The Focus

My original thoughts and guidelines for my training program for the Surfcoast Century are covered in Detailed Training Plan - Surfcoast Century. Now having completed 8 x 8-day weeks of base training, I am at the point where I shift my emphasis towards more specific race preparation. The basic principles I outlined at the start still apply, but there needs to be some changes in the details to get where I want to be.

Training is more than just how far and fast you run each day. Especially when you put yourself on the rivet to get the greatest amount of improvement possible. Risk management needs to be applied. Each hard run should be geared towards improving race performance. The risk is that there is always a recovery requirement that includes musculoskeletal, central neuro-cardiovascular-respiratory and health factors. It becomes about optimising the balance of all the above which is strongly affected by all other aspects of life and work. I still want and need to function and enjoy family, friends and work.

How do I do it?

I put down a basic structure, add in the details which are also open to variation and combine experience with listening to my body as I go. Here goes the updated plan for the Focus phase of training.

6 x 8-day weeks.

The biggest shift from Base training is the key runs are to be substantially higher in loading. As a result the basic runs need to be much easier and are more about ensuring recovery without detraining. The difference is a less even and less moderate training load day to day, to high loads supported by light to very light loads. As far as run training goes, there are different ways to reach similar goals.

Due to the combination of the high volume of calories required and the complications of rotating shiftwork, I often have trouble getting in enough food. In the past this has led to less than optimal food choices at times I just need to get stuff in. As a result recovery and health won't be optimal. The solution is some diligent planning. At the very least I have to be thinking 3 days ahead with my food. Cooking and packing ahead of need to make sure I always have what I require available. To support the training it's not something a can leave to chance now. That said I don't run a strict measure on everything in my diet. I focus heavily on unprocessed real food supported a little by some healthy convenience food I can keep with me.

Without it the big runs will just break me down. The biggest contributor appears to be sleep. Not enough and the sessions get on top of me and the quality of training plummets. Get enough and I seem to make big gains quickly. Again I'll mention that shiftwork can make this a challenge combined with the fact I usually have to fit my runs in the very early predawn hours or I won't get a run in. No excuses just what my challenges are. Organising things early and avoiding useless activities at night to ensure I get to sleep early enough is the main solution.

Other methods of enhancing recovery include getting some hot/cold water therapy including at least one ice bath a week, self massage/tissue therapy and stretching also needs to be included in small doses each day. Then the easy runs need to be easy enough that they do encourage recovery and not add to the workload.

Going hand in hand with recovery, especially on the tissue therapy side is the extra strength/conditioning work. This includes using weights and resistive exercises the add to functional stability, balance out strengths and weaknesses and ensure I am strong enough to function in other demands of life to reduce injury risk and be better able to handle workloads. A small volume of work, usually 2x40min sessions per week should be enough.

Now the easy part...

My orginal plan for the Focus phase had the problem of trying to focus on everything. Almost every day was dedicated towards working on a specific element of fitness/performance. I would be spreading myself too thin, limiting my ability to recover and probably only get moderate results in the areas I need to excel at. Not to mention that having such a structure and requirement each day can eat away at the mental reserves. The Base phase of training did more than build a good level of fitness. It helped me discover how my body responds to the different elements of training for a trail ultramarathon. Following all this revision my training has fewer key sessions, a little more recovery between those key sessions and a simplified focus.

Each week will have four (4) key runs. The remaining days will have basic runs, usually very easy/comfortable outings of 45-90 minutes. Enough to either stimulate recovery or add a little training effect by way of volume. These basic runs should never cause fatigue for a key run. It is likely that at times I will opt to take a day off too.

Long Run: 6 hours with race gear and nutrition. Getting into the hardest trails available with lots of hills. The aim is to generally keep a steady pace around what may be race pace, but with some extra effort on many uphills. Breaks for refills and toilet are to be as quick as possible. The fall back is just to keep moving at a reasonable pace for the entire run.

Pace Run: 2.5 hours faster than race pace. The intensity will usually be around the lower portion of the anaerobic threshold zone. The terrain will be varied. This run combines the concept of a moderate long run of 3 hours and the tempo/threshold run. Gone is the idea of taking minimal carbohydrate too. I need a little more recovery plus an extended run with adequate nutrition will hopefully create a better training effect with a reduced recovery risk.

Speed: A combination of short (up to 30 seconds) repeats of sprints and plyometric drills on steep hills, both up and down plus on the flat too. Plenty of very easy jogging in between. Technique with good range of motion is the priority. Really getting the speed up will be the biggest difference from the base phase. This is not a lactate tolerance session, or a form of speed endurance. Once fatigue starts creeping in and taking anything away from the speed or technique then it is time to hit the cool down.

Hills: In the first week this run is dropped to allow absorption of the extra stress from upping the two longer runs. For the remaining weeks this run is a continuous 45 minute run over a very technical and hilly circuit, plus warm up and cool down. The idea is to run this hard hitting short race pace intensity. Dropping this down just a little on the very few flattish sections and hitting VO2max territory when going up and opening everything up for some ballistic descending. In two of the weeks this session will actually be a trail race in the Salomon Trail Series. No holding back in those. These runs will really test me. They are specific for developing oxygen uptake, higher intensity fatigue resistance and bridging the gaps between endurance, trail skills and speed.

The days will change around a lot depending on how my work roster fits in with all other commitments, but a full week may look something like the following:

Day 1: Basic run 60min
Day 2: Speed run total 60min
Day 3: Pace run 2.5 hours
Day 4: Basic run 90min
Day 5: Basic run 60min
Day 6: Hills total 75min
Day 7: Basic run 75min
Day 8: Long 6 hours

That should give me a total of 130-140km, and allow enough recovery as long as I keep the basic runs easy enough. For a little inspiration, check out the video below for some insight into the first 50km of the Surfcoast Century.


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