As a racing season comes to an end it is time to look back over your achievements and yes, your failures over the last 12 months.
What went right, what didn’t go right? It is a question we should all ask ourselves.
- What were my strengths?
- What were my weaknesses?
Once you know the answers to the above, you have an idea of what to do over the winter months to make the following year a better one, not only in racing but training.
Planning is key. You need to periodize training so that you get the most from it.
- Do you lack endurance?
- Do you lack strength?
- Do you lack speed?
- Do you lack an ability to run on technical terrain?
- Can you climb well?
- Are you mentally strong?
The above list can go on and on.
Certain key elements should be present in any training plan and by answering questions similar to those above, you will start to understand what you need to do.
Winter has often been thought upon as time to do ‘base’ miles. These were long and steady miles with many hours building endurance. It is easy to fall in a trap and do too much of this. Don’t do what everyone else is doing, instead do what you need to do. Ultra-runners often have loads of endurance, after all, they race long distances all year. But with all that endurance, they can lack some strength and speed.
You need to look at yourself and ask, ‘What do I need to do?’
Decide on objectives for the following year and yes, you can even decide on plans for the year after too. Sometimes our long-term goals are so big or challenging that we need longer than a year to prepare!
Decide on A, B and C races, please remember that you can have multiple A goals, you just need to make sure that you can train, race and recover. The best thing to do here is to get a planner that shows the whole year and then add objectives marking them A, B and C – you will soon see if your targets are achievable. This is an invalidly process and actually takes very little time.
A target needs blocks of training and depending on the A-Race, that block will vary in length based on the challenge and the experience of the individual. A classic marathon plan may be 12-16 weeks, whereas for 100-miles you may work on 28-weeks.
In our scenario, we are saying that our A race is a 100-mile race, 28 weeks away.
Yes, it’s a long way off but don’t be fooled into thinking you have plenty of time. Key races have a habit of sneaking up on you.
Go through the questions again.
If this is your first 100, training will be very different to someone who is running there 20th for example. Endurance may well be a primary target, whereas the experienced 100 runner will have endurance but may well want to go quicker?
100-miles is a long way so *base training and getting the miles in is key. We have allocated 8 weeks for this in the plan below. Hours of easy miles progressively building up to a C race (marathon or 50k). It is always good to have a goal and a target to aim for. The C race is a training race and will have no taper, you would race through it as a training long run.
*A traditional pyramid training plan starts with base and then typically adds speed as an event comes closer. However, we are ultra-runners and it is important to be specific. High intensity training creates a lot of fatigue and this is why I am a huge fan of reversing the pyramid and getting speed work done during the winter so that the training plan that leads into an A race is specific to the demands of the race.
So, if you are an experienced ultra-runner looking to improve with years of running and loads of endurance, think about making weeks 1-8 speed based with a fast marathon as a C (or maybe even A) race objective at the end of this block.
When you enter your racing season this will be in the build phase so it’s a good idea to place a B race objective that will allow you to progress to the A goal or multiple A goals.
As you come to the end of the build phase, you should be in form and race fit. What you want to do now is fine tune that form, tweak it and hold it for the A race. If you are cramming long runs in or looking for speed, it’s too late. You basically misjudged the planning or started training too late.
Maintaining what fitness, you have is also about being specific to the A target.
1 Is your 100-mile target race on groomed trail with little elevation gain?
2 Is it an out-and-out mountain race with gnarly terrain and plenty of elevation gain?
It’s important to be specific now, the two races above require very different approaches. This is something that you will have understood in January (or earlier in the year) when you looked back at last year, looked ahead to this year and understood your strengths and weaknesses so that you could plan accordingly.
▪ Scenario 1 requires running, good form and leg speed.
▪ Scenario 2 requires hiking, climbing, leg strength and plenty of endurance.
You can’t perform well at every event and this is why A, B and C races are important. Yes, I know the elite runners manage to race several key races a year but look at the training and look at the planning. We have all seen top runners turn up at early season races and place just inside or outside the top-10.
Francois d’Haene always provides a good examples of how to:
In 1 racing year, Francois won 3 x 100-mile races.
That is an incredible skill and for sure as racing becomes more aggressive, faster and more brutal, this training approach is going to become far more important for those who want to race to their own potential and maybe more importantly race year-on-year. We have all witnessed the damage that racing and training too much can do at an elite level runner. Listen to my podcast with Geoff Roes as he provides a great insight into potential problems.
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Ask questions such as:
1 Do I race every weekend?
2 Do I rest?
3 Do I allow easy and recovery weeks?
4 Do I cross train?
5 Do I sleep well?
6 How is my nutrition?
7 Am I constantly tired?
8 Do I feel alive and full of beans?
9 How’s my resting heart rate?
10 Is my pace good?
11 How’s my strength?
12 How’s my recovery?
13 Do I have a plan?
14 Have I structured my plan to an A race?
The above questions are a starting point. Read through the list and add your own questions to appraise what type of runner you are. It may well be that running for you is an escape and social thing, you may be happy to race week in and week out and you are not worried about gaining a PB or improving; if that is you, great. I’d still say planning some RnR is a good thing to avoid burn out.
If you are someone looking to perform and improve, you need to be more self-critical. Plan your training and periodize your training so that you are able to (hopefully) predict good form on 1 or multiple A race days in a year. This is not easy.
Carefully plan races in terms of importance, ‘A’ being the most important. Also make the races progressive and in line with your A race. For example, if your A race is a 100-mile race, a C race may be a marathon, a B race may be a 50K or 100K and then the Ais the big step of 100-miles.
Remember you can only hold form for a limited length of time and if you want to peak, you need to make sure that this planning stage is done early so that you understand what you are trying to achieve. It’s all about steppingstones.
Ask yourself, what is the purpose of the training blocks you are planning:
▪ Are you laying base training?
▪ Building fitness?
▪ Maintaining fitness?
A training block with 2 x ‘A’ races (the 2nd race being 100-miles) may look like this:
Base Training Phase
Week 1 – Base or Speed
Week 2 – Base or Speed
Week 3 – Base or Speed
Week 4 – Base or Speed (with the addition of a longer run)
Week 5 – Base or Speed (with the addition of a longer run)
Week 6 – Base or Speed (with the addition of a longer run)
Week 7 – Base or Speed (with the addition of a longer run)
Week 8 – Base with C Race probably a marathon.
Build Training Phase
Week 9 – Build
Week 10 – Build
Week 11 – Build maybe a C Race just as a long run?
Week 12 – Build
Week 13 – Build
Week 14 – Build with B Race 50K.
Week 15 – Maintain/ Specific
Week 16 – Maintain/ Specific
Week 17 – Maintain/ Specific
Week 18 – Maintain/ Taper with A Race
Week 19 – Recovery
Week 20 – Recovery easing back into Build.
Week 21 – Build
Week 22 – Build
Week 23 – Build
Week 24 – Build
Week 25 – Build
Week 26 – Build
Week 27 – Taper
Week 28 – Taper and A Race (this scenario 100-miles)
Recover, Recover and Recover.
This article is not a hard and fast plan, it’s a guide for you to go away, look at your targets having assessed past targets and hopefully it makes you think about future objectives so that you can plan for a successful, injury free year of running and racing.
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*article first published in 2016 and has been updated.