The Canadian 50km Ultramarathon Championships were a nice surprise on Saturday. I’m fitter than I thought. I won and broke the course record. I ran eight minutes faster than when I won in 2003 in Victoria. My time was 3:10:52. I honestly don’t know where that fitness came from! I’ve been focused on so many different projects over the last few months (mostly getting VEGA going in the US) that I felt as though my fitness would have suffered to some degree.
Although, the beauty of a sport like this is that once the fitness base? has been built, as mine was years ago, it’s never far off. It can be summoned in a relatively short amount of time.
There are three main physical considerations when training for a longer race. Cardiovascular fitness, energy efficiency (the rate at which fuel is burned by the muscles) and muscular fitness are the factors that will determine how quickly the distance is covered.
On Saturday I found that my cardiovascular fitness and energy efficacy were in good shape, they worked effortlessly.
During the race I only drank water, no calories at all. That’s a sign that my body has been trained to burn fuel efficiently. About 2 1/2 hours before the race I ate a VEGA bar, then another one about an hour before. They diges quickly so it was easy for me to take in the 500 high-quality calories that they supplied.
Over the last third of the race however, it was clear that my muscular fitness was not as well tuned. Simply a result of not enough training runs lasting longer than three hours in the month before the race, I knew it was coming. I slowed a bit, but held it together pretty well.
Over the next few BLOG’s I’ll explain and give examples of ways to improve each system, I’ll start with cardiovascular training.
Simply put, cardiovascular fitness is improved by raising the heart rate. By running over a long distance, for example, heart rate will of course increase. As with any muscle, putting the heart to work and then allowing it to rest will make it stronger. A stronger heart is more efficient. Not needing to beat as quickly to move blood throughout the body, an efficient heart can move a higher volume of blood per stoke than a weaker one. As you may know, the resting heart rate of an elite endurance athlete is significantly lower than that of a sedentary person. It’s not uncommon for an elite endurance athlete to have a resting rate in the low 40’s. However, the average resting heart rate for a non to moderately active person is about 70 beats per minute. Stressors will cause it to rise. Those who smoke, work in a hostile environment or eat a diet rich in refined foods, for example, will commonly register a resting rate of 90 plus beats per minute. At the other end of the spectrum, those who manage their stress effectively, eat a “clean” diet and exercise consistently will generally have a rate of about 50-60 beats per minute.
To find your rate, sit still and relax. Breath normally, put your index and middle finger on your wrist, just bellow the thumb. Count the pulse while looking at a watch as 15 seconds passes. Multiply that number by four. That’s your resting heart rate.
An effective way to achieve a stronger, more efficient heart is by interval training. Running Intervals will improve cardiovascular fitness faster than any other form of training.
I’ll often do a workout called fartlek, a Swedish word, meaning “speed play”?
I’ll run hard for a few minutes, then jog easy for one and repeat this from six to 10 times. The premise is this: you get your heart rate to a level that is just on the brink of being “too hard to handle”? for a few minutes, then you bring it down by jogging. To simply run at an even pace all the time will not drive the heart rate as high and therefore will not train that aspect of the muscle. This premise can of course be used for other sports such as cycling, swimming and even walking to get back into shape after a layoff. Running stairs or short hills is another good way to quickly improve cardiovascular fitness. Run hard up, jog back down easy.
In another BLOG, I’ll talk about how to improve the body’s fuel economy, imperative for success in longer racing.
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