The ENDURrun is a challenging race and you need to be physically and mentally prepared to to perform your best. Past ENDURrun Ultimate finisher and performance athlete coach Adam Johnston of the Endurance Lab has written this training article to help you run your best event.
Assistant High Performance Director, Triathlon Canada
This multi stage running event demands that an athlete trains for it appropriately. Any endurance event of such magnitude can be divided into several blocks of preparation. In anticipation of The ENDURrun, we will look at these blocks of preparation for the event:
The basis of any running event is endurance. You have to be able to run the distance before you can run the distance fast. Endurance is the ability to cover the distance. It is the ability to persevere. To continue on in the face of increasing fatigue. Supreme endurance is a necessity for success at the marathon and beyond. Certainly, The ENDURrun requires a very high level of endurance.
Endurance training is done at a low, sustainable, comfortable intensity. Endurance training promotes:
- optimal fat utilization for energy supply
- significant strengthening of the muscles, ligaments, and tendons used in running
- running economy (ie, expending the least amount of energy per unit distance as possible)
- a toughened mental approach to distance running
Endurance training creates the necessary physical foundation upon which strength and speed can be built. Endurance is slow to build, and slow to erode. The physiological changes which occur via endurance training are long-lasting.
Endurance can be trained only one way: with lots of running. Endurance is built by increasing run volume. Volume is the product of frequency and distance. Increase either or both and your volume will increase. The goal of the aspiring ENDURrun competitor should be to first increase their endurance to a maximal, yet healthy, level.
First increase your run frequency. Start with whatever you are presently at, be it three, four, five times per week. Gradually, over time, work up to consistently running seven times per week. For optimal success at The ENDURrun, be sure to get in a couple of weeks of seven days per week running. During recovery weeks, drop the frequency of running considerably to allow for proper recovery.
Secondly, gradually increase the distance of each run. Dedicate one run per week as your long run. Dedicate a second, mid week, run to a significant distance. But keep it shorter than your long run. All other runs per week should be shorter, filler-type runs. The actual distances each athlete gets up to should be dictated by the athlete’s current fitness level and their training history. The top runners competing at The ENDURrun will get up to running over 100 miles per week (ie, 160 km), with several days of twice-per-day running. Novice ENDURrun competitors should aim for 50 to 60 miles per week as a peak training week.
The ENDURrun is characterized by back-to-back days of running. And back-to-back days of long running. Consider the format: 21k, 15k, 30k, and 16k. A one day break. And then a 25k, 10k, and 42k. Those are two blocks of running. The athlete should prepare themselves accordingly in training. A couple of double or triple training days where the athlete strings together two to three relatively large runs should be performed in training in the two months leading up to the race.
Maintain a progressive approach to increasing endurance. Have two or three progressive weeks of mileage increases. Always follow this with a one week recovery where your total run volume comes way down. Progressive and consistent. One cannot build endurance in a week or two or even a month. It takes months and years of diligent running to build supreme endurance.
Once an athlete’s endurance is well developed, the next area to focus on is strength development. The word strength is frequently used in endurance sports lingo. But it has several different meanings. Consider:
- Pure Strength = the ability of the muscle to produce force (ie, to contract against a resistance). Pure strength is a measure of a one-time maximal contraction.
- Sport Specific Strength = the relative strength of the running-related muscles (i.e. hamstrings, calves, buttocks, quadriceps, hip flexors, etc).
- Strength Endurance = the ability of the working muscle to exert a repeated force over time (ie, repeated contractions).
- Power = the ability of the muscle to produce a large force over a short period of time.
Two of the four types of strength listed above are relevant to The ENDURrun participant: b) sport specific strength, and c) strength endurance.
Pure strength is not too important. The ENDURrun competitor should not be concerned with how strong they are overall (ie, how much they can bench press, chin up, squat, and calf raise). Nor are they concerned with the amount of power they can produce. Sprinters are far more concerned with developing a lot of power, not The ENDURrun athlete.
Endurance athletes should be concerned with how strong their running-related muscles are (ie, the run-specific strength of the hamstrings, calves, buttocks, quadriceps, and hip flexors) – and how much strength endurance these muscles exhibit. A well-trained ENDURrun participant will have, relative to a sedentary person, very strong legs, lungs, and heart. This is an example of run-specific strength. And the strength endurance of the runner far, far exceeds any sedentary person.
Building a foundation of strength is one of the many challenges facing a well-trained endurance athlete. There are a couple of different ways to enhance your sport specific strength and strength endurance.
Improving Sport Specific Strength:
- Weight room exercises for the hamstrings, calves, buttocks, quadriceps, and hip flexors. Exercises include squats, lunges, step ups, leg curls, stiff legged deadlifts, kickbacks, toe raises, knee ups, and abduction exercises. Each main exercise should be performed for two to three sets of 10-20 repetitions with a formidable weight. Twice weekly ought to suffice for most runners.
- Running-specific exercises and drills. This primarily includes body-weight only exercises, and takes place outside the weight room on the road or track. Exercises such as one-legged hops, bounding, strides, skipping, jump squats, etc.
- Hills. Learning to run up hill hard, with good form, will give a mighty boost to an athlete’s run-specific strength. Short intervals, with lots of rest.
Improving Strength Endurance:
- Sustained Hill Repeats. To build strength endurance, you must repeatedly show your body how to run against greater resistance. Running up sustained climbs of 5 minutes or longer is a fantastic way of improving your strength endurance.
- Intervals. Intervals run at your estimated 10 to 21.1k race pace are also very effective at boosting your strength endurance. These intervals can last from 5 to 30 minutes. During faster running your stride length increases. The increased stride length forces your running muscles to strengthen.
- Cross Country/Trail Running. Running over varied, challenging, hilly, and winding routes, often found in cross country and trail running, will most definitely boost strength endurance. Our muscles are often lulled to sleep on the roads. Running on the trails and cross country wakes the muscles up, forcing them to adapt.
Two strength sessions per week should suffice for most ENDURrun participants. Early in the year (ie, December through March), these sessions would be weight room sessions. Come late winter and early spring (ie, April and May), these two sessions could be run specific exercises once per week and hill repeats once per week. Come late spring (ie, June and onwards), move into strength endurance exercises twice per week. One session should be sustained hill repeats. And the second session per week could be intervals or cross country/trail running.
The ENDURrun is made up of a lot of hills. Stage 2 is a 15k run, with a substantial climb from about 2 to 3 km. Stage 3 is a challenging 30k trail run, with several short and steep hills. Stage 4 is a very hilly, up and down, 16.1 km run. Stage 5 is the most challenging, and is run up and down the ski hills at Chicopee Ski Club. Train well in the strength department, and running The ENDURrun will be that much more of a reality.
Several athletes will show up eager and ready to take part in The ENDURrun. Most everyone s fitness is at an all time high. Full of endurance and strength. Despite being so fit, however, some athletes will likely experience sub-par performances due to nutritional errors on race day(s).
How many people do you know have
- hit the wall,
- had to slow down,
- felt bloated, etc.
during a marathon, and ended up having a day less than what they were physically capable of? Probably quite a few, and yourself included most likely.
By paying strict attention to race day nutrition, you will ensure that your body is properly fueled and hydrated throughout, giving you the greatest probability of performing to your potential.
Nutrition on race day can be broken into two components: fuel and hydration.
Fuel is the food and fluid you take in to provide the energy needed to run. Fuel is like the gas you put in your car. Your car needs it to run. So, too, does your body need fuel to run. Just not unleaded gasoline!
Your body craves a certain type of fuel during endurance racing: carbohydrates. Carbohydrates can be divided into two types: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates deliver quick energy to the working muscle. Complex carbohydrates are broken down slower, and provide a longer lasting source of energy to the muscle. There are two other sources of fuel: fats and proteins. However, these do not provide energy fast enough to be considered useful during strenuous endurance racing. We will thus limit our discussion to carbohydrates only.
Examples of simple carbohydrates are: sugar, breads, cereals, power bars, power gels, Gatorade-type drinks, simple candies, fruits.
Examples of complex carbohydrates are: pastas, vegetables, whole grains, etc.
We have enough intrinsic stores of carbohydrates to last us for about 90 minutes of intense exercise. This is nowhere near enough for most of The ENDURrun Stages. We must thus supplement with fuel intake during the race(s).
During race day, you should focus on taking in simple carbohydrates throughout the race. Supplementing your running with regular bouts of sugar every 30 minutes is a sound starting point. One gel every 30 minutes. One portion of bagel every 30 minutes. One piece of fruit every 30 minutes. You get the idea.
Replenishing your muscles energy supply immediately following racing is imperative in a multi stage race. The more you take in during the race, the better stocked you’ll be for the next stage. If you start a stage with an under-fueled tank, it will be a long day of sub-par running.
Hydration refers to drinking fluids. We drink fluids for two reasons: one is to take in some calories in the form of sugar, and the other is to take in electrolytes which help with muscle function.
Because The ENDURrun is such a long event, we must rely on sources other than fluid for our calorie and sugar intake. That’s what our regular 30 minute ingestion of fuel is, as discussed above.
Hydration for The ENDURrun, then, is all about taking in electrolytes to facilitate muscle function and other physiological processes. Drinking water alone is a mistake, that can lead to muscular cramping (at the very least) and sub par performance. Athletes should aim to drink an electrolyte replacement drink throughout their runs. Drinks such as Eload, Gatorade, Allsport, etc.
An ENDURrun competitor running for an hour in the heat and humidity of Southern Ontario should aim to drink a full water bottle of electrolyte drink per hour. That’s 500mL to 1 full litre of fluid per hour, depending on your size and sweat rate. That’s way more than what the average runner is used to consuming. Drink at every aid station during The ENDURrun, just to be safe. Skipping aid stations in the beginning of a run, when you’re naturally feeling good, is a big, big mistake. It is better practice to drink early, and skip later aid stations than it is to skip early, and drink late. By then it’s game over.
The race organizers do a tremendous job of offering sufficient fluid. It is your job on race day to ensure you’re drinking enough fluid. The ENDURrun is run in August, and can be quite hot and humid. Hydration is critical.
Don’t leave your hydration needs to race day. Practice in training. Take a full bottle of fluid with you on the run. See how much you get through in an hour on a warm day. Is it close to the whole bottle? If not, drink more the next run out.
In review, take in some sugar every 30 minutes in the form of your favorite simple carbohydrate snack. And aim to drink 500 to 1000 mL of electrolyte drink per hour of running. That’ll help get you to the final finish line at The ENDURrun!
Pacing is crucial to success in any endurance-related event. Assuming everyone on the start line has done their training, remained injury free, and is ready to go – an athlete’s race will be decided by the three following factors:
- mental skills (see below),
- nutrition/hydration (see previous section), and
Assuming that the athlete is well-trained in mental skills – and is properly hydrating and fueling themselves – their race will be decided by their pacing skills.
In any one day event, an athlete must ensure that they do not start the race too fast. They risk burning out by using up all available fuel and having to slow down. The trick is to start conservatively, and build throughout the event – finishing strong.
The ENDURrun is a unique event in that one must pace themselves both in each Stage, and across the entire event. Thus, not only is pacing in each Stage important, one must consider how they will pace themselves across seven days of running. Only the fittest, fastest athletes can run each Stage hard. And even then, they’re not racing the Stage as hard as they could a stand-alone race.
You must ask yourself, which Stage(s) can I push hard? And which Stage(s) should I relax on? What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses?
Some athletes have endurance as their strength. These athletes would take the first part of The ENDURrun easy – and progressively push harder as the event wears on.
Some athletes are fantastic hill runners. They would be wise to push Stages 3, 4 and 5.
Some athletes are speedy. They’d be looking to push Stages 2, 4 and 6.
Some (most!) athletes are out to simply finish The ENDURrun – and should pace themselves conservatively throughout the entire run their first year out.
Give your event some thought. Where should you push? Should you push? And where should you relax? Enjoy thinking about your tactics – and see you on race day!
Most performance coaches would agree that the difference between first place and everyone else can be explained by an athlete’s mental skills. Not their physical skills. Not their nutritional skills. But their mental skills.
Physiological tests show that athletes placing one through ten (for instance) have the same physiology – with no athlete having a distinct advantage over any other athlete.
Nutritional analyses of the top ten athletes would show that their diets are very similar. No one is on a special diet that is secret to everyone else. No one is supplementing with anything not known or tried by the other athletes.
Technique among the top athletes is virtually the same. No one is any more efficient than anyone else. Everyone practices good form, both in training and racing.
The difference between the top and everyone else is mental. Sure, some luck is involved. But in terms of trainable, acquirable, identifiable skills – mental skills are what separate the best from the rest. It should be no different for you, regardless of your current fitness level.
Mental skills refer to a number of different tactics used to get through an event and perform at your optimal level. These tactics are psychological – what your brain tells your body, what your body tells your brain, and how you choose to interpret and use these signals.
Mental skills can be broken up into the following (note, these are some mental skills. It is by no means an exhaustive list:
- thought control
Learning, practicing, and implementing such skills into your training and racing will pay big dividends, and are well worth the effort involved. The best part is, it doesn’t take any increase in fitness (ie, no extra physical training) to considerably improve your training and racing performance!)
Knowing the course you are going to run can be a tremendous advantage come race day. Learning the course offers several advantages:
- an edge over your less-prepared competition,
- confidence in the course, knowing you can do it, and do it well,
- pacing – learning where to push and where to relax, and
- improved training: by knowing what the course is like, you can better prepare for it in training with proper simulation runs.
Consider previewing one or more of the difficult stages of The ENDURrun. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, but most would agree that the following Stages are the toughest ones The ENDURrun has to offer:
- Stage 3: Bechtel Park 30 km Cross-country, trail. Hilly.
- Stage 4: Wilmot Line, 16.1 km Dirt/gravel/paved roads. Very hilly.
- Stage 5: Chicopee, 25.6 km Cross country, trail, ski hills. Extremely hilly.
When previewing a course, look for things such as:
- Hills. Where are they in the course? How steep? Can they be run up – or are they best power walked up? Can you run down them?
- Run the straight line. When running on courses that weave around corners, don’t follow the road. Cut the corners, run the straight line. This is how the courses are measured (along the straight line), so run them that way.
- Loops. Know which Stages have loops, and how many. Think about how that would influence your pacing on the day of the actual race.
- Natural environmental conditions. Is it going to be a well-shaded course? Will there be a breeze? Will bugs be an issue?
- Terrain. Some of the cross-country runs have pretty rough segments of footing. There’s some tall grass. Some wood chip trails. Concrete. Pavement. Gravel shoulders. Etc.
If you’re able to, learn the course. It’ll benefit you come race day.