March 2017: A Hiccup at the End

The third month of the year is done and dusted, the first quarter gone, and the first major ultra race of the season is just a couple of short weeks away. It’s time to see where I am, review what I’ve done, and consider how prepared I am for the Saint Fons 12 Hour in April. Globally, I think I am on a good track but there are a couple of things that have me wondering if my form will be exactly where I want to it to be on the start line. Nerves or reality? We’ll see.

March Mileage

Save for a couple of days where I took time off from running in the last week of March I hit my mileage targets each and every week this month. Indeed, it was my biggest month of the year so far with more than 500km banked in the third month of the year. I had planned on getting slightly more in than that but the last minute calf issue had me off my running feet for a couple of days. No matter, I don’t think it has affected my form or fitness and I will be happy to arrive on the start line in Saint Fons with fresher legs from the small break in my taper period than with a sore leg by pushing through the pain like a caveman.

I had hoped to arrive at the start line in Saint Fons with 1500 kilometers in my legs. I’ll still do that so I am happy with where I am, and happy that I have managed to stick to the plan for the two training blocks so well. There have been a lot of good quality runs in there, too, and some nice distance work over 40K, 50K, and 100K. I think I am as ready as I could be and prepared – as much as one can be – for running 12 hours straight through the night.

In short: The calf strain at the end of the month was not ideal for the preparation for Saint Fons but most everything else has gone to plan. I have the mileage in my legs to be fit enough for the challenge and I think I will be able to put in a good performance on the back of three months of strong preparation.

March Climbing

I didn’t expect to run the hills as much as I did this month. After all, I’m preparing for a race that is as flat as you can possibly make a race and there is nothing to be gained from practicing your hill climbing technique for a race that is pancake flat. Well, almost nothing – hills are good for speed work coming down and heartrate stress going up, and they also break up a run so that there is something challenging besides the tempo or the distance.

So while I didn’t expect to be above 3750 meters in vertical gain this month, I was happy to find that I was when the month drew to a close. To put that number in perspective:

  • it’s more than than the 3640m vertical gain from February when I ran the hilly Lurdunum II
  • it’s more than the 3519m vertical gain from January
  • it’s more than the 3436m vertical gain from December when I ran the hilly Saintelyon

I have to go back to August 2016 when I ran an incredible 4397m of vertical gain in a month where I also got up around – but didn’t exceed – 500km in mileage to find a month I have climbed this month. “A little and often” is probably how I would describe how I achieved this climbing gain this month, with each run including a hill or some rollers.

That said, in the lead up to the Ultra Boucle de la Sarra and with a trip to San Francisco planned for the end of April, I think I’ll be running a fair few hills in April and May which would put even this August 2016 climbing number in the shade. Hell, if I get close to my dream mark of 100K in the Ultra Boucle I will have registered about 4500m of vertical gain in a single day in May. Put another way, while I climbed a little more than I thought I would at the start of the month, it’s nothing compared to what is coming in the two months ahead.

 In short: I’m very happy with the amount of climbing I got in this month and there’s more to come.

March Cross Training

With the February challenge of crunches and planks having drawn to a close, I spent less time on the rug in March doing cross training than I did the previous month. However, I didn’t quit altogether. I kept up with pushups – which I can now execute, at least to a count of 20 – and added a bunch of walking to my day, too. A typical lunch hour will have me out and power walking at least 4km, usually 6km, and sometimes 7km or more. That’s not bad when you consider the time I have for lunch is limited and that I am also usually fitting in a run in the morning or the evening (sometimes both!) and a commute to work, too.

I find the walking is good for both my fitness and my mental health, too. I adore getting out of the office, getting my walk in, enjoying some lunch, and then getting back to work refreshed. I think it is good for my running, too, as it is relatively low impact and knowing how to walk fast and efficiently is one of those skills that doesn’t seem like it would be important in a ‘running race’ but that actually is crucial, in my experience anyway.

I’ve also been hitting the bike to get to work and back, too. This is a short commute and doesn’t usually take longer than 15 to 20 minutes, but it all counts as good, extra exercise. I’m feeling good about the pushups, I’m feeling good about the walking, and I think the cross training will continue, though probably less around the house and more outside as the weather continues to improve.

In short: Feeling good, walking is helping a lot for stress relief and fitness, and I can do pushups now!

March Diet

I’ve stuck rigidly to the No Sugar, No Grains (NSNG) and ketogenic diet once again and the results are great. I’m lighter, faster, fat-adapted, and feeling good heading into Saint Fons without having to think about carbohydrate loading or taking on sugars during the race.

This month I have been tracking my diet pretty religiously on the My Fitness Pal app. I’ve also updated each week in a post on the blog what I’ve been eating, how I have been feeling, and what the energy intake has been like. Find the posts here:

The food has been good, not too boring, and I have managed to control my portions by really keeping a close eye on what I have been eating. Yes, this has meant weighing things before cooking them and I know this can seem weird to Cécile and Jamie when I do it during meal preparation at the kitchen table. On the other hand, though, I have the sort of personality where this sort of thing appeals to my analytical side so weighing the food, reading the labels, logging the calories, and counting the carbohydrates before I put anything in my mouth is also kind of fun.

I think I am at the point now where I trust that my diet and nutrition will be sufficient to get me through the Saint Fons 12 Hour race without resorting to sugar. Of sure, I am almost positive that at some point during the race I will grab a handful of M&M’s or some sugary delight with about an hour to go to bring me a little mental stimulation if spirits are low, but it will be a far cry from the Saint Fons 6 Hour last year where I wrote a pre-race post about my nutrition plan and included this gem:

In terms of sugars and quick handfuls of carbohydrates, I’m a fan of Hema Jelly Beans and Haribo Gummies. Haribo candies are easy to find here in France and they don’t get sticky in my hand. I ran a nice 50km on nothing but water and gummies back in December in under four hours so I am confident they’ll do the trick. Jelly beans, on the other hand, are relatively hard to come by in France but Hema sells them cheap and in 500 gram buckets that are perfect for race day.

Needless to say my approach is very different this year!

In short: Feeling good, completely fat-adapted, and ready to face my first real ultra race without any carbohydrates before, during, and likely after – though a trip to the UK to visit my parents in the hours after the race ends means this last period will be especially challenging!

The Month Ahead

April is going to be all about two things:

  1. The Saint Fons 12 Hour race in mid-April
  2. Recovering from Saint Fons and bridging to the Ultra Boucle de la Sarra in May

The Saint Fons 12 Hour has been a focus since the outset of the season so, no surprise, it is the first priority for the month ahead. I’ve been training hard for this race, have put in a ton of preparation, have tweaked diet, training, hill work, and reviewed the course ahead of the race, and I’m now in the taper period before I find myself on the start line in just a few short weeks. It’s the first big test of the season and while it is not the goal race of the season – that’s the Ultratour du Leman in September, you’ll recall – it’s a good test in the early season over a good distance and it will allow me to see where exactly I am in my ultrarunning for 2017.

Following the race, however, I need to start thinking about the next race: the Ultra Boucle de la Sarra. It’s a completely different sort of challenge with two principal difficulties.

First, it is a 24 hour race so, for the first time, I’ll be testing myself running over a whole day. This is good preparation for the Ultratour du Leman where I’ll be on my feet for about that long and it is the reason I chose this challenge a few months out from the Swiss race I am targeting. I’ve never run for 24 hours before and I will hopefully manage the day on my feet though it is really a step into the unknown.

Second, it is a race with a lot of vertical gain and almost all of that on stairs. Each 2km lap of the circuit includes 90 meters of vertical gain and more than 560 stairs to climb. This means my training will start including stairs (a lot of them), hills (a lot of them), and some course-specific work, too (probably less of this to save getting bored, but it’ll be there all the same). I’ll be building this sort of preparation into my training in the last two weeks of the month with time spent in San Francisco helping me to get the vertical and stairs in that I need.

Goal setting is a little more difficult as I am not sure exactly how much time I am going to get in to running with the taper and the recovery to do, but I hope to be able to earn the badges on Strava for running at least 200km and climbing at least 2000m. I think both of these should be within reach, especially considering I will be running for 12 hours at Saint Fons and should put down at least half of that total there.

March Stats

Goals for April

  • Distance: +200km
  • Elevation: +2000m
  • Cross Training: Regular walking and cycling to supplement running
  • Diet: Stick to NSNG
  • Races: Saint Fons 12 Hour
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