How fast do I run on race day?

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  • #41118
    Andreas
    Participant

    As the title says, how fast do I run on race day?

    I have never run an ultra race before so don’t really have a feeling for how fast I should run or how high I should let my pulse go. It kind of ties into this question a bit I guess

    Heart Rate Drift & staying in zone 2

    It is of cause not an easy question to answer so answer this instead:
    For your last ultra race, what was your average HR in relation to AeT between hour one and two and what was your average HR in relation to AeT during the second to last hour of the race? That would give me somewhat of a feeling what to aim for.

Posted In: Mountain Running

  • Inactive
    Anonymous on #41126

    You should run at the highest sustainable pace you can. 🙂

    This isn’t answerable. Or it is if you accept that what someone recommends may not work for you. Any answers will depend on fitness, experience, pain tolerance, and most importantly, duration.

    “Your last ultra race” isn’t specific enough. What distance? And more importantly, how long did it take the person that responds to your question?

    More specific to you:

    * What is the distance and gain of the race that you’re training for?
    * When you do a long training session, what is the distance and gain?
    * How long does a long session take and at what heart rate (relative to AeT)?
    * How many of those long sessions can you do day after day? Can you do enough of them to add up to the distance and gain of the goal event?

    Participant
    Andreas on #41208

    Yeah it one of those things that you know when you done one but at the same time you need to do your first at some point…
    I don’t want to blow up halfway into the race but at the same time I just don’t want to be overly conservative either.

    My goal race is about 70 km and 3000 meters of elevation. I measured AeT to be 160 (hand held lactate meter) and the 1h max run test resulted in an AnT of 171. I’m currently 6 weeks into the BIG VERT plan so I’ll hopefully improve a bit more before race day since it is another 14 weeks away. That’s also why there at least is a small hope that my intended race won’t be canceled due to covid…

    My last long run was 34 km and 1400 meters of elevation. I “ran” that in 4h45m. The BIG VERT plan calls for no more than 30 min in Z2. That’s not really feasible for me with this much elevation (and that includes walking most of the uphill) but I assume that is just for recovery purposes. I got about 60% in Z1 and about 40% in the lower half of Z2.
    Am I tired after a long run like this? Sure. It’s not like my legs are yelling “this was fun! Let’s do it again!!” But at the same time, it’s not like I’m dead either. I could go again if needed but then I would probably also need some serious recovery time afterwards. I did the Z2 max run with 500 meter of elevation the day after and although the legs are complaining about the elevation the day before it doesn’t really affect my average pace overly much.
    But as I said in my original post. For me this really ties into HR drift and if the HR zones drifts as well.
    I seem to remember reading somewhere here in a forum post that people are running ultras mainly in Z2. Is that true? And if it is true, are we talking about the AeT HR or the AeT pace (does the HR zone drift…).

    Best guess I have right now is that I should start out at roughly Z1 max pace and then try to keep an even pace throughout the race. This would mean that I’m definitely climbing over the measured AeT HR at the later parts of the race. Especially when going uphill. But I’m also worried that this is a bit conservative and that I should start faster.

    Inactive
    Anonymous on #41355

    Yeah it one of those things that you know when you done one but at the same time you need to do your first at some point…

    True! Almost everyone starts too fast in their first (few) race(s). When the adrenaline is pumping, it’s easy to trick yourself into thinking how strong you are. Weirdly, some people never learn from this and start too fast, always.

    The way to tell is how much your pace falls off as the race goes on. If you feel like you can attack near the end of the race and drop whoever is in your cohort, then your pacing was probably pretty good.

    I don’t want to blow up halfway into the race but at the same time, I just don’t want to be overly conservative either.

    Races never go perfectly. If you get near the end and feel like you have something left in the tank, that’s ideal. Then you can attack when your competitors are at their weakest (unless they’re better pacers than you).

    I measured AeT to be 160 (hand held lactate meter) and the 1h max run test resulted in an AnT of 171. I’m currently 6 weeks into the BIG VERT plan so I’ll hopefully improve a bit more before race day…

    Your threshold heart rates are already very close together, so you may never see any improvement, ever. Changes in heart rate are a “first wave” response.

    However! After that is where the real improvement gains are made: in pace. Even if your heart rates don’t change, you likely have years of improvement ahead of you in your threshold paces at those same heart rates. That’s much more valuable.

    My last long run was 34 km and 1400 meters of elevation. I “ran” that in 4h45m. The BIG VERT plan calls for no more than 30 min in Z2. That’s not really feasible for me with this much elevation…

    In a training session? Of course it’s feasible. Go slower. I have no idea why people say this so often, that they “can’t” stay in Z2 (or Z1 or Z0 etc). Just go slower. Stop running uphill and walk. If HR is still too high, walk slower. If it’s still too high, rest step.

    But wait… did you mean Z3? You wrote “no more than 30 minutes in Z2”. If that’s what the BV plan says, please let me know where. Thanks!

    Am I tired after a long run like this? Sure. It’s not like my legs are yelling “this was fun! Let’s do it again!!” But at the same time, it’s not like I’m dead either. I could go again if needed…

    Perfect! That sounds like the right intensity then.

    I seem to remember reading somewhere here in a forum post that people are running ultras mainly in Z2. Is that true? And if it is true, are we talking about the AeT HR or the AeT pace (does the HR zone drift…).

    It depends. Can you post a link to the forum thread?

    HR will always drift in a race because it’s much more stressful. And although the average HR may end up “in Z2”, the fluctuation in intensities (and actual load) will be much higher and much lower.

    Best guess I have right now is that I should start out at roughly Z1 max pace and then try to keep an even pace throughout the race.

    I think that would be on the low side. Your HR will be elevated from stress before the race and in the first 10-20′. So sticking to a Z1 heart rate will be too slow a pace than you’re capable of.

    Try this instead: in training between now and your race, ditch the headphones (if you use them), and pay attention to the cadence of your breathing relative to your heart rate in race-specific terrain. Learn what your breathing feels like in Z2, Z3, Z4. Then in the race, use your ventilation to gauge your intensity. That will be much more reliable than HR because of the additional stressors in a race.

    For example, as the race goes on, ventilation will remain pretty consistent for a given intensity, but as fear, fatigue, heat, dehydration, lactate, and muscle damage increase, so will heart rate. Just because your heart rate increases doesn’t necessarily mean that you should slow down or you won’t finish. If your breathing rate feels sustainable, then you’re probably at the right pace.

    This would mean that I’m definitely climbing over the measured AeT HR at the later parts of the race. Especially when going uphill.

    Yes, and you should.

    But I’m also worried that this is a bit conservative and that I should start faster.

    Is this going to be your last race? If not, look at it as a learning experience. (And every race thereafter.) As I said, races never go perfectly.

    Participant
    Reed on #41367

    Not that you necessarily want to take advice for your first ultra from Gary Cantrell a.k.a. Lazarus Lake, who runs the Barkley Marathons, but…

    The crux of the race is not how well you ascend the bad climbs where everyone will be going slow, but how you handle the transition to runnable sections of the course. […] At the end of a long, hard, soul-sucking climb, the greatest threat we face is not the possibility of encountering a bear but the time limit. Even though it is our natural tendency to move slowly until we have recovered, we must drop the effort just below the redline and move effectively while recovering.

    How to Finish Your Own Barkley

    Participant
    Andreas on #41729

    Thanks for a very thorough reply. Much appreciated!
    Now I have a better feeling for what intensity I should try on race day.
    I’ve never been much for races before but this will hopefully not be my last ultra. I somehow didn’t feel the need to race when every training was a max effort anyway so I think that I’ve only done two in my entire life. Started reading the TftUA about a year ago and because of that I switched most of my training to low intensity. But Z1/Z2 training is kind of boring or at least less rewarding (mentally) in comparison to always feeling dead at the end of a run. This is where a race somewhere in the distance helps keeping me properly motivated.

    I think every long run in the BV plan has this in the description:
    “This run is used to improve your basic aerobic capacity. It should be done in the upper HR range of Z2 (as determined by the AeT test on day#2) IF THE SPREAD BETWEEN YOUR AeT and AnT is more than 10%. IF that SPREAD is <10% then do this run mostly in Z1 with no more that 30min in Z2.”

    That’s why I assumed that recovery was the reason for not spending more than 30 min in Z2.
    I wonder if there should be a third category here though. Something along the line that you are allowed to spend a bit more time in Z2 than 30 min if the spread is <10% but you’re not a particularly good runner.
    For me to stay in Z1 on a ~14% incline after 4-5h on the trail would probably mean that a granny with a walker could overtake me while moonwalking Michael Jackson style…

    Participant
    Andreas on #41730

    Where dreams go to die…
    Hehe, yeah I think I’ll wait until my second ultra before I start take advice from Laz.

    Inactive
    Anonymous on #41739

    Ah, okay, that explains it. For athletes with a narrow gap (< 10%) between AeT and AnT, Zone 2 is much more fatiguing. So it has to be used much less. That's where the 30' recommendation comes from. But if you don't find Zone 2 fatiguing, then you can do a lot more volume in that range.

    The fatigue from Zone 2 continues to be a greater factor as the aerobic system improves. Once athletes get the AnT / AeT gap in the neighbourhood of 5%, high-Zone-2 training is nearly as fatiguing as threshold work (Zone 4). Zone 3, the gap between zones 2 and 4, becomes so narrow, that it’s generally avoided except for very specific goal event training.

    Lastly, if you want to maximize your genetic potential as an endurance athlete, I would think very hard about this:

    But Z1/Z2 training is kind of boring or at least less rewarding (mentally) in comparison to always feeling dead at the end of a run.

    This is a gratification problem. Fatigue does not equal fitness—it can exist without increases in fitness—so using it as a measure of a job well done is a big mistake. We’ve all been there. (I have several of the t-shirts myself…) But you’ll have the most success after Z1/2 is your favorite intensity.

    The clients I have that are the most successful have a few things in common: 1) consistency and frequency (training is a part of their daily life); and 2) an almost Zen-like approach to the most important work (using Z1/2 as moving meditation).

    Participant
    Anna on #41810

    I’ve been following this thread because I am in a very similar situation to the OP – similar HR stats, similar goal race. (For me, I have AeT at 155 and LT at 163; a recent training run had an early, but post-warmup, hour-long uphill section with an average HR at 151 and 3.5% drift (Thanks, Douglas Watson!) – that pace felt sustainable for a couple of hours at that incline; I am targeting a 50k race, my first, with 8000′ gain in 14 weeks.) I have been in search of answers to both of the OP’s questions: what is an appropriate race HR target, and what is an appropriate HR target for long training runs. So I appreciate you engaging on this topic, Scott, but your answer has made me even more confused.

    Ah, okay, that explains it. For athletes with a narrow gap (< 10%) between AeT and AnT, Zone 2 is much more fatiguing. So it has to be used much less. That’s where the 30′ recommendation comes from. But if you don’t find Zone 2 fatiguing, then you can do a lot more volume in that range.

    The fatigue from Zone 2 continues to be a greater factor as the aerobic system improves. Once athletes get the AnT / AeT gap in the neighbourhood of 5%, high-Zone-2 training is nearly as fatiguing as threshold work (Zone 4). Zone 3, the gap between zones 2 and 4, becomes so narrow, that it’s generally avoided except for very specific goal event training.

    I get confused when people use terms like “comfortable” or “fatiguing” to describe runs or paces. All paces are at least somewhat uncomfortable, and all paces are at least somewhat fatiguing. So these types of terms have no meaning to me. (“Sustainable” is slightly better, but must be quantified with a time frame. Sustainable for two minutes? Sustainable for eight hours?) So I am hoping you can help clarify what you meant in the above quote.

    Are you saying:

    1) That our Zone 3s must not actually be as small as we have calculated them, and we measured them wrong, and we must actually have more than a 10% gap between AeT and LT, and so the only thing left to do is to run by feel? The theory being that we’re obviously working with inaccurate HR information because otherwise we would not be finding our Z2 long training runs not particularly “fatiguing”?

    2) That as long as we don’t find our Z2 runs “fatiguing,” whatever that means, that it’s “ok” to run our long training runs in that zone and we are still getting the aerobic benefit from that, despite all the extensive wording in your literature and training plans that athletes with small AeT-LT gaps must spend close to zero time in Z2? That we have magic bodies that can hang out in Z2 even though we don’t have ADS and still reap the aerobic rewards?

    3) Other?

    I was further confused by this:

    Perfect! That sounds like the right intensity then.

    So if we don’t feel totally dead after the Z2 workout, then it’s the perfect intensity? So the whole recommendations to not spend much time in Z2 if we don’t have ADS only applies if we feel that Z2 is killing us? I understand that Z2 is close to Z3 is close to Z4, but at some point the “slippery slope” argument falls apart. If it so happens that we can control ourselves in Z2 and actually stay in Z2 and not at/above our AeT, is that “ok” in that we are still getting the aerobic capacity benefit? Or should we still strive to be in Z1 absolutely and at all costs, even if it means granny-moonwalking our way up every slope?

    Thanks again! This is a great community and resource!

    Participant
    Reed on #41854

    Hi Anna,

    Take a look at Scott’s writeup on how heart rate & zones evolve – might help with some of your questions. https://www.scottsemple.com/aerobic-evolution/

    I’m interpreting this discussion of “fatiguing” to be on the days-to-weeks timescale, not necessarily how a run feels in the moment. You might have a narrow ~5% gap between AeT and AnT, but if your zone 2 pace is a 9:00 min/mile jog, it won’t be as physiologically taxing as it would be if your zone 2 pace were 6:00 min/mile. For the same amount of hours of training, the second pace would be 50% more miles, which will demand more of tendons, bones, etc.

    The initial intended audience of Training for the New Alpinism was fairly advanced athletes. People like me, with <400 hours per year of structured training, don’t have “magic bodies” but instead just have more room for improvement.

    Most zone 1 workouts will leave you refreshed, more energized than when you started. A 34-km training run won’t fall into that category, but feeling ready to go again in a day or two means that it was a workout that Andreas could recover from, get stronger, and build off of. (A workout where he “banked” fitness rather than “withdrew” fitness.)

    -Reed

    Participant
    Anna on #41905

    Hi Reed,

    Thank you for the reply. I think I’ve figured out where my confusion is. I had been thinking that the reason that we don’t want to spend too much time in Z2 (if we don’t have ADS) is that it was metabolically too close to Z3 and thus too close to Z4. We would thus be training too many fast-twitch muscles and glycogen-burning pathways if we train in Z2. I was thinking that we thus need to be training in Z1 to get the proper aerobic benefit.

    However, you’re saying that the issue is not that the metabolic processes are a problem in Z2 (especially, presumably, at mid-Z2 as opposed to the top of Z2), it’s everything else that’s a problem and potentially too tiring. I re-read the relevant bit in TftUA and it also says this. Right now, my AeT pace is super slow, around 8:15 min/mi pace, and so I can do lots of mid-Z2 day after day forever without slowing (as in, without accumulating meaningful long-term fatigue). But perhaps I am in Scott’s third phase in the metabolic evolution article, such that my AeT pace point might move (hopefully), and then I will have trouble keeping up with that kind of pace every day without it becoming damaging.

    I get that TftNA was written with only elite athletes in mind, but my understanding was that TftUA, which is what I read, had those issues fixed and was more useful for less-than-elite athletes such as myself. TftUA repeats over and over that athletes with a small Z3 should severely limit their Z2 time. Similarly, Andreas’s BIG VERT cookie-cutter training plan (not that there’s anything wrong with that) is presumably not made for elite athletes, and it states to not include more than 30 minutes in Z2 in even very long training runs. These make it feel like a very hard rule to never do much time in Z2 regardless of how slow you run (as long as you’re not aerobically deficient) but I guess the coaches have just never met anyone as slow as I am 🙂

    I will henceforth use feel and recovery time as well as heart rate when determining pace on aerobic-building runs (all of them). I like the imagery of banking versus withdrawing fitness to help gauge intensity. Thank you!

    Participant
    fzlaforge on #43765

    Any updates, Andreas or Anna? I’d love to see other people’s experience with HR strategy during 10+ hour ultras.

    I’m targeting a 55-mile (89 km) self-supported solo mountain run with about 10,000′ (3000m) in elevation gain in the remote High Sierra (the Evolution 100k) in late September.* I’ll be racing the daylight rather than other runners though. I’d like to minimize my headlight time at the end of the run for safety and marital harmony. So, in essence, it’s like a race in that I’d like to complete it as quickly as possible, but the consequences of a blowup are greater.

    Anyhow, my current plan is to try to stay at or below AeT for the first two-thirds of the run, which probably means walking the majority of the climbs and trying to run all the flats and downhills. But I’ve done a few 23-24 milers in similar conditions in the past six weeks, and I’ve noticed that I’m right at AeT when slowly running the flats for the final few miles. It’s safe to assume that when the distance is doubled, I’ll eventually have to go over AeT and solidly into Zone 3 on any flats or techy downhills during the last third if I’m to keep running. Hopefully, the cooler temps in late September and the next two months of training will help though.

    Anyhow, again, any data points of peoples’ HR experience/strategy in ultras would be appreciated.

    *My AeT is around 142. I’ve been doing all sub-AeT runs for the past couple months. But in skimo, I can maintain an HR in the low 170’s during 35-minute max effort climbs, so I figure my lactate threshold is likely near 170. I’m currently running over 57 miles per week in the mountains at or, usually, below AeT. I’m not sure if these specifics are relevant to my inquiry, but everyone else here mentions such stats so I figured I should too.

    Participant
    briguy on #43788

    Strategizing like this is what makes racing fun. If we were all robots or computers then it would be simple calculations.

    For me, what I’ve learned from racing 5Ks to marathons to 6-8 hours ultras to 11+ hour super-ultras is that the greatest risk factor under your control is a too-fast start.

    Whether you determine intensity from a power meter, a HR monitor, speed/pace, or simply RPE…you have to make sure your start is manageable and sustainable.

    Of course, the art and the “fun” is in how long you wait until you take the reins off. But most of that depends on your fitness and how you feel on race day (and if some of those uncontrollable factors like weather etc are working for or against you).

    With all that said, I’m still figuring it out for some of my races, even ones I’ve done multiple times. But again that’s the fun and why they keep me coming back to re-do them.

    Participant
    fzlaforge on #43805

    briguy: Thanks for the response. For the first half of an ultra (let’s say 32 miles+/50km+), any idea what your usual HR are relative to your AeT? And if you’re keeping it around AeT, do you ever temporarily spike higher (e.g., finishing a climb) or do you try to keep it fairly constant?

    Side Note: After doing so much Zone 1 and 2 running, I’ve kind of forgotten what it’s like to push myself at a more strenuous pace.

    Participant
    briguy on #43809

    For a long ultra like that I might drift into Z2 occasionally but I would want to stay Z1 (upper z1) as much as possible for the first half. Some reasons I might drift into Z2 would be following a spiky climb…if I had to make a pass…or if I wanted to rush to the singletrack immediately following a gravel-road/double-track start to avoid bottlenecks.

    If you’ve trained properly us the UA principles, your Z1 pace should be well trained and relatively “fast”…but most importantly very sustainable.

    As for forgetting how to handle strenuous pace, you should be practicing that in the last 6+ weeks leading up to your race when you’re introducing more Intensity.

    Participant
    briguy on #43810

    Oh, also I recently did an “event” that sorta corresponds to your 55m ultra and so I’ll point out a couple of things I noticed since this was one of the first super-long ultras that I did after training under UA guidelines. In my case it was “vertical ultra” as I did 16000+ vertical feet over the course of 11+ hours, so not quite the same but I think some things might apply.

    – I did keep HR in zone 1 early on, only spiking past it here and there on particularly steep section.

    – Late into the “run” I found perceived level of effort for Z2 to be quite hard. In other words, I would be working very hard, out of breath, needing a rest break etc and check my HR only to find it in Z2. I attribute this to just overall fatigue. I’ve found this to occur in other long races where it seems like the heart just gets “tired” and is simply unable to reach the upper zones for BPM.

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