THE LONG RUN – Running Long, but how long?

We all run long, but the length of a long run can really vary depending on many factors such as age, fitness, race and training history, targets, objectives and available time. I get asked and read, time and time again, the question, ‘How long should I run?’

‘What session you doing?’ 

‘Long run today,’ the answer.

But, what is a long run and how long should a long run be?

Before that question can be answered, one needs to understand why one is running long and for what purpose. Typically this will be a long-term event that is planned in the diary that may or may not be a race.

Having a date to work too is a great starting place as it provides a deadline point. This helps focus the mind and plan the time accordingly.

Ask yourself, what your objectives are? For example, there is a difference between competing and completing?

What distance is the event? (What is the time limit, what are intermediate cut-off times?)

If you are used to running 5k and 10k events, a long run for you may well be 75-90 minutes? If you are a marathon runner, your long run may be 3 to 3.5-hours. If you are running an ultra, this is where it gets tricky.

Why do we run long?

In summary, we put an emphasis on 3 key points: 

  • Mental Strength
  • Muscular and physical adaptation 
  • Efficiency to use fat as a fuel

Mental Strength:

If you have never run for more than 1 hour in training, then 3 hours on your feet just feels like a really long time, so, you need to adapt mentally for the challenge ahead and you need to be strong to get the job done. This time on feet, needs to be appropriate to the challenge one has planned.

Muscular and Physical Adaptation:

Muscle soreness will come for everyone, however, we can train to reduce the impact or delay the process by progressively running longer in training. With recovery periods, we allow our muscles to adapt to the stress and they become stronger. Delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) is not pleasant and it something that can really be painful in the 24/ 48 and 72 hour period after hard/ ;long training or racing. By running long in training we adapt to delay or reduce the DOMS.

Efficiency to use fat as a fuel:

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 during 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 Long Run

Running longer requires running slower, especially if we are going to switch fat burning on. It requires a pace that one can maintain for hours and hours and yes, that pace can be walking. The long run/ walk is specific to you and nobody else!

Running hard and faster has its place and yes, top elite runner can and will incorporate faster paces within a long run to adapt. But be specific and think of your objectives and what you are trying to achieve.

Be specific with terrain. No point for training for a 50-mile trail race with loads of vertical and technical trail and then run all sessions on the road.

Runners get stressed and worried by mileage, pace, miles per minute and so on. Relax. Think of your long run in terms of time, not distance. Particularly important if running off-road.

To help provide perspective, 3-hours on the road you may well allow one to cover 20-miles, but on the trails or in the mountains, one may only cover 12-miles.

Slow down! 

A common mistake is that we make our long run too fast and our faster runs not fast enough. We therefore end up one paced. Make longer sessions slow and make hard sessions hard. If in doubt, use RPE, Rate of Perceived Exertion. Quite simply, when running long and easy you should have a perceived effort of breathing calmly and being able to talk. If running hard, you should have a perceived effort of difficulty, shortness of breath, discomfort and an inability to hold a conversation.

The big question, how long should the long run be?

Short distance runners often run ‘over distance’ in training. For example, a 10k runner may run a long slow half marathon to build endurance. A half marathon runner may run a long and slow steady 16-20 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 30-minutes in preparation for a race. But these generic terms do not take in to account the individual. Think of Kipchoge, if he did long runs at 3.5 hours, even running slow (7 min miles for him,) he would cover over 30-miles!

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. So, typically, if you are running longer than a marathon, you will have been running for some time. 

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. 

What do I mean by progressive?

Let’s use a 12-week scenario based on a runner who can currently run 2-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 3-weeks and recovering for 1-week.

Example:

Month 1

  • Week 1 – Sunday 2:30 hours
  • Week 2 – Sunday 2:45 hours
  • Week 3 – Sunday 3:00 hours
  • Week 4 – 2 hours

Month 2

  • Week 1 – Sunday 2:45 hours
  • Week 2 – Wednesday 90min / Sunday 3:00 hours
  • Week 3 – Wednesday 90min/ Sunday 3:20 hours
  • Week 4 – Sunday 2:30 hours

Month 3

  • Week 1 – Wednesday 90min/ Sunday 3:00 hours
  • Week 2 – Wednesday 1:45 hours/ Sunday 3:30 hours
  • Week 3 – Wednesday 2:00 hours/ Sunday 4:00 hours
  • Week 4 – Wednesday 60min/ Sunday 3:00 hours

The above scenario provides a structured example on how to build up from running 2 hours comfortably to 4 hours. But remember the above scenario is 12-weeks of running 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, can I run the distance?

As mentioned above, it’s not wise or sensible to run too long in anyone session. 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 (see below.) Ultimately though, running too long in terms of distance or time is something that should be very carefully planned. 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. 

Example:

Month 1

  • Week 1 – Saturday 2:00 hours/ Sunday 3:30 hours
  • Week 2 – Sunday 4:00 hours
  • Week 3 – Wednesday 90 mins/ Saturday 2:30 hours/ Sunday 4:30 hours
  • Week 4 – Sunday 3:00 hours

Month 2

  • Week 1 – Saturday 2:30 hours/ Sunday 3:45 hours
  • Week 2 – Wednesday 90min / Sunday 4:00 hours
  • Week 3 – Wednesday 2 hours / Saturday 3:00 hours/ Sunday 5:00 hours
  • Week 4 – Sunday 2:30 hours

Month 3

  • Week 1 – Wednesday 90min/ Saturday 3:00 hours/ Sunday 3:00 hours
  • Week 2 – Wednesday 1:45 hours/ Sunday 5:00 hours
  • Week 3 – Wednesday 2:00 hours/ Saturday 3:00 hours/ Sunday 6:00 hours
  • Week 4 – Wednesday 60min/ Sunday 3:00 hours

Running or walking long is a voyage of discovery and you need to balance long-distance with adequate recovery.

Listen to your body.

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, but surely that’s why you’ve entered?

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DEATH and TAXES and RUNNING INJURIES

Pleasure to provide the images to accompany the words of David Roche for the article, ‘Death and Taxes and Running Injuries’

for Trail RUNNER Mag

It’s easy to idealize running.

Frolicking through forests! Jumping over rocks and bounding down mountains! On a training plan, the miles come so easily. But that’s not reality.

As a coach, I try to never lose sight of that fact. It’s so easy to write down “8 mile run” and not think about what that actually entails. That’s more than 10,000 steps, each one with significantly more impact forces than walking, each one with the potential to go horribly wrong. That training log entry seems simple, but it’s asking an athlete to do something that many people can’t do in the first place.

Our heads may be up in the clouds, but our bodies are on the ground, and they can feel the pounding. The process of building up endurance risks breakdown with each step. Running is a lot like life in that way. Every day that passes brings us one day closer to the ultimate breakdown.

What can we do in the face of our own fragility? We can keep moving forward.

That sounds melodramatic. I promise this article will not be too serious. But it is important to understand that we get running injuries for the same reasons that we die—our bodies are only capable of so many miles, even if our brains can expand to encompass infinity. Just as life requires death to have meaning, so too do runners have to get injured for the miles to be more than numbers in a training log.

So let’s celebrate the whole journey, including the parts that might be less fun to talk about. Let’s talk injuries.

Read the full article HERE

Trail RUNNER Mag HERE

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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.

Multi-Day Racing – It’s not complicated

It’s Not Complicated…

Let’s get one thing clear, multi-day racing is simple, it is often over complicated and this creates too many questions and too much confusion.

Let’s hark back to Patrick Bauer’s pioneering days and simplify the process, just like he did. Over the years I have interviewed and chatted with many runners in bivouac and after racing who have done just that, they had applied simple logic and worked out what would work for them. 

Yes, they had taken advice, looked at websites, processed information but importantly they had found out what worked for them. They realized early on that they were an individual and as such, they needed a personal approach to multi-day racing and not a generic one. Not all multi-day races are the same, some are completely self-sufficient, some are semi self-sufficient and others are supported where all you need is transported for you.

When you break a race down, particularly a self-sufficient race, key things are really important:

Pack

Must fit and be comfortable when loaded. Have enough room (but not too much) for all your equipment and provide easy access to fluid. You must also make sure that your race number is visible as per race rules. Think about additional pockets, such as a waist belt for snacks.

Sleeping Bag

Lightweight, packs small and warm enough. I would always recommend a sleeping bag and jacket as it offers more flexibility, reduced weight and reduced pack size. Popular sleeping bags year-on-year are PHD, Yeti and OMM. Read HERE on how to choose a sleeping bag.

Clothes

You just need what you will run in. However, a spare pair of socks is often commonplace and many runners have one or all of the following: a warm base layer, a lightweight down jacket or waist coat, buff and maybe long lightweight pants. Remember, you have to carry everything, so, it’s all about getting the pack as close to minimum weight. At MDS that is 6.5kg plus water.

Sleeping Matt

It’s optional but a good nights sleep is important and usually those who do not take one wish they had. It provides comfort and importantly an insulating layer between you and the ground. Two options exist – inflatable and roll out solid foam. The choice is yours. The inflatable ones offer more comfort, more flexibility in packing but with poor admin, you do run the risk of a puncture. I’ve used inflatable for many years with no issue. A solid foam Matt will last the week with no risks of problems but they roll large and need to sit outside the pack.

Shoes and Gaiters

Shoes (more below) are personal, just make sure they have a good fit, appropriate drop for your needs and suit your run/walk style with enough durability for you. I say ‘you’ because someone like Rachid El Morabity can complete the whole of MDS race in say 21-hours whereas most people won’t even do just the long day in that time – his shoe shoe choice will and can be very different to what most of us need!

Continue reading

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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Running Beyond Paperback

Long Term Goal Setting and Planning for Ultra Running

The Long Term Goal

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Recently I have produced several articles that have been created to help runners formulate a plan for a new year of racing and training. The articles have been as follows:

  • Planning a Running and Racing Year HERE
  • To Base Train or not to Base Train HERE
  • Base Training HERE
  • How long should the long run be? HERE
  • In addition, I wrote several articles on walking and how important it is to practice this for:
  • Ultra running HERE
  • Walking with poles HERE
  • Walking efficiency when climbing HERE

Recently I was involved in a series of discussions about the Marathon des Sables. 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.

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Why not join our Multi-Day Training Camp in Lanzarote with 2x MDS Champion, Elisabet Barnes? Information HERE

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.

STRUCTURE

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 2020.

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.

Please Note – This guide below is geared towards someone who aims to run as much as possible at MDS. Very few run all of MDS and most walk considerably more than they think. For me, walking is a key element to a very successful training plan. The structure below still applies, the sessions would adjust accordingly.

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 twelve months (+/-) to play with, so a schedule may look like this:

Phase 1: Apr, May with C race objective (half-marathon).

Phase 2: June, July, Aug with B race objective (marathon to 50km).

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.

Phase 1

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. 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:

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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:

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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.

Phase 2

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 marathon or 50km 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.

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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.

Phase 3

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.

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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.

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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:

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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

Pack weight is a consideration and get it as close to 6.5kg as possible. On day-1, when you add water it will be 8kg. BE CAREFUL training with too much weight, it is a guaranteed route to injury. For sure, do some sessions with weight, be progressive and slowly build up. Just do one session per week in the final phase and only do 1 or 2 sessions with pack at 8kg and do not go too long.

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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.

Good luck.

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Lanzarote Training Camp 2019 – Day 2 and 3

Day 2 and 3 at the Lanzarote Training Camp have been full-on. Shane Benzie of Running Reborn has been looking at everyones run technique and providing guidance for improvement in group and one-to-one sessions – Shane has been a huge hit with everyone and his advice invaluable.

On day 2 we took all groups for a long 5-6 hour walk at a fast pace. Over the years on the training camp we have understood that a key element of successful multi-day race is an ability to walk with ease and at pace.

Day 3 started with glorious sunshine and our famous or infamous volcano hill reps. They are always a hit! The sun came out, we had blue skies and fluffy clouds.

In the afternoon, we had a run out to our bivouac location, inside a volcano. An opportunity for many to test out dehydrated food, sleeping bags, sleeping mats and also their packs with weight. It is always a fun night and this year even more special with gale force winds and rain – quite the experience. It really was brilliant!

Join our 2020 Training Camp HERE

Lanzarote Training Camp 2017 – Day 3

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A glorious morning was followed by a windy and chilly afternoon but Lanzarote put a smile on every clients face as they arrived in 15-degree temperatures after leaving a -5 London behind.

It was an admin day as everyone checked in, stocks up on supplies, relaxed and then at 1700-hours it was an introduction to the terrain and conditions they will encounter for the next 7-days.

It was a stunning end to the day as we ran for 60-minutes in three ability based groups. The sun accompanied us and as we returned back to La Santa we were provided with one of this magical sunsets that made everyone realise in an instant, why they are here.

Light stretching followed the run and then in the evening it was casual drinks and a group meal.

Day 4 starts at 0800 with a full-on run that will see most participants on the trail for 4 to 6 hours.

Interested in joining us in 2018? Go HERE

Elisabet Barnes – Marathon des Sables Pre-Race Interview #MDS2016

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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.

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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.

You can listen and download the interview HERE

Or please click play on the audio file below

You can read a full and in-depth preview of the 2016 race HERE

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Lanzarote Multi-Day Training Camp 2016 – Day 3

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The 2016 Lanzarote multi-day training camp really got underway today with a full day of activity. This morning was a 4-hour run or hike over some very specific terrain that provided every participant a full-on appreciation of what terrain they may encounter at a race such as Marathon des Sables.

Mitch Keene, on the training camp with his wife, said post run:

“It was great to experience the sort of terrain that we are likely to come across when we get to the real event. To understand what it is like to run in some deep sand. It was also great camaraderie on the run. It’s good to know that there is going to be people around you who are in the same sort of position as you are and learning from them. And then there is just some basic stuff like understanding that wearing very short socks is a bad idea when running in the sand. So really simple stuff that you think you know when you set off but don’t. The whole learning experience is phenomenal out here and I really enjoyed it.”

The morning session took a relatively flat run out over very mixed terrain (sand, rock, lava, dunes) in three groups. Elisabet Barnes leading the runners who are able to hold a faster and more consistent pace. Niandi Carmont leading the runners who will run and occasionally walk and then Marie-Paule Pierson leading a small group who intend to walk the whole event. Ian Corless moved from one group to the next.

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“It’s nice meeting people who actually want to talk to you while you are running. I have found it quite difficult taking up running again on my own and going to events on my own,” said Leon Clarance. “People are usually polite but today people were actually chatting about their own experiences and it was nice to meet some likeminded people.”

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At the coastal resort of Famara, everyone turned 180-deg and the re-traced along the coastline but this time taking in the small mountains and hills that back on to the sea in this area. At times rocky and technical, everyone had a real insight into the complex terrain that one may encounter in a multi-day event. At the summit, one or two runners experimented with foot care and treatment; a key element of successful multi-day competition.

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“It’s ben a real eye opener,” said Alan Guthrie. “I have been behind with my training and today I managed my longest session for some time in some very specific terrain that directly relates to my chosen event; Marathon des Sables. It’s been a tough session but I have loved every minute of it.”

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Post run stretching relaxed tired muscles and 2-hour break was followed with a talk and discussion called, ‘What goes in the Multi-Day Pack?’

And just when the runners thought it was time to relax and chill-out an ‘optional’ 20-30min shake out run fired everyone up for one last effort, making the day a very successful and tiring one. Evening drinks, relaxing chat and good food was extremely welcome. Tomorrow we have a structured group walk in the Timanfaya National Park in a series of volcanoes followed with a talk on nutrition and hydration.

Many thanks to MyRaceKit, Raidlight, OMM, PHD, inov-8, Scott Running and Berghaus for the support.

If you would like to take part in a multi-day training camp like this, dates have been set for 2017 and it’s possible to book HERE

Click on an image to view today’s gallery