Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Ultra Running Training - the importance of setting goals and how to achieve them

As I am about to recommence my training following a couple of enjoyable weeks rest and recovery, I have been considering what it is that I want to achieve in my next event and what I will have to do to hit those goals.

Without goals it is near impossible to plan any sort of training regime that will get you the result you want. There is a saying that I like which states “If you don’t know where you are going any road will get you there.”

There is a mass of information on goal setting in blogs, websites, and books, you can even go on weekend training courses to learn how to set and fulfil big, ambitious goals. These cover all manner of goal setting processes from simple 2 step procedures, to visualisation techniques and “dreamlining”. The essence of all these ideas comes down to one key ingredient which is specificity. If a goal is not specific, how will you know that you have hit it? You need to know the destination to make sure you pick the right road.

I can’t help you choose your goal, it’s a very personal thing, but when it comes to distance running you want to decide on something that is achievable for YOU. When I say achievable, you should make it something which is challenging; otherwise there will be no sense of fulfilment. There would be no point Usain Bolt setting a goal to run under 11 seconds for the 100metres, and by the same token I would not have a goal to win the Badwater Ultramarathon (or any ultramarathon for that matter!).

Once you have specified your goal, how are you going to achieve it? The likelihood of you achieving your goals comes down to the “C word”, one that many a bachelor is often afraid to mention – I am of course talking about Commitment.

Training for long distance events requires a lot of time and effort, and at times it can feel like you are working 2 jobs. There are times when you have to adjust your priorities and make choices between going to the movies to watch the premiere of “Sex and the City 2” and putting on your shorts to go for a 4 hour training run in the rain. There is of course a way to have both, and usually means shunting something else in your life down the priority list (it’s usually sleep, even though most of us would prefer it to be work).

This does paint a picture that would suggest that training for an Ultra could be a miserable time, which of course it could be. However, you don’t train for an Ultra over a weekend; typically you’ll be training over many months, so you can afford to be a bit flexible and have some fun along the way. Provided I have got a good base of fitness, I’ll have a week off training altogether. It’s like taking a holiday from work, allowing your body to rest and recuperate. I often come back from a break from training far stronger than before.

There are times of course though when you absolutely cannot bend the rules, most importantly in the final 4 weeks before an event. It’s too late at this point to catch up on any training gaps, and really you should be preparing physically and mentally for the event.

So be flexible, but not so flexible that you aren’t doing the training. You need to be committed to your goal.

A good way to do this is to have smaller milestone goals along the road to the main goal. So you will need some way to measure your progress, unless you are particularly gifted and can run by feel alone.

The beauty of this is that as you hit your mini goals, you get a real boost in motivation. By the same token if you miss that goal, it can give you the extra push to train harder, or perhaps make you realise that you may need to adjust the major goal more in line with your capabilities.

How you measure your progress will really depend on what the goal is. If it’s weight loss for example, it’s quite easy to assess how you are tracking. If it’s to complete a 100 mile race in 4 months time, and you don’t plan running more than 40miles in a single training session, it can be very difficult to know if you are on target or not.

Personally I have taken some baseline measurements, which I can then compare on a regular basis to check that I am improving. I will share these in my training diary posts. This is a commitment I am making to help me in pursuit of my goals – by sharing this with you I am making myself accountable for my results.

One base measurement I would suggest anyone in training use is your resting Heart Rate. This should be taken shortly after you wake up (difficult to remember to do this whilst still dozy, but it is a reliable measurement). You don't need a Heart Rate Monitor to do this, just a pulse and a watch (I assume all of you have the former).Tracking this you will be able to monitor improvements in your fitness, and more usefully, increases in your resting HR can be indicators of overtraining, illness and injury, so you will know that it could be time to back off a little.

There is so much more to cover on this topic, and I’ll expand on this in future blog postings.

I will also be posting my first training diary entry today, and will discuss my training plan in more depth over the coming weeks.

By the way, if I did have the choice between the “Sex and the City 2” premiere and a 4 hour run in the rain, I’d do the run ;-)

Happy running