Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Its nearly 3 weeks  since I finished the UTBA.......seems like years ago. The Cannes Film Festival is in full swing but don't worry I have no plans to run naked along the Croisette in order to attract attention to my 'Trailjunkie' blog. For me its up into the hills and far, far away. Congrats to Dakota Jones and Anna Frost for winning the Transvulcania 2012 in the Canary Islands, in both record times.
      Anna is a Skyrunner specialist which basically means she runs ultramarathons up mountains. Dakota, nickname 'Young Money', is a very young elite endurance athlete. He won this race of 83 kilometres and over 13,000 feet elevation gain in just under 7 hours.......now that is fast, he averaged 12k per hour the whole way, up and down. I love the attitude of these guys. After his last ultra victory he was asked how the race went and his reply was a classic.....'I ran a lot and then I won'. No hype, no deep analysis, self importance or complicated explanation, he just keeps it simple. Mine would be - 'I ran a lot'.................'and then somehow, 10 hours later, I staggered to the finish line'.
      I've pulled back a lot over the past 3 weeks with just a few runs a week and a couple of hill repeats, I just felt like I needed a rest, not from the physical perspective but more the mental. Its been nice just to run when I want to and for what ever distance I choose, with no accent on training or times.....its been quite liberating and I've just appreciated the trails and the simple beauty of where I live.
       A great many people have asked me about my references to Tim Ferriss, traditional Long Slow Distance Ultra training (time on feet), and how they compare. Firstly I am no expert and my observations are just what I have found to be true for me.
Recommended reading
     Tim Ferriss, in his book, The 4-Hour Body, went into a great deal of detail about how to prepare for a 50k ultra  with only a small amount of running mixed in with various gym and Crossfit work. There is no doubt if you stick to the regime he lays out  you stand a good chance of achieving your goal. It includes Tabatas's, 200, 400, 800 metre repeats, kettlebell, sledge pulls, interval training, push ups, pull ups, bench press, squats, box jumps, sprints, burpees, rowing, etc, etc. The maximum distance you would run in training would be 90 minutes.......with No long runs at all. I advise reading the book which is laid out in superb detail and easy to read style, (see www.4-hourbody.com).
         The basic idea is that to run a 50k you need good suspension (legs) and all the workout regimes are designed to give you that as well as improving your sodium-potassium pump, the second goal is to push your aerobic line which basically means training your body to move at faster speeds whilst still remaining aerobic. The good news is that you can recover from an ultra quicker as a result of this training. If you stick to his program, from the evidence I've seen, you will succeed............but, I feel a 'but' coming on.
      If I have paraphrased a whole, well researched book into a few glib lines that is not my intention; I'm just trying to simplify the basic concepts.  Its all brilliant stuff but I feel that there is another side of the coin that needs to be explained.
       Tim Ferriss and Brian Mackenzie (www.crossfitendurance.com) fully accept that if you just run long and hard for many months and for many hours per week, you too will be able to complete an ultra. The point is, do you have the time, patience and perseverance to do that and what of the effects on your family and social life ? There is also burn out , boredom and the high risk of injury, so if you can do it the Tim Ferriss way on only a 5 to 6 hours training a week then why not?
       I didn't do the exact training program as in the 4-Hour Body, I did my own derivative. There were several reasons for this. Firstly I am not a big 'gym' lover and secondly I like running in the hills and mountains. But, I did 2000% more weights/strength exercises than I had ever done before and that undoubtedly strengthened my body and decreased my body fat %. Also, thanks to Tim and my coach Paddy, I  have vastly improved my nutrition. I am stronger, faster and fitter and I recover from ultra's really quickly........so where is the 'but'.
But is Crossfit enough to do this? (UTMB 167k)
        In my opinion it is this;- No matter how fast or fit you are, if you are going to run for 10, 15 hours or more in an ultra then you have to learn to pace yourself, to hydrate correctly and to eat the right foods that you can digest easily whilst running. I could only have learnt this correctly on my long training runs. If I had never run more than 90 minutes in training then how would I know what to do and when?
      Secondly until you have run on tired legs, you don't know what it feels like, and so how do you know how to deal with it ? Muscle fatigue resistance isn't easy.
   And finally, and for me the most important point, if you've never run a long way then you have never experienced the negative mental aspects that creep into your mind and by default have never learnt how to deal with these either.
      I said earlier that if you stick rigidly to the 4-Hour Body then you will achieve your goal of running a 50k but to avoid contradiction with my last comments, I shall explain. Firstly with this kind of training I believe your body will be stronger and you will have developed the physical capabilities to be able to do it. Furthermore I suspect that anyone attempting an ultra will do some research on nutrition and out of common sense will have tested some aspects of this in training. The tired legs and mental torture, if its your first ultra, you will probably push through despite the pain. If you are the sort of person who will stick to the 12 week Tim Ferriss regime, then I suspect you will do whatever it takes to finish.
      So putting all this together I still think its important to do long runs, including 'back to backs', even though you could probably 'get away with' not doing them for your first ultra. As regards future ultra's over much longer distances of 100 k or 100 miles then I simply don't know although I suspect crossfit just wouldn't be enough. I am not aware of any elite endurance athletes who are just crossfit trained, they all train long and hard for hours on end. True, a great many do speed work and a certain amount of strength conditioning but running, a lot, is still the key component. In time new ideas may slowly become incorporated into the sport as these things develop. For example, years ago speed work and weights were very unusal in ultra training and all the science of nutrition was in its infancy so you never know.
          Personally I am glad that I did a lot of long slow distance training because the shock if I hadn't done would have made my first ultra's a very painful experience indeed, I mean they were bad enough anyway but at least I knew what to expect and had a plan for dealing with it and after all, isn't that what 'training' is all about?  I believe by incorporating strength and conditioning and high intensity speed work (crossfit) with some long slow training runs (traditional), was the way to go.  I may be accused of hedging my bets and maybe I was but I can see the sense in both. The whole thrust of the 4-Hour Body is to achieve great fitness results quicker than the normal way. If I hadn't adopted some of his techniques I never could have got my body strong enough to do 5 ultra's in my first year but  conversley I found that for my last race, pounding up and down hills for hours on end also gave me a distinct advantage as I felt my muscles and joints adapting specifically to the race terrain.
        I am looking forward to seeing Tim Ferriss's own analysis of this because few people analyse in such detail and it would be extremely helpful to the ultra running community who are.... not suprisingly.....quite sceptical.
       In future ultra's I may follow a more rigid 4-hour body regime because I now 'know' a little more about the other stuff and so if I can train lesser hours for the same or better effect then great; but, if you've never run an ultra before then please take on board my comments..........and read some of my blogs. For someone of my limited experience I have tried to give as balanced a view as possible but after 5 ultra's I am still a novice ....okay at 57 years old, a veteran novice.....but there may just be something in there to help you out.  And for those who never intend to run one I apologise for such a technical blog today however, if you want to lose weight, sleep better, get fitter, improve your shape and many other benefits then check out 'The 4-Hour Body' anyway.........you'll be suprised.

1 comment:

  1. Great blog Phil - really interesting to read the different theories. Inspiring too!! Great meeting you with Christine- I'll be popping back again to read your blog! Best Claire -DK