Sunday, 18 June 2017

West Highland Way Race Splits

Follows are a series of split tables and graphs for a range of West Highland Way Race finishing times, these are meant for runners and crews of the race.  If you want to personalize the splits then you can try out editing the spreadsheet I used  (created using Libre Office in Open Document Spreadsheet format.)

I am sure most runners and crew members will be happy to bypass spreadsheets and go straight to the splits, so I've includd below a series of splits for 14hr, 16hr, 18hr, 20hr, 22hr, 24hr, 26hr and 28hr finishing times based on even effort splits (where the runner maintains there effort level throughout the race, starting easy and finishing strong.)  Each of these also contains that splits that the runner would see if they paced the same to Drymen then slowed progressively following the average splits, these average splits are obtained directly by averaging the splits for all the runners in a WHWR race.   

The two sets of splits give an upper and lower band for how you day might evolve - if you have a perfect day, where pacing, nutrition, drinking, navigation etc. all go perfectly and you maintain pace all the way to the end, and if the day unravels a bit progressively through the race and you slow. 

Even effort splits : pacing attuned to the bodies need

The principle that underlies "even effort" being optimal is that the human body works most efficiently when it can easily maintain homeostatis ( By running/walking at an even effort your power output is near constant, so heat generation is near constant, so you aren't sweating buckets one minute and cold the next. Constant power output also avoids digging into your precious muscle and liver glycogen reserves so that your blood sugar levels can be maintain for longer and avoid the peaks and troughs. Avoiding peaks of power production also avoids the need to divert blood from your stomach - a crucial part of getting fluids and fuel digested. Finally the body self regulates it's effort at a subconscious level to get your safely to next checkpoint/to the finish, this process is encapsulated by the idea of the Central Governor Model. 

I believe that even effort approach maintains all your systems in a far more linear way so your Central Governor can be more confident in your ability to maintain your pace to the finish. If your effort level is all over the place - pushing hard uphill, getting sweating, getting low in glycogen, then crashing in temperature and blood sugar levels your Central Governor will have little confidence in your ability to get the job done. In this case feeling of overwhelming fatigue will hit you, you'll be forced to slow drastically to save the day.

Following even effort splits does take discipline early in the race, but it's well worth it as you'll get into a groove that doesn't over stress your body.  Physically and mentally you'll find things easier going, especially later in the race when you are steadily move through the field. 

Back in my first 2014 WHW race I set out in the unkown armed with my Even effort splits, but not 100% confident how things would unfold.  This meant I started right at the back of the field (with 28hr+ finishers for company) but just kept moving steadily all day moving up to 26th and finishing in 20:18, way faster than I ever expected. That discipline early in the race was repaid four fold in how well the day went.

Another indication that Even effort splits are effective is analysing how elite's pace, you'll find that their splits are much closer to even effort than average day splits.  If you look at Elite marathoner runners breaking world records again you see the same pattern - even pacing is the gold standard.

How to choose which Even effort and average day spits to use

My recommendation to runners is to decide what your perfect day finishing time could be, this is your dream time - but keep it realistic, much as I'd love to do 14hrs and set the course record it ain't going to ever happen.  For me my perfect day would be 20hrs, other runners it might be 16hrs, other it might be 28hrs.  So pick one of the following sets of splits which best suit you.  If you want say 21hrs splits which I haven't include then let me know via a comment, or the WHWR facebook page I can generate some more.

In each of the following sets of splits you'll see the split time for each of the respective checkpoints, in blue it's the even effort splits (perfect day), in orange it's the average splits (average day), in red are the cut offs and in green are the times that you can pick up a support runner.

When you look at the graphs you'll see the yellow cutoff line at the top, the line you don't want to ever go ever as you'll be pulled out of the race for your own safety, while the if you are above the green support line you should be able to pick up your support runner. For the elite's you won't be able to pick up a support runner, for mid of pack you'll be comfortably ahead of the cut offs, but will be keen to pick up a support runner when allowed. 

Keeping ahead of cut-offs

For those worried about getting inside the cut-offs, the way the cut-offs for the WHW are done is to assume that you are runner rather than a walker, so if you are already struggling to get to Balmaha by 5hrs then it's likely you are already seriously compromised will be very unlikely to finish the race later.  If you look at the 28hr even splits it has it slipping under the 5hr cut off at Balmaha by 5 minute, but the rest of the cut-offs you'll should make easily as long as your maintain this initial pace.  When technically feasible it'd require excellent race craft to be able to pull it off so I would recommend getting yourself to Balmaha comfortably ahead of the cut off then take it easier along the lochside with the plan to maintain that pace for the rest of the day.  A master of this approach is Andy Cole so have a look at his blog to see how he's tackled the WHWR in the past.

How Runners and Crew can use the splits

For runners you'll likely just want to run with the splits table to keep your honest, if you find yourself ahead of your even effort splits for your perfect day it's probably time to ease off as you are risking blowing up. The longer you push on ahead of the even effort splits the more likely you'll be building up a fatigue debt that will be paid later, so the sooner you cool the pace the more likely you'll save the later stages of the race. If you day unfolds the way we all dream of then you'll be able to stick to these splits steadily moving through the field, and if you find yourself feel great at Glencoe then it's time to let loose and see how fast you can go over the final sections.

For crews both the split tables and graphs will be useful.  I would suggest that crews write your actual times when you arrive at checkpoints under the splits table and mark on the graph a cross where your time first.  There is point for each checkpoint as you move from left of right.  These actual race splits on the graph will create a curve that will reveal how you are doing w.r.t the even effort and average splits, in the later stages of the race this curve should be able extrapolate a times at checkpoints down the course and even possible finishing time.  

Macro vs Micro pacing

It's worth remembering these splits are macro level i.e. on the scale of complete legs, that don't provide micro scale pacing guidance.  Micro scale is on the scale of 10's of meters, i.e. walking hills, jogging flats and running descents.  The splits published here can't address this fine grained pacing. Micro pacing is best done by running by feel, using awareness of breathing or using a Heart Rate monitor. Ideal micro pacing maintains an even effort level on flat, ascents and descents, so this means breathing and HR will remain within a small band.  

Personally I use a HR monitor for this purpose, aiming to keep my HR within a +- 5bpm band.  For this years race I'll be aiming for a 130 to 140bpm range, if I can manage this then my macro pacing will also be taken care of as even effort splits also coincide well with even HR pacing.  What range is ideal for you if best chosen from similiar races, if you haven't run a race as long as the WHWR before then I find that taking 1.5 to 2bpm HR for every hour extra of running in a race, so for the Fling I target 145-155, and WHWR is 130 to 140. 

I'll also be running with the 20hr splits in mind, so if I find myself faster than these splits early in the race I'll know to cool the pace.  My own training hasn't gone great this year so I really don't expect to be able to manage to maintain 20hrs schedule all the way, if things go badly then I'd hope to still be inside the 25hrs splits than average splits would suggest. The most likely result next week for me will be somewhere in the middle of these two.

Best of luck to all runners, crews on the 24th-25th June, it will be grand adventure for us all.  Many thanks to the race organizers and the mange marshals that make this amazing event what it is.

Splits tables

14hrs Even Effort Splits:

16hrs Even Effort Splits:

18hrs Even Effort Splits:

 20hrs Even Effort Splits:

22hrs Even Effort Splits:

24hrs Even Effort Splits:

26hrs Even Effort Splits:

 28hrs Even Effort Splits: