Since becoming relatively serious about this trail running thing, I’ve added a whole new array of terms and jargon to my lexicon and spend endless minutes each month (okay, possibly hours) reading about specific types of training, training plans, the dangers of over-training, and the whole gamut in between.
While I would certainly benefit from having a proper coach, I’m an autodidact for now. I have some big goals for 2018 and may engage the services of a professional to help me
reach them next year, but right now I’m fairly content reading and piecing together my own training schedule based on a combination of magazine subscriptions, occasional training camps (with actual professional trail runners and coaches), great advice gleaned free of charge on blogs, in articles and on websites, and questions put to my trail running friends who have been at this longer than me and appear to either know what they’re doing intuitively and/or work with a professional coach.
When preparing for a “big” race, I try to organize my training into blocks. I begin by building up the foundations, hitting the trails and running kilometres, with the aim of increasing my aerobic base and weekly mileage, and being comfortable. The aim in this first phase is to ease into things and get my body into good running shape for the upcoming season. This process lasts about a month in the new year, to get things rolling again after an end-of-season rest period.
The second phase then takes a somewhat more structured approach and gains momentum as I move toward my goal. I generally aim to run five days a week, with one or two sessions each week aimed at building speed and/or power, and at least one long run with a more significant amount of vertical.
A typical training week during this phase might look like this:
- Monday: rest day
- Tuesday: 40-minute easy run with 8 x 30-second strides every 2 minutes
- Wednesday: 60 to 90-minute group trail run with friends (conversational pace)
- Thursday: rest day (+ a core strength class on Thursday evenings)
- Friday: 60 to 75-minute run incorporating some form of regular- or hill intervals
- Saturday: 60 to 90-minute trail run at a conversational pace
- Sunday: 2 to 3-hour trail run, with as much vertical as possible
My race goals for the 2017 season are primarily in the 40-50km range, with 1500-2500 meters of vertical per race. In my current training, I aim to run at least 50km per week and get in a minimum of 1500 meters of vert (the more the merrier!).
I am currently 4-weeks away from my first B race of the season (i.e., kind of important, although not quite my #1 goal for the year). It is generally accepted that you want to be at your best 4 weeks prior to a major goal since many coaches feel that by that point there isn’t really enough time left to get any better – particularly since the last two weeks before a big race generally involve some form of “tapering” or a decrease in the intensity of training to ensure that you arrive on race day feeling fresh and in tip-top shape (for the races I do, this does not mean doing nothing, just monitoring intensity and possibly reducing distance somewhat, particularly in the 5 days prior to the race).
Making the best of the long weekend
Given all the above, I wanted to get in a good long run this past weekend – and a perfect opportunity presented itself when our friends Seb and Caro invited us to their ski chalet in the Beaufortain region of the French Alps for a couple of days over the Easter weekend.
While some dreamed of chocolate, I laced up my shoes and hit the mountain trails around Arèches on Saturday. I discussed possible itineraries with our hosts on Friday night and decided on two loops of about 14km each that would allow me to refuel, notably with water, at the mid-way mark (I always carry food with me).
So off I headed on Saturday morning towards the Col du Pré. The first ascent was about 700m of vertical over roughly 4 kilometres. Gaël, Saskia, Seb and Caro offered to meet me at the top, as they were heading out on a hike. They figured it would take me an hour to get up to the pass, but I actually arrived in 45 minutes so had to wait a while for them to arrive. After a bit of a visit and a kilometre or so together, I headed towards the Crètes du Bersend and La Têtaz. Quite quickly I was running through snow, making it at times a bit challenging to follow the trail. I made friends with the tracks of a person who had recently run the same trail in Altras – and I tried to follow their distinct shoe markings through the snow whenever I had a doubt.
Things got a bit more complicated when I got to La Têtaz and my next destination wasn’t indicated on the directional signpost. Given that I knew the approximate direction, I pushed on… A few kilometres later I realized why the sign had been removed when I came upon the remains of a giant landslide that I’d heard about last year. I was not keen on turning back at this point, so I pushed on and crossed the rocks, trees and debris, making sure that the footing was secure as I went. By the time I’d crossed most of the way I could see some chalets a bit further down and, when I failed to find a trail on the other side of the landslide, I cut across some fields and arrived in the hamlet of le Bersend. Not exactly what I had planned, but I knew there were trails heading back to Arèches, so I had nothing to fear! Despite a detour from my original route, this first loop was still 14.4km long, although despite being faster on the first uphill, I was slower than anticipated overall due to the snowy patches and unexpected landslide crossing.
I munched down a divine sandwich as I passed back through the village of Arèches on my way to the second trail head. Well, actually, I never found the second trail I had intended to take, but I eventually settled on another route and headed up a different mountain towards Cuvy (the top of the ski hill out of Arèches). While the sun was shining in the morning, by the afternoon the weather had clouded over and the temperature had dropped a bit. I ran through some more snow and on the icy remains of some cross-country ski tracks just before reaching the top, and also had to crawl my way over a few fallen trees on the way up the trail.
A run-in with a British hiker at the top of Cuvy brightened my spirits and I was pleased when he confirmed that I was only about six kilometres from Arèches – and that it was a rolling downhill trail all the way back to town!
I returned to the chalet to find that three more friends had arrived in the afternoon –
and that everyone (…except for Saskia) was enjoying an afternoon nap. The rest of the day was spent catching up with friends and enjoying some good company. After my 27km and 1700 meters of vertical for the day, the evening’s raclette dinner was a truly welcome delight! And I wasn’t even the first to hit the sack.
Although my overall time was nothing to brag about, I was pleased that my body reacted well to the long run and that I wasn’t particularly tired or sore when I finished. This will be a moderate training week and next week will be my last full-load week of training before beginning to scale back in early May in the lead-up to the 44km Maratrail race at the Challenge Vallée de Drôme on May 14th.