Montane Lakeland 50 & 100 Training Plan 2023 - Before you try to go faster, stop slowing down
We are edging closer to the start of the plan for the 2023 Montane Lakeland 50 & 100. In last week's post we discussed why enjoyment is key, this week we discuss the 2nd principle... 'Specificity is Key'. I'm aware that I dragged on a bit last week so have set myself a clear objective of keeping this post short and to the point.
The law of sports specificity is very simple, your training plan for any event should mimic the physiological (and psychological) stresses of the event itself, as closely as possible. We need to identify the demands of the event, then implement them into the training plan. There is of course a limit to how closely you would mimic the event in training. You wouldn't train for a marathon by running 26 miles as fast as you possibly can, you'd save that for race day only. The purpose of training is to merely 'prepare' you as best possible for the event, but the event itself may actually be far more demanding that any single training session you have ever completed.
It's important to accept that your training will most likely never include completing a 50 mile run on mountain terrain, as quickly as you possibly can. The full event will always be harder than any single training session you may do in the next 10 months. Perhaps that's why people feel like they've never done enough and are always under prepared.
There's 2 parts to sports specificity. The first is to identify the specific demands of the event you will train for. The 2nd is to then mimic those demands within the training plan to prepare you as best possible. So let's start by giving some examples of the specific demands of the event:
1. It's 50 or 105 miles, which hopefully you already knew. So if you've ran a marathon, then this event is at least double the distance. Times will generally be 10-40 hours depending on the distance (50 or 105), that's a lot of time on your feet and a lot of stress on your body.
2. When you completed a marathon, you probably ran most or all of it. Your longest training run was most likely 18-20 miles and you probably ran the bulk of that too. Due to the nature of the terrain and the distance involved at Lakeland, most people will walk AT LEAST half of the course. If you're asking the question 'how long should my longest run be' then reset your brain. You'll be walking much of the uphill and then 'perhaps' jogging the flats and the downs. It's not marathon running, it's ultra trekking.
3. There's a lot of uppy and downy bits on the course. The uppy bits are hard work and physically demanding, but the downy bits cause significant damage to your muscles due to the 'eccentric / braking' nature of the muscle contractions. This causes muscle tissue damage, cell walls split open and the contents leak into your blood. The best part is, you don't event know this is happening because it takes 48 hours for the resulting inflammatory reaction to hit a peak. So on the Tuesday post-race when you're sliding down the stairs on your ass because your legs are screaming with pain. Remember that was happing 'live' on the descent to Mardale Head.
4. The technical terrain underfoot makes running more difficult, especially at night. The darkness also makes navigation harder, which reminds me.. you need to know the course or be a confident navigator.
5. Carrying a pack adds significant weight, which makes the uppy bits harder and increases the tissue damage caused by the downy bits. It can also cause severe chaffing on back and shoulders.
Hopefully you're still with me and you haven't left this blog post to see what the terms and conditions are for refunds. Don't bother, you've already accepted them, we own you now...
There's a fair few things above to consider when we are planning our training program. From experience, most people try to jump in far too quickly and either get injured or 'burn out' either physically or mentally far too early. The plan therefore needs to be progressive, as we're only really interested in your fitness and health in July. Whilst we're on the subject let's stop and discuss BURN OUT. It's important to understand that training is more than physiological. You can't just put some numbers into an algorithm and create a performance. Of those who don't train consistently, lack of physical fitness or injury will only account for a small number. The large remainder won't go out of the door because they simply don't want to. They've lost their mojo, can't be arsed... whatever you want to call it. I've no doubt that some people are following this plan and joining this group for the support. Coaches love physiology, data and numbers. But ultimately, it all starts with your head. See last week's blog.
To help avoid BURN OUT, training plans can be broken into cycles or phases. For our purposes, we'll do a 'general' phase and then a 'specific' phase. The general phase is to establish the necessary foundations, whilst the specific phase will prepare you for the specific demands of the event. For example, the specific phase may involve plenty of running with your event pack and practicing your event nutrition strategy. We can do that stuff later, we don't need to be so specific now as it's far too early. Don't put your Christmas Decs up this week, it'll wear off by December.
Endurance & Resilience are key
It'll come as no surprise that I use the words endurance & resilience when talking about the Lakeland 50 & 100, but let's consider what the actually mean. In the last 15 years there has been a shift away from the classic aerobic training models towards high intensity training. High intensity training promises the same gains within a much shorter time and who wouldn't buy into the concept. It's another 'game changer' and it's 'the secret of the pros' ... but it actually isn't. If you look at the elite athletes competing in endurance sports, their plans are almost always made up of 80-90% lower intensity aerobic work and 10-20% high intensity work (I'm sure many of you have heard of the 80:20 principle). It's the same the world over and 80:20 principle is not a new concept.
There is 'real' coaching, there is 'real' sports science and then there's the bullsh*t grey area in the middle where someone (generally a fake expert / influencer) is trying to sell you something. For people who only have limited time availability, the thought that 30 minutes of high intensity intervals can give you the same benefit as a 2 hour easy run is very appealing. It also give you an incredible endorphin shot so you can see why it's so popular. High intensity training will not be the basis for our program.
Go slow or go hard
The relationship between training volume and training intensity is very simple, you can't do them both together. If you want to build your volume and aspire to run 60, 80 or even 100 miles in a week, the intensity must be low. If you want to do repetitions and intervals which are 'maximal intensity' then you can't do many of them. It's one of the most commonly known yet least applied principles of endurance training. You'll no doubt have seen numerous articles stating the benefits of slowing down on your longer runs and you've probably see the video clips of Eliud Kipchoge running 10 minute miles. Everyone nods their head in agreement that this is indeed how the elite train, but they cannot apply it successfully to their own training. No matter how many times I tell you, a large percentage of people who follow this plan will still run the EASY runs too hard. In 35 years of coaching I've never had a single athlete who's ran then too easy. If you are following this plan, then truly follow the principle of 'slow is slow' and give it the time it deserves to see the benefits.
Before you worry about going faster, stop slowing down
The reality for the majority of people reading this blog is VERY simple. You can already comfortably run or walk at the pace that you'd like to hold for the full duration of the Lakeland 50 or 100. Your issue is that you simply cannot sustain it for 10-40 hours (go back and read that again). You don't have the levels of aerobic economy / metabolic efficiency required and neither do you have the physical or mental resilience. In the 90's sports scientists became fascinated with VO2 maximum. Finally they could quantify fitness and give you a 'number' which measures you accurately against another person. Even your watch is now able to calculate your VO2 max, based on the current windspeed and the colour of socks you wear. If you take one thing away from this blog, understand that for the majority of people reading this blog, your maximum is not your limiting factor and it will have little or no impact upon your performance at the Montane Lakeland 50 & 100 in 2023.
Let's define resilience
It's important to define resilience and explain how it differers from the aerobic economy / metabolic stuff I've mentioned above. I'm sure you've read somewhere about running lots of slow miles and eating less carbs to increase fat burning. By mastering your fuel efficiency, you will never run out of fuel and will be capable of running forever, in true Forest Gump fashion (youngsters go google).
The reality is different and this is where we need to discuss resilience. One of the reasons why we do the 'long run' is to simply condition your body to hitting the pavement for 2-3 hours. Forget the 'fat burning stuff'... it doesn't matter how efficient your metabolism is if your legs are damaged and bleeding when you're 20 miles into a 50 mile event. If the chassis collapses completely, the fuel economy is irrelevant. For most people the damaged legs, the blisters, the sore back and the battered feet will bring them to a halt long before they run out of fuel.
Resilience isn't just physical, it's mental. If you're going to do an event which lasts 15 hours in length and your longest training session has been 3 hours... It's fair to say you'll reach a point where you'll pause for breath and say to yourself... "holy sh*t when is this thing going to end..". The answer is in approximately 12 hours time... good luck coming to terms with that. Sports psychologists call it 'familiarisation' but if you're going to be out there for a really long time, then 'mentally' you need to be accustomed to being out there... for a really long time.
Here's something to consider. Of all the people who drop out of the Lakeland 100, I'd guess that 20% do so because of a medical issue or injury. The other 80% drop out because 'they've 'had enough'. They choose to stop. I'm not suggesting for one second that they are weak in some way and chose to quit, that's absolutely not the case. But they did reach the limits of their mental resilience and didn't want to continue any further. The biggest weapon in your armoury when you reach that point? Experience.
Still with me?
I know I've failed, I did waffle somewhat, but let's just rewind a little back to the first principle of Lakeland Training Plan... ENJOYMENT IS KEY. The plan will build very gradually and we will follow an 80:20 principle (more likely 90:10) to encourage the correct adaptations. Do not think that 'going harder' is somehow better, because it's not. We have one more blog post to go, which discusses the use of tech and we'll also discuss 'training zones' within that blog post. My time (and word) limit is now up, so stay tuned for the final instalment this Friday.
We start Monday. It's going to be an incredible 10 months and we're looking forwards to every step of the journey. Make sure you join the Lakeland 50 & 100 Facebook Group.
The Endurance Store
The Endurance Store is an independent running store in Lancashire. We believe in community and we're also the organisers of a very long trail running event that takes place in Coniston every July.