It seems these days that a marathon is no longer enough, now everyone wants to run an ultra-marathon. What is an ultra-marathon you ask? Well, basically any run that is longer than a 42.2km marathon. So yes, a 45km race is an ultra-marathon! But who wants to only do 45km? In these days of less is more, with ultras, more really is more!!
The most popular ultra-running distance is 100km, but you can also opt for 100 miles, 200 miles or track/loop races that can go for anywhere from 6-48 hours…sometimes even 6 days. What fun I hear you say! Indeed, it is, but only if you put in the training. Yes, there is always a caveat.
Training for an ultra needn’t be too daunting. If you are already a runner, it will simply involve a few modifications to your training plan. If you are not a runner, best get onto a couch to 5k program first, and then the ultra world will beckon!
Training for an ultra does not require absurd amounts of time running. You will need to run about 5-6 days per week, however. You will need to do some higher intensity speed work (even though it is an ultra, you still need to teach the body to run fast…in case you need to sprint past a competitor!!), some easy days to shake out the legs and build the leg/tendon/mitochondrial strength of the body and one to two long runs per week to build your endurance and mental strength. For a 100k race, the long run really does not have to be more than 50k or thereabouts. Where you run this long run depends on your races; if your race is mountainous run it in the mountains, if it’s on the track, run it on the track! Easy! If you are doing a 100 or 200 miler, you may need to do back-to-back long runs to teach your body to run on tired legs. This means a long run Saturday, followed by another on Sunday. The weekday runs need not be more than an hour to ninety minutes each session.
Long runs are also a great time to test your nutrition. This is as individual as the runner themselves. Some runners can run on gels alone, other use gels and chews, others use these with some real food in the mix. The longer the race, the more likely you will want to eat some real food (vegemite sandwiches, vegie soup, potatoes, etc). A 100-mile race can last for anywhere up to 30-40 hours! A 200 considerably more! Just remember, running diverts blood flow away from the stomach, leading to the possibility of ‘gastric distress’, a very real and painful condition. Hence the importance of testing what works for you!
Another component of training is strength work. Once again, this does not need to be too time-consuming, but 2-3 times per week is a good idea. Each session will be about 30-45 minutes and will focus on upper and lower body strength. Strength work keeps your body robust and helps you become a more balanced athlete.
The final, and most important, part of training is sleep and rest. Yes! Sleep is when the body recovers and re-builds muscle. Rest is when the boy improves. Training breaks down the body, sleep and general rest is when the body gets stronger. Neglect this aspect of training at your peril!
So there you have it, training for an ultra in a nutshell. Running an ultra is an amazing feeling. The sense of accomplishment when you complete this monumental effort is beyond belief. Get out there and get running! You’ll thank me later!
I write programs to help you reach your goals, ultras or not! I would love to help you!
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Hi and welcome to the Peak Endurance podcast and blog. My name is Isobel Ross and I am the coach at Peak Endurance Coaching. On today’s podcast I am going to discuss how runners can keep in control of their food and alcohol consumption over the Christmas and New Year Season.
Now I know we like to think that as runners we can have free reign on all the food. However, sadly that is not really the case. I wish it were!!! But it’s even worse when you’re injured like me!! Of course, I’m not saying for you to restrict yourself but just be sensible.
1. Don’t skip meals just so you can pig out later: Be careful not to restrict your eating during the day in order to pre-emptively compensate for a night of indulging. This approach can actually backfire because it can lead to overeating later. Rather than skipping meals, stick to your regular routine to maintain satiety (that is, don’t let yourself go hungry)! Just make sure that the food you are eating is healthy! No need to indulge all day!
2. Have a last-minute healthy snack before you head out: Make sure you’re not starving when you head out for the evening. Eat a small, quick serving of fruit, vegetables or a small handful of nuts before you leave the house to stave off the hunger. Healthy snacking before a cocktail party can prevent overeating party food that, more often than not, is calorically dense. And not only calorie dense but nutritionally deficit. Also, drink lots of water during the day before you go out as this will help you to feel fuller.
3. Use a small plate to trick yourself. Whether it’s a buffet-style dinner party or a cocktail party (although that normally entails a napkin!) with small nibbles, a small plate can make you think you are eating more than you’re actually eating.
4. Drink in moderation or not at all. Okay, I put that last bit in knowing not many people would follow it, including myself! However, it is true that alcohol, simply put, is empty calories. Cocktails have a lot of added sugar (and fat, if you’re drinking egg nog!) on top of the alcohol itself. If wine is your drink of choice, ask for a wine spritzer. And one more tip: pace yourself! Drink slowly, and remember to alternate a glass of water for each alcoholic drink. Your body will thank you the next day!
5. Choose your calories thoughtfully. Christmas and New Year parties present an opportunity to indulge in a large variety of decadent snacks and delicious desserts that you would not normally ever consider. Don’t necessarily eat everything that is on offer! Indulge in what actually appeals to you and savour and enjoy what you are eating. Be mindful of the experience. Don’t just scarf.
6. Keep up your training, even if only at a maintenance level. Even though the weather may be hot and all we really feel like doing is relaxing in the air conditioning, don’t let your exercise routine fall by the wayside. Head out early in the morning for a run, or hit the gym. Knowing you have to train early will also stop you drinking too much the night before too! There is not many things worse than running with a hangover.
7. Enjoy Christmas. Do not forget to enjoy this wonderful time of the year. Don’t feel guilty about celebrating with friends and family. You don’t want to be the kill joy at the party or family gathering. Slowly savour each bite or each sip of drink, and listen to your body when it tells you you’re full!
I hope these tips help you a bit, but remember to not be too hard on yourself if you over-indulge. As long as it’s not a regular thing, it’s ok.
I have had so much fun starting this podcast and blog. It is something I have been wanting to do for years, and I finally decided to bite the bullet and do it. I have to thank Daniel Farrugia for giving me the confidence to go for it. I really appreciate everyone who listens and supports my podcast. Subscribing is a great way to support the podcast. Also, as I keep saying rating and reviewing it really helps too. I have had a couple more five-star reviews, one from Peekshimmer and Screechola . Thank you so much!! I really appreciate it! These reviews help the podcast to grow and be heard by more people. Also, positive reviews gives me greater leverage to get top athletes and experts on the podcast!
Once again, thank you so much everyone for all your support. I hope you all have a wonderful and safe Christmas!
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Follow my blog with Bloglovin In spite of living in a flat area, many runners feel the allure of running in the mountains. They enter the race of their dreams, then reality sets in and they wonder; how the heck am I going to train for this??
There are many ways to train for hilly races, but of course, nothing compares to actually running hills. So, by all means, use alternate methods of training, but try to get to the mountains as often as you can. Even one weekend a month is better than nothing!
One of the best ways to train for hills if you don’t have any around is to utilise stairs. Steep stairs are the best. There are three ways you can utilise stairs in your hill strength building:
1. General strength by running and up and down at a moderate pace. A Stair master can be used for this workout (not a stepper, it needs to be the machine where the stairs rotate)
2. Sprinting: Sprint up the stairs (one at a time) as fast as you can for about 30 seconds. Take it easy back down the stairs as recovery.
3. Stair bounding: Bound up the stairs (skipping a step each time). Aim to really get some lift and air with each bound. Back down the stairs is recovery.
Weights in the gym is another way of developing the leg strength for hilly races.
1. Stepping up onto a step (and progressively making this higher). Start without weights and progress to adding weights.
2. Split squats: stationary or forward/reverse lunges, either onto or off a step or on the flat ground. All add good variation! Add weight when your form is 100% correct.
3. One legged squats with dumbbells
4. Kettlebell squats on a bosu ball
5. Box jumps
The variety is endless!
Find a hill!!
It doesn’t matter how short the hill is. Find the steepest hill you can (even if it is in a carpark leading up the next level) and sprint up it!! Hard!! Repeat, with the down as recovery. You can also do high knee skipping and bounding up these as well.
Equally, you can use this as a downhill workout. Walk up the hill, then sprint down. You need to strengthen the legs for downhill running as much, of not more than, for uphill.
If you are lucky, the treadmills at your gym will be able to be put up to a decent incline. When I was living in Canada and couldn’t do my normal workouts, I would practice hiking on the treadmill. Unfortunately you can’t really train for the downhills this way, but you can learn to get a good hike on.
Hopefully this has given you some good ideas on how to train for hills in a flat area. As I said in the beginning, however, nothing beats training on actual hills. So really try to get some proper hills in as part of your plan that is progressing you towards your A-race. And remember to keep it fun! Ultimately if you can only train on the flat, then that is all you can do. Do the best training you can and let it go. Many years ago, I won the 6 Foot track marathon whilst I was training for a sub-3 hour marathon on the flat. It is possible!
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Yes, yes, and yes!!!!! Although coaches (myself included!) rightly bang on about how your training needs to be specific to your race, there are still valid reasons for you to run on the road! Trails are specific to your race and much more enjoyable (most of the time!) than the road, I totally agree. However sometimes there can be too much of a good thing!
Trails make you strong but can slow you down
Trails can cause you to run slower; as we all know it is virtually impossible to maintain the same speed per kilometre on the trail as on the road. And those hills were made for walking!!
Running on the road is great for keeping your cadence and leg speed up. It is important to work on these components. Many trail races have flat or undulating sections that can make or break your race. You may need to run fast to get past someone whilst trying to appear like you’re in control (even if you feel like you’re about to blow a gasket!!!! You can do that around the next corner!)
It is just good to have an extra gear to access if you need to. Anything that adds to your repertoire is important!
Variety is the spice of life
Running only on the one type of surface can lead to injuries. Teaching your body to run in different ways can only be of benefit. Also, you will naturally wear different shoes to run on different terrains. I believe in running in a variety of shoes; different models and different brands. I am sponsored by La Sportiva so run in those on the trails, but I’m always changing the model. On the roads I run in anything from Saucony, to Hoka’s to Altra’s. That’s a diverse range! Running in different environments also keeps the monotony at bay. The mental variety is important too. I have trained for road marathons and still incorporated a long trail run every week. Running on just the road or just the trail can lead to mental fatigue. It is good give yourself different scenery to look at and different things to focus on. As much as I love the trails, sometimes I just crave a nice easy flat run where I don’t have to concentrate on every footfall. Because believe me, I fall. A lot. Ask my friends.
It can be a hassle to get to the trails
Not all of us live at the trail head or are lucky enough like me to be a quick 3k bimble to the trails, so getting to the trails usually involves driving. Sometimes it’s nice to just be able to run out the door. No stress, no commute, just run. This is especially important if you are running early in the morning before work. Driving to the trail just takes away from the time you could be running or sleeping.
Some people prefer the well-lit streets to run on. If you run the trails in the early mornings before work, or in the evenings, you may need a head torch. This can be just another thing you need to buy, or organise. For simplicity, running on the roads can be beneficial.
Roads keep your effort consistent
On the trails there can be a lot of variables to consider; mud, sand, obstacles, slippery roots, and so on. Steep hills and sharp descents are also part of the mix. All of these mean it is very difficult to keep your effort at a consistent level. Training on the road means you can sustain a certain level of exertion for a definite period of time. This is particularly useful for tempo runs and long intervals.
Can you think of anymore reasons? Comment below!
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First, a re-cap from the last training talk. Let’s clarify what is meant by speed work. True speed is very short sprints (10-15seconds!!) that work on developing the neuro-muscular system. However, when most runners talk speed work they are meaning things like interval repetitions and tempo work. So, for ease of conversation, this is what I will be meaning when I discuss speed work.
When you first start your season’s training, I believe it is important to focus on getting the body ready for the harder work to come. This includes utilising strides (100m repeats run at about 90-95%% effort) and short hill sprints (10-15 seconds up a steep hill with a minimum 1 minute recovery). The uphills sprints can be done as full sprints up on the toes, as leaping bounds, or as high knee drills. All help promote strength in the legs, feet and ankles, as well as develop the neuro-muscular system. Full recovery is a very important component. Of course, although I have said these sessions are good for preparing the body, I still think it is good to keep them in the mix throughout the training season. It helps to keep the neuro-muscular system firing.
After a few weeks of preparing the body, you can now start some more serious work.
I like to first focus on VO2 max workouts. VO₂ max (also maximal oxygen consumption, maximal oxygen uptake, peak oxygen uptake or maximal aerobic capacity) is the maximum rate of oxygen consumption measured during incremental exercise; that is, exercise of increasing intensity. The name is derived from three abbreviations: "V" for volume, "O₂" for oxygen, and "max" for maximum. Maximal oxygen consumption generally reflects cardiorespiratory fitness and endurance capacity in exercise performance. I say generally because there are so many instances where an athlete with a lower VO2 can outperform one with a higher.
It is impractical for most athletes to test their VO2 and watches that claim to give you your VO2 are ambiguous to say the least. Also, the capacity to improve your VO2 is largely genetic. However, there are some things we can do to develop our VO2. I like to give workouts of about 3-4 minutes, with a short recovery of about 2 minutes. The work repetition should be done at about 80-90% effort, and the recovery at an easy jog or walk. If an athlete is prone to injury or competing in a mountainous race I prefer them to do these up a gradual hill. As well as improving VO2 max, these workouts teach you how to push hard when that little voice on your shoulder is telling you to stop/slow down/it doesn’t matter and so on. Although this should be a hard workout, you should always feel like you could do one more rep when you complete the session. This means you have performed the session correctly. Also, the final rep should be your best one if possible. So, pace yourself. With the first couple, work out what feels right according to your body on that day. Don’t completely red-line the first few so you are unable to complete the workout.
As we get closer to the race date, I prefer the workouts to become more race specific. For this reason, I like to focus on tempo runs. Tempo runs can be started off as longer sessions (for example, 2-3x10 minutes, building up to sets of 15-20 minute blocks) progressing to one continuous session of anywhere up to an hour. These are done at what I like to call a ‘comfortably uncomfortable’ pace. This means you are just on the edge before it becomes uncomfortable. Tempo runs really teach you to push at that relatively hard level that is hard to sustain simply because of the length of time. This really develops mental strength for longer runs as it teaches you to work at a harder level for extended periods. Tempo runs teaches the body to clear lactic acid, making it more efficient at this task. This then means you can physiologically run harder for longer periods of time too.
Long runs are also seen as quality sessions as they do require an easy day before and a rest/easy day after. The long run teaches your body and mind to run for loooong periods of time. This does not mean you need to do a 10 hour run every weekend in preparation for your miler. It means every second week you do an extended long run of around 5-6 hours. The alternate weekend maybe 3-4 hours with back-to-back runs on the Saturday and Sunday.
All of these workouts have many variables that you can play around with to increase motivation and interest. Slightly varying the time/distance/recovery/terrain all adds to the workout and guess the body guessing.
Ok, first, let’s clarify what is meant by speed work. True speed is very short sprints (10-15seconds!!) that work on developing the neuro-muscular system. However, when most runners talk speed work they are meaning things like interval repetitions and tempo work. So, for ease of conversation, this is what I will be meaning when I discuss speed work.
Many ultra-runners think, “Well I run long and slow in the race, so why would I need to work on my speed?” and although that concept used to work, that is no longer the case. In my mind, runners training for a 100k race can easily do marathon training, with simply longer long runs in the mix.
In saying that, I still think it is important to train specifically with your race in mind; does it have hills, technical trail, flat roads, etc. Using these details you can then create interval and tempo sessions that ensure you are working specifically towards your goal.
When you first start your season’s training, I believe it is important to focus on getting the body ready for the harder work to come. This includes utilising strides (100m repeats run at about 90% effort) and short hill sprints (10-15 seconds up a steep hill with a minimum 1 minute recovery). The uphills sprints can be done as full sprints up on the toes, as leaping bounds, or as high knee drills. All help promote strength in the legs, feet and ankles, as well as develop the neuro-muscular system. Full recovery is a very important component. After a few weeks of preparing the body, you can now start some more serious work.
The reason for now introducing more formal interval and tempo sessions is because not all races are run at a steady pace. Many ultras actually start quite fast…especially if there is a single track not long after the start. It is imperative in these cases to get as far up the Conga line as you can so you are not held up too much!
Another reason to include harder work in your ultra program is because sometimes you will need a burst of speed; to get in front of a competitor, to push through a hard patch, to get up a hill, and to generally increase your leg speed, turnover and strength.
Although I definitely believe in keeping easy days easy and hard days hard, the beauty of interval sessions is that they generally increase your ability to run at a faster speed in a more comfortable way in all your runs. Thus, your cruising pace is increased, which should lead to faster race times.
Also, as you get tired in an ultra it is very easy to get into ‘shuffle’ mode. This will generally happen regardless, but with some formal harder training in your program, this can be delayed. You should generally be able to hold onto your form and pace for a longer time before the heavy fatigue hits.
Doing harder efforts also teaches you how to deal with the pain of working hard. It is not possible to do long ultras every weekend….but you can touch on this pain through some interval work. It teaches you to keep pushing when that little voice on your shoulder is telling you to stop, to give up, that it’s not that important, and so on. Knowing that you can push through the tough times gives you the confidence to know that you can keep going when you want to stop. It is important to have these moments to remember and draw on when you need to. This leads to greater belief in yourself before and during a race.
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The worst thing about being injured is knowing what to do with all the extra time you have. Also, how do you maintain the fitness you have worked so hard to achieve?
Now is a good time to read up on training methodology and injury rehabilitation. It is also the perfect time to complete all your exercises to rehab your injury…and don’t stop once you’re better, you need to keep them up. I know this is difficult, and I am often guilty of it, but truly pre-hab is so much better than re-hab!
Injury is also a good reason to include cross-training in your regular training schedule; not just so you can avoid injury but so you have an activity that you can (hopefully) easily switch over to whilst your injury is healing.
Exercise options when you are injured:
Cycling is great because it keeps you outdoors. I’m a particular fan of mountain biking, seeing as I used to be a mountain biker!! Some people feel nervous about cycling, but even if you just stick to bike tracks you will get fitness benefits. And the feel-good benefits from being outside. Even doing spin-style classes are of benefit. It all depends on what your injury is, as you may not be able to cycle if you have a leg stress fracture.
This is a good one if you are trying to maintain the running position. It’s good to incorporate your arms in this too. I have spent many an hour on the elliptical! Only problem is, it is incredibly boring.
Clearly you need to be able to weight-bear for this activity. It is great for maintaining fitness and keeping you outdoors. However, it is very easy for runners to take this too far and therefore not allowing the injury to heal properly or as quickly as it may have. I’m sure I’ve never been guilty of that…much…
This is actually my favourite! Ok, now pick yourselves up off the floor, and hear me out. It actually replicates the running pattern the most. It is completely non-weight bearing and thus will not exacerbate most injuries. Many years ago, I had two stress fractures in my right leg. I did pool-running for 6 weeks, and my race season following this was awesome! I also lost weight! So it was win-win! Give it a try! If you want specific sessions to do in the pool, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you some.
For some reason I like this less. Yes, it’s non-weight bearing. However, I have also heard that swimming can create torque on the legs which may not be helpful during rehabilitation.
It is easy to get down and a bit depressed when you are injured. You just need to tyro to find some different exercise to do and keep the re-hab up. Keep these points in mind and you will stay positive and be ready to get running again when the time comes! And who knows, the mental and physical break from running might lead you towards your best season ever!
Rest days are the much maligned and most misunderstood aspect of the training plan. And yes, believe it or not, rest days are training!
Rest days are not to be confused with recovery days; I will cover these in another blog. Rest days involve one thing: REST! Not going for a walk, swim or doing yoga. Not landscaping the garden or spring cleaning the house with all your free time that you can’t bear to waste. Rest days are lazy days where you spend time with family watching movies, having conversations, playing board games or just some quiet time on your own.
Rest days are vitally important for athletes so that the body has time to repair, rebuild, and strengthen. Running and cross-training cause muscle tissue breakdown and the depletion of energy stores (muscle glycogen) as well as fluid loss. These all need rest to recover and rebuild. Without adequate and planned rest there is the chance that your body will create an injury or develop a sickness that will make you rest….and probably for more than one day a week or fortnight! You have one body…look after it!! Without rest days built into your training plan you increase your risk of injury and over-training syndrome. Not to mention, general staleness and decreased desire to run. A rest day is a good psychological break from running. They can also help with family relationships as you will have more time and energy to devote to your loved ones.
Rest weeks are also a component of training. Your workload should gradually build over three weeks, with the fourth week being a rest week of reduced volume. In this way, you are ready to start the next four week cycle raring to go!
Of course, as well as rest days and rest weeks, we need to consider long term rest, where you rest between training cycles. After your ‘A’ race, a full week of rest from all exercise is great for the body and mind…and relationships as well. You can then slowly re-introduce unstructured exercise that is more about having fun than any serious training. After two weeks of unstructured, fun exercise (not necessarily running!), you can introduce some running back into your program, but once again, easy and fun. After this, the new program can begin!
Remember, any well-planned training program should include planned rest days on a regular basis, as well as rest between training cycles. At Peak Endurance Coaching we ensure that you have planned rest so you that you can train hard when you need to. In this way you will be primed to achieve your best!