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The obstinate reality: part 2

The obstinate reality: part 2

A trend seems to arrise: shortly after I share my training plans, I get injured. Just when I’ve regained trust in my right calf (and hip), my left foot lets me down. After spending the weekend browsing for information I am pretty sure about the […]

The obstinate reality

The obstinate reality

Eight weeks ago I wrote about my carefully planned preparation for the Enschede Marathon. In that post I already warned that planning and realization likely wouldn’t always correspond. I must have been tempting fate: after just twelve days my right calf collapsed under the load […]

The road to Enschede (and beyond)

The road to Enschede (and beyond)

I haven’t been very mysterious about the fact that the Enschede Marathon on April 19, 2020 is an important goal for me. This may seem a bit odd: the difference between a road marathon and an ultramarathon mountain race is huge! Nevertheless the explanation is very simple and relates to the first principle of my training philosophy:

Principle 1: “fitness trumps everything.”

Many aspects of the preparation for a long, slow mountain race are important, but the number one is fitness. And few things build fitness for long distance running the way a training block for a road marathon does. The race itself is the icing on the cake: it motivates to persist through the training and it is a measurement of the realized fitness. For a fast marathon all aspects of it are important: a high VO2max (the maximum amount of oxygen my body can process per minute), a high lactate threshold (the tipping point at which my body stops being able to process the produced lactate fast enough) and a great endurance at the projected marathon pace. By challenging myself with the (ambitious, but realistic) goal of running the Enschede Marathon within 3 hours I will have to work hard on all of them.

Having trained for just over half a year now, I have a reasonable idea of how I can achieve this. Up until now I have trained all the above aspects in parallel, but this approach is losing its productivity. In order to make further progress, periodization of the training becomes important. And amidst all the chaos and confusion of actually planning this, the second principle of my training philosophy offers clarity:

Principle 2: “any training block starts with the training that is least specific to the race and ends with the training that is most specific.”

When training for the marathon it means this: start with VO2max. This is the maximum amount of oxygen my body can process per minute and corresponds to an intensity level that can be sustained for less than 10 minutes during a race. Not very marathon specific indeed… But having a high VO2max makes running at a much lower intensity easier to sustain as well. The paradox is that it isn’t trained at all when running at those lower intensities. Therefore I train it by doing 1 km intervals at very high intensity with short recovery breaks in between. The training effect is fast, but levels out quickly as well. This is why this is the shortest block of the training: 3 weeks.

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After a recovery week to clear away the accumulated fatigue a training block focusing on the lactate threshold follows. It is the tipping point at which the body stops being able to process all the lactate in the muscles as fast as it is being produced. Above it the muscles acidify and it is reached at a lower intensity than VO2max. In a race this intensity can be sustained for a duration up to about an hour (provided being properly trained). So it is a bit more marathon specific, but obviously you want to stay away from lactate threshold intensity during a marathon race. So the higher it is, the better! I like to train this by running 3 to 5 km intervals at the right intensity, separated by 1 km at an easier pace. But in this subblock I will also perform a few interval trainings at VO2max intensity and the reason for this is found in the third principle of my training philosophy:

Principle 3: “anything you don’t maintain, you loose.”

That is a bit of a bummer, but there’s a tiny bit of good news as well: it takes much less training to maintain something than it takes to improve it. Which is why I hope to do enough maintenance with 3 VO2max trainings (compared to 9 lactate threshold trainings). During the entire marathon training block I’ll do weekly (slow) long runs to train the endurance to run strong for several hours. In this phase I’ll start adding in short bits at marathon pace, mostly at the end of the run to get comfortable with maintaining this pace in a fatigued state. Finally, I’m still contemplating signing up for a trail race in the Ardennes right at the start of this subblock.

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In terms of recovery these are the toughest weeks leading up to the marathon. The consecutive recovery week will be indispensable! The third subblock is the most marathon specific and has the simple main goal of increasing my endurance at marathon pace. Not only will I increase the amount of marathon pace running during the long runs, but there will be two additional trainings with similar intervals each week. To maintain VO2max and the lactate threshold (principle 3!) I have planned 2 and 4 trainings respectively.

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The training effect of this type of training is relatively slow and therefore this is the longest subblock with the largest volume. Although the trainings won’t be the toughest to complete (this rather dubious honour is without doubt held by the VO2max intervals), the gradually accumulated fatigue will be substantial. This makes the final phase before the race crucial: the taper.

The goal of the taper is as simple as it is logical: recover as much as possible before the race without getting injured and without losing fitness. The latter is mostly a mental problem: even if you spend two weeks on the couch, you won’t loose much fitness (for the not getting injured goal this may even be the best idea!). But losing confidence in ones fitness is something entirely different and can potentially ruin any race. A few shorts sessions with a highly reduced volume (without reduction of the intensity!) can help here. And if done well it maintains the fitness better than staying on the couch, of course. The effect is just relatively small. Another benefit is that it keeps the muscles loose and flexible. Discipline to refrain from doing anything more and confidence in the executed training will be the biggest challenges of the taper…

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Right, are you still there? I do realize this is a long and dry story… Nevertheless most of the details are not even included! You can follow me from training to training on my Strave profile and I’ll try to post an update on the training progress on my Facebook page every once in a while. Without doubt you’ll notice that planning and realization won’t always agree. All the above is exactly that and nothing more: a planning. All kinds of circumstances (think illness, injuries, winter weather, you name it…) can throw a spanner in the works and I may respond differently to the training than expected. In any of those cases I’ll simply adjust the plan, always aiming for the best possible outcome. That’s life!

A final footnote: in my previous post I wrote about participating in a 71 km trail race on Tenerife in June. That is 7 weeks after the Enschede Marathon and that’s exactly long enough to fit a fourth block (plus taper) of training that is more specific to the slow pace, long duration and large amount of climbing of that race. Together with the training for the Enschede Marathon it constitutes a large training block for that nicely obeys the three training philosophy principles described above. An that’s important, because above all (the training for) the Enschede Marathon serves the greater purpose: building fitness for long mountain trail races and eventually the full Tenerife Blue Trail in June 2021.

The ULTRA Endeavour

The ULTRA Endeavour

Up until now I’ve been rather vague about the 100 km trail race this endeavour is supposed to be leading up to. But from the very start I have known exactly which race it has to be. I think it’s primarily due to fear for enthusiastically telling about a goal that I might end up failing to realize that I kept it quiet. This is a bit strange though: if my desire is to push my own boundaries, the risk of failure is intrinsically present. That risk is what makes the challenge: I cannot take success for granted. The race that I set my sights on is far from easy, but extraordinarily meaningful. Time to show my cards here and share with you my dot on the horizon!

Lessons learned from the Trail de la Soupe

Lessons learned from the Trail de la Soupe

Last Sunday I ran my first ultramarathon: the Trail de la Soupe in La Roche en Ardenne. The 46 km course with 2000 m of vertical gain took me just over 5 hours. Previously I’ve never run more than 3 hours. It was good enough for a 10th overall place. Let me be very clear about this: I’m very happy with that as a result for my first ultra. Ahead of me finished only a handful of Belgians who can train in this kind of terrain. But it wasn’t a perfectly executed race. Far from actually. Below you’ll read four lessons that I’ve learned from the Trail de la Soupe.

This is Cash

This is Cash

This post was originally written in Dutch on August 2, 2019.

How does one end up living and sharing everything with four dogs with a total weight of 110 kg? Good question. Sometimes I wonder how an outsider would look at the life Michelle and I built together in happiness. I imagine we’re considered a bit of an oddity. It all started with Cash, nearly nine years ago.

Cash is a Podenco from Spain. During the Monteria, a traditional Spanish driven hunt, large numbers of Podencos are deployed to chase the game (boar, red deer, fallow deer, mouflon) towards an armada of hunters. It is a showpiece of cruelty, in which the hunters try to kill as many animals as possible with as little effort as possible. A famished dog hunts more ferociously that a satiated dog. And when for the long remainder of the year there is no hunting, the dogs are chained up in kennels, short enough to make sure there won’t be fights caused by frustration, hunger or fear. Many dogs are discarded. A compassionate hunter will bring his dog to a shelter of release it into the wild. Less fortunate dogs are drowned, shot or hung from a tree. After each and every hunting season the shelters are flooded. And because of the obstinate myth that fixed dogs are worse hunters, this goes with a tidal wave of unwanted puppies and pregnant dogs.

Puppy Cash in the shelter (1), the first day at our home (2) and on his first holiday in the Belgian Ardennes at the Domain du Chien BnB from the amazing Li (3 en 4)

Cash was born on Januari 8, 2011 in a killing station in Spain, where his pregnant mother was left for a certain death. Within two weeks Cash and his brothers and sisters were saved and taken to a local shelter. As soon as they were three months old and European law allowed for them to be transported, they were moved to the Netherlands where shelters often have many empty kennels left. Cash ended up in Almelo, until Michelle and I visited in late April. We were conservatively looking for our first dog and even though we had convinced each other that we were only visiting for the purpose of orientation, we bought a leather collar and leash on the way there. It took less than fifteen minutes before we were standing outside again with that collar around Cash neck, having just paid for our new acquisition with our debit card. The door fell shut behind us and we were suddenly faced with the challenge of getting a puppy that knew neither a collar nor walking on a lead to our rented Fiat Punto. It was one of the most surreal experiences of my live.

Cash got a girlfriend and learned to play...

Cash stank to high heaven, having lain in his own urine all along. First stop: Pronk’s Dogshop in Enschede for a big bottle of ‘Jean Peau’ (because regular shampoo has the wrong acidity for a dog’s skin). Cash had to familiarize with everything and was often numbed by fear: his world had never been bigger than his kennel. During the first days we frequently had to carry him to get him from A to B. But with love and patience Cash learned to walk on a lead, that grass and wind aren’t scary, that if you can see the creek where you are allowed to pee from behind the window in the living room you cannot relieve yourself yet, that women are nice (and men are not), that driving is stupid (but the places it gets you aren’t), that nothing tastes better than freshly baked bread, that hugs are awesome, that rules are there to break, that you can refuse going outdoors when it rains and that couches and blankets are the pinnacle of human civilization. And when after a few months he got a girlfriend, the irresistibly mischievous Australian Shepherd puppy Vienna taught him how to play.

…and play some more.

Today, eight and a half year later, Cash is the most stable and grounded dog you can imagine. He enjoys his peace and quiet, being outdoors when we go rock climbing or running through the woods. At home he likes stretching out on the couch, close to the firelight of the hearth, preferably under a soft blanket cuddling up against one of us. And when nobody’s watching, he is a bit mischievous himself. If all dogs were like Cash, Michelle and I would probably be having more than ten of them. Now we only have four. So that’s actually quite modest, wouldn’t you say?

Running into trouble…

Running into trouble…

Where did this all go wrong? An idea can as stubborn as the weeds finding their way between carefully laid out pavement stones, creeping to the surface time and again. Once a seed is settled, it is virtually indestructible, impossible to eradicate. When it began, where it rooted, seems impossible to trace. The idea to run an ultramarathon is in my head and doesn’t want to go away. And believe me when I say: that’s not for lack of trying to nip it in the bud…

Welcome!

Welcome!

Welcome at my most ambitious project ever, lovingly dubbed ‘The Ultra Endeavour‘! It combines my passion for sports, for pushing boundaries and for nature to raise awareness for a world without cruelty towards the animals with whom we share this planet. How? I will train […]