“Train like a Mother” – The (so-called) Guide to Effective Training

So after the razz-matazz of a watch launch, we get back to the first world problems in life – how to train effectively. The first thing to note that this article is not about telling you what training you should be doing. It’s merely a guide and an overview of how I personally structure my training, as well as insights from others I know and have learnt from. As always, we welcome your comments and thoughts, and if you do it differently, we’d love to get your opinion too.

The Status Quo

I’m sure we’re all guilty at times of going through the motions and filling the weekly mileage with 10-15km ‘easy’ runs and then a longer run at the weekend. Then we wonder why we don’t quite hit the performances we would like in actual races? A familiar sounding story? The answer could be that while we’re training, we not ‘really’ training. Of course there are two camps, those that are happy to just run and are not bothered about improving per se, and there are those that are. Both are perfectly valid and we all run for different reasons… but if you want to improve, see what you think of the below…

All the gear and no idea

A few years ago, I was one of these ‘just run’ and see what happens kind of guys. I never had a real plan, I would just run and see what happened. Then one day I started training properly with a bunch of mates and all of that changed as each session had a specific purpose and a goal.

But what is effective training and how do we go about it? I posed this question again on our Facebook page last week and got some great responses. Two in particular stood out for me:

Anna Papji commented, “There is no such thing as over-training, only under-recovery. Every training session should have a purpose. Your nutrition should be geared towards performance. Rest, recovery, prehab/rehab should all be built-in.”

Keith Bearne added a great quote from Christian Thibaudeau: ‎”The more you can train without exceeding your capacity to recover, the more you’ll progress.”

So there we have it! It’s all about your ability to recover. But surely there’s more to it than just recovery? Indeed there is, and it’s pretty simple in our book; “Train like a Mother”. But with that training, recovery it seems is the answer towards making your training effective and for improvements to be made.

But what type of training are you doing to ensure that you’re hanging on for dear life for that recovery and then recovering well to tackle the next week of training?

Bearing in mind that most of us have day-jobs and that training involves getting up at 5am to make the most of our already precious day, here are a few tips from us…

Trick the mind…

So what should/does training look like?  To begin with, my ‘week’, now starts on a Friday? Why? Well the rationale for this is that typically most people tend to see Monday as the start of the week, which given that most people leave their long runs until the weekend, means that you’re banking on making up a lot of your mileage on one of the last runs of your ‘week’.

A simple psychological change means that come Sunday, I’m already up to around 70kms for the week and mentally I think that makes a huge difference to how I perceive my training. It’s not for everyone, but for me the slight change has worked brilliantly.

The Long run…

When we first started out running, long runs would be more of a social event, which to some extent they certainly are as it’s great to catch up with mates. But if you want to improve, the long run (as one of the most important runs of the week), is not a bush walk with a picnic at the halfway mark.

Go hard or go home at the weekend..

At Ultra168, long runs have specific time goals set to them with splits along the way to keep us in check. Yes you heard that right, there are splits aligned to training runs. This was particularly important when training for the GNW 100 miler, and the week in week out run from Cedar Brush to Congewai and back. Splits we taken at different markers along the course to beat each week. Having done that section so many times in training (and what I think is the hardest section of GNW), on race day, it was a breeze and for me personally, the most enjoyable section of the entire race. I had so much fun bounding into the Basin an hour up on my splits, and it was because I’d run every nook and cranny of that section beforehand.

So you’ve done 60kms on Saturday… what does Sunday look like?

Recovering from the weekend

Now, there’s a few schools of thought here. Some might say that after a 60kms training session on Saturday, Sunday and maybe Monday should be slightly ‘easier’. Well indeed, to some extent they are. Sunday could well be a rest day, but personally I like to get out for a very light 10kms or so, just to make sure the legs know they’re in training. But what of Monday? Normally it’s the day after the day after that gets to people, and I think this is where the most gains are to be had for improving your training.

We’re lucky enough here at Ultra168 to have some single track trail along the Sydney Harbour foreshore to thrash ourselves on. While it does not have a huge amount of climb, it has enough ‘pinchy’ hills to keep you interested. Coupled with a few detours up some stairs every now and again, this run is where a lot of the gains are made. It hurts running this one hard, but if done week in and week out, the legs slowly become used to the pain you inflict on them following the bashing at the weekend, and a certain degree of ‘hardness’ is built up here over time. Not only that, but because it’s on trail and uneven, you need to watch your feet and consciously pick them up. With tired weekend legs, this can be a challenge, but it’s again why we do this run and not some simple road run where you can jog with your eyes closed. 100% concentration is required at all times.

Hills, Hills and More Hills

The dreaded hills session, AKA the session of the week that we enjoy the most. In some regards, while this is a hills session, it’s also a tempo session given that its run at pace too. The name of the game is to find a hill or as many hills as you can, preferably over 500m in length, but nearer 1km if you can and with around 70-80m of elevation from start to finish. Then proceed to run up, but then run down as quickly as your body will allow you. No chilling on the descent or walking down… the most important thing is the downhill. If you’re slamming it downhill, it means your ability to recover has been enhanced and you’re generally getting fitter and fitter – or so the theory goes! There’s that word recovery again…

We think hills training rocks!

Here at Ultra168, a staple Tuesday run is 20kms of up and downhills as fast as we can. On occasion, some of us have been known to get up at 3:30am and attempt 3 laps of our hills circuit. Just make sure you have no meetings in the diary that day 🙂

The Road Run

As trail runners, we can often be some-what mistaken for bush walkers, what with all the hills and walking that goes on in 100 mile races. However, believe it or not, we do actually venture onto the road now and again, and for 1.5 hours each week we’ll smash the bitumen up with a slightly ‘pacier’ run to the cafe for a soy latte. Again, there’s no real let-up here, this is done at a less than comfortable pace so that you’re not sharing tips on how to shave your legs or how many calories you’ve not eaten this week. As always, make sure there’s some good hills in there too, and that you’re running up them.

The Track Sessions (Shhhhhh, don’t tell the marathon runners)

Yes indeed, you heard it here first. Apparently ultra-runners hit the track. But not the real track like proper athletes, just an oval, with some grass and some trees to make it appear as if we’re in the bush. There’s a variety of things you can do here, but one of our favs is the pyramid of 400m sprints with 90 sec recovery in between. This is generally where the frothing at the mouth and the feeling of wanting to be sick comes into play. But a pain au chocolate and cappuccino afterwards helps us overcome these feelings, and all is good after an hour of sheer hell 🙂

The Day Off

Cake is your friend... but only one day a week 🙂

Ultra-runners struggle with this. For us it’s all about how kms we’ve done in a week. We started this article talking about recovery, and that’s what it’s all about. The above stuff is just a guide, and note that the word ‘easy’ doesn’t even come into play here. It’s all done to make you feel like you’re working. So when those precious day’s off come, make sure you use them wisely. Eat well, sleep well and stretch, stretch and stretch some more. My chiropractor (whom I’ve seen far too many times), uses the car analogy:

“The body is like a car. It needs oil and it needs maintenance. If you neglect to feed it and look after it, eventually it will just grind to a halt.”

No truer a phrase is there in running. It’s your ability to recover from all of this on a weekly basis that will determine how capable you are of doing it all over again the following week, and the week after that and then the week after that. Indeed, if you’re training for a 100 miler – for 10-12 weeks.

This is what we mean by ‘Train like a Mother’. There is no ‘easy’ in training if you want to get better and better and see your times improve. By the end of your training period you should as Mr. Vize puts it, “be hanging on for dear life for that taper”.

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Dan on Twitter
I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

15 thoughts on ““Train like a Mother” – The (so-called) Guide to Effective Training

  1. thats one approach
    rule 1: run every day
    rule 2: run 300k per month
    rule 3: run one Hills Aths track session per week
    rule 4: race one hills Aths 3k race per month
    easy really

  2. Like this Dan, makes a lot of sense. The only concern is building to this level without injury. This sort of shock to the system would probably knock my body into a premature hole in the ground. Would be useful to talk about building to this sort of level or similar. For example given I am aiming for my 1st ultra in September, starting from a low base how do we build to allow the last 10 weeks to be a serious challenge.

  3. quality training….. quality rest !
    i dont do recovery runs but do cross training on days after hard running,eg:boxing,yoga,surfing.
    bikram yoga has been great for streching and flexability and heat resistance
    boxing great for cardio and upper body strength and toning
    surfing great for lung workout and theres no stress on the body plus its fun.

  4. A very interesting and useful post Dan, especially for those like me about to set foot on our first programme aimed at an ultra. My question and perhaps one that others will also ask is about how you get to this stage. I think my body would literally throw itself into a grave if I tried this regime right now. Given that I am aiming at a first 100k in September, how do we build to a level, without serious risk of injury, where we can have 10 quality weeks of serious training as per above leading into our first event.

  5. Definitely a very interesting post! However, I still think that whilst this has provided some good guidance of the changes required in one’s training program – especially for someone who is going into ultra-running for the first time – the runner him/herself still need to listen and work with their body so as to avoid injuries. I have been a consistent road runner since 2007, ran two marathons and countless half marathons. This year I decided to give ultra a go and have been increasing my weekly mileage and doing more hill training since early December 2001. Two weeks ago, my achilles started to ache and once or twice during my run, a random, sharp pain would go down my left achilles but it would be fine for the rest of the run. Significantly cut back on my mileage in the last two weeks and when I ran again last weekend, it was fine again. So, what I learnt from that lesson was, again, listen to your body, respect it (especially when it demands decent rest), and it’ll work better for you & with you in the long haul.

    1. Thanks for posting Shez. Indeed listening to your body is vital too. Knowing when to cut back if you suspect injury is vital… but if you’re tired? Just keeping going I say, if you think you can. I had this instance last night… 2 hours sleep the night before from screaming babies, stinking humidity and a crappy day at the office. I got home shattered, but being tired wasn’t an excuse… so I went out and ran, and I felt so much better for it afterwards… BUT it is a fine line… I paid for it this morning on my stairs training!

  6. Definitely one of my favourite articles you guys have posted. There are so many different ways to achieve your goals in training and racing so it is great to read how others put it all together. Especially those who have some impressive results. As noted this weekly set won’t suit everyone. Some will break down with the approach, but it does highlight what is required to force big improvement.

    It would be great if this was the start of a series of articles in the same style/format on how different runners put together their training. Exploring the differences and what is common between everyone would be invaluable.

    1. Great feedback Jason, and thanks for taking the time to pen some thoughts about other things we could look at. I’ll whack them on the agenda for sure.

      As you point out this is not for everyone, and indeed, we would always advise caution when embarking on a programme of training. It does take time to build up, but you can certainly look to incorporate various parts of the above programme one at a time, but also with less distance too. So, take for example the road run or hills, simply cut that in half to begin with and then gradually build up to the intensity. The thing is to have a plan, and then tweak and adjust as you see fit.

      One of the main points I think we’re trying to make too, is to make sure you train with your specific race in mind and what elements of that race you’ll need to work on in training. In my head, the long run and hills training are two of the most essential parts of the weekly mileage, but they’re often the runs that people neglect or do half-heartedly. Why? Because it’s hard graft…When you’re in a race, it’s very easy to spot the people who do hill work and those that don’t.

  7. nice post as usual Dan. It would be great to see how other people train and what kind of mileage they do. I do super low mileage but this seems to work out ok as im still making gains. Once i stop seeing gains i think then will be the time to increase mileage. I want to run for a long time and not burn out in the first few years. i think thats important to think about too.

    kedumba reps this weekend? 6am start, go as hard as you can for 4 repeats. whose keen?

  8. Ian,
    I know I started running with the long term goal of running until I die. I’ve always run low mileage though will end up with some 100mile + weeks when I go on an adventure or do a big race. I went to a Nic Bideau coaching clinic a few years back and the main thing I took out of it was everybody is a different animal. For example I have a friend who runs intervals year round and sub 1.50 for 800m at his best. I’ve run 230K+ for 24 hours never do intervals but we run similar times for 10-12k races.

  9. Such a good read…thanks to Andre Blumberg who introduced me to this blog site. Made me realize a lot of things about training…running is ain’t simple–there’s a system into it.

  10. Definitely a great post with a fresh take on training. I also stumbled onto this blog thanks to a link posted by Rashel. Hope you guys do more articles on this topic.

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