If you’ve just raced in the last few weeks, you might find this article resonates with you. For many, the joy and satisfaction of having completed an ultra is replaced with the ‘what next?’ Some may have their sights firmly on a race in the next few months and all of their training lined up, but many might be enjoying the downtime, thinking about what to do next.
But if your race is a few months away, how do you keep the motivation and the focus going? So how should you approach it?
Here are my five tips that I hope will help you on your journey to the next big ultra.
1.) Enjoy the rest and recovery
As ultra runners, taking time off is extremely hard for us. We love to run, which is why we do it in the first place. However we can also incredibly paranoid about losing our fitness and running streaks too. It’s very hard to not look at other runners around us and marvel at how they go from one race to the next – but that has its downsides, and the big one is injury and longer-term self-preservation. Your body might be able to handle being on the go constantly for a few years, but it will catch-up with you. Understanding the pressures and limits of your body is very important towards keeping it in shape and healthy.
On a personal level, I’m a big fan of having time off. I think it’s extremely good for you in terms of getting better and better as a runner. It also fits nicely with the philosophy behind Ultra168. The notion of 168 hours in a week and choosing how you spend your time and where your priorities are. Sure running is an important part of what we do, but never forget the other really important stuff too like family and down-time. I have noticed that after a period of down-time I always come back fitter and stronger as a result, but not just physically, mentally too.
Don’t worry about losing the fitness, you get it back just as quickly as you lose it and you’ll come back a stronger runner because of it.
2.) Mix up the training
Do you do the same programme over and over again, week by week? Does it feel monotonous and boring at times? If so, mix up your training when you have a period of downtime and try some new things. Indeed, there are core elements of your training programme that you’ll still need as part of your overall regime, but why not try something a little different to the norm?
That could be having some fun with some of the weekly hill reps you do and mixing those up, or maybe focus on doing shorter more intense training around a track if you’ve never done it before – but approach carefully and with ease first time around! Reducing the mileage in training is a good thing for your body, but the quality can still be high. So much so, that in this so-called dead zone of training, you could actually find yourself becoming even fitter – you simply up the mileage as and when you know what you’re racing next.
3.) Run for the hell of it!
Sometimes we can be slaves to counting the mileage and the time per run too. While this is great for when you’re focused on a race, sometimes, it’s just nice to simply run and enjoy yourself, helping you to remind yourself why you started running in the first place.
We run because we think it’s fun and enjoyable, so just stick on your trainers and head out the door with no idea of where or how long you might want to run.
Go run with a mate or two as well… nothing passes the time as well as training with others, plus it makes you more competitive too if you have someone nudging you along the way or vice versa!
4.) Head somewhere new
Humans are creatures of habit. We tend to stick to what we know, and that’s true of us as trail runners also. We head to the same places over and over again, mainly out of convenience, but also out of comfort too. It might be that a specific training ground is what’s needed for our race to replicate it as much as possible.
A bit of downtime is a great chance to head out and explore trails that you might not normally go to. It’s a chance to get lost (not too lost!), to not worry about times and generally have some fun in a new place. Who knows you may even discover a route to incorporate into your next training block. Get out from the norm and change things up a bit.
5.) Have a goal in mind
In saying that you need to be free and easy, you do need some focus sooner or later. If your big race is another five months away and you haven’t started ‘proper’ training, set yourself some mini goals or races as a build-up to the overall bigger race. You may have heard the notion of A, B and C races. While a race is a race i.e. you toe the start line and it’s competitive, different people use races for different goals or stepping-stones, relative to where their training is at. The reality is that most runners will only have 2, maybe 3 ‘A’ races in a year. These are races that you’ll drive yourself into the ground for.
‘B’ races are those ones you use as a build-up for the ‘A’ races. You’ll still run hard, but there is a bigger picture to think about. Doing this also helps you to set expectations as well. I use ‘B’ races as a way to prepare myself for the ‘A’ races and fine tune anything that needs to be done ahead of the big dance.
Those are some of my basic tips if you find yourself in a period of downtime right now – what are your best tips for staying focused between races?