Year of Success
2021 was a great year for me. I had trained well, and I had raced well. I had increased my LSD mileage to build back up over different blocks to around 22 miles with and without weight (30lbs) and I had months of quality Tempo, Progressive, VO2 max and Speed for Endurance sessions to support up to 18 mile fell runs with 20lbs and plenty of Bike work to assist in cross training.
I had won Paras 10 with relative ease, I had won and got a team of 3 in record breaking time for Commando shuffle 30 miler with the heavier weight category. I had won the Fan Dance, one of the Black Sheep fell races for charity and done very well in several fell races at county level and with relative ease and holding back a bit and recovering within a very short time. All very different events in duration and training programming which is also quite difficult to do.
I was not the fastest or strongest on some events that I won but was well rounded and capable at different levels which is always important to me. I was strong, fit, well rounded and confident. I was ticking over with my training and finding it relatively comfortable to achieve at this level. So, what went wrong for me in most of my training and all the events that I participated in, in 2022. How can my performance be so poor after so much training hardship?
Year of Failings
2022 has felt like a year of failings both in training and racing. I was expecting to do well on a few events to include beating the world record time for 100lbs half marathon at sub 2:11:36. All of which did not happen.
The year started with Colchester Paras 10, where I had been ill with Covid and was still recovering and so used it as a training run but finished in over two hours and feeling very rough too.
I then went on to do Catterick Paras 10 later in the year but had caught Covid again in June and although it was not as bad as in January, it took weeks from my training. On Paras 10 I found myself in second place at mile 8, yet came in at 20th position and in poor performance condition as I declined very quickly in the latter miles (only 2). This was because my very steep training program (due to Covid) was enough to get me fast and strong for this mileage (8 miles) based on elevation, yet my lack of building correctly resulted in decline of performance from here on to the end of the race! It was too fast, based on my training.
Next, was the world record attempt where my pacing and planning was spot on based on the time that I had to train which was only several quality training weeks. Yet, on the day I just did not have what it took to keep the pace needed. I lacked in basic fundamental training in the first few months which didn’t allow me to build on some key areas needed for this. By mile 9, I was certain that I would not make the time and came in at 14 minutes over! It was a gruelling last 4.1 miles knowing I had no chance! Harder because I knew I had the capability but not on that day. My left leg and right side of back had completely cramped up and I had nothing left in my legs yet had to keep going. This was due to it being above my capability at this pace, muscular more than cardiovascular.
To finish the year off, I participated in Woody Paras 10 and was doing well until mile 7.5 where I had been in second position for most of the way but declined hugely over the next 4 miles, coming in 15th position and losing over 1 hour in overall pace. I did something that was unlike me, walked and accepted defeat of my body and mind! It’s not a great place to be and is the outcome of having expectations that well exceed what you are capable of on the day. This is something many suffer from, because you know the fitness, speed and endurance that you can train to. On race day, you tend to race to this level, and if there has been a compromise in your training at all, then it will show its head in the latter stages of a race, because you are over reaching.
A few times this year, my Garmin watch was showing something that I had never seen on my Training Status before…”STRAINED”… No shit sherlock… you got that right!
Elite Outdoor Fitness Fundamentals of training
My success in training people all over the world who have gone on to complete, win and do well in many very arduous events comes from several areas, but mostly my own personal experience of success vs failings. I have good experience of this as do most successful athletes. I call them failings when they are only the outcome of the progression of training, or more importantly lack of. You can only be as fit and as strong as you train, if the training is not there for whatever reason, then you will have a cap on what you can achieve speed, distance and load combined and if you over do any of these elements or a combination (which is likely when you know what you can normally do) then you will come unstuck. I wanted to detail my last two years journey to explain this and the mistakes I have made.
The Basic fundamentals that I use in training are:
Long Slow Distance- Mitochondria Increase/ Energy efficiency
Efficiency- All functions and system efficiency
Lactate Threshold- Speed vs Duration & Body Blood lactate efficiency
VO2 max- Oxygen Efficiency
Efficiencies of 2021 vs 2022
During 2021, I trained using the Elite Outdoor Fitness Remote Training Group (RTG) EVENT which is programmed and run by me and is essentially my own personal program but in different levels. It comprises of 5 levels to allow people to train at a level that is correct for them, correct for their start point and relative to their goal and time to goal.
The RTG training program is very well programmed to initially capture the basic fundamentals and put emphasis on the components of physical fitness that is specific to the event/events that a person might be participating in, but we tend not to work or look at these until we are ready, and the basics are in place and/or revisited to increase efficiencies in these areas (layering). This is important because we are getting the most out of your training time and its getting better and better as you move through 3, 6, 12 months and so on.
In 2021, I was able to build gently and progressively in all the fundamental areas, meaning that I was getting faster and stronger, but most importantly faster for longer distance and I knew the next year would be even better- and perfect for a record attempt.
Some within the RTG were fast and putting some great times out there but lacking in other areas such as LSD for example, or tempo work, meaning they did not have a good balance of the basic fundamentals of training, so although they might be fast, it would not last the distance potentially.
I then started to include efficiencies such as cross country running, fell running, cross training and weighted fitness when my body was ready and I had a great well rounded baseline to work off. I had good distance in my legs because my LSD training had not only taken me to the distance of 20+ miles but with boots and light weight (30) too, and so when I put the speed down, I had the distance and load in my body to take up the slack and this extended my lactate threshold under load, which is KEY.
My speed and endurance were in a great place, because I had time to generate the efficiencies needed to work very hard at high intensities for up to 16 miles as part of Tempo Progressive training.
My VO2max was very good, not only on track 200-400m but when adding load of hills or Bergen or both.
My strength training had started well under par to allow the long-term effects of strength training to be a positive influence on my latter multi-disciplined sessions. For example, this enabled me to build over a long time to heavy but high rep strength sessions into my programming such as 1 min Sprints vs 35 x 65kg Deadlifts x 20 sets without compromise of over training and injury in the latter stages.
The point I am making here is the importance of when you start training to invest in the basic fundamentals of the 4 main sessions before you start hills, strength work, reps, etc. This is even when you have raced de loaded and recovered and you are starting your building again for the next set of weeks. Get the basics right and in place, if you don’t, you won’t get to where you want to be or where you could be further down the line. This was my mistake this year, brought on by being ill and forcing my training in a direction where I didn’t put down the basic fundamentals first.
When I had Covid in January 2022, I lost a total of at least 12 weeks training and in June, I lost at least 7 weeks training, which consisted of getting ill, overcoming illness, and then gently getting my lungs, immune system, and mind/body back to normal training. But time to train at this stage was not in line with what my own expectations where, I should have known this from day one!!!
I was completing 16-mile LSDs (65-75% Max HR) runs at a good pace with weight at ease just before Covid in December. It was a perfect place to be and well ahead of the goal plan to move towards 22 miles with 30lbs and boots before I started on hill training and proper weight. I was confident in the knowledge that I had months to build on this training to heavier weights, more load and with plenty of time to progress so my body could cope with this taxation over time, such as weighted circuits and compound exercises.
Between the two Covid’s I didn’t have enough time to progress and didn’t even touch on the strength gym work, and so I was not capable of doing quality 12-mile runs let alone with weight by mid-July when I had got over Covid 2! In addition to this, my strength training was only light as I did not have the time to be consistent in building it up to a good level to support weight at speed for distance, it’s as simple as that.
Because my timeline was then shortened for my world record attempt, there was a huge compromise that had to be made. Either in my training, steepness in my progression, expectation of pace on the day, or cancellation of events. It’s not in my nature to pre-empt failure, I only see that I can do something, and this is something I recognise and can hold me back or bring about poor performance on the day. However, it goes against my training principles that I offer others, its counterproductive to train too steep for your capability, to train in a way that diminishes your drive, self-confidence, and reverse efficiencies because you’re doing too much too soon. Too often we hear, …go as hard as you can…, if you want to be the best you need to push push push. This is true in cases, but only if you’re capable based on the training you have put in, it’s true that most people do not push themselves as hard as they could, but you do need to be capable. You can only do what you can do!
During this period, I felt like I was in training in panic mode, no matter how many times I re wrote by training program because I was failing on sessions on the plan, I came up short on time to distance in my training, there was never enough days or weeks to progress, so I ended up adding mileage too steeply, speed to quickly and weight when I did not have the right baseline strength and fitness to cope. Initially, I coped with the steepness in training, and could certainly see my efficiencies increasing in all areas, especially up to a normal level that I was used to getting to quickly as you can see in my efforts on paras 10 and other events before I cream in! But, I was nervous in the reality that it would slow and reach its cap before I was where I needed to be, purely because I lacked in the baseline mileage (LSD) Strength (Efficiency) and Speed (Lactate Threshold/VO2Max), let alone the loading needed for distance. Thus, some of the more arduous sessions that I program when a person is ready, which are designed to prepare you in the latter stages of blocks of training weeks, were huge fails because they were just too much for me. I was trying to capture distance, weight, speed all at the same time, and at a pace above my capability based on training done so far.
In a perfect world I can run 9 min mile pace with 65lbs for 12 miles. Hard, but comfortable and doesn’t break me for a week! Yet, without the correct base and building, I was doing the same, but I was working so much harder, my recovery was so poor compared to usual because it was too taxing, for too long, with too much load and too fast, and the run felt declining rather than getting stronger.
You can run two runs identical in speed and pace both with total fatigue towards the end, but with two separate outcomes. One can be detrimental to your progression and impact negatively. The other can impact positively on how you see yourself in future harder sessions and increase your ability and confidence. With heavier weight and how you will get through the latter miles on a race or session with only positive thoughts, knowing and believing in the progression of your training and ability and that you are getting faster, stronger and this is consistent.
My confidence was declining because of the way I was training, this was not helping as, I felt nervous about some of my sessions. Whereas normally I can go hard and know I can go harder, because I have true faith and confidence in my training and thus, ability above my capability on the day. To impact all this even more so, was Paras 10 Catterick before the record attempt. I was strong and fit, yet, I was tired from over training and lack of mileage (LSDs) and strength in my building and so on the day of the race, with minimal to no de loading, I started to decline after mile 8 at my pace and lost 13 places from 2nd to 15th. It felt like a negative and confidence sapping training run. Completely the opposite of what it should have been two weeks prior to a record-breaking event with a third of the weight!
Layering every few months and even years is very important. But it only works if you are building progressively and layering correctly based on variables that compromise and change how you build.
Getting your programming wrong and over training, getting ill or taking time out for whatever reason will all impact your building. You need to adjust how you are going to build based on these variables, not just build as you were going to anyway, play catch up and just hoping for the best. What I mean by this is the training that you have done in the previous 3 months or year, will directly impact on what you can achieve in the next 3 months or year. But this effect can be positive or negative depending on several factors.
Excepting that the plan is going to have to be extended and changed is important, planning events so that you might miss an event, or you use it as a training session and your expectations for pace and finish time are adjusted because you are just not going to be as strong/fast for distance as you would have liked.
Time and Distance
You only have the time that you have, you must utilise that time effectively to allow you to progress the best that you can. Sometimes you can push a bit harder for a week or a few weeks to give you the edge but on more demanding events or multiple events you must build, you must recover, and then you can push over your cap. Sometimes less is more!
Some do too many events within a 3 month period, of which you can’t train for effectively. Sure, use some as short-term goals for focus, but you must have the discipline to hold back and not race, or make it part of your planned progression. When there is a stumbling block in your training, reset, replan, work out how much time you have, build in your recovery periods and some more. Be realistic about what you want to achieve. If you have a good year and you get the balance right, you are more likely to have a better next year.
It’s so important to get the balance of training right, important to take on the changes in programming due to unforeseen circumstances. This goes for daily and weekly training and long term plans such as I have mentioned above.
Over weeks I was chasing pacing, I was chasing the weight carried and I was chasing the mileage, when I should have accepted that to achieve more mid and long term, I should have held back on my training and reassessed what I could actually achieve in the time I had.
This also goes for weekly training. Some on the RTGs train 5-7 times a week yet, I advise that they would do so much better training only 3-4 times per week. Being consistent and realistic in your training is so important. Training 3 times a week with quality sessions that are hitting the key markers and allowing yourself to recover from them fully is a fat better way to train that having 5 times training sessions per week that are less quality, and you are struggling to force recovery. Every week thereafter you will feel as though you are sinking in your training, overwhelmed and as Garmin suggests – ‘Over reaching’ or ‘Strained’.
The same can be said for daily sessions. It’s far better to do a 1 mile warm up – 7 x 400m efforts working very consistently and pushing towards and above 88% of your max heart rate on each of the 7 reps with 90 seconds recovery, than forcing 12 x 400m and declining in pace, timings and performance.
I am personally all for pushing as hard as you can, I feel that most do not know and have not been close to their limit, and how capable humans are at pushing past your cap, past your capability and into unknown territory. BUT, you are so much more likely to be able to do that if you train correctly, you will be able to tap into that unknown ground more so if you have built correctly.
Break your training down
Next time you have an event that you want to do well at, give yourself a long enough timeline to train and possibly break your training down into 3 phases. Sit down and write a plan and put it on the back of your bog door or on your fridge.
Phase 1 – Warm up
This is a warming through phase, plenty of time to spend 2-3 weeks warming into training, possibly using the reversal of a taper for a marathon, or at least using that as a guide. This phase will also include some warming up sessions 3-4 times a week for total body strength work. Working between the ranges of 8-30 reps ensuring that you are working – Power, Strength and Muscular Endurance which will help you in the latter parts of the phases.
These sessions do not need to last longer than 20-30 minutes in duration. You should also be investing in Deep tissue massage once 2-4 weeks, foam rolling 3 times weekly and stretching.
Week 1 warm up– Work at around 40% of your capability on all the four fundamental training sessions, holding back and using all of these to ensure you are injury free fully recovered and getting your body and mind into your progressive training
Week 2 warm up– Work at around 65% of your capability overall on all the four fundamental training sessions, starting to push a little harder into the zones that you are working in, pushing further towards your weekly cap of LSD mileage, increasing pace on your efficiency so you are working on average middle of the 75-82% range with some good distance, and doing approximately 70% of the reps and time you could do on your tempo sessions and working through from 82-88% but being careful not to move through the range too aggressively, so I other words holding back slightly and doing only about 70% of the shorter Speed efforts pushing towards or above 88% but still feeling comfortable and holding back on these too.
Week 3 warm up– Work at around 85-90% of where you feel you should be training on a fully loaded week. Due to the correct warm up weeks you should be stronger, possibly faster than where you left off and if you are not, you will be before the end of the next phase.
De-load, depending on the person and your experience then 7-10 days of active de load is essential at this stage before you move forward into the next phase.
Phase 2- Capacity Building
This is where you are loading at the right amount based on your number of weeks you are training before your next de load and also based on how many Capacity building phases you are building into your plan. If it’s a longer term plan, there might be 3 parts to phase 2 with de loading between, for example.
I normally have a minimum of 3 weeks training in this phase. Sometimes on shorter term events where having 2 parts of this phase is not possible I would have a 4-5 week training phase before de load but my weekly loading would be more gradual, and less aggressive than if over 3 weeks.
My three weeks would increase in time, distance, and intensity as I moved through the three weeks but only working within the boundaries of my capability and caps, so that I am not losing fitness into the next week due to less recovery or too much loading.
I am working within my new fitness caps and capabilities based on my efficiencies gained from the previous weeks. This means each of these 3 weeks, I can do more, for longer, and faster. During this time, I am utilising the strength work that I have been doing to build on goal specifics, this might be elevation training (stepper, squats, bike work, jump squats, uphill work), it might be needing to be faster and more powerful (Jump Squats, Sprints vs Deadlifts, explosive work, Efforts vs Jump squats ) or need the back to back or long distance (AM/PM sessions, bike work, longer warm ups, hill work)
During this phase I ensure that I am working within the ranges or all the fundamentals:
Lactate Threshold 82-88%VO2Max 88%+
But, in week 1 of Phase 2, I am working at the lower to mid-range of the ranges on average. I do push into the higher parts of the ranges but on average it’s mid-way, this feels as though when working the sessions I can get a bit extra mileage, a good recovery, and I can push the sessions a little longer as I am very slightly holding back.
As I move into week 2 of Phase 2, I am working harder for longer and faster because my fitness has increased since the last week, but, I am also working overall harder in the ranges, so on average I am working within mid to higher part of the ranges above.
Week 3 of phase 2 is the last week before I de load and recover and because I have got the first two weeks loading correct, my body and mind will allow me to push into the higher part of the ranges on average overall. This is a great week to test yourself, you might get it wrong and go too hard, you might mess up your pacing and go too hard, you might go too hard on Monday and feel it in your session on Tuesday, this is fine as you are learning and you can do this short term as it won’t effect you moving forward and you also have a de load week. You might be steering slightly away from the fundamentals now and mixing some of them together as you would in a cross country run, fell run, with and without weight, Bergen work and cross training vs weights circuits.
An active de load weeks will follow.
My phase 3 only lasts for a maximum of 2-4 weeks of actual loading (not de loading) dependant on goal. If I have more time to train for a longer-term goal, then I go through the Phase 2 sequence repeatedly which is progressive and less aggressive than Phase 3. This Phase is working as Phase 2 but just more aggressive, recovery is optimised so in fact you are only just recovering as you need to and some sessions you are deficit and slightly overreaching, you are pushing the boundaries!
You might even have adjusted your training now, so that you have started to move away completely from the fundamentals, and you are doing wholly specific sessions where the fundamentals are there but mixed to include more components of physical fitness, mixing power strength, muscular endurance speed etc. It’s more multi-disciplined, such as fell run with weight, Bergen Tempo Progressive sessions, Bergen hill work, Bike run Bike etc.
This is the phase where you really start to have confidence in your limits and how you can exceed them, if you approach and pace well. All phases are important to get you to this phase, which is where the magic is.
This phase is then followed by de loading/tapering which should last 7-21 days depending on how many rotations of phase 2 you have done and the how hard you have increased mileage and loading over time. A 3-week taper would look like this.
Taper 1- 80% of previous loaded week
Taper 2- 60% of previous fully loaded week
Taper 3- 40% of previous fully loaded week
It’s been proven that although tapering is important and essential to maximise race performance (if you are unsure how much to taper, then overdo it as most do not taper enough), continuing to include intensity in the form of tempo and Vo2 max session is extremely important to maintain this fitness. Yet, it would be taking the form of reduced time in intensity, and reduced reps in intensity overall. Mileage, distance, and time on ground is decreased over time, yet the intensity needs to remain but just as a reduced load. Right up to the last week of de loading/tapering.
Trust in your training, the race has already been won, you just need to have faith, pace and rely on you.
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