Work-life-training balance is something every ultra runner must negotiate. We get to work with a range of clients at Centurion, with completely different weightings to the elements in that equation. Whether you are deep in to a running career and have your training down to a relatively fine art, or are brand new to the sport, one thing remains constant and that is the analysis of the productivity of your training/ racing and the level at which you are currently running. Establishing the optimum work-life-training balance is crucial to maximising the efficiency of your training, maintaining consistency which is at the core of a runner reaching his or her potential and enjoying everything you do to the full both on the trail and at home. Training doesn't have to be in the form of a plan. Many runners from the front to the back of the field employ no fixed schedule at all and run purely for enjoyment. But if you want to improve, at least thinking about the elements below, whether in written form or not, is likely to help.
Writing upon the balance of work-life-training, it's hard to be brief. This initial post is going to reflect on some of the things that should be included in your thought process about setting up and managing your training plan. There is no specific order to these they are all important!
- Don't take someone elses training plan and try to run it yourself.
Even if the runner in question is running the same key event(s) as you, their situation is completely different to yours. Either they aren't as fit, haven't got the same training base, have different work/life pressures, are a different weight/ build or you aren't an elite marathoner/ Anton Krupicka. Use elite/ experienced runners blogs and shared training to influence yours. Take a key session you like the look of and mould it to where you are in your cycle. Don't try to run 200 mpw with 40,000 feet of vert unless that's what is going to work for your situation. Start off 'too easy' and build your own plan from there.
- Train to where you currently are and not to where you want to be.
In short, if your aim is to run a sub 3hr marathon, don't begin by training at 6:50 min mile pace. In order to assess where you are, plan in a couple of weeks of lower mileage easy training and incorporate a time trial in to the second week. Keep this short so as not to lead you in to the path of picking up niggles, and keep it on a course that will be fairly consistent year round for example a flat 5k on tarmac. Park Run is free and a great place to do this. Give it some gas and see what you come up with at the end. Keeping splits can be useful so as to use as a comparison from last seasons race performances or later efforts in the training cycle to see how improvements are being made (or not). Another good alternative is a steady trail course (5 - 10 miles) that stays relatavely consistent year round.
- Don't compromise quality for quantity.
This without doubt is the major rookie error in ultra training. In fact it's not just rookies who do this but very experienced runners too, caught up in the belief that mileage is king. It isn't. Trying to run as far as you can in training leads to two things: Too many miles at the same pace creating almost no improvement in either speed or endurance, or physical/ mental burn out. Here's a common pattern in training:
Run long on the weekend. Feel pretty tired until Tuesday/ Wednesday. Run mid-week but at a fairly ploddy pace not too disimilar to the weekend, Repeat. If the runner writes out his or her plan, they will find that their mileage is lower than they think and the majority of the miles are at an easy pace. This is fine for maintaining endurance, but it isn't significantly improving it or indeed their fitness.
Running low mileage is absolutely fine, as long as the blend of quality is right. Running 100 miles in a week will feel absolutely amazing, until the next week when you can barely manage 30, and the week after when you realise that the goal of running 100 miles in a week is now unobtainable and motivation goes down the pan :) Robbie Britton, GB 24hr team runner and winner of the 2013 SDW100 says 'Build the quality of your mileage first with key weekly sessions, only then think about building your mileage steadily. It's taken me years to go from 30-40 mpw, to 70-80 mpw so don't rush rush it, you've got plenty of ultras in you yet!'
- Consitency/ Flexibility:
Consistency is the cornerstone of successful ultra training. I really cannot explain this better than Geoff Roes does in this post here. Day to day leads to week to week leads to month to month and so on. Consistency isn't about laying out a plan and sticking to it blindly, be flexible and take in to account the other things going on in your life. Ask yourself if the session you are about to run is going to achieve it's objective (and just heading out of the door to get a break from it all is a valuable objective). Remember also that a 7 day schedule is not always the answer. A 10 day schedule is often a far better way of getting the right blend of sessions together before a full rest/ very easy recovery day.
- Combine a blend of 4 key types of session:
Endurance (long runs), Speed (tempo, progression, fartlek, interval), Hills (hiking up, CV hill sets, running hard downhill or continuous hills), Recovery. If your run doesn't fit in to one of those categories then the chances are you are running junk miles. Junk mileage can be really fun, we'd all be lost without days on the trail where we have no pressure but that of enjoying ourselves. Every day can be like that too if you want. But improvements come from balancing training out so if you can loosely or tightly prescribe your session to one of those above, the chances are you are getting something more productive done.
- Be wary of social media:
The savvy runner who enjoys social media will quickly follow/ pick up a following of a troupe of ultrarunners. When things are going well, those runners post away about volume, speed, pace, racing or just how brilliant it is to GO RUNNING! They want to tell the whole world! When those runners pick up a niggle, have to sit out with an injury, feel ill, have overdone it, DNF or just generally lack a bit of motivation, all of a sudden things go very quiet. A runner will happily share how long they ran or how quick they went at a track session as the endorphins from said run are still rushing around their bodies. When it doesn't go so well, and that happens a lot, not a lot happens. That's all ok, that's the beauty of social media as a way for many to get more from our running BUT don't second guess yourself on their performances, have belief in yourself and your plan.
Design your plan and your running to include a decent proportion of training in the same environment/ terrain/ elevation change/ underfoot conditions as your target race. Don't show up to a 100 mile not having done any hiking in training at all unless you are a monster. Don't show up to a 24hr track race having done purely hiking on mountainous terrain. Keep an element of your training fun and free and an element of it targetted specifically to your goal.
View from BGR Leg 3. Great as part of my own training for, but not good as specificity for this:
- Stepping Stones:
Set yourself targets, time trials or races at which to perform on route to your A race. These can help you stay motivated, gauge what you need to work on, are excellent sessions in their own right . Just be sure to set yourself a target in that race and stick to it without causing damage.
When you get up in the morning, assess what benefit the run is going to have. If you have a written schedule, do you feel in a place to achieve what you want out of the session listed? If you are absolutely knackered and realise that you got a bit carried away when you wrote the plan, take a break! If the session isn't going to either improve your running or give you the mental stimulation/ relaxation then adapt or skip the session altogether.
Improving fitness and endurance doesn't come from the session itself, but from the rest and recovery afterwards. If you plough through a cycle constantly upping mileage and effort with no rest or recuperation you will eventually break your body down such that it cannot rebuild stronger, the objective of training. Unless you are a full time athlete or Robbie Britton, you will have to factor in work and family to your rest/ recovery. Think about the things that cause stress, lack of sleep and compromise the quality of your nutritional intake and try to make small adjustments to improve or reduce those things. Life gets in the way a lot of the time, sometimes that can't be helped but by making small improvements you will notice your recovery between sessions is more productive and you are able to train significantly more consistently as a result.
The next few posts will start to drill down a little in to specific components of training and racing. Hopefully there are one or two things each time that are at least worth thinking about.