Thursday, August 5, 2010

Getting the most from the time you have to train for an Ultramarathon

This is a follow up to my previous posting (but I just don’t have the time) directed to the benefits of multitasking to gain a training benefit.

The focus of this post is to get the most out the time you put aside for training.

For those who have a structured training plan you can find that you have to reorganise your life, and often the life of those around you, to meet the complete the defined training sessions. This is a challenge when training for a 10km or Marathon, and given the additional training required for an ultramarathon the impact can be so restrictive as to make it unworkable and unenjoyable. We are in an era of being time poor with greater demands put on this limited resource.

So how can you ensure you are meeting your training needs, without it turning your life upside down?

The answer comes down to being flexible with your sessions, but ensuring that you are still getting the necessary benefits. To do this you need to understand two things, what the prescribed training session is intended to achieve, and secondly, what other training techniques can provide this same result.

All too often we can get stuck in a rut with our training, just jogging the same routes, or running up the same hills (one I am guilty of) or avoiding those hard sessions that we just don’t like doing. However when you understand the required training outcomes, we can find other ways of achieving it. The real beauty of this is that by putting variety into your training you keep it interesting, and will probably find additional training benefits without realising it.

The variety of different types of training is massive including hill repeats, intervals (of differing distances and recovery periods), tempo runs, Fartlek running, LSD (Long Slow Distance), all manner of cross training, sand running, circuits, gym work, weights, core strengthening, the list goes on. Each of these has been put together with a specific outcome in mind, and there are many overlaps between them. Knowing these can give you options dependent upon the time you have available.

For example, hill repeats are beneficial for cardio vascular fitness, strength, biomechanical form, as well as mental fortitude; Interval sessions are good for cardio vascular fitness, speed and endurance; Tempo runs are good for increasing lactate thresholds, and endurance; Core workouts can be good for muscular strength and biomechanical form.

The trick is to change the intensity of the sessions to meet whatever the training demand is. Also you could integrate multiple training techniques into a single session.  Often I will push hard for the last 3-4kms of a 15km run in tempo fashion, or as I did in a session the other evening I came across a really good hill and did 4 intense hill repeats in the middle of what was originially going to be a gentle easy jog. Here's the session:

With all that said there is one session that you should not substitute and that is the long slow distance run, as there is no other comparable session which can give you the psychological training and experience that you need for an ultramarathon.

The main point of what I am getting at is that you needn’t be a slave to a training program, and that it is always better to do something than nothing. There is a saying that I particularly like which sums this up:

“It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you think you can only do a little – do what you can.”

This for me is a mantra for all ultra runners, as the hardest step of all is that one at the start line of an ultra, as most “ordinary folk” wouldn’t even attempt it.

Happy running!

“Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts” – Winston Churchill

Today’s session

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