Falls Creek Training Camp – How to run 220km in a week and why would anyone do that?
It is not the first time I have run more than 200km in one week, but last week was certainly the biggest trainings week of my life in a quest to get as fit as possible for a big year of marathon running ahead, including the European Athletics Championships. The physiological demand of running 42.195km in under 2 hours and 20 minutes requires not only years of training and knowledge of the latest sports science but also a deep understanding of my own body and mind with all its strengths and weaknesses.
With this blog, I am not only telling my story as an athlete, but more importantly I hope to inspire people to try their best at whatever they set out to do. As a running coach based in Brisbane, I am also sharing here my experience and knowledge in the field of running training, season planning and sports nutrition and hope you can learn something for your own marathon.
Although I started running at the age of 12 (when I stopped gymnastics) and have been a competitive runner ever since through cross country, track, steeplechase, road and mountain running, it is only now after 21 years that I feel I can fulfil my potential as a runner and achieve my lifelong dream of competing at the highest level in athletics. In 2013, I finished 9th both at the international Zurich Marathon and the Melbourne Marathon. My personal best (PB) time of 2:22:55 from Zurich and 3rd place in the Swiss Championships was enough to be announced for the Swiss National Talent Squad “Swiss Starters 2014”. I stayed under the European Athletics Championships qualifying time of 2:24. However, with maximum 6 spots available from each country for these continental championships in August 2014, the 2:24 standard and my PB will not be sufficient when the team is been announced at the end of April. So, I have one more chance to qualify for the team.
Review Season 2013
With a few issues in the Melbourne marathon in October [click here for detailed race report], I was unable to improve on my personal best set in Zurich [click here for detailed race report] and remained 6th in the Swiss Ranking list for 2013. At the end of the year a Swiss-German dual citizen runner living in Germany with a PB of 2:21 was announced as eligible to start for Switzerland next year, which puts me in 7th place. There is another much faster runner, Tadesse Abraham from Eritrea, who has been living in Switzerland for 10 years and is married to a Swiss woman. He is getting the Swiss passport over the next few months, which puts me realistically in current 8th spot. Moreover, with his winning time of 2:07 in Zurich last year, Abraham could become the top favourite to win the European Championships, which was won by fellow Swiss marathon star Viktor Röthlin (another 2:07 runner) 4 years ago in Barcelona. I have no objections whatsoever that dual-citizens can nominate the country they want to represent, as I am a Swiss-Australian dual-citizen myself after living in Brisbane for 7 years.
One thing is for sure, whoever will make the Swiss Marathon team this year will be in a position to help Switzerland (together with Röthlin and Abraham) win a medal in August.
Personal Goals for 2014
With that in mind, I will have to improve on my PB to remain in the top 6, as every other marathon runner in the world with a Swiss passport will try to do. The mild qualifications standard of 2:24 set by Swiss Athletics has created a snowball effect and now we have seen runners jumping the fence from shorter distances, triathlon or even other nations for their once in a lifetime opportunity to represent their country in one of the top athletics championships (being Olympic Games, IAAF World Championships, European Championships or Commonwealth Games).
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- 1st Goal: A sub 2:20 time, which might be sufficient to remain in the top 6, but this all depends on the performances of the other runners too. With my 5th career marathon just around the corner, I have both experiences to draw from and room to improve. For this quest, I have chosen one of the best races in the world, the Lake Biwa Marathon in Otsu, Japan on March 2nd. It is an elite men only race and attracts 200 odd elite runners with personal best of under 2:30. I am confident that this is the race where I can shave off a few minutes of my personal best. I am currently training with a few fellow Australians up here in Falls Creek that are heading to Lake Biwa in 8 weeks as well and I have my Japanese friend Ryo that will come over with me to support me on the day.
- 2nd Goal: Being nominated for the Swiss Athletics Team in April (top 6 Swiss under 2:24)
- 3rd Goal: European Athletics Championships, Zurich August 17th, to help Switzerland win a medal in the marathon.
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Why the heck does anyone want to run 220km in one week?
Not everyone might love running as much as I do, but as seen above I have plenty of motivation to train as much and hard as possible without getting injured. 220km is my current mileage threshold. The main benefit of a trainings camp is that there is plenty of time for running as well as other important factors such as recovery (sleep, ice bath, and massage), nutrition (healthy balanced diet with lots of carbohydrates and fluids) and looking after the body (stretching, yoga, core strength, foot strength, balance, muscle release etc.). In previous years, I might have pushed my mileage over the 200km mark without taking enough care of any or all of those 3 factors, got injured and missed out on a whole seasons.
The physiological and psychological demands of the marathon are extreme; therefore training and race preparation need to be planned intelligently. Successful marathoners have the following attributes and know how they can be trained:
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- High proportion of slow-twitch muscle fibres (genetically determined).
- High lactate threshold (LT): Train through different types of LT running such as tempo runs, long intervals or LT intervals in order to increase high rate of aerobic metabolism.
- High glycogen storage and well-developed fat utilization: Long runs longer than 90min and the total mileage run increases glycogen storage in muscle and liver.
- Excellent running economy: use oxygen economically when running at marathon pace: strength, technique, hills, and speed work.
- High maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max): fast interval session
- Quick recovery ability between trainings: Aerobic conditioning, recovery measures.
All this leads to the conclusion that marathon runners have to run a lot of miles and can generally not substitute running training through other forms of endurance exercise such as swimming or cycling.
Source: P.Pfitzinger, S.Douglas, Advanced Marathoning, Human Kinetics, 2nd ed., 2009
How do I train? – Periodisation, Consistency, Determination
I follow the principle of periodisation as per the latest marathon running science and with the mentorship of my coach Pat Clohessy. This is my 5th macrocycle training for my 5th marathon in 3 years. Each macrocycle contains 5 mesocycles each with its specific training objective, totalling minimum 18 weeks. Hence most elite marathon runners can only run two marathon races a year with the proper preparation and recovery phase required. Each week consists of 1 microcycle with its specific workouts routine for each day of the week, which helps with giving the training needed consistency and structure.
The 5 Mesocycles since Melbourne Marathon on 13.10.13 are:
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- Recovery (6 weeks from 14.10. – 24.11.13)
- Endurance: increasing mileage to improve pure endurance, building up weekly mileage from 140 to 200km (5 weeks from 25.11. – 29.12.13)
- Threshold: improving lactate threshold while continuously working on endurance (4 weeks from 30.12.13 – 26.01.14)
- Race preparation: including VO2max sessions, marathon pace runs and tune up races (3 weeks from 27.01. – 16.02.14)
- Taper down (2 weeks from 17.02. – 02.03.14) and race: Lake Biwa Marathon, Otsu Japan
Source: P.Pfitzinger, S.Douglas, Advanced Marathoning, Human Kinetics, 2nd ed., 2009
The few weeks of building up my endurance in December was slightly compromised by a sore Achilles tendon and long working hours to finish a Masterplan Design for Brisbane Central Station (I work as an Architect and Urban Designer). I was looking forward to the 3 weeks of holiday and some solid training volume without distraction. The week before last I managed to run 186km despite a few Christmas commitments and the trip from Brisbane to Falls Creek. I finished the endurance mesocycles with a beautiful 3 hour long run from Mt.Hotham to Falls Creek (30.5km plus 900m of vertical climbing) on December 29th. With work, Christmas and the sore Achilles issue behind me, I was finally able to focus my training more marathon specific with some increased threshold running and faster sessions as part of the next mesocycles #3.
My girlfriend Jamaica stayed up here for the first week to train for her own goal; the 3 Peaks Challenge in March here (235km of cycling with over 4000m of vertical climbing). Jamaica has been tremendously supportive as always with my marathon running and I am equally supportive of her cycling.
My training mates from the University of Queensland Athletics Club arrived on time to share a house together here for 2 weeks and focus on training while also having a good time. Everyone is training for their own personal goal whether it is a good track season, a potential Commonwealth Games qualifier or just getting back into running after a longer injury rehab phase. We are all determined to either rediscover the joy of running freely or to reach the next level in our athletic career.
Falls Creek Camp Environment
Falls Creek is often promoted as an Altitude Training location, however with most running being done between 1500m and 1800m ASL the benefits might be marginal. Altitude training benefits such as an increase in red blood cells can be measured while training at altitudes of 1800m to 3000m for a minimum of 3 weeks, while above 3000m being considered high altitude. It never takes me long to get started up here with not feeling the thin air while running at an easy pace, compared to other altitude trainings camps I have been to in Switzerland, where a 5 day acclimatisation phase is required. Nevertheless, I did notice some slightly increased intensity in my breathing and heart rates at a few of the fast sessions in the first week up here. The slower times for my marathon pace runs (3:33 instead of 3:18min/km pace) and my 1km reps (3:10 instead of 2:55) might be due to a combination of altitude and the slightly hilly and uneven surfaces we run on, as well as the light wind that has been blowing up here regularly.
One huge advantage coming up to Falls Creek at this time of the year is that most runners follow the same microcycle routine and have done so for over 30 years. Meeting points, times and sessions haven’t changed up here since the days of Ron Clarke, Robert De Castella and Steve Moneghetti. There is no surprise then that often over 100 of Australia’s current top runners turn up for the Tuesday 8x1km reps along the aqueducts at Langford’s Gap or the Friday Tower Run and Sunday’s long run through Pretty Valley.
This running Mecca creates pure motivation as everyone from 800m to Marathon distance and from junior to world-class athlete can train, chat and learn from each other. We are doing the same sessions as Olympians and Australia’s current top runners such as Collis Birmingham (Oceania half marathon record holder in 1:00:56), Ben St Lawrence (AUS 10’000m record holder in 27:24) Jeffrey Riseley (800m PB 1:44, 1500m PB 3:32) or Jeffrey Hunt (Marathon PB 2:11) to name a few only.
As it can be seen in the photos, the alpine landscape and views up here are absolutely stunning and with plenty of hiking and running tracks, who wouldn’t want to spend time up here to run? For me personally, it is always a reminder of the beauty of the Swiss Alps with similar settings. Falls Creek is a winter skiing resort with only a few hundred people residing here over summer, which makes living as a professional runner easy as there is not much distraction. I love coming up here every year if possible as it takes away the busy lifestyle I have and the hustle of the city. Another huge benefit is escaping the Australian summer heat (Brisbane recorded 41 degrees on Saturday) and train in mild (0-20C) and dry conditions.
The daily ice bath tradition also contributes to recovery to reduce the need for regular physio and massage treatment. Runners soak their legs in 10-12C cold local streams and aqueducts for 10 minutes to reduce inflammation, also referred as DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). All this adds to the overall experience and the trainings camp effect which might be bigger than the altitude training benefits.
Nutrition as equally important as training
Being up here has also freed up some time for me to learn more about sports nutrition and implement a few changes in my diet. The difference between running shorter distances such as 1500m or 10k to the marathon distance (42.195km) is mainly metabolic, hence nutrition for a marathon runner is as important as his training if not more significant. Three out of four marathon runners hit “The Wall” in any given Marathon and hence people around the world strive to master that distance, myself being no exception. Lack of fitness, poor pacing and different types of nutritional errors are the 3 causes for that. For me to excel at the marathon distance, I have to consume enough carbohydrates while also shedding off excess body fat at the same time to get as lean as possible and reach my optimal racing weight (sub 60kg). This is only possible through a continuous nutrition-training synergy: [list line=”no” style=”style6″]
- Sufficient carbohydrates intake to tolerate the training load: 500g for my weight and over 2 hours of training volume per day
- Healthy diet balance of nutrient dense foods including lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, eggs, lean meats, whole grains to get as lean as possible (weighed 63kg the day after Christmas to sub 60kg race weight in March)
- Recovery nutrition containing sufficient carbohydrate and protein after every training. I use the SiS Rego Range (Rego Rapid Recovery)
- Race nutrition simulation to practice race day. I use the SiS Go Range (Isotonic Gels, Electrolyte and Hydration)
- Avoiding muscle spasm and cramping in my marathon (a combination of specific training and nutrition)
[/list] Source: M.Fitzgerald, The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition, Da Capo Press, Boston, 2013
Trainings week diary: How to run 220km in one week?
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- Monday AM: 66’ aerobic run/ 4x strides/ icebath (16km)
- Monday PM: 35’ gym: foot strength & balance/ 50’ recovery run/ stretching (10km)
- Tuesday AM: 25’ warm up/ 8x1km reps in 3:10-3:15 (1’rest)/ 25’ warm down/ icebath/ spa (19km)
- Tuesday PM: 52’ easy run/ stretching (11km)
- Wednesday AM: 2 hours long run (28km)
- Wednesday PM: 35’ gym: core strength/ 50’ easy run/ stretching (11km)
- Thursday AM: 20’ wu/ 2×12’ threshold run/ 20’ wd/ ice (17km)
- Thursday PM: 40’ gym: weights/ 50’ easy run/ stretching (12km)
- Friday AM: 75’ aerobic run (Tower Run)/ stretching/ icebath (19km)
- Friday PM: 50’ easy run/ 50’ yoga/ spa (11km)
- Saturday AM: Threshold run (Fitzi’s Hut): 33’wu/ 36’ threshold pace/ 14’wd/ ice (21km)
- Saturday PM: 45’ gym: foot & core strength/ 50’ recovery run/ stretching (10km)
- Sunday AM: 2:10’ long run (Pretty Valley): 2:03’ hard (30km +400m elevation gain)/ 7’ wd (35km including elevation gain). Race nutrition simulation: 3x SiS Go Isotonic gels + 500ml of SiS Go Electrolyte (Total: 100g of carbs + 50mg of caffeine)
- Sunday PM: Rest
Note: long runs include elevation gain: 100m of vertical elevation = 1km of additional running on the flat
This week will be slightly easier with a small taper starting from Thursday to get ready for the Cadbury Half Marathon in Hobart on Sunday as a first hit out for 2014 before returning back to the heat of Brisbane.
Thanks to my sponsors: On Running, Science in Sport, BTV Athletics, Fitnance and Dare2Tri for their continuous support.
Thanks to my house mates and regular training mates up here: Grant, Daryl, Mike, George, Harley, Mark, Gwynne, Jamie, Jack, Jackson, Tom, Brian and all other 100 runners.
Big thanks to Jamaica for her tremendous support every day and help with our new running coaching business.
Thank you for reading