March 27, 2012

Q&A with Dutch marathon masters champ

Dutch marathon masters champion Vanessa Gosselink answers my questions about her Sub-3 preparations for the Jaarbeurs Utrecht Marathon in Utrecht, the Netherlands. The race starts at 10:30am on April 9, 2012. Her responses are from March 14, which is 3-1/2 weeks before race day.

Utrecht will be Gosselink's 7th marathon and the Dutch masters marathon champion, a title she earned with her 3:02:42 performance in Amsterdam in October 2011, is ready to speed up again. She's aiming for 2:59.

Read the full story I wrote about her here.

On March 9 you ran the 30K Kastelenloop in 2:08:54. What was your plan for this race?
This race was the conclusion of my biggest training week in preparation for the marathon. I was already pretty tired, which I noticed as I couldn't get my heart rate up as much as I normally can, read: it's a sign of fatigue. I wanted to run Sub-2:09 and I just managed to do so. With an average page of 4:21 per K I am certainly pleased, especially given the course. There was twice a stretch of about 3.5K consisting of trails and dirt roads and there were many roads with uneven surfaces, paved with klinkertjes (cobblestones). That made it tricky to sustain the pace and rhythm and it takes a lot more energy. Only in the final 8K, which followed mainly asphalt roads, did I get into a nice rhythm and was I able to feel that I could pick it up somewhat.

How did you feel, both mentally and physically, during the race? And afterward?
Because I started already somewhat tired I noticed that I couldn't get my heart rate up as usual. I felt like I took it easy, and in the end I ran a very steady race, during which I ran nearly the same splits for each 10K. Mentally I always struggle a little to maintain pace just before the halfway mark of a race (in this one, the second 10K stretch), but once I get past the halfway mark, I can 'step on it'. That's the way I felt in this race which then translates after a relaxed start to a nearly steady race (1st 10K in 42:31, 2nd 10K in 42:55, 3rd 10K in 42:48). 

During races I am always supported superbly by my husband, who follows me and hands me water and gels with carbs. I get a bottle of water (500ml) at 10K, a gel of pure carbs and water at 15K, and at 20K water again, and at 25K another gel for the final sprint. Those gels (Maxim) are perfect because they consist of pure sugars that are immediately absorbed in the bloodstream. I always immediately get the Popeye-feeling, and am convinved that they help me maintain my level of energy during the race.

Three hours before a race I always diligently eat a couple of slices of bread with sweet spreads (jam) so that my stomach is empty during the race. That is why my stomach never bothers me during races. 

Immediately after this race, I was not completely exhausted; I was very tired and had pretty tight muscles. 
And the first couple of hours after the race I felt pretty good, as I usually do by the way.
Only once I sit down at home, the effort usually hits me a few hours later. That's when my stomach reacts. I have gotten used to it by now.

Your longest training run was 43K was op February 27 in 3:30:44, or an average of 4:52 per K, and an average heart rate of 134 beats per minute.
That's right! I really like over-distance (which is because of my background in cycling in which you want to have a buffer in terms of endurance). I do this only once in preparation for a marathon, running a very relaxed pace—a pace that feels good.

This year I am training with a GPS for the first time and it is a lot of fun to see the number of kilometres my legs have done. During this run, I had started very easy and was able to speed up in the final half hour and run a good pace; that was awesome! It makes me feel that I am ready for the marathon.

As of this week [March 14, with race day on April 9] I am running less in terms of volume, with more intensity at, and faster than, race pace, to dot the i's and cross the t's. I have to avoid training too much, because then I tend to want to run more but notice that I get a lot more tired.

In terms of weekly mileage, I have noticed I really need two days of rest; in this marathon build-up I began for the first time with running six days a week and I have found that very tough. I have already had to take an extra rest day twice. Listening to your body and staying in one piece is very important in preparations for a marathon.

How does that compare with your previous marathon preparations?
In the buildup for the previous marathon I ran 'only' five days a week; then the focus was a little less on speed than it is now. I am now training more specifically around lactate threshold, to boost VO2Max—and get faster!

The second change is that I am now reducing mileage sooner because I increased the overall volume per week. Before the previous marathon [Amsterdam, 3:02] I did three weeks out another 3-hour run, though then my longest training run had been 3:15.

Finally, I am going to race in lighter shoes and already know now which shoes I'll be racing in. The last time my shoes were 'done' three weeks before the race, I almost got injured as a result, and ran the race in pretty heavy shoes—because those were the ones that I knew for sure I could handle a 3-hour run in; halfway that turned out to be not so great as I couldn't run lightly in them. This time I am better prepared.

How are you feeling about race day now?
Now I am still very tired, and can't really lift myself from that, but that makes sense because I still have another two weeks of training left. I have to maintain the pressure and not recover too much yet. After the final week of training, I have one week with tons of rest (only 3 runs), and then I have one week of sharpening, and then the Utrecht Marathon!

How do you feel about the Sub-3 goal?
Tired, but with a good feeling. The preparation is going great, I have no injuries on my feet or muscles. It's now a matter of not recovering too much, but also avoid getting over-trained; prodding the body a little at speed and decreasing volume. 

Are you thinking in terms of Sub-3, or Sub-3:02:42?
I am focused on 2:59:00. An average speed of 4:15/K should be fine once I am rested. So far I have run everything more or less fatigued. I haven't raced fully rested.

In training I am comfortable around 4:10-4:15 per K in tempo sessions and in lactate threshold sessions I am around 4:00-4:05 per K. I am confident that when I am rested, and am feeling good on the day, I am going to run a time of less than 3 hours. There are always factors you cannot control (the weather, or some mysterious bad feeling) but I am letting go of that completely.

Which sessions and/or races have given you the most confidence this year?
The long runs, at a pace below 5 minutes per K, during which I could run nice and relaxed. The 30K race; a tricky course and an average of 4:21 per K. And the lactate threshold sessions at a pace of about 4:00/K that I was able to sustain comfortably. 

Have you already decided on your race plan?
'Never change a winning formula.' As always, I am going to start easy—4:15-4:20, by feel, and then speed up in the second half. With that I want to run a pretty steady race, with every 10K in about 42 to 43 minutes, and then I hope I can speed up a little in the final 10K and head for that Sub-3. So starting pace 4:18/K, then speed up a touch after 5K, hold on to that pace through 25K, and then try to speed up another touch, then the last 10K I am going for it.

My husband will again supply water every 5K and a gel at 10K, also a tried and tested strategy.

Do you know the course?
No. I did check it out through Google Earth, plenty of asphalt with a few K's through the city centre, with cobblestones in parts. I don't plan on checking out the course because I prefer not knowing it.

What will your race morning look like? Do you sleep at home? What time do you get up, what do you have for breakfast?
I can sleep at home. The night before the race, I will have a large plate of potatoes, very few vegetables, and fish. In the days leading up to the marathon, I eat a ton of potatoes. In my cycling career I ate so much pasta that I don't enjoy that very much any more:-).

I'll get up at about 7.30am, take the horses outside first and muck the stables with my husband. Three hours before the race I will have a light breakfast, then a few lightbrown slices of bread with jam (or another easily digestible sweet spread). I will have a few cups of tea.

Then I won't eat anything until the start of the race. I will drink water if I feel like it, and another 250ml just before the start.

What is your mental strategy for the race? Do you use a mantra for example? Do you think a lot, or a little? What gives you strength during a race? Is there anything you need to be careful about, internally or externally?
I try to draw the focus inward as soon as possible, ignore fellow runners around me and just focus on 'relax, save energy, run light' (Dutch: ontspannen, energie sparen, lichtvoetig lopen). Those are the words that I keep repeating in my mind often.

Before the start of the race, I do that too; focus inward and concentrate on saving energy in the first 10K. Run my own pace, focus on feel, relaxation.

In short, I try to get into the 'flow' as much as possible and to stay there. I focus at every 5K mark where I'll get water or a gel. So I run from 5K mark to 5K mark. I look forward to water and/or gel, and especially during 15K and 25K I have to make sure to stay relaxed.

I am a real distance runner, so if I get through those first 25K relaxed, without wasting too much energy, I can always do something extra in those final 17K.

If the flow doesn't arrive and things don't feel good (which was what I felt in the second half in Amsterdam last year because I had started too fast [she ran the first half in 88:33]), then it is a matter of survival and then I keep thinking about relax, relax, relax. That's mentally tough but I am confident that I can handle the distance just fine, and that confidence gives me energy.

Do you plan to wear a heart rate monitor and will you pay attention to it? Or will you focus on the pace per kilometre?
I am running the marathon purely by feel. I will pay attention to my pace during the first few kilometres to avoid starting too fast but after 5K I won't look at my watch again. I will wear a heart rate monitor because I really enjoy seeing the data (in terms of HR and pace) afterward so I can learn something for the next marathon.

I purposely don't look at my watch too much because that simply provides unrest in my mind. Running by feel is the best method for me.

What does training look like in the final month before the race?
My program changes after each block of three weeks. In this final training block, before I take a week of rest and a week of sharpening (in the pre-race week):
- Monday recovery run of 30min, rowing 30mins (for my back)
- Tuesday pyramid at around lactate threshold (last week I did 4'/5'/6'/5'/4'; this week I'll increase all by one minute and then the third week increase all by another minute again)
- Wednesday fartlek/medium long run with heart rate between 130 to 150bpm (last week I did 1hr 40, this week 1:50 and next 2:00)
- Thursday extensive interval (last week I took a rest day as I was too tired; this week 3 X 12 min at marathon race pace and the third week I will do 3 X 14' at marathon pace)
- Friday 4 X 400 metres all out (this sessions remains the same for 3 weeks, total running time 40 min).

And how about that final week before the race?
The second-last week: only three runs, very extensive [easy]. I'll only once do a little intensity, short, with plenty of rest, on Monday. I will move the long run because the race is on a Monday [a holiday in the Netherlands]. Sunday I'll run 90 min.

The final week:
- 30 min recovery run on Tuesday
- rest on Wednesday
- Thursday intensive interval (pyramid), total about 1 hour
- fartlek/'long' run (1 hour) on Thursday
- rest on Friday
- Saturday: intensive interval, 4 x 200m (30 min total)
- rest on Sunday
- Monday race day

 The Jaarbeurs Utrecht Marathon starts at 10:30am on April 9, 2012.

- Margreet Dietz is the author of A Hundred Reasons to Run 100km, From my Mother (a novel), Running Shoes Are a Girl's Best Friend and Powered From Within: Stories About Running & Triathlon.

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