Well, not strictly true but the West Highland Way race is a sort of tipping point in the season for me most years as it's the last event of the summer period where actually being able to run is required. Although it has some climbing, the WHW is very much a runner's race - if you're fit enough you can keep up a good pace most of the way because the hills are generally gentle and the going under foot is pretty good. Training for a good time means plenty of long trail runs, 20 milers or so, at around 12 minute mile pace for me (and I guess around 8 minute miles if you're Jez Bragg or Terry Conway!). At 95 miles it's still a long event, but one where the winners are shooting for the 15-16 hour mark and a competent middle of the pack guy won't be happy at much over 24.
But then the game changes, the big races take to the hills and everyone slows down. In the Lakeland 100, which even last year's winner Terry has described as "a power walk with a bit of running thrown in", getting under 35 hours for the 105 miles is pretty respectable; under 30 last year would have seen you in the top 25 out of over 200 starters. The similar length UTMB takes even longer and the majority of finishers take 40+ hours. The reason of course is that these events have a lot of ground where because of its steepness or technicality, almost everyone is going to walk. And it seems to me that if that is what you are going to do in the race, that is how you should train for it.
So since the WHW I've limited actual running to around 10 miles a week total at a fairly gentle pace on easy trails. My two big effort days each week, one on my local Clwyd Hills and one in either Snowdonia or the Lakes, just involve going up and down hills; walk up, run down (but only if it's easier to run than to walk). I've stopped being at all interested in the miles covered, I'm concentrating only the total feet of ascent. 10,000ft a week is the minimum target with an occasional bigger week thrown in. At least you get to train in some nice places and the weather at last seems to be on the turn.
I've two events coming up to see whether this plan is successful or not. First, the Lakeland 50 next Saturday. No special preparations or taper for this one, if I'm fit enough I ought to be able to soak up a hilly 50 miler as part of the training, not too bothered about the time but it will be a good test of where I'm currently at.
Then a few more weeks of up and down before the big one, the Tor des Geants which starts in Courmayeur on 9th September. Of all the events that I have done since I started in ultras about 5 years ago, this is the first one where I have had occasional thoughts of "just what have I signed up for here?" when I think of the scale of the undertaking. 200 miles and 24,000 metres of ascent (compare this with 100 miles and 9,000 metres on the UTMB, which I have yet to finish). I was chatting with John Vernon who put it into perspective - "Well, think of it as three Bob Graham Rounds, it's the same distance and height gain.........". A bit daunting but the flip side is that you have 50 hours to complete each of the BG's. Should be able to do that if I can keep going, we'll see. Back to Moel Famau tomorrow, 900ft up, 900ft down for a few laps. If nothing else it's a good place to listen to the WHW podcasts.