Marathon des Sables has just finished and now, runners from all over the world are looking ahead to April and the next edition of the race.
It’s daunting and it can be intimidating.
Planning is key. All runner’s need to periodise training so that you get the most from it.
This ‘planning’ often comes in the form of a PYRAMID. The ‘classic’ pyramid training method is well established.
BUT, in this article I want us to look at this pyramid in two ways by looking at two different runners.
Runner 1– Runs regularly but MDS is a new target and pushes the boundaries of what they thought possible.
Runner 2– Has completed MDS and wants to go back and improve.
First of all, both runners need to count back. Let’s assume that training will start in June.
- April – MDS race.
Counting back, it’s easy to look at the objective in real terms and understand what one needs to achieve.
Depending on experience, how this plan is put together is very much dependent on the individual. However, certain key elements should be present in any training plan and this article is intended to provide the basics from which you can develop a strategy that works for you. I must stress, for you!
As stated, runner 1 “Runs regularly but MDS is a new target and pushes the boundaries of what they thought possible.”Therefore, a classic pyramid will be ideal.
Decide on objectives for the year, decide onC, B and A targets, obviously, the ultimate A is MDS. Put them in a diary and ideally have a wall planner so that you have an overview of the year. It’s easy to see how a year looks on a planner. C should be something that one trains through, B can be more challenging and have a taper for, A is very specific such as a training camp.
- April – MDS race – A RACE
- January – A
- November – B
- August – C
MDS is a long way, typically 250km sobase training and getting the miles in is key. I have allocated 12 weeks for this in the plan below. Hours of easy miles progressively building up to a C target, let’s say a marathon. It is always good to have a goal and a target to aim for. The C is a training race/ event and will have no taper, you would race through it as a training long run.
Progressing through the season, this will be ‘the build phase’ so it’s a good idea to place a B objective, in this case, November. The B will allow you to progress to the A objective and then the ultimate A goal.
You can’t perform well at every event and this is why C,B and A targets are important. Ultimately, MDS is the one in which you must perform.
As in any plan, flexibility is needed. Nothing is fixed and one must be flexible and listen to one’s body. I recommend building for 3 weeks, recovering on the 4thweek and then building again (see the pyramid above)
- 12 weeks of base – June/ July/ August
- 8 weeks – September/ October
- 6 weeks – November/ December
- 4 weeks – December
- 3 weeks – January
- 3 weeks – Specific phase – February/ March
- 3 weeks – Preparation phase – March
- 3 weeks – Taper to event – March/ April
Marathon des Sables will need you to be specific. For example:
- You will be carrying a pack that on day-1 of the race will weight at minimum, 8kg.
- You will be racing in hot conditions.
- You will be self-sufficient.
- You will be compromised on calories.
- You will almost certainly walk more than you anticipate.
The above list goes on and on and as training progresses, you should refer the list and asses importance. For now, I would place the above list in the following priority: walk!
No need to worry about the pack and the self-sufficient element now, the priority is on training.
As training progresses asses, one’s strengths and weaknesses and then adjust the plan.
- Do you need to work on strength and core?
- If you have poles, do you know how to use them?
- Are you recovering?
- How is your diet?
- What is my resting heart rate, is it fluctuating?
- Am I being specific and thinking of the race terrain and simulating it?
And so, on and so on. The above questions are a starting point. Read through the list and add your own questions to appraise what type of runner you are.
As the time progresses, not only will you feel more confident, you will be able to understand what needs to be done to achieve your goal.
As stated, runner 2 “Has completed MDS and wants to go back and improve.”
You may say, well, the above pyramid for runner 1 applies here.
Yes and no?
I want to throw a curve ball in here and suggest reversing the pyramid.
For runner 1, the emphasis is building a base and then slowly but surely progressing up the pyramid to the pinnacle, MDS. Speedwork and faster sessions are not as important as building the endurance for the event, speed will form a very small element of training.
But we know that runner 2 already has a good base of fitness. How do we know? Well, they have already completed MDS…
So, if they are going back to the race, almost certainly, they will be looking to progress. So, before planning training, the following should be asked:
- Did they lack endurance?
- Did they lack speed?
- Was strength and core weak?
- Were they mentally strong?
With answers to the following, one can look at the pyramid in a new way, turn it upside down and instead of putting a priority on long steady sessions early on, they can place a priority on:
- Strength and core
- The mental approach
Speed training is usually used to add the finishing touches to a solid block of training. But as stated, as an MDS finisher, they already have endurance, so, working on speed now is a great use of time.
- June, July and August can be used to get faster and stronger with a C target, something like a fast(er) half-marathon or marathon.
- September and October can be used to add endurance to the speed so that longer sessions can also be faster and at the end, a B target.
- November, December and January can then be used to add speed to the endurance to complete the event and importantly, the long day. This period can can have an A objective.
- February is about adding the finishing touches.
- March about being specific and the tapering.
If you are someone looking to perform and improve, you need to be more self-critical. Plan your training and periodise your training so that you are able to (hopefully) predict good form on 1 or multiple Arace days in a year. This is not easy.
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 stepping stones. And make sure you consider the terrain that the race will take place on.
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.
Are you runner 1 or runner 2?
There are many more questions to ask and points to consider when planning but these should come after getting the training plan and schedule prepared.
- Preparing for heat. (Heat chamber)
- Planning equipment.
- Working on food for the race.
Fancy an early season multi-day TRAINING CAMP? Join us in Lanzarote with 2x Marathon des Sables champion, Elisabet Barnes HERE
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