February 24, 2019

Training - When to Jump Into the Abyss

The Abyss

You walk out to the edge of cliff. You look down. One hundred feet below you, waves are crashing against the cliff and on jagged rocks.  Currents of foam and rip tides surge in and out with the heavy surf. The problem is your life boat is anchored beyond the waves, and the only way to get to it is to jump into the abyss and swim for it. If you don’t jump, you will soon be consumed by the angst ridden Troll of Runner’s Doom. The ghost that haunts you everyday.

But when do you jump? Jump too early and you get hurled against the imposing cliff by a crushing wave. Jump too late and you’ll be dragged over the jagged rocks under the receding swell. The only choice is to jump at the exact right time, then be carried to safety beyond the violent break.

I’ve come to learn that training for ultramarathons is a lot like jumping into the abyss. Jump in too early and you get crushed month after month by energy sapping workouts, burn-out and eventually injury. Start too late and you’ll be battered at the race by showing up unfit with miserable race results and possibly staring at a DNF. The only choice is to start just at the right time.

These days, my modus operandi is to start 4 to 5 months before a race, but proceed in two phases: 1) a  general aerobic and strengthening phase and 2) a running phase. 

Phase one consists of all kinds of aerobic workouts including hiking, elliptical, spinning, cycling, snowshoeing, running. It also includes strength training including upper and lower body weight training, core work, climbing with weight vest etc. The key here is to keep things diverse and lively. Don’t get stuck on one or two activities, mix it up! This phase is helpful because it builds your aerobic base without the constant pounding from running and therefore minimizes burn out and injury.

Phase two consists of some of the aerobic work above, but a greater and greater emphasis on running. This is when you get to start tracking your weekly miles or hours running, and build toward race day. It is important to stress here however that, while running is the focus at this stage, there is still a benefit to supplementing all the running with running oriented aerobic workouts. I’m suggesting 20% of your miles (even in this phase) are running-related including climbing big hills and mountains, climbing on treadmill with weight vest, elliptical etc.

That is it for now. I’m falling, I’m falling….

Keep it real runners!

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