Derrick Spafford - Ultra Running Tips

Monday, April 30, 2012

Ultra Running Tips

By Derrick Spafford

With the recent growth in popularity of ultra marathons, there is great information available about all aspects of our sport. As a running coach I have noticed a few areas that people tend to benefit most from having objective guidance. Here are some things that you might want to incorporate in your own training.

Returning from Injury:

  • Most injuries happen for a reason, and reflecting back on your training log you may get a good idea why they happened. A drastic increase in training volume or intensity? Change in surface? Racing too much? A little ache that slowly becomes a greater pain?
  • A trip to your sports med professional is always a wise investment to begin with. A proper diagnosis and treatment plan can jump start your healing, but just as importantly they can assess to see if you have any imbalances that should be sorted out. Getting your body on an even keel again may prevent this and other injuries from occurring in the future.
  • Once you’ve been given the okay to start training again, this is the area where I almost invariably see the biggest mistakes occurring. Runners feel that they are healed and decide to rush back into heavy training far too quickly. This in itself can lead to re-injury or developing another entirely different overuse injury.
  • Be wise in your return to training. A gradual increase is difficult mentally to do when you are starting to feel better and have missed running, but chances are good that you will be back to top fitness a lot quicker if you don't risk any setbacks from an aggressive build up.
  • Begin with very short runs of 20 minutes or even less, then slowly increase. Make sure that you schedule appropriate non-running, low-impact days between your runs. Initially this could be total rest days, but then adding complementing cardio workouts like biking, nordic skiing, snowshoeing, elliptical or pool running will give your fitness (and morale) a good boost.
  • You may find that you enjoy some of these other activities almost as much as running, and they will provide a great training benefit without risking injury.

Flexibility in Training Plan:

  • Counting miles or hours of training each week is a regular part of the ultra running mentality and culture, and often we get stuck in routines of habit built over years of using a similar, tried-and-true approach. Basing your training on a seven day cycle is very convenient when looking at a calendar and determining what you want to fit into that period; especially when considering fitting in your training around other commitments like family and work.
  • To keep the benefits of the seven-day cycle, while adding more variability, I often find mini cycles or training blocks within a longer period of training is sometimes a more effective approach. For instance, a 14-day period can work quite well for ultra runners. Training can be split up featuring two slightly faster paced workouts during one week, plus a long run on the weekend, then the following week, could be reduced to only a single quality session, but could include back to back longer runs on the weekend. This two-week cycle would include a good dose of necessary longer runs, and allow you to rotate through a series of quality work including possible tempo runs, hill workouts and interval training.
  • With recovery periods being a good idea approximately every 21 days, this is another reason to not get too caught up in the weekly volume game.

Specificity in Training:

  • Many of the races that runners want to compete in are held in places and on terrain that are different from what they are used to. While this isn’t always ideal, there are a number of ways that you can fine-tune your training towards the specific race that you are training for.
  • Training for hot weather races, especially during the cold winter months, overdressing in more layers than what you really need is helpful. This can also be done in the heat of a fitness centre while on a treadmill. Better still if you follow it up with a sauna, or even take a sauna partway through your workout.
  • For mountain races, you don’t necessarily have to live near the mountains to train optimally. Hitting the treadmill, and including long uphill runs at incline can have you prepared to race well in the mountains.
  • I had a first hand account this winter of having to train for a race in less than ideal conditions, while preparing for the Yukon Arctic Ultra 100. Runners are required to drag a sled with their supplies during this race, however due to a very mild year, we had little snow to train on where I live. I felt as though I trained very effectively leading up to the race however by logging plenty of miles while dragging a tire behind me with a rope.
  • Be creative in training for your races. There are always ways that you can cater your training specifically towards your next race.

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