Tuesday, June 05, 2012
Training Short For Going Long
One of the biggest challenges a weekend warrior faces is how to prepare for ultra endurance events when you don’t have time for long training days. Last year I experimented with this by training for Duathlon Worlds until Sept, a 1-hour race, and then targeting 3 ultra challenges in November. I primarily used P90X2, Insanity: The Asylum, and sports specific training that rarely exceeded 1.5 hrs a day. To help you create your own training program, here's a recap on how it went.
To analyze is going require some reading (click on the highlights). I posted a lot of training schedules last year so you could see what exactly I’m doing. Of course your personal plan will be different but it’s always easier if you have a reference of volume and intensity to work from.
As usual, the year began with a broad stroke training plan in December. With no goals until April, the off-season was spent with a periodizational approach focused on weaknesses. I used a lot of what was to become P90X2 during this time (above is a shot of X2 rehearsals, which went under the working title of mc2), with minimal sports specific training.
Training became targeted with more sports specific work, along with Insanity: The Asylum, for the first peak, Nats in April. Despite the worst spring weather in history, it went well and World’s was officially on. Here’s what I wrote about it:
While a lot of my sports specific fitness is nowhere near its peak my general conditioning is as good as it’s been in my life. I’ve got no acute injuries (other than some scrapes from falling off my mountain bike), my chronic pains are all at bay, and my strength base is very well rounded.
A long “recovery” period allowed me to train more outside and build-up sports specific strength for the next phase of training that would specifically focus on the world’s race. I managed a few long-ish days during this time (6-8 hours) and they went pretty well, a testament to how much having a solid fitness foundation matters. Here's some of what I said at the time. Click on it for a more in depth explanation.
Finally, sports all require specific neuro-muscular patterns (often called engrams) that, while somewhat retained, need to be refined if you plan on continual improvement. Again, these are gained by doing the actual sport. Also, if you’re training is sound you’ve gained fitness (strength, endurance, mobility) which must be taught how to perform. Play time, through specific adaptations of your training gains, will help you get stronger while you aren’t doing any actual training.
Training then became very targeted. After a block of PAP I focused solely on race-specific goals. Chronicled in a long post here (including a daily sched), you can see that training was short, intense, and targeted for an event that I expected to take about 1 hour. An injury derailed my World’s goal (though at least I managed to finish in a reasonable placing), and then it was time for break number two.
After this I became focused on November’s ultra goals: all challenges that would take between 12 and 20 hours of effort. Since one month isn’t long enough to stress and adapt effectively I had to rely on my fitness base to see me through these challenges. All training was specifically focused on other factors that can be changed quickly, such as building up skin needed in sensitive areas and getting used to eating and hydration protocols of endurance racing.
Though an early test (big climbing day) was grim a month later the results were surprisingly positive. Three big events in a month is a lot, even if you’ve trained specifically for them. As I said at the outset:
Now I’m about to test a train short/go long theory on something that is always advised against even for those who train long: three big days in a month (technically closer to 3 weeks). Let’s see what an hour of daily training can do for you when pushed into survival mode.
And while I’m certain I could have been better (faster--though we finished 3rd in a 24-hr race and beat the prior year's winning time) with more focused training my body handled these with relative ease, especially the recovery aspect. Even though the final event, the birthday challenge, wasn’t as hard as planned I was very well rested after it-—birthday challenges that have me digging deep (like this one or this one) often take months to recover from.
In conclusion, if you build a strong base and are smart about your specific training you can definitely compete in ultra events without having a lot of free time to train. Certainly longer sessions increase your ability to go fast. However, the risk of too much free time is overtraining, which is exceedingly common with amateur athletes and that can sink your results faster than being undertrained. This means that, for most of us, having “too little” time to train is probably preferable and, if done smart, will actually increase your odds of success. Finally, there is simply no doubt that P90X2 and Insanity: The Asylum are effective training programs for outdoor athletes. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find anything better.
Here is a recap of last year’s training, by numbers. It should help any outdoor athlete better understand how to work the balance between indoor and sports specific training.
And, ‘cause we all like looking at pictures, here’s a photo recap.