Half Marathons des Sables Series: Stage 3 of 5; Training.
Updated: Jan 1, 2019
With the new year fast approaching, and some Christmas over-indulgence firmly in the rear view mirror, I am sure a few of you are starting to think about events or races for 2019. Some of you may even be eyeing up your first ultra marathon or multi stage race! With that in mind, the below is meant to be a short guide or introduction into how to prepare for such an event.
It´s not a step-by-step guide on how to start or even finish your next race, but a set of general principles which should help point you in the right direction. I wish it was as simple as just following a plan, but perhaps that complexity is what keeps us all striving for better results year on year. Whether it be for general health, fitness, mental agility or weight loss, I believe the key is in fact the same. Consistency, hard work and sustainability.
Probably this sounds a bit simplistic, but the older I get the more I realise the truth in this. Those of you familiar with the concept of 10,000 hours to achieve mastery, will perhaps agree that things cannot just happen over night. Likewise, I want to still be doing this when I´m 70 or 80, so it needs be achievable day in day out. Of course there are times when you can and want to do more, or less for that matter, but the key is to keep the fire burning.
Personally speaking my preparation for the Half MDS wasn´t particularly crazy, but it was targeted. For me this meant consistently logging 60-90km per week on a mixture of trail and road. I would say, 70/30 in favour of trails. I threw in a 2 day mountain ultra in preparation and a lot more bike commute km´s between August and December, meaning that combined I have been averaging 10 – 15 hours in total per week. This volume is something that I have aimed for, with a view to keep myself in a fairly constant state of fatigue, using the bike as a recovery, and then a fairly hefty taper (reduction in volume and intensity) for the 2 weeks leading into the race. I personally know that this works for me, so you may need to experiment to find your own best-fit approach.
Nothing is better for running than you guessed it, running! With the exception for those who are injured or ill, aim to hit 3-6 runs per week. If you respond well to higher mileage without illness or injury then by all means log the km´s through a mixture of shorter more intense runs, steady/recovery runs and longer endurance sessions. For me personally anything more than 100km a week puts me at risk of illness or overtraining so I stick to 3-5 runs, but keep the sessions focussed. Avoid the grey sessions i.e. easy runs should feel weirdly too easy, hard runs should make you want to throw up.
Include some back-to-back big days:
Logging very long runs (in excess of 30km) certainly have a time and a place. Indeed to log bigger weeks of 100+ km, you will likely need at least one or two. Trying to log runs that you will experience on race day i.e. 40+ km, will take a lot out of you, and may take too long to recover from. One solution to this is to hit back-to-back long runs over a 24-36 hour period to get a similar training effect, but with a reduced fatigue. For example I might run to work 14km on a morning, and run home in the evening. Then again the following morning. This gives me 42km in just over a 24 hour period, but allows me to fuel properly between and gives a short recovery. It still hurts and it will still heavily fatigue your body, but it´s often more manageable time wise, and the recovery needed won´t be as significant as for a single 42km run.
Run with a pack:
Something that you will be familiar with if you are a run commuter is running with a pack. If all of your running is done outside of commuting however, then this may seem a bit foreign. It’s easy to log big run weeks, but don´t forget that most ultras involve a lot of walking or fast hiking. In the case of many multi stage races like the half MDS Peru, you will be required to carry all of your kit. You don’t necessarily have to train every session with a pack, but get used to hiking with it, and load it up to a realistic weight. This will help strengthen your back and shoulder muscles and prevent excessive fatigue come race day. The upside of course is that you also get to test your kit and iron out any kinks or issues so that race day/week goes smoothly. Focus on what you can control, your kit is 100% one of those things.
Fast vs. slow:
As mentioned above, race day/week will often involve significant walking or hiking. Some of the best and most relevant sessions you can do, are long hikes. I´m talking 4+ hours, and to be honest the more time on the feet the better. The intensity will be lower, so recovery will be faster and it gives you opportunity to test kit and nutrition thoroughly. This doesn´t mean that faster sessions should be neglected though. There is still place for speed work, whether hill sprints or track sessions. Look for one faster session per week (as opposed to perhaps two as more common place in half or marathon training). They take more out of you and you are better focussing on logging more miles, but they will help to build leg strength and your ability to shift lactate from the muscles. Both of these will be useful when climbing steep dunes or technical mountain trails.
Ideally you can also include some cross training into your regime, and it´s something I wish I had included more of as part of my preparation. Keep this simple, as often the idea of complex sessions is enough to put you off even getting in the gym in the first place. 30 minutes twice a week focussing on compound movements that work the big muscle groups. Squats, lunges, press ups, chin ups, some core work (all of which can be done in the living room). That should keep you in good shape and will pay dividends later on in the race when your form starts to deteriorate. It will also help keep away any muscular imbalance, and make your more bullet proof on the course when stumbling over technical terrain. Throw in some easy swim, bike or country walks with the dog to keep the body ticking over if you have the time, use this time to catch up with friends and plan your trip!
I hope that you found the above tips useful. Look out for the next blog in this series, stage 4, all about kit for the half MDS.
To close this blog, I ask for your support. I have been nominated for the Run Ultra Instagram account of the year, which is amazing and super cool to be up against such great athletes (such as Kilian!). You would be doing me an honour if you could vote for me! Please click on THIS LINK, select my name from the list and then put your email address at the bottom. You will be automatically entered into a competition to win a Suunto 9 as well! THANK YOU!