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Planning the Training Peak for your Big Race


By Andy Mouncey

Now you’re not short of articles telling you how to plan your training – which is fair enough as most of us:

  • Don’t have a coach to do it for us.
  • Don’t have oceans of time to train (so getting the most from what we have is kind of crucial).
  • Don’t have “Just Training” on our to-do list – we have a ton of other family/work priorities going on as well.

All of which means that this is a much sought-after and written about topic.

So it’s a bit of a challenge, to put it mildly, to come up with a “How To Plan Your Training” piece that has a slightly different take on a familiar theme and still be captivatingly relevant for you.

‘But you can do that Andy, can’t you?’ purred those lovely folks at RunUltra.
‘Guess we’ll be finding out…

I have to say at the outset that other ways of planning your training are most definitely available.

This is just some of mine.

It’s honed from years and years of working with real folks wrestling real life – so I can vouch for its authenticity and effectiveness – and it’s all still a work in progress.

Start At The End

1. Set goals to really grab you

I have a ton of stuff on goals and goal setting which could be a whole book at least.

The short version is this:

  • You need to set ‘em
  • You need to set ‘em at the start
  • They need to grab you and scare you and be measurable in equal measure

‘But how do I choose what races to enter?’ I am periodically asked.

Choose the stuff that inspires you, I will reply. That means race distance need not be a limiter.

2. Have a really ready test

This is the final aspirational workout pre-taper that were you to complete it, would give you the capacity to stand on the start line confident about your ability to deal with what is ahead of you, and proud of the work that’s now behind you.

So the question I ask my Marathon Des Sables coaching clients goes something like:

‘What would be your final confidence boost of choice just before you get on that plane?’

The response is based on intuition and emotion to which I add a dash of logic and realism as appropriate - and the final test is different for everyone. For some it’s based on replicating part of the race format – for others is a PB at the local parkrun.

The important point is that this is done at the start of the planning process and used to plot a progressive build up working back from this point.

Make It Stick

The right training plan for you is one that you can make stick over time – not least because one of the sure-fire ways to improve at endurance sport is simply to be consistent over time:

  • No injuries.
  • No boredom.
  • No toys out of pram.

This means that if I’m coaching you I want to know where and when you are likely to come unstuck – where the mines are buried / where the speed bumps lie – and I want to know right at the start, so we can come up with a cunning plan to minimise the disruption when it happens or avoid it completely.

This is the “real life collides with theoretical aspirational training” bit – or to put it in military terms:
No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.

Recovery First

Folks into their endurance sport can be a flippin’ nightmare to coach. Think about it: Strong work ethic, do commitment very well and a high tolerance of discomfort. All of which means that it can be a real challenge to get ‘em to back off – unless it’s been agreed and planned in advance.

So that’s what you need to do too.

A way I’ve learned to do this over recent years is to go back to the “colliding with real life” bit and look at where competing commitments are likely to clash.
Put simply, if you know that there is going to be a period where you need to expend more of your personal energy beans at work – or you are going to be on-point more than usual with the kids – then the last thing you want is to be locked into a block of hard training as well.

That’s a recipe for annoying your loved ones.

So these are the periods where the training takes a back seat and anything that you do becomes recovery-recharge activities.

You can identify these ‘pinch points’ over a range of different scales - over a typical day, week, month etc. The principle remains the same: Identify where you are/will be using more of your energy beans in other areas of your life and put your key training somewhere else!

In Summary

  • Start At The End: Set your goals and your final test event
  • Make It Stick: Know where you can come unstuck and have a plan to stay on track
  • Recovery In First: Spend you energy beans wisely and keep your loved ones close

Who Is Andy Mouncey?

Andy does the training stuff for us. He is author of three books including ‘So You Want To Run An Ultra’ He runs long for the challenge and fun of it and has been a professional coach since 2000 working across business-education-sport-lifestyle. He lives with his family in North Yorkshire, UK 

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