2023 Training Principles
I have always loved training, as a cyclist with coaches I always had a keen interest in why were would take certain approaches to achieve particular physical adaptations, also I love data. Now as a runner I am self coached and this is an overview of my 2023 training principles leading up to the TDS,
The main goals of 2023 were the Trail Running World Championships Long Course in June in Austria, followed by the TDS at UTMB at the end of August. My idea for this was to increase the distance of the races as the summer went on, naturally going from shorter faster races to longer ultra races. This also follows a natural rhythm of focusing on faster-running miles over the winter and spring to help me develop greater running efficiency and as the snow melts gradually moving into the higher mountains for longer days at altitude and with more vertical meters. The year before I felt that doing too many long races was more difficult mentally and decided the above approach would allow me to take on challenges that are more lined up with physical fitness and to save the big mental output for the really big day of TDS, which would be my longest race to date. Overall I felt the strategy worked well for me and is one I will continue to use.
The training philosophy was pretty simple, to develop the biggest aerobic engine I could, the fitter you are the faster your cruising speed during an ultra. Naturally, I am better at climbing and my Achilles heel has been fast running on the flat, so over the winter, I incorporated one flat session per week while some of the hilly sessions included fast running on downhills (also to help with leg conditioning). I started training in the ¨Norwegian style¨ of double threshold sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays, using a lactate meter to monitor and control intensity in key sessions. I was aiming to accumulate approximately one hour of total threshold work split across the two sessions at 2-3.5mmol lactate, an example would be Tuesday, 2x5km on the flat followed by 1x20min uphill in the afternoon. The rest of the training days were easy/moderate running with more volume on the weekends and sometimes some short intense local races mixed in from time to time. During the first part of the year, I built up to approximately 160 km per week of running volume, every fifth week I had an easy week of approximately 100-120 km. During this period I did a lot of double sessions, even on easy/moderate training days during, the week, and slightly longer single sessions on the weekends though nothing too long, rarely over three hours other than during some races. My focus during this period was consistent running every day, balancing work and recovery so that I did not need multiple days off to recover from really big days but enough stimulus to build fitness. Nothing fancy here, just consistent daily work. Once I started racing and as the summer started I was incorporating more vertical meters and though weekly kilometers went down slightly weekly training time remained similar, usually from 15-17 hours.
After the World Championships focus switched to TDS, a course relatively rugged course with 9200m climbing over the 145km. With that in mind during July and August, the focus changed to include more time in the mountains focusing on climbing with poles and longer single sessions. During this block, I did not do so much double-threshold training and focused more on overall volume with increased vertical gain. Four weeks before the race I did a training camp at altitude in Tignes, France which sits at 2000m, and the majority of the running was done up from there. I looked at the altitude from two different angles, one to get the hematological benefits to improve performance but also a significant portion of TDS is run at or above 2000m of altitude and I wanted to feel adapted and comfortable performing at that height. That two-week block was heavily focused on volume and race pace climbing ( this in reality is more holding back than pushing ) I did not perform any threshold work there but the first week was a big volume overload week for me at just under 200km which finished 3 weeks before race day for me. I would have liked to stay longer at altitude but had to return to Girona for work but the extreme heat we were having I believe probably helped maintain the effects of the altitude training we had done. While in Girona I completed some flat tempo workouts again while maintaining some tempo climbing work in the local Pyrenees before returning to France in the week before the race to do some last recons of the course while tapering.
Tapering is something I have been trying to dial in over the racing season. I have learned that I have to be careful to balance freshness while maintaining some stress in the body to feel primed on race day. One thing I have found key is to maintain specificity during your taper and for me this meant continuing to train on climbs and descents. Long alpine climbs especially with poles and pack use much different muscles than running on the flat and it seems to me I need to keep these muscles firing before race day. In the week leading up, I was still doing runs up to 90 minutes on the race course, up long climbs, and back down.
A few considerations.
Though I have only been running for a few years I have a long history in endurance sport as a professional cyclist, accumulating many thousands of hours of serious training from my mid teens.
My training program is a personal experiment and though I build a plan I do change things depending how I am feeling, learnings or what I think is important for a specific race, its an evolving process of planning, training, reviewing. Double thresholds is something I found very interesting but its maybe not the best training approach for everyone.
I work with a local sports clinic, Cenit, here in Girona where every two weeks I am getting my blood values checked to make sure the body is responding well to training. Many times we are pushing a fine line between overreaching and overtraining and the supervision from Cenit helps keep me in check, giving me the confidence to keep pushing or to pump the brakes a bit.
I am not a professional runner in the sense that I do not make a living from the sport but I am very lucky to have a considerable amount of time to dedicate to training and more importantly recovering well.
I have never considered myself a gifted athlete, I always had to work hard and focus on details when I was a cyclist. I truly believe we are all capable of achieving big goals if we are willing to dedicate the time and effort but we need to realise that it may take many years of hard work.
Nothing ever is perfect and trying to achieve that usually leads to burnout. I strive for 80/20, consistently aiming to get about 80% of things nailed, sometimes you may nail everything 100% but I consider that a bonus vs a given.
Next post I will dive deeper into race day.