Building an Ultra-Strong Base
Winter is the time to adopt an aerobic- and strength-conditioning program
The trails are ankle deep in slippery mud and the days are short. You may welcome these changes as an excuse ...
Photo by Justin Bastien
It's winter. The trails are ankle deep in slippery mud and the days are short. You may welcome these changes as an excuse to slack off on your training—in fact this is the time to increase your training volume, especially if you aspire to run ultras.
Why? "Off-season" training develops maximal oxygen uptake, improves economy of movement, improves cardiac output, increases blood volume, increases the capillary network that feeds the muscles and increases the volume of glycolytic and oxidative enzymes in his muscles—the very essence of aerobic activities.
To lay your foundation for becoming a stronger trail runner, employ three types of training: long, steady aerobic running, hill running and strength training. But the process takes a few months so don't dally during the holidays.
Says Brian Morrison, 32, a second-place finisher at the 2007 White River 50 Mile National Championship, "Winter base building is absolutely critical to racing well through the spring and summer. These base miles prep your body for the more taxing mileage that follows in the race-season build up."
Adam Lint, 27, of Seattle, Washington, puts in 100 to 120 miles per week during his winter conditioning phase. In 2008, his approach paid off with a third-place finish in the USA 100K Road Championship and a second in the White River 50-mile Trail Championship. "Running is a year-round sport, and that is one of the things I love about it. Even when resting it is important to stay active," says Lint. "In 2008 I cross trained in the pool and in the gym on my easy days and after races."
Phase 1: Aerobics Class
Getting your body used to moving continuously for long periods is the main requirement for ultrarunning. Your off-season focus should be on running slower than in the racing season, and going for higher volume to maximize your aerobic conditioning, train your slow- and fast-twitch muscle fibers and "teach" your body to efficiently burn carbohydrate and fats. This endurance base will enable you to safely incorporate speedier training as you approach racing season.
"The key to winter base building is to keep it pretty easy," says Morrison. "A common mistake is to run overly hard in the winter and come out feeling flat and over-trained by spring. I try to do one day a week of tempo running from three to six miles on flat terrain, while the rest of the week is very easy running."
Gradually lengthening your long runs over a period of eight to 10 weeks should be your primary goal. A typical training schedule contains at least one long run per week and one or two medium distance runs (see sidebar).