Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Rebuilding ultra fitness (and making it stronger)

Thought it was about time I put a few words down as it's been a while. So, the possibly exciting news is that my name will be in the ballot for next year's Grand Union Canal Race. I have already begun training, so that if I get in I will be somewhere approaching ready to start ramping up the training by the time I know I'm in. If I don't get in then I'll be in a position to not waste the fitness I've built up and sign up for something else as a back-up plan.

So, how do you train to run 145 miles and come as close as you personally can to winning in the process? Well, my previous thinking was just to run a lot, but I have since come to learn that it's not only how much you run but the manner in which you do it that's important. If I was writing a column for a tabloid newspaper I'd no doubt draw a few comparisons here, but seeing as this is my good, wholesome family blog I will instead say that in order to train for the aforementioned I plan to run plenty but mix it up, and do some things I don't particularly enjoy usually, including the dreaded speedwork. Now don't get me wrong, there is something exhilarating about running fast, but I used to never see the point in running fast in preparation for an ultra, because when I have run fast during ultras it's normally only gone one way, which is a recovery death march that has dealt a blow to my chances of finishing in a time that won't make me miss any more meals than would have been strictly necessary otherwise. I usually rally later on; during the Oner I fell apart a bit after a relatively blistering start, but then during the final 40 miles or so I didn't ever feel particularly bad until right before the end, when the enormity of how far I'd travelled on foot hit me. Anyway, why am I saying all this? Well actually speedwork is a vital component of training for ultras in my mind. Why? Because it encourages good running form; you can't get away with sloppy form if you're running fast and will naturally compensate if your form isn't up to scratch. This will only help you when you're running long - more efficient form will make everything smoother and easier. Also, a good speed workout will arguably increase your overall fitness more than a 30 mile plod will. What's more, the faster you can run, the faster the pace you can comfortably sustain will be, and this will minimise your suffering during the race. Ok, so you may get less value for money but you may be finished in time to have a slap up meal at a suitable time and perhaps even to sleep at a reasonable hour depending on the start time. This is why I plan to incorporate intervals, hill sprints, tempo runs and all the rest into my training.

What else?? Well, I've never done enough cross training, and so it's time I got myself dahn the swimming baths a little more often. Also time to get the press-ups, planks, squat thrusts etc. on the go and to do them consistently, as boring as I find them from time to time. I'm thinking of perhaps setting myself challenges to keep myself motivated. Oh, and I've even thought about getting one of them kettlebells. I can't argue with the results I've seen so far, with people who are into all that stuff doing one-handed handstands and crazy stuff like that. I need me some of that. There'll still be plenty of honest to goodness runs as well, and the occasional long, slow run but nowadays due to less time on my hands and wanting to make every run a quality one I'll probably do very few 20-30 milers. Time on your feet is all good, but if you spend consistent time on your feet most days then it's probably worth more than if you stay off your feet plenty and then grind out a marathon-length training run. That would be perhaps somewhat akin to making a juice once in a blue moon and then claiming to be healthy despite not eating brilliantly much of the time.....but who would do that???

The thing that's been most intriguing to me is hearing tales of the kind of people who finish fast in the GUCR setting off from the start at 9.30-10 minute miles. Ok, so it's a very, very, very, very long way, but despite not being one of the quickest by a long shot I find it very difficult to limit myself to that kinda pace for any length of time. However, I also know for sure that this is where I've gone wrong in all of my ultra races to date; I've been thinking "I feel fine, so I'll keep cranking out some faster miles!" but you wouldn't sprint at full speed early in a 1,500 metres race would you? No, I'm going to have to teach myself to run very slowly, and keep running very slowly. I remember a time I ran a 20 miler with a clubmate at 10 minute miling roughly, and I still had masses of running in my legs at the end of it. There's an extremely valuable lesson there. So that's it, I will train for this race by running fast, running slow and running just right....and by doing stuff other than running. Easy!

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