Detailed Training Plan - Surfcoast Century

Here it is. This is the document that is guiding my preparation for the Surfcoast Century. For a training plan it goes beyond a simple spreadsheet marked with distances and a couple of footnotes. It is a little more detailed than is seen in magazines or on the internet. Quite a wordy description of how the plan is to be put together and executed is what follows. It might seem complicated, and over prescriptive to some, but there is good reasoning behind this approach. First off the plan is just a guide and will be modified as needed. What the plan doesn't do is prescribe exact distances, speed and number of repeats. Instead it combines the intent of each training session and phase with what I believe will be the most likely style of training to get the adaptations I seek. The plan highlights what to look for to see appropriate progression or what may be problems in the mix. It gives guidelines on how the program should be modified based on how the training is progressing.

I am publishing the program here for two main reasons. First, it keeps me accountable and means I am less likely to drop a session if I am running a bit low on motivation. The second reason, it may help others put together their own training for similar types of events. Of course the true test of whether or not it is successful will be race day.

Long Runs


For an ultramarathon I am defining long as 2 hours or more. This is the point where the majority of adaptations regarding fat utilisation and carbohydrate efficiency start kicking in. I am training for a 100km run. The long runs are by far the most important training sessions I can do. In both the Base and Focus phases I will include two long runs each 8-day week. One longer and one shorter long run. The terrain of these runs will mainly be off road trails, with plenty of hills, and should include a substantial long hill in the longer run.

The longer long run will be about 4 hours in the Base phase and extend to 6 hours in the Focus. This is the do-not-miss training session. It is where the most important training adaptations occur and is the most race specific session which also allows me to test out things before race day such as equipment, pacing styles and nutrition. The 8 weeks of the Base phase w ill be broken into 2 x 4 week blocks for this run. Over the first 4 weeks, I want to keep this run quite comfortable, erring on the side of too slow and finishing with the feeling that I could keep going. Most of the training effect such an enzymatic changes and increased capiliarisation and mitochondrial density will occur at the lower intensity. It is safer to keep the recovery cost down and back up for the next day's training, rather than pushing the long run in the early weeks and overtrain or get injured. The only area where I will push this run is I aim to run all the hills with good technique, and if that means spiking the heart rate, then so be it. Into the 4th week the run should have naturally become faster, and the heart rate profile evened out a little despite the terrain. The most important change I am looking for is to make running for 4 hours comfortable. If that isn't the case, then overall intensity may have to be lowered. Into the last 4 weeks of the Base phase I aim to push the speed up a bit, initially by increasing the speed on the uphills, but into the 7th and/or 8th week then I want to push for my near best steady-state for the full 4 hours.

Moving on up into the 6 week Focus, gives 6 hour long runs. The first 2 weeks aim to just get through the distance without pushing anything crazy. The extra distance, plus the loading of the hill VO2 repeats and sprint training introduced at the same time will be quite a lot to handle. Then for the remaining 4 of the 6 weeks I will make those 6 hour runs as race specific as I can. The runs will be mainly measured where I keep track of times, heart rates and nutrition, aiming to get better (translates to faster) each week. The risk of bonking should be fairly high. If that does happen, then I need to work out how deal with it. These runs will include fine tuning equipment and nutrition for the big day. Far from a walk in the park. No extended stops, all toilet and water stops should be handled as if it is in the race. The average pace in these training runs is likely to be faster than race day.

In the shorter long run the aim is to push fat utilisation. Usually starting off an over night fast, the aim is to get to running at the fastest steady-state pace I can without requiring any food intake. Naturally this will be quite slow in the first few weeks, and I should see a improvement over the 8 weeks of Base. The goal will be the same in the Focus period, but instead of 2 hours the run will hit 3 hours. A slower pace is again likely required when first moving up to 3 hours.


Hills

Beyond going long, the crux of rest of training is hills. They feature in nearly every run except for the MAF test and speed work. All other runs feature hills to some degree. The long and aerobic conditioning runs is where the hill running is more at 100km race pace and I nut out how to best approach them on race day. The hill specific sessions are a bit different.

Throughout Base training the hill session is aimed at improving running technique, conditioning and power development with plyometric style work on the hill. The aim is to develop a powerful, light running action through an appropriate full range of motion. The explosive style repeats I used earlier this year worked to a degree. Some modification is needed. That is to be more technique and power orientated rather than just aiming to get to the top as fast as possible and inducing high levels of acidosis. The hill springing and bounding circuits as advocated by Lydiard seem to meet all my criteria. Beyond the warm up and cool down these runs will consist of running up a steep (6% or higher gradient) for 200-400m with an explosive drive resulting in full extension of the driving leg at the hip, knee and ankle plus an exaggerated knee lift in the leading leg. Correct posture is mandatory in order to reach the goals for the legs. After each repeat I will take about 3 minutes before the next with some easy jogging and higher cadence descending. The idea is to build up to about 60 minutes of this type of work. It is likely that the first session will only be around 15-20 minutes with the repetitions at the 200m end of distance, and progress from there. I am undecided at this stage about including the windsprints about every 15 minutes in this session as suggested by Lydiard. If am to do so, then it is likely that they will just feature towards the end of the overall workout, and be about trying to transfer some of the technique enhancement into some fast running, instead of specific anaerobic development.



Moving into the Focus phase of training I want to take all the development gained from the Hill Plyometrics of the Base phase and transfer into race specific improvement. This will involve two approaches. The initial 2 weeks of Focus will involve VO2 style hill repeats. Here I choose what I call my 2:45 hill, which tends to take between 2:40-2:55 to run up. The session will be maybe 6-10 repeats, running up at around maximal oxygen uptake intensity, followed by an easy jog back recovery. This session should raise my VO2max and further strengthen my hill running into a more efficient gait than the exaggerated style of the plyometrics. By allowing for a good amount of recovery between repeats, and limiting the build up of lactate, these runs should be difficult and quite fatiguing, without breaking down the musculature so much as to limit the following training days.

The two weeks of VO2 hill repeats is followed up with four weeks of running continuous laps of a difficult hill circuit. This run will include very steep running of 8-13% grade over dirt trail and a few steps, without a flat section and a few technical challenges. Each lap is likely to take a bit over 7 minutes. Without a break the aim will be to cover the circuit as many times as possible in 60 minutes, with the proviso that all the laps should be covered in the same time. This will include some fast descending, mixed with some very steep uphill segments. It is impossible to maintain a completely even intensity because some of the uphill is just that hard, while it is unlikely to get the heart rate up to the same level when going down. This session will force a high knee lift and work best with a strong and complete push off through the driving leg which puts a great demand on the limits of technique, and will force the body to develop its buffering capacity while having to then keep the speed up in the high cadence descents. After leaving something in reserve for the majority of training over all the previous weeks, finally I have a session that requires a high effort. It should hurt, and challenge my ability to keep pushing.



Tempo

The term is only used to indicate a steady style of run where pacing is important, rather than a specific intensity. Throughout the Base phase this be a weekly MAF Test. Based on the Maffetone formula, it is suggested this heart rate corresponds with the maximal intensity that is predominantly aerobic. For me that gives a heart rate of 150bpm, which is about 81%HRmax. While I may not agree with the complete line of thinking proposed by Maffetone, it does provide a reasonable reference point that seems to correspond reasonably well with other measures of intensity for me. It is a bit below my anaerobic threshold, and roughly about the level where circulating lactate is significantly higher than the clear cut low intensity (70%HRmax) running. It may be about the maximal rate of fat utilisation beyond the fat/carbohydrate point, so reflects the likely upper limit for 100km race pacing. My MAF test will be a flat time trial of 8.4km run at the heart rate of 150bpm. Naturally there will be a gradual reduction in running speed over the test to maintain the heart rate. Most tests should demonstrate an improvement in pace at the same intensity and will therefore provide a good reference point. In marathon training, I considered this to be my absolute lowest speed for the race. For the 100km, it will probably reflect the maximal speed. Instead of just an overall faster time for each 8.4km test, appropriate improvement should also be reflected by a less drastic decline in speed over the duration of the test.

Once into the Focus phase the approach becomes quite different. Due to the increased loading of the extended distance for the long runs, the VO2 hill repeats and a sprint training, the tempo run will be replaced in the first 2 weeks with an easier aerobic conditioning run. After that, the ideal would be to run 40-60 minutes over undulating trails at around my anaerobic threshold, which is faster than the MAF run. However, this will only happen if my long runs are going very well and I am handling the overall program well. If the long runs are going well, but I am struggling with general fatigue and recovery, then I will likely just continue the MAF tests. If the basic endurance and therefore long runs aren't up to scratch, or the balance of performance is in favour of the higher, above anaerobic threshold intensities, then this run will be replaced with a very low intensity (maybe 58-65%HRmax) run of 90-120 minutes. Being able to cover distance well, is more important than running hard. This should just be a moderate run and leave me requiring no more than two days of easy running to recover. In the end the aim of this run is to perform a steady session in whichever way I believe will enhance race day performance for the SC100.


Speed


Here I talk about getting fast and sprinting, which might seem a bit far removed from running a 100km to some. However, there is a lot of important gains to be made here. The most important element is enhancing technique. Speed training is not about lactate tolerance and running repeated, gut busting intervals. Instead it is mainly about developing a quick cadence, appropriate range of motion and relaxed power. During the Base phase the speed work will simply be a matter of throwing in a few easy and relaxed strides over 60-100m into what is otherwise an aerobic conditioning run. Recovery will be at least 2 minutes between repeats. The focus will be technique first, keeping relaxed, full extension, high knees and maybe a little work in bare feet. How many repeats? As many as I feel will improve my performance without causing a recovery cost. This could be anything between 4-20 repeats. They are never run completely flat out, but definitely a lot faster than 10km race pace.

Then comes the true speed/sprint work in the first two weeks of the Focus phase. Here a dedicate a session each week purely to develop my speed. These will be repeats of 60-100m. Each repeat will be dedicated to working on a certain aspect:

  1. Stride length - push hard and extend with the back leg
  2. Run tall - high knees, up on toes
  3. Fast legs - short lever (bring heel up in recovery), high cadence
  4. Sprint - overall form, travel fast
Each of these focuses will cover 2-4 repeats depending on what is needed and what I am capable of. Recovery will be very easy jogging for about 3 minutes between all repeats. This training is never to feel forced. Relaxation is always the target. The pace will be as quick as my body allows.

Following these first two weeks, the session will progress to 2-4 x 60-100m of whichever of the first 3 elements needs the most work. Followed by 4-8 x 60-100m of element 4, the overall sprint.

Aerobic Conditioning

The back bone of the plan. All runs that aren't dedicated more specifically to something like speed development or hill strength will be aerobic conditioning. This is quite a broad term and will encompass everything that forms the basis of endurance running. To simplify it is about getting good at running at intensities below the anaerobic threshold. Put another way at speed up to and including MAF pace. The long runs will be within this range. The bulk of all other runs will be at this level too. As a guide I have taken my MAF heart rate (which has been validated as appropriate in other ways) as the maximal work rate. To find the lowest level I originally took 60% of my HRmax, but then realised I cab still get benefits at a slightly slower rate if the session is long enough. Therefore I looked into 70% of my MAF HR which equated to 58%HRmax. All up that's of range between 58-81%HRmax. A wide range, but still valid.

Ideally the goal is to get the speed of all running in this range up as quick as possible. It would be better to get as much of the running up towards the higher end of the zone. That won't always be possible as fatigue, injury concerns and other aspects work against that at times. It is worthwhile going back the Lydiard article and reading about the marathon conditioning/aerobic development explanation for a more comprehensive discussion on why all this is important.

All the talk on heart rate might be a bit misleading. During most of my runs I'll wear a heart rate monitor, but usually won't be guided by it. Instead I will run on feel and use the heart rate profile for analysis later on. The numbers will become more important towards the end of the Focus phase and mainly in conjunction with the 6 hour long runs. So no opting to walk a hill just because a number starts flashing at me on my wrist. To reach the maximum gains from my training, the goal here is to cover as much volume at the fastest paces that all allow me to absorb the training and back it up day after day. As a result the intensity will vary depending on how I am responding each day and week.

Strength


The majority of race specific improvement comes from running itself. In my view, strength training plays a supportive role. While performing squats or chin ups won't directly make me a faster a runner, there are still important benefits. The most important being injury prevention. This I achieve through balancing muscle strength, enhancing appropriate range of motion, strengthening connective tissues, improving core stability and being strong enough to safely perform other tasks in my life. Being an ambulance paramedic involves a lot of manual handling and if is an injury risk in itself. Strength training needs to enhance my running, so it is important it doesn't take away from the quality of the running.

A strength session will take 30-45 minutes. In the Base phase I will aim for 3 sessions per week, but will most often hit 2. Focus should see 2 sessions per week. Leg strength through squats, deadlifts and other exercises will be quite limited in volume, hopefully achieving enough loading to develop strength in a good range of motion and strengthen the ligaments, tendons and fascia. As for core and upper body work, the training will be head up towards a bit more moderate volume. There will a lot of variety in these sessions, mainly to keep me interested, but also since specific neural gains are too important, more the overall conditioning aspects. An example session would be:

  • Warm up: core activation drills, unloaded bar complex of cleans, snatches, overhead squats
  • Deadlift 3 sets of 4-6 reps, about 2min recovery
  • Pull Ups 3 sets of near max reps
  • Single arm DB press 3 sets of 8-10reps
  • Core stability circuit, using swiss ball, tera band, dumbells
  • Remedial work if required: such as calf strengthening



Constructing A Week


Manipulating intensity is important in order to be able to back up training each day. It is better to err on the side of too easy and be able to train well again the each day of the week, than to go too hard and be forced to rest or limit volume as a result. Consistency and going long will be the first priority. If I can get that, then next it would be best if all that training can be performed faster. Because of working rotating shift work, I just cannot commit to a typical Monday to Sunday program. Also as a result of everything in life a lot of my training is scheduled just so I can fit it all in. The ordering of sessions is mainly dictated by that, rather than what is optimal. It is probably best to include some samples of what I expect to be typical weeks in each phase.

Base
Day 1. Aerobic conditioning run to work: 8-10km, maybe lower intensity 58-65%.
    Run back home, 5km very easy, followed by a Strength session after dinner.
Day 2. MAF Test 8.4km, plus about 6km for warm up & cool down.
Day 3. Long Run 2 hours, probably averaging 70-75%HRmax, after over night fast, plus consuming only water during run.
Day 4. Hill plyometrics
Day 5. Aerobic conditioning, about 60min, hopefulling closer to 81%HRmax.
Day 6. Long Run 4 hours, with as many hills and as much rough terrain as I can find. Nutrition will be trialling possibilities for race day.
  Strength: focussing on core, legs training reduced if too fatigued from long run.
Day 7. Aerobic conditioning, 75min, intensity will depend on how I pull up from the long run. Most likely very low.
Day 8. Speed: 30min easy run to track, then 8-12 x 60-80m of drills and releaxed strides, then run 20min back home.
  Strength session.

Focus
Day 1. Aerobic conditioning run to work, 10km higher level aerobic conditioning.
   Run back home, 5-10km, again aim to keep the pace up. Strength session after dinner.
Day 2. Anaerobic Threshold of 60min at 81-90%HRmax over undulating terrain, plus another 30min total encompassing the warm up and cool down.
Day 3. Long Run of 3 hours, over night fast and consuming only water. Will carry a gel as back up in case I get it completely wrong.
Day 4. Hill Circuit. 15 min warm up, then as many repeats of the very steep hill circuit as I can achieve. HR will should average in the higher end of the Threshold zone, but with plenty of spikes above. Then 15-20 cool down.
Day 5. Recovery run of 45min. Keep everything stupidly easy.
Day 6. Long Run 6 hours. Wake up at 0400, then wear and carry all gear I expect to use on race day and work things out. Will carry extra fluid and nutrition since I don't have the luxury of aid stations. Aim to hit something close to, if not a bit faster than 100km race pace, over measured and reguar course wth rough terrain.
Day 7. Aerobic onditioning run of 90min. Try to keep to the pace up despite fatgue from long run.
Day 8. Speed. Long warm up. Work on technique of main speed limiter, then 8 x 100m sprints. Fast, maybe 90% of all out effort. Back up with Strength later in day.


....and that's it. Now all I have I do is get out and do it.

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