By Jason Koop,
Head Coach of CTS Ultrarunning
One of the first things I do with any new athlete is to create a Long Range Plan, a big picture view of an entire season indicating where the major races will be and when to focus on intensity, higher amounts of vertical, and longer long runs. For the most part the Long Range Plans for athletes I work with have been thrown out the window during the current pandemic. Don’t get me wrong, there still has to be purpose and logic behind training, even without a concrete end point in sight. The athletes I work with will still make progress, and so can you. Long range planning allows me to focus an athlete’s training on the things that matter the most at the right moment in time. There’s not much need to have your physiology fine-tuned at a precise time right now, but the good news is that this opens the door to other types of challenges.
Unique and off-the-wall challenges won’t always fit well in your training plan when you have a big goal event coming up. In any normal training period I could easily justify better training choices. But this is not a normal training period. Will the challenges below make you a better runner? Probably. Do they represent the perfect training structure? Absolutely not. But they will offer up some unique fun, so let’s get after it.
The 4X4X48 Run Challenge
The concept here is simple: run 4 miles every 4 hours, starting on the hour, for 48 hours. You can check your graphing calculator at the door, this challenge will result in running 48 miles over two days. You might have seen versions of this pop up from time to time, as it has recently been pushed into the spotlight by ultrarunner and former Navy SEAL, David Goggins. I recently took on this challenge with a few of my athletes and friends using an e-mail thread for banter and a bit of smack talk. It was a hoot.
Why this challenge is effective
I often describe ultrarunning as an exercise in being comfortable with being uncomfortable. And this challenge oozes uncomfortableness. For each 4-hour round, you have about 3 hours of down time depending on your pace and how quickly you change (or you can just stay in your running clothes from round to round). That’s just enough time to get a small snack, take a nap, do some work, or watch your favorite Star Wars film (Return of the Jedi, in my case). But, it’s not enough time to really relax all that much. You end up running at all hours of the day and night and are guaranteed to have at least a few runs 100% by headlamp. You are uncomfortable most of the time through a combination of sleep deprivation, mileage and perhaps boredom if you prefer to do the same loop every time.
This exercise is also effective as it packs a 48-mile punch into a 2-day timeframe. The concentration of volume in such a short time will boost your fitness, as long as you take ample time to recover afterward. Even if you took the day before and two days off after, it would still net 48 miles over a 5-day period. And, I would argue the training stimulus of 48 miles in that concentrated timeframe is equal to if not greater than the same 48 miles spread out evenly over 5 days.
If you want to turn this up a notch, increase the distance each round or switch up the intensity so you alternate hard and easy 4-mile rounds.
The 10 Miles a Day for a Week Challenge
Many people have a staple route around their house that’s approximately 10 miles. Mine is a loop around a section of trail called Section 16. It gently climbs out of my neighborhood and reaches an apex after a 1-mile with an 800-foot climb at approximately the halfway point. The route then gently descends back to my house. I run it about once a week year-round and can tell you where every bend, rock and waterbar is located. The concept behind this exercise is to do the same loop every day for an entire week and run it faster each time. Sounds easy enough on the surface, right?
This challenge is both calculating and will exert a physical toll once all said and done. It is calculating in that it requires you to use just enough energy for the first few days that you leave room in the tank for the last few. Even for well-known routes like my Section 16 loop, I would have to figure out my pacing to ensure I run the first few days slower than normal so that I can speed up for the last few. On the physical side, the last two days in particular will almost act like back to back hard training days, particularly if you make an early miscalculation. Your intensity will vary based on how well you pace each effort.
During normal training periods I prefer to start with the hardest effort or workout first, rather than build up to it. But this one-week challenge can serve other purposes. As an exercise it brings to light the fact that pacing penalties in trail running can make a big difference. You can get bonus points on this exercise for trying to improve by 1 min each day, which stacks up towards the end of the week.
Each of these challenges has a place in your training right now. Long range architecture and precise planning are preferred when goal events are clearly defined. These are not those times. Take some time now to do something unique, difficult, and fun. These challenges might not be perfect from a strictly training standpoint, but you will still be a better runner having done them.