Episode 166 of Talk Ultra is here… MERRY CHRISTMAS everyone. This show is all about OMAN by UTMB with an in-depth interview with the female champion, Anna-Marie Watson. We also speak with the male champion, Jason Schlarb and he is joined by his partner and 3rd place female, Meredith Edwards.
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This episode of Talk Ultra is pre-recorded and released on a timer as Ian is trekking in. Nepal. If interested, you can read about Ian’s Christmas Nepal Trek – the route, plan and the equipment he will use HERE.
Recently I was involved in a series of discussions about the Marathon des Sables, not the 2016 edition of the race but the 2017 and 2018 editions of the race. One thing that became very clear is the panic and apprehension many runners feel about a goal that may well be a ‘one-off’ or lifetime goal.
Experienced runners will know how to goal set, they will know how to periodise and plan their training so that they hopefully arrive at a target event in peak form. This was discussed in Planning a Running and Racing Year (HERE). However, goals that go beyond one macrocycle (one year) require a much greater perspective and overview. If you are new to running, well, it can be just terrifying.
A great deal of advice can be extremely counter productive as it makes many runners feel inadequate, inexperienced, lacking confidence and in the worse scenarios even questioning if they should even go ahead with the race.
Let’s be clear. Everyone is an individual, I have yet to find two runners who need the same training plan or structure. However, certain scenarios work for all and it is with this in mind that I am writing this post.
Why set a long term goal?
Long term goals provide incredible motivation to step out of the door and to train. You will have heard the saying, ‘if it was easy, everyone would do it!’
To that end, iconic races such as UTMB and Marathon des Sables, are races that for many are the ultimate race, they are races to be built up to and therefore a macrocycle is not enough time to prepare; hence long term goal setting.
Irrespective of experience, two key words come in to play when setting a long term plan: Structured and Progressive.
In this scenario, I am using goal setting for Marathon des Sables.
A macrocycle is one training year and this is broken down into mesocycles. It may sound like a fancy word but a mesocycle is a series of blocks of training that make up one macrocycle. For purposes of explanation, let’s assume that you are running the Marathon des Sables which takes place in April 2018.
I always recommend getting a year planner so that you get a big picture of what lies ahead. Fourteen months may seem like a long way off, it is, no need to panic, but also don’t become complacent. What’s important here is experience. I am therefore going to have two runners.
Runner A has run a marathon, runs to keep fit and has set the lifetime goal of Marathon des Sables. Priority is completion.
Runner B has been running for years, eats marathons for breakfast, races ultra races regularly and is going to Marathon des Sables as a challenge, to test him or herself and plans to compete over complete.
You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out that runner A and runner B need completely different training plans and strategies. Keeping in mind that A has less experience, more insecurities and a great deal of anxiety about the big target, I will talk through the possible planning cycle for A.
Let’s break down the macrocycle. As I said, we have fourteen months to play with, so a schedule may look like this:
Phase 1: Feb, Mar, Apr, May with C race objective (marathon).
Phase 2: June, July, Aug with B race objective (50k to 50m).
Phase 3: Sep, Oct, Nov with A race objective (multi-day race)
Phase 4: Dec, Jan with B race objective and/ or specific warm weather training camp.
Phase 5: Feb, Mar.
Phase 6: Apr – A race.
Is all about consistent and regular running based on available time, ability and commitments. Set yourself a C race target for the end of this period. It could be a half marathon or even a marathon. It’s always good to have intermediate targets to work to and we often use C and B races as stepping stones to an A race, in this scenario, Marathon des Sables.
Be realistic here, it’s important. Ask yourself a couple of key questions:
How many days can I train?
How many hours a week can I train?
We are going to assume that running three/four days is possible every week with a fourth/ fifth day for cross training and strength work. A microcycle (week) in phase 1 may well look like:
Tuesday – key day
Thursday – key day
Saturday – Cross training
Sunday – key day
In phase 1 we want to just walk, run or walk/ run and build a base of fitness from which to build. No need to rush in and panic. Be sensible and progressive. A safe way to do this is build for three weeks and on the fourth week rest and recover, Yes, rest and recovery is just as important as running.
Use the 10-20% rule and never add more time than this to each run. An example for the first month may look like:
Over this phase, you would eventually cap the length of time for the Tuesday and Thursday runs at 60 to 90-minutes and the Sunday run would progress to 3-hours 30-minutes as follows:
Use this system in phase 1 building week on week over four months to lay a great foundation of progressive miles and time on feet. If you have built progressively, your Sunday long run will have progressed to over three hours which puts you in a great place for a C run target.
A marathon would be a good C target at the end of phase 1. You wouldn’t taper for a race like this, it would be a training run that would be added to your plan.
You have phase 1 under your belt and the confidence of completing a C target. Phase 2 now builds and at the end of this phase you will have a B race target as a goal. This race should be challenging but not so challenging that it becomes intimidating or breaks you. If you ran a half marathon as a C race, then your B race could be a marathon. If your C race was a marathon, then your B race may be a 50k or up to a 50-mile race if you feel that training is going very well?
It’s also important now to think ahead to Phase 3 and an intermediate A race target that will motivate you and boost your confidence for phase 4, 5 and 6.
Also think about planning and booking heat chamber sessions or equivalent for the final build up phase just before the race; this usually takes place in the final 2-3 weeks and sessions go quickly.
In the UK, a race takes place in November called the Druids. It’s a three day race where runners take on a marathon for three consecutive days. It’s a perfect ‘mini’ Marathon des Sables scenario and a great opportunity to test clothing, pack, fitness and build confidence.
Assuming that four days training are still possible and that you have had no injury issues or problems, we can now progress training building on endurance in the long runs and adding some faster/ strength sessions during the week.
A week may look like this:
Tuesday – Hills.
Thursday – Speed
Saturday – Cross training and strength.
Sunday – Long run.
As in phase 1, progression is really important and the plan would actually change and evolve over this period with each month looking different.
The above plan is a guide and this is where a run coach can step in and provide structure and remove the guess work away from how the plan is put together. It’s all about placing the right emphasis at the right place and at the right time.
You will see how month 3 changes from months 1 and 2 so that it is specific to the B target at the end of this mesocycle.
You have just completed your longest run in a B race, be that 50k, 50m or somewhere in-between and your confidence is sky high. You now have an A race on the horizon (November) that involves three back-to back marathons and suddenly your appreciation of what is required is much clearer. You respect the Marathon des Sables target but now it is less intimidating as you have moved your way up through logical and incremental steps.
Another three month phase of training that allows is to fine tune and hone in on the racing skills required.
As you may expect, phase 3 starts with recovery from your B race target. You will need to cross train or just run easy for 3-4 days. By the time the weekend comes around, you will feel as though recovery is well on the way, don’t rush. Take your time and the following week run easy Tuesday and Thursday for up to 60-minutes and then do 60 and a 90-minute run on Saturday and build on the Sunday run. An example of phase 3 is below. Please remember, YOU are an individual with specific needs and what I provide below is a possible structure leading to an A race in November.
The A race at the end of November provides a significant marker in your training. The experience will allow you an opportunity to find out what worked, what didn’t work, how your kit worked, what was good, what was bad and so on.
December is now upon you and Phase 4 is an opportunity to look at weaknesses and work on them so that you are in great shape to take on Phase 5 which is the final period before your key race.
1. If you lacked endurance in your November A race, keep working on consistency and build endurance with time on feet.
2. If you lacked speed and want to run faster, December is a perfect opportunity to cut back on distance and long runs and add some speed work.
3. Due to the demands of running with a pack, running long and all the associated fatigue, make sure that you incorporate a strength and core routine to make you a stronger runner. It’s easy to say here, ‘I don’t have the time!” You do, cut down your run time on a Tuesday and Thursday and free up time for strength and core. Maybe you can even find an extra day in your week (Wednesday) to allow you to work on this. Alternatively, work on strength and core at home maybe while watching television? The time is there, you just need to find it and be creative.
4. Practice walking. Effective and fast walking is a key weapon to a successful race in any long ultra or multi-day race.
With a new year coming, April and the heat of the Sahara looms on the horizon. January provides a perfect opportunity for a warm weather training camp just as the weather is wet, miserable and cold in Europe.
In conjunction with 2015 ladies Marathon des Sables champion Elisabet BARNES, we run a week long camp in Lanzarote that provides the perfect opportunity to test everything in a real situation. We even provide a bivouac experience. You can ready daily posts and view images from the 2016 camp HERE and you can listen to client feedback below:
Phase 5 is the last phase and ultimately you have 6 weeks to get prepared and ready for your key race. If you attended a training camp you will now have a full appreciation of everything that you need to do. That may be changing kit, more time on feet, looking at nutrition or even a combination of all elements
Now is the time to make sure you have all your admin sorted – insurance, medical, compulsory kit and so on.
Don’t leave anything to chance now. If in doubt about equipment, contact MyRaceKit, they are able to provide expert advice in regard to everything that you will need.
Think about heat and how you will adapt. With luck, back in phase 2 or 3 you will have thought ahead and booked time in a heat chamber. Ideally this will take place in the final 2-3 weeks before the race. No sessions booked? Train in a gym with additional layers, take a sauna, do Bikram Yoga etc
Again, consistency is key here. You have been training for this long term goal for sometime, don’t do anything silly, don’t do a long run that is really long; you up your chances of injury risk. Remember, training is about ALL the sessions you have done and not just one session
Phase 6 is race time.
Be organised, be prepared, think of everything and have the race of your life.
It’s in this final phase when you are so close that little things can go wrong. Be prepared as best as you can. You can’t account for the unexpected but reduce chances of anything going wrong by taking no risks.
The information provided above is designed to provide an outline and a guide on how to plan for a long term goal. Although you may be able to take this plan away and use it, please be sensible and assess your own experience, fitness and goals. Importantly, the scenario provided is with a multi-day race in mind, you would need to tweak and adjust this for a single stage race or a mountain ultra for example.
I can’t emphasise enough that we are all individual, so you need to find out what works for you.
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Elisabet Barnes dominated the 2015 Marathon des Sables by winning every stage of the race against a high quality field of competitors. What followed was a series of races and victories – a win and course record at Trail Menorca and victory (and everyday stage wins) at Oman Desert Marathon.
2016 kicked off with a multi-day training camp (here) and in February, Elisabet placed 2nd at Costa Rica’s The Coastal Challenge.
I caught up with Elisabet just two days before she flies out to Morocco to discuss how she feels, how 2016 will be different to 2015 and how life gets in the way of ‘just’ training.
The Coastal Challenge are pleased to announce that Elisabet Barnes (Sweden/UK)), female winner of the 2015 Marathon des Sables, Oman Desert Marathon and runner up in the 2016, The Coastal Challenge will return once again to Costa Rica in 2017.
“TCC is a magical race and this has been echoed by so many participants after the 2016 edition. I loved the variety of the course, the challenges in terms of heat, humidity and terrain and the friendly atmosphere. I am really looking forward to returning in 2017 already!”
A multi-day race over 6-days starting in the southern coastal town of Quepos, Costa Rica and finishing at the stunning Drake Bay on the Osa Peninsula, The Coastal Challenge is an ultimate multi-day running experience that offers new challenge even to the most experienced runner.
“I now know what aspects of the course and the terrain I coped well with and what aspects I can improve on.” Elisabet said after the 2016 edition. “The good thing is that I have quite a few improvement areas on this type of terrain so if I manage to do specific enough preparations there is certainly potential to do better next time around. I think this is encouraging and it will help me develop as a trail runner, broadening my skill set.”
Intense heat, high humidity, ever-changing terrain, stunning views, Costa Rican charm, exceptional organisation; the race encompasses Pura Vida! Unlike races such as the Marathon des Sables, ‘TCC’ is not self-sufficient, but don’t be fooled, MDS veterans confirm the race is considerably harder and more challenging than the Saharan adventure.
“Not carrying equipment makes the running easier and that is nice of course. However, if I look at my strengths I like the completely self-sufficient races too. I am tall and strong and I run well with a backpack. In many cases this means I can get a relative advantage over runners who are less experienced running with a pack or who have a smaller frame than me. I still felt that the TCC was a tough race due to the humidity and terrain and if it was self-sufficient it would be incredibly hard.”
Hugging the coastline, the race travels in and out of the stunning Talamanca mountain range via dense forest trails, river crossings, waterfalls, long stretches of golden beaches backed by palm trees, dusty access roads, high ridges and open expansive plains. At times technical, the combination of so many challenging elements are only intensified by heat and high humidity that slowly but surely reduces even the strongest competitors to exhausted shells by the arrival of the finish line.
“You always have an advantage when you have done a race once. I know the course and the challenges better now. In terms of the heat and humidity I found it tough but not a major problem. Time was a limiting factor before the race but ideally I would have spent a bit more time acclimatizing to the conditions.”
2017 will signify the ‘lucky for some’ 13th edition and building on the success of the 2016 edition, Central America’s most important multi-day race looks set to elevate itself to new heights. The race has already announced that Anna Comet, winner of the 2014 and 2015 editions of the Everest Trail Race will participate in 2017. Anna Comet in recent years has shot to fame as a trail and mountain runner after a very successful career as an Alpine skier and ski mountaineer. Her 2014 victory at the Everest Trail Race (also a multi-day race) paved the way for a strong and consistent Skyrunning year in 2015.
But Elisabet Barnes is a multi-day expert and before 2017 comes around, a very busy calendar awaits:
“First I am going back to Marathon des Sables in April and it will be my third race. I am looking forward to it and I predict a very competitive women’s race this year with several top runners coming back from previous years and also some new, extremely competent runners participating. It should be interesting. After this I am going to Richtersveld Transfrontier Wildrun in South Africa in June, followed closely (1 week!) by the Big Red Run in Australia. Later in the year I am going to the US for Grand to Grand. I am very excited about all of these races and the year ahead.”
The 2016 edition of TCC tested Elisabet and unlike the MDS, the race is not self-sufficient. In many respects it was a learning curve but 2017 will be very different.
“The TCC is not self-sufficient so you can afford to take some more luxuries like a fresh set of running gear for every day, a few pairs of shoes etc. Also not having to cook reduces admin time in camp and means you can spend more time relaxing. From the perspective of the terrain it is completely different with a lot more ascent and descent and technical parts of trail. It requires a different skill set than running in sand and over flat hard packed desert terrain. Finally, the humidity makes it a different beast. Heat is always tough but when you add humidity you have another element to deal with and possibly have to monitor your body even more closely. The same is true with all the water you run through which means that your feet are wet pretty much 100% of the time.”
Anna Comet will no doubt push Elisabet every step of the way on the 2017 TCC journey and of course, at this stage, other female elite racers may decide to enter the race. The TCC has a long history of top female competition – Anna Frost, Jo Meek, Julia Better and Nikki Kimball to name just a few. Of course, Elisabet’s main concern may well be the possibility that 2016 champion Ester Alves from Portugal may return?
“It was great to race against Ester in 2016. She is a lovely girl and a genuinely nice person. I am very happy for her that she won the race. I now know more about her strengths relative mine and how I can improve to reduce the gaps that led her to victory. I know that Ester is very focused though, so should she decide to return I am sure she will work very hard to keep improving too. If our paths don’t cross in TCC next year, I am sure we will see each other in another race before long.”
In a very short space of time Elisabet has rose through the ranks to be one of the most respected multi-day races in the world. A very busy 2016 will only add to that reputation! The 2017 TCC is already looking like an incredibly exciting race.