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Four ways to hack the long run in winter

08-Dec-17

Last updated: 23-Aug-18

By James Eacott

As we all know, the long run is a crucial part of ultra running training (as Ian Corless describes here). It forms the foundation of ultra run training and is key to improved performance. However, it’s with hushed tones that I suggest that not all of us enjoy the long run, particularly in winter. I hear gasps from the purists, but it’s true.

I personally believe there’s no shame in admitting that you don’t enjoy 3+ hour slogs in the winter months. It can be difficult to motivate yourself to get out there in the wind, rain and cold for such long periods, and sometimes it can even be treacherous. So, what can you do when you can’t face getting outside? Can you still get the training benefits of a long run - endurance, strength and mental fortitude – without having to hit the trails in one long slog of a session?

Well, yes. All the sessions below can be used to “hack” the long run, and because their individual parts are shorter, you could even do them on the treadmill. I’d suggest only using these hacks once your long run has reached a minimum of three hours. If you’re at the stage where a 90-minute run is a long run, then stick with completing that in a oner.

So, if you’re facing weekly or fortnightly runs of more than three hours, check out some of these sessions. They will deliver very similar improvements in performance without hitting the trail in one. Some of them even provide more benefits than a single long run.

Heck, even if you don’t feel the need for these sessions, you might like to use them just to spice your training up a little.

Back-to-back

The classic way to get around a long run is to split it up and complete the duration over two consecutive days. This is the best ‘first-step’ method to try when looking to escape the long slog. Rather than splitting the duration in half, I’d suggest completing 2/3rd on the first day and 1/3rd on the second. For a three-hour run, for example, it’s much easier mentally to get up on the second day and only have 60 minutes to do on tired legs.

Double Day

A double day is a step-up from the back to back. You’re still splitting the distance, but you’ll perform both runs on the same day. Again, when you’re new to double days, complete the longer run in the morning with a shorter outing in the evening. As you progress and fitness increases, challenge yourself by completing the shorter run in the morning and increase the intensity by adding some hill or speed work to ramp up the fatigue for the longer, slower run in the evening.

Donkey Day

Think like a donkey today and carry some load to boost strength and endurance. You don’t have to be training for a multi-day ultra to justify running with a backpack. Adding weight to your body (gradually, of course) will load your muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments with greater mass and will thus require more force and power from you to run.

It is crucial to start light – 2kg will do nicely – and add weight slowly. It’s not worth packing it on too fast as you’ll injure yourself. If 2kg feels easy, do some hill reps!

Kenyan Day

Three runs in one day! You must be joking, I hear you cry. Trust me, it’s doable. And done correctly it can provide fantastic gains. Go easy to start with and you’ll be fine. I’d suggest you need to be a seasoned ultra runner with a minimum of two largely injury free years’ experience before having a crack at a Kenyan day.

First run of the day, keep it super easy and low intensity. Just 30 - 40 minutes or so to loosen the legs.

The second run activates some fast-twitch muscle fibres by incorporating speed or hill work. This should be done in the middle of the day, perhaps in your lunch break, and take around 45 minutes total.

The third run of the day will be tough mentally as your legs will already have bagged up to 1:30 hours of running. This session is a non-stop run of 1 hour. Start the run slowly and see how you feel. As you incorporate Kenyan days with more frequency into your training, you can start this run slow and gradually increase the pace throughout the hour, but in the early days just aim for a solid 60-minute non-stop run.

You’ll have clocked up a solid 2 ½ hours of running today at an average pace that will probably be higher than your typical long run pace. Getting yourself up and out three times in one day is a big deal. Kudos to you.

Always follow a Kenyan day with a full day of recovery and use it as an opportunity to get re-acquainted with the foam roller.

Summary

When a new training stimulus is introduced, improvements come quite fast at first and you should see your run performance improve merely by trying a few of these sessions out. They’ll keep your body guessing and, as I said earlier, even if you don’t feel the need to ‘hack’ your long run, these sessions should keep things interesting when you need to add some freshness to your ultra run training.

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