In the build up to any event, planning your training can be a finicky thing. There’s always the questions of how fast, how often, and how far, to determine that little sweet spot between training enough to improve your fitness without over-exhausting yourself or causing injury (although I’m no expert at getting this right. In fact I have become renowned for donning a moonboot from time to time). Many people will give you different ideas on what they deem vital, but who says that’s the perfect formula for everyone? I believe refining your training programme requires a fair amount of trial and error, then tweaking it based on what makes you feel good and what produces the best results.
For me personally, I still have a huge amount to experience before I can figure out what will make me excel. I am very fortunate to have a Mum who has coached multisporters and triathletes, so almost all my knowledge has come from her example and resources. I try not to be too rigid with my training as I tend to be one of those faithfully dedicated individuals (to put it in the kindest terms) who will make sure she’s completed her training by setting out to do more than what is required. For example, if Mum recommends running 10km at steady pace, it is highly likely I’ll push myself at a harder pace for 12km, just to make sure I’ve done enough. But with the busy active lifestyle I lead, I know I am prone to burning out if I commit to too many things, so I try to set myself a few simple training tasks for the week – a long run, a semi-long run, one speed workout or hill rep session, some cross-training, and a rest day. I consider these to be imperative to any long-distance running programme so if I manage all of these sessions in a week I’m happy. If I miss a vital training I try to catch up, but it usually ends up being pretty half-assed which usually means I have to take it as an unplanned break and focus on my next session as being of high quality. Another big emphasis in my build up towards the Hillary is hills, hills and more hills because those trails are gnarly and hill climbing is not my strong point. I also focus more on running for a specific time rather than distance, as 34km run in my training playground can be over a lot quicker than on the steep Hillary trail.
So more on the weekly long run that can engender a love-hate relationship. Sometimes it feels like a relaxing meditative practice, other times a wearying struggle, but no other part of training is more important if you’re training for a long distance event. What constitutes a “long” run is a matter of perspective – for me it’s anything greater than 2 hours, but I guess it all depends on which event you’ve chosen. It’s all about developing your endurance and simulating the event as much as possible so your body isn’t shocked come race day. This means trying to replicate everything about the event including the terrain you’ll be facing, duration, weather (think burning furnace-type temperatures), pre-race nutrition, hydration, and even which socks are the most comfortable for you. When you’ve found the magic formula you’ll be able to run to your best abilities and feel more confident in your gear and race plan. Each week I increase the time I spend out there by 10 minutes so I’m progressively building my stamina without endeavouring anything greater than I can handle. This is so that by the week of the race I should have done at least one run that is the same duration as my goal race time.
Keeping up with the trend of developing my endurance, I also do one (sometimes two, time and energy permitting) semi-long run which is at least half the time of the long run I do in that same week. When work and other commitments get in the way of completing my long run in one session I’ll do half in the morning half at night, which probably tests my mental perseverance as much as my physical tenacity. Good thing I quite like running eh?
For those of you who don’t enjoy running quite as much as I do – first of all, well done for reading up to this point – you may be thinking “with all those hours running, don’t you get bored?” Although I have the advantage of a 10+ hour playlist, a lot can happen in 2-3 hours and there can be so many stunning sights to see depending on where you are. Take a look at some of the shots from last week’s 2.5 hour run and you’ll see what I mean.
Okay now back to business: Hill repetitions and speed workouts. These are not so important if your aim is just to get to the finish line, but if you’re looking to hasten your pace or build on your strength, it’s key. And on the plus side, these sessions don’t take so long since you’re working at a high intensity. An example of a speed workout may be a time trial for a specific course, a fartlek training where you vary your speed (e.g. running hard to that tree, or to the top of the rise, followed by an easy effort), or interval training (such as picking up the pace for 3mins, running easy for 5mins, repeat 5 times). It’s good to repeat these sessions throughout your build up to see how you’re improving or whether you need to change up your training if you haven’t improved for a few weeks. Hill reps are also beneficial for developing stronger climbing legs and conditioning your joints for those hammering descents.
Cross training also carries many benefits for runners, not only physically but mentally. As much as one may love running, it can become tedious when you do it every day so I like to mix things up by cycling, swimming and doing weight training once a week. Cycling and swimming are both good low impact exercises that will still work your aerobic system while giving your joints a break. They’ll also develop the strength of your lower limb which will compliment your running by working your muscles in a different way. Swimming carries the added bonus of an upper body work out which helps your posture and general fitness. Plus your local pool is likely to come with a spa pool, which is usually my motivation for getting into the water.
Resistance training is also incredibly valuable for developing speed and adapting your muscles to recover more quickly by placing them under a high amount of physical stress. And I’m not speaking theoretically, I have experienced this phenomenon myself and have been converted into a gym bunny (only weekly, but still). A friend of a friend undergoing his post-graduate study at AUT explained his theory behind long-distance runners performing composite exercises (like squats and deadlifts that work multiple muscles of the body simultaneously) for a low number of repetitions at a low load would promote runners’ power and therefore speed. So after a month of applying his theory 1-2x a week at the gym I cut 3 minutes off my 10km time. Maybe there’s some truth in what he’s saying, or maybe my body just adapts especially well to weight training, but either way I highly recommend all you runners start chucking some weights around. If it’s not for boosting your run speed, you can also use weight training for developing specific muscles, correcting any imbalances or conditioning upper body muscle groups that may be a bit neglected while your legs are getting all the attention.
I’m also a big fan of yoga and Pilates for developing a stable core to benefit posture and avoid back pain, as well as improving flexibility and breathing control. You won’t catch me “ohming” on top of some mountain at sunrise to be at one with myself, but retraining your breathing pattern can help to avoid that awful stitch and chest tightness, and help you become more aerobically efficient.
And with all this training you definitely deserve a rest day once a week. Sometimes a good rest can be more beneficial than training so that next time you hit the trails you’re refreshed and ready to run hard. For me this typically happens once a week but that’s based on how my body is feeling, whether I’ve got a big training coming up, or there may just not be enough hours in the day to fit it in. This can mean a day of complete rest from exercise, some yoga, or even an easy bike ride to work if I feel up to some active recovery.
That is basically my week in a nutshell. I hope I’ve offered some fresh ideas on how to supplement your training for the Hillary. And for all you data analysts out there you can follow me on Strava which I use as a training diary. Good luck for you’re the rest of your build up and go hard, but not too much!