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!