Monday, November 29, 2010

The Need For Speed?

I ran about one mile fast today. I don't run fast in my training very often but usually in the 10 days or so before races I will do some short tempo stuff to keep my legs turning over as I rest more and more to get ready for a race.

Running fast for a bit got me thinking about speed training and raw speed capability and how or if they apply much at all to ultra running success. I was thinking of the upcoming 50 mile showdown this coming weekend in Marin and was wondering if the eventual winner of the race would finish in the top 10 if the race were a 10k instead of 50 miles? Or even a marathon compared to 50 miles? In each of these cases I am fairly certain there would be a huge shake up in where various front of the pack runners would finish.

The interesting question to me is why is this the case? Is it primarily that each runner has a certain distance or style of running (flat, hilly, technical, etc) that they naturally excel at or do certain runners do a better job of figuring out how to adapt to a certain distance or style of running? I guess in reality it's probably a little bit of both. I've known more than a few runners who would say it's almost entirely the former reason and that the later has almost no relevance. I disagree strongly with this. I think the reason there are dozens of sub 2:30 marathoners out there who have had a hard time finding their groove in 50 and 100 mile trail races isn't simply because they aren't suited for longer distances, but more so because they have too much of an idea of how to train for running marathons. That is to say that they get caught up thinking that training for a 50 or 100 miler is quite similar to training for a marathon. A handful of fast marathoners have been able to fake it up to 50 miles, but for every one of these there are several who get to mile 30 or 35 in their first 50 and are completely fried. At that point all the leg speed in the world aint gonna do much of anything for you.

How then does one prepare their body (and mind) to race well for a full 50 or 100 miles? There are a lot of potential answers to this question, but in my mind the most important answer is to let go of the idea that we need to focus in our training on improving our leg speed. Racing 50 or 100 miles is about strength and endurance. It's about nutrition and hydration. It's about patience, stubbornness, and determination. It's about a lot of things, but it's really not much about leg speed. Sure there are great ultra runners with great shorter distance speed, but there are also great ultra runners with mediocre (at best) shorter distance speed. The fact that Tony K's 5k PR is about 16:30 should be all the proof one needs on this point. In nearly every ultra he runs he beats dozens of runners who would beat him if the race were a 5k. Why? Take a look at his training. He runs a ton and he runs uphill on rugged trails. He does more in training to build his strength and endurance than anyone I've ever known of. And more importantly he does more or less nothing in his training to build his leg speed. Or take me as another example. I'm blessed with a bit more leg speed than Tony, but it was when I stopped thinking that I needed to try to sharpen and hone this leg speed that I began to have the high level of success in ultras that I've had over the past 20 months.

This isn't to say that you can't be successful at ultras if you do speed work in your training, but I do believe that doing speed work in training for 50 and 100 mile races (especially hilly, technical ones) does nothing to make us "faster" on race day, and in most cases probably makes us slower because it uses up time and energy in training that could be better spent increasing our strength and endurance.

This entire conversation reminds me of a run I was on about 5 weeks ago with some folks here in Colorado. We ran from my house and we run up. As we climbed the snow got pretty deep. Eventually we were just trudging through knee deep snow, higher and higher into the mountains. It was a fun group of runners and no one was complaining about the conditions, but I do remember Dakota saying at one point that although he was enjoying the hike up through the snow, he didn't really imagine that any of this was going to be very beneficial come December 4th in Marin. Well Dakota was 19 (a very wise 19) then, and I'm sure he'll figure out soon enough the value in the strength and endurance one builds from moving uphill, at a steady pace, through knee deep snow. Luckily for me most strong runners who come from a road marathon background never take the time or have the patience to figure this out.


AJW said...

Damn Geoff, that post, more than any of the other ones you've ever written, shows me that you truly get it.

And, in the old days, it would make me worry, but, time has shown that the strength/endurance thing tends to create an attrition curve all its own. We saw that in June and we'll see it again....

Good luck Saturday. I'll be rooting for you!


Nick said...

Tough call, Geoff. Of course there is utility to slogging through some of the crap we do in the winter rather than hitting the T-mill or taking a day, but at the same time speed definitely has a role too.

If you aren't necessarily imbued with a natural level of raw speed, then I think it's important to train it. If you can't hang comfortably at, say, 6:00 min pace over the course of a 10-mile road race, then what hope do you have in a 50-mile race where there's gonna be stretches that you'll need to be hitting that pace comfortably before digging into a big climb (if you want to be competitive)? American River comes to mind.

On balance, hills, miles, consistency and doggedness are unquestionably where it's at as far as ultra training is concerned, but there has to be some speed too. That comes more naturally to some than to others, and sometimes speedwork takes more discipline and pigheadedness than the knee-deep trudge in mid-winter does.

Perhaps if Tony had worked his 5k/10k pace a little more (or at all) last spring he would have come away from Auburn with the Cougar. WS is, after all, the 'track meet'.

Oh, and as you may know, Dakota and I have been hitting a few track workouts over the last couple of months, so we'll see how that works out for him.

Have fun out there!

Michael Owen said...

I am not for certain that this will happen, but I think there will be a new wave of ultra runners that have ran fast times as college runners.

With ultra running getting more popular, as it seems, there will be some college studs that realize they could have some sort of future in ultra running.

It would be different than being a middle age 5k road racer that most college runners turn into.

Anonymous said...

I like how Frank Shorter put it, "Hills are speedwork in disguise."


From a Physiotherapist's point of view, I agree. Sure, some speed training is fun, kick it up- But why do 6 min miles if you are not going to go faster than, say 7-8 min miles in the race... Not to mention the INJURIES that can happen at those high speeds.

I'll be rooting for ya on Sat (even though I'm Canadian)

Derrick said...

Will be very interesting to read as others continue to chime in. My take on it comes down to the type of terrain that you run on and where you live as to whether 'traditional' speedwork is necessary to run to your best potential in ultras.

For those fortunate to have a whack of mountains out their backdoor, then running hilly routes regularly is very specific to the type of training that is going to improve your ultras. That said, running in the mountains at a faster pace (ie. tempo effort through heartrate or better), really is speedwork, but just in a different form.

For those who don't have access to mountains, sure you can duplicate to a certain extent on the incline of a treadmill, but I think that it's more important for them to include a wider range of paces on the flats to optimize their ultra training. And I don't think that it's even as much about from a fitness standpoint, but almost more about improved running economy in addition to balancing certain muscle groups. And I know in my case speedwork done at a sensible pace helps prevent injury not causes it.

Rick said...

Great to read this Geoff. I am curious, though. Why do you think you lost to Uli last year? I have very little to go on, but I really thought that you only lost to him because he was just a little faster than you that day. It'd be tough to think he was stronger than you after what you did at MM the month before.

AJW said...

Lucho posted this on my blog back in October. May be relevant to this discussion:

"Lucho, this is good stuff. So, you build power by working on explosiveness (fast, hard, efforts, etc...) and strength by resistence work (hills, weights, etc...). True? If so, can't you do all three (vo2max, strength and power) with hilly tempo runs blended with fartlek work done for an hour plus to stimulate all three systems?"

AJW- You could work on two, but getting the most benefit for the effort would be limited. By only working on one system you can gain much more quickly. In order to truly build any one of those three you have to be able to activate the muscles in a specific manner, of course there are always some generalized or accidental benefits.
If you want to build power then the effort needs to be at near maximum effort and very short, like 8"-15" long and then you need near full recovery (synthesis of ATP). These efforts should be short enough to not illicit a high HR or high breath rate (use of oxygen is almost absent). If you hold the effort for a longer period of time then you do not build power as much, but you start to work more towards V02 max. Once fatigue is introduced in to the mix, then we get in to fuel issues and depletion of acetylcholine at the neuromuscular junction which causes a loss in full muscle activation. But this can be good for fatigue resistance. Strength could be gained, as I said it is a component of power so you could work them simultaneously.
So let’s say you did a workout where you ran this structure:

Wu) this has to be fairly thorough and your core temperature has to be elevated, muscles hot and loose. 20:00 minimum with fast strides and/ or drills to prepare for the hills.

6 X 10" max effort hills. These build power specific to running and when they are done truly at maximum effort they are quite difficult and cause muscle breakdown. In order to build power and strength you must break the muscles down to force adaptation! Then once they heal and recover you are (theoretically) stronger and more powerful.
Recoveries have to be no less than 2:00 each.

Then went in to 4 X 1:30 at Vo2 max. These have to be well above threshold and just below maximum efforts. Once again, recovery must be close to full. Fatigue will only limit your ability to reach the appropriate effort level. 3:00 minimum up to 5:00.

Then you might go in to 30:00 at FT/LT.

So here we have ~1:30 total run time.

So you are covering 3 systems here, but it's very likely that the first set of power intervals is going to throw off muscle function for the next set. You may be too fatigued to hit Vo2 max (which is only slightly lower than max effort) on the 1:30 intervals, and even then in order to stimulate Vo2 effectively you need to be utilizing oxygen specific to Vo2 max and you need to be able to push hard enough to do this, the hill intervals (and remember that the body is recovering constantly during a workout which requires high levels of oxygen and nutrients) could very well limit this ability. And then by the time you went in to the tempo you are already producing so much lactate (and you would be low on muscle fuel) that you will likely be WELL below threshold PACE. Pace is a critical factor here when we talk about running fast. An exhausted muscle will produce high levels of lactate even when walking but this doesn't mean that you are gaining the same benefit of running tempo when you are fresh.
And then there is the recovery issue. This workout would tax your systems so severely that you may carry fatigue in to the next session which then delays recovery and limits the benefit of the session. One golden rule is that if you can't recover from a workout then don't do it. Any well written training plan should be planned around recovery days, not quality days.

Steve said...

Bruce Fordyce, 9-time winner of the Comrades Marathon (90 km) and world-record holder for 50 miles said, “Run faster not longer! When I went to Chicago for the U.S. 50-mile championship, I thought I was better prepared than my American competitors because I had focused more on running fast
than longer, which of course is not to say that long runs should be ignored.” Of course, he ran mostly road ultras, but his opinion means something to me (as does yours).

Geoff said...

uli outlasted me with strength and endurance (in my mind). we matched each other stride for stride for 40 miles and then on the steepest climb of the race, at mile 41, he dropped me going up hill. the point when he pulled away from me had nothing to do with speed. i think we were both walking at that point. he was just walking a bit faster.

i agree that there is a huge difference between the hilly, rugged ultras that i like to run and flat 50 miles on road. i had meant to point that out in my original post but never really did so.

i also hold no illusions that i'm any kind of authority on this and that my theory is somehow fact. this is just my take on it and it's been working pretty well for me so i'm sticking with it. thanks all for the insightful comments.

Matt said...

I think it depends on the terrain. Big vertical, big mileage = strength and endurance. A more moderately rolling, less technical course of, say, 25 to 100k, speed may come into play more. Of the two, strength and endurance are bigger factors for sure.

Max King might be a good example of the speed-oriented ultra runner (look at his race profiles)

Geoff, you might be the archetypal strength and endurance athlete.
But then I remember reading a race report where you flew by Leor Pantilat and Max King?

Get it done this weekend!

Rick said...

Thanks Goeff, didn't realize the race went that way, should be exciting at mile 40 this year!
My question, though, for anybody, is... I'm running a marathon and I'm stride for stride with someone for 20 miles at, say, a 7:00 pace, then he ups the pace just a little for the final 10k, but I cannot follow because even though we were stride for stride for 20 miles the 7:00 pace was just a little easier for him than it was for me. How do I determine, for myself, whether I was beaten by speed, strength, or endurance in this case?

trudginalong said...

Great post. I think especially when it comes to ultra races, the mental fortitude is also a huge factor where tough runs or somewhat ridiculous situations come into play and the ability of one to mentally handle these things plays a big role.

I think of that run through knee deep snow, I was thinking to myself, "this is retarted, my feet are freezing, I'm tired, and I'm probably getting Joe's blood all over my legs." But runs like that (and others) prepare you to be able to handle the latter stages of a race (or so I believe) and other unfortunate situations like getting lost.

Scott J and I talked about this quite a bit during a run about a month ago, the ability to run well late in a race can often come down to the mental ability to force your body to run when you don't want to, you can almost always do more than you think you can.

I understand this has little to do with "the need for speed", but I think it tells a bit about what the benefits of truding through knee deep snow can do for you. I can look back at that run during a race and convince myself to do more. The thought pattern is, "I have suffered more than this in training, there's no reason I can't push myself to that level today on race day."

I know I'm counting on those experiences to push through the pain at Hellgate in a few weeks. Run smart out there in CA and enjoy the benefits of having been living at altitude...

Sara Montgomery said...

One of the best things about ultras is that you can have all the raw talent in the world and it won't help if you don't put in the mileage, don't pace appropriately, and don't do your homework (i.e. nutrition mostly, terrain sometimes). And then there's the whole mental side.

There's just a lot more room for hard work, smarts and toughness to come out ahead than in shorter races. Leg speed doesn't go away completely as part of the equation, it just matters to a lesser relative extent.

If it's already a natural talent, you can probably get away with not training it, but if it's a weakness it might be worth some focus.'s fun fun fun!

titeyogarunner said...

so true, the other way around: after all Dolomites and Mt Blanc races, I'm still stuck to my 3:29 marathon time and, moreover 1:41 in Half. So now I'm concentrating on Intervals to run my next Miami, yeah, FLAT.

Anonymous said...

Speed,force and endurance are basic abilities for fitness. Speed skill is the ability to move not only fast by efficiently. Dakota will prove it!!!
Girona, Spain.

Anonymous said...

Matt Carpenter would also support the theory that speed is more important than endurance; he goes into detail in his training for the PBville 100, in which I'm PRETTY sure he says he never ran more than 20 miles at a time, but instead focused on lifting and speed. Tony still hasn't beat his record there yet...

Dave Mackey said...

For me, once you have the endurance over many months to complete a 50 miler or hundred miler, there is no need to keep hitting the mega long miles. We all know Geoff, Tony, Dakota, me, can run a 50 mile or 100 mile training run off the couch on any given morning, but to run it faster you need speed work. You also need to come into a race recovered, and too many long endurance runs sap your reserves. Personally I bet many top american mountain ultrarunners would be even faster at ultras if they eliminated of their long runs per week and added even one tempo or speedwork session.

Rainshadow Running said...

thanks geoff for sharing your thoughts-- i always enjoy getting insight into the training and racing philosophies of the top runners. but one thing that i kept i mind is that this was written from your perspective as a runner who already has exceptionally good speed. and that you most likely, despite no longer training specifically to improve your speed, are maintaining a very high level of speed relative to the average ultrarunner. (i think nick and sara both commented along these lines.)

specifically you used anton as a example to argue your point that 50-100 mile races are about strength and endurance. you said "The fact that Tony K's 5k PR is about 16:30 should be all the proof one needs on this point. In nearly every ultra he runs he beats dozens of runners who would beat him if the race were a 5k." i think here is where you are mistaken especially when it comes to the majortiy of ultrarunners, in my estimation only a very small percentage of ultrarunners have 16:30 5k speed so i doubt tony beats dozens of runners who would beat him in a 5k(my guess would be maybe in at western or another very large and stacked ultra he might beat a dozen or so that have better 5k speed but at most ultras it would be just a handful at best).

i guess my point here is not to nit pick the details but to say that you've got to have well above average speed to even be in consideration for a win at any of the competitive ultras. sure speed only gets you so far. and i would say the longer the race the less your 5k speed comes into play but i would argue it's certainly still a significant factor.

i think as the sport grows in popularity we'll see more and more runners who were really good(maybe not the best because they'll have no reason to leave what they're already successful at) road, track and cross country runners start doing ultras. and those shorter distance runners who "get it" (like andy said about you) and realize ultrarunning is much more than about pure speed will dominate the sport just as you, tony, kyle and erik skaggs, max king, uli, etc. are doing these days(a common thread between all of ya'll is your above average speed obtained prior to running ultras). but i think the key to becoming a top ultrarunner is speed first then endurance, toughness, stubbornness, strength, experience, etc.

i've done countless runs(aka epics) where i've done serious "strength and endurance" training but for me who is not naturally as fast as kyle or uli i've gotta do my speedwork just to keep within 2 hours of them in a 50M.

anyhow thanks again for all that you share on your blog and keep up the great work and have fun


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wiglebot said...

When you train for what you run, the long big mountain endurance races are going to require a lactate threshold balance, carb delivery and hydration. Train slow (strength/stamina) I going to recruit more slow twitch muscles to get rid of lactic acid.

A wish sports scientist would finish all this, but it is what you are saying.

Rod Bien said...

Agreed. Great post. And, it is probably a little different for everyone. While I am not in your league by any means... I did go from a "non runner" who finished middle of the pack to a guy who has a shot of winning if none of the real "big guns" are there.
I attributed a lot of my growing in the sport to training at race pace and mixing in speed work. Of course, you have to toss in lots of hill work but I also think that you need to be able to toss in some "fast twitch" stuff when the terrain is runnable. You came from a speedy background so I think that putting in serious endurance is what has made you successful, as you can always recall your base speed when it is needed. I think it really depends on the background of the runner. Since I came from a hiking/mountaineering background (and had zero running experience), I needed to learn to run faster. But, I think, as with everything, you need to be balanced to really be at the top of any sport.. running or otherwise.

Rod Bien

Collin said...

I think I agree for the most part. People don't need to be speed work to run well for 100 miles, but they do need to be fast to win something like NF50 or WS100. The difference is that the speed is developed in a different way that involves more turnover and power.

About Tony, calling him a 16:30 5k runner doesn't really do him justice; he just hasn't run one in a few years and he was never peaked to run well in college from what I gather. I'd bet huge money on him running low 15s if he ran one right now, now that his body can handle the mileage he puts on it.

Just like to run a good 5k, you need good quality long runs and good quality tempo runs to run well in an ultra. While the idea of the tempo may be different (ie, run at your threshold for an hour rather than breaking it into intervals) and while most fast ultrarunners may not even call their tempo style runs "tempo runs", physiologically, it's an identical thing. You might not even notice that you do it, but I guarantee you have some really hard 1 to 2 hour runs in your training and those function as tempo runs. Tony might not say he does "tempo" runs, but when he's running hard for 30 minutes while going up Green Mountain numerous times a week, it's nothing other than an uphill tempo run, even if it's at a slower pace. Physiologically speaking, the benefits reaped from tempo runs are based on effort, not speed.

Ultra training for a couple years bumped me from being a slow back of the pack college runner struggling to run an 18:30 5k to easily running mid 16s and winning all 3 5ks I ran last year without ever touching a track or doing honest "speed work". Yeah, I'm still not "fast" for a 5k runner, but running a lot of long stuff made me considerably faster.

The biggest difference I see for top ultrarunners and top marathoners is the mindset of training and the length of long runs. Marathons and shorter have to have a greater emphasis on speed and really hard running, but guys like you and Tony are still chasing fast times in training the exact same way. Even if you're both going to crush the handful of sub 15 5kers at NF50 (except maybe Uli), I still think that your speed is far from irrelevant.

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Speedgoat Karl said...

Amen, I agree 100%. I have nothing else to say. :-)

Shane Wilson said...


For me, this was one of your best post and the comments that followed made it even better. Thanks for all the insight into what has worked well for you and helped lead to your success lately. Best of luck and enjoy the competition in Marin.

GZ said...

I see this almost as a question of training budget.

You probably have some budget in which you can train. Maybe that is a number of hours you can get in.

Is that budget best spent doing miles, speed, hills, altitude, core work, sitting in a sauna, etc?

Ultimately how you spend your training buck or where you ought to spend it depends on what your strengths are, what event you are training for, what training you have done in the past, and ... well, what you like to do and (and hence give you confidence).

Is speed training of 20 x 400 going to be the differentiator in a 100 miler? Probably not, but if that comes off a deck of hundred plus mile weeks, and you believe in it, then it just might.

GZ said...

Or it might leave you hurt too.

Steve said...

Two more comments. It's difficult to identify cause/effect relationships. You saw a big increase in performance after increasing your mileage, and likely it played an important role, but there are many other factors that may also have strongly influenced the effect you observed.

Secondly, I think it doesn't have to be one or the other--strength or speed. As with almost anything in life, finding a balance is important. In my opinion, strength without speed will not achieve optimal results. And speed without strength will not (just ask Usain Bolt). I think we just need to find the right balance between the two, not pick one or the other.

Ben Nephew said...

I'm with Dave. I would bet that shorter distance times correlate pretty well with ultra times. Maybe not 5k, but probably 10k or half marathon times.

One thing to keep in mind that has not been brought up is that you usually run pretty fast at certain times in hilly ultras, especially near San Francisco. The leaders are probably getting below 6 minute pace on the downhills.

Since most people don't do both shorter races and harder trail ultras, there doesn't seem to be much practical data on the usefulness of speed. Several of the European ultra runners are clearly fast on the roads or shorter trail races. Both Geoff and Anton have plenty of natural leg speed. People that tend to have natural speed don't need to work on it.

An interesting parallel to this is with short distance mountain running. Years ago, many would say that you didn't need to be fast to make the US mountain running team. While I saw some really fast guys walking at Washington this year, that team that went over to Worlds was pretty quick.

I'll agree with Geoff that the connection is not as strong between speed work and ultra running, but if 5 min pace is easy for 5k, 6's will be easy for a marathon, and 7 min pace will be easy for a 50. If 6 min pace feels fast, 7 min will be harder to run after a few hours. I would guess that Uli was doing faster long runs than Geoff last year prior to San Francisco, which made the pace from 30-40 miles feel easier to him.

I think one confound to this discussion is that you often see fast runners that don't do much strength training race poorly at difficult ultras. You can't conclude that faster running is not important. Of course, you can also add inefficient pacing, nutrition issues, and trail endurance to that list of potential confounds for many fast runners. My point is, if you were able to hold all the other variables constant between two groups of ultra runners, the group doing more speedwork would be faster.

I've only been running ultras for 6-7 years, but I've been running shorter distances during the same span pretty often. My best road 50ks have been when I was in great road 5k and short trail race shape, and my best trail 50 milers have been when I was in good 50k shape.

Geoff said...

Lots of interesting comments here. Guess I struck a bit of a nerve with this one. Just goes to show how different we each are.

a couple more thoughts I want to add:
i'm not lobbying for higher mileage over speed work at all. i'm not a fan of very high mileage training. i generally stay in the 60-110 mile range (fairly average for ultra). but often a huge chunk of this mileage is hiking up steep mountains or trudging through snow. just time on the feet building up strength and enjoying being outside.

I do have a bit of speed (15:10 5k, 4:29 mile) but I couldn't come close to running that fast in either of these distances right now. I could likely change my training up a lot for a couple months and run these kinds of times again but if I did so I am quite certain that my 50 mile and 100 mile fitness would be greatly compromised. I just don't think you can have it all. The reason (in my mind) for this is that speed races (let's say marathon and below) are generally decided by who can sustain the fastest steady pace for the full duration of the race. Trail ultras (especially 50 miles and above) on the other hand are very sporadic in pacing and are generally decided not by the times in the race that we are running the fastest but rather by the times in the race when we are running the slowest. the runners who can run the slowest parts of the race faster than others (i.e. big climbs, extrememly technical stretches, or really late in the race) will win most every trail ultra. that is to say the runner with the most strength, endurance, and technical ability.

it's a fun point to argue, but at the end of the day what it boils down to for me more than anything is that I just like to go out and run each day. this may be the biggest positive factor. just really enjoying what we're doing. maybe one of these days i'll actually feel like going down to the track and running intervals again, but i find it very unlikely that it's going to make me a better 50 or 100 mile trail runner than running trails in the mountains would.

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leo said...

interesting point. So we assume that the top guys are all pretty similar paced on the "easy sections". Makes complete sense. I have seen it often that a race is won on technical downs or really hard climbs. Thanks for answering a question I posed here:

Karls Killer Kilometer said...

Geoff, your training philosophy is just my style and I'm stickin' to it. I ran my first 100 miler this month, the Pinhoti, using this training style.
I talked to several people who scratched, and they talked about the rough trail.
I trained here in AK and to be honest, Crow Pass was one of the easier runs I did this summer, trail wise. Many of my long "runs" were off trail, rutted out 4-wheeler trails, mining trails, etc.
Building the desire to go beyond what I was used to, was my best and most enjoyable training.
I will admit, the Pinhoti trail was rougher than I expected, but that fact made it even more enjoyable.

Gill said...

Hi Geoff,
I never post comments, just not my thing, however, I must say it's great to hear from someone who really gets it! I agree completely.

You nailed it buddy, best of luck...

Anton said...

Nice debate you have going here, Geoff. I think it just shows what nerds we all are and that we all tend to think about this topic (how to train) a fair bit.

My take:
Obviously, I'm largely in Geoff's camp on this issue.
In college I did a ton of speedwork and quickly found that I raced MUCH better off of little to no speedwork than not. By the end of my junior year I was so frustrated that I convinced the coach to just let me do long runs and long trail tempos and within three weeks I PRed in both the 800 and 1500. So, that is part of where my perspective comes from. My body, apparently, just doesn't respond as well to a lot of high-intensity running.

But, I agree with the commenter above who says it's a matter of balance and I also think it depends on what kind of race you're running. Ben N brought up road 50Ks while I know Geoff and I aren't generally training for those. So, we're talking rule of specificity, and that, combined with my love for mountains, is what I've always used to drive my training choices. Plus, everyone is different. I had friends in college who ran GREAT off of tons of speedwork.

Anton said...

Three more points:

1) Incidentally, I currently plan on doing one interval session a week in my next build-up, mostly because I'm planning on running a number of flat, fast races in the first four months of the year. Basically, I'll be replacing one high-intensity charge up Green with ~30min worth of high-intensity flat running: a subtle, but I think important shift in preparation for races that are predominantly flat (a la Dave's contribution).

2) Further up the comments list I think someone mentioned Matt Carpenter's training for his record run at the LT100 and how speed-focused it was. I have talked to Matt extensively about this issue, and he has repeatedly admitted to me that he probably errs too much on the speed side of things and especially did so in prep for Pb that year because he also wanted to win the Teva 10K Championships in June and BTMR (12mi) in July. He has openly admitted to me that his training for Pb was not optimal 100miler training and thinks that he trained much more optimally for ultras the year he won the TNF50 when he extended his long run to 5hr. However, he never neglected his speed during that build-up either.

I talked to him specifically about this issue in regards to my epic blow-up at the LT100 in 2009 and how I was maybe considering doing some speedwork (because LT is such a flat course and on the flat sections is where Matt's splits out-pace me) and, of course, his response was spot-on: why would I think my speed was deficient when earlier in the summer I had smoked the White River 50 course? His opinion was that the WR50 showed that I had more than enough speed to break the LT100 record but that I had other issues (not enough taper, poor pacing, fueling, etc., etc.). He simply trains with speedwork because his whole career he has been preparing for much shorter races. (As a side note, although 15:43 at Leadville is very very very fast, I am about 100% sure that five years ago Matt was capable of running even faster than that had he included more long runs. He generally agrees that 15:43 wasn't a maxed-out performance there.)

3) Contrary to what some people have posited, I really don't have a ton of legspeed. My 400m PR is 60.8 seconds. That's laughably slow. Mile=4:44 (at altitude). True, I'm sure I could improve my 16:31 5K PR, but I don't think I could take it any faster than 5min pace (15:40ish). Sure, a 16:30 5K PR is way faster than a lot of mid-pack ultrarunners, but I think Geoff's point is that there are lots and lots of other front-pack dudes who would lap me in a 5K (maybe even twice!), but who I can beat handily in a hilly 50 miler. In fact, we don't even need to look at 5Ks...I mean, Uli's MARATHON PR pace is almost 15sec/mile faster than my 5K PR pace (wow). And yet I am competitive with him over a mountainous 50 miler. Geoff's position is obviously valid and compelling.

Anton said...
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Collin said...

Good post Tony. I still think you'd be very pleasantly surprised if you ran a 5k right now though.

Brick said...

Anton‬ and ‪Geoff or anybody else for that matter.

What do you think would be the best mix of training for somebody who has done many 100km/100mile race and wants to have a good crack at a Marathon but still do long Ultra's?

Add speed work?
Add more hills/strength?

Interested in your opinions.

Geoff said...

that's a tough question. that's basically my whole point here. i really don't think you can be tuned to do well at 2 things so diverse as a road marathon and a trail 100 miler at the same time. Right now i'm tuned to run hilly, technical ultras. i'd be shocked if i could break 2:30 in a marathon this weekend. with some marathon specific training though i suspect i could run 2:30 quite comfortably, but my 50 and 100 mile performances would drop. running a road marathon and running something like wasatch or hardrock or utmb (the races that i really excel at and try to tune my body for) are as different from each other as a 400m is from a 5k. yeah, it's all running, but the methods to tuning our bodies to each of these distances/terrains are vastly different.

Geoff said...

so in more direct words i think you just need to accept that training to mazimize your potential in a road marathon is going to decrease your potential at 100 mile races. if it doesn't you're probably not training properly for the marathon.

Eric B said...

Thanks Geoff,
Great post,I read your blog searching and researching for tips for my own training. This post held many for me. Training in Northern Illinois can be challenging during the winter months, every year I debate the merits of the dreadmill vs. running through the snow. Your post made my decision easier for me. Outdoors it is ! as it should be.

Caratunk Girl said...

Great post -I am a new follower and am really happy to have come here. I hadn't thought about it this way before, and it makes a lot of sense. I am definitely stronger at tougher terrain, although I am no speed demon. I have spent a lot of time on the roads training because that is what I am racing now..but I am happiest when I jump on the trail and start climbing.

Good luck on Sat!

Anonymous said...

Interesting points of view on all accounts....most interesting is that three of the best ultra distance runners in the country, if not the world (Geoff, Anton and Karl) all seem to have the same approach to formal speed work....that's enough for me. :)

GZ said...

Geoff - congratulations on a great race in Marin. Well done.

I apologize in advance if this question comes across as a bit "jerky" but ...

... I heard that perhaps you were contemplating you desired a bit more turnover towards the finish. In light of this post, that experience, any changes of heart or thought?

(and even if you have a different opinion now for YOU specifically, I don't think that changes your broader message for MOST folks)

Geoff said...

good question george.
my take on the way i felt all day in marin is that living at 8,500ft. is a double edged sword. it was awesome to never get my hear rate and breathing up very high all day but i feel like my average training pace since moving to colorado is probably about 5% slower than when i live at sea level. i think overall this makes me a stronger runner at races with lots of climbing but my top end speed on race day does feel a little bit lower than previous. i don't think this is from a lack of speed training. i think it's just that my typical 2-5 hour steady runs are run at a slightly slower pace because of the altitude and that's become the pace that i get dialed into on the flatter stretches of a race.

GZ said...

It seems that you are dealing with what guys like Nate Jenkins, and more locally Lucho have encountered: the challenges of living at 8000 plus feet. If I recall correctly, you had a period of feeling sort of out of sorts when you were first up there - another common thing. (I lived in Ned for a bit and dealt with it as well, and I still get it occasionally when I sneak off to Fairplay).

Altitude has its rewards, but it has a backside that is tough too.

Do you think for 50s runs at lower elevations (Boulder) would make a significant difference, or is that still too high (compared to AK)?