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Photo credit: Mick Kenyon Racing Snakes.

Make your training plan stick

31-Oct-17

By Andy Mouncey

Those nice people at RunUltra recently asked me if I had any ultra running case studies I might be prepared to share. Hmm. ‘Been coaching and training for 17 years now so average ‘x’ number of clients a year plus workshops makes… About one thousand and change??

All of which means that I had to come clean and admit that yes, I did have a few I could dig out. Wonderful! They said. In the spirit of giving and learning could you present a few in such a way that it would be astonishingly interesting and helpful to our readers?

A standard response in situations like this when you don’t really know the answer is to say ‘yes’ first and figure out how to do it later. This tactic has both stood me in good stead over time and just as easily got me into a spot of bother. It very quickly became apparent that I’d be heading for the latter with this one if I wasn’t careful.

Health Warning

All of which means that almost inevitably we start with a health warning:

  • What follows is my way – other ways are available.
  • I’ll be generalizing hugely – exceptions absolutely apply.
  • It’s all still a work in progress – which means I’m still figuring stuff out.

Bottom Line

  • A right training program for you is one you can make stick over time.
  • One that adds to the quality of your life.
  • One that strengthens (or at least doesn’t destroy! Ed) your close personal relationships.
  • And one that allows you to experience what you want to experience and achieve at least some of what you want to achieve.

That’s right: ‘some’ - not ‘all’.

‘Cos here’s a thing: Some stuff you cannot control, some stuff you wont get on your first choice timescale and some stuff you just wont have the leverage for.

I mean, it’s just running, right? It’s important to you for sure – but it ain’t life or death. It doesn’t pay the mortgage, it kinda washes over the kids and the world will still turn regardless. You do it for the challenge and the fun – and a whole host of spin-offs.

Confidence Is The Currency

If you make it stick over time that means you have momentum. Confidence is a function of momentum – and Confidence Is The Currency here: Confidence about what is ahead of you on a start line, and confidence about what’s behind you that you’ve done to get there healthy, motivated and ready to rock.

(Rocking AND rolling is just mechanical inefficiency and we don’t do that here…).

Which means it’s gotta stick or the currency gets de-valued.

Danger! Minefield Ahead

When I’m coaching I’m interested first in the stuff that’s likely to make a client become un-stuck, de-railed, set-back, side-swiped. Where the mines are buried. Which is a challenge for the typical client ‘cos they come to me thinking it’s all about the long run-fartlek-hill reps-tempo-mountain running-gym work-peak volume-recovery-taper mix and then they wonder why they’re in such a pickle.

Sorry. That stuff has a place for sure – it’s just somewhere down the line.

And when you’re in a Slump
you’re not in for much fun.
Un-slumping yourself
Is not easily done
.’
Dr Seuss

Becoming ‘Unstuck’ typically falls into three categories:

  1. Real Life – The collision of training plans/intentions with work & family stuff.
  2. Our Personal Sh** - What we do that inadvertently sabotages our own efforts. (There are two stark patterns here: ‘Bull In A China Shop’ & the ‘I Am Not Worthy’ both of which are articles in their own right, I promise you).
  3. Other Peoples’ Sh** - What other people do that deliberately, or inadvertently, sabotages our efforts.

All of which means that as a coach you’ve really got your work cut out, unless you’re working with a full time professional runner, with no close personal relationships or internet connection, who carries no baggage and lives in a car.

Bor-ring!

Anyway. Onto the examples.

Case Study 1

Client: Male, 40s-50s, experienced trainer and racer, long sporting history endurance sports, emotionally intelligent – yes, they do exist - family, fulltime job.

Presents
High level of fitness, very good race results historically, bored-stale-stuck for months/years, some persistent niggles.

Goals
Breakout, regain health, enjoyment and racing form.

Prescription

  • Get Forensic With Mechanical Efficiency: Engrained bad habits? Source of niggles? Often a small change to running style can make a big difference on many levels – especially as we are working with a big cumulative factor and a client who is smart, experienced and prepared to work at the corrections.
  • Work The Extremes: ‘Hard’ efforts should have him blowing out his ass and ‘easy’ should be a walk in the park. Top end efforts are also essential in older folks as these act to counter the deterioration in aerobic capacity that is more noticeable as we get older – and essential for top-end racing.
  • Build The Chassis: Another one from the ‘challenge the signs of aging’ school. We lose muscle mass as we get older so strength training is essential. Doubly so in my view with ultra runners where the goal is to stay upright over long periods of time while moving at pace over difficult changing terrain and carrying a load on your back. Anyone spot the strength requirement there?
  • Less Is More: Reduce the running volume (for all the reasons above and more) and because we know he can run. For this client it’s about how he runs, when he runs, and what else he does to support that.

Case Study 2

Client: Female, 20s, in a steady relationship, fulltime job, cash-rich, with a few road marathons to her name.

Presents
Periodic injury, DNF first ultra, crisis of confidence, mainly solo trainer using a variety of internet sources.

Goals
Finish first ultra, feel in control, confidence about what she is doing and why.

Prescription

  • Trade Virtual For Reality: Find her some (female) training buddies and help her be discerning with her online activity.
  • Eating For Health & Energy: Another potential massive area with a huge range of interventions. Typical patterns are missed or limited breakfast, lots of buying/little cooking and an overall calorie deficit.
  • Chassis Building: This is a strength sport and a strong chassis – legs, lungs, torso – is essential. Add a smart strength component to a female client whatever their age and the transformation can be scary.
  • Confidence Is The Currency: In training this would be using regular benchmarks to measure progress and replacing ‘outcome’ goals with ‘process’ goals so that she’s in control with self-to-self comparisons. As the target race looms we Scenario Plan everything we can think of that is likely to challenge/test her during the event and we plan and rehearse her response in advance so that nothing takes her by surprise.

Case Study 3

Client: Male, middle age, high achiever, city-based, family, cash-rich/time-poor.

Presents
Some running, biking, team sports, limited experience/endurance history, overweight, high expectations.

Goals
Complete first charity challenge stage race in top quarter/half of the field.

Prescription

  • The Cold Water Bucket Of Reality: This is always the interesting bit – not least because for this client often the best way is the most direct way i.e. This is what it will be like, this is what you need to do, and this is what you’ll have to give. A client like this is used to buying in expertise, assessing costs-benefits and achieving tough targets. There’s a high work ethic and also a party-hard one: alcohol is a feature. But the first stage is an appointment at the Expectation Adjustment Bureau…
  • Hills Without Hills: Time is very limited, the nearest hills/trails are at least two hours away, and we need to get strong for the uphills and resilient for the downhills – without a hill in sight. Which means we need to get creative in the gym – ‘cos there’s usually a gym – in hotels, on steps and stairs and on the bike. Into the mix will also go hiking, load carrying and load pulling.
  • Finding & Using Dead Time: Time pressures are very real and absolute for this client, and periodic international travel / conference calls to different time zones are also likely to feature. Resurrecting ‘dead’ time is crucial – having a bedtime alarm, for instance so what sleep there is is maximized. Also being creative with what time options there are. The commute? Lunchtime? Flexible working arrangements? Meetings minus chairs to make ‘em shorter so you can get more done? This can easily get into a full review of personal productivity and working practices home and office, but that’s OK for this client.
  • Reduce The Unit Size: No amount of Gucci kit will help you if you’re on the start line carrying 10kg of lard. So if the Adjustment Bureau hasn’t provided a trigger, strength training ain’t shifting it and the social /work eating and drinking is sabotaging it, then Direct Action is needed. What that looks like is specific to the client – what I’m after is where the quick wins are. That could be the wine in the evening or the plate size during the day. Quite often it’s just eating a decent breakfast and upping the water intake.

Finding a right training plan is a bit like finding the right trainers:

  • Some you’ll find overly restricting.
  • Some you can slip out of really easily.
  • And some you can make right just by changing the lacing pattern.

There should be an emotional connection with whoever is doing the providing. What that boils down to is that you should feel like they give a damn about you and your stuff, and that’s over and above the professional service you’re paying for.

Of course there will be some running involved. It’s just that for most of us there will be other elements that have to be present - or absent - so that we can make the most of the running bit. What that combination is for you is what that combination is for you. Search it out, experiment with the versions and treat it as a long-term Work In Progress. Anything else is settling for average – and average is not why you’re here, is it?

About the writer: Andy does the training stuff for us. He’s author of ‘So You Want To Run An Ultra’. He runs long for fun and coaches for a living. He lives with his family in North Yorkshire, UK.

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