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Top 8 tips for ultra trail running training
There is a lot to pick from here. Below is our top tips for staying healthy, strong and getting the most out of your training programme.
1: Measure your running by time not distance - Measuring time allows for variants in exertion level due to external factors. Terrain is the big one here, it's a lot harder/slower to run uphill than on the flat so therefore its going to take longer. This is a given but the amount of exertion relative to distance is disproportionate when comparing a flat vs hilly run. Time becomes a leveller and means you don't over do your training runs.
2: Understand your perceived effort - Yes, heart rate, pace and technology can be great tools in understanding how hard you might be working for a given run, however, learning to do this by the feel of your body is important. Rate of perceived effort (RPE) is an easy way to categories training sessions against a personal understanding of how hard you found them. It's a simple grading system from 1-10, with 1 being the easiest of easy (think gentle walk) and 10 being a flat out run. In order to be training at the right amount of effort over a extended time-frame you need not to train at maximum effort every session. This can seem counter intuitive but allows for greater recovery and less muscle fatigue for when your harder sessions come around, meaning you should, in theory get more out of them. In fact the scientific community for endurance sport suggest the percent at this low level training, below aerobic threshold is 70-80% (around the 3 mark on your RPE). The remainder is then split between moderate and hard sessions. Hard being above you anaerobic threshold level (RPE 7-9), at the point at which you start to red-line. Moderate being between the two (RPE 4-7), this typically being the zone that would feel natural to most runners.
Take a minute during each training session to ask yourself how hard you are trying. Over a period of time you will build up a personal mental picture of your own RPE which can then be applied to control your output. Meaning you should be able to tune in and know when you can push a bit harder or need to pull back a bit.
Understanding your body can have a big impact on the outcome of the run and in this ever increase world of tech a pure and personal tool such as this only compliments the others. It's a personal gauge that takes into account other external factors you might encounter that a watch or phone cannot quantify. Perhaps its a hotter day or you struggled with sleep the last few nights and therefore your pace has dropped but you feel like you working just as hard. This might suggest going a bit easier during this session to avoid over training and injury, maintaining the RPE you intended. If you feel confident that over training is unlikely then this can be looked at as a opportunity for a harder session, maintaining your intended pace with your RPE also going up, gaining an insight into this harder effort level.
Once you have a grasp of rate of perceived effort it can be viewed alongside other external factors that have an influence on performance, these include; food and hydration, altitude and weather, sleep and stress. The aim is to slowly build up a personal picture that will enable you to train and perform more effectively.
3: Eat more plants - Help yourself recover by eating more plants. After breaking down your muscles with a strenuous week in your training plan your body needs all the help it can get. Eating more plants that contain the vital vitamins and minerals for recovery will enable better recovery times meaning the body is fulfilled, replenished and ready to go again.
4: Learning how to deal with discomfort - Ultra trail running is tough, even a relatively short and flat race will take its toll on your body and will require some mental strength. Inevitably there will be ups and downs during training runs too. Having the right mind set and knowing you've got the strength to get through any adversity is crucial. This can manifest for many reasons and barring a series injury can usually be overcome. Putting yourself in uncomfortable positions in training and pushing through them, learning to not to be beaten all add a layer of resilience for the next time you encounter something similar. If the weather is terrible and you don't want to continue, make yourself. If you were aiming for 50km don't stop at 40km just because your a little tired and close to home. These are all aids to build self-confidence, belief and a greater understanding when you are faced with similar obstacles further down the line. Your building a memory bank of events and how you previously were able to overcome them. This is invaluable in ultra races due to the fact almost always something crops.
5: Do more hiking - Spending long periods of time on your feet running requires training. The best way to do this is hiking. This enables you to understand the sensations your going to come across in long training runs or race day events. The beauty of hiking is that its relatively low on the rate of perceived effort scale where most endurance training should be. It can on the right route also condition your legs to get familiar with ascending and descending. Finally, it replicates race day, unless your an elite athlete then the chances of you running the whole way round a trail ultra is pretty slim. Even if it's flat there might be a period where you just cant get your legs moving or you need to eat and slow your pace to do so. Since hiking is at this pace it makes sense that you practice, the ability to keep moving even when tired and wanting to stop is important. Continual progression, even at a walk is getting you closer to your end goal.
6: Find inspiration - In order to train for ultra distance events be it competitive or recreational you need to want to. Find what is driving you to pursue this and harness it. Use this driving force as a self motivation tool to get you through the tough times.
7: Intentional rest - So easily overlook yet a really important part of the recovery phase. If you can't recover properly then your body and performance are likely to drop. Do it right and have at least one whole rest day within your training week. Usually this follows long training days or a succession of hard short sessions. Either way this is purely rest, no going for a spin session or a quick game of squash. The intention here is to do as little as possible, let that energy be set aside for your body to utilise and repair. If you insist on doing something make it super low impact and stress free, a short 30 minute walk or a gentle couple of lengths in the pool should suffice.
8: Enjoy the journey as much as the results - Setting targets and aiming to achieve something is a great way to motivate yourself but if this is the only reason for you to get running then a long trail running training program is likely going to be a struggle. You potentially skip sessions and spend so much time mentally motivating yourself that the sessions themselves can be counter-productive. Find the love and see training as the goal and the race or event as the cherry on top. Make your training fun and varied with milestones along the way. Alternatively, look to incorporate specific strength training, intervals and tempo runs as a change to your training programme. Find new routes and explore new areas, use the journey (training) as an opportunity rather than something you have to do. Arrange trips and rally your friends to get involved.
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