While proportionally trekking sections do not make up the majority of the race distance, you’re likely to spend a good chunk of your time on your feet. And, it’s these ‘foot’ sections that have defeated the world’s most experienced teams and athletes. Thus, running and walking should govern your AR training, creating a solid cardiorespiratory fitness, leg strength and endurance foundation.
What’s that about walking?
Walking is unfortunately a much neglected, underestimated and under-utilised training discipline, one with many physiological benefits and not only to be used in post-injury rehabilitation programs. Just consider these advantages:
- In adventure races you spend more time walking than running so it makes sense to spend a fair amount of your training time walking and hiking.
- As a low-impact activity you’ve got less chance of getting injured.
- Walking builds endurance and can be incorporated into your running program as recovery and maintenance sessions between hard running days.
- The world’s top ultra-distance runners use walking sessions to increase their mileage without risking injury or chronic fatigue.
- Walking is excellent for muscle tone from your calves to your gluteals.
- Due to the arm swing motion, your arms, back and shoulders are used more in walking than in running (when walking is done at the correct intensity), developing upper body strength and tone.
- Best of all, walking is less taxing on your cardiorespiratory system so you’re able to walk hard, strengthening and conditioning your legs without becoming out of breath.
Learning to walk
Walking and running foot actions are distinctly different. A walker’s foot flexes at twice the angle of a runner’s foot at the point of push-off and while a walker will strike the ground harder on the heel, a runner will strike harder in the middle of the foot. Therefore walking shoes have a more flexible forefoot with good heel cushioning and stability – features to look for in trail shoes. It is also interesting to note that the high flared heel typical of many running shoe styles makes a walker’s foot less stable, causing it to strike down harder. This overworking of the shin muscles can cause injury – and blistering on the base of the heel. Remember too that when you push-off your toes spread so look for trail shoes with a spacious toebox.
Good walking technique – posture, stride length and turnover (how fast you move your legs) – is developed with practise. In short:
- Stand tall and don’t hunch your shoulders.
- Land on your heel with your toes pointed up high. This will work your anterior lower leg muscles so you’re likely to feel a burning sensation in your underused shin muscles – it will go.
- Don’t overstride (take too big a step). It wastes energy and can result in shin splints. Extend each step from above your pelvis, not from your hip, allowing rotation of your pelvis.
- Either let your arms swing freely at your sides or bend your elbows at 90° tucked in to your waist. Do not allow your fingertips to go higher than the ‘nipple line’. Keep your hand in a loose fist. The faster you swing your arms, the faster your legs will move.
- Speed will increase not with longer strides but with increased turnover (number of steps per minute).
How far, how often?
Try to walk for 15 – 25 minutes, twice a week. Concentrate on your technique and work on increasing your speed so that you cover more distance in the set time.
Time to run
Running is undoubtedly a superior cardio-respiratory conditioning discipline. With increased leg strength, weight loss and bone density stimulation added to its list of benefits, it’s no wonder that running is such a popular activity. Best of all, running gives you that essential time on your feet and legs, preparing the muscles for the endless hours of repetitive weight-bearing and movement that they’ll encounter in adventure races.
But, there is much more to running than just lacing up your shoes and taking to the streets. If you want to get stronger, run faster and build endurance you have to challenge your body. We’re talking hill training, speed work, interval training and endurance running. Ready?
As the human body adapts to training, improvements in fitness, strength and endurance will only occur when the body is challenged and presented with workouts that vary in intensity, type and duration. For AR our goal is to build strength, speed and endurance.
The beginner runner
Whatever your level of fitness, you should be able to build from barely being able to walk 100m to running for 30minutes continuously in 8-weeks. Distance isn’t important here, time is. All it takes is your commitment to run 3-4 times a week and this manageable program.
Only once you can run for 30minutes at a conversational pace should you progress to the more intense training techniques (hill, interval, speed and endurance).
0 – 30 minutes in 8-weeks
Warm-up before each sessions by walking briskly for 5 minutes
- Week 1 – Run 1 minute, walk 90 seconds (repeat 8 times)
- Week 2 – Run 2 minutes, walk 1 minute (repeat 7 times)
- Week 3 – Run 3 minutes, walk 1 minute (repeat 6 times)
- Week 4 – Run 5 minutes, walk 2 minutes (repeat 4 times)
- Week 5 – Run 8 minutes, walk 2 minutes (repeat 3 times)
- Week 6 – Run 12 minutes, walk 1 minute (repeat 3 times)
- Week 7 – Run 15 minutes, walk 1 minute, run 15 minutes
- Week 8 – Run 30 minutes – no walks
Moving on… Strength
The most demanding of all sports, running requires that your set down and lift up your entire body with every step. Add gravity to this equation and it is no wonder that running is hard work. Considering that ultra-distance runners have huge thighs in proportion to the rest of their bodies (demanding work-rate, work-load, impact and weight-bearing), the further you want to run, the more strength you need. And, like a sprinter, to go fast you need to be strong. Strength advancement means speed and endurance, the domain of hill and interval training techniques.
When starting with hill training, the conservative approach works. Rather start off running slower than you think you should until you can determine just how hard you can push and still complete your sets. Pick manageable gradients going steeper as you progress. Only do one intense hill session a week.
Focus on your form before you even begin. Keep your posture upright, your back relaxed and take short strides making certain of sure foot placement. Using your arms for propulsion, lean slightly into the climb. Ready?
- For your first 3-4 weeks, start easy. Run a hillier route once or twice a week, taking it easier on the other running days.
- Progressing, run similar routes pushing it up the hills. Run hard to the top recovering on the downs and flats – hill ‘fartlek’ (speed play). For variety, look for long and short climbs. Do this for 3 weeks.
Now that you’ve build a solid foundation you can begin serious hill training. For this you’ll need a hill 700 – 800m long with a relatively gently slope. About 5 – 8 minutes away (easy running) locate a short (~200m) steep hill.
- Warm-up by running at an easy pace to your long hill (10mins). Run 3-5 repetitions of 1-3 minutes (increase the repetition duration as your strength and fitness improves) up the hill at the same speed as your hill fartlek session. Each time, check how far you get up the hill before walking back down. You should reach a similar distance at the start and finish of the session. If you’re slacking off then it means that you started out too hard. Once you’ve completed your repetitions, jog to the short hill. Do 4-6 hard runs of 20-40 seconds up this slope walking briskly back to the bottom to recover. Concentrate on your form with each repetition.
- Run easy/walk briskly for 5-10minutes at the end of your session remembering to stretch your legs.
- Variation on hill repeats: Do 6 repetitions. Run the first 2 in 45s, the next 2 reps in 30s and the final 2 reps in 15s.
- Once you’ve done this for 3-4 weeks, go back to hill fartlek.
Walking the downhills is also a beneficial exercise. With each step your muscle fibres lengthen while weight-bearing – and eccentric contraction. Regularly running and walking downhill conditions your legs making them more resistant to injury in races.
Interval running means that between running at a comfortable pace you sprint short distances. Benefits from these speed bursts result from short intervals of 200m and less. Your heart rate is pushed up, your turnover (how fast you move your legs) improves, your stride lengthens and your leg strength increases.
Begin your interval session with 2 sets of 3 x 100m intervals, increasing the number of sets (max 5), number of intervals (max 5) and distance of intervals (max 200m) as you progress. A 45-60 second recovery time between intervals and 3-5minutes between sets allows sufficient recovery time to ensure that you maintain quality work. Focus on leg speed, stride and posture.
The intervals do not need to be run flat-out but should be run at a pace considerably faster than your normal running speed. You’ll even notice improvement in your first session. Say you run your first set of intervals in 19s, it’s likely that by the end of the second sessions you’ll have your time down by 2-3 seconds simply due to the extension of your stride, relaxation in your training and the development of a more efficient style.
Intervals need not only be run on a field/track. Incorporate intervals into your normal running route. Sprint from lamp-post to lamp-post or between driveways.
Need for speed
By training for increased speed you’ll run smoother, faster and stronger with less effort as your cardiorespiratory system becomes more efficient and your muscles become stronger. Like hill and interval training, speed training breaks you out of your comfort zone challenging your body to adapt to new physical demands.
- As with interval training, run fartlek/pick-up sessions – segments of faster-paced running. Select landmarks, driveways or lampposts, running from one landmark to another at a faster-than-normal pace. Do 6-8 pick-ups during a 5km run varying the distances of the pick-ups. Each segment should take 15 – 90 seconds.
- Instead of using landmarks, use your stopwatch. After 10minutes of normal paced running, alternate between 15s quick + 45s easy until you’ve done 5-6 fast segments.
Follow a speed work session with an easy day. One speed session per week is sufficient. Never do more than 2 speed sessions in a week.
The ultimate goal, endurance
Endurance is being able to cover a distance by sustaining aerobic activity for an extended period of time. For some people this means being able to run 5km, for others 20km. What ever your goal, there are no short cuts to being able to go from running 5km to running 30km. The secret is to build gradually – it should take 8 weeks to double your current endurance threshold.
Improving your endurance will offer the following benefits:
- Improved running times – anaerobic threshold, the point at which your running becomes uncomfortable as you become out-of-breath, determines your pace. An increase aerobic threshold results in an increase anaerobic threshold.
- Muscle strength – the longer you run, the more your heart and leg muscles are strengthened. Increases strength means you can run for longer.
- Mental strength – by forcing your muscles and mind to be out there for longer you’ll develop confidence in your ability, knowing that you can handle longer distances. Endurance running teaches you to complete tasks, useful experience for when you’re really tested.
The best way to build running endurance is to run and it doesn’t have to be fast.
- Run slowly. Running fast over greater distances results in injury, fatigue and slow recovery.
- Long runs should be run at a conversational pace giving you essential time on your feet – running with a buddy is a great pacing aid.
- A good guide is to start with a 60-minute long run building up to 90 and then 120 minutes. Add 5 minutes to each long run until you get there and don’t hesitate to take 60 second walking breaks along the way. Take a rest day after your long run.
- Commit to one long run per week. If you run 3-5km four times a week, use this as a base for your long run. At week 3 add an extra kilometre (6km), at week 4 add another kilometre (7km), at week 6 add another (8km), week 7 another kilometre (9km) and week 8 add another kilometre (10km).
- If you’re currently running 5-7km four times a week and have no problem over 10km, advance your endurance to running 20km with ease. Start your first long run at 10km adding 2km on week 2 (12km) and week 3 (14km). Drop back to 10km on week 4 pushing your distance up to 16km on week 5 and 18km on week 6. Take it an easy 10km on week 7 and finally tackle 20km on week 8.
While off-road surfaces are gentler on your joints, of special consideration is the varied terrain, leading to unstable foot placements and possible foot injuries. Running off-road regularly and working on your proprioception and balance will improve your stability and confidence.
Your running technique should also change according to the type of terrain. Take deliberate short, shuffling steps in thick sand and on steep uphills, take short steps leaning into the hill. To keep your body as fresh as possible vary your stride, speed and technique.
Putting it all together
I’m all for quality not quantity when it comes to running. Rather keep your sessions shorter so that you’ve got time for cross-training i.e. walking, swimming, aerobics, cycling, paddling etc. Looking at your week, try the following (I’ve selected Sunday as your long run day). And, if you can’t manage to do a speed and hill session, substitute one with a cross-training session.
- Sunday: Long run
- Monday: Rest day
- Tuesday: Recovery run – slow, paced session at a conversational pace. This session should be 20mins (minimum) – 40mins (max).
- Wednesday: Interval or speed workout and cross-training
- Thursday: Easy run and/or cross-training
- Friday: Hill training and cross-training
- Saturday: Easy cross-training
Our lives are busy and in between work, family and friends getting out to train is often an effort. Run smart and you’ll achieve your goals.
- Baby Steps: Whether you’re a complete beginner or are increasing your distance, build up gradually. Follow the 10% rule by not increasing your distance by more than 10% over the previous week. If you’ve been ill or haven’t been training, start again at a lower level and build up slowly.
- Talk: 60% of your running training should be done at a comfortable pace. Your pace is perfect when you can hold a conversation with your buddy without huffing and puffing.
- Goal: Check out the running calendar and set yourself a goal. It’s always easier to work towards a specific event. Road races are fun and provide an idea environment for you to measure your progress.
- Hard-Easy Rule: Alternate hard training days with easy training days. Remember to include at least one rest-day per week into your program.
- Variety: Spice up your running training with walking, intervals, treadmill, speed and hill sessions.
- Cross-training: Adding other disciplines into your program will strengthen and work different muscles – essential for injury prevention. It’s important to do activities that have less impact on the body like swimming, cycling and paddling.
- Buddy system: A training partner is a motivating force that will get you out there on those days when you’d rather be watching tv. Your training partner should be of similar fitness.
- Tick-tock: Run time, not distance. And, occasionally head out the door without your watch. Run as you feel.
- Rub-down: Massage stimulates circulation, encourages lymphatic drainage, prompts muscle repair and aids injury prevention.
- Injuries: Though taking weeks off from running is your worst nightmare come true, the break is worth the frustration. Whether it’s your knees, ankles, feet or leg muscles, the standard 6 weeks of no running will ensure you’re back on your feet as soon as possible. Don’t go from zero to hero. Remember to build up slowly again.
- Shoes: Replace your shoes regularly. Worn shoes cause injuries.
- On- and off-road: Use your running shoes for their intended purpose. Don’t use your running shoes off-road.
- Logbook: Record your training sessions in a logbook describing the type of activity, duration of the session and how you felt. It’s a great reference to observe what works and how your speed, strength and endurance have improved.
- Running Magazines: A source of information and inspiration. Their training programs and columns will keep you motivated, informed and your training interesting.
Most importantly, while you’re out there walking and running, don’t lose sight of your goals or why you’re putting in so much time and effort. Training, no matter what the discipline must be for you – your physical and psychological well-being.
Author: Lisa de Speville