Preparing To Train.. Training To Prepare?

Our training can achieve many results, some good and some bad. It can be adequate leaving us to perform ok but struggling on the day……it can be perfect, and the day goes so well…it could be , for varying reasons, totally inadequate resulting a DNF. On the other hand, go to the extreme and overtraining, injury, and illness are all waiting for you with open arms and boxes of tissues!

We are all after that balance, the nirvana of a perfect build up for our particular goal. Unfortunately for us…as ultra-distance athletes…not a great deal of information is available as to how to go about our training, although one thing is for sure, it is not simply a case of more is better….that is soooo 1990’s.

Many books exist on marathon training, with suggestions of months of progressive build up, nutrition advice, injury advice…everything u could possibly need to know….yet where are the good performers, the steady increase in good times? With the exception of a few exceptional female athletes, the past few years…decades…have seen our athletes’ results deteriorating….the average marathon time as a nation is rising, not falling, and this goes for the elite as well as the masses. What can we deduce from this? That no one is reading and absorbing this available info..? People are reading it but ignoring it..? People are reading it, but are not really willing to put the work in required..?

Or do we really have no world class performers out there..?

Personally, I do not feel the last reason is correct…and just sense that no-one wants to really put the effort in…humans are getting lazy.

But…we are not marathon runners…we want to go further and we want to swim and cycle a great deal first.

Ultra- training is still in its infancy. For the past 20 years it has been evolving…if at all… at a snails pace. I am aware of no dramatic breakthrough or advances in methodology to improve performances at these events….double iron, triple iron, deca iron etc. I have not come across any proposed structure or rationale in approach to fully understanding the demands placed on the body and mind that these events make.

As an example, I have had a very brief and basic analysis….all you statisticians out there, don’t shoot me down just yet!…..of all the results from the legendary Triple Iron distance race at Lensahn, Germany. The past fifteen winners times are as follows:

The times have been rounded to whole hours…

36-34-34-33-36-35-37-35-34-39-31-35-38-34-34

Take the first 8 times…..averages out at 35 hours;

Take the latest 7 times…averages out at 35 hours…..!!!!?????!!!!

I feel a different approach is required, and would actually use the term preparation as an adjunct to training. We can all swim, cycle and run, and I do agree that to some extent we do need to simply increase the distances we train at to attain a basic physiological development…this is where the training ends though, and preparation begins.

No one really needs to be told how to swim, bike and run further..we can just do it…but all that does is give us the ability to replicate these training sessions. None of this will properly prepare you for the middle of the night, after 20 miles running with legs shot from 200 miles cycling, and your core muscles wasted and unable to coordinate that lovely 6 hr plus running motion u have so lovingly perfected over the past few months.

However, I firmly believe a solution exists to prepare better, and lay down the foundations for a huge improvement in ultra performances and finishing times.

This is how I view it. We begin with three blocks, a swimming block, cycling block and a running block…on their own we cannot build much with just three bricks, so we up our training volume and end up with many bricks….and up the intensities, so we now have small and large bricks….and soon we have enough to construct our base and build upwards. Over time our training increases and we have the beginnings of a mighty swim tower, tall cycle tower, alongside an impressive run tower.

Three tall..mighty mileage-heavy towers …but the taller they get, the more unstable they become, as no one ‘ thing’ is holding these towers together, anchoring them as a ‘whole’. Any injuries, overtraining issues within each structure will bring that individual one crashing down, unsupported by any others, and have to be built back up again. As nothing is interwoven between these training structures…neither can support any other. This results in an extremely fragile training environment. We need links…support…stabilisation..something cohesive between our three training towers. These links need to be constructed from something pretty strong…and in my opuion can only be built from x-training…high intensity, prolonged cross training. My feeling is this is the key to ultra success, progression and durability.

Whole-body, endurance and resistance based x-training. Most triathletes will say they x-train all the time as they have three disciplines to play with, but in reality they train as a swimmer, then train as a cyclist, then train as a runner….maybe the odd bike-run session thrown in along the way somewhere. The problem is, the one common thread…you, your bady….is only being challenged in the specifics of one sport at any one training session. This most definitely does not represent x-training. We need to be making demands of our body as a whole over and above our three sports.

These demands need to be varied and progressively increase to a degree at least equal to the time and effort we spend on our swim-bike-run sessions. And….we must not stop there…this x-training effect needs to be challenging to our mental as well as physical sides. This Preperation, alongside any and all base foundation work , is what will hold it all together, and is, as I see it, the key to successful ultra performances.

As with any work, it has to be effective…too many athletes just go through the motions conning themselves they are working hard. The intensity of the x-training has to be high, right up there. We need to constantly keep hiting the body..as a whole…differently all the time. Make it hurt, ache, challenge and test it in as many ways we can; let it recover and challenge it again. Never the same way twice- always change, always test. Keep mixing it all up…cardio….resistance…free weights, bodyweight…anything and everything..each session throw it all in the bag and pick it out differently every time. But make it count, make it hard….work at it.

Swim bike and run by all means, they are essential, but don’t stop there if success and progress, and durability at ultra distance triathlons is your aim.

View your body as awhole…train it, work it, and then prepare it. It is a lot more than a core with arms for swimming and legs for cycling and running!

If anyone is interested in any specific personal advice, please contact me at….ultra.coach@live.co.uk