March 16, 2020

Training for the Lavaredo Ultra

Hungry, tired, sick.

These are the feelings I associate with a good morning training session. My preference is to train on empty, before having breakfast. So, given the pre-amble of yoga, coffee and reading the news before heading out, this can lead to breakfast not occurring until a good 2-4 hours after getting up. Inevitably I’m often left feeling ravenous, in need of a good gulp of water, and often a little bit queasy.

It’s been a while since I last experienced these feelings, but they returned this week, and are now here to stay.

Source: https://www.ultratrail.it/en/

Lavaredo Ultra Trail - 15 weeks to go

Whilst I’ve maintained a good base of fitness through winter through a combination of running (3-4 hours per week), cycling (50-100 miles per week), hill walking and winter climbing, I haven’t been in a training mindset. 

It’s all to easy to get into the habit of just going for a run, to go out and run 4-10 miles at a reasonably comfortable pace. If you’re like me and intrinsically find pleasure in the activity of running, it’s enjoyable, you still get fresh air and headspace and come back with the warm rush of endorphins. These runs shouldn’t be dismissed - they have an important role to play in ensuring daily life feels wholesome and well-balanced, and help to maintain a good base level of fitness.

After all, training is an end in its own right, not just a means to the end of a race.

But now with only 16 weeks to go before the Lavaredo Ultra Trail, a 120km trail race in the Dolomites, these types of easy runs can’t come at the cost of targeted training sessions.

Foundations of effective training

I ran my first marathon in 2012, and since then have run a fair few more, as well as a handful of ultras and the Bob Graham Round. I enjoy reading about training principles, and am always keen to hear from those better versed in the science that makes up an effective regime. That said, I try not to get too bogged down in the fine details of any training plan, in splitting hairs over the optimum length of intervals, hill gradient or heart rate zone each session is focusing on. At the level I (and the majority of most other runners) am at, I don’t believe obsessing over details pays off; this time would be better spent going out for a run or training in some other way. 

With this in mind, I try to keep the foundations simple, and complement two to five ‘just going for a run’ type easier runs with these three ‘key sessions’:

  • Speed work (tempo, threshold, intervals of varying lengths)
  • Hills (shorter or longer hill reps, repeated)
  • Long run

Adapting for Lavaredo

This is the same as what I’d do for a road marathon, so how can it be adapted for the the 120km of trails in the Lavaredo Ultra? 

  • Make intervals longer - instead of shorter sessions where anaerobic capacity is being developed, I’ll focus more on longer reps and greater volume. Examples here might be 4 x 8 minutes or 2 x 20 minute tempo.
  • Train running downhill too - in a longer race like this, it’s the downhill that can be the showstopper. Practising my form running downhill on similar terrain (rocky and dry - difficult to find in Scotland!) will be key if I’m to go the full distance.
  • Substitute the odd long hill walking day (8-12 hours) in place of long runs - given that I’ll be on my feet for likely 12-24 hours in the race, focusing on this sort of stamina will be key if I’m to be able to keep going both mentally and physically for such a long period.

Strength & Conditioning

If you’re like me and love running, it’s easy to neglect other physical activities that are not running. Even if we know that they complement our running, that they will make us less injury-prone, improve our form and, most importantly, mean that we look slightly less gimpy when photographed 100km into the race, we’ll probably still go for another run instead, if given the choice.

With this predisposition in mind, I’ll try to add at least 2 strength sessions per week to my training, consisting of:

  • Core work (planks, mountain climbers, sit ups)
  • Specific focus on hip flexors - this is an area of weakness that was first identified by a physio when I had an ITB injury last year. Having identified that it’s an area of weakness in my form, it would be foolish not to target it. (resistance band exercises, single-legged squats, lunges)
  • Upper body - with long uphills, being able to drive with the arms when the legs get tired will be crucial. (pull ups, press ups, arm raises)

source: https://www.uphillathlete.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Scott’s-Killer-Core-Routine-V2.pdf

Preparedness

In order to have the greatest possible chance of doing well in a race, I think it’s important to get all of the non-running bit sorted as early on as possible too, to allow you to focus on the running and so that you don’t have any last-minute worries. In practice, this means:

  • Sieving through the kit list and making informed purchases well in advance. CHECK.
  • Getting the medical certificate submitted well before the deadline. CHECK.
  • Planning the journey to/ from the race, as well as accommodation (camping means you don’t have to book in advance, making this point an awful lot easier...and cheaper!). CHECK.

The Lavaredo Ultra Trail takes place on June 26th, starting in Cortina d’Ampezzo. The race sees approximately 1,800 runners attempt to cover 120km around the Dolomites, with over 5,800m of elevation gain. For more information, see here: https://ultratrail.it/en/