As you may be aware, my major goal for this year is to complete the Hardmoors Grand Slam (finishing all the Hardmoors ultra-marathons within one calendar year). So far I have successfully completed the 30, 55 and 110 mile races and my focus now is on the last race of the series, the Hardmoors 60 in September.
I would like to put in a strong performance (for me!) at this race and so I have been thinking about how to improve my training over the coming months. Although I am never going to be competitive at the front end of a race, it is important to me to perform to the best of my ability and to continue to make progress. Elite athletes talk about the importance of having a positive growth mindset, and I think this is just as helpful for enthusiastic amateurs; if you continue to expand your expectations and set yourself challenging targets then you can work to be the best you can be (even if your best may not set the world on fire!).
My Current Training
At the moment I average about 40 miles a week in training, with a few weeks peaking at between 50 and 60 miles before a big race. I usually do a speedwork session once a week, and as I am also a keen orienteer, I do a lot of orienteering events (the equivalent of tempo runs in terms of effort).
Away from running, I attend a pilates class once a week and do some rather unplanned and intermittent core and strengthening exercises at home, as well as religiously stretching after runs and most evenings.
As a Mum, my training has to maintain a balance between running and family life, and although I know that I could make progress by just running more miles, it really isn’t compatible with our family life at the moment. Instead I feel I need to train smarter and to add more quality work into my schedule. I’ve decided to target three areas and see whether they bring improvements to my running: hill reps; strength and conditioning; and fast finish long runs.
I hate hill reps! For me, the joy of running is all about making a journey from A to B, enjoying the countryside and my surroundings. I enjoy running up mountains, but not ploughing up and down the same hill over and over again.
However, I know that doing structured hill reps will benefit my strength and power, improve the running economy that is so essential for ultras, and increase my aerobic capacity and VO2 max. So I really have no excuse for not doing them, other than the monotony of the exercise! But actually, this monotony brings in itself another useful benefit – mental strength. Every time I am reluctant to get out and do my hill reps session, I will remind myself that actually this is just practise for the mental toughness needed to carry on running when everything hurts in the last stages of an ultra, or to walk out of the warm, bright checkpoint and into the cold, dark night when I really just want to stay sitting in that chair!
Strength and conditioning
I actually really enjoy strength and conditioning work, but anything I have done so far has generally been unplanned and unstructured, meaning that life often gets in the way and two or three weeks pass without me doing any strength training.
So I am going to start prioritising my strength and conditioning work more and scheduling it in my training in the same way I do my running sessions. My intent is to do two sessions a week, in addition to the hour of pilates that I already attend, and to work on my weak hips and glutes, as well as general body conditioning.
I’m currently researching workouts on YouTube and would be very grateful for any recommendations.
Fast Finish Long Runs
The final area I want to work on is including an occasional fast finish long run into my training, in the same way as many marathon plans. At the moment all my long runs are done at an easy pace, but I plan to incorporate some sections run at around marathon pace into a couple of my long training runs, with the intent of building greater endurance and teaching my body to maintain a faster pace even when tired. I will only do these fast finish long runs occasionally though as I need to balance the benefits against the greater risk of injury.
So, will it all work? Well, ask me after the Hardmoors 60 and I hope the answer will be “Yes!” In the meantime, I’d love to hear about changes other people have made to their training that has brought about significant improvements. You can leave any suggestions in the comments section or via social media.