Kiwi Trail Runner Article
Written by: Matt Rayment
Sometimes, an opportunity is presented to you that is impossible not to undertake. An opportunity that whilst confronting, challenging, and potentially difficult, is too good to pass up. An opportunity that provides scope for unparalleled personal growth and life-long change. As I sit here, writing the first of what will be six regular pieces for Kiwi Trail Runner, I reflect for not the first time that I am the lucky recipient of such an opportunity.
My part would be to A) commit to undertaking the training to the fullest of my ability and B) write an article about my training journey for the next six issues of Kiwi Trail Runner. Of course I jumped at the chance and was excited to undertake such a mammoth challenge. But the truth of the matter is I was frightened that I would not be able to do this amazing proposal the justice it deserved, and not for the reasons you may think.
Call me self indulgent, but I write the type of articles that I would like to read. If you are expecting a dry, blow by blow account of a middle class white male in his late thirties building up to running an ultramarathon, turn the page now. That has as much interest for me as watching paint dry. If you want a slightly non- linear chronicle of an athlete learning to achieve a greater efficiency, striving for balance, facing challenges (some mundane, and some hopefully exciting) and outlining integral strategies that you can use for transforming into the most competitive* runner that you can be, then stick around, this is going to be a great.
The cornerstones of growing as an athlete are balance and efficiency. I know this to be true in my own experience of having running as an integral part of my life for several years. Efficiency is the part that you gain through training in a more considered manner. I had learnt this from James in the past when I worked with him over a 12 week period to get ready for a race I had entered. It was the balance part that I had reasonable apprehension I would struggle with.
As context is everything, some personal history is called for. I consider myself a high functioning person. I’m enthusiastic, humanistic and far more driven than I give myself credit for. I’m married to Rebecca, who I think is the bee’s knees. We have three wonderful children who range from 5 to 11 years old. I’m in my late thirties. Both Rebecca and I are registered health professionals and work in a particularly challenging healthcare environment, I work shifts, both morning and afternoon, and am on call at other times. In addition to my professional role I write for Kiwi Trail Runner and edit and write for a website called Good People Run, which is why I had chance to interview James. on top of the husbanding, parenting, day-job-ing, and writing about running I am president and course designer of a not-for-profit organisation that puts on the Riverhead Rampage, a 21km trail race here at home that is now in it’s third year. What else? oh yeah, I desperately love to run.
I’m not a novice runner, I’ve done a fair few races and threw myself into the trail and ultrarunning tribe for a good while there, with its electric atmosphere and autonomous intimacy, however mid 2015 I resolved to stop focusing on longer distances and exclusively trail events and make myself a lifelong student of running. Not a trail runner, or a road runner, a marathoner or middle distance guy, but a runner. My friend Nick Johnston, whose blithely aggressive form is in direct contrast to his pleasant and unassuming manner, smashes everything. Ultra, Road, Trail, 5km, whatever. Nick and other athletes like him epitomise the versatility, inclusiveness, toughness, and adaptability that I aspire to. I came to running in my early thirties. I was an obese, asthmatic, arthritic, and anxious child, I did not enjoy physical activity.
Nowadays, the moments when my running feels effortless, my feet light ,and my moves strong are what I strive for. Reaching that fleeting state of grace and holding onto it is what I want to work towards. I discussed goals with James between Christmas and New Year’s. We constructed a twelve month programme broken down into eight week periods. All I had to do was put one foot in front of the other, do the work, and not let it become all consuming to the ruination of everything else in my life. I wanted a challenge? There’s one right there.
In the past, the lack of ably prioritizing my family life with other more superficially appealing distractions (running included) has caused considerable distress to my loved ones. I was determined to not repeat those past mistakes. Rebecca and I spoke about ways that we could manage the next twelve months to not make the process all consuming. We discussed essentially that running time was running time and family time was family time. Running time would fit around family time and any documentation of my running on Strava or Trainingpeaks would happen in the evenings, after the children were settled. I knew that there was no way Rebecca would not be absolutely supportive, however having some boundaries in place that we discussed openly made the whole thing seem far more transparent and adaptive. Right. Enough exposition. Let’s get down the the training, shall we?
Block One- Aerobic Development: Burn your matches one at a time and remember your ego ain’t your amigo.
Foundation is key. The base of every sound cliche’ is something something cliche’, right? Developing your capacity for aerobic respiration, whereby oxygen is used without the breakdown of glycogen from your muscles (into glucose) to supplement your energy needs, is the key to efficient performance. When glycogen gets into the picture, we get into anaerobic exercise (Lit Without oxygen) the realm of Sprinters, Crossfit Dudes and mid 90’s Ravers. Anaerobic exercise hurts, and requires extra fuel, rather than relying on our body’s ample stores. James described aerobic respiration as “Burning one match at a time, the flame may be smaller, but there is a lot more of them, they last longer” and Anaerobic respiration as “Burning the whole match box, you get a really bright and hot flame, but it goes out really quick”. The slower and more efficiently your cardiovascular system works, the easier it will be to transfer oxygen to the blood, and the more effort it will take for your heart to get up to your maximum aerobic heart rate, ergo, as your aerobic capacity develops, you’ll run faster, with a relatively lower heart rate. There are MANY different methods to find out your Maximum Aerobic Heart Rate, for ease, James instructed me to minus my age from 180, then add 5 as I have been exercising regularly for more than a year. My Predicted Aerobic Maximum is 147 beats per minute. The well worn truism that ‘you need to slow down to speed up” is writ large here. After providing some baseline data of a 3000m hill time trial and a 8000m track time trial (Awful. Fourth form athletics all over again) I repeated the same tests strapped to a heart rate monitor with the firm instruction not to let my heart rate rise above 147, if my heart rate did rise above this point, I was to slow my running and, if necessary, walk, to reduce it. Apart from the crushing psychological destabilization as I was forced to WALK up a hill in the forest I had run up for the last four years, the only way I can describe the feeling of running to heart rate, and not pace per km is it’s like learning to use a clutch when I first learnt to drive. Too much, and you’ll over-rev the engine, too little and you’ll stall. I really struggled with the notion of slowing down. The first few runs I did, which were mostly on road, between 60 to 90 minutes long, were significantly slower that I had previously considered my aerobic pace. I felt like I needed to carry a sign, saying “RUNNER USING HEART RATE MONITOR” on it, to explain why I was jogging when I felt I should be running. I pictured myself mouthing “yeah, I can run faster” to cars as they passed, pointing to my watch and shrugging, whilst mugging like an idiot. Over the last two weeks, I’ve reflected that really, who cares how slowly I appear to be running, and that if I’m to trust the process, I need to fully engage. My anxiety has lessened, my focus on my bio rhythm has increased, and I’ve found myself working to keep my heart rate UP rather than down. Lo and behold, checking Strava, I’ve found that my pace is returning to what I had thought my aerobic pace should be. First steps for sure, but already, I’m running more efficiently. This efficiency will no doubt come to the fore as I work towards my first goal race of the year, the Riverhead trail 30km, an old school, grassroots gravel grinder on the fire roads and open trails of Riverhead Forest held every year on Easter Saturday. I guess the next step will be to add some speed in there somewhere. I’m looking forward to what James has in store for me….
*I use the word “competitive” in the same context as Alcoholics Anonymous uses the word “God”, that is, as you understand it. Funnily enough, you don’t need other people to be competitive, as it stands, I am my own worthiest foe.
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Copyright © 2016 Kiwi Trail Runner. All rights reserved. Reprinted from April/May 2016 Kiwi Trail Runner.