averaged 3 h 03 min per day in 2012 and only 2 h 42 min per day in 2013. Only swim volume was greater in 2013, and that was due to broken ribs and arm lacerations in 2012, that limited my ability to swim. Both run (-18%) and bike (-18%) volumes were markedly lower in 2013, in accordance with previous observations, that I just couldn’t train that much. It wasn’t for the lack of time or motivation; it was just the volume that was killing me in 2013.

As far as the sleep goes, I averaged 9,0 hours of sleep per day in 2012 and 8,6 hours in 2013, so no major differences.

WORKOUT TYPE COMPARISON

The volume is only one determinant of training, with quality being probably more important. So the comparison of workout types may provide a better glimpse into changes between my 2012 and 2013 Hawaii preparation period.

B01102 workout type comparison

In running, I did a couple more interval training sessions and a couple of tempo and long distance workouts less in 2013 when compared with 2012. The major difference comes in other run workouts (i.e. recovery runs, “garbage miles”…), that I performed almost one third less in 2013! And the picture is almost identical for bike workouts in 2013, with the numbers of workout types quite similar except of “garbage miles” workouts (approx. one fourth less in 2013). So all in all, the quality of training was more or less comparable between 2012 and 2013, also confirming my initial feelings.

RPE, FATIGUE, WILLINGNESS TO TRAIN

As mentioned before, I also track Rating of perceived exertion, Fatigue and Willingness to train for every session. I assign a 0-9 value to each based on the following index:

Rating of perceived exertion Fatigue Willingness to train
1 – Very light
2
3 – Fairly light
4 – Moderate
5 – Somewhat hard
6 – Hard
7 – Very hard
8
9 – Maximum
1 – Feeling new
2
3 – Rested
4
5 – Average
6
7 – Tired
8
9 –Destroyed
1 – Very High
2
3 – High
4
5 – Average
6
7 – Low
8
9 – Zero

So another possible comparison between years could be based on RPE, Fatigue and Willingness to train criteria. RPE is excellent measure of how hard I went in each session (i.e. intensity) while Fatigue and Willingness to train are good indicators for overtraining status. By comparing these indicators for key workouts, I can get another view of the training quality.

I averaged these indicators for key workouts (i.e. interval, tempo or distance workouts) and for “garbage miles” workouts (i.e. all other).

B01103 RPE, FATIGUE, WILLINGNESS TO TRAIN

When looking through results, no difference appears in “garbage miles” workouts, whether they were run or bike workouts. This would indicate that intensity was the same as well as Fatigue level and Willingness to train. But when looking at averages from key workouts (i.e. intervals, tempos and distance sessions), the most notable difference is RPE, being quite higher in 2013 for both run and bike workouts. While on first thought this would indicate higher intensity and quality of key workouts in 2013, I would most probably ascribe that to typical characteristic of Low Carb training. Namely, for a given workout performed at lower muscle glycogen content (which is the case in Low Carb training) the RPE is higher at the same intensity or power. This fact is well established and proven in scientific literature, as subject always report higher RPE on Low Carb for the same workout intensity in comparison to High Carb.

Also, the track run workouts indicate the above mentioned fact of higher RPE at same pace as well. In 2012 I was performing 10x400m run repeats at 74 sec with average HR 150 bpm and 60 sec rest periods in between, while in 2013 I could only do 77 sec 10x400m repeats with average HR 150 bpm. But on 90 sec rests, so the overall intensity was substantially lower in 2013, albeit at higher RPE!

MY 2013 NUTRITION

Unfortunately, I do not have any nutrition data for the last 14 weeks before 2012 Hawaii when I was training High Carb Low Fat, but I would guesstimate that I was consuming well over 500 g of carbs per day. Probably more in 600 – 700 g region, as only my usual (cereal) breakfasts consisted of more than 200 g of carbs!

I started tracking my nutrition intake in 2013, so I have complete nutrition data for whole year. In last 14 weeks of training for Hawaii in 2013, my average daily carb intake was 199 g on 5.011 kCal consumption.

B01104 average nutrient intake

Average fat intake was 360 g, while protein at 231 g, which means that I got almost 2/3 of my energy from fat! As far as food groups goes, they averaged out as follows.

B01105 average food groups

CONCLUSION

Quite evidently, the most important training period (14 weeks before an Ironman) was lower in volume and at best similar with regards to quality in 2013 when compared to 2012. But as stated before, training performance is of minor importance with regards to race performance, as I train for races and not for training “bragging rights” 😉 The end result of different training approaches taken in 2012 and 2013 can be nicely summarized by the following graphic:

Comparison of 2012 and 2013 Ironman Hawaii race performances (2013 was Train low Race high Carb approach)

Comparison of 2012 and 2013 Ironman Hawaii race performances (2013 was Train low Race high Carb approach)

So where did this 38 minute (7%!) improvement come from? Some of it was evidently from better weather conditions, some were undoubtedly because of additional endurance training year, additional experiences… And I believe the major factor was also a change in nutrition. As far as I experienced until now, the Train Low Race High approach with regards to carbs has two major advantages:

  • Smaller reliance on carbs for fuel and correspondingly greater fat burning capacity, which means lower chances of bonking.
  • Greater training adaptation at lower (or the same) training stimulus (i.e. intensity and volume).

Especially the second advantage is most often overlooked and seldom mentioned. This may also be the consequence of quite limited research on this topic, as you can basically count studies that deal with this question on the fingers of one hand! But sadly, this advantage is in my opinion also one of major reasons, why people don’t stick with Low Carb training approach. They only see the reduction in performance in training, get scared and conclude that they are not suited to Low Carb.

In my opinion, based on my experiences gather so far and with regards to studied scientific literature, I could compare Train Low Race High Carb approach to altitude training. You are training at tougher conditions (higher altitude or lower muscle glycogen content) so that the races seem easier (sea level altitude or full muscle glycogen)!

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