Planning A Running Year

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, its a long way off but dont 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 its 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, its 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?

Its 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 cant 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

Francois dHaene always provides a good examples of how to:

 

       Build

       Peak

       Win

       Recover

       Build

       Peak

       Win

       Recover

       Build

       Peak

       Win

       Recover

 

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 HERE 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    Hows my resting heart rate?

   10  Is my pace good?

   11  Hows my strength?

   12  Hows 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. Id 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,Abeing 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. Its 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?

       Racing?

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.

 

Maintain

Week 15 – Maintain/ Specific

Week 16 – Maintain/ Specific

Week 17 – Maintain/ Specific

Week 18 – Maintain/ Taper with A Race

 

Recovery

Week 19 – Recovery

Week 20 – Recovery easing back into Build.

 

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, its 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.

THE LONG RUN

Runners all over the world, week in and week out add ‘A Long Run’ to their training. One question that I am often asked is, ‘How long should my long run be?’
Now of course, there is no one answer and before you can even begin to answer that question, you need to ask two important questions:
  1. What am I training for? (This will usually be a race or target event)
  1. What date is the event in question 1?
When you know the answers to 1 and 2, you can start to formulate a plan and this then will begin to give a better understanding to ‘the long run’ question. It is also very important to consider experience and running history.
If you are used to running 5km and 10km events, a long run for you may well be 75-90 minutes. If you are a marathon runner, your long run will typically be 21/22 miles or 3 to 3.5-hours. If you are running an ultra, mmmmm, well, this is where it gets tricky.
WHY DO WE RUN LONG?
In summary, we put an emphasis on three key points:
Efficiency to use fat as a fuel.
Muscular and physical adaptation.
Mental strength.
If you never run for more than one hour in training, then three hours on your feet just feels like a really long time so you need to adapt for the challenge ahead both from a physical and mental perspective.
Have you had sore legs from running?
We have all been there, it comes from running fast and hard and building up lactic acid or it comes from running long and fatigue. Muscle soreness will come for everyone, however, we can train to reduce the impact or delay the process. This why we ‘train,’ we train to get better! Progressively running longer with recovery periods allows our muscles to adapt to the stress and become stronger. The term DOMS refers to the ‘Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness’. You may well feel muscle pain during a training event or race but it’s usually in the 24/48/72-hour period after that the soreness really kicks in. By running long in training we adapt to delay or reduce the DOMS.
You need fuel to do anything, even a shopping trip. Our bodies can only store so much carbohydrate and once those stores are used up we have only two options left: top them up or slow down and maybe even stop if they have got very low. As an endurance athlete we need to tap into our almost unlimited fat stores. We do this by ‘teaching our body’ to use fat as a fuel in the long run. The more efficient you become at this, the longer you can run and the longer you can maintain a pace. Ultimately it means the whole race/training experience will be better and more enjoyable.
THE RUN
Let us be clear here, running longer requires a slower pace, especially if we want to ‘turn on’ fat burning. Think of long runs in terms of time and not distance. Distance adds some confusion and also as runners we get stressed and worried by mileage and minute per mile pace. Mileage does not always tell us the full story too… Time on feet takes into consideration the terrain we are running on, for example in three hours on the road you may well cover 20-miles, but on the trails or in the mountains you may only cover 12-miles.
This brings in another very important and key point, make long runs specific and in line with your objectives. No point doing three hours on the road if you are doing a 50 mile mountain race with 4000m of vertical gain.
Slow down! Many runners run the long run too hard which impacts on the following days’ training and it also impacts on the long run session. Maybe use a heart rate monitor or GPS to keep on top of this and don’t worry about walking. Walking is a key element in completing ultra distance events. I am a huge fan of RPE – Rate of Perceived Exertion. Long runs (mostly, there are exception) should feel easy and on a scale of 1-10, that means a 5.
HOW LONG SHOULD THE LONG RUN BE?
Short distance runners often run over distance in training. Think about it, a 10km runner may run a long slow half marathon to build endurance. A half marathon runner may run a long and slow steady 16 miles in preparation for a fast race.
This all falls apart when we go to the marathon and beyond. How often have you heard in marathon training that the long run should be 21/22 miles or 3 hours and 30 minutes in preparation for a race.
So how do you run long in ultra training?
Long runs and adapting for an endurance run such as an ultra comes from not one run but a combination of all runs. It’s about your accumulative run history. They all add up to make you an endurance machine.
First and foremost, consistency is key and long runs should be progressive and based on ability and experience. A long run should test you but not break you.
Let’s use a 12-week scenario based on a runner who can currently run two hours in a long run. I am not looking at base training here, but the specifics of a long run and how to make the long run longer. I’m a big fan of building over three weeks and recovering for one week, I call this 3/1.
Example:
Month 1
Week 1 – Sunday 2:30hrs
Week 2 – Sunday 2:45hrs
Week 3 – Sunday 3:00hrs
Week 4 – Sunday 2:00hrs
Month 2
Week 1 – Sunday 2:45hrs
Week 2 – Wednesday 90min / Sunday 3:00hrs
Week 3 – Wednesday 90min/ Sunday 3:15hrs
Week 4 – Sunday 2:30hrs
Month 3
Week 1 – Wednesday 90min/ Sunday 3:00hrs
Week 2 – Wednesday 1:45hrs/ Sunday 3:30hrs
Week 3 – Wednesday 2:00hrs/ Sunday 4:00hrs
Week 4 – Wednesday 60min/ Sunday 3:00hrsh
The above scenario provides a structured example on how to build up from running two hours comfortably to four hours. But remember the above scenario is 12 weeks with over 37 hours of running, just in the long runs! That is huge and a great place to start for any endurance challenge.
BUT MY RACE IS 50 MILES?
As mentioned above, it’s not wise or sensible to run too long in anyone session (for most people, there are always exceptions.) But the 12-week plan above on a 3/1 scenario shows you how it’s possible to build time and confidence. As you gain more experience you can look at doing back-to-back sessions and plan long training weekends all as part of a long term plan. Ultimately though, running too long in terms of distance or time is something that should be very carefully planned.
For example:
Month 3
Week 1 – Wednesday 90min/ Saturday 2:00hrs & Sunday 3:00hrs
Week 2 – Wednesday 1:45hrs/ Saturday 90 mins & Sunday 3:30hrs
Week 3 – Wednesday 2:00hrs/ Saturday 3:00hrs & Sunday 4:00hrs
Week 4 – Wednesday 60min/ Sunday 3:00hrs
You will always here about runners who can do 200 mile weeks or 50-mile training runs; they are exceptions and not the norm. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security and don’t feel inadequate, we are all individuals and this is maybe the most important aspect.
Training should be about preparing you to tackle the challenge, but it will never FULLY prepare you. There’s always going to be a bit of extra and a bit of unknown on the day of the event…
Surely that’s why you’ve entered the race or event?

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