Saturday, 23 October 2010

Big Sur River Run 10k and Training Thoughts

Nice views in Big Sur.

Post-race fat loading at Nepenthe along Route 1.
After not running a 10k for over a year, I decided I should try it again and learn how to do it properly. Luckily, I chose the Big Sur River Run in Pfeiffer State Park.

The park is in the famous Big Sur area and gave Amy and myself a chance to see the a long section of coastline used in the Big Sur marathon (which I'm now really excited about doing next year), including the 1932 Bixby Bridge.

Even though the race was in the park, it followed the river and was on the roads instead of trails so was a fast course. It's also fairly old and established, with this being the 30th running.

Anyway, I've felt more normal in training for the past week so tried a 5k on the treadmill on Thursday and almost collapsed during it, but managed 16:29 for a PB. Wasn't sure whether that would leave me too tired for Saturday morning (it was a really tough session and I've avoided hard sessions for a while), but today went well with a new 10k PB of 34:38 and third. Had to run myself into the ground to not slow down and spent the whole time trying to hold on to the coat tails of the guy in third until I just squeezed past near the end.

So it was satisfying to have two mentally and physically tough runs close together. From what I've been learning from Tim Noakes' 'Lore of Running' (am still getting through this bible-sized tome), teaching the brain's 'central governor' how to push harder and allow me to run faster is the key to improving. That should mean that every hard run I do where I don't give in and allow myself to slow, even as my heart rate soars, would make it easier for next time. This isn't just improving mental toughness, but teaching the mind's natural mechanism for protecting the heart muscle from oxygen depletion how to accept higher effort levels (it's too conservative and has been shown by Noakes to be more of a limiting factor than oxygen and energy stores to the legs and arms).

His book is fascinating and completely science-based, explaining the flaw in the generally accepted paradigm that an athlete's performance is determined mainly by VO2 max. He shows how performance drops off even though there is still energy and oxygen enough for the outer muscles. Instead, it's the oxygen available to the heart that sends triggers to the brain to force the 'central governor' to kick in and force the body to feel more fatigue than the arms and legs justify. I've butchered the explanation and shortened many chapters into two paragraphs, but I can appreciate the logic and science he uses to back it up. Plus I'm sure I'm not the only one who knows how much easier it is to do a particular time or performance for the second time. This was very clear to me in my second sub 3-hour marathon, which was much easier than the first because my brain was willing to accept I could take it, so it didn't try to hold me back to protect the heart. It had been taught that that level of effort was ok, even though I hadn't got any fitter in the intervening month.

Bixby Bridge, Big Sur
I'll be taking on board what I've learned from Prof. Noakes to hopefully significantly improve my running in 2011. Step one will be to race hard in long races less often. It's a tough one, but I'll force myself to jog more long races and just focus on the ones that count...well, I'll try.


  1. Great race (congrats), great post...interesting stuff, I'll test theory tomorrow. ;-)

  2. Nice post Ian, totally agree. Noakes book is a classic and will take a long time to totally absorb - I'm still rereading it every know and then.

  3. Thanks for taking part in the race. I enjoyed it too. I am local and always appreciate when non-locals ( i assume) come to the area to compete. Hope you enjoy the BSIM as well, it is truly a great race.

  4. what does Noakes have to say about improving performance by increasing running economy (stride efficiency)?

  5. Same as most experts, Brian - that drills and faster running (faster than speed work in 5ks etc) are important to make your running economy more efficient. Then you can go faster for the same energy cost. I'd really recommend the book as it's much more detailed and scientific than anything else I've seen.

    Only bit that shows outdated research is the stretching section - static stretches that he suggests do increase flexibility, but doing them before a run has (I believe, but can't cite a source) been shown to increase the chance of injury - dynamic stretches are generally favoured, but he doesn't mention them.

  6. Good luck in that racing hard in long races less often. It's a tough one to actually accomplish! And nice job on the new p.r..

    Great info about the brain protecting the heart. It really makes sense, especially the part about you saying about the 2nd sub-3 was much easier than the 1st. Oh-so-true.

    Now you just gotta get yourself a sub-34 so you can keep up with me.