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Training Guide for Distance Runners

1) Establish what level of fitness your team is at 

This is your starting point for training; your aims and type of training need to be specific to you and your team. Three examples, from different levels:

  • if you're least fittest team member is up to running 5 km's in training you'd be looking at setting your 'long' run each week as a run/walk, starting at approx 4 to 8 km's, involving jogging comfortably and walking if needed – always train 'long' at a 'comfortable' pace.

  • if you've each run a half marathon within the last month or two (even in training) you'll know you can set your 'long' run in training at approx 15km to 20 km's, if jogged at a comfortable pace; then build by a safe 2 to 3 km's each week.

  • if you've each trained for a marathon in the last 6 months to a year, you will have 90% of the knowledge you'll need for an ultra (over 42.2km) event. Set your long run at your least fittest member's comfortable threshold, add to it each week and stay injury free.

 2) Stay injury free

The most important when training for an ultra and/or endurance. Any injuries to your members means your preparation is stalled or heading backwards. Alternatively, if you're patient enough to stay injury free you will slowly adapt each week to your training; compounding the positive effect on body and mind.

To stay injury free - know / learn your limits as soon as possible and stay underneath them (event day is the one to push these, not training) and - be patient.

These 3 simple reminders will keep you safe:

  • Out of your 3 to 6 training runs per week (depending on your level and how keen you are), set one of your runs as your 'long' run and wherever possilbe run with your full team. Build on this long run each week by no more than 10%. Eg. Your long run may be 20 km's, the next week set it for 22, and so on. Shortcuts (adding quickly) will expose you to injury.

  • Jog your long run at an easy and comfortable pace, one that you can maintain while talking and your least fittest member is coping with safely. Quicker running on the 'longs' is risky and not needed to build for an ultra.

  • Build your total weekly km's by no more than 10%.  Eg. Your weekly total may be 30 km's. Set the next week for 33 and so on. Building this conservatively, even from a 30 km base, you will be up to 65 to 75 km's p/wk in just 10 weeks. This works for a well trained runner also. If you're up to 80km's per week in training, add no more that 8 km's per week.  Note: when adding weekly km's, don't add any quicker speed work concurrently. Leave it till you've got your desired base.

3) Train specifically for the event

Take into account all the factors of the upcoming event – Is it road or trail? How many km's? What time of day? What time of year, what the weather will be? What pace and aim time is safe for your team? What gear you will need. etc. The more you're aware of early in training the better prepared and more you'll enjoy the event.

Train in the probable conditions of the event as often as you can. If you'll wear a pack in the event, wear it in training, if it's on trails, train on trails, etc. Know the terrain, general ascents/descents and weather expected for the event. Try to train under similar conditions. Train on sections of the course if possible. Carry your fully loaded back-pack on multiply occasions in training. Test various foods and fluids before the event, under similiar conditions.

As far as the amount of km's in training you'll do specific to the event, you will have carefully worked that out by points 1 & 2 above but if your team can stay injury free the more time on your legs in training, the better. It would be wise at least once in training to run/walk at least 70% of the event distance. If you're unable to do this you'll need to look at walking more on event day.

If it so happens all your team are marathon trained, try 2 long run days in succession, great preparation for ultra's; gives you tired legs on the 2nd run without doing too much damage. These 2 runs may be for example – a 20 to 26 km on the Saturday, then a 30 to 40 km on the Sunday. Only attempt this if all your team are at that level.

Mental prep in training and for the day - don't be afraid of pain/hard times: they are an opportunity to test yourself and should be welcomed - this is an experience not many people get and you'll feel mentally stronger afterwards!

4) Diet

It's no coincidence that healthy eating will help your running and training. If you're keen, you should aim to eat 5 to 7 fresh vegetables (salad or cooked), 2 to 4 fruits and 6 to 8 glasses of water a day. Like in the case of injury, you won't be able to train if you fall ill or suffer a heavy cold; vegetables full of antioxidants and minerals will assist greatly in staying healthy.

On top of vegies, fruit and water, the usual dieticians' advice of lean meat, fish and complex carbohydrates (pasta, rice, bread) in moderation will assist with recovery and re-builing of tired muscles and energy stores.

As far as food and drink in training and on event day, the number 1 rule to remember is: Establish what you can eat and drink on the run in training and stick to what works best come event day. Don't try anything 'new' on event day. 

When you plan to be out for more than 45 minutes in training (take the weather in to consideration), you need to be replacing fluids often. Water will suffice early (up to 1.5 hrs) but after that you'll need to replace your salts (electrolytes); sports drinks will do the job, gatorade, powerade, etc.. On top of your fluids, when running/walking for over 2.5 to 3 hours (approximately) you'll need to take on some 'food'. If you're unable to eat (at a slow running pace), stop to a walk to eat or try energy gels. Good foods for on the run include – energy gels, bananas, power bars, stewed apple, jam sandwich, dried fruits, lollies. You can try any 'simple' carbohydrates in training and see which works best for you.

5) Organisation/preparation

Much of your efforts, energies and mind set for ensuring points 1 to 4 will be in your organisation and preparation. The more thorough it is the better day you'll have on event day. 

Some simple reminders that can help keep you clear, motivated and on track are:

  • Log all your training runs (either written or on computer), - the amount of time and km's on each. If you're unsure of distance covered, time will be enough.

  • In your log, document any soreness, lethargy, how you felt, pace, etc.

  • Set a weekly goal (total time or km's to cover) and ensure all your team are within close range of each other

  • Get your gear organised, know what you'll need in the event and use it in training

  • Have your 'fuel' ready to go (water, sports drinks, fruit, food, etc.)

  • Dress appropriately for each run. On cooler mornings, anything under 8 to 10 degrees, consider long running pants and/or top

  • Prepare your food for each day – if you're planning to eat well in training it will need to be a priority, healthy eating takes time to prepare, cook, clean up, etc.

Get a map of the course or the areas you are going to train in. Be familiar with the map and know how to read it (e.g. magnetic north, contour lines, etc.). A compass and basic emergency supplies are advised (whistle if lost/hurt, mobile phone with coverage, crepe bandage, gauze, band-aids, saline eye wash, etc).

6) Enjoy, be positive, be where you are

Running long and often will give you physical and mental benefits that many find difficult to ever give up. You will be, by default, feeling better in mind and body. That noted, if you can also look at all your training as enjoyable and positive, it will be just that.

If it ever feels difficult or you're thinking of 'wanting to stop', push those thoughts aside, go to your senses, listen to all around you, look up and around, smell the smells, smile and say hello to everyone you pass, don't think ahead and be glad where you are. It's often easier to attain all of these when running trails, in the mountains or the bush.

If you can drive somewhere to run on trails it'll be well worth it.


Event Day

1) Get Organised

For the morning event have your gear ready the night before and wake 2 to 3 hours before the start. This will help ensure you can eat breakfast and have time to digest it. You'll be able to fit in your necessary toilet visits in time. Your body will be fully awake, ready to go. You won't be rushing.

2) Team Travel

If possible, travel as a team or meet an hour early with your team. The excitement before hand is nice to savour – you're not hurting yet either. Go through your 'race' plan; whatever it may be it best be known well by all before you head off. 

3) Backup Plan

This is an important one - have a contingency plan. Set out clearly with each other what you'll do in as many issues you can think of that might come up – eg. One of you sprains an ankle and cannot continue, what do you do? One of you wants to pull out mid run?, etc.. Make sure your plan is clear before you set off.

4) Fuelling Up

From start to finish be conscious of 'fuelling'. If it's hot you'll need to be drinking a lot. Over 30 degrees, runners need 1 to 2 litres per hour, and remember the sports drinks from 1 hour onwards. Eat if you can, small amounts, at least a little each hour. If you are used to (and can stomach) energy gels, take one every 45 minutes with fluid. Encourage and remind each other to drink/fuel throughout your run/walk.

5) Goal Setting

As a team, set yourself an attainable finish time. But if anyone or anything makes this difficult to achieve let it go sooner rather than later and concentrate on where you are and finishing together. To finish as a team, complete what you set out to do, hopefully with a little difficulty, you'll be on top of the world. And remember to thank all those who helped – volunteers, support crew, event organisers, each other.

6) Don't Forget to Glow

Once you're away, smile, enjoy, chat, encourage and glow. Hard work, pain and pleasure all mixed in. Done as a team, it'll be an amazing experience, even if it is tough going.

Happy running!


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Thanks to contributors Kevin Mannix, John Gullifer and David Jennings (Moonwalk 2010 Team "The Glow", & Ultra Marathon Runners)