Other than to put in around 1000 miles before the West Highland Way Race at the end of June (and I only chose that figure because it seemed to be what everyone else was doing) I've never had much of a training plan. I just used to go out and have a run somewhere nice a few times a week. Last year I was trying to get around the UTMB so I started going out in the hills more often and I think this paid off, though it still didn't get me around the course! I also knew that the "time on your feet" thing was important so I've always tried to do a few long training runs as well as the races, culminating in a 60-70 miler in May, but the logistics is always difficult for these unless you know where you can resupply, and I always seem to end up carrying too much stuff for changes of weather and so on. I discovered last year that I had a lot of difficulty going beyond 25 hours or so, and I really needed to practice keeping going longer if I was to have a chance of finishing the longer ultras. Finally, this year apart from one marathon which is really just a bit of exercise during a long weekend holiday, I'm only going to run ultra races - and I run those very slowly! These thoughts came together into a bit of a Plan, so here's my philosophy for what it's worth:
1. I was fit enough last year, my recovery after every race was pretty rapid, so I don't need to do more miles, in fact I'll probably do slightly less than last year, and not get hung up on "getting the miles in".
2. I'll do a run of 7-8 miles in my local forest once a week. This is on good tracks and the nearest I get to a tempo run, as I really don't like running on roads.
3. I'll go out in the hills once a week, starting with two or three hours and around 3000ft of ascent, building up to double this by April/May. I normally walk the ups and jog the downs, somewhere between 3 and 4mph average.
4. A longer run around 12 miles, building up to 16/18 on one of the local trails once a week, nice and steady.
5. An easy run of 4 or 5 miles in between times, but only if I feel like it on the day.
6. For runs longer than this I'm going to do races, roughly one a month, much easier logistically than training runs and much more fun. 50 milers for the first few months, then 100's. Some of these I will try to take very easily indeed, just to get used to the "time on your feet" necessary to complete the longer ones.
That's the physical plan, but as everyone in our game will tell you, that's only the half of it. A couple of days ago I watched the video of the West Highland Way "Training and Inspirational Evening" which was held last week in Edinburgh (you can see it on the WHWR website if you haven't already). One impressive contributor was Dave Wallace who won the race several times in its early years; when asked whether standing at the start, he ever had any doubts as to whether he would finish, his answer was "No, I always knew I would finish, and that I would be placed." In a similar vein, I think it was Michael Johnson, contributing to the BBC commentary team on one of the major athletic championships who said "In a track final there will be four guys who think they might win, two guys who think they will win, and two guys who know they will win - and the winner will be one of these last two."
To work for me, this declaration of confidence comes down to a concept which I think of as "No Big Deal". To run a half marathon, 10 miles must feel like no big deal, you can run it any day you choose. For a marathon, the no big deal distance is 16 miles - if you're comfortable over 16, the marathon will be OK. I can run a marathon. I've run a dozen in races, but I've covered the distance many more times than that. For me a marathon itself is no big deal; this doesn't mean I can always (or ever!) run a marathon in a good time, but however I'm feeling, I believe deep down that I will always get through those miles if it gets me to the finish. It's the feeling that gets you from Kingshouse to Fort William when you've already covered over 70 miles, less than a marathon, I can do that. I know a lot of people who will say divide a big race up into little bits, just think about the next 10 miles, 5 miles, 2 miles, whatever, but for me you can't beat the feeling of being within your "no big deal" distance of the end of the race. So my target in doing a lot more events this year is to get my confidence to the next level - "50 miles - no big deal".
I'll let you know around September whether I've made it!