“Now I understand the importance of being patient and consistent. Training for a fast marathon itself is not a sprint race, the preparation takes time and long term thinking. So the biggest change besides my nutrition was my mental approach.” — Csaba Burillak
Extramilest Facebook admin Csaba from Hungary has learned a lot over the years about running, both in training and racing. In today’s blog post he shares:
- several recommendations for runners looking to improve
- pre-race day nutrition
- heart rate during races
- warm ups before races
- how he deals with races that don’t go according to plan
Big THANK YOU to Csaba for taking the time to sharing his insights!
Where were you born and where do you currently live?
I was born in Budapest in 1972 and I live in Kistarcsa, a small village near the capital, Budapest.
How long have you been running?
I have always been running, as far as I remember. In high school (1987-1991) I ran mainly 3 km and 5 km races but I was not a particularly successful one. I enjoyed running, we had fun during training and I learned the basics of running. For example we did a lot of skips (ABC drills) and plyometric training, which are essential tools for reducing ground contact time resulting in a more efficient and economic running gait not only for track and field athletes I think. I can enjoy its neuromuscular benefits still today.
After graduating I started to work for a telecommunication company and I just had time for occasional runs, weekly 2-3 times to stay in shape more or less. At the week ends I played football so running was more like a means for general fitness.
What are some of your current PR’s? 5k, 10k, Half marathon, marathon
Basically all my PRs can be dated from the above era of my life (between 16 and 20 years old – 1988-1992):
- 3 km: 9:27
- 5 km: 16:50
- 10 km: 36:40
- 20 km: 1:14:52
My first and best marathon so far was in April 1997, which was 3:04:05.
Which marathons have you ran, when did you run them and what were the finish times?
I only ran 2 marathons so far. The first one is described above, the second one was in 2018 October. My finish time was 3:29:17. I do not want to stand on the starting line again until I feel I’m ready for a sub 3 attempt because my goal is a sub 3 result and only that would make me happy in terms of a marathon finish time.
In 2017 you restarted your running but with a different approach this time. Please tell us more. What was the biggest difference in your training and racing?
I read about the “Slow down to speed up” method back in around 1995. That article was written by Mark Allen, six time Hawaiian ironman champion, and it included the basics of the Maffetone method. At that time I did not even heard the name of Dr. Phil Maffetone.
When the idea came to me to run a marathon again in 2017, I tried to find out more information about this approach. I read and learned a lot about low heart rate training.
However, 2017 for me was the year of the “miserable injuries”. Between February and May 2017 I reduced my weight by 10 kg’s due to change to a low carb higher fat diet. I eliminated the refined carbs from my plate and I thought I was ready to train again but I did silly mistakes (mainly insufficient warm up and/or cool down) and got injured. I learned the hard way that my body behaves “slightly” differently compared to my 20-25 years younger body.
In 2018 I was more careful and could train as I wanted. I also found Floris Gierman’s blog and fantastic videos (the “private” 100 miler video and the sub 3 run video while sharing some decent experiences were my favorites). Being aware of the fact that my body went under some changes during the years, I took an even deeper dive into the Maffetone method, which was a game changer for me. In October 2018 I ran a 3:29:17 marathon in Budapest, which is not a phenomenal result but achieved my sub 3:30 plan, which was the reality that time.
Now I understand the importance of being patient and consistent. Training for a fast marathon itself is not a sprint race, the preparation takes time and long term thinking. So the biggest change besides my nutrition was my mental approach.
What does your current approach to running and training look like? How does a typical training week look like for you? Training volume in hours or mileage like? Do you train by km or time?
Having set a goal of a sub 3 marathon, I decided not to rush myself this year. Instead, I went for a gradual build up program where I would like to increase smoothly my weekly volume (initially exclusively low heart rate despite of the summer heat). Currently, I run 9-10 hours a week, which translates to 90-100 km’s (in the 50-60 mile range). I tend to increase this depending on social obligations.
I do more strength training aiming also at avoiding injury, plus improving running efficiency. I truly believe in the importance of skips and plyometric drills because these enhance running economy, posture and gait, which gets paid off on the longer term, too. I try to do these at least once a week.
If you are an endurance athlete (competing in the marathon or ultra distances), the traditional polarized 80:20 training approach is more like 90:10 or 95:5 in my opinion, very much depending on the intensity of the workout.
Any strength or cross training? If so, what and how often?
I include cross training activity such as riding my bike or playing table tennis just to mix up things a little bit, to have more fun. 🙂 I play table tennis weekly.
Strength training: deadlifts, squats, lunges, planks, glute bridges, I try to do these weekly. I’d like to draw your attention to Ryan Flaherty’s strength training method, which is really worth to mention. The main focus, besides reducing injury potential, is to get strong without increasing your weight. I like his dynamic warm up drills as well as his special trap bar deadlift workout. I do not own a hex bar but if I do deadlifts with the straight bar, I always drop the weights.
What is your race strategy going into marathons that you like to run your best performance for the day?
Dr. Maffetone on this: “The strategy of running marathons: the the traditional approach unfortunately has been that you want to go out faster in the beginning because you somehow not going to be able to go fast at the end. it’s just not scientific.
If you want to maintain your running economy, if you want the most efficient running, which is really the game in a running race regardless of the distance, you wanna have the same pace along the course (if we talk about a flat course) from mile 1 to the end.
You don’t want to speed up, you don’t want to have a plan on slowing down, negative split, anything. What my wish is to finish the marathon and be a little bit annoyed because you could have gone faster so to say.”
If you still have some reserve after mile 20 or after the 30-34th km, you still have the option to speed up a bit towards the end.
When the gun goes off, everybody is excited. My heart rate is higher, I might easily get picked up by the crowd in your zone, maybe unnecessarily zigzagging. This is especially true if I know some runners at the starting line, and see them run by and I know I’m faster. Can I let them run by without speeding up? Or can I run without having your eye on certain people? This is the discipline of racing, this is my race! Knowing what I am going to do, know what I am not going to do and stick to the game plan. Holding back the horses initially is usually a clever decision.
The half marathon result, Tanda race prediction or the MAF test result should give a good indication what I am really capable of. This is going to reduce my stress and feel confident.
I believe in my training, the most important things happen not on race day but behind the scenes when I do my training. I think if I do the job during my preparation for an event, the race itself will be just icing on the cake, a celebration of hard work well done…
Do you have a goal time, goal pace or goal HR in mind for future race?
I don’t mind the heart rate during a race because it’s a race, nobody will ask me at the finish line “Sorry what was your heart rate?” I run by feel and try to allocate enough energy during the whole event. I always have a goal time, a desired finish time and I try to run at an even pace.
If the course is not flat (especially when it’s a hilly course with verticals) or the weather is expected to get hot, it might require a slightly different approach but running by a constant effort is always the starting point.
What do you do when you hit tough spots in your race?
Eliud Kipchoge says: “If you don’t rule your mind, it will rule you” – but it’s not easy and takes specific practice I think.
Dr. Tim Noakes has this central governor idea, which basically says that our brain might play games with us. The “central governor” limits physical exercise by reducing the neural recruitment of muscle fibers. This reduced recruitment causes the sensation of fatigue.
I go further: sometimes your mind plays games with you on weekdays. You might get challenged every day by your mood, personal problems, by the cold or hot weather. There is a fine line between crazy training intensities and/or volumes and your laziness and you are the one who has to find the balance in between.
When I hit a tough spot, I try to focus on going on. I think back on the amount of training, the time not spent with my family to see the importance why I’m there and not quitting or giving up (unless it’s an obvious injury). Thinking on the fact that every step takes me closer to the finish makes it a bit easier even if I’m struggling.
In my opinion mental toughness is just as important as the physical training.
Have you had races that didn’t go according to plan? if so, please tell us more. How do you adjust your race when things don’t go according to plan?
I remember 2 events struggling:
- Last year I ran an 55 km trail race with 1800 meters of altitude. I knew it is going to be hard but I did not want to get lost therefore I tried to keep up with the top pack. Huge mistake! I went through the first bigger hill with a 180 heart rate and lost contact with them anyway. I did not have any salt tablets or magnesium pills with me and I had cramps from the 20th km. In addition, it was a hot day but luckily my family popped up at some checkpoints in the forest, which gave me a good boost to hang on until the finish. I would definitely do this race completely differently… 🙂
- I participated a 6 hour race this March. It seemed to be okay but from the 10-15th km I had a gradually increasing pain in my right upper leg. It was not my hamstring because I could go on. I changed my running style and tried to avoid the overuse of that biceps femoris, which was most probably hurt. It took me a couple of weeks to recover from it and next time I will do a more thorough warm up even for a 6 hour race where you do not run so fast. Someone was surprised on Strava when Zach Bitter did a 3-4 km warm up for the Javelina Jundred 100 miler but now I completely understand!
What do you eat and drink the night before your race and on race morning?
I eat a big meal the afternoon before the race at around 16:00-17:00 o’clock. I eat a big steak or pork with much salad, sweet potato or bulgur. A good mix of healthy fats, proteins and carbohydrates.
On race day I try to eat an easy breakfast 2-3 hours ahead of the race. It is usually a porridge with some honey and sultanas/berries, maybe a banana.
I never tried carb depletion, would be interesting to see how it works. I am at the lower carb, higher fat side of nutrition but I think there’s a lot of things to be explored on this area.
I drink generally water, sometimes with lemon (and a pinch of salt after sweaty runs).
How do you limit your risk of injuries during training?
In addition to proper warm up and cool down, I try to include more strength training in my program than previously.
Other aspects to lower the risk of injury, which I try to practice lately are mobility drills and skips, plyometrics. Limited mobility might lead to injuries, I am more sensitive in the lower leg. I do ankle and hip mobility drills, strengthen my core and fascia chain, and use the foam roller very frequently even if I just sit all day long in front of the computer.
Do you have any recommendations to other runners looking to improve, to become stronger, healthier, happier and faster athletes?
- I think if you want to improve, you should constantly monitor yourself. One of the best ways to see whether it’s working or not what you are doing as a runner, is to do a MAF test in similar conditions.
- Have a realistic plan and go along the way. That means some sacrifice in life but without sacrifice and sometimes systematic work, your chances are worse for a good result.
- Try different things, and if something is working, stick with it, maybe adjust/tweak a bit for yourself.
- Read the Extramilest blog and Extramilest Facebook group 🙂 You can get plenty of good advice, tons of good experiences shared by more experienced runners. Do not want to re-invent the wheel! What works for someone, might work for you as well.
- Share your thoughts and best practices. Helping others will make you a happier athlete as well!
Which other races are on your bucket list to run?
I always focus on my current goal, which is now the sub 3 marathon. I always listen to my inner feelings to decide what I want and once I fix it, I start working on it.
I also have in my mind to try myself in longer events such as a 24 hour race, but interestingly I also have some nostalgic feelings when I think back on shorter track and field races.
Any place where Extramilest readers can find out more about you?
You can find me currently here:
Any closing comments?
I’d like to quote Dr. Mark Cucuzzella who called Dr. Phil Maffetone the “Yoda of endurance sports,” “Guru” and “Mastermind.” He really tells us a lot what and how to do. We should learn to read our body, listening to its signals is key in training, experiment in diet, reduce stress in your life generally and live a full, more complete life helping others as well.
You might also enjoy:
- Dr. Phil Maffetone Interview about Heart Rate Training, Nutrition and Recovery
- Dr. Mark Cucuzzella on MAF HR Training, Running Form and Injury Prevention
- Dr Phil Maffetone on MAF Training with Low Heart Rate, Low Carb, Intervals, Ketosis, Fasting & more
More about Floris Gierman & Extramilest: