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the experiments: experiment eight

This week we hit the big miles. The stage of marathon training when confidence is won or lost – the wonderful 22-mile effort. While the early part of the year saw several 20-mile runs, a 50km ‘fun run’, a false marathon, and a real marathon run off-pace, there’s still something about a formal 22-miler.

The format of this run was an evolution of Experiment Seven: big sets of mile reps at sub-pace effort. Last time out it was 20 miles with 4-mile efforts mixed in. This time it was 22 miles with 3 x 5-mile efforts defining the hardship. Experiment Five was the groundwork for this 22, it was a 22-mile run with a 3/4, 2/4, 2/4, 3 breakdown (the 4s at sub-pace). With the learning from Seven that a 1-mile recovery worked for a 4-mile interval, we adopted this approach to see if it would work for a 5-mile interval. The breakdown was 22 miles: 3/5, 1/5, 1/5, 2 (the 5s at sub-pace effort). It was never going to be easy.


Following the outcome of Experiment Seven I was confident that this run would go according to plan. I have to be honest and say that this did not go according to plan at all. If you look at the splits below you might think they look ok but I missed 3 x sub-7:30 pace miles at the end of the last 5-mile interval and had to jog slowly to the finish. It might look like an ok time for 22 but I had fallen off a cliff at mile 20.

a confidence building 22-miler can sometimes be a necessary reality check also
a confidence building 22-miler can sometimes be a necessary reality check also

The pacing for the first and second 5-mile intervals was bang on target. However, by the end of the second interval, I was starting to feel the effort. Despite the confidence I had starting out, I just couldn’t get it together after mile 18. I did pick up the pace for the last mile of the interval but I was spent. Two bottles of electrolyte mix compared with one for the 20-mile run 2 weeks ago – hydration shouldn’t have been an issue. I don’t believe that it was an issue either.

looks ok at a glance, heart rate even dropped when my interval pace died – an undeniable sign of fatigue
looks ok at a glance, heart rate even dropped when my interval pace died – an undeniable sign of fatigue

Looking at the heart rate zones for the run was a bit of a surprise given how hard I felt it had been. I really thought it was a case that I had gone lactic and couldn’t handle it any longer. It turns out that it was just fatigue and the legs couldn’t cope (view Garmin data).

I honestly expected far more time in Zone 5 for that run
I honestly expected far more time in Zone 5 for that run

confidence: different to false belief

Why did I start this training pattern that I have been on since the beginning of the year? Simple, I wanted to try something different following the guinea pig experiment that gave me so much confidence from its science and resultant data. I wanted to develop a level of comfort surrounding my long distance runs that made my goal marathon almost ‘normal’. While the test to see if this will pay off for the marathon in Dublin next month is still awaiting, it has certainly filled me with new knowledge and confidence in my running.

However, it’s time for a serving of humble pie. Last week I covered more miles than I have ever done before, a 72-mile week. Not only did I manage that, I had the audacity to finish off that 72 miles with a half-marathon race time that would have been a good PB just over a month ago. I ran the Danesfort Half exactly as I planned to do; confidence overflowing from newfound belief in my running. It was false though; it was ego. I did it because I said I would rather than listening to what the body was telling me.

This week I have been struggling to recover all week. I ran recovery runs based on heart rate and kept speed to nothing more than strides during a distance run. Still, by the time this 22 came about, I had not fully recovered and the proof arrived at mile-18. I had been too cavalier to think I could put in such a high mileage week and finish it with a hard race ahead of this. Confidence had transformed to ego, writing cheques the body couldn’t cash. Lesson learned and I’m not going dwell on it but will take it on board as one of the more valuable discoveries I have made this year.

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