Thursday, March 30, 2017

24 Hour Racing.





Team Ireland at the 24 hour World Championships 2013.


With the 24 Hour World Championships (incorporating the 24 Hour Irish Championship) taking place in Belfast on the 1st of July 2017, John O' Regan answers some of the commonly asked questions about Ultra Running. (This article was originally published in Irish Runner Magazine)


 How does a time-based race such as a 24-hour differ from a fixed-distance race?

In what we would call a regular race the objective is to cover a set distance in the shortest possible time; in a time-based race the objective is to cover the maximum distance allowed by the clock, in this instance 24 hours


Are breaks and time-outs permitted?

Yes, you’re allowed to take breaks and there are no limits as to how long or how many, but you must inform the race referee and rejoin the course precisely where you left it. Ideally, you won’t take breaks unless of course, you need to use the toilet or for some other pressing reason. For the most part, you need to keep moving forward cause every step counts.


What do you eat during the run?

Again this is highly individualised, but the short answer is not as much as you might think! I’ve heard people talking about how many calories they plan on burning during a race and how they will make up the deficit by consuming the same number. This is neither sensible or practical; much of the energy used en route comes from fat stores and replacing it on the hoof is likely to mean a too-full stomach.
Fuel requirements vary with intensity, and because a 24-hour race should be run at the lower end of your aerobic capacity, your need for carbohydrate should (if you are properly conditioned) decrease as you enter the fat-burning zone. Under such circumstances, you don’t want to be ingesting a fuel that isn’t being utilised; it will sit there and increase the risk of gastric discomfort and cramps.


How do you train?

I doubt you can train specifically for a 24-hour race. It requires more than just a training cycle; the groundwork needs to be done over many months and even years. It is possible for someone without that base to get through an ultra run, but if you want a good result while avoiding injury you need to have the foundations laid and thousands of miles in your legs
Generally, I like to train at a faster pace than I plan to race at, which allows me to step back into my comfort zone on race day. But as the race gets closer I will practice my race pace to get comfortable with the shorter stride and all that goes with it
To maximise my training time I include strength work in the gym, focusing mostly on running strength, which is training the movement and not just the muscle.


How do you recover?

This varies between training and racing. In training, I tend to do only enough to induce a training response, and not so much that I lose the training effect by requiring too much rest. Recovery, in that case, can be an easy run, but between runs, I make sure to get sufficient rest and pay close attention to what I eat
On gym days I tend to increase my protein intake and in the days prior to a long run I eat homemade granola or old-fashioned porridge, and I think doing these little things can start the recovery before the training even begins.
Following on from the 24-hour World Champs I won’t be in any rush to get back to training and from experience, I think I’ll know when the time is right. You’ll hear it said that ultra marathon is mostly mental, but unless you’ve worked hard on the physical the mental can take only so far; it needs the strong body to work with.
If you have a strong mind but a weak body, you are more likely to get injured. There are no shortcuts- to be successful you need to train and put the work in


By John O’Regan

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Time Management


The Runmute.


Not enough hours in the day to do all you want to do?  Exercising for 60 minutes per day can seem time-consuming especially when we feel that we don’t have those 60 minutes to spare, but when you think about it, 60 minutes is a very small portion of the 1440 minutes available in a day.  Now I know that the majority of those minutes are spent working, commuting and sleeping but if you look closely you’ll soon discover that a lot of our daily minutes are actually wasted.  Getting yourself organised and a bit of forward planning could make your day a bit more productive.

 

Not having enough time is probably the most used excuse for not exercising but the reality is we all have the time and it’s more a matter of priorities and how much you value your health.   Even those with the most demanding of jobs find time to fit exercise into their daily routine as they realise the harm that the lack of exercise can do and more importantly they realise the benefits gained from including some form of daily exercise. 

 

We can’t make time but we can make the most of it.

You’ve heard it said that time is money and if you think of it in that way then you might be less likely to waste it.  If you do an audit of your typical day and week you should find that windows of opportunity do exist but we have allowed them to close and with a little bit of strategic planning we can re-open them.

 

 

  • The Running Commute.  Do you live within a reasonable distance from work?  If yes, then you could try the occasional run to work as this is a very time efficient way to fit in your training.  If this is inconvenient due to lack of showering facilities then you could try running home.  I find that the run home can be invigorating and helps to clear your head rather than falling asleep on a bus or train leaving you feeling lethargic for the rest of the evening.

 

  • Reclaim your lunch hour:  Do you have access to shower facilities in work?  If yes, then it should be possible to fit in a time based session to ensure you always finish and have time for lunch.  It’ll take a few attemps to get into a routine and work out potential routes but it won’t be wasted time.  As an example, you could run out for 15 mins and then turn and retrace your steps.

 

  • Look for windows of opportunity:  We all need some downtime but there’s also wasted time.  Do you drop the kids to football practice or similar and wait around for them to finish or drive home only to go out again?  Is there a particular programme on TV that you try avoid but your partner watches?  There are many other similar examples.

 

  • Keep travel to a minimum:  A run can start from anywhere so rather than wasting time driving to a start point just start from where you are.  The travel time can sometimes be as long or longer than the actual run time.  This saves the need to be packing spare clothes and saves further time.

 

  • Get it done early:  Try to run as early in the day as you can, as the longer you wait then the less time you have.  Do what you can when you can.

 

  • Follow the same morning routine at weekends:  Do you get up at 7am Monday to Friday?  Do the same at the weekend and you’ll mange to fit in your run without impacting on your day and it may even give you a few extra hours that would have been spent in bed.   As an added benefit it’ll also make getting up at 7am on the following Monday a lot easier.

 

 

You need to do the things that will move your fitness forward and bring your goal closer.

 

‘Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness’ Edward Stanley, Earl of Derby.

Photo credit: David Craig.

Friday, November 11, 2016

So you want to run faster?




Well you can't do the same thing all the time and expect a different result meaning you need to change things around a bit and spend some time outside your comfort zone.



Most of us try to avoid speed work because it hurts and for the first timer it might not be as enjoyable as it feels like you're starting from the beginning all over again.

This is when you need to be patient as the gains will come quickly and speed work will not only make you faster but it will also improve your fitness.  But you can't just do speed work!  To avoid injury you need to have already built up a good aerobic base and ideally have completed the race distance you want to improve on.  Think of the aerobic base as the foundation on which to build further fitness.



Hills:

For the beginner, Hills are a great way to start speed work.  You might not feel like you're running fast but the increased effort to work against gravity will improve your strength for the forward motion.

Try this:

6* 1 minute uphill with a gentle jog or walk back down for recovery.  Increase by 1 rep per week up to 10 reps.  This session will be as hard as you want it to be and to begin with you take it easy and remember how far a minute takes up and you can compare it as the weeks go by.



Fartlek:

Another session that's easy to try is the fartlek.  This comes from the Swedish term for speed play and it's basically an unstructured speed session and you just do what you can for as long as you can.  You decide on the time, distance and pace for your fast running but don't overdo it. 

Try this:

After 2K of easy running pick a point in the distance which could be a lamppost and run at a pace that you can sustain until you get to it.  You then take as much time as needed to recover and repeat until you want to cool down.  Intervals can be as long or as short as you want.  If running with a friend you can add a bit of uncertainty into the mix by taking turns at deciding the distance and pace for reps.



Intervals:

For a more structured interval session you choose a set distance and pace or for the beginner it can be time and pace.

Try this:

After your warm up run for 6*1 minutes at your target race pace with I minute jog recovery.  As an example, if your 5K best time is 30 mins and you want to target 25 mins then you would run at 5 min per K pace for 1 minute with 1 minute recovery and repeat for 6.  To work out pace you should ideally use a GPS watch / smartphone app or if you have access to a running track then you can work out your time per 100M to check your pace.  For this example 100M should be covered in 30 seconds and your 1 minute interval should equal 200M.

As it becomes more manageable you can increase the length of the intervals until you can run for 5 mins.  Do remember that when you increase the working time then you must also increase the recovery time.

Do not run faster than you need to and only do enough to achieve your goal.





For the first few sessions be cautious and introduce yourself rather than jump straight in as you don't want the first session to be your last.  I see this quite regularly and unless you have a coach to guide you then you'll need to be patient to begin.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Mind over Matter. The Sub 3 hour Marathon.






Original article available here.





Irish International Ultra Runner John O’Regan explains how he helped train Derry McVeigh, A Lust for Life team member and sports agent, on how to break the 3 hour marathon mark. “It doesn’t need to be the loneliness of the long distance runner”.
Background
I got to know Derry through our local parkrun back in January 2014. It was Saturday 18th January and he finished 2 seconds ahead of me after putting in a sprint finish that I couldn’t match. We met again on Saturday 25th January and this time I finished 8 seconds behind with Derry showing signs of improvement and then on Saturday 01st March we ran together in a small group with Derry again finishing ahead of me. This time he was first over the line.
We got talking and he told me of his plan to run a sub 3hr Marathon in Dublin later that same year. Thinking to myself that 3hrs should be a handy enough target for him based on his 5K times I didn’t say too much and we continued to battle it out whenever we met at parkrun.
Soon after the Dublin Marathon, we met again at parkrun and I was very surprised to hear that he had missed his target by 7 seconds and had experienced a very tough day. This was even more surprising when he told me that he had finished a parkrun in 17:17 less than a week after the Dublin Marathon.
Defining Moment
Jump forward to 2015 and we met up for a long run in March with Derry’s two training partners (Karl and Stephen). I was the guest so I sat at the back and felt under pressure soon after starting which had me thinking that maybe I wasn’t fit enough to run with these guys. Halfway through the run we stopped at a quiet junction to retrieve a bag containing energy drinks and gels and it was then I realised that the lads were just running and weren’t doing a specific session. They were going too fast on their long run and it was becoming just another run which wasn’t helping to prepare for the Marathon and this could be the reason for Derry missing his target in Dublin.
The Beginning
I said nothing until after the run and then took the gamble of telling Derry that I knew why he hadn’t achieved his sub 3hr Marathon. We had a brief chat and I gave him an idea of what I thought he would need to do which would make running a lot easier than it had been and I made a few suggestions to help make the most use of his available time. Quite simply it was a case of ‘You can do the same thing and get the same result or you can try something different.’ He was interested!
Derry got back in touch and said he’d been thinking about what we’d been talking about and it made sense. He asked if I’d help with a training plan and this was time for me to walk the talk. I didn’t have time to train regularly with Derry so I needed a way to control what he was doing by checking what he had done. We had less than 4 months until the next Sub 3 attempt in Berlin.
To start things off I suggested he buy a Heart Rate Monitor and we decided on the Garmin 225 as the software included (Garmin Connect) would allow me to view the sessions he had completed and I could then monitor his progress and suggest changes if required. To get the most from a Heart Rate Monitor it helps to know your lactate threshold which is the fastest pace you can run without generating more lactic acid than your body can process.
Knowing the heart rate at which this happens will allow you to stay below it and could be compared with the difference between keeping a pot of water simmering rather than letting it boil. You can make an educated guess based on feel and comparing with race results and hard sessions but it’s still only a guess and won’t help to maximise your performance. We did a few guessed sessions during which I was cautious not to overdo it as I felt that Derry was always training harder than he needed to be so my main objective was to slow him down and get him used to doing easier runs. The added advantage of using the Garmin made it easier to monitor progress from a distance as I could easily see from uploaded files if there was an increase or decrease in distance covered as the weeks progressed.
The Plan
It was May 20th and Derry made an appointment to do a Lactate Test with Colin Griffin at the Sports Surgery Clinic in Santry. This test consisted of 6* 1 mile controlled intervals on the track under the observation of Colin with a small blood sample taken at the end of every mile to measure lactate levels and heart rate was recorded. The results were no less than I expected and confirmed what I had been thinking. I used the information received from the test to structure a few definite sessions to ensure that Derry was running easy enough on easy days and hard enough on the harder days. A common mistake is running easy sessions too hard which means you might not be sufficiently rested and recovered to run the harder runs as they should be run with the end result being that all runs are more or less the same.
We sat down and designed an individualised adaptable training plan that would make the most use of his available time with regular checks along the way to ensure the plan was productive. We looked for windows of opportunity in the working week and also used times that were already working for training runs. A typical week included a Lactate Threshold Interval Session, a tempo run, a long run and the rest was easy running. The long run was one of the big changes and we shifted the format of this run from pace to an aerobic heart rate zone with it being measured in time rather than distance.
The Training
The best plan isn’t always the best plan and to make something work you need to fit it around your life, rather than fit your life around what you are trying to do. Getting this right will immediately remove a stress or at least make the training less stressful and make it more workable. Training with friends makes it a lot easier and the early morning or late nights become more bearable. Involving others can make all the difference and if those others are like minded with similar goals and objectives then your chances of success will improve from the beginning.
Derry was lucky as he had a group of regular motivated training partners which was a great start and this didn’t just happen by chance as they came together by design and in a similar way that I got involved. We share a common interest and got chatting after one of our many battles during a parkrun. Finishing close enough together shows the similar ability and we all realised that training is easier with company if we embrace it.
A perfect example of fitting the training around your life would be the Lactate Threshold session as we designed a session of just the right duration to be completed during a running commute to work. Early morning was also perfect for this run because it required energy and concentration and was the perfect start to a busy day.
Making it work
From my observation they had evolved into a same pace and every run was more or less the same. We needed to change the training but not change the training partners and keep them involved as they were crucial to the success of the plan. On a few occasions when we talked, Derry told me that if he hadn’t committed to meeting the other guys for an early morning run at the weekend then he would have stayed in bed.
Goals and objectives can differ but with some thought out scheduling it was possible to still do individualised training sessions while running in a group. As an example, Derry was able to do an easy session while running with someone of lesser fitness doing a faster session. Some sessions can’t be compromised as specific work needs to be done but if you look around you will find that there’s always someone looking for company and would love to tag along.
It won’t always work out as when you are training in a group you need to compromise and find a middle ground that suits all but luckily for Derry, Karl and Stephen were close to the same fitness level and equally benefited from the session. I think that the key to this training cycle being a success was due to the network of friends and training partners that Derry had around him and it was important to keep them involved.
During a big city marathon you have all the distractions along the way with the mile markers very obvious and breaking the distance into manageable chunks but when you are alone it takes a lot more mental effort to stay focussed and motivated. Training alone is still beneficial and some people prefer it but if you find that your motivation is starting to wear off then you should consider finding a training partner for the occasional run.
Monitoring Progress
Along the way it was necessary to monitor progress to ensure that the training was productive or in some cases to discover in time if it was unproductive and needed changing. With that in mind we decided to use the regular interval session as used during the commute. This particular session became the benchmark and the improvements were obvious. As Derry got fitter from the training he had to work harder which in turn means run faster to elevate his heart rate into the training zone and this meant covering more distance in same time.
Derry had registered for the Rock and Roll Half Marathon in Dublin on 2nd August and we discussed using this as a performance indicator with the finishing result being very positive and confirming we were on track.
A perfect example of how this plan was workable would be an observation of the Interval Session that was fitting in around a commute into work which consisted of 3*15 mins at Lactate Threshold with 5 mins recovery between reps. This started with a warm up that lasted as long as it needed to last and finished with a cool down. As the weeks progressed this session was resulting in more distance being covered during the 15 minute sections for the same heart rate. This meant the training was done before the working day had begun and it was utilising the time that would have been spent commuting. The long run was done on a Sunday and as it got longer it started earlier.
Tapering and Race Week
Race week came around very quickly which highlighted the importance of making the best use of available time as it seemed like we arrived at the start line just at the right moment. The tapering period was short but definite with a reduction in training volume while maintaining some intensity. Most importantly the temptation to sign up for shorter races or racing in training was resisted. Racing in training is simply running faster than you should be running and testing your fitness when you should be saving it.
Derry travelled to Berlin and was confident enough with his training to prevent any panic at the start. We had talked through the race and worked on a strategy based on previous experience. We knew where the sticking points would be and because of that we had gone beyond them in training and proved in advance that it could be done. We talked about when it would hurt and how much it would hurt and although slowing down or stopping might temporarily ease that pain it was nothing like the pain of knowing you’d given up and missed your target by just a few seconds as was the case in Dublin 2014.
It was a fast start but he got back onto pace and played a patient game knowing that he had prepared well and the recent performance indicators had all indicated he should achieve his target. Marathons can be strange events in that you are amongst a group of 10-40,000 but after a certain point you can feel all alone in your own little world of pain and for Derry this was to happen at 35K.
For a moment he was disorientated and forgot where he was but then he remembered that he was here before and knew he had the experience to deal with it. Rather than slowing down he put in an extra effort which wasn’t to speed up but to just maintain the pace as tired legs require more energy for the same output. At 37K he told me that he had thoughts of giving up and pulling out of the race but those thoughts were cancelled out by more positive affirmations remembered from Karl and Stephen as they talked each other through long run after long run.
He remembered all the early nights just so he could have an early morning and some days arriving into work feeling like he’d already done a day’s work and that he hadn’t done all of that to drop out at 37K. Most of all he remembered the feeling of just missing out on a Sub 3 finish with his last attempt by only 10 seconds and he didn’t want to feel that way again.
He then did what he did on those unpressured training runs away from witness and just kept going and although the self doubt was still there he didn’t give up as he knew that this wasn’t just for him as others where depending on the result including me. It was only when someone passed him at 40K and told him that if he kept going at the pace he was at then he would finish in under 3hrs. This positive cue was all that was needed to switch back on again and the pace which he described as comfortably painful was maintained all the way to the finish and he crossed the line with a smile and a new personal best of 2:58.44 and the elusive sub 3hr Marathon.
You never really know what will happen on the day but if you prepare well then you give yourself the best possible start.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Looking beyond the Finish Line




Over the past 15 years I’ve competed in some of the most extreme races in the world taking in the 7 continents plus the North Pole and have represented Ireland on 10 occasions in the Ultra Marathon, but my running career was almost over as quickly as it had started.
My first Ultra Marathon was a 150 Mile race across the Sahara Desert called the Marathon des Sables and it took 2 years of preparation to go from zero to being fit enough and able enough to complete this epic race. Every day of every month was pre planned and I knew exactly what I was to do and when to do it and before I knew it I was in Dublin Airport starting my journey to western Africa.
My 2 focussed years were now leading into this one week and then all of a sudden it was all over. Crossing the finish line was a very strange experience because rather than having that feeling of success I felt empty. My first thoughts were not about what I’d done but instead I was thinking what do I do now? I was lost and without any sense of direction.
I returned home and lost all interest in what I’d done and hardly wanted to talk about it. With no intention of doing anything like it ever again, I started to regress back to my old ways. This wasn’t because I didn’t want to but I just didn’t feel motivated enough to set myself a new goal.
It was only when another interesting race presented itself almost by accident that I began to regain my focus. When I started back training I got quite a shock to realise that I wasn’t as fit as I had been and a valuable lesson about running was learned when I stopped running. Fitness is not something you can just hold onto. You either use it or you lose it.
Since then I’ve always thought ahead and had future ideas but wouldn’t get too caught up in them too soon as they can distract from the closer short term goals and you may lose focus. I now use the finish line of a race as a new start line even if only to start back training.
Learning how to deal with this negative mindset has allowed me to continue on my running journey and even though these moments still arise I feel better able to deal with them as rather than fear them I expect them and that allows me to prepare for them.
Think beyond the finish line but stay in the moment.
Always have another goal in mind.
Stay focussed.
Keep moving forward.
Never forget where you’ve come from.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Off The Ball speak to Ciaran 'Kipper' Maguire and John O'Regan.


'I wouldn't call it mad' - The inside track on Ireland's extreme sports enthusiasts





Tomorrow night, a new documentary called Extreme airs on Setanta Sports.
Tracking seven Irish athletes, it shows them as they pursue the different extreme sports that they are involved in.
Some of the sports include base jumping, thunder cat racing, surfing, rock climbing and kayaking among others.
Tonight on Off The Ball, kayaker and the show's presenter Ciaran 'Kipper' Maguire and marathon runner John O'Regan joined us to talk about the documentary and their own experiences in extreme sports.
The latter, who spent time with TV adventurer Ray Mears, has competed in 24 hour marathon races as well as a six-day race in the Sahara desert. 
"I wouldn't call it mad because I was still able to do it," he said of the Sahara race, which he suggested was "underwhelming".
 "I'm not someone who can't swim and then decides I'm going to swim the channel. I didn't see this as a big deal but I did set myself a two-year plan. I made sure I could run a marathon first of all. The idea came into my head in April 2001 after I ran the Dublin marathon in October. I didn't just jump into it."
Listen to the full interview with Maguire and O'Regan via the podcast.