Thursday, April 1, 2010

Trail Running 101: Keepin' It Simple

Time is ticking...

I have less than 4 months to get fit for the Death Race (DR), so needless to say that training discussions have monopolized a bit of my mental real estate lately...

The EASY thing to do would be to go hire a personal coach, tell him about the good, the bad and the ugly...Et voila, you've got yourself a training plan to follow...On the flip side, if you prefer the 'do-it-yourself' approach there
is no shortage of resources on the topic of getting 'fit' for trail racing!

Looking for something different? Try running/speed hiking up a local mountain (or hill if you don't have any mountains!)

Now before I start yapping about my own training philosophies, there's an important concept you need to understand called
periodization. Like it or not, this fancy concept is important for you to grasp as the base of every training plan follows this template. Periodization is the segmentation of the training year into 3 main training 'periods'. Of course, I'm not taking into account your 'off-season' segment, which, if your lifestyle choice mimics mine, it usually lasts about half the year! Anyways...back to these 3 segments:

1. The Base Building phase (which I should have started months ago), where you re-focus on general training, contemplate reducing the amount of alcohol you consume (or poor diet choices!), increase your running volume or simply just entertain the idea of reacquainting yourself with a structured program.
2. The Pre-Competition phase (I'm definitely into this one now), where you dive into specific trail running workouts and scramble on a weekly basis to find a training partner that will suffer with you as you tackle harder intensities.
3. The Competition phase, where you finally tell yourself, "Hey, I've trained tons lately, I deserve a beer!" and taper your training only to realized 2 days before you big race that you should have trained more!

OK, aside from the obvious buffoon descriptions, I think you get the idea. Oh, don't worry, I'm not going bore you with the science (or should I say the 'art') of training, if you want to learn more about this,
there's tons out there! But as I said, it is an important concept for you to understand...The problem with us Canadians is that we tend to wait until spring to start running again. This means that if you're trying to 'get in shape' for a race in June or July, you have to manipulate a year-round training schedule into a 3 to 5 month cram session! Nothing like skipping a few steps eh?

So with that in mind, here are a few PV training philosophies that I keep in the back of my mind when building a plan:

1. Keep it Simple: I've seen enough complicated training schemes to drive me nuts. The more fancy bells and whistles you have, the greater risk you have of screwing something up. Regardless of your training 'knowledge' it won't take long for you to understand your needs as a runner. The basic requirement to become a good trail runner trail run! (quite the earth shattering statement I know!). If you run every day with little to no structure you will inevitably get fit. Now, take the next step by adding a little structure to your
weekly program template (includes: 1 long run + 1 interval/speed session + 1 hill workout + core/strength + 1 rest day). Want more? Fine-tune by focusing on your weaknesses and you'll continue to make gains. Simple.

2. Variety: 'THEY' say that variety is the spice of life...'THEY' are right. Variety is the key to staying motivated! Spice up your training and get out of your training ruts (I suppose you could say the same about a relationship - ha...). Get out of town and discover new terrain, switch up your training loops and vary your training speed or, call up a few buddies to help you push the pace in your next workout. Don't be afraid to be creative in your training.
3. Fatigue: No matter what training plan you follow, you will get tired. Being tired is good - it means you're pushing your body. Learn to identify a 'good' tired (training effect) versus a 'bad' tired (not enough rest days or over-reaching effect). I usually ask myself: "Am I just being lazy, or am I really tired?"

4. Magic Pills: Here's a news flash for you...There are no secret training programs or 'magic pills' that will make you go faster. You simply have to get out there and run. "But there's got to be something out there that will make me go faster?" Unfortunately...the answer is "No". But don't take my word for it, go ahead and surf that 'net. Start flipping through the countless Get-Fit-in-10-days training plans, documents, scientific research, opinions, bla, bla, bla. Take notes, soak it all in. Do your due diligence. And when you're ready, sit back (take a deep breath) and ask yourself these questions: "What do I need to get faster? What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses?" Is it hills, downhills, flats, technical terrain, false flats, speed, etc...? Write it all down...

5. Rest and Recovery: The closest thing to a secret training weapon is called REST. I'm serious! It's very important to plan rest days and recovery weeks into your schedule. Believe it or not, rest actually makes you stronger - really. Rest can come in many forms...It can be a day off training, an active rest like taking a walk, an easy bike ride or even a long stretch session. If you don't give you body a break once in a while, you risk losing all your training gains. Not a good scenario!

6. Circus Act: I see training kind of like a circus act (Just bare with me here...). Remember that guy doing the balancing act with all the plates. He took a plate and spun it on a pole, moved on to another plate, and spun that one, until there were 6 plates all spinning at the same time. Every time a plate slowed down, he gave it a bit of a spin to bring it up to speed, and on and on...In order for this character to deliver a successful performance, it was crucial that all the plates kept spinning! See where I'm going with this?

So let's put this in the context with trail running...

Plate #1: Running Volume - It's spring time. You've just bought a pair of trail runners and you - are - psyched! The winter ski season has kept you fit but you quickly notice that you have heavy legs. Solution? Increase your weekly kms and start spinning the first plate...
Plate #2: Uphill training - A week later, running is going well, you decide to venture out on the hills...ouch! Where did that piano come from? Time to tackle some hill climbs to build specific leg strength. Plate #2 is going now...
Plate #3: Downhills - Another few weeks and you are feeling better and better! You decide to drive to Canmore and tackle Ha Ling Peak...a big hill and a good challenge, but no problem! At the summit you take a moment, enjoy the view and blast back down, only to be rewarded with sore legs! Adding downhills will not only increase your technical efficiency, but it will also strenghten your quads. #3 is up and spinning...
Plate #4: And on, and on...For every running skill you add, you spin another plate and the better your fitness and performance gets. Go back and read over your strengths and weaknesses...make them your next plates! It's also important to go back and check on your plates and give them a 'spin' to work on that specific skill. Does this make sense to you?

So that's it. So much for not rambling...

The scary thing about all the above is that I'm barely scratching the surface! Training 'talk' is a big topic that can quickly get overwhelming...That's why I like to keep it as simple as possible. The bottom line is that there's no secret to trail running. Layout a simple structured plan that targets your objectives, and go running with a purpose - Oh, and remember to keep those plates spinning!

Sometimes it's good to just go out and run - enter a race knowing that you're not ready for it, use it as what it is...simply a good, hard workout!


Derrick said...

I generally agree that in most cases keeping it simple is quite often the best approach for many people. The thing that I do find very fascinating though is the way various types of runners can get to a similar end result.

Looking at speed guys like Uli Steidl (2:13 marathon) compared to strength runners like Krupicka and Roes, with Matt Carpenter somewhere in the middle...then add guys like Duncan Callahan from a skiing background and you have a whack of really interesting training concepts with assorted strengths and weaknesses. That's where your pie plate analogy fits in I guess. So the simple solution really is....Eat more pie!

Good luck this weekend! Look forward to following along. Some interesting races coming up and great to see a strong crop of Canadians.

Jude said...

nice! i like the plate metaphor to balance training. Ill remember that one.

brendaontheRun said...

I'm going through the same thing at the moment, trying to get to grips with training for Tour du Mont Blanc in August. I'm a big fan of keeping things simple, so thanks for the fun read!

By the way, next time you're home, can Steve and myself call by some time and check out your Aye-Up light? I'm at
Cheers Phil! Good luck at DV.

Phil said...

Derrick: Moral of the story...find what works for you! That in it self is not always as 'simple' as we think...but sometimes we tend to know more than we think!

Jude: Great to meet you on Sat - and good result too!

Brenda: Glad you like the analogy...After my race yesterday, I definitely know which plates to start spinning - live and learn...

No problem on the lights...I'm off to Nipika for the next days - will connect on my return.

garobbins said...

Hey Phil, where's that last picture from? I'm sure I hiked through that exact scene ten years back while I was living out there but I can't place it?


Phil said...


It should look familiar, it's in your backyard! It's the top of Rubble Creek Race, just after the middle flats, Oliver Utting on my ass, as we are about to head down to the RC parking lot.

garobbins said...

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA, WOW, guess I should open my eyes a bit more!!

Looks like you had the perfect getaway after DV! Drop me a line next time you're out this way so we can get out for a run together!