Episode 159 – KILIAN JORNET Bob Graham Special

Episode 159 of Talk Ultra is a Bob Graham Round special with a full and in-depth interview with Kilian Jornet. In addition, we bring you two interviews with Paul Aitken and Steve Birkinshaw who helped pace Kilian, amongst others, on this record breaking FKT.
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THE SHOW
On July 8th 2018, Kilian Jornet departed the Moot Hall, Keswick looking to break the 36-year old Billy Bland FKT for the Bob Graham Round.
You can read how the day unfolded HERE.
Kilian not only broke the ‘unbreakable’ but he set a time that was 1-hour 1-minute quicker than the previous best.
Kilian joins us to tell the story.
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00:01:44 Interview with KILIAN JORNET
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00:54:02 Interview with PAUL AITKEN
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01:10:56 Interview with STEVE BIRKINSHAW
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01:27:49 CLOSE
01:30:00
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Pacing while racing – Marc Laithwaite

©iancorless.com_Transgrancanaria15-7079

So last week we discussed training at the correct intensity during long, endurance sessions. This week, we are following a similar theme but we are focusing more on race strategy and how to pace yourself during an event. Many of the things we’ve discussed in the past weeks are critical not just for training but also during competition, so let’s complete an overview of past topics and how they relate to race pacing:

  1. For longer events, fat utilisation is critical to prevent glycogen stores depleting quickly. You should have optimised this in training beforehand, but during your race, riding and running at the correct intensity is critical. If your race pace is too quick, then you are in danger of running your glycogen stores low, resulting in a poor performance.
  1. Maintain a constant intensity and avoiding spikes is also critical. If you push hard on uphills and recover on the downhills, your intensity will vary greatly throughout the race. Remember, when you pick your intensity for any event, average figures (average heart rate or average power) or pretty useless as a guide. You need to hold the intensity constant, with little change in intensity. If you aim to ride or run at a heart rate figure of 130 beats per minute, then set yourself a tight range of 125-135 for the duration of the event. Slow on the uphills and hold pace on the flat and downhills.
  1. Avoid the fast start or you’ll suffer later in the event. It’s very clear watching ironman races, marathon and ultra races that at least 90% of the field start at a quicker pace than they finish. There are 3 main reasons for this: The first is that you are fresh, so going hard feels easy. Coupled with this, you have an adrenaline shot at the start, so this exaggerates how good you feel. The killer shot is the fact that everyone else feels the same, so they all go too quick and it takes a very brave person not to react and follow everyone else!

There is an element of sheer panic for many people during the first hour of an event, when riders and runners are streaming past them at a quicker pace. From a psychological standpoint, this is incredibly difficult to handle, so we inevitably end up going with the flow of traffic and picking up our pace.

Here’s the thing, most of those people passing you in the early hours of an ironman bike course, or the opening miles of an ultra race, will be walking huge chunks of the event in the latter stages. If your better pacing means that you are still running in the latter stages, any time losses now will be erased and reversed without any issues whatsoever. In fact, many of them might actually drop out and not even finish!! This is the most important race of the year for you, having spent 12 months preparing, are you going to blindly follow someone who is pacing the event badly? Knowing deep inside that you’re riding or running at the wrong pace, are you going to chase them, only to ‘blow up’ in spectacular fashion later in the day and destroy your chances of a great performance? Sound stupid? Well that’s how a lot of people race.

Focus on the process and not on the outcome

Let’s make this very simple. In a long distance endurance event, you can only go at the pace that YOU are able to sustain for the duration of the event, what everyone else does, should not affect your race strategy. Prior to your event, you should have a pre-set intensity that you are intending to sustain. You may have a power meter on your bike to measure watts or you may have a heart rate monitor to gauge how hard you are working. Once you have that pre-set intensity, you should stick to it and ignore all other competitors. This concept is termed ‘process orientated’ as opposed to ‘goal orientated’ racing.

What’s the difference?

Goal orientated is simple, you set a target of 12 hours for your event and you swim, ride or run as fast as required to achieve that 12 hour time. It doesn’t matter if you’re going quicker than you can handle, you simply chase the pre-set time. Process orientated refers to you focusing on the process of swimming, cycling and running at the right pace. Following a nutrition plan and doing all the things you’ve trained to do beforehand. You focus on the process only and ultimately, when you reach the line, the finish time is whatever the finish time is. What’s key, is that is you focus well on the processes, your finish time will be the best you are capable of on that day.

Process orientated racing works best in longer events as tactics play less of a role. You can’t control who enters the event and you can’t control how well those people race. As a consequence, you cannot control your finish position at the end of the day. The only thing you CAN control is your own pacing and race strategy, to give you the best possible chance of achieving the finish time you hoped for.

Live in the here and now

Ultimately, whilst you will have a pre-set pacing plan, you will have to be flexible on the day. Your pacing strategy and other actions should be based on the ‘here and now’. You should be making regular checks and asking yourself how you feel at that moment in time and whether there is anything you need to do as a consequence. For example, if you had planned to run at 5 minutes per Km pace and you feel that pace slowing, then you should not panic. Instead, think about what you need to do at that time to solve the problem. Do you need to eat and drink? Do you need to slow a little? Be flexible, don’t just continue in a blind manner trying to hold the same pace or it will result in a major collapse.

One of the key things to remember when competing in long distance events such as Ironman or ultra running is that energy can fluctuate. In a simple marathon race, you tend to feel ok at the start and then gradually get worse as the event progresses. In an Ironman marathon or ultra race, you can have patched where you have to walk because you feel so low, but 5 miles later, you may be running at a strong pace.

When you have a drop in energy, don’t lose focus and don’t lose your head. That’s the point where lots of people just give up, start walking and never start running again. Focus on the here and now, what do you have to do to solve the problem and get back to the plan? Whatever happens, you can only be as good as you can be on that particular day. If you focus on the processes, you’ll know that when you cross that line, that’s as good as you are, for today at least.

– Marc Laithwaite

About Marc:

Sports Science lecturer for 10 years at St Helens HE College.

2004 established The Endurance Coach LTD sports science and coaching business. Worked with British Cycling as physiology support 2008-2008. Previous Triathlon England Regional Academy Head Coach, North West.

In 2006 established Epic Events Management LTD. Now one of the largest event companies in the NW, organising a range of triathlon, swimming and cycling events. EPIC EVENTS also encompasses Montane Trail 26 and Petzl Night Runner events.

In 2010 established Montane Lakeland 50 & 100 LTD. This has now become the UKs leading ultra distance trail running event.

In 2010 established The Endurance Store triathlon, trail running and open water swimming store. Based in Appley Bridge, Wigan, we are the North West’s community store, organising and supporting local athletes and local events.

Check out the endurance store HERE

Endurance Store Logo

Pacing Strategy – Marc Laithwaite

Pace

Over the last 4 weeks, we’ve discussed how you can manipulate your diet to enhance fat burning and your endurance performances. This week, we look at the missing piece of the jigsaw, which is training intensity and more importantly, pacing strategy.

The basics of fat metabolism for endurance athletes are simple and based on 2 key factors. First, you can change your diet in some way to enhance fat usage (e.g. riding / running fasted). Next, you can adopt a ride / run strategy (intensity and pacing), which encourages fat usage during training and racing. You can opt to do only one or the other of these things. But in reality, if you couple them both together you’ll have the biggest impact.

We’ve discussed diet, so today we are going to talk about ride and run strategy in terms of pacing and intensity, for running and cycling. So let’s outline some of the basic things, which you may already know and if not, you need to know:

  1. I stressed last week that every session should have a key objective and therefore a key intensity to obtain that objective. The biggest error is people doing ‘hard stuff too easy’ and ‘easy stuff too hard’. Generally they are linked by the fact that if you do the ‘easy stuff too hard’ you’re too knackered the following day to do the ‘hard stuff hard’. As a result, everything tends to fall into a grey, middle area.
  2. The 2 key objectives of the long easy session for ironman competitors or marathon and ultra runners are generally to utilise fat for better fuel economy and to ‘complete the distance’ (time in the saddle or time on feet). If you don’t ride at the correct intensity, you will hit neither of those objectives, due to the following problems:
  3. At lower intensities, total energy expenditure (kcal per hour) is lower and fat usage is higher. This means that only a small amount of energy comes from carbohydrates and your body has the opportunity to practice using fat, which is necessary for the process to become more efficient. OBJECTIVE 1: If you do not run / ride at the correct intensity, you will not develop effective fat burning.
  4. Because riding and running at a higher intensity uses more energy and generates more muscular fatigue, it’s not rocket science that you will have to stop earlier. This is NOT just based on fat / fuel usage, there are other factors at play related to muscle damage and fatigue. As a result, many ironman triathletes or marathon and ultra runners are not reaching target distances and stopping short on long rides or runs. OBJECTIVE 2: If you do not run / ride at the correct intensity, you will not be able to reach your target distances for your training rides and runs.

As outlined above, the 2 key objectives are enhancing fuel use and maximising distance and to achieve both, the intensity must be correct. If you’re using Maffetone as discussed 4 weeks ago, then you’re all set. If you’re not then for most people, the intensity we are discussing is zone 1, which is comfortable conversation pace.

You can use heart rate to monitor your training intensity and cyclists can also use power devices to do the same job. Let’s take heart rate as an example and consider the following scenario as an example:

Tom has a zone 1 cycling heart rate of 118-128 and uses his heart rate monitor when completing all his ironman cycle training. We know that Tom will maximise both his fat usage and can maximise his training distance by holding his heart rate steady within Zone 1.

Avoiding the spikes

One key thing to take into account when riding in Zone 1 is avoiding spikes. If Tom completed his long Sunday ride and reported an average heart rate of 124, it first appears that he has ridden to plan. Unfortunately upon closer inspection, he spent half his time at a heart rate of 148 climbing hills and the other half of his time at 100 rolling down the other side, thereby generating an average of 124. Whilst the AVERAGE looks correct, the TIME IN ZONE was very poor.

Every time you push hard on hills and allow your heart rate to rise out of Zone 1, your metabolism switches from high fat usage to high carbohydrate usage. Not only is there a switch to carbohydrate, you guzzle the fuel as if there’s no marathon to come. I would liken this to driving your car and every time you reach a hill, changing into first gear and flooring the accelerator, for those old enough to remember you can also pull the choke out for good measure.

OBJECTIVE 1: Tom is not practicing fat burning during his ride. Every time he pushes on the hills, fat usage ‘drops out’ and only returns when the body has stabilised a few miles later.

OBJECTIVE 2: Tom is guzzling fuel at such a high rate, he completes 60 miles of his planned 100 mile ride and is pretty knackered so calls it a day. Tom feels that despite the event being 112 miles (plus the marathon to follow), 60 will suffice. Good luck with that one Tom.

Q: Surely if I’m riding harder that’s more beneficial as my fitness will improve?

A: Not really, you’ve failed on both key objectives. If your training is planned correctly, you should be doing other sessions which will include ‘harder riding or running’ to cover that aspect of fitness.

Where does this all this go wrong?

  1. Riding very hilly courses makes it difficult to keep heart rate in zone 1 and it also makes it difficult to ‘flat line’ heart rate, keeping it constant and avoiding spikes. You need to really focus on ‘backing off’ on the climbs and using a heart rate or power meter as a guide.
  2. Riding in a group makes this problem 10 times worse as most cyclists will naturally want to show their counterparts (tends to be relevant for blokes, not women) that they are stronger than anyone else in the group. As a result, Sunday rides can tend to be a short hard interval up each hill, followed by long periods of recovering and spinning at low intensity.

Key points to take away:

  1. Ride to zone and most important, you need to take out the spikes on the hills, to maximise metabolic benefits.
  2. Start easy on your ride. There is a real tendency amongst amateur athletes to ride way too hard in the first hour or two, which results in a huge drop off later in the ride (again, this is more likely in groups). Hold back and soft pedal for the first couple of hours to allow a long aerobic warm up and better energy levels later in the ride.
  3. If you ride with others, your options are to explain the benefits to them and change their mentality, let them go on the hills, change your group or ride alone.
  4. If you are riding more consistently in zone 1, you should make every effort to maximise distance. If you are currently riding 60 miles or running 13 miles in training, by dropping and controlling the heart rate, you should be capable of increasing the distance and progressing closer to 100 for cycling or 20 for running.

– Marc Laithwaite

About Marc:

Sports Science lecturer for 10 years at St Helens HE College.

2004 established The Endurance Coach LTD sports science and coaching business. Worked with British Cycling as physiology support 2008-2008. Previous Triathlon England Regional Academy Head Coach, North West.

In 2006 established Epic Events Management LTD. Now one of the largest event companies in the NW, organising a range of triathlon, swimming and cycling events. EPIC EVENTS also encompasses Montane Trail 26 and Petzl Night Runner events.

In 2010 established Montane Lakeland 50 & 100 LTD. This has now become the UKs leading ultra distance trail running event.

In 2010 established The Endurance Store triathlon, trail running and open water swimming store. Based in Appley Bridge, Wigan, we are the North West’s community store, organising and supporting local athletes and local events.

Check out the endurance store HERE

Endurance Store Logo