The Dead Zone – Keeping your training focused in quieter times

As we hit the middle of the year, the Australian calendar as far as trail ultras is concerned takes a little bit of a back seat. For those of us who haven’t been lucky enough to secure a spot in an overseas race, it’s a few months away yet until the major trail ultras kick-start the end of the year – and what a list there is to choose from: Glasshouse 100s, The Surf Coast Century, GOW100, The Hume and Hovell 50&100, GNW100s and then Coast to Kosi.

But if your race is a few months away, how do you keep the motivation and the focus going? If you run trails and ultras, then more than likely you took part in the North Face 100km back in May. That leaves a long five months before Glasshouse, which is recognised as the one that kicks off the ultra season later on in the year.

Five months is a long time to keep the training and indeed focus sharp ahead of your next big race, so how should you approach it? We’ve pulled together four little tips that we hope will help you on your journey to the next big ultra. As always, these are merely some suggestions, and we’d love to hear any of your tips too that you’d like to share in the comments.

1.) Take some time off! (and eat cake)

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’re also incredibly paranoid about losing our fitness and running streaks too. When I first got into this game, I’d look at other runners around me and would marvel at how they used to go from one race to the next – but that has its downsides, and the big one is injury and long-term self-preservation. Sure, your body might be able to handle being on the go constantly for a few years, but it will catch-up with you.

Winner winner chicken dinner!

There’s a school of thought, particularly amongst us boys here at Ultra168 that having time off is actually extremely good for you in terms of getting better and better as a runner. We’re all pretty religious about having 6-8 weeks off at any given period over the course of the year and we have noticed that we’ve come back fitter and stronger as a result. It’s not rocket science really is it? If your body feels knackered and worn out, it’s trying to tell you something. If you’ve plateaued in training and you’re not improving, again someone is trying to tell you something.

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 it up

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?

I’m currently in my own period of ‘downtime’ and decided (with the help of Messrs Vize and Warner), to change things up. Instead of the usual stuff and knocking over a generic 15kms each day I hit the oval and did speed work, as well as finding some of the steepest hills in the mountainous suburb that is Rozelle in Inner West Sydney 🙂

No Douchegrade in training please!

Overall, my weekly kms have reduced drastically, but the quality of them have been second to none. So much so, that in this so-called dead zone of training, I’m the quickest I’ve ever been over 1km. It all bodes well for when the proper training starts and has also made me reconsider my approach to training for the bigger stuff later in the year. You may have heard the term ‘douchegrade’ banded around recently, our advice is to make sure that your training doesn’t contain any of it!

3.) Leave the watch at home and just run with your mates

Sometimes we can be slaves to the bit of rubber around our wrists as we record every detail we can about our runs. Sometimes, it’s just nice to leave the damn thing at home and not worry about average pace per km, how much elevation we’ve done or what your average heart rate was compared to this time last year. 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. Last Saturday, a group of us headed up to the Blue Mountains and did reps of Mount Solitary. While we all had fun, there were no passengers or hand-holding along the way and it soon became quite an incentive to make sure that you weren’t lapped or lost any time against the others. Five hours on the trails flew by.

4.) 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 4-5 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. Here at Ultra168 we have ‘A’ & ‘B’ races. The reality is that most runners will only have 2, maybe 3 ‘A’ races in a year. These are races that you’ll 100% committed to and are going to run your absolute best in, driving yourself into the ground.

‘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.

As we said, it’s not an exhaustive list, but we hope that a few of these will help you to keep the focus during winter here in Australia as we await the big races further down the track.

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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.

10 thoughts on “The Dead Zone – Keeping your training focused in quieter times

  1. Good advice Dan, ‘downtime’ is also a good time to reacquaint yourself with family 🙂
    So I take it UTMB is not happening for you then or is this a new training approach?

    1. UTMB not happening Spud for precisely the reasons you articulate… other things are just more important and there’s just so much good racing to be had over this side of the world too.

  2. Speaking of ‘B’ grade races. How would you approach them as far as how much effort you put in on race day? Do you still go out there to run your best and hardest and if things don’t go well just cruise to the finish, or if things go well then push hard through to the finish? I think I’d find it hard to sign up for a ‘race’ and not give it everything including the kitchen sink. I’m really new to ultra’s and marathon racing so any light you could shed would be great!

    1. I don’t subscribe to the b race mentality. When you pay your entry fee and pin a no. To your chest you’re there to find out how fast you can go. If you do have to do a b race then run long the day before and use it as a recovery.

  3. I think it’s natural to eventually lose the enthusiasm for a sport or hobby. But distance running is easy to get back into provided you keep ticking over in the quiet years with about 45 km or so a week mixed in with whatever other activity you are doing. That’s been my approach for 40 years: never stop running completely. When I was really keen on the cross-country skiing, I still ran a bit, then drifted into the ultra-running about 13 years ago.

    And back to the original topic, if you can’t face another long run, you can get a big benefit from a day of bushwalking. I’m able to fit in about two days of walking a week lately. Some days, in the wilder areas, it takes 6 hours to cover 10 km but I feel more fatigued the day after than if I had done a 5 hour training run.

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