Tuesday, December 23, 2014

ATY Plans: Goals, Pacing and Sleep

Yesterday, I gave a preview of the Across the Years 48-Hour Run.  In this post, I begin outlining my race plan.  My plan has several parts.  Some parts are exactly the same as last year.  Other parts reflect an attempt to address problems.


The plan starts with having goals.  Since you can run whatever distance you want
(within reason), it’s important to have a wide range of goals.  Here are my goals for this year.  Some of these are targets for my final result.  Others are intermediate goals that I can look forward to reaching along the way.  Since only completed laps count, I’m associating each goal with the number of laps I need to complete to reach it.

When I finish 96 laps, I’ll be past the 100 mile mark.  If I stopped there, I’d be pretty disappointed, but 100 miles is a lot better than 99.  After 100 miles, if nothing else, I’ll know I’ve earned another buckle like this one.

When I finish 119 laps, I’ll exceed my mileage PR of 124.81 miles.  Nothing short of that will seem like an accomplishment.  Before this I won’t need many intermediate goals.  I’ll still be in familiar territory, so I’ll execute the other parts of my plan.

Lap 124 will put me over 130 miles.  At this point, every lap is a new PR, but multiples of 10 miles will all be important intermediate milestones.

My 125th lap will also be a milestone.  At this point I’ll have run the equivalent of five marathons back-to-back.  I’ve run the equivalent of four back-to-back marathons on five separate occasions, but I’ve never done five.  Again, this isn’t an end goal.  It’s just something to look forward to along the way.  Having intermediate goals – even seemingly trivial ones – can help me break the second half of the race into manageable pieces.

After 129 laps, I will have exceeded 135 miles.  That’s the distance of the Badwater race from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney.  That’s the longest fixed-distance race that most people have heard of.  It would be nice to be able to say I’ve run that distance, even if it wasn’t through the heat of Death Valley.

Lap 134 will bring me to two notable milestones.  I’ll reach 140 miles, but in the same lap, I’ll also reach 140.6.  That’s the combined distance of the swimming, biking and running legs of an ironman triathlon.  If I get this far, I could buy one of those 140.6 stickers and say, “I’ve run that far.”

When I finish 138 laps, I’ll have exceeded 144 miles.  A casual walking pace is three mile per hour.  If you walked continuously at that pace for 48 hours, you would walk 144 miles.  It’s only after this lap that I can feel good about my average pace over the entire 48 hours.

I need 143 laps to reach 150 miles.  As round numbers go, this is a big one.  By this point in the race, I’ll need to celebrate milestones like this one.

My 148th lap brings me to another round number.  I’ll reach 250K in this lap.

The next round number is 160 miles.  I’ll reach that in my 153rd lap.

My ultimate goal is 200 miles, so a few of my intermediate milestones are based on counting down the remaining miles to get to 200.  Lap 157 takes me to 164, which is 36 miles to go.  If I can get there in 36 hours, I’ll only need to average three miles per hour for the last 12 hours.  That would be a big confidence boost.  If I get there later, this milestone won’t have as much significance.

I need 162 laps to reach 170 miles.  If I’m not on pace to get to 200, round numbers like this one will give me something else to shoot for.

When I finish 166 laps, I’ll have less than 26.2 miles to go to reach 200.  If 200 is still an attainable goal, it’s possible that having “only a marathon” to go will make the remaining mileage seem more manageable.  Of course, it also possible that anything beyond one lap will seem overwhelming at this point.

The next big round number is 180 miles.  I’ll need 172 laps to get there.

Short of 200 miles, the biggest round number is 300K.  I’ll need 178 laps to reach this goal.  While my most aggressive goal is 200 miles, I’d be happy to say I ran 300K.

The last big round number before 200 is 190 miles.  I’ll hit that on my 181st lap.  After that, every lap will be equally important as I start counting down the last 10 laps to get to 200 miles.

My ultimate goal, of course, is to reach 200 miles.  That’ll take 191 laps.  It’s an ambitious goal, and I’m not sure how realistic it is.  Everything has to go right.  Still, I have to go for it.  If I get there, I’ll earn a buckle like this one.

If I get to 200 miles with enough time to do more laps, I’ll tack on whatever distance I can.  Beyond this point, each additional lap is icing on the cake.  There aren’t any numbers that have special significance – at least, none that are realistic.

I looked up the American record and World record for my age group.  They’re WAY beyond 200.  To be eligible to set a record, you have to notify the race officials before the race that you’re aiming for it.  A record setting performance won’t be recognized by USATF unless the race director can certify that you were never paced during the race.  In general, runners are allowed to be accompanied by friends on some of their laps.  It’s only an issue if you’re trying to set a record.  If the American record was 205, 210 or even 215, I might indicate I’m going for it.  It’s about 233.  That’s not realistic.

If I get to 200 miles, or if I’m really close, I may be in contention for first place.  Last year, the winner ran 201.562 miles, and there was only one other runner who ran at least 200.  If I reach 200, I won’t have much company.  Even if I don’t, I can think about my overall place.  Last year, despite stopping with only 121.777 miles, I still finished in the top 10 men.


Pacing is important.  If you don’t have a realistic pacing plan, you can run what feels like an easy pace, and still blow up.  Knowing that my top end mileage goal is 200, I can work backwards from there.  If I don’t have a plan for getting to 200, it won’t happen. 

To run 200 miles, I need to run an average pace of 14:24 per mile.  Of course, that’s just an average.  Over time, my legs will gradually get sore and stiff.  As this happens, my stride will become less efficient.  I can’t realistically plan on running the same pace throughout the race, because I would need to expend more and more energy to sustain the same pace.  Instead of running at a consistent pace, I need to think in terms of maintaining a consistent effort.  That means I need to start the race a little bit faster.

I also need to account for “down time.”  There are several types of down time.  Stopping at the aid station to drink probably only costs me 5-10 seconds.  Stopping at the aid station to get something to eat might take 30 seconds.  A bathroom stop usually takes about a minute.  These types of stops will be spread out evenly throughout the race.  Longer stops, like going to my tent to change clothes or shoes won’t begin until the first evening.  I expect these stops to get longer and more frequent as the race progresses.  This is another reason I should plan on gradually slowing down.  Finally, while I’d like to get through the whole race without stopping to sleep, this might not be possible.  My plan has to account for this possibility.

I’m breaking the race into four 12-hour blocks.  I have different pacing goals for each one.  I’ll use the same variable length walking breaks that have served me well in 24-hour races.

I’d like to cover 60 miles in the first 12 hours.  That’s an average pace of 12 minutes per mile.  I’m going to start the race with target pace of 12 minutes per lap.  Since the laps are a bit longer than a mile, that works out to about 11:26 per mile.  Whenever I’ve done a 24-hour race, I’ve started faster than this.  If this pace doesn’t feel easy, I’m in trouble.  If I do 12 minute laps for at least six hours, I can afford to cut back to 13 minute laps for the next six and still reach 60 miles in 12 hours.  Last year, I cut back my target pace the first time I made a trip to my tent to add an extra layer of clothing.

The next 12 hours include the first night.  The temperature will drop, and I’ll probably need additional stops to put on warmer layers.  I won’t need any time to sleep.  At this point in the race, I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I tried.  I know that from past experience.  To absorb the additional downtime, I’ll need to adjust my pace.  My goal is to cover 55 miles during this period.  To do that, I need to average 13:05 per mile.  That’s 13:45 per lap.  One way to do that would be three additional hours at 13 minutes per lap and then nine hours at 14 minutes per lap.  This all assumes that I can still do arithmetic in my head.  Conveniently, the time to switch would be midnight.  I’ll pay attention to where I am at midnight, so I know how far I ran each day.  I’m somewhat obsessive about recording my daily mileage.

Between 24 and 36 hours, I’ll be fighting levels of physical and mental fatigue I’ve never experienced.  By now, my legs will be stiff and sore, and I’ll probably have painful blisters.  My goal is to run 50 miles in this 12-hour block.  To do that, I need to average 14:24 per mile.  My target time for each lap will be 15 minutes.  That’s assuming I still have the mental discipline to stick to a pacing plan.  That’s four laps per hour, so at least the arithmetic is easy.  There will probably be a point in the race where I just keep moving at any pace I can.  I’m hoping to hold out as long as possible before doing that.  Once I lose my discipline, I’ll never get it back.  I know that from experience too.

My pacing plan for the first 36 hours is fairly aggressive.  If I can stick to the plan, I’ll have 165 miles after 36 hours, so I’ll only need 35 more miles in the last 12 hours.  There are two reasons why I want to put myself in this position.  First, if I reach a point where I only need to average three miles per hour the rest of the way, it’ll be a huge psychological lift.  Second, if I can continue to run faster than three miles per hour, I may be able to buy time for a short nap.  Getting to 200 miles would be more manageable if I knew I could keep moving for the entire 48 hours.  I don’t know if I can go that long without sleep, so it would be nice if I could build time into my schedule for a brief cat nap.  Three miles per hour equates to 21 minutes per lap.  From this point on, every lap that’s faster than 21 minutes puts time into the bank for a nap.

Is this a reasonable pacing plan or am I trying to run too fast for the first 36 hours?  Ask me in January.

Sleep is the big wildcard.  If I can go all night without sleep, it greatly enhances my chances of getting to 200 miles.  If I need to sleep, I'll have to get by with a short nap.  If I'm off the course for too long, it won't help to be well-rested.  I won't be able to make up the time.  If I sleep, I need to do so without losing too much time.


I don’t plan to sleep, but I need a plan in case I do sleep.  That may sound like a contradiction, but it’s not.  Basically, I’m going to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.  If I need to sleep, I want to be ready.

Staying awake the first night is easy.  I won’t even think about it.  During the second day, I’ll be tired, but I probably won’t be sleepy as long as the sun is out.  When the sun goes down, I expect it to get much more difficult.  I won’t sleep unless I have to.  I also won’t try to sleep until I’m 100 percent sure I can fall asleep quickly.  Instead of asking myself, “Can I fall asleep?” I’ll ask myself, “Can I possibly stay awake for one more lap?”

As long as the answer is “Yes,” I’ll run one more lap.  When the answer is “No,” when I can’t keep my eyes open, when I’m in danger of falling asleep while running (this really happens to people) … that’s when I’ll take a nap.

I’ll have a tent, and I’ll have a sleeping bag.  I’ll have the sleeping bag laid out before I start running.  If I nap, I want to climb in and get to sleep with no wasted time.  I’ll need to take off my dusty shoes and change quickly into something dry.  I plan to bring a wind-up alarm clock.  I’ll have to make a quick decision about how long I can afford to sleep.  It might be as little as an hour.  The last thing I need is to wake up and discover that the race is over.  When the alarm goes off, I need to stretch, get dressed and get myself moving.  After I’m moving, I can get my head back in the game.  I’ll need to figure out how much time I have left and how many miles I still need.  Then I can come up with a new pacing plan.  If I’m already moving, at least I won’t be losing time while I’m doing the math.

Note:  Photo credit for the 200 mile buckle goes to Karen Vollan, who earned this buckle last year in the 6-day race.

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