This is the second of a two part blog on training and preparation (read Part I here: https://seb4chuf.wordpress.com/2012/10/09/pick-n-mix-running-advice-part-i-kit-nutrition/). I have titled them ‘Pick ‘n’ Mix’ because it is up to you to take whatever part applies to you and make it personal; I’ve never copied training or dietary advice 100% and neither should you, instead use it to build your encyclopaedia of knowledge that will enable you to achieve whatever your personal goal is.
I started training for my 100 mile run 6 months beforehand and what transpired over those months was the hardest training regime I have ever put myself through. I never approached the kind of mileage of the ‘old days’, instead looking at a more balanced programme that would keep me injury free. The areas I believed to be critical in this programme were as follows: core strength, upper body strength, individual leg strength, and obviously running endurance. One of the biggest considerations in my planning was my history of injuries, so with this in mind I decided when I needed to take the volume up to the highest levels I should think very differently about my training. I have broken down the different areas of my training so you can understand what worked for me.
When I used to run competitively I thought core stability was about how good your six-pack looked or how many sit-ups you could do. It is only recently and thanks to the wonderful advice of Nick Grantham (https://twitter.com/coachnickg) that I have realised the error of my ways. As Nick explained, the biomechanical nature of running is that you need your core to provide quality stability in a relatively fixed upper body position; once you start considering the demands of ultra-distance running this becomes a potential deal breaker. Having spent 3 months of my build up doing some of the hardest and sometimes weirdest abdominal workouts, I went back to square 1 and started appropriate core work twice a day including plank work once a day. This started with 4 sets of 30 seconds front, both sides and reverse plank (see link for guidance: http://sportsmedicine.about.com/od/abdominalcorestrength1/qt/plank.htm). I gradually increased the time up to 4 sets of 90 seconds on all 4 sides daily. I now do static core work 5-6 times a week and see it as an integral part of my daily training regime.
Upper Body Strength
Many runners disregard upper body strength thinking it serves no purpose in putting one foot in front of the other! In my opinion this couldn’t be more off the mark and in fact the appropriate (that word again) upper body strength is incredibly important to successful running. Successful running relies upon your ability to move your entire body forward in the most efficient manner possible. To achieve this you need to be capable of maintaining a posture that keeps your diaphragm open, your spine in the correct position and provide the best template for your nerves and muscles to operate at their optimum. Alongside your core strength, good upper body strength will enable all of these things to happen. The exercises I focus on are all body weight exercises; by this I mean exercises that require you to work against your body weight rather than lifting a set resistance. These exercises include press-ups, tricep dips, chin-ups and my next plan is to invest in a TRX system because this allows you to massively increase the variety of upper body exercises you can perform.
To pay testament to the core stability and upper body strength work I did in the build up to the 100 mile run I never suffered with back problems before, during or after the event. Having spoken to the very experienced ultra-distance runner Chris Brisley (https://twitter.com/TakeaChallenge) core strength is often the thing that causes an ultra attempt to fail
Individual Leg Strength
In the past if I did any leg strength work it was always dual limb work such as squats, with the resistance quite low and repetitions high. For this I have my physio Damon Voss (https://twitter.com/MySportsClinic) to thank for his advice on what would provide my greatest improvements for the ultra run. The first principle was the importance of individual leg strength and the second the importance of maximising the weight you lifted and therefore developing your power. I started my strength programme with a thera-band and spent 30 minutes every night doing a whole variety of leg work and I also included single leg squats. The latter highlighted the massive difference in strength between my two legs and one of the probable causes of my many injuries over the years. I then introduced a second leg strength session which was single leg squats, lunges and eccentric calf work (I did this after my morning run every day). This session was 3 sets of 12-15 reps for both legs and initially started with me holding 5kg dumbbells; over the coming weeks and months I steadily increased this until I had a 45kg barbell on my shoulders. I believe the lack of any significant injuries at any point throughout the last 12 months proves how important these exercises have been for me.
Obviously I started from a fairly good base, having run for so many years. However I always found myself in a quandary regarding my natural running pace and the most ideal pace for the 100 miler. I made the decision that I would train at my natural running pace 6-7 minute/mile because I believed that would induce the most significant changes in endurance. During the initial 2 months I never ran further than 6 miles, while I focussed on upper body, core and leg strength; then I started to increase my morning runs until 3 months before when I was running 10 miles 5 mornings a week. I think too often ultra runner’s complete unbelievably long training runs at an incredible frequency i.e. 3 x 30 mile runs on back-to-back days. My history of injuries would make this an impossibility, so to compensate I introduced 5 sessions a week on the bike turbo trainer (1-2 hours a day). This allowed me to increase my aerobic workload and continue to develop leg strength without the injury risk associated with running. During those final 3 months I steadily increased my weekly long run from 15 miles up to 30+ miles, always maintaining my natural running pace (the toughest run I completed was 35 miles in 4 hours 15 minutes). The risk to setting a training regime over such a long period of time was losing focus or over-training; so I broke it down into 5 phases which enabled me to focus on the task in hand rather than getting carried away or looking too far into the future.
I have covered most issues relating to injury prevention in the training section, so won’t repeat myself; the key however is to understand your areas of weakness and build them into your routine from Day 1. Too often we steer clear of the things we’re not good at, when in reality those are the exact things that should have our attention. Consulting with an expert (physio, personal trainer or whoever will understand the demands of your event) is an incredibly important aspect of identifying your weaknesses and how you can counteract them.
Recovery can mean so many things; from nutritional replenishment, utilising compression clothing or aiding your limbs and feet to recover (all covered in Part I: https://seb4chuf.wordpress.com/2012/10/09/pick-n-mix-running-advice-part-i-kit-nutrition/); but for the purpose of this article I’m going to deal with the most entertaining aspect of my training regime…the foam roller and ICE BATH!!! Friends take great delight when I mention I’m about to submerge myself in an ice bath; but there is a purpose other than bringing happiness to others! In simple terms the ice bath is thought to constrict blood vessels, flush waste products out, and reduce swelling and tissue breakdown. Subsequently as the tissue warms and the increase blood flow speeds circulation, the healing process is jump-started. Having a 10 minute ice bath immediately after a tough or long training session has the most dramatic effect on my muscles recover rate of anything I have ever done.
I also make maximum use of a Foam Roller in dealing with muscle tightness and potential soft tissue problems. Check out The Grid (http://www.triggerpointuk.com/home?gclid=CJ-DiqDzprMCFYXLtAod-l0AZQ) for more details. Spending 10 minutes 3-5 days per week on a Foam Roller will dramatically reduce your susceptibility to injury and therefore allow you to maintain an optimum training level.
Understanding what motivates you is so important. It’s obvious why I’m motivated to raise money for the Heart Unit that saved Seb’s life; but there has to be something else when the alarm sounds at 5.30am on a cold January morning. There has to be an inner drive to achieve something you didn’t think you could personally do and to feel a sense of pride in yourself for doing so. Psychology is a funny thing though, because it is so personal. A big part of attaining the best psychological framework is how you design your training regime; whether that is who you train with, where you train or the variety within your training. Music is my thing, but others need group based Boot Camps or class based sessions. For me a massively positive aspect is the charity that I am training for and knowing exactly where the money I raise will go. In understanding these things I feel a more personal link and the associated accountability increases my drive and motivation.
I believe success hinges on your ability to stay strong, determined and regardless of what obstacle is put in front of you persevere no matter what.
On the road to success, you can be sure of one thing…there is never a crowd on the extra mile.
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