As a coach I’m often asked to help runners prepare for specific events including marathons and ultramarathon events. This can be anything from providing advice on what nutrition works, to designing a training programme that is specific to the event and the runners ability including the necessary speed sessions, hill work, long runs and recovery running.
Training Plans Online
There are plenty of training plans available on the internet that cover multiple distances. These are not tailored to an individual’s personal requirements however and cannot take account of things like your work and personal commitments.
While these ultra marathon training plans tend to include all the relevant types of runs needed, I have noticed a few that, in my opinion, don’t appear to include enough down time between hard sessions. This down time can be in the form of complete rest days, doing an alternative exercise such as swimming, or days where you are recovering running which may be around 3-5 miles on the flat at an easy pace.
Resting to Recover
When you are resting, it is critical that you use the opportunity to allow your body to recover. You should get plenty of sleep, eat the right foods and hydrate as much as possible. Some runners also find a regular stretching routine beneficial. Using tools such as foam rollers and massage guns are also handy tools to have.
The trouble I find with many runners, and this can come from lack of experience, knowledge or understanding, is that they feel like they should be running as much as possible to get enough miles in. If you are training for a 50 mile event, you sometimes feel like if you don’t ramp it up and keep at it every day, you won’t be ready. This couldn’t be more wrong. Don’t let that panic make you over train. You will end up worn out or, worse, injured and completely demotivated.
For years now, the mainstream school of thought has been that recovery running is important after a hard session the day before. This is largely to get the blood flowing and “flush the legs”. While some people consider 2-3 miles to be enough, others push it to 5 or 6. There are others who believe that rest should mean rest and that a recovery run is contrary to this.
Sometimes, when waking up the day after a long training run when everything is hurting or you feel absolutely worn out, the last thing you want to do is get up and run. Equally some form of exercise will do you good at least just to get the blood flowing to start repairing the miniscule muscle tears that you may have caused during your long run. An easy bike ride, a walk with the dogs, swimming or other gentle exercise may be a good alternate to going out and pounding the pavements or tearing up the trails.
If you are going to run, don’t over do it. Keep the mileage low and slow. if you are an 8 minute miler, tone this down to between 9 and 10. Keep the heart rate low, keep the terrain easy and just take it easy! Don’t go out and bang out 8 miles at your usual pace. You will just end up fatigued or worse, injured.
Rest Should be Integral to Ultra Marathon Training
Of course, it is important to follow a training plan, to gradually increase your miles over the training period and to put in the long miles but rest and recovery in running is just as important. It is when you get the gains from your training as your muscles recover and become stronger.
Recognise When to Rest
I would always advise any runner to try to develop the ability to recognise when they need a rest as this can help them avoid picking up an injury. This can be difficult for ultramarathon training because running when fatigued can be an important part of your programme – in fact it is the specific reason for long back to back sessions. It is being able to understand when it is time to put your feet up that is important.
Ensure that there are rest days in your training programme. I don’t run more than 5 times a week. It’s a great routine to get into and gives your body those magic times to heal and repair and make you stronger for your next run.
Don’t Obsess Over the Plan
The other advice I give to runners is that you don’t have to follow the training programme rigorously, make it work for you and your life – when you’re tired, you’re tired! Take a break, don’t wait for the rest day on the programme. Switch things around and make it work for you. Missing a run because you are tired isn’t going to mean you aren’t going to be ready for your event. Resting can be just as effective!
Just as feeling rested and renewed when it comes to your body, it’s also important to recognise when your kit is old and tired. Checking out the state of your running shoes and ensuring that they are offering the right support is also important.
You can discover more about running an ultra marathon and whats involved, here.
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