The Performance Project partnered with Ultra Trail Drakensberg to write this blog. This one covered what to do in training 8 – 12 weeks before a mountain trail race.
Two to three months before a race is an interesting window of time. The race feels close and far away all at the same time. Some athletes may feel very fit at this stage, while others may be behind where they hoped or planned to be. A lot can happen in 12 weeks time in terms of gaining strength and fitness, so if you feel behind in your training – don’t stress! By following the below tips, you will be well on your way to being race ready.
How many hours per week, or km per week you spend training should be customized to your unique training history, injury history, and other commitments you have in your life such as work and family. Training load is hugely variable at the ultramarathon distances – it’s all about finding the volume that works best for you.
Volume should be increasing, but not be at peak yet. If the race you are preparing for is one of your “A” races for the year and you want to hit peak form on race day, your biggest training weeks will be in the 4 – 8 weeks before race day. One way to figure out the volume to hit in the 8 – 12 weeks before the race, is to plan how many hours per week or km per week you want to do in your biggest training weeks. Working backwards from there, you will want your biggest week(s) of training in the 8 – 12 weeks before race day to be approximately 15 – 25% less.
The long run can be broken up into 2, 3, or even 4-day training blocks. At a certain distance/duration in a long run, the return on investment will diminish and it will take you too long to recover and increase your risk of overuse injury. You will be able to cover more distance by selecting a few weeks where you do a 2 – 4-day training block and you will be able to recover quicker.
Recovery weeks are a crucial part of training and should be taken once every 3 – 6 weeks. Novice or injury -prone runners should implement a recovery week once every 3 weeks, while more experienced or injury-resistant runners can implement one every 4 – 6 weeks. How much to reduce your training in these weeks will depend on your current overall fatigue and muscle soreness. Take the extra time to get a massage, visit your physiotherapist, rest, and prepare for the coming weeks of training.
The closer you get to race day, the more specific your training should get. What does specific entail? Some key points include intensity, elevation gain, terrain, altitude, and your race equipment.
Don’t forget to hike as part of your training. Most runners in a mountain trail race will do a good amount of hiking throughout the race. Efficient hiking form takes practice and is often under-utilised in training. If you plan to hike the uphills during the race, then start hiking uphill in your longer training runs. If you plan to use trekking poles during a race, you should also use these during several training runs to work on technique, finding a good rhythm, and when and how you will store them away.
Race day should not be the first time you run with a full running pack. Study the required gear list now and start planning some training runs where you will run with all the required gear in your running pack. It will be useful to train with the full weight and will also help you understand how to best pack all the materials so the ones you need often are most accessible.
A good nutrition plan can improve performance, help speed the recovery process, and reduce risk of overuse injury.
Keep a nutrition log after long runs. Write down what you ate and drank during each long run of approximately 80 minutes or longer. Calculate how many calories and carbohydrate per hour you managed to eat/drink. This will provide useful context and will aid in your planning for race day nutrition.
Training for mountain trail races requires a lot of energy. It is important to be well fuelled, so you have adequate energy to perform your training sessions. We will cover sports nutrition more thoroughly in a separate post, but for now – food is fuel and ultrarunners need a lot of it!