Strength Training for Endurance (Part 3) by Marc Laithwaite


This week we look at putting the schedule together for the winter period and how to ‘periodise’ and progress towards summer 2016.

Missed part 1 or part 2? Go HERE and HERE

Strength training by nature involves high resistance for a short period of time, it’s important that you don’t rush your routine, you must provide adequate rest between exercises. Don’t turn this routine into a ‘circuit training session’ moving quickly from one exercise to the next. I’m not questioning the benefits of circuit type training, but to develop strength, there must be adequate recovery between exercises for maximal lifting.

Periodisation Made Simple

Periodisation is simply breaking your training into blocks. You probably do this already, winter being your base phase. In a similar way, you should periodise your strength training. If you were to start your strength training at the beginning of December, that gives you 6 months to reach the end of May, which for most is the beginning of the summer season. Here’s the simple guide to the exercise routine and your periodisation plan:

Base Phase, Weeks 1-8

The objectives for the base phase are:

1. Learn the exercises so technique is perfect

2. Reduce risk of injury by improved joint stability

3. Develop basic conditioning as a platform to progress from

1. The routine should be completed twice per week and repetitions for all free weights exercises should be 12-15. For core stability exercises such as plank etc, the ‘time’ should be whatever you can manage whilst holding perfect form.

2. Learning the technique is critical for all of the exercises. If you have never done free weight exercises, the basic technique will be challenging. For weeks 1-4, minimise the weight and learn the exercises to perfection. Don’t simply start adding weight / resistance, learning the movement is a critical part of your development. Weeks 1-4 is ALL ABOUT TECHNIQUE AND MOVEMENT.

3. During weeks 5-8 increase the load / weight for the exercises gradually, repetitions should stay at 12-15. It’s impossible to predict the actual ‘weight/kg’ you should be lifting, this is something that you will have to work out for yourself. Don’t overload during weeks 5-8, your technique must remain perfect.

Strength Phase, Weeks 9-16

1. You need to increase resistance during this phase, without losing technique. To develop strength you need to reduce the repetitions and use a heavier weight. Weeks 9-12, complete 3 sets for each exercise and your repetitions should be 12/9/6, increasing the weight slightly each set. Weeks 13-16m complete 3 sets for each exercise and your repetitions should be 10/6/4, increasing the weight each set.

2. Over this period you aim is to increase resistance, you should do this when you feel ready. Some people will increase every week, others may need a couple of weeks before progressing.

3. You should change exercises slightly in strength phase to focus on larger muscle groups.

Power and Plyometric Phase, Week 17-24

1. The strength work will continue with an emphasis on explosive power. You should continue to progress the exercises and increase the resistance, using lower repetitions. By completing the exercises more quickly, in an ‘explosive manner’ you will switch focus to ‘power’. Use a moderate weight to warm up then complete 3 sets for each exercise and your repetitions can drop as low as 6/4/2 increasing the weight each set.

2. Plyometrics will be introduced, this is particularly important for running performance. Plyometric activities will include jumping, hopping etc. For cyclists, you can introduce sports specific explosive power. This is done by combining your strength work with explosive, high resistance, short duration sprinting on a static bike. Introduce the plyometrics gently and build over 8 weeks. Complete 3 sets of each plyometric exercise, building the intensity (e.g. jumping higher / harder) throughout each set.

If you have a free weights routine already in place, you can apply the above principles to your schedule right now. Make sure you’ve read parts 1 & 2 HERE and HERE before starting this program.

Starting the program in January? No problem, as with any plan you need to adjust and adapt so that your plan works inline with your racing objectives and racing calendar.

About Marc:

Sports Science lecturer for 10 years at St Helens HE College.

2004 established The Endurance Coach LTD sports science and coaching business. Worked with British Cycling as physiology support 2008-2008. Previous Triathlon England Regional Academy Head Coach, North West.

In 2006 established Epic Events Management LTD. Now one of the largest event companies in the NW, organising a range of triathlon, swimming and cycling events. EPIC EVENTS also encompasses Montane Trail 26 and Petzl Night Runner events.

In 2010 established Montane Lakeland 50 & 100 LTD. This has now become the UKs leading ultra distance trail running event.

In 2010 established The Endurance Store triathlon, trail running and open water swimming store. Based in Appley Bridge, Wigan, we are the North West’s community store, organising and supporting local athletes and local events.

Check out the endurance store HERE

Endurance Store Logo

A Day in the Cumbre Nueva to Punta de las Roques – Transvulcania Ultramarathon


Yesterday, I planned a little outing with Niandi. No plans really, in all honesty, we didn’t even know which section of the Transvulcania course we would go on. The main problem with running on the Transvulcania course is logistics. In real terms, you always need to run out-and-back routes.

We ended up going to El Pilar, an early and key aid station that comes approximately one third into the Transvulcania race. It’s about a 50-min drive from Tazacorte (where I am staying) which is the end of the GR131 route before the final push up to Los Llanos and the finish of the Transvulcania race.

El Pilar allows easy access to the Volcano Route section and a direct option back to the coast and  Fuencaliente lighthouse, as such, it is the route most people take.

We decided to go north, head out of El Pilar and follow the GR131 into the Cumber Nueva in the direction of Roques de los Muchachos.


Leaving El Pilar, looking out to the west you get to see Los Llanos, Tazacorte and the sea in the distance. These tropical, muddy, forest trails provide the Transvulcania runners some of the easiest running so far in the race but eventually this comes to an end at Reventon Pass and the climb up to Punta de los Roques.


The Cumbre Nueva and following sections are for me one of the most stunning sections of the Transvulcania route. From Reventon Pass to Punta de los Roques in particular is stunning! Onwards to Pico de las Nieves, the trails open up and the push to Roques de los Muchachos leads to the final drop to Tazacorte . Mixing rocky terrain with stunning vegetation, the route is incredible from a running and visual perspective. It is also very prone to an inversion; where the cloud drops below the high points creating a stunning almost dream like backdrop.


The mist comes in, visibility is reduced, the temperature drops and suddenly you feel like you are in a different place. You question, ‘will the good weather come back?’


Then suddenly, you break through the cloud, the white fluffy clouds are below and a wonderful blue backdrop adds an amazing palette to run or walk against.


Single track trails of good running constantly creep up beyond 2000m to Punta de los Roques and the Refugio. Here stunning views of the Caldera de Taburiente are possible and off in the distance, the observatories of Roques de los Muchachos can be seen.


Around every corner a surprise. It doesn’t matter if you are running or walking, these trails offer so much.

The Transvulcania route is always a constant surprise and I am always amazed at how the terrain, weather, vegetation and views change as you move through the route. Our day in the Cumber Nueva was a special one, topped off with this stunning image as Niandi ran around a mountain corner, the inversion clearly visible and if one image sums up skyrunning, this may be it.


You can view daily images from our stay in La Palma HERE


Merry Christmas



Dear all, a heartfelt Merry Christmas to all those who have made 2015 a very special year.

It has been quite a journey. All the races, race directors, runners, teams, sponsors and of course. all the followers of this website who view my images, read my words, listen to Talk Ultra and get involved in this wonderful and crazy sport.

I thank you all and wish you a very Merry Christmas from the trails of La Palma.


Episode 102 – Sally McRae, Mike Bialick, Mark Gillett


This is Episode 102 of Talk Ultra. Happy Christmas everyone! We speak with Mike Bialick about that storming 100 mile run, Sally McRae talks all about her running and finding balance and we have a tribute to fellow photographer, Mark Gillett who sadly passed away. Niandi co-hosts.

00:01:31 Show Start

00:19:10 NEWS

Divinio San Francisco, walking the streets of La Palma HERE

Running the Caldera de Taburiente rim, Roques de los Muchachos HERE


Zach Bitter ran 11:40:55 for 100-miles – he went through 50 in 5:33 and 100k in 6:58 he broke his own 100 record by 7min but missed the world record which is still a good chunk of time away.

Katalin Nagy dropped from the 24-hour but won the 100 in 14:48 and set a US Track record for 200k in 19:19:05


Well done to Marco Consani winning ‪#‎barcelona24‬ with 256km (159miles) course record and PB. Now that’s awesome and a long way!







New South Wales

Narrabeen All Nighter 100 km | 100 kilometers | January 02, 2016 | website



Chiemsee-Ultramarathon Dezember | 108 kilometers | December 30, 2015 | website


Tsuen Wan, Ta Shek Wu, Fo Tan | 115 kilometers | January 01, 2016 | website

Ultra Trail Tai Mo Shan | 162 kilometers | January 01, 2016 | website

Yuen Long, Ta Shek Wu, Fo Tan | 50 kilometers | January 02, 2016 | website


50 km | 50 kilometers | January 02, 2016 | website

78 km | 78 kilometers | January 02, 2016 | website

The North Face® Kathmandu Ultra 50km | 50 kilometers | January 02, 2016 | website

The North Face® Kathmandu Ultra 80km | 78 kilometers | January 02, 2016 | website



SMU-Loop | 58 kilometers | January 02, 2016 | website

South Africa

Festival of Running 100 Mile Race | 100 miles | January 01, 2016 | website

Sri Lanka

50 km | 50 kilometers | December 27, 2015 | website



Recover from the Holidays | 50 kilometers | December 31, 2015 | website


Woodside 50 km | 50 kilometers | December 27, 2015 | website

Woodside Trail 50km Run | 50 kilometers | December 27, 2015 | website


Croom Zoom 100 Km Run | 100 kilometers | January 02, 2016 | website

Croom Zoom 50 Km Run | 50 kilometers | January 02, 2016 | website


Wild Azalea Trail Challenge 50 | 50 miles | January 02, 2016 | website


Yankee Winter Trail 50K | 50 kilometers | January 02, 2016 | website

North Carolina

Salem Lakeshore Frosty 50k | 50 kilometers | January 02, 2016 | website

Salem Lakeshore Frosty 50k | 50 kilometers | January 02, 2016 | website

Salem Lakeshore Frosty 50k Relay | 50 kilometers | January 02, 2016 | website

Salem Lakeshore Frosty 50k Relay | 50 kilometers | January 02, 2016 | website

Salem Lake Shore Frosty Fifty | 50 kilometers | January 02, 2016 | website


100K | 100 kilometers | January 02, 2016 | website

100 Miler | 100 miles | January 02, 2016 | website

50K | 50 kilometers | January 02, 2016 | website


50K | 50 kilometers | December 26, 2015 | website


Boyers Furnace | 40 miles | December 26, 2015 | website

Redeye 50 km | 50 kilometers | January 01, 2016 | website


Tuscobia Winter Ultramarathon 150 Mile Run | 150 miles | January 08, 2016 | website

02:19:28 CLOSE 

Finally we want to thank you for all the support over the last 12-months. Difficult to believe that another year has passed. We wish you all a very Merry Christmas and we hope 2016 is awesome!



Libsyn – feed://

Website –

Running or Walking Efficiency when Climbing


VK world record holder, Urban Zemmer

Recently I have produced a couple of articles about how to ensure that you are an efficient walker when participating in long or mountainous events. You can read them HERE and HERE.

The first article discusses Training to Walk for Ultra, Trail and Mountain Running and the second article is about Walking, Running and Climbing with Trekking Poles.


On December 15th, the University of Colorado Boulder released a document called, CU-Boulder researchers discover optimal range of slopes for extreme uphill running.

This article made me take a look and read in-depth for two reasons: first and foremost it ties in nicely with my previous two articles but more importantly and secondly, research into VK data dates back some 16-years and was pioneered by the ISF (International Skyrunning Federation) who created the VK format as a racing discipline.

To clarify a VK is 1000m of vertical ascent and the objective is to climb the elevation gain as quickly as possible. The original context of the VK always was about research and data.

VK courses vary greatly but the ISF consider a true VK to be under 5km in length. To understand the variables, some VK’s, for example the Dolomites are just over 2km in length. By contrast, Limone Extreme is a considerably longer course with a less extreme gradient.

Fully, Switzerland has long been a testing ground for VK performance and a post from the ISF which was updated 22nd October 2012 adds some very clear and specific points to consider:

“Italy’s Urban Zemmer rocketed up the 1,000m vertical course, only 1.9 km long, in just 30’26”, 20 seconds faster than the standing world record set here in 2011.”

In addition, the ladies records tumbled:

“French runner Christel Dewalle was first in 36’48” followed by Axelle Mollaret in 37’44” and third, Maude Mathys from Switzerland in 37’56, all beating the previous world record set two years ago by Italian Valentina Belotti in 38’50.”

Notably, the ISF commented:

“The new men’s record nears a speed of 2,000 vertical metres per hour (precisely 1,971m) an incredible ground-breaking performance that the ISF has been monitoring for many years in a scientific research project… Depending on the course and type of start, poles are permitted and yesterday, most of the runners used them.  However, to date, the advantages of using poles has not been scientifically demonstrated.”

In 2014, the record for the VK was once again broken by Urban Zemmer at Fully, Switzerland with the incredible time of 29’ 42”.


Remi Bonnet prefers to run a VK and never walks

So by simple logic (I am no scientist), it would suggest that the steepest course is the fastest as Fully is only 1.9km long. To quote, Run the Alps,The Vertical KM race in Fully, Switzerland is considered to be the fastest vertical kilometer course in the world. The race, held on a former funicular route, is home to both the men’s and women’s world records.”

You can watch a YouTube clip of the 2013 Fully race HERE

Watch the video of Fully and you will see varying techniques, some walk, some walk/ jog, some (most) use poles but one thing is consistent, the effort is almost maximal for all. Therefore, in a non-scientific look at Fully, the fastest performances come from the genetically gifted who have all the elements required for an optimum VK performance: lung capacity, V02max, lactate threshold, power to weight ratio, technique and so on.


Marco de Gasperi like to mix running and walking

But what about the optimal slopes for uphill running as questioned by CU-Boulder. They posed the question:

“Imagine that you are standing in Colorado at a trailhead where the base elevation is 9,000 feet. Your friend challenges you to race to the summit of the mountain, which tops out at 12,280 feet, roughly 1,000 meters of elevation gain. There are several different trails that go to the summit. They are all steep and some are extremely steep. One trail averages a 10 degree incline and the sign says it is 3.6 miles long. A second trail averages 30 degrees, but is only 1.25 miles long. A third trail averages 40 degrees, but only 1 mile long. To get to the summit the fastest, which trail should you choose and should you walk or run?”


Poles or no poles on a steep gradient?

This is a question that the ISF have asked and researched for many years. A paper titled, “Energy costs of walking and running uphill and downhill at extreme slopes” looks into this:

Davide Susta, Alberto E. Minetti*, Christian Moia and Guido Ferretti

Département de Physiologie, Centre Médical Universitaire, 1211 Genève 4, Switzerland, *Department of Exercise and Sport Science, Manchester Metropolitan University, Alsager ST7 2HL, U.K.

The energy costs of walking and running (Cw and Cr, respectively, in J kg-1 m-1) increase with the slope uphill (up to +20%) and decrease with the slope downhill (down to -10%) (Margaria, 1938; Margaria et al, 1963). Outside this range, no measurements of Cw and Cr are available in the literature, even though walking and running on the mountains at greater slopes is becoming commoner and commoner practice in leisure and sport. We therefore set out to carry out the present study, the aim of which is to determine Cw and Cr on men walking and running at slopes up to +45% and -45% on the treadmill. After local ethical approval, 10 subjects (Skyrunners) were admitted to the study (age 32.6 + 7.5 years, body mass 61.2 + 5.7 kg, maximal O2 consumption 68.9 + 3.8 ml min-1 kg-1). They are all endurance athletes practicing mountain racing. O2 consumption at the steady state was measured by the open circuit method, using Leybold O2 and CO2 analysers and a Singer dry gas meter. Heart rate was measured by cardiotachography. Blood lactate concentration was determined after each run as a check for submaximal aerobic exercise.

Each subject performed up to three walking and three running trials at progressively increasing speeds on the level, and at the slopes of 10, 20, 30, 35, 40 and 45 % uphill and downhill. The duration of each trial was 4 min, and expired gas was collected during the 4th min of exercise. Minimum Cw on the level was: 

1.85 + 0.57 J kg-1 m-1 (n = 10) at the speed of 0.69 m s-1. During uphill walking, Cw increased with the slope, to attainthevalueof18.08+1.57Jkg-1 m-1 (n=9)atthespeedof0.69ms-1 andat the slope of +45%. During downhill walking, minimum Cw was lower at the slope of -10% (0.81 + 0.37 J kg-1 m-1, n = 9) than on the level. At slopes below -10%, it progressively increased. At -45%, it was 3.46 + 0.95 J kg-1 m-1(n = 5). Cr on the level was 3.40 + 0.24 J kg-1 m-1(n = 30). Cr increased with the slope, to attain 18.69 + 1.42 J kg-1 m-1(n = 6) at +45%. 

During downhill running, Cr decreased and attained its lowest value at the slope of -20% (1.73 + 0.36 J kg-1 m-1, n = 24). At lower slopes, it increased. At -45%, at speeds higher than 1.38 m s-1, it was equal to 3.79 + 0.57 (n = 7). The mechanical efficiency for vertical displacement was 0.216 + 0.015 at +45% and 1.078 + 0.275 at -45%. This data on the level and at slopes up to 20% correspond to those found by others on non-athletic subjects (Margaria, 1938). At higher slopes, the increases in Cw and Cr are such as could be predicted assuming that all energy is used to lift the body. By contrast, at -10% and -20%, both Cw and Cr are lower than in non- athletic subjects (Margaria, 1938), suggesting greater recovery of elastic energy at each step in the present athletes. At slopes below -20%, the increases in Cw and Cr are such as could be predicted assuming that all energy expenditure is for negative muscle contractions.

Margaria, R. (1938). Atti Acad. Naz. Lincei 7, 299-368.

Margaria, R., Cerretelli, P., Aghemo, P. & Sassi, G. (1963). J. Appl. Physiol. 18, 367-370. This work was supported by a grant from the FSA- Federation.for Sport at Altitude

Referring back to the CU-Boulder research:

“Based on our research, we now know that choosing the second trail (30 degrees) and walking as fast as you can within your aerobic capacity is the fastest way to go,” Kram said. “For either running or walking, slopes between 20 and 35 degrees require nearly the same amount of energy to climb the hill at the same vertical velocity.”

This new study (HERE), which was recently published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, is believed to be the first to examine the metabolic costs of human running and walking on such steep inclines (suggested by the CU-Boulder researchers.) However, I would question this and refer to research by the FSA – “Energy cost of walking and running at extreme uphill and downhill slopes.” Received 29 November 2001; accepted in final form 29 April 2002. You can download this detailed documentation HERE and it is essential reading.


Who is the most efficient?

It would appear that gradients of 20-35 degrees require the same amount of effort and interestingly, CU-Boulder research found in a study:

“A vertical rate of ascent of just over 1 foot per second, is a pace that high-level athletes could sustain during the testing. At that speed, walking used about nine percent less energy than running. So, sub-elite athletes can ascend on very steep uphills faster by walking rather than running.”

In simple terms, this is something I have found out by attempting VK’s in my own time in and around events. More often than not, the effort required to run is so hard that it becomes counter productive. I have even found that including run sections to be counter productive as this raises my heart rate, increases lactate acid and requires me to recover while still climbing. However, if I maintain a constant effort walking, this produces the best results for me.

CU-Boulder research went on to say:

“The study examined 15 competitive mountain runners as they ran and walked on the treadmill at seven different angles ranging from 9 to 39 degrees. The treadmill speed was set so that the vertical rate of ascent was the same.  Thus, the treadmill speeds were slower on the steeper angles. The athletes were unable to balance at angles above 40 degrees, suggesting a natural limit on the feasible slope for a VK competition.”

In regard to the latter point, this in some respects relates to Fully, Switzerland and brings in another element, the use of poles and if poles allow a faster ascent when the gradient steepens. One only has to look at the Dolomites VK and Fully VK where poles are used by nearly all participants. The ISF plan to do a new test with and without ski poles, but it is not easy to do a serious test. Although not scientifically proven, it’s fair to say that using poles with gradients under 20% it will mean more Kcal and a reduced performance. However, with gradients steeper than 25 or 30%, the use of poles can correct style, etcetera and can improve the overall performance.

The CU-Boulder article is available to read in full HERE.

I can quote technical papers and research all day, however, as a runner you want to know the answer to the question, should I walk or should I run uphill and should I use poles?


Irrespective of if you plan to run a VK or not, the research and thoughts provided by the FSA and CU-Boulder confirm that running or walking uphill provides an incredible workout. Importantly though, research confirms that walking should be a key element in any training plan, (*…walking used about nine percent less energy than running) especially if you are racing or training on hilly or mountainous terrain.

When participating in ultra events, reverting to periods of walking may well produce greater results and faster times. This is very evident when the terrain steepens; running will only expend more energy and produce slower times. The use of poles appears to benefit performance when gradients steepen, this is not scientifically confirmed.

On a final note though, many other factors come into play when looking at results and as with everything, there are exceptions. Urban Zemmer, Remi Bonnet, Laura Orgue, Christel Dewalle and so many more are able to run when others need to walk. We can’t choose our parents or our genetic pool. Ultimately, find out what works for you but practice makes perfect and the more climbing you do, the better and the faster you will become.

Embrace the mountains and going uphill.


Christel Dewalle, ladies VK world record holder

Mark Gillett – A Tribute


I lost a good friend at the weekend, Mark Gillett.

Taken away from us way to early in life, it was Mark who I experienced my first Marathon des Sables with. It was such a laugh, such a great moment in time. We hit it off immediately. We had similar humour, a mutual respect for each others work and we somehow managed to verbally abuse each other without upsetting each other.

As Steve Diederich and Kirsten Kortebein can confirm, the 2013 Marathon des Sables was such a great experience.


Photo ©stevediederich

“Today we lost a friend, some of you may have met Mark Gillett at previous MdS’s and recently at the MdS Expo a few weeks ago. He was a great supporter of the MdS, as a competitor, as a photographer / videographer and most of all as a great guy. Ian Corless and I have spent many a night with Mark crying with laughter – his humour was brutal and funny which contrasted his love for his daughter and life. He was hugely talented as a tennis player and a photographer, however it was his courage and zest for life that stood him apart. We will miss you Mark – Ian and I will drink a mug of shit brandy to your memory in April. – See you mate” – Steve Diederich

I think back to 2013, I shared a 4×4 with Mark, we worked from 5am to midnight everyday. We walked in the dunes, we chewed the fat discussing everything and anything. But most of all, Mark talked about Emily, his daughter. Jeez was he so proud.

Life is way to unfair. Beyond unfair, I can’t even to begin to explain how life chews us up and spits us out. My Dad left this world way to young, I have had several other family members and close friends leave us too.

Mark embraced everyday as his last and if he had one message it was about living life to the full. Something that I have embraced 100%. But Mark will live on in his work, his daughter and the people he has influenced.

Kirsten came to MDS wide eyed and a blank canvas. Both Mark and myself helped her (and took the piss). We had a great bond that has continued through the years but Mark took her under his wing, something that Kirsten has acknowledged:

“Mark, you piece of work. You beautiful, life-changing piece of work. You are so loved and will be so missed. There are no words. Thank you for everything.”

I have often wondered about Talk Ultra my podcast, and what value it will bring in future years. Yesterday I realised to a small extent its worth and value. I interviewed Mark in 2012 about Marathon des Sables as I was putting a special show together. With the approval of Emily, Mark’s daughter, you can hear that interview here, it is 15-minutes long.

Rest in peace Mark. You will be missed buddy.

Mark Gillett

Daddy, my absolute hero. 

I have watched you do so much. You were my tennis player, coach, photographer, explorer, writer, runner, cyclist, counsellor and father. You have taught me so many valuable lessons, and given me experiences that i will take through my life with me to help me become the best person that i can. You have inspired me, loved me and comforted me and i feel at peace with your love.

You tell me that when i was born, you held me and told me you wanted to show me the world. You have shown me the world and more than i could have ever asked. You have taken me to beautiful places and shown me the people that you loved, and that loved you dearly back. You always showed me your love, and did anything and everything for me. You showed me how to be a photographer and a tennis player, how to love myself and those around me, and most of all, you taught me that no challenge is too hard and that anything is possible. That i have no limits.

My precious father, i am lost for words. I cannot describe the pain i am feeling of losing you. But really, you will always be here. People like you never leave. You will never know how proud i am of you and what you have achieved, and to say i am the daughter of Mark Gillett is a blessing from God in itself. You will live on through me, my dear daddy. I just wish more than anything that we had more time.

Birdy is with me, and i know she loves and misses you dearly. She is a part of you that i now have to cherish and love, the same way you loved me.

Daddy i hope you know how much i love you. Rest up, and may your beautiful, kind soul rest in peace.

Your Ems

You can download the MP3 interview HERE if you would like to keep a copy

Roques de los Muchachos, La Palma – Transvulcania Ultramarathon


The island of La Palma has always ticked many boxes for me, it’s a quiet island that lacks tourism, it has incredible all-year round weather and of course it hosts the Transvulcania Ultramarthon.

I’ve been coming here since 2012; it never disappoints. This year I’m here to find some quiet time to write content for my book, Running Beyond. But I am also here for a long overdue holiday, to spend time with Niandi (who gets neglected with all my travel) but also to get back to some regular time on the trails.

Notice I said, ‘time on the trails’ and not running. To be honest, I’ll take the running if the body will allow, it’s not important though, I just need the head space and the isolation the trails out here bring.

We have no plans other than to work and get objectives done each day and then spend the rest of time doing what makes us happy. Yesterday, I was up early and decided I wanted to be finished with work by midday. My plan was to head up into the mountains and run/ walk/ hike around the rim of the Caldera de Taburiente. In the Transvulcania Ultramarathon, this is often referred to as Roques de los Muchachos but actually Roques is the end of the section where the observatories are located and then the long 18km drop and descent to Tazacorte Port.

It’s an incredible place and one of the key sections of the Transvulcania Ultramarthon due to its elevation of 2400+m and the stunning views it provides to the east and the west. In the east one can see the islands of TenerifeEl Hierro and La Gomera and they are visible in the photos. The terrain here varies greatly from technical rocky sections of jagged and irregular rock to sandy and dusty trail. Although the trail goes up and down, in real terms most of the climbing is done by the time you reach Pico de la Nieve at 2232m.

Niandi and myself accessed the GR131 (Transvulcania route) at Pico de la Nieve as a trail, the PR LP 3 comes in from the main access road (LP4).

From the road it’s a 20-30min hike in to the GR131 and then it’s possible to follow the Transvulcania route on an out-and-back to Roques de Los Muchachos (approx 10km, 20km round trip).

Needless to say it’s a stunning section of trail and I have to say, one of my favourites in the world. Key sections are Pico de la Cruz, Piedra a Llana, Marro Negro, Pico de la Cruz and Fuente Nueva before arriving at Roques de los Muchachos.

If you are a runner, hiker, walker or basically someone just looking for an inspirational day on trail with stunning views, I can’t recommend this enough.

Yesterday for me was one of those special days; from early afternoon, through to sunset and then finishing off in the dark with just a headlight, the moon, the stars and Niandi for company.

Niandi and myself didn’t worry about pace, time, or anything for the that matter. We just moved, stopped, took photographs and soaked in a magical place.

So magical, I wanted to share the journey in images.

Walking, Running and Climbing with Trekking Poles


Recently I wrote an article about the benefits of including walking in a training plan to become a better runner, ultra runner and climber. Read HERE.

Of course, if you are able to complete a race without any walking, that is by far the best strategy should a fastest time or higher ranking position by an objective.

The reality (for many) is that the longer we go the chances of walking increases. Equally, when in the mountains, walking is very much a key element of a successful day training or racing. So, it is important to train as a walker so that you become fast, effective and efficient.

The use of poles in recent years has boomed and now they are common place particularly in tough, long arduous events such as UTMB, Tor des Geants and many mountain races.

Poles have been used in France, Italy and Spain for sometime. In recent years, runners in the UK have slowly but surely adapted and accepted them, particularly in events like the Lakeland 100 and even American based runners have started to accept them at events such as Hardrock 100.



Nordic Walking (“Sauvakävely”) was first introduced in Finland in the 80’s to help boost the nations declining health. As you can expect, its roots are founded from skiing and it was formally defined in a book called “Hiihdon lajiosa” (“A part of cross-country skiing training methodic”) by Mauri Repo. This book dates back to 1979.

The poles used in the early days were in one piece and the technique was used as off-season ski-training. Over the years fixed length poles were continually used and it was in 1999 when US based company Exel termed the phrase Nordic Walking.

Of course Nordic Walking is a sport in its own right and the technique, compared to regular walking, involves applying force to the poles with each stride. This therefore provides a more ‘all over’ body workout and for example, ones triceps, biceps, shoulders, abdominals, chest, core and so on gets a greater workout. This is why as a runner, you MUST train and adapt to using poles.

Imagine going to the gym and working out with weights having done no strength training. Lets say for an example you do 45-minutes of exercises on the upper body. I guarantee the next day you will feel it. Using poles is no different. Your arms, shoulders, lower back and core will all feel the impact of using poles to gain forward momentum.

In recent years, companies like Black Diamond and Leki (amongst others) have specifically created poles based around the needs and demands of runners. Original Nordic Walking Poles were of fixed length so it was important to purchase the correct length as this could not be adjusted. Telescopic poles were then created allowing more flexibility and the opportunity to adjust height based on your own personal needs and also this would potentially allow other people to use your poles.


However, poles used for running now fold.

These new folding poles (in general) fold in three sections and provide a fixed length pole. So again, it’s important to purchase the correct length pole. We will come on to that later. The new poles by Black Diamond “Distance Carbon FLZ’ has taken this folding process one-step further providing a folding three section pole but with an adjustable section at the top. This allows adjustment of 15cm. The poles still need to be purchased at a specific length but the adjustment option is a great addition if you wish to share poles with another person who may be taller/ smaller, but the poles are heavier. Always choose a specific pole over adjustable when possible.

What length pole do I need and what type?


Walking poles are shorter than cross-country ski poles and as a rule you want a well balanced pole that is elbow height. I say as a rule as this can vary depending on your intended use and preference. As a starting point, elbow height is a good place to begin. Another method is multiplying your height in cm by .68 and then rounding this down to the nearest 5cm. However, variables come in to play.


  1. As you get used to poles and as your technique improves you may find that your stride lengthens, if so, a longer pole may be better.
  2. If you are climbing a great deal, a pole at elbow height or shorter may be preferable.
  3. If you are doing just *VK’s (Vertical Kilometers) a shorter pole is almost certainly required.

*Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ are able to reduce the pole height when participating in a VK and then increase height when running, walking and climbing on mixed terrain. But a fixed pole length is always lighter.

TIP: If in doubt, purchasing an adjustable pole may well be a good idea initially so that you can fine tune your needs before purchasing a fixed length three section folding pole.

Light is best but don’t compromise on quality. Cheap poles are just not up to the job and you want a pole you can rely on that is stiff, strong, light and reliable.

The hand grip section is also a key consideration. Handles are typically slim and designed not to interfere with the wrist action when snapping the pole through at the end of the push through phase. A strap will be attached to the handle and this should be close, comfortable and provide a snug fit so that the recovery phase is easy. Many straps are a loop that you slide your hand into, however, companies like Leki provide a glove like system that clips in and out of the pole using a trigger system. This for me is my preferred system as it offers great flexibility.

The Technique.

Legs, body and arms need to work together as one in a rhythmic motion to gain the most from using poles. The range of arm movement, regulates the length of the stride, this is why pole length is key. However, this does vary when climbing particularly on steeper and technical terrain as a shorter pole may well be better. For runners, our demands are different to a pure Nordic Walker as we may run with poles for added stability and security, at times we may be striding out on flat terrain and then we may well be climbing or descending.


Using poles is a very individual thing but there are tried and tested techniques. This video (although a little funny to watch) provides a good guide HERE.

I personally use different techniques, at times I grip that handle somewhat firmly (steep uphill terrain) and at other times I do not grip the handle at all allowing the pole to move freely only connected to the body via the hand strap. In general, the poles should not go in-front of you as this makes a brake. The poles should always be behind you so that you can PUSH forward. Pole technique is in time with your stride and the greater benefits come when getting in a rhythm. You can use single pole forward or double pole forward technique. I often switch between the two but on the flat I prefer single pole and on steep climbs I use double pole.


Severity and technicality of terrain will dictate what technique you use. The PUSH phase is obviously still incredibly important if moving quickly but just as I mentioned in my previous walking article, instead of placing your hands on your knees to climb, using poles acts in the same way; It’s like four wheel drive.

Other considerations:

  • Added stability on technical terrain such as water crossings.
  • Downhill stability if used correctly.
  • Relieve stress on quads and knees when climbing and descending.
  • Aid balance.
  • Provide an opportunity to get into a rhythm.

Do poles give an advantage?

Poles used to be called cheating sticks and in some circles they still are. Do they give an advantage? I actually don’t think it is easy to give a clear and definitive answer on this, I personally would say, that if you have the technique and know how to use them, then yes, they provide an advantage for you the user.

Luis Alberto Hernando for example uses poles all the time when racing. His technique is superb and when you watch him on a climb he is like a machine. However, he wouldn’t use poles on the flat as he is able to run. For him, they are purely a means for climbing faster.


In skyrunning, poles are used regularly when allowed and the cross over from ski mountaineering is clear to see. However, Kilian Jornet for example very rarely uses poles even though he is a ski mountaineering world champion. I have actually only seen him use poles at the Dolomites VK as the gradients are close to 50% and the terrain is extremely slippery.


Therefore, your choice and decision to use poles must be assessed base on your need and demands. I personally feel that poles provide a great security blanket and aid. They allow me to climb with added strength, descend with security (with care) and when I use them on the flat they provide me with a great rhythm that allows me to move faster.

You will only be faster with poles if you know how to use them.

Any disadvantages?

  • Yes, for sure. Go to UTMB when the trails are full of thousands of runners and poles are going in all directions. You can lose an eye for sure.
  • Poles occupy your hands so simple tasks like feeding, map reading and so on can be laboured.
  • You can’t use hand bottles.
  • Downhill they can be a real trip hazard if not used correctly.


Finally, please remember that some races do not allow poles. So, make sure you train with and without. Don’t become reliant on them. As I stated in my previous article, learning to walk efficiently is a key attribute and the ability to climb with hands-on-knees is a great skill to hone. Given the choice though, if I could, I would use poles.

Interesting fact based on data to balance the pros and cons:

Reference: Howatson et al. Sci Sports Exerc 2011; 43: 140-5

37 volunteers made the ascent and descent of Mount Snowdon with a day pack having either poles or no poles. The group having poles had significantly less rating of perceived exertion (RPE) during the ascent, showed attenuation of reductions in maximal voluntary contraction immediately after and 24 and 48 h after the trek, delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) was significantly lower at 24 and 48 h after the trek, and creatinine kinase (CK) was also lower at 24 h after the trek. Link HERE

Strength Training for Endurance (Part 2) by Marc Laithwaite


Missed part 1? Read HERE first

Last week we discussed joint stability and core training, specifically how you can improve your economy by developing a stable platform. I said last week that joint stability comes forst, before you start adding resistance to the major muscles, so if you missed the blog, go back to the menu above, click ‘The Endurance Blog’ and scroll down to last week’s article (Part 1).

So this week, we’re looking at strength exercises for swimming,cycling and running. Before we start, I’d like to make it clear that the advice is my personal view, based on research I’ve read, what I’ve observed as a coach and what I’ve used as an athlete. I think it’s correct and have clear reasons for that, your opinion may vary and you may have read different advice, but I can live with that. Take from it whatever you feel beneficial and feel free to question me by reply.


I wrote a blog a few weeks ago titled ‘why runners can’t cycle’. The title sounds a bit harsh, but it very much relates to strength training for cyclists. We’ve tested hundreds of cyclists and amazingly, we seen a clear correlation between how far they can get during an 8-10 minute aerobic ramp test (increase the resistance every minute until they reach VO2 max) and how much power they can produce in a 5 second sprint. This means that is you can’t produce a high amount of power in a 5 seconds sprint, your cycling performances from 25 miles up to Ironman will also be limited. As unbelievable as that may sound, that’s what the test results show.

Distance runners tend to have poor leg strength as it’s not required to the same extent as cycling. Female runners tend to be worse than male runners. We often find that these people lack basic leg strength and find it difficult to make the transition to cycling (tend to be better on long hills, poor on the flat and short hills). For this reason, general leg strength is a key requirement for cycling and should be assessed as an indicator of performance. If it’s poor, then general strength exercises such as squats and deadlift, with low reps and high weights can have a real benefit to performance. Older athletes have greater problems with strength, they tend to be ok with long and slow, hence they prefer longer events as they feel they are more able to compete.

Aside from the leg strength exercises, a general core and upper body routine can benefit the rider for the purposes of stability (sitting still and providing a stable platform to drive from). If you want to read the runners can’t cycle blog in full GO HERE


Squats and Deadlift are very useful exercises for muscle health and performance. Long distance running is catabolic in the sense that it ‘breaks down’ tissues. Conversely strength training is anabolic and help tissues to grow and perform optimally. I’ve rarely seen a distance runner ‘bulk up’ by doing strength work, but lots of runners are needlessly scared of weight gain.

Like all forms of training, strength should be periodised. Learn the exercises, increase the load whilst holding form and then progress to more specific exercises. For running, the most effective form of strength training is ‘plyometrics’. At it’s most simple, this is jumping, hopping and bouncing exercises. These ‘bouncing’ exercises teach the muscles and tendons to store elastic energy and act as if they were springs. The reality is that ‘great runners bounce’.

Plyometric exercises have been show to improve economy (remember last week we said economy is how much oxygen you need to exercise). In simple terms, if your tendons and muscles use elastic energy, allowing you to bounce, your effort is reduced. Elastic energy is FREE energy. If you can’t bounce, you have to rely on the muscles to work more, so oxygen and heart rate go up. Tendons and tissues which bounce don’t need to use oxygen, it’s free, so it feels easy.

Key things:

1. You can’t go straight into plyometrics and skip general strength, you will get injured.

2. As you get older, stored elastic energy becomes a major issue so you bounce less. Strength is therefore of much greater importance, the older you are.

A general core and upper body routine is critical for runners. You need to have a solid chassis which will not collapse as your foot strikes the ground. Sitting down and collapsing into your stride will mean you have no chance at all of bouncing back off the road or trail, all energy will be lost. The pelvis and torso should be rock solid and hold posture at point of impact.


A strength routine for the whole body will benefit any swimmer, in terms of both performance and injury prevention. Stability and strength is important throughout the body, for example:

1. At the shoulders as the hand enters the water and catches the water, shoulder stability is critical for a firm catch, from which to pull. Overhead exercises assist with shoulder stability, e.g. single arm dumbell press.

2. General strength in the arms, chest and back will allow more pressure to be applied during the pull phase. This is more relevant for swimmers who are particularly weak.

3. Core stability is important for balance, although I’ve never seen a swimmer with ‘low legs’ resolve the issue by doing the plank in the gym. I have however see plenty of people who can ‘plank like there’s no tomorrow’ but they have low legs when they swim. The core stability and balance required to raise the legs is much more effectively resolved by kicking work in the pool, with and without fins.

Now we’ve covered the 3 sports and how they differ in terms of demands, next week we will produce a sample strength routine which you can follow throughout the winter period. You’ll need access to some kettlebells or dumbells and you’ll also need access to a free weights bar for exercises such as squats. You’ll find these in any gym. As we discussed last week, winter is the perfect opportunity to start a strength programme. You should commit to it, even if it means dropping or reducing your swim, cycle and run. You can phase those sessions back into your routine from February onwards and feel faster and stronger for it!!

*This article was originally posted on here

About Marc:

Sports Science lecturer for 10 years at St Helens HE College.

2004 established The Endurance Coach LTD sports science and coaching business. Worked with British Cycling as physiology support 2008-2008. Previous Triathlon England Regional Academy Head Coach, North West.

In 2006 established Epic Events Management LTD. Now one of the largest event companies in the NW, organising a range of triathlon, swimming and cycling events. EPIC EVENTS also encompasses Montane Trail 26 and Petzl Night Runner events.

In 2010 established Montane Lakeland 50 & 100 LTD. This has now become the UKs leading ultra distance trail running event.

In 2010 established The Endurance Store triathlon, trail running and open water swimming store. Based in Appley Bridge, Wigan, we are the North West’s community store, organising and supporting local athletes and local events.

Check out the endurance store HERE

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Getting your head in the right place!


Getting your head in the right place is something that we all need to do. I am in La Palma, the home of Transvulcania Ultramarathon. It’s a place that I have been coming back to since 2012. It holds a special place for me, especially at this time of year.

The days are a little longer, the weather is perfect and the island is beautiful.

I’m writing a book called, Running Beyond which will be published late in 2016. In real terms it is a photography book with words. However, after a year on the road I realised the only way I was going to get the words written was by getting myself, or should I say my head in the right place.

The plan is to get back to some regular time on the trails and split my days 50/ 50.

I’ve been here since Friday, so only 4-days but I can already feel it working.


The writing process is taking place and I seem to be slowly but surely making my way through the list of things I need to do. Plus Niandi and myself have had some time to relax, taking in sights at local towns and we have been on the trails; hiking, jogging and at times, running!


On day 1 we went to Los Llanos, the finish of the Transvulcania race. Its a beautiful place of cobbled streets and pastel coloured buildings. In the late afternoon we went up and down the VK route from Tazacorte Port; always a favourite. We timed it just right as the sun was setting as we made the final descent.


The following day, Sunday,  we visited a local market at Argual. It is a place I have visited many times before but the people and some of the sights are always interesting. We followed this with a run from El Pilar, taking in an out-and-back route through the Volcano route. It was a little cloudy and windy along the tops but it is always stunning. Back at our car we had the best Tuna Bocadillo ever; the simple things huh?


Monday I did a 90-minute run alone. It was the end of a long day of writing and I needed an outlet and a release. Run? it was actually a hike up and a run down. Nothing special but it helps get my head in the right place. I even took a selfie!


Last night, (this morning) – I walked the streets of Santa Cruz from 3am with Niandi and Divino San Francisco, a group of singers who move from house-to-house and sing traditional Christmas songs. My good friend Angel, is one of the singers and it was he who told me about this. For 9-days (not always at 3am I must add) in the lead up to Christmas they sing every night to represent the 9-months of pregnancy.


It was something quite special! Quiet lonely streets with just string instruments and stunning voices to welcome in a new day. It was so special; it made me realise why I was here, to get my head in the right place.

Despite a night of no sleep, today I can feel the positive vibes from a stunning night. It’s a night that Niandi and myself won’t forget. Families opened their doors to us in the early hours, they welcomed a large group of musicians in and then proceeded to feed them and provide drinks, it made me realise what this time of year is about.

We all need to get our heads in the right place. Make sure you make it a priority to find your place, I guarantee 2016 will be better because of it.