Every weekend it was the same. I had to get my fix.
Don’t worry, it’s not what you’re thinking.
The Sunday Long Run. Nothing quite like it.
On Sundays (usually in the afternoon – we were teenagers after all…) my great mate Greg Mac and I would jump in either my crappy old Ford Escort or his mum’s zippy hatchback and drive out to the Hunua ranges from our home in Papakura. Running over those hilly trails for an hour and a half or two hours was something I looked forward to every week.
It became a ritual and it’s part of the reason that friendship forged of sweat, effort and exhaustion has survived all these years (even if I used to swear at Mac when he free-wheeled down the hills while I stumbled along quite some way behind, going as fast as my short legs would carry me).
The idea of weekend long runs has stuck with me too.
Of course, over the years, those long runs have varied. I went through a patch about 15 years ago when I wasn’t running very much at all but for some reason was keeping a running diary. I came across that diary the other day and saw in it a “long run” of about an hour with some scrawled scribble beneath it: “Sore, chaffing, awful. I never want to be this unfit again.”
So, the moral of that story? It’s a reminder of two things that have to be a staple of any race build-up: the weekly long run and a diary.
But preparing for an epic journey such as The Hillary involves a matrix of ingredients. As simple as the act of running is, training can be complicated. So, here’s some things I’ve learned since those days as a teenager on the hills in Hunua.
The diary: Keep track of what you’ve done. It’s helpful to look back and see what training is working for you and what isn’t. What you write in it is up to you – time, distance, pace, altitude…whatever is important to you, depending on what event you’re doing.
As I’ve previously revealed, I also write notes to remind me of stuff…like how I never want to be as unfit as the heaving, chaffed-up mess that I was after that hour long “long run” that day…
If you’re technically-minded, these days you can find myriad tools to keep track of your training. I use an app called Strava for the basic stuff (it’s easy to download data from my watch), and a more detailed, private diary which tracks other things such as stretching, strength work and mad rantings about my training sessions (see above…)
The Long Run: This has to be the centrepiece of any training programme or schedule. For me, it’s like a commandment from the Book of Lydiard. Arthur Lydiard, the guru of running and coach of multiple Olympic champions believed in the power of building a base with solid efforts over the famed Waiatarua course each week – and that was for everyone from marathoners Barry Magee and Jeff Julian to the Prince of the 800m, Peter Snell.
The length and pace of the long run will depend on what event you’re doing and how much running you’ve done. Because I’m aiming for the 80km, my long runs have had to be loooong. Most of them have been 4-6 hours, but I’ve had a couple where I’ve gone further – one 8 hours and one 9 hours. But obviously if you’re doing the 34km or the 16km, you’d be aiming for much less than that (I tend to figure out how much based on time rather than distance.)
The long run is the base upon which you build everything else. It’s the cone of your ice cream. (I know what you’re thinking: It’s probably not a good thing that I’ve thought of a naughty food analogy to describe running training…I’m sure I never read that in any of Lydiard’s books…)
Overall Mileage: This is code for “yes, you have to run more than once a week…” Conditioning your body to withstand the pounding it’s going to take in the race is vital. But it requires a cumulative effort – regular running will get your body used to running regularly and far.
Again, how much depends on how far you’re racing. For me, I’ve found that my body works best when I run most days. It’s not for everyone – building more rest days into a schedule may be what works for you. I think in my case my body is naturally lazy and will seize upon rest days as a reason to slump into Permanent Couch Potato Mode: a licence to chill. So when I get back to running it rebels.
So in the build-up to the Hillary, I’ve been logging more than 100km a week, sometimes as much as 160km. That’s built around one long run, two medium long runs (about two hours) and shorter runs.
Glutton for punishment? Yeah, pretty much…
Terrain appropriate: If you’re preparing for a road marathon, you should be doing at least some running on the road. If you’re training for an off-road race, you should be hitting the trails.
As much as they’re both running, they’re completely different. So in preparing for The Hillary, I’ve been trying to get off-road as much as I can. Especially for my long runs. I’m hopeless at running over technical trails – when I say “running”, I’m exaggerating. What I really mean is tip-toeing gingerly, desperately trying to channel my inner mountain goat, but failing and instead kicking my toes on almost every tree root in the Waitakeres.
Hey, practice makes perfect, right? I’ll get back to you on that one. But in the meantime, get out on those trails!
Periodisation: Figure out how many weeks you have before an event (a minimum of 12) and break the weeks down into blocks. The first block is base-building – just getting an endurance base, running at a pace which isn’t too taxing.
The next block is about strength building – hitting the hills for a couple of sessions a week. In my case, I go for long and short hill repetitions, both uphill and downhill. I used to only do uphill reps, but have finally figured out that the only way I’m going to get faster at downhills is by running them fast. Yep, slow learner…
After a few weeks, I throw in a few speed sessions. Tempo runs, time trials, reps at race pace (or faster), short races…anything that will teach your legs to click over faster.
In the last two weeks, enjoy the thrill that is the taper. Whoever invented this concept should be recognised as the Patron Saint of Running. Give your body (and mind) the rest it needs to be ready to take on your race, but keep it sharp. Tricky balance, but it’s bliss.
That’s a lot to take in. And it’s only my take on training. There are a million ways to approach it.
But this is what works for me in the battle to switch off Permanent Couch Potato Mode and switch on Bring on The Hillary Mode.