2016 and specificity of training


This was supposed to be a summary and plan of what I intended to do in 2016. But that ended up being rather brief, so I decided to waffle a little about specificity of training, in particular trying to balance specific training for short and long distance, single and multi-discipline events

So, going into a new year and this time I have a few weeks of running behind me, something I didn’t have last year. As has been the case for the last three years I have left the calendar open, especially the latter half of the year. The only race I intend to compete in so far is the Green Man Ultra (March). I had to skip this event in 2014 and 2015, but I helped officiate instead. It was great fun but it doesn’t beat taking part yourself. So come March 2016 I will be chomping at the bit to beat my time from three years ago. I will use the next two months to gradually increase my running mileage to get myself in some kind of shape. My usual approach to returning from an extended lay-off has always been an initial period of light training to get a feel for training again without putting the body or mind under too much pressure. Anything goes here. After an optional recovery phase I then actually go straight into short sharp interval sessions (in all sports) alongside an introduction of form drills and general conditioning. I find this is a great wake-up call and gets me out of my comfort zone before I settle too much into the ‘easier’ training. The final phase begins again with a recovery period (if required) before going into the more structured training program aimed at any events I have lined up in the coming months. There are obviously a lot more external influences that can affect the training. This just summarises my approach after an extended lay-off, but doesn’t account for the more structured mesocycle (4-week) training programs I adopt that provide more of a structure and balance to my training with session specifics.

Swimming is heart breaking when you get back in the pool after a long lay-off. It’s a lot more technique based and requires regular work. This is increased for me personally when I fail to maintain my upper body. Personally it takes around 2-3 weeks for me to get back ‘the feel’ for swimming. To reach peak form I will spend time conditioning the upper body in the gym as well as introducing harder development sessions into my pool time. I ‘may’ be taking part in the O-til-O (pending ballot) next year, or a similar very long distance outdoor swim/run event. These events are becoming increasingly popular with a handful popping up in the UK. With this in mind I will need to increase my swimming (mainly lake and sea swims) volume alongside the running. I did intend to develop my cycling and my form at the moment is OK. But this requires a lot more time, and I’d prefer to use this to buffer my running for the time being until I know where I am heading.

I’m also very much looking forward to once again taking part in various short distance running races between 5km and half marathon (potentially marathon if it fits into the macro). This will help keep me focused on my training and perhaps even provide a chance to improve my PBs from previous years. I know I’m a few years older than when I set these times, but I’m really not that far off. The advantages I have over my younger Ironman self are:

a) circa.3kg lower in weight (I no longer require bulking up muscle mass for swim/bike)
b) Better core strength and balance, improved proprioception
c) Improved understanding and awareness of specific formulaic training

What I love about running and multi-discipline racing is you always have your own age-group to compete in, although I still prefer to think in terms of overall time and position. This is probably more indicative of my personality. I enjoy the strategy of racing, particularly optimal pacing. I’m quite formulaic in the training programs I create, so I can get the most out of my clients, as well as myself, based on personal circumstances. It’s funny but the old school training methods for ultra running (as opposed to multi-disciple, which is a lot more modern) could be considered better by some than the way people train today. I’m still not completely sure why, but it does seem apparent that some of the pioneers back then were a lot more fearless and less obsessive about what they did and yet achieved great ultra running times.

Trying to compete in both Ultra Running and Long Distance Triathlon…

This is something I’ve considered a lot over recent years and tried to do myself. It’s always important to make your training as specific to the event (distance and format) you wish to compete in as much as possible. Do this and you optimise your fitness for that event. Obviously, if you want to be a decent 100m sprinter you would commit to specific sprint drills and conditioning to improve form and enhance fast twitch muscle fibre capability. A marathon runner would work a lot more on developing a solid aerobic base, and improve endurance with lots of running mileage at various intensities. If you try and do both at the same time then you limit your capabilities for each one, and will not optimise your fitness. You can of course still develop yourself and become a very good all round runner. This depends on where you have come from in the first place.

As well as specificity of training, you also have to consider the stresses an athlete can put their body under when trying to do ‘opposing’ sports and/or ultra training and racing. It may be bad luck, but it also may be no coincidence that I had a string of injuries and illnesses when I made a cross-over from Ironman to ultra running. My body just wasn’t prepared for it. Some problems were considered congenital. But I may have encouraged them forward from the training.

I have coach a number of triathletes who have dabbled in ultra running, and vice versa. If you allow plenty of recovery between races and either allow for (and appreciate) a drop in specific form or break the year up into various blocks that work primarily on one race, then you can get a decent level of specific fitness together. I had one client who tried to optimise both Ironman and ultra running at the same time over a two year period. He was actually very good in both. But it wasn’t until he dropped ultra running races to concentrate wholly on Ironman that he started to excel and is now regularly winning his age group. Another athlete I coach is trying to juggle a number of both Ironman and longer (double, triple distance) events with single and multi-day ultras. This may sound over the top but some people just have a natural ability to handle many ultra endurance events, one after the other. He’s got strength and a decent amount of pace but is held back by regular bouts of cold or flu. This is another problem with trying to train and race for endurance events, the body has to handle a great deal of stress. And this can be exasperated if you are doing a number of sports/disciplines at the same time. Some of course are more liable to pick up illnesses than others, and having a number of children certainly doesn’t help when the immune system is regularly suppressed. With ultra races becoming more and more popular as a step on from marathon and Ironman I’m sure a lot more will be discussed on the subject.

Happy New Year!
Make the most of it and achieve all you can.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s