Saturday, 28 January 2012

Training - a bit of discipline maybe......

Well, there was a bit of disappointment in not getting a place in the UTMB ballot but I see many people I know had similar bad news so that's life I suppose. It will seem strange missing out on the Chamonix party for the first time in seven years but I've opted not to transfer to the TDS and instead take my guaranteed UTMB place in 2013.  I'm thinking about a Plan B and should have something sorted out in a week or two, but the hiatus has prompted me to think a bit about training. I don't normally post about this sort of stuff but I'm interested in what others do so here's my bit for the year.

Anyone who follows my ramblings will remember that I went for a performance assessment back in November, the result of which was that I was advised that I was good at running very slowly, but if I wanted to get better results I was going to have to put a bit of effort in on some faster-paced work. Well, I tried, really I did. I went out and did the tempos and the intervals and whatever, but I just didn't enjoy it. I was perpetually knackered and started to feel I didn't want to go out at all This isn't what running's all about, I told myself, we do it for fun not as a chore. So I went back to my old ways, a few runs here and there as I felt like it, and I turned up for my last two ultras of the year in the Brecons and the Lakes and enjoyed them. I convinced myself that running quickly wasn't really required, for ultras it's time on your feet that counts, that's what everyone says, right?

Then over the Christmas period, people started reviewing their year's efforts, and some of the details were interesting. A lot of runners who don't have my sort of free time to go out for two or three longish outings a week do a lot of shorter faster stuff  -  and get much better results than I do. Well, they may just be better runners (what do I mean "may"?) but it made me think again. A bit of guilt, maybe. Perhaps I hadn't given it a fair chance. So on the dot of Jan 1st, I started again.  This time I was determined not to overdo it, but to make a sensible controlled effort. So for the past four weeks my schedule has been like this:

1. A steady run of 7-10 miles a shade faster than marathon pace (which for me is 8 minute miles)
2. A 40 minute tempo run. I'm averaging 7:15 minute miles now, trying to get this down to 7:00. I find this the hardest session of the week.
3. An interval session, combination of 4, 5, and 6 minute intervals totaling 24/25 minutes now, working up to 30 minutes, 2 minutes recovery between intervals. At present my pace is around 6:40, I'm trying to get this down to 6:30.
4. A steady 5 mile run but doing two sprints (50m and 100m) during each mile, while keeping the overall average pace just below 8:00.  I enjoy this one, but it's harder than it sounds.
5. A steady run of 10-15 miles, around or just over marathon pace. Every two weeks I'm allowed to replace this with a longer trail run!

It's needed a bit of persistence, but this time I think I'm getting there. Every fourth week I'm planning to miss out one of the faster sessions to get a bit of a rest, but I'm intending to keep it going for at least twelve weeks to see what effect it has. I got the impression I was missing out a lot of miles so I did some comparisons with last year and found that this isn't necessarily the case. I compared the first four weeks of this year with the four weeks before last year's Highland Fling (excluding the taper week) and the four weeks before the Lakeland 100 (again, not the taper week):

                        Miles below     Miles between      Miles over     Total Miles
                          8:00 pace        8:00 and 9:00      9:00 pace
April 2011              25                      56                     77                 158
July 2011                 7                       27                    130                164
Jan 2012                 59                      41                     55                 155

So similar miles, just shorter and faster.  It should be interesting to see how it goes from here.

A couple of weeks ago I went for 20 miles along one of my local trails. Cold, clear air. Bright low sunlight over frozen ground. Woods, hills, lakes, steps and stiles, rocks and tree roots. Brilliant trip, made you feel great to be alive, I could do this all the time. But it took three and a half hours, average pace ten and a half minute miles, average heart rate 115. And that, I suppose, is the point.


John Kynaston said...

Another interesting post and thoughts on speed work.

I look forward to seeing how it works out for you.

Plus I'm looking forward to seeing what you replace UTMB with!

Sorry to read you missed out on a place for this year's race.

Börkur said...


I didn´t either get place in this year´s UTMB but decided to transfer it to TDS. Then I have done all three races. On the waiting list for Hardrock 100 and maybe I get lucky there..

UltraStu said...

Hi Andy

Yes, an interesting post. One in which I totally agree with your second paragraph, and therefore tend to disagree with you giving it another go.

Obviously there is no one answer in terms of what is the best way to train for ultra trail running to improve performance, but based on my experiences and reading of the limited academic literature, what you are doing is something I would definitely not be doing.

The question I ask is how often during an ultra will you run at 8 minute mile pace or faster. I barely run at that pace during an ultra after my inital fast few hours. So why train at that pace? I can see some logic in doing one steady run of 7-10 miles a shade faster than marathon pace once a week, but the other stuff within points 2, 3, 4??? Stick to what you have done. Your profile states that you have only been running for 8 years. Be careful, these other people who are doing all of this quick stuff may have many more miles in their legs than you, and therefore more resiliant.

I wouldn't pay too much attention to the results from physiological tests. No doubt they based their recommendation on a rapid increase in oxygen consumption once your running pace increased. This is typical if you haven't done much running at the quicker pace they tested you at. But then you don't need to run at this quicker pace. Performance in ultra trail running is about running economy, and this simply improves over time, more miles in the legs AT A RELAXED AND RHYTMICAL PACE, NOT AT TEMPO / INTERVAL PACE!!! Ultra trail performance also due to muscle fatigue tolerance which is developed by the long slow trail runs/hikes that you so much enjoy. Double bonus you love doing it, and it is the best training for you.

Anyway, I wish you all the best with your training. I hope for your sake that I am proved wrong, and your performance improves, along with increased enjoyment. Remember, it is the journey that is important, not the destination.

All the best,


Anonymous said...

Interesting report Andy. Good Luck. I'm finding it hard enough to do the Ultra Shuffle training.

I was refused UTMB also but I managed to get an entry into the 160 km 10,000 A/D Grand Raid Pyrenees in August.

All the best,
Bob Allison.