Hal Koerner's Training Advice for 50Ks and Beyond - Page 4
Hill Training/Strength Work
Many ultra events include hills and substantial inclines, so you will need to prepare for those climbs. You will build a tremendous and much-needed amount of strength from hill training. Hill work will also prepare you for what it feels like to negotiate repeat hill challenges. Doing hill reps and building up those big muscle groups in your legs will correspond directly to efficiency on race day. Hill training in these plans means 2 to 3 minutes of uphill running at an all-out effort, and then repeating this a specified number of times, perhaps 3 to 12 times depending on the workout. While this may sound like speed work, the hill will slow you down and make you work for it, so I consider hill training repeats strength work, as opposed to speed work.
Practically speaking, you can loop your strength work into an easy day, for example, running easy to a designated point, doing 6 hill repeats, and returning easy. You can also locate stairs or a hill on your route that is a quarter-mile stretch of uphill and make that a repeat within your run. That way, you allow yourself a solid warm-up and then a pleasant cooldown afterward. Of course, on inclement days or if you can’t find convenient hills or stairs, a treadmill is another option.
Why even bother with speed training for an ultra? That’s a valid question. After all, the pace at which you will likely run your ultra is likely not what you would consider “speedy,“ at least when compared with a 10K, half-marathon, or even marathon pace. But take it from me: Speed work is very much worth your time and effort, and it provides benefits for more than just your pace on race day. Speed work, done consistently and appropriately, builds running efficiency and leg turnover, makes you fitter and stronger, and prepares you for moments in your ultra when you will be called upon to run harder, whether due to adrenaline or to a need to pass somebody on singletrack or to shake off a runner behind you who is throwing you off your game.
Speed work in the training plans in this book involves spending a relatively short but dedicated time running at your hardest effort. I find that fartleks—the Swedish word for “speed play,” in which you use variations of fast running for long periods in lieu of structured intervals—on an easy or even downhill grade work well because they best replicate conditions in an ultra. You can do speed work on a track if that is what you are used to; however, I find that training for speed on a dirt road or trail replicates ultra conditions and unstable ground in a way a track does not.
Attacking these speed workouts at a hard effort will not only build your strength but also train your body to switch up gears and incorporate different muscle fibers, something that your ultra will call on you to do somewhere along the way. In the plans in this book, you will see speed work mixed in with tempo runs and long runs.
Speed workouts are great to do with others. You are going to be asking yourself to push harder, and let’s face it, for most of us, it’s tough to pull out a best-effort pace by yourself. Training with others removes some of the dread that can accompany speed work and also ups the accountability.
A tempo run is a steady effort for a specific time and distance, with a pace likely just below your 10K pace. It should feel like a strong but not all-out effort. Tempos are a key component of training and go a long way toward building speed and strength. They are especially useful in training for an ultra because tempo runs, like ultras themselves, require you to test yourself over a longer distance and time. They will increase your ability to push yourself over a longer time at a steady, consistent effort. They take a lot out of you, so they will appear only about once every 7 to 10 days in the training plans; a tempo run is almost like being in a race, which means you will need time to recover afterward.
I enjoy doing my tempo runs with runners who are of equal ability or even faster than I am—training partners who are capable of pushing me more than I would push myself. Tempo runs also work well with a group, where runners alternate taking the lead and making sure everyone is maintaining an overall effort for the designated amount of time. This is especially important for trail tempo runs. It is easy to lose sight of pace while you are on the trail, with the climbing, descending, and uneven terrain, so it is nice to have others to help you stay on that tough pace.