Advice for the "Loony Challenge" Race Weekend

>> Thursday, September 18, 2014

I was curious the best way to approach a multiple-race-weekend (like the "Loony Challenge" coming up in just over 2 weeks - a 10K and 5K on Sat, and a 10 Mile on Sun). So I talked to 3 different people. I asked them 6 questions about their experience and got some good info! Here's a intro to these 3 folks:

First I talked to Tim. We've known each other for a few years - we see each other at local races now-and-then. He finished in the top 20% or so last year at the inaugural "Loony Challenge," so I was curious what he had to say about it all.

Tim and I with a bunch of lady-friends as seen in my 2008 Chisago Lakes Triathlon race report.

Tim (more recently) on the run.

Next I talked to Coach Liz. I know she's done big race weekends like this. She's done the "Dopey Challenge" in Florida which consists of a 5K, 10K, half marathon, and FULL marathon all in the same weekend! That's almost 50 miles of racing! I was curious about her recovery secrets.

Liz during her big race weekend.

This was at a point when Liz stopped during one of her races for a pic!

Finally, I actually got a hold of the winner of last year's inaugural "Loony Challenge" here in the Twin Cities. His name is Thomas Datwyler, and he finished the 10K in 38:17, the 5K in 18:38, and the 10 Mile in 1:02:21 for a Loony total of 1:59:16 (over 4 minutes faster than the next finisher). When I signed up for the Loony many months ago, I figured around 2 hours would be a good day, but that was before my April ankle injury that I'm still just getting over.

Thomas racing.

At Boston (on the left).

So I asked Liz how she got through her nearly 50-mile race weekend. She told me she ran the 5K easy, and then used a run/walk strategy for the 10K, 13.1, and 26.6:

My interval for the 10K was run 5 minutes, power walk 1 minute. I still finished in under an hour. For the half and full marathon I did a run 5 minutes, power walk 5 minutes interval. I’m not going to lie, it was mentally tough to do that and take those 5 minute walking breaks very early in the race as everyone is running by. By the middle miles of the race I was with a consistent group of people and had caught up to some who blew out of the gate fast and had to slow down. In the last miles of the races, I was leaving people behind and never seeing them again when my 5 min run segment came up.

She said her pace in the half and full were 32 to 45 minutes off her PR pace - I though that was actually pretty good, considering! She said she wasn't out there to "race," but just to "survive the mileage."

Tim had some decent training, but ended up running fewer miles than he had hoped in the 2 months leading up to the TC Loony last year. He actually hoped to set PRs in all distances, noting that he doesn't really run 5Ks. Going into race day, his plan was this:

I knew that the strength I had been working on was helping but also, as said above, that my miles were down. So I just decided to try to match all my best times.

It didn’t work.

He ended up running the 10K 0:05 slower/mile than his PR pace, his 5K nearly 0:45 slower/mile than his PR pace (his big disappointment of the weekend), and the 10 Mile use 0:04 slower/mile than his half marathon PR pace. Again, that all doesn't look too bad to me. Tim said that even though his miles were lower than he had hoped going into the races, he thinks having a proper focus really helped him get through the weekend.

Thomas (the winner of the "Loony Challenge" last year) backed off slightly in the 10K and 5K, knowing that the 10 Mile would be the hardest race of the weekend. Additionally, he figured:

...I could make up more time/ground on the other racers during the 10 mile than the 10k and 5k combined. So the plan was to make the 10 miler my "A" race and the 10k/5k my "B" races. I left out my kick for both the 10k and 5k, even though it's a fast finish coming down the hill! I tried to conserve as much energy, run as efficient as possible and keep my thoughts positive during the 10k and 5k.

Thomas is a pretty speedy guy: his 10K PR is 35:04, and his 5K PR is 16:41. During the "Loony" weekend, his 10K was 38:17, and his 5K was 18:38 (both just a few seconds shy of what he was hoping to run). He felt great in the opening miles of the 10 Mile and decided to shoot for sub-1:02, but came up just 21 seconds over his goal time.

Thomas running.

To keep loose between the races, everyone kept moving. Thomas stretched, jogged over a mile, and walked around (making sure not to sit down). Liz recounted her big weekend at the Dopey Challenge saying:

At first, fatigue was a big issue as well as muscles that felt heavy and dead on the second or third day. Making sure I did proper fueling, foam rolling, and recovery was important.

Liz went on to say "as soon as each race finished, I jammed a banana in my mouth and started walking back to my hotel or towards the bus to take me back to my resort. No sitting around!"

Tim didn't do anything between the 2 closest races (the 10K and 5K), and he recalls:

... This was my biggest mistake that I made. I didn’t think it would be a problem as long as I walked and stood around. I honestly thought it wasn’t enough time for my legs to “cool down”. [Note from Steve: the 10K is at 7:30 and the 5K is at 9:00, so it's a QUICK turn-around.] Then I started the 5k and knew I was toast. My legs just had nothing in them. The first mile of my 5k was a paltry 8:37. Part of this was poor placement at the start but my 2nd mile was only 8:21. It wasn’t until my 3rd mile when I ran a 7:47 mile that I felt like if I just had a little more distance I could make up a little for the first 2 miles. But alas, what can I say? I strongly suggest a foam roller with you and loosen up those calves and keep the hamstrings warmed up.

As far as training goes, I think all 3 of them mentioned getting in lots of miles. When I first reached out to these 3 runners a few weeks ago, it was only about a month before the Loony Challenge, so I wasn't about to drastically alter any of my training. But I was curious what they found worked, didn't work, or what they'd do differently next time. Tim had some specific training thoughts for getting used to running on tired legs:

I would practice running hard after taking an hour off from running hard. Not too much, mind you, but enough to get the body to adapt. I think an example for me would be a 2 mile warm up, then 2 miles at 10k pace, take an hour break then run hard for just 1 mile.

I still think that running Friday night, then Saturday morning then Saturday afternoon is a good plan. The key is to not injure yourself here, I think doing this for a few weekends at shorter distances and then taking turns which run to run at race pace is good enough. An example would be 4 miles Friday night easy, then Saturday am, warm up 1 or 1-1/2 miles then run race pace for 2 miles, then Saturday evening easy again for 3-4 miles. Again, alternate each weekend which run will be the hard run.

And if I remember correctly, Twin Cities in Motion (the race organizers for the TC 10 Mile, Marathon, and the 5K and 10K) posted an article a few months ago about doing some double-run weekends to help with training. I think they mentioned doing a tempo run on Saturday, and then doing a long run on Sunday a few times to get used to the tired legs feeling.

Liz was happy with how she ran the races, noting that should could have probably done better if she incorporated more speed work into her training (I got the gist that she was training mainly to get through the MILES of that crazy long weekend).

Liz with ALLLLL of her race medals after her weekend of a 5K, 10K, Half Marathon,
and full Marathon. Liz is just a little bit insane (and I mean that as a compliment of course).

Finally, I asked about race expectations and what to expect when doing multiple races over a weekend. Here were some of their final thoughts:

Thomas said that he was ready for the 10 Mile to hurt. He told me that "I really wasn't looking forward to racing 10 miles on legs that felt like lead. Fortunately, I felt much better than I thought I was going to feel during the 10 mile and I was able to push my body without my legs feeling like garbage." His race plan of taking it easier during the 10K and 5K and keeping loose between those races seemed to work!

Tim had a good point about making sure to have the right focus for the weekend - keeping the emphasis on the WEEKEND of races and not just 1 race.

Liz warned me that she could "see how a very competitive runner could become disappointed by their performance if they were trying to win the whole thing or to get close to their PR times. [She might be talking about me right there.] Stage races like this are not the place to try to get a PR unless you are doing the stage race again the next year and trying to lower your time. You have to change your expectations a bit." That's not what Tim did, but Tim kept the right focus after his plan wasn't panning out.

Here's some final closing advice from last year's winner, Thomas: "Stress less, enjoy it more, and take it all in!" Thomas doesn't know me, but this is good advice for an "over-thinker" like me. Thanks Thomas, Liz, and Tim!

Check out Coach Liz's blog here and Tim's blog here.

p.s. Make sure to stop back because I have some good stuff planned next week: I'm doing a duathlon this weekend (so there will be a race report), I have an entry to giveaway for a 5K/10K in St. Paul that takes place next month, and I rode part of the "new" TC 10 Mile course yesterday morning and took some photos. Spoiler alert: it's hillier than the same parts of the old course. Dang. I'll be posting more on all of this shortly. (And in a week or 2, I'll post what *I* was able to take away from these interviews above and what my weekend race plan will be for the Loony Challenge.)

p.p.s. And come back tomorrow for a few "Friday Funny" posts!

p.p.p.s. On my ride yesterday morning, my 8-year-old Speedplay pedals decided to call it quits:

Gotta get these replaced before this weekend's duathlon!


Emily W 8:24 AM, September 18, 2014  

I realize my racing speed isn't in the same category as you, or the people you asked, but I do have a lot of experience running multiple races in one weekend. I did the Loony Challenge last year plus I've done Ragnar 7 times... A couple of additional things to consider: You need to determine your goal. Is it to win the Challenge? Is it to PR in one or more races? I don't know anyone who would PR in all three unless they are very new to running and have terrible PRs to start with. Second, in addition to moving and stretching between races I really recommend having a good quality snack. If the race isn't going to provide what you need for recovery, then bring it. I know you're an "eat whatever" kind of guy, so you should be good. But are you sure of what you can eat in that hour interval? Something that won't be upsetting? Last, take advantage of all recovery tools on Saturday afternoon and evening. Don't go for a bike ride, walk home pushing a stroller, etc. IF you want to do well at the 10 miler, you have to do a mini taper cram session. Ice bath, good nutrition, legs up. HAVE FUN! I really had a blast and enjoyed the 10 miler much more than I thought. You have almost 24 hours to recover, which isn't terrible. I'm just doing the Summit Challenge this year for some variety, so maybe I'll see you at the 10 miler (if you're not already home and showered by the time I finish...).

Steve Stenzel 12:34 PM, September 18, 2014  

Thanks Emily! I didn't put it in this post, but Thomas mentioned an ice bath to me. (Or maybe an Epson Salts bath). I'll see you at the 10 Mile - we'll be sticking around to cheer on my wife and my sister-in-law at the marathon as part of the ULTRA Looney Challenge!

LastMileStrong,  7:01 PM, September 18, 2014  

I'm nowhere near your speed, but looking forward to first Loony. Sort of planning this way: 1) go for PR in 10k. 2) Assume 5k will be so crowded it'll be slower pace. 3) I'm used to running consecutive days, so hope to have enough adrenaline to carry thru 10-mile for overall time goal. We'll see.

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