Hal Koerner's Training Advice for 50Ks and Beyond - Page 6
Rest and recovery prior to your race are pivotal. Tapering is the final period in your training program, when you strategically ease off of training for the purpose of being primed and ready for race day. By this point in your program you’ve put in the hard work, faced many challenges, and called on your body in different ways. Now is the time to wean off that heavy training, getting more precise with your last workouts, which will be of a shorter duration, and becoming mentally and physically poised for your event. It’s easy to lose confidence when you stop training, but remind yourself that you are not losing anything during this period; rather, physically you are being restored so that you will be able to peak on race day.
Your taper period is the time for banking calories and sleep. While many runners dread tapering and the associated slothful feeling that comes with reduced activity, try to see past that and remind yourself that it is a key element of your training, just as important as the speed sessions and long runs you logged to get to this point. You may find that you have a case of the “taper tantrums,” with muscle tweaks, spasms, and slight annoyances cropping up in those last couple of weeks, but rest assured they are usually temporary annoyances that will fade away come race morning. While you may wish to do low- or no-impact crosstraining such as swimming or Nordic skiing during your taper, it is also an excellent time to see a massage therapist for some treatment, being careful that the therapist doesn’t go too deep.
WEIGHT TRAINING/CORE WORK
As runners, we mostly just want to run. However, the ultrarunner has much to gain from weight training and core work. Being in good condition throughout the body is important in an endurance event; it’s definitely not just about your feet. Good, strong posture—which comes from a strong core—will help take some of the strain and fatigue out of being on your feet for hours or even days. You also need good arm and core strength if you intend to carry a heavy pack or poles. Selective weight training, consisting of low weight and high reps, helps build the strength you need out on the course, without adding bulk. Targeted core work, specifically ab work, will go a long way toward preventing injuries and supporting a strong, healthy posture. And because trails are uneven, technical, and often rocky, your core is key to keeping you upright and balanced when the footing gets tough.
I include some weight training and core exercises, such as crunches and hanging leg raises, in my training week. Hanging leg raises in particular are a favorite because they work both the hip flexors and the lower abs. They can also work your lower obliques, depending on how you perform the crunch. The Roman chair sit-up is another great exercise that specifically targets the hip flexors, a group of muscles that you are asking to lift a heavy weight over and over again for hours during an ultra. But the beauty of crunches is that they can be done with no equipment and just about anywhere. While I do go to a gym a few times a week, I also try for 100 to 200 crunches and sit-ups every day, just on my own at home.
Weight work is also great for ultrarunners. To avoid upper-body bulk, I generally take a less-is-more approach, with lower weight and higher reps. To increase the difficulty, I will add reps instead of more weight.
As for the lower body, you can gain power through your glutes by doing high reps of squats while holding a bar or dumbbells. I don’t normally focus much weight work on the lower body, but I do include some eccentric quad training on the leg extension machine at the gym. After picking a reasonably resistant weight, I hold the extension to muscle failure. I suggest starting with a weight that allows you to maintain the extension for 45 seconds and increase weight from there. Eccentric muscle action occurs as a braking or oppositional response to concentric (shortening) action. The muscle is elongated, which helps protect joint structure. I am particularly diligent about this type of lower-body work if an upcoming race includes steep downhills, such as at the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run. Know your course, and change up your weight and strength training depending on what your race has in store for you.
ROAD AND TRAIL—MIXING IT UP
Typically, we train on what we like. That is human nature. For many—even most—ultrarunners, we seek out trails, not road. And so when you enter a trail race, you may do so thinking you’ll run trail. But in my Pine to Palm race, for example, 40 percent of the distance is run on dirt roads. This catches some runners by surprise. I understand that—most ultrarunners adore singletrack; it is entertaining and challenging in a way a road usually is not. It is also easier on the legs.
In a race, if you come to an unexpected road, this can make the event seem harder, reduce your confidence, and even zap your motivation, precisely at a time, often deep in the race, when you need those things the most. The impact can seem even harsher, depending on where you hit a road section during your event. If, for example, you are at mile 30 and already feeling pretty beat up, those feelings can be magnified both mentally and physically on a tough, unforgiving stretch of pavement.
One of my first ultras was the Washington State University 100K. The first half of the event was entirely on paved road, followed by some uphill time on gravel and then the final miles back on a paved road. I had trained a bit on pavement, but not to that magnitude. Not only was it hard on my legs, but there was a dangerous allure to the flatness of it, one that caused me to go off my pace, pushing too hard. The pounding of running for an ultra is hard enough, but it is made that much harder on road. By mile 30, I’d blown up; I had never run a marathon, but I would have equated it to hitting a wall and feeling unable to take another step. Once we started uphill on that gravel road, I was reduced to walking, despite much prodding from my pacers and crew. I simply was not prepared for how big a shock the flat, rock-hard road would be to my body. I had run roads to get to trails during training, but that exposure was limited to a mile or two. What I discovered the hard way was that after hours of running, road really hurts! Everything that was sore was multiplied many times over.
The point is that you need to have some level of hardening to make it through. The Leadville Trail 100, for example, has some significant flat sections, some on pavement, and even the best athletes can be waylaid by them. So if you know there will be some road in your event, make sure you are adding in enough road training. For example, run on trail for 2 hours and then finish with a 5-mile stretch on pavement. Or maybe start with a 5-mile warm-up on the road prior to the trail run. Or make one of your tempo runs a road run. These training strategies will help you combat being affected by some of the less pleasurable aspects of running on the road.