As it’s January 2018, most people are reviewing their 2017. I’m not going to because there’s not a lot to look back on. A nagging injury turned into a long-standing injury and I was laid up until June. I then spent four months rebuilding my fitness.
Instead, I’m going to share eight lessons I’ve used to help get me back on track, which might be useful in your training textbook. There’s nothing revolutionary, more common sense.
1) You can’t outrun an injury
Yup, I tried, but the injury came back with a vengeance and bit me on the butt! I knew my foot wasn’t tracking correctly, I knew my knee was askew, my hip was clunking, my shoulder was dropping… but I still kept plugging away rather than getting professional help immediately. By the time I got sorted, I’d make a tricky situation complicated.
The message: If in doubt go see someone in the know pronto.
2)You don’t need to run big miles
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…there is no need to run big miles to be competitive in ultras. Unfortunately, I’d slipped into knocking out a high volume because, well, it’s mighty pleasant chugging around the trails.
Instead, I should have been working on consistency and quality. I’m turning over my training in three day cycles. A short hilly pace run, a longer (30km or so) run and another faster, shorter day – probably a road effort – with the option for doubles on either of the shorter run days. The fourth day? Well it’s either a total rest day or an MTB effort before the whole thing starts again.
The message: If you can run 100 mile weeks, then great go for it, but if 30 miles allows you to train consistently and injury-free then stick with it. Increasing intensity doesn’t just mean upping mileage.
3) Measure your fitness
Okay, so I’ve been running for quite a number of years. Following my spring lay-up, I knew I’d need to build up carefully. However, I also knew my fitness wouldn’t have dropped off completely, as may have been the case for someone with less overall distance in their legs. Following a week or so of 5km runs and feeling fine, I needed to get an idea of my overall fitness. Not having the Spanish language skills to sign up for a lab test, I went straight in at the deep end and entered a 9km flat, road race – under the strict rule I ran no faster than 5min/km. This much slower pace (for me) would give me a good indication of my current fitness and therefore the parameters to plan within.
The message: You can’t get develop fitness if you don’t know what you’re working with. Measure and monitor!
4) Graduated speed
Not being able to take the strain of bashing out big miles week after week, I know I need to get quality in. And while, I’d prefer to be out a-wandering on the trails and hillsides this method doesn’t improve my fitness. Instead, I need to run some pace work. Knowing track sessions injure me (past experience) I have to be a bit cleverer in the training I put together. Progressive runs, pyramids…anything which gradually winds up the pace works…except I’ve got mighty lazy these days. To try to get my legs turning over regularly, I started entering 10km road races once a month. I wasn’t running to win but at set goal paces. Not always fun, but better than trying to slog out faster miles on your own.
The message: Running steady builds a great endurance engine but you have to do faster work to keep on developing your fitness.
5) Use hills for strength
In a longer ultra, I rarely run uphill, but training is a whole different matter. At least one of my shorter runs will include a long uphill chug – usually home. They aren’t pretty, and they never seem to feel any easier, but in order to develop endurance strength, musculature, and running economy, I have to learn to plough uphill.
The message: Embrace hills! They make you tough, strong and injury resistant.
6) Get lifting
Every physio’s mantra! If you want to bullet-proof your body then lift weights. Realistically, it doesn’t even need to be ultra-heavy weights…your own bodyweight will do for starters. I’ve strictly re-implemented the two circuits a week schedule back into my training plan, mixing plyometrics (jumping, hopping and generally bouncing around) with more traditional weight-lugging. And it works, I feel like I’ve got my spring back.
The message: No matter how much you may hate it, prioritize your weight sessions.
7) Focus on intensity
As adding miles isn’t an option in developing training volume for me, I need another specific measure of intensity in my training. Doing mountain ultras, overall weekly ascent is a good option. I aim to summit 4000m ascent a week in general tickover, peaking at 8000m plus closer to hillier races.
The message: Use a measure of intensity specific to your goal.
8) Quad bash regularly
Ultra racing is all about saving energy. In training however, I try to give myself a bit of beating every now and then. It’s pretty common, in mountain ultras, to be running downhill for several km at a time, which can leave your quads like jelly. It’s therefore a good idea to simulate this in training.