Confessions from the Trail: Training


The next question I’ll tackle is about training. I got a lot of questions about it on Twitter and felt it deserved more than 280 characters could give.

How long does it take to prepare?

I’ll give the answer heard most in my old job: “It depends.” Honestly, this can be answered in several ways. How long does it take a professional? Not long. Most of them already run a large volume of base miles and can do a short ramp-up, taper down, then go race. How long does it take me? For-ev-er!

I like to compartmentalize and think of all my training (Ironman, trail running, bodybuilding, etc.) as “seasons.” Each season, I pick my “A” race: the one big event I know I want to complete. Then I build a schedule to get my training from here to there. This “season,” my A race is the Bataan Memorial Death March at the end of March. For Bataan, from my current level of fitness, I probably only need four to five months of training. That said, it’s August and I have eight months until I race Bataan. Why am I starting now? I haven’t been serious about a trail race in a while. I farted through MS50 as a 20k this past March after running the NOLA half in February. I had trained almost 100% on roads and paid for it dearly come race day for MS50. Now I live in a location where I have trails very close by and can devote time to running them without spending more time getting to the trail than I do on the trail.

Do you use a coach?

I’ve used coaches for triathlons and bodybuilding. Early on, I self-coached for Ironman 70.3 Orlando twice and missed my goal time, finishing two to ten minutes off my goal. I hired a coach for Ironman 70.3’s Galveston, Augusta, and Chattanooga. I was ten minutes faster than my goal at Galveston and blew an incredible seventy minutes and seventy-five minutes, respectively, off that goal for Augusta and Chattanooga. Clearly, the coach was worth it. Same for bodybuilding, I didn’t know enough about the sport to self-coach, so I hired one.

But when it comes to straight running races, I’ve never used a coach specifically for running. I’ve run for a long time. I know my body, I know my capability. I’ve had some races that are concurrent with Ironman spin up or while I was in prep for bodybuilding. But at those times, running wasn’t my focus, I was already fit and conditioned, I just ran them. This spring, I was in an offseason, no coach for any sport, and made my own training plan for MS50 and the NOLA half. I built the plan based on my experiences before, knowing how much I can push my body, and what was a reasonable expectation. It was a gamble, but it paid off. I set a new PR for myself on MS50 by three minutes and a half PR by almost five minutes.

I’m going into this season on my own plan, built around my own capabilities, and my own experience.

“It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.” – Indiana Jones, ultramarathon training guru

How long do I train? Do you do cross-training? Are you still weight lifting?

A lot, yes, and yes!

As you can see from my training plan, I start the season with no more than about ten to eleven miles per week and slowly ramp up to thirty to forty miles a week. This all translates into three to ten hours a week of running/hiking and about 5 hours of weightlifting. Every fifth week I dial everything back to give my body a break and reset for the next round. Across the top, it shows what days I lift and which muscle groups. I’m working to keep a balance of muscle and endurance building, but it’s tough. Excessive cardio negatively impacts muscle growth; I’m not actually aiming for a “fast” time on the course, I aim to finish. So, I feel like I can keep up with lifting five days a week, running four, walking one, and biking one.

Why the weird spread?

Monday’s run forces me to run on tired legs, simulating how I’ll feel late in the race.

Tuesday’s walk gets miles on my feet without pounding my joints and pairs with a relatively intense lifting day.

On Wednesday my sole focus is leg day in the gym and I have no cardio. Not really a break, but I can keep focused on some muscle growth and building the posterior chain (crucial to hill climbs and filling out a bikini).

Thursday’s bike follows leg day and helps spin off any lingering soreness.

Friday is my upper body strength day paired with a trail run and it’s a bear. I add in a little wine and pizza afterward, which makes it survivable though!

Saturday is a short and easy run on the treadmill to warm up for leg day number two.

Sunday is my long, slow, duration run on the trail. I also tend to go out paddleboarding with the family in the morning, but I suspect that will taper off as the weather cools down and miles ramp up.

Paddleboarding, a great way to relax and crosstrain

What do you eat?

Wow, that’s a long one. In fact, what I eat during the season, during a long run, and on race day is its own full post, which I intend to tackle next. Stay tuned and see if you really can outrun the fork or if it’s better to track your nutrition. (I bet you can guess based on my visible abs!)

Next time we’ll talk about abs and the endurance athlete

Happy trails!


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3 Comments on “Confessions from the Trail: Training

  1. Pingback: Confessions from the Trail: Race Day – K R Paul

  2. Pingback: Race Report: BUTS Heavy Half – K R Paul

  3. Pingback: Confessions from the Trail: But, Why? – Author K R Paul

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