training volume

Why Spring Training Volume is Important for Ultramarathon Runners

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By Jason Koop,
Head Coach of CTS Ultrarunning

With the summer racing season right around the corner and many races actually looking promising to come back on-line in 2021, runners are starting to pay more and more attention to their training. Some are building back fitness from some extended downtime, others that have not lost a beat are looking where to take their training next. In any of these cases, athletes targeting July, August and September races are in a great position to advance one particular part of their training: volume.

Why focus on volume now?

If your race is in July, August or September it might seem too far off to start doing a heavy volume phase now. After all, with 3-5 months to work with, there is plenty of time to schedule in longer days on the trails or a 3-day training camp or some other form of training that will help drive training volume. However, the mistake may athletes make is to leave that big volume ramp until right at the very end. By legging up your volume now, you actually give yourself a bigger platform to work with during the last training phase when you are trying to maximize volume in advance of your race.

In addition to this, you take a bit of pressure off of your final training phase, as you have a previous high-volume phase to work from. You’ll handle your longer long runs better, and if you experience any issues during the last training phase, you can derive confidence that you have done a reasonable amount of volume earlier.

Below are some guidelines as to how to organize your training in this fashion. As with any general training recommendations, there are some caveats to consider right off the bat:

  • This assumes you have been consistently training for at least 3 months, inclusive of some reasonable intensity distribution during that time.
  • Your goal event should be at least 3 months away. This will yield 3 different phases of one month each. If your goal event is greater than 3 months away, you can evenly distribute the training phases with your available training time.
  • I’ve provided some examples of what a sample week would look like. Don’t go out and follow this exactly. If you are designing your own training plan, adjust the volume to your current training level.

training volume

Phase 1: Leg up your volume, distribute it evenly

The first phase of your volume ramp up should be a straight increase in your daily (and therefore weekly) training volume. Increase your training volume 5-15% for each session in a roughly even fashion across the board. Intensity during this phase should be SteadyStateRun intensity (for an overview of the different intensities, you can view this article) which you can perform twice per week. While this amount of increase might look aggressive on paper, when done in an even fashion, and paired with some lower intensity SteadyStateRun work, it’s a quite manageable, safe, and effective.

Phase 2: Bring the volume down, ramp the intensity up

Phase two consists of bringing the volume down 5-10% and increasing the intensity back to TempoRun. You will still be above your baseline volume from before you started the first leg up, but a temporary reduction in volume will leave room to build some fitness through the higher intensity TempoRun work, which you can perform 2 to 3 times per week.

Phase 3: Build the volume back up, but concentrate it on weekends or 3-day training blocks

Now you are ready for your final volume boost. This time around, instead of spreading the volume increase over the week evenly, you will concentrate it on 2-3 days per week. This makes the training more specific for ultrarunning, as you are concentrating the volume increase over a short period of time. Additionally, you have the opportunity to use those longer long runs to practice your race day nutrition and experiment with gear choices. Your overall weekly volume will be at its highest point, primarily driven by the longer long runs. Your weekly runs should stay roughly the same volume as the first phase. You can use the exact same intensity framework as phase one as well, using SteadyStateRuns 1-2 times per week. The big focus for this phase is on the longer long runs which you can do back-to-back or in groups of three.

Tying it all together

Below are sample weeks from a runner training approximately 10 hours per week before the first volume increase. You can see the pattern of increasing the weekly volume evenly during the first phase, then dropping the volume back down while increasing the intensity for the second phase, then finally increasing the volume predominately through the weekend volume during the last phase. This undulating pattern of alternating volume and intensity increases allows you to leg up the volume with less risk, as you are simultaneously reducing the intensity. If you have a race anywhere in the late summer timeframe, this is something you can incorporate immediately in order to have your best race ever.

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