Thursday, March 7, 2013

Making the best of a bad training session – dealing with the unexpected


Often a training run doesn't go to plan, and this can be out of your control.  It could be unexpected weather conditions, a gear malfunction, or even getting lost.  The trick is making the most of the situation.

Felt like running in this!
Last week was just such a case for me where I had planned to go for a long-ish steady training run, with a few hilly efforts along the way.  It was pretty warm, about 28C, which was expected (even at 4pm) but the humidity was not what I was prepared for.  It was between 88% and 98% for the entire time I was out.  The top of one of the hills I ran was shrouded in cloud, and although it desperately needed to rain, it didn't.

The upshot of these conditions was that I wasn’t cooling through sweating, and I was only getting about half the air into my lungs that I wanted.  It was like breathing through a straw.

On the steeper hill sections it was clear that running was not really an option if I was to survive the 3 hour session I had planned.  It would have been easy to turn around and go home, or just decide to walk, and just use it as “time on my feet” training. To be honest neither was an option I was happy with, and the thought of walking for that time would have been too boring to bear!

So I took the situation as an opportunity to focus on a different area of my training.  I still walked the steep hills but concentrated on my mechanics, ensuring that my alignment was right and that I was using the proper muscles.  In most trail Ultras, unless you’re elite, you’re going to be doing some walking, and it’s worth practicing. The key thing for me is making sure I’m feeling it in the calves, quads and glutes, and not in the hamstrings.  

In addition to running form I also used the time to practice effective breathing, taking 3 or 4 deep belly breaths in a slow and controlled manner.  This enabled me to reduce (or at least manage) my heart rate, whilst maintaining a steady pace.  It also helped time pass, distracting my mind from the discomfort of the conditions.

So what was looking like it was going to be a dud session, turned out to be quite beneficial, and certainly not the sort of session I would ever consider setting out to do.

Look on the bright side
Similarly, on another recent run, I had been nursing a strained ankle (non-running related I may add!) and on the fast single track downhills, I’d normally let fly.  To have done this with a weak ankle would have been asking for more trouble.  On this occasion I slowed up the pace, shortened my stride, increased the cadence and made sure that my foot – ankle – leg alignment was correct.

Without adopting this strategy, these sessions would have seemed useless and unrewarding.  Instead I felt a sense of achievement at the finish.

So if the goal posts are moved, you have to change your aim!

You can apply this to any aspect of running ultras and indeed it is often those who have the most flexibility of expectations who are the most successful.  Rather than see an excuse, ultilise the scenario to your own maximum benefit. 

Run Happy!
Andy