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Assorted Topics on Training and Racing

Training Basics
Personalizing your training is one of the most underrated parts of race preparation. It is too easy to caught up in the sport media generic advice, magazines' and books' training strategies, and elite athletes' coaching tips and training schedules. For most of us, due to the natural differences in our genetic abilities, lifestyles and other factors, the only aspects of elite athletes' regiments that we can copy unpunished is their equipment, apparel, and nutrition. Remember, "natural ability" is something one gets after years of dedicated training. While talent and physiology contributed to the elites' ability to train and race at their levels, it is mainly training that allows them to produce performances that separate them from us. What we must do is train within our own means rather than blindly imitate any other athletes.

"No pain, no gain!" - this old adage remains as valid for ultra-distance racing as for any other endurance sport. You can't train at very low heart rates and expect to race at the higher heart rate! You can't do your training runs at walking speed and be surprised that you can't even run slow in the race! There is no escape from hard work and pain in training. But equally true is the possibility of "loosing your race in training". While hard work needed in order to be able to perform at the maximum, it is surprisingly easy to destroy yourself in training. Generally, this could be a result of training at too high of intensity. This is especially tempting to the new athletes whose previous experience has been with a pace unsustainable in ultra distances (nevertheless, even in ultra events athletes tend to go out at a faster pace than planned and trained for). What the beginners need to accomplish in training is to extend their distance range: to train their bodies to better utilize fuel resources for extended lengths of time (as opposite to the shorter races where goal is to maximize ability to expend fuel). Hopefully, during the race this will allow to achieve a frugal equilibrium of maintaining optimum (and fast) pace without depleting energy stores.

For these reasons, beginners need to make two adjustments to their normal training program. First, they need to adapt to a slower pace. Second, they must consider the weekly long distance session. Both could be a painful adjustments. Once the distance became "digestible", time reduction can be approached in future efforts. The runner going for a first 50-miler should have done at least two or three runs in the 35-40 mile range in the preceding couple of months. During these training sessions it is very important that the athlete will work on consuming variety of nutrition and hydration choices to prepare for the race conditions. It is also important that these training sessions will prepare the athlete for possible race conditions (weather, geography, speed). For example, runner may want to experience some point of the training run as a walker. Run/walk is the technique of choice for many ultra athletes, and if one has not prepared for the walking sections it may be surprising that walking can become a painful effort in itself rather than a welcome relief from the pounding of running.

Proper and complete recovery from training is another often discarded factor. Training for a race is like baking cookies - they are always better a little underdone than overbaked. The tendency to overtrain, to make up for lost time or sick day, is a common problem for most endurance athletes. The moment we are not training, we know that someone else does; if we had a bad race recently, we try to gear up the mileage and intensity; if we feeling weak, we try to compensate by training harder. We forget that our bodies get stronger through our ability to absorb hard training through recovery. Recovery just as important as training because it's part of conditioning process, the part where our bodies heal, get stronger, and prepare themselves for the harder efforts in the future. So stay commited to the "cookies philosophy" - find comfort in knowing that it's better to enter the event "underdone" and fresh, perhaps even undertrained, than to be overbaked and burned, with nowhere to go but to the trash bucket.




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