John Fitzgerald off-season podcast

How Ultrarunners Should Approach The Off-Season

Topics Covered In This Episode:

  • How to approach an off-season after a season of racing
  • How to use micro rests during the season
  • Getting at the “Why” behind your goal
  • How to use training races to prepare for A races

Guest Bio – John Fitzgerald:

John Fitzgerald was the first ultrarunning-specific coach hire at CTS in 2016 and began coaching professionally in 2013. John coaches beginners to professional athletes all over the world in events like The Western States 100, Tahoe Rim Trail 100, The Bear 100, and many more. Read more about John here.


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Episode Transcription:

Please note that this is an automated transcription and may contain errors. Please refer to the episode audio for clarification.

Corrine Malcolm (00:01):

It’s September key, fall races are actively happening every weekend or just on the horizon. So what happens after the season’s ending a race? Are you taking a break, a small off season or are your eyes already on the 2022 season? That lays ahead. I’m here today with good friend and colleague coach John Fitzgerald, or as we like to call them around here, Fitzy, I brought John on today because he is one of the most thoughtful coaches I know, and I really respect and appreciate his, a holistic approach with his athletes. John, welcome to the podcast.

John Fitzgerald (00:31):

What’s going on?

Corrine Malcolm (00:33):

How are you doing? Oh, you know, just try trying to stay out of trouble. I think I have five athletes racing this weekend. I think I have six athletes racing next weekend. You know, we’ve got all the big, full hundreds going on right now.

John Fitzgerald (00:47):

That’s a lot going on. Are those hundred milers or which races do you get?

Corrine Malcolm (00:55):

We’ve got, we’ve got the bear next. We have barren two weeks, but we’ve got this week, we’ve got superior hundred. We’ve got ultra trail [inaudible] happening in Canada. We have superior. Maybe I just said that we’ve got Wasatch this weekend. We have run rabbit next weekend. It’s just, it’s a constant flux, I think, of season ending hundred mile races.

John Fitzgerald (01:18):

Right. You know, it’s definitely a busy time of year. I find that with the ultra running season, you know, the, the springtime can be kind of a big hype, you know, you’ve got Western states that kinda, um, kicks off the spring with, you know, um, you know, one of the older, a hundred milers. And then not to say there’s a bit of a gap in the, in the summer months or July and August, but then, then fall comes around and it’s like, whoa, here we go. You know? And, uh, there’s some big, big races happening, but also also with that, that’s a long season. Right. You know, if athletes are, you know, training, uh, for, for a spring race and then they have a big race in the fall, the that’s, that’s a lot of, a lot of training time and hopefully, you know, as coaches and athletes, there’s a little bit of downtime in there as well. Um, but, uh, yeah, it’s just the balance between, are we taking enough time in between the races and then like, we’ll discuss a bit further I’m sure. But, um, you know, off season, what is an off season? How do we approach an off season? I think is, um, hot on a lot of people’s minds as they kinda rear the end of the season.

Corrine Malcolm (02:22):

Yeah. I think that’s a really pertinent point. Like I personally almost take like many off seasons throughout my year and I some, or I take a big off season cause I have a musky background. So I like, I love my off season as skiers. Right. We, we always would take like all of April off before you started the next training cycle, but with ultra running, you can race year around. So I’m curious, what’s your approach with athletes? Do they all take a, uh, designated off season or are you finding kind of little time throughout the year to give them breaks here and there instead of taking like a, a full month off, for example, right.

John Fitzgerald (02:57):

Yeah. I mean, I think it depends on the athlete. I tend to work with a lot of athletes that they don’t just run. So they do have, you know, a sport like skiing in the winter that they engage with or, um, they’re, they’re riding their bike, um, as well. So that, that kind of, I don’t want to say it makes it easier, but they have that other sport to kind of, to kind of lean back on and maybe keep running kind of on the back seat. So maybe they’re not running quite as much, but, um, uh, yeah, I’m definitely a huge fan of having little, little pockets of rest, um, throughout the year and then depending on where the athletes at and how much they’re racing and not just how much they’re racing, but what is the training looking like going into the races? Because I find that’s often, you know, where a lot of fatigue is also built up.

John Fitzgerald (03:42):

It’s not just like, okay, I did a really tough mountain, uh, ultra it’s, like I’ve been training for four or five months leading into this pretty heavily. So I think it really depends on, you know, the athletes, backgrounds, what the, the, the training load has been like throughout the year. And just also just checking in kind of, you know, where where’s the athlete at physically, and then also mentally, because I, I find that sometimes the body can physically be in a pretty good space or place, but the mind is just not really in it. And then the, an athlete might be kind of engaging in a process that might be, uh, feel a little forced and that can also create a lot of stress as well. So I find it depends on the athlete. If we have that multi-sport athlete, then we have a discussion about how to transition into that other sport and where, where does running fit in with that, with that other sport, whether it goes away completely, or we’re still kind of engaging and running, but it’s, you know, not, not like it was in the thick of training for, for running for racing.

Corrine Malcolm (04:40):

Yeah. I think what’s really interesting. There is the, you talked about like that mental break, right? Like physically, they might be fine, but mentally the focused training that’s gone into an, a race or, or a complete season, let’s say might be more than the mental than the men, or more than the physical. It might be a mental strain on athletes. So I think when it comes to off season, we think of, oh, it’s this, it’s this complete break. But I think for a lot of athletes, it’s not about a break from physical activity. It’s more about a break from structure a little bit. And I’m wondering how you’ve used that with athletes. Like, is it, oh, you have to take X number of days or weeks off for moving your body is, or is it more like we’re going to change how we think about training for a couple of weeks to allow flexibility so that you can mentally feel fresher?

John Fitzgerald (05:26):

Yeah, no, that’s definitely a good point. Um, it depends on the athlete. There’s some athletes that kind of need a little bit more of that nudge of like, okay, what’s really trying to take two weeks of very, or very little running if, if, or no running, um, just, you know, again, if they’re, if they’re really needing that. So I think sometimes it can be beneficial to have that, um, that, that structure in that time or length of time off from running, but very much so I find that where the mental fatigue can come in is just following a pretty consistent schedule over time, uh, is definitely, can be mentally draining for some athletes. And I think it’s really important to, to listen to that and give the athlete, uh, the ball to dribble and, you know, if they want to go hike, if they want to kind of switch things up and just kind of have less of a rigid structure to, to have training to follow can be really refreshing.

John Fitzgerald (06:19):

And I think it’s just a matter of time, some athletes might need more time with that kind of freeform get out, um, mix it up, uh, not follow the plan to a tee. And, you know, usually we’ll, I’ll get that kind of hint from the athlete that they’re ready to kind of start to, to get back into a more structured with their training. Um, but yeah, again, that goes back to that forced approach. And I like to use that word approach, like how did, how was the athlete approaching the process of training? Are they, are they forcing it or is it more, um, I really want to get out, I really want to go explore the mountains or is it like, I feel like I have to. And I think once that, once we get into this, I have to get out the door, then I think that’s the flag or the, the, the key that the athlete might, might need a little bit more west structure.

Corrine Malcolm (07:06):

Yeah. Or a conversation about like, Hey, let’s talk about your relationship with the training right now. Cause that definitely seems like that’s not as sustainable as this, that, that is a recipe for burnout in my mind. And I’m wondering if you’ve seen that with athletes, if there’s a difference with athletes between say, say you’re a race went really well, versus you’re a race went really, maybe not to your expectations. Do you see a difference there with athletes where it’s like, how they come out of a race that went well versus a race that didn’t go as well, as far as like the mental and or physical like needs after that?

John Fitzgerald (07:36):

Yeah. That’s interesting. It, I feel like it can go either way. I’ve had athletes do really, really well in a race and, and they want to get right back out there. Right. They, you know, it’s almost like they’re, they’re really stoked on the performance and they want to have another amazing performance again, it’s like, they’re just really jazzed. There’s a lot of, a lot of emotions going on there. So in a way that that individual might need to be, you know, might need to kind of reel things back a little bit and kind of control that excitement. Uh, um, but then there’s other athletes that maybe there’s this, like, I need to go prove myself or her, you know, um, if the race didn’t go well, that is, um, so kind of wanting to get right back out there and, and, and hit the training hard. And so I think it’s important to also just realize too, that even maybe the athlete didn’t finish the race, but there’s still, um, still quite a bit of stress there as well. Um, both from, I don’t know if I want to use the word disappointed, but not finishing, you know, just having those emotions and the stress from that potentially combined with wanting to get right back out can, can be tough.

Corrine Malcolm (08:42):

Yeah. I’ve ended the season on a DNF before, and it’s not, not the most fun. Yeah. It’s not the most fun experience, but I think it’s interesting that yeah, there’s some times that it’s needs that need to be reigned back in and there’s sometimes athletes that need to be, I dunno, just like comforted and, and, you know, told they’re okay. And figuring what that balance is. Obviously not everyone season maybe ends with a fall hundred. And so I’m curious, you know, we talked about off seasons a little bit, but what, what does micro arrest look like for you say, so you’ve got an athlete who had, you know, a big race earlier in the summer, and then they’ve got, and they’ve got, maybe they’re doing like the bear coming up in a couple of weeks or Moab two 40 or something like that. Right. That they had an early season event. And now they’ve got a later season event. What, what kind of, that’s a huge time period, one a train for, and it’s a lot of load on the body. Like how would micro arrest look in a situation like that as opposed to like taking an off season in the middle of your summer, for example.

John Fitzgerald (09:38):

Yeah, no, that’s a good one. Um, yeah, and that’s a pretty common structure. And, and one that I actually kind of like if you’re going to pick maybe two races to be in really good form for us to have them, you know, separated by, you know, some decent amount of time. Um, and, uh, but you know, as far as that goes, I think it really, again, still is really important for that first event to have, have a decent amount of time down. And, you know, even if the athlete is kind of really itching to want to get back out and start training, cause that can typically be the case. You finish your first, like, you know, big objective, big a race, and then, um, you kind of want to just get right back out and get going. So I think it’s important to just again, take a 30,000 foot view and realize that, you know, it’s important that rest is, is part of training as well.

John Fitzgerald (10:24):

I think sometimes that’s, that’s often overlooked that if we’re, if we’re taking a week or two weeks down, that we’re gonna, all of a sudden lose all our fitness, it just kinda goes away. Um, so I think I really, again, really encouraged my athletes to take that time. So they are really itching and again, really have that, that drive to really want to get out. And I call, I call when athletes want get back into training a little bit too quickly after that first race, like the grand piano falls in the back. I think we’ve all seen that as coach with coach, uh, with our athletes that if they get that going quick, sometimes we see yeah. Things kind of the workouts are a little bit, uh, more forced. Um, they need to again, take a little bit more time off. So I think that that rests sooner than, rather than later can set the athlete up for getting into, you know, a good, consistent block where again, they want to be out there.

John Fitzgerald (11:16):

Yeah. So I definitely, uh, I think the smaller pockets, when I say small pockets, that could be, that could be two weeks. Um, the other one that I don’t know if we’ve mentioned yet, but you know, when we finish a hundred mile or even a shorter distance race, if we take a muscle biopsy before the race, after the race, there’s, there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of muscle damage going on. Right. So I think the other one is just, uh, to give, thanks to our bodies and what we ask of it and what we demand of our bodies out there. And it’s, uh, it’s a hard sport, right? So I think if we want to be in it for many years, a couple of weeks off at the end of the day, isn’t really a whole whole lot. So, um, I think it’s worth it in the end.

Corrine Malcolm (11:56):

Yeah. Rest is this super counterintuitive thing, right? Like rest is this thing where it’s like to get better, to get better at training, to get better, to perform better. You need, you need right. You need enough stress and then you need enough rest in order to make those adaptations. And I think I find it, the athletes, I have to tell them, Hey, we’re taking this down week or we’re taking this down this little down period after this race or after this really big training block so that you can be physically and mentally ready for the next training block. Like I try to, I try to sew it in a reward type of way where it’s like, if you do this week really well, you’ll be even more prepared for what’s about to happen and try to, so the excitement there, but it takes a long time for people to, to buy in sometimes to rest in our sport. And I don’t know if it’s our sport in general or athletes in general, but I feel like rest, do you find that you have to sell rest to your athletes? I find that the sell rest rest days or rest weeks to athletes.

John Fitzgerald (12:50):

Yeah. No for sure. I think, yeah. You know, again, bringing up the example of like your, you know, most athletes are injured after race, just kind of highlighting the fact that there’s a lot going on physiologically that the rest is going to really help. Um, I like the analogy of like compressing a spring. And I like to look at training load or consistent training load over time as compressing a spring. And then as we allow our body to RAs, we take some time off. We allow that spring to get back up to its full potential or the full length of the spring. And so we don’t take those little bits of rest. We’re going to continue to punch that spring or compress it down and that’s not going to lead to, um, you know, our body’s able to really fully absorb that the stress we’re putting on it.

John Fitzgerald (13:30):

So I think, yeah, as a coach, I like to bring up little examples that I think, you know, uh, hopefully click with the athlete and then they, they really embrace the rest. Um, but yeah, it’s tricky. I find the other one that can be tricky too with again, the multi-sport athletes that, that train for ultras, but also have the bike gang or the skiing is to then rely maybe a little bit too heavily on that cross training modality, like after the race. And they might push that as well. Um, I’m kind of seeing that a little bit posts you TMB where there’s some athletes that have observed that are putting in some pretty serious volume on the bike and things like this. So I mean, as much as, you know, say cycling for example is lower impact than running, but there’s still the metabolic stress as well. Um, so I think we have to be careful with, you know, uh, pushing the envelope just because it’s not running, it’s still stress on the body. And um, yeah, just if we’re going to rest really try and commit to some purposeful rest, you know? Yeah,

Corrine Malcolm (14:27):

Yeah. I I’m right there with you. I see that. And I’m like, oh, your body needs, your body needs more. But the truth is that everyone’s body is a little bit different, right? Like I’ve got an athlete right now who, you know, he felt really like, he like was really tired coming out of, out of UT and be week after TDS. And, um, you know, other athletes and TDS are, you know, are already back training, let’s say, and I’m like, it’s okay. Like this is your season. This is your body. This is your training plan. Like it’s, I think just like training, like there’s this comparison game that goes on with, oh, how much rest do I need or how much rest, oh, this person didn’t take any time off. I shouldn’t take any time off. Like it’s, it’s people need to spend less time on Strava maybe and more time focusing on themselves a little bit. Yeah.

John Fitzgerald (15:10):

Right. Yeah. The Strava Noya right. Just kind of looking at to see what, where people are doing on there can be a little stressful. Um, but yeah, again, everyone’s different. I think, you know, off season can also be a great time to, um, you know, if you’ve had, if an athlete’s had a busy season is to, um, is to take some serious time down, like that’s okay too, you know, to, to not cross train or, uh, to take a month down. Like I think sometimes that’s like, um, you know, it’s like, what the heck? You know, should I be out moving? Like what the heck, you know, a month is, is totally fine. Like if your body needs that, then that’s completely fine. I I’d say I have a lot of athletes that after a hundred mile or they’ll, they’ll take close to a month off and that’s because they’re tuning in with their body and their body’s just not really ready to get back into structured training where another athlete might feel pretty good after, after a couple of weeks.

John Fitzgerald (16:04):

So it really does depend on the athlete. Um, but yeah, cross or off season can be complete downtime. It can also be a great time to, um, focus on some areas of fitness or of training that you didn’t really have the opportunity to really, uh, dive into as much in the, in the season. And so what comes to mind is like, you know, some weaknesses that an athlete might have. Um, so I mean, for ultra running, I find that not everyone, but typically if we’re we’re training for a mountainous ultra marathon, uh, we’re most likely not doing a whole lot of, uh, higher intensity work or speed work. So I’ve found a lot of athletes and again, not everyone, but could benefit from a period of time where they switch it up and they, they challenged those weaknesses. Um, so I always do a back flip when an athlete comes to me and asked like, Hey coach, do you think this winter it’d be a good idea to like, see what I can do.

John Fitzgerald (17:05):

And like the mile, or like how quickly I can run the 5k or [inaudible]. And again, I always want, you know, the athlete needs to kind of really want to do it, but I always get really excited when they kind of present that to me. Cause I know if they challenged that weakness and they put some time, they put some time into that, it’s only going to benefit them. There’s going to be growth from that, uh, that approach in that process. So I dunno if you find that Korean like athletes that want to kind of really switch it up.

Corrine Malcolm (17:34):

Yeah. I think that, and like strength to like personally and or with athletes, it’s like, oh, once we’ve gotten, once we’re mentally over the hurdle of completing a hundred mile or a hundred K or whatever it is, and we’re mentally and physically in a place where we are moved, like we’re more than just moving our body lightly throughout the week. It’s like, yeah, let’s do a little bit of intensity and a little bit of like, let’s get back in the gym, for example, like let’s move some heavyweights around things that don’t necessarily fit super well in the middle of an ultra season. Right. And so it’s like that pairs nicely, that short high intensity with like a heavy lifting cycle. And then it’s like, okay, we’ll get more specific down the road, but I love, I love the full, the full 180 that’s like w like literally when I’m tapering for a hundred, I’m like getting antsy about the future gym work and, and a track workout that I get to do in a couple of weeks post post hundred, because it’s like the next phase that I haven’t gotten to do for six months or eight months is coming.

Corrine Malcolm (18:31):


John Fitzgerald (18:32):

Yeah. And I think that can also kind of lean towards that, the idea of kind of maybe a little bit of a mental fatigue as well from just the, the, the, the day-to-day training, the specific work, the hard train that you’re putting in that’s, you know, uh, quite demanding on the body too, but it’s pretty repetitive and yeah, just that, that crave to want to do something completely different, um, is really exciting. Um, but it’s, it’s, it’s something to listen to. Um, cause I think a big training error is to, uh, you know, go through a season of, of, you know, mountainous, uh, ultra ultra training and racing and then get right back into that. Right. And I’ve seen that quite a bit too is, um, athletes that, you know, maybe not that it’s, they don’t want to challenge their weaknesses. They just, they really love being out in the mountains.

John Fitzgerald (19:17):

And I mean, I, I get it, you know, but I think if, if we want to kind of shake things up and, and really kind of, uh, improve and challenge ourselves, I think we got to kind of look at kind of period icing the type of work that we do throughout the year and not just do the same type of training, uh, or maybe this not an unsuited Satan type of training, but the same type of terrain to like the vertical that the big vertical, the slower kind of more kind of strength, orientated type of running. Yeah.

Corrine Malcolm (19:44):

Lucky for most of the mountain west and maybe the east coast as well. And in the Midwest, you know, minus they don’t have the mountains is that mountain season ends at a certain point for all of us cause we get snowed out of it. And so you kind of have to shift focuses a little bit and maybe that’s protective in a way for ultra runners, but I want to shift gears a little bit and I want to say, okay, an athlete’s gone through this, this off season or this many rest cycle and they’re there physically ready and they’re mentally ready to think about next year, next season. And I think I’ve got a lot of athletes that are slowly in this spot now where they are doing or have just done their last big race of the season. And we’re thinking about 20, 22. So what do you do? You know, we’re coming into that. I, this is my favorite time of year. We get to start talking about next year and a lot of ways it’s like Christmas. So what, what do you do? What is your pattern when you you’ve got an athlete? They, they don’t, they don’t, they they’re finishing up this season. They’re thinking about next season. What, what are the steps that you take with that athlete and setting up another season looking forward,

John Fitzgerald (20:48):

Right. Yeah. Well, first I’d like to just kind of obviously have like a little bit of a recap on the, on this season. Right. So just kind of talk through, talk through the season with the athlete, kind of what went well, what could be improved on, um, uh, what races they liked? You know, at this point, we, we might have an idea of, of the, if the athlete prefers to do maybe, um, some flatter type of terrain or some more mountainous type of terrain, but I think it starts with just a season recap and just kind of some takeaways from the season. Um, and then as far as kind of like going into the, the following year some, I mean, it’s a process, you know, I think we have, we’ve got a lot of lotteries that come up, so you kinda gotta be on your toes with either qualifying races or, um, just, you know, being right by the computer and being ready to, to hit the button, to sign up or throw your name in the hat.

John Fitzgerald (21:42):

But I think it’s also important to, um, to just reflect on the season and really ask, like what, what really excites you? Um, what kind of terrain do you like to run? Uh, what places might you want to go explore? I think that can be a cool one too, is to think about regions and different areas that you might want to go race, um, and start to kind of map out the season more that way. Um, looking at we’ve mentioned strengths and weaknesses, but I think it’s important to, uh, look at that as well and, you know, find races that really kind of suit your strengths. Um, and not to say it’s a bad thing to choose a race that’s, you know, a little bit more challenging for you, but, um, you know, I think it can be really rewarding to be, uh, at the, at a start line at a race that you’re like, yeah, I really want to be going up some steep, gnarly terrain.

John Fitzgerald (22:31):

So yeah, I kind of help guide athletes in a different, uh, different regions. What are some races down in south America? They kind of want to be in an area that’s a little bit more, uh, humid and tropical, if you will. And then, um, I think through that process, you kind of get the creative juices flowing and, uh, races start to just come to the surface. And then we got to decide, you know, uh, how, how are these races spaced out? You know, cause that’s the other one we can get really excited. And then all of a sudden there’s, you know, eight races on the calendar and then how are we going to really be able to make that work? So I think it’s like what races excite you let’s get them kind of mapped out. And then how do those kind of like workout from like a, uh, just a total calendar year? Are they too close? Can we use some, uh, uh, as kind of training races and, and then we kinda kind of go from there. So it’s, it’s a process. It doesn’t happen overnight.

Corrine Malcolm (23:25):

Yeah, definitely. And so we’re gonna take a step back here cause I, I really liked something that you said about things that you, things that athletes are good at or that they’re naturally Excel at versus things that, um, maybe challenge them. And I find that I’ve got a subset of athletes where their goals and what they like to do. Don’t line up. I E they want to run a really fast race, but they only want to train in the mountains or they want to run a really mountainous race, but they refuse to hike or they refuse to get into the mountains. So what do you do? I can not be alone in having athletes like this. So what do you do with those athletes? What does that conversation look like?

John Fitzgerald (24:07):

Yeah, that’s a good point. I mean, the classical is, I mean, an athlete from where they live, you know, they live in, you know, New York city or Boston and they’re training for UTM V. Right. Um, and I mean, but you could also say that the athletes just, they want to train or they’re signed up for the mountainous race, they have access to the mountains, but they’re maybe not getting to the mountains. Yeah. I mean, that’s, that’s a tough one. I do see that quite a bit as well. Um, and again, I think it goes back to like, you know, maybe a question that I like to ask is like, what is the goal of your goal? Like why do we have that goal of that race if, if we’re not able to kind of get on that type of train or best prepare for it.

John Fitzgerald (24:46):

So, um, kind of like, again, peeling back a little bit of the layers on like, yeah. Why, why that event, um, you know, and then, like you just said, bringing up the, the training and not being able to be, get on the type of terrain that’s going to be, you know, uh, specific to that event. So sometimes it just comes down and we talk a lot about this as a coaching group too, about just being creative in our approach. Right. Um, you know, with getting on the stairs and doing some, uh, you know, some training camps like this, but, um, yeah, I think it can be kind of fun sometimes to be honest, to kind of like have that challenge where an athletes running on flat terrain, but they have that mountainous race. I actually kind of get a little bit excited about that. Cause it, it, it makes the process kind of a fun, uh, challenge in itself. Um, but yeah, I don’t have any like secret method to it. I think it’s more, again, appealing back of like why this event, like, you don’t really, um, you don’t live near mountains, but, um, yeah. W how do you approach it?

Corrine Malcolm (25:51):

Like the, I like I’m going to use the, what is the goal of the goal? Because I think that, that definitely speaks to that a little bit. Like why, like what, like what, you know, what is your expectation or out of this as well? Cause I think that’s an important thing to throw out. I’ve got plenty of flat Landers who train, who want to do mountainous races. And I fully support that. Um, having grown up in the Midwest, like, heck yeah, I am obsessed with running in the mountains too, but it’s oftentimes more like my athletes who, it’s not that their goal isn’t aligned with where they live. It’s more like a, I have to coax them into doing a type of training that they don’t enjoy because their goal demands it like the, the, the terrain goal demands it. And, and so to me, it’s like, if they’re not excited about that type of training, that’s fine, but then I’ve got to have this other conversation with them about like, okay, well, like, what is your expectation for this race? Like this training is for this specificity or for this, this is the rationale. Like if your expectation is to finish versus travel to this country and enjoy the experience, or, you know, what have you, there’s different ways to thread that, but it’s, I like the I’m going to start using the, what is the goal of the goal? Um, I think that’s going to be my new, my new take for sure.

John Fitzgerald (27:03):

Yeah. What’s the goal, the goal. And I, and I brought this up with a local friend here in Helena. Who’s signed up for the rut 50 K and, you know, we had a group of friends that were all signed up. They actually come from more of like a rock climbing background. They, they, you know, peak bagging, they don’t run, they don’t come from a writing background. Let’s just say that. Um, but it was exciting. I was excited to see that they signed up for the race and this friend, he, he wasn’t really joining on some of the group runs and he didn’t really talk about much of the train that he was getting into. And I said, what’s, the deal is, is kinda more of like an imaginary goal that you might have. Like, I don’t see you taking the steps and it kinda kinda got him thinking about that.

John Fitzgerald (27:40):

Right. It made him like, Hmm, like I’m signed up for this rut 50 K this really cool backyard race here in Montana, but you’re right, John, like, I’m not getting out and actually putting in the work, like, what’s this all about, do I actually really want to do this? Is this, uh, a process-driven kind of objective and goal? Or is it more of like, I just feel good thinking about the rut. Right. And I think that’s something that is quite common with athletes that either consult with or work with is like, we’re all like we’re talking about right now is you get really excited about the big mountain race, but when it comes time to actually engage in the process, it’s, it’s, it’s tough. It’s hard. It maybe doesn’t even happen. Right. Because we’re getting a dopamine hit when we just think about finishing you TMB or finishing, whatever, whatever race that might be.

John Fitzgerald (28:27):

So I think, yeah, starting with, like, what is the goal of your goal and what does that goal do for you? What happens if you finish the event? What happens if you don’t finish the event? Like, what does that self-talk like, you know, in that situation, so it can bring up, uh, yeah. Some interesting, uh, conversation around it and I think can, can help better align like your behavior and, and, and again, the behavior on the goal and like, is your behavior kind of aligning with that? Right. Um, and, uh, yeah, really interesting stuff, but it’s, it’s a good discussion to have with athletes.

Corrine Malcolm (29:02):

Yeah. So say we’ve got an athlete, their goals, all align. They’re really excited about some races. Maybe they’re too excited. You mentioned all of a sudden it, an athlete and I’m in this boat too. I get stressed that I can’t fit all the races into one season. And so you talked about training races, and so I want to talk about two things. Now I want to talk about not racing or not training race to race. Right. Like thinking of it as a, as a whole, and then how can we utilize training races inside of that structure in order to best prepare us for our, what we’re going to deem a races.

John Fitzgerald (29:33):

Right. Yeah. So I think it definitely is important too, to have some races, if it works with the athlete logistically and everything, some, some races that we’re going to kind of label training races, or, you know, you could label it like a stepping stone that, that kind of build some momentum into that, a race, um, uh, you know, we can’t, we can’t be in peak form four and I would, I would go to say more than two races in a, in a season, you know, um, it’s just really, really difficult to do. So, um, you know, we kind of want to highlight some of these races that we want to really kind of peak and be in top form for, um, the other races. I like to kind of space out enough so we can collect some, I call it data points from that event.

John Fitzgerald (30:17):

Right. So we get out, we do, we do a training race that if an athlete is training for a hundred miler, you know, earlier season say, you know, this could be three months out, so a bit further out, um, a 50 kilometer race, right. We do the 50 kilometer race and we get some feedback, like what went well, what didn’t. And then, because it’s so far out, we still have that time to then address any of those areas of fitness, or it could be mindset, uh, going into the a hundred. Right. I think sometimes athletes will pick a training race a bit too close, and it’s like, oh, you know, maybe it’s like the downhill running the confidence. Isn’t quite there with the downhill running. And we just don’t have that time to address that area of fitness. So I think it’s key or important to have races that we can get some data points and, uh, and, and really kind of like use that in the training, uh, going into the, into the event. Um, so that’s one kind of approach that I like athletes to kind of take. Um, but the other one that’s really

Corrine Malcolm (31:22):

Popular. Okay. So I was gonna say, you’re right. If it’s too close, it can’t inform the training. That’s kind of like, that’s that idea if the race is too close it’s for confidence, it’s for a dress rehearsal, but it can’t inform a change in training is the, is the issue there.

John Fitzgerald (31:40):

Right. So, yeah, exactly. Um, so I think having a race further out where we can get some data points and then that next race that might be leading, getting a bit closer is a, is more for that kind of adaptation that kind of, that stress from the race that we can then take into yeah. Into the, into the race, if you will. But, um, so that’s one strategy, but the race recover kind of concept that, that tends to come up either in the coaching group or we just see it, or I see it, that can be, I think can be potentially problematic. Um, just because we end up potentially an athlete just does not have, um, again, there’s almost too, too much of the little pockets arrest because you have to take some time down. So for racing so frequently throughout the year, um, we’re, we’re not really able to really get inconsistent training. And so, uh, like the week after week of just finding that rhythm with your training, uh, kind of gets a little bit interrupted with the frequent racing and our, I don’t know if you’ve seen that. Yeah.

Corrine Malcolm (32:44):

Yeah. I mean, I think that the pandemic highlighted that for a lot of people too, is that all of a sudden they weren’t traveling for races. They weren’t tapering for races. They weren’t recovering from races. So they got this huge block of uninterrupted training. And I think we saw this outside of just ultra running. I think we saw this in like Olympic mountain biking, for example, a sport that I follow as, as a fan, um, as an observer, all of a sudden they had this huge training block. I mean, we’re all a little race rusty then, but it was a really interesting from a physiology standpoint, from a training load standpoint, it was a very different season. And I think that that showed a value in consistency in the absence of races. And so I think that can inform how we utilize races and training races throughout a season and being cognizant of what is too much and what is too little.

John Fitzgerald (33:36):

Right. Yeah. And, and, you know, I get the idea of, um, being a little rusty with racing. I think that was definitely a big takeaway as well. So it goes both ways. Right. But yeah, it’s hard to try to go wrong with consistent training again, with proper recovery in there as well. But, um, so, so yeah, I think the, the approach to the season is, you know, try and highlight some events that you’re really excited about, you know, really kind of peel back some of the layers on that, the, on that objective, you know, what, what really gets you excited about it really have that, that, that understanding which takes time, um, for some individual summit, some athletes is really, no, I want to do this and they’re, they’re just super stoked on it. And they’re, they’re engaging in the process and it’s very meaningful and that’s, that’s awesome.

John Fitzgerald (34:27):

Um, so I think that’s the first step. And then, I don’t know, I don’t want to say the harder part, but is to start to find these other events that we could potentially use in the lead into. Um, and that doesn’t always have to be the case either. I mean, I’ve had a lot of athletes have success with races, um, where they don’t really do a lot of training ahead of time either. So I think that’s the other one I see. And I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this current, if you feel like athletes like need to race before they’re a race, like they need to have a training race. Uh, do, do you see that or with athletes?

Corrine Malcolm (35:03):

Yeah, that’s a question that I was just going to pose too, is like, what, what have you of an athlete? And I have athletes like this who are super busy. They’ve got family, they’ve got a busy job. Maybe. I don’t know, like the pandemic was hard financially on a lot of people like the travel to the sign up and pay for a training race can be a hard pill to swallow, I think sometimes. And so I always tell athletes, look, I love training races. I think they’re a great dress rehearsal. I think it’s good for confidence. I think it’s good for us to take, take information forward, but you still have to be excited in my mind. You still have to be excited about that. And so I was like, I’m always like if you can’t find a race that you’re excited about to use a training race that fits in the schedule, then we’ll, we’ll figure out a different way to stress you out.

Corrine Malcolm (35:46):

Like we’ll figure out a different test event, you know, we’ll make, we’ll make a training weekend. We’ll make a training camp style weekend to elicit that same response as going into a race would. And I think that that is, I think it takes a little bit more ingenuity and I think it takes a little bit more thoughtfulness maybe, but I, I I’ve done it personally. I’ve had athletes do it. I think you can definitely it. I think it’s, it’s possible. It’s not always the most practical, but I do think it’s very possible to do it that way. Um, I had athletes, uh, pre Western states who didn’t, who didn’t race. Like they’re just, it was early season stuff was kind of still slow at the pandemic. Um, they couldn’t get enough practice races ahead of, ahead of time. And so we, yeah, we just, we created training stimuli that was going to do what they needed to do for Western states, for example. And so yeah, you got, you have to be creative for sure.

John Fitzgerald (36:39):

Yeah. And I think sometimes you have unique events, like say for instance, hard rock where it’s hard to find a training race. And especially as you’re getting closer in your more specific training that really replicates that the terrain. So sometimes you’re better off and we see this with you, TMB athletes, we’ll go over and actually get on that on the course. So they’re not really too fixated on finding that training race they’re out on the course, they’re on the terrain. And so it doesn’t always have to be a high race season approach. It can be, how do I, how do I find terrain that can mimic the race? And I always like to go, how can I find train that might be even sometimes a little bit more challenging than the course, uh, that I’m up against and get creative and, and, um, and make that part of your, your season prep as well. So,

Corrine Malcolm (37:26):

Yeah, I think it’s going to be an interesting, um, thing to navigate. I, I think that, I don’t know, UTV is a great example, right? Like people oftentimes don’t, and maybe that’s where you use the, the, uh, an early season race to, to bust the rust, to get familiar with racing again, after maybe a winter, a fallen winter away. And then your quote unquote, what would have been like, uh, an adaptation race, something where it’s like, it’s too close to the actual event to, to change training for like, that could be just about being on core, specific terrain. I think for, I think UT MB falls into that category a lot for folks is that they do an early summer race. And then what they’re going to do in the lead up to UT and B is going to be get on similar terrain as opposed to finding another, a 50 mile or a hundred K or a 50 K in, in the right time window for it. Yeah.

John Fitzgerald (38:16):

Yeah. It’s really tricky to, to, to find that, uh, that race, that, that really allows you, that not being tired.

Corrine Malcolm (38:27):

Yeah. So I’ve got, I’ve got a question here, cause I think that, you know, races are hard to get into, um, there’s lotteries that are going on it’s, uh, you know, ultra the ultra world with a little bit more difficult to navigate than it used to be, as far as getting, getting into racist. I’ve got a lot of athletes who I think are really stressed about like got into this race. So I have to do it and I want to do this and this and this and this and this too. How do you navigate the over racers? Like how do you help steer them towards, you know, quote unquote like an appropriate number of races for a season,

John Fitzgerald (38:59):

Right. We’re going to kind of like to bring up the, just the whole concept of being in, you know, if you really kind of want to be in good form and at your, you know, confident and healthy and at your best and capable and powerful and all these great things for your event, um, you know, it’s really difficult to do to, to be that, um, to be in good form like that if we’re racing so much, just because it’s, it’s really demanding to do so. So I like to just kind of start with the basics and try and just plant the seed with the athlete about, you know, if we take this approach, like sure, you can go out and race every other weekend or every weekend if you want, but how does that align with, with, you know, with your goals ultimately of being again, capable and ready for that event?

John Fitzgerald (39:44):

Is it, is that going to align? And so as, as we know, as coaches, that’s typically not the best structure to raise that frequently. So, um, I typically like to just usually want to go through that with an athlete. It kind of makes a little bit more sense with them. Um, uh, again, if we can, you know, again, maybe replace a race with some kind of a training camp that maybe, you know, isn’t going to be as taxing and, and gonna take as much recovery potentially. That can also be another strategy for someone who really likes to get out and put in some decent efforts. Um, but yeah, it’s really kind of this balance between again, trying to not, you know, take too much time off cause we want to be consistent with their training. You know, I always like to look at it over forced to take a rest day of, or forced to take weeks off.

John Fitzgerald (40:31):

Like, why is that? What is the, the stress that is kind of putting us in a situation where we have to take that much time down and how does that kind of align or how does that, how does that set us up for success at some of these races that ultimately you want to really do well? So I think it’s just kind of peeling back a little bit about, you know, what that approach can, can lead to, which is, you know, most likely feeling, quite tired. Um, and in, and again, if, if we’re really process of an athlete’s process driven, you know, they’re really excited about the day-to-day approach of building into the event. And they ultimately kind of use that event to leverage, uh, leverage that event to be capable and powerful in the present moment and with the process, then they most likely aren’t going to want to do that. Um, we go that route of racing very frequently. So I think it’s a matter of kind of lining up, like how can we choose events that get you really excited for the day to day and the process of training?

Corrine Malcolm (41:26):

Yeah, it goes back to, again, like what’s the goal in the goal? What’s the goal of the goal? I think that that’s a great, it almost to me feels a little bit, I almost at the fearmonger athletes go in and say, okay, well, if we do this, this is going to set up this way. Like, if, if we, if you really want to do all these things, you’re going to be mediocre potentially at all of them. Can you finish all of them? Yes. Do you want to be good at any of them? That’s a question that you have to sit with and I’ve had athletes where like my goal is to, to show durability. My goal is to complete these four or five or six hundreds in a year, and it’s not impossible, but they, they have, they know going in that they’re not going to perform as good as they could in any one of them because they’re doing all six of them. And that’s definitely like, those conversations are hard, but they’re good. And I think as soon as you sit down and have them and actually like, look at, look at all the information, it makes a lot more sense.

John Fitzgerald (42:18):

Yeah. Yeah, definitely. I think when there’s the understanding, the athlete understands that I get it, you know, I’m not going to be at my best, but I really want to be out there with the community and things like this. Like it, it can work out. I’m not, I’m not gonna, you know, take it off the table completely. And it happens pretty frequently there. I mean, there’s a lot of athletes that race a lot and, and these are, these are hard, really hard events. They’re there. They’re not easy. Um, so it’s, uh, it’s just aligning those values and those, and those goals, you know, and, uh, I think that’s super important. And, and again, it, do you want to get out there and put in the work or do you have to like, what’s that talk like in the, in your approach to the training, because you want to want to be out there if you don’t want it to be a forceful effort? I mean, I’m sure there’s going to be sessions that will be hard, but, um, we don’t want to create a season where it just, um, it becomes too much, there’s too much pressure being built up, you know?

Corrine Malcolm (43:15):

Yeah. The have versus the want to, so yeah. So what I’m hearing, the big things I’m hearing is that when we’re setting up a season of any sort, we want to, we want to know what our goals are. We want to know what we versus what we enjoy doing, and if they align and then kind of drill down on what is the goal of the goals, and then trying to thread that needle of wanting to do the, do the work as opposing, as opposed to have to being in a spot where you have to do the work. So if there’s anything else that athletes, you know, sitting at home who are, you know, trying to figure out they got a lottery season coming up, that’s going to help dictate their futures a little bit. What, what other, is there any other advice that athletes can take forward into planning their 20, 22 season?

John Fitzgerald (43:56):

Yeah, I mean, you know, it, it takes time. I think sometimes we think like we’re just going to snap our fingers and like the events are just going to fall in our lap and we’re going to have everything kind of figured out. Um, and I get the idea of, you know, there’s some races that have deadlines with when you need to sign up, but I definitely recommend just kind of, you know, slowing down a little bit and really also enjoying the process of figuring that all out. Right. I think sometimes maybe it’s reaching out to your coach and having the conversation with your coach or some friends that have been to a certain area, but I also encourage the athletes to, to enjoy the process of, of, of figuring out your season, because it doesn’t have to be stressful. It can be enjoyable. And, you know, we get to go run in some really, really freaking cool places, you know, so we don’t want to rush that.

John Fitzgerald (44:44):

And I, uh, I slow it down. Um, if you miss a lottery, that’s okay. Right. You know, there’s other events out there and there’s only going to be more events that pop up. They’re going to be super cool and I’m sure are going to be in some amazing places. So I think just slow it down, reach out to people, um, get inspired, um, by, you know, for instance watching UT and B, um, just seeing some of the races that are going to happen this fall. And I think that will spark a lot of curiosity and really help in the planning for the season to come. So

Corrine Malcolm (45:14):

I love it. Follow, listen to your coach, talk to your coach, follow your gut. I, it reminds me of like signing up for college courses, like looking at all the options, it’s going to be really, really exciting and really nerve wracking, but everyone’s going to be fine. Okay. I think that’s a great place to wrap up, John. Thank you so much for joining us. I wish everyone good luck and figuring out their 20, 22 season. I know I am in that process right now, John. I’m sure you’re in that process right now as well, but yeah. Good luck everyone. Let us know what you decide to do for 2022.

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