For years I (so-called) ‘trained’ to complete road races of various distances without any idea what actual training is all about. I just ran whenever I could or when I felt like it. There was no structure, no plan and no understanding of what is required for improvements. It is no wonder that I have never ran any faster than what I achieved in my first marathon many years ago.
On the other extreme, I have also heard of runners who work with training plans that have every details accounted for – pace of every single run, how to recover, and even what to eat. These plans are specific but complicated, if you ask me. Some runners actually follow these robust training regimes to help them succeed in races. They like everything outlined, all the boxes checked, and details on when to run, eat, rest and sleep.
The problem with complex training plan (at least for me) is that the workout specifics can become an excuse to never start training. And if you do start, the demanding plan may just lead to burnouts, failures, and eventually quitting. By over-complicating the process, you may actually be keeping yourself from success.
When I started running, partly due to ignorance but mostly due to laziness to train properly, I did not subscribe to or follow any training plan. The structure and consistency requirement of a training plan was just too troublesome for me. A full time job and a pair of demanding twin baby boys meant I only ran when I was able to. Running was low in priority and it wasn’t like I look forward to running anyway.
The problem however was, I really wanted to run a faster marathon. And I was quietly but utterly disappointed when I did not improve each year. I would run about the same timing each marathon race but would be green with envy on how my friends got better and faster than before.
Then again, I have nothing and no one to be angry with other than myself. It is not like I train for it seriously and then not rewarded with better performance and faster finishing. For years my running ability has mirrored how my training been – mediocre at best.
But enough is enough. I do want to improve.
With a new resolve towards the end of last year, I started looking at training plans. My brother recommended one he has been using, and I tried to follow the plan as much as I could. Fast forward three months, I was surprised to see significant improvement on my marathon timing on a subsequent race. I must say I was rather pleased with my progress.
The positive result got me interested in learning more about running workouts and how to put them together into a plan that fits my working schedule and lifestyle. I have found for the most part, training does not have to be complicated. For one, running in itself is not complicated.
If you are thinking of training for a marathon or ultra but do not want to be bogged down by the nitty-gritty of a complicated plan, you can try a partial DIY training approach with the incorporation of three things.
To me, these are the basic ingredients for a distance runner to look at in their training. Just three things, but a tonne of motivation to follow through.
The key success element to completing an endurance sports such as running an ultra is consistency. We are what we repeatedly do. You have to consistently lace up your shoes and get your butt out the door to run.
Rest days are important, but generally you will be training five to six days a week. The training load is critical for you to book in the required adaptations for your body to run and tolerate the demands of an ultra-distance.
By consistently running, your body will conform to the intensities it is habitually subjected to. It is not enough to do a single concentrated workout and then expect to be faster, fitter and stronger. You need to consistently train every week for many weeks.
The good news about consistency is that it is not a skill or talent. You have direct control over it and hence it cannot be used as an excuse not to do it. Like it or not, it is what you do each and every day, over and over again, that will help you to achieve results.
You need variety in your training for two reasons. First is to keep the training fresh and not monotonous. Training is a repetitive process. You cannot be running the same run five or six times a week without either getting bored or burning out.
Second, your body and legs will not be challenged to new strength when you are just repeating the same run. Your legs will not have the opportunity to be stressed and adapt to more loads.
Effective training is having variety in your workouts — easy runs, long runs, fartleks, intervals, tempo runs, hill repeats, recovery runs, etc (you can learn about the different types of run workouts from many sites). If you are running trail ultras, you should even add in trail mixes such tackling elevations, negotiating downhills, hiking for hours, and strength trainings to build the necessary adaptions into your body.
Even if you are not following a training plan strictly, adding in these component varieties will mix up the type of running which is essential to building both speed and endurance. Generally speaking, each week should include a long run, some runs that bring you into intense, lactic-threshold level and a few easy runs for recovery and base building.
The last thing that you want to look at for training is progression. Progression is the key to improving your strength and endurance. Muscles must be challenged continuously in order to develop. They will adapt over time to a given load and become more efficient.
Hence it is important to progress with longer runs, faster intervals, tempo runs and the likes as the muscles strengthen and adapt. Without new stress or stimulus from one workout to the next, there will not be any push for your body to grow and develop.
The key takeaway is that your body needs to be challenged beyond what it is used to doing. And for continued benefits from your training, challenges need to be constantly increased in a structured manner.
Training progression however needs to be executed in a sustainable manner to avoid the risk of injuries. You will need to start training and build in the progression to evaluate how fast and how much you can push your body to grow and adapt in time for the following session.
Again, remember that training does not have to be complicated. Training smart is the better way to go. If you are someone who needs structured and detail plans, by all means embrace it and train with one.
But if time is limited, or you don’t like to be bogged down with specifics, then it may be better to just allow flexibility (with consistency, variety and progression in mind). Being flexible might just be the difference between you running a race well, or quitting even before you hit the starting line.
First shared: 08-Apr-2020