My training “year” follows a December to December pattern due to a transition from trail running to skiing right around late November- early December. It is a good time to tally the numbers, do some critical review, and put together a training plan for the coming year.
I targeted about 700 hours for the year and came surprisingly close to that number without any “manipulation”. This is strictly fortuitous, but because this training year has been nothing but pleasurable, it has given me some confidence that I can now, after a couple of years of serious and consistent training, start to push the numbers without any great concern for breakdown. It is at times like this when ones full potential is within reach. I am grateful that I have the opportunity to pursue it.
As far as vertical ascention, I really had no sense of what a typical year of training would total up to. The 500,000+ feet this past year was a surprise and averages out to about 1,450 feet of ascention per day. I know I can handle more vertical so I am considering a target for the coming year, maybe 700,000 feet (about an average of 1,900 feet per day).
As I review the past year of training it is a bit of a struggle to derive some meaningful metrics, associated clarity, and, ultimately, direction from the numbers. Evaluation of time, intensity, distance, and vertical ascention are all important inputs to arrive at functional metrics that can provide guidance with training plans going forward. In previous posts I have used a derivative metric called “intensity minutes”, aka training impulse (“TRIMP”). Although this metric nicely incorporates both training time and intensity (i.e. a measure of the “quality” of the training session), the metric differs significantly in magnitude for different sports. Specific to my training in the sports of trail running and Nordic skiing, the magnitude of the “intensity minutes” is quite different for the same training load. It seems apparent that this is the case due to the amount of time one can run versus ski. I find that, on average, a 2 hour ski is about equivalent to a 1.5 hr run which equates to an approximately 30% difference in TRIMP. This is likely due to the significant incorporation of the upper body in skiing. Given this empirical and functional difference in the two sports w/r/t TRIMP, the training seasons must be evaluated separately and with different metric magnitudes. Periodization, of course, will not be substantially different.
The goal here is to glean from this analysis the following:
- magnitudes – what are the magnitudes of TRIMP, time, distance, and vertical ascention that make sense for me?
- capabilities – what are the magnitudes of training variables that I can consistently “support” through a season?
- combinations – what combinations of sessions are effective and supportable?
and, most importantly,
- direction – for detailed training plan design
Analysis of the training data suggests that I am capable of consistently supporting a 7 day total of about 2700 intensity minutes of TRIMP in skiing and about 2200 intensity minutes of TRIMP in trail running. These data are important because it sets the combination of time, intensity, and distance that can be reliably included in a week of training. In addition, variations in the amount of TRIMP for periodization can be derived from the available data as well. In this case the dynamic range in training TRIMP for skiing is about +/-500 intensity minute units and for trail running this range is about +/-1000 intensity minute units. What this means is that a “hard” running week will target a value of about 3000 TRIMP and the same “hard” week for skiing would be targeted at about 3200 TRIMP. Likewise an “easy” week for running would be about 1000 TRIMP and for skiing it would be about 2200 TRIMP. The challenge is to take this information and develop a training plan around key races.
For running it feels like somewhere around 80 miles per week is a supportable quantity. I may try to push this up next season but I have heard from others in my age range (and with a lot of experience and great results in ultra running racing) that they have difficulty dong much more than 80 miles per week without developing “issues”. I have intentions of bringing my minimum run distance up to 20 km (12 miles) as this will ensure a minimum of about 85 miles per week that I could build off to see what happens to my body when I start to reach into the 100 mile+ per week regime. However, distance will always be second fiddle to quality- even I have seen way too many good runners focus on distance and see their performance decline.
As far as skiing, given the significant lack of impact damage, I can easily handle 200 km+ (120 miles) per week without any negative side effects. Once again though, quality is king and this is even more important in Nordic skiing where the races are much shorter than ultras (the longest Nordic skiing race will be about a maximum of 2.5 hours). So some super high intensity intervals and hill repeats are very important to maximize performance for the shorter races (10 km-30 km). I have no focus on distance in skiing, just time, particularly early in the season. The other element that plays in here is that the snow conditions can radically alter the pace and it is distinctly possible to cover twice the distance on a fast snow day than on a slow snow day, so there really is no basis for using distance as a primary metric for Nordic ski training. Distance has much more influence in trail running.
I am still experimenting with training week “combinations” (e.g. a hard running week of vertical with distance (3000 TRIMP) combined with a recovery running week dominated by distance (1000 TRIMP)) that work together to maximize absorption of the training load for optimal cardiovascular, muscular, and skeletal development.
I have entertained thoughts that I can “support” a higher TRIMP (and therefore higher intensity/time/distance/vertical) on average than I have this past year and therefore my forward-going training plan will push the TRIMP values and we will see how that works out. I know from past training “careers” that my ability to absorb volume is greater than what I am presently doing, but then again, I am 30 years older than when I last trained at this volume. Time will tell.
Given these training load parameters and successful combination weeks, much of the necessary input for development of a detailed first order training plan is established. The synthesis of a plan can be completed by your coach (if you have one) or directly by you. I prefer to interact with a coach in a consultive manner where I come up with a draft plan and my coach edits this plan and we come to consensus. The consulting coach can then be tapped periodically for adjustments or revamps as needed. I like this arrangement because, for whatever reason, I seem to be more invested in the plan and therefore more committed to the details on a day-to-day basis. But that is me.
I will now present the detailed training data that supports the “take-aways” summarized above. There is a lot of data here- two sports, 4 input variables, and a derived metric (TRIMP) for an entire 700 hour year of training. You may not have the interest to go through it but it might be worthwhile to do a pass through if for no other reason than to see how another athlete is evaluating their training. I am putting this information up for a couple of reasons- first to document the training year for planning and future reference and second to elicit any comments from interested readers. Although I have direct contact with a coach (consulting) and incidental contact with numerous other coaches on a regular basis, I still find that interaction with and input from a wide variety of athletes is very valuable. Your comments are welcome and greatly appreciated.
Detailed data graphics
The following eight graphics present all of the training data in a format that includes graphical representation of 7 day rolling total (blue), 7 day rolling average (green), and daily (red) data over the training period for the ski season (18 Nov 2011-8 Apr 2012) and, separately, the running season (9 Apr 2012-19 Nov 2012). The data presented are TRIMP, distance, time, and vertical ascention.
This past ski season represented a return to racing for me. I had not ski raced in about 20 years. My past racing focused on skating but I have come to a greater appreciation of the classic technique and this is now my focus. Although I skate regularly, classic is the passion and is also the preferable race style for me. I prepared for and competed in two races with reasonable results and I am looking forward to “really” racing this year.
Focusing on the TRIMP graph, the periodization is quite evident where a slow 3 week buildup to consistent high quality was instituted in the early season. This was followed by a one week recovery period and then a ramp up to high quality for about two weeks prior to the first race. This high quality period included significant interval sessions and numerous hill repeat sessions at race pace as well as long (20 km+) tempo skis. A five day taper prior to the race was used and my performance exceeded expectation. It had been about 25 years since I raced in a Nordic event and I was “relearning” much about pacing and strategy.
The buildup to the second race was similar, starting out with a recovery week, then a week focused on technique drills and easy distance, followed by a very high intensity week (3500 TRIMP) that worked on both LT and VO2 max. A recovery week was then followed by a second high intensity week similar to the first one. I could definitely feel this training load and increased my sleeping time accordingly. An easy week following this and then a slightly lower intensity week to allow for full absorption of the period. A taper and then the race. The race went very well, stayed in control of the lead pack of 10 skiers throughout but let one guy get away in the last 10 km. Chalk that up to experience. The remainder of the lead pack jostled around and I finally conjured up the confidence to make a push in the last 3 km. Only 4 others were able to stay with me but I did a bit too much work and payed for it in the last 250 meters. But finishing 6th overall with a bunch of 20 and 30 somethings sounded like progress to me.
This was my first season of training for trail ultramarathons and included my first two ultramarathon races (53 km and 70 km). It was also the first season of running focus in over 25 years. After 20 years of mountain biking at the professional and expert level, I have “ditched” the bike and turned to trail running only, at least for now. In the early part of the season I transitioned to “low drop” shoes and had the requisite bout of Achilles tendonitis in late April/early May after doing a bit too much vertical. This cleared up after a couple of weeks with reduced volume and reduced vertical.
Much of this training was by “feel” as I had no reliable calibration as to what sort of volume/intensity/vertical would be consistently supportable. What I found was that a volume base of about, on average, 1.5 to 2 hours of trail running per day worked well. At a reasonable pace of about 10 min/mile this works out to 60-80 miles per week. I set a minimum trail run distance at 15 km (9 miles) and iterated off that to include intensity and vertical with some longer runs mixed in. One goal for next season is to include many more long runs (32+ km/20+ miles) and increasing the minimum trail run distance to about 20 km/12 miles. Also, I think that I can handle significantly more vertical as this is a strength but I need to balance this with work on an identified weakness- pacing on the flats. So speed work will be worked in next year.
The training structure is fairly obvious, but here is a narrative:
- from mid-April to mid-May- developing base aerobic training with a couple of progressions and a bout of Achilles tendonitis
- a build up to about 17 June for a 53km race with about 7,000 feet of vertical on 23 June
- a week of taper and then the race
- a recovery period (about 3 days)
- another build up to about 7 July for a 70 km race with about 11,000 feet of vertical on 14 July
- a week of taper and then the race
- a recovery period (about 2 days) and about 2 weeks of lower volume
- a third build up to about 11 August for a 84 km race with about 10,000 feet of vertical on 1 September which was truncated because I decided not to do the race due to fires and associated smoke
- a volume block from about 20 August until about 5 October
- a recovery period of about 7 days
- transition to ski-specific training (some running but more roller skiing)
As far as the effectiveness of this training periodization, I placed in the top ten overall (5th and 9th) in each race. A better evaluation is that in each race a nationally ranked runner participated (and won) so I can calibrate my performance on a more national level. I was within 20% of the winning time in both races, which, given that these are my first two ultramarathon races, that I have only been training for ultramarathons since April 2012, and that I am old (56) it would seem that the current training protocol is at least passable. I have a lot of skill development and lateral muscle building to do, but this is a good start. My only significant thought is that I will add more long (20+ miles) runs into the program. Time will tell if it will have any positive effect; I expect that more longer runs will help with having a strong finish. I also need to concentrate on pacing on flats and also climbing as I was in the early part of the season.
Other relevant data
One of the most important parts of designing a reliable training plan is to establish a good balance of training time spent in the 5 heart rate zones. In a prior endurance sport “career”, our coaches emphasized the importance of avoiding too much level 3 training as such training is considered, by and large, “empty” training from a competitive fitness perspective. One will feel really good during such level 3 efforts but it is not doing much (if anything) with either LT pacing or VO2 max development. Focusing on high quality level 4-5 sessions with adequate rest at level 1-2 and including technique work (typically done at level 1-2) is preferable to including too many level 3 efforts. I have always had problems abiding by this protocol and such has proven to be the case once again and represents an important goal for next season.
Presented below are the percent “time in zone” and the “TRIMP per session” distributions for the ski and running seasons. As is clearly evident, I have allowed for level 3 efforts to dominate my training. Whilst this may be acceptable in this first year of training for racing, going forward I need to drop the level 3 and replace it with a suitable combination of level 2 and level 4 efforts. The input I have received indicates that I should target a value of about 25% of the total for level three, with a similar amount of level 2 (with a total of about 35% for level 1&2), about 35% for level 4, and the remainder 5-10% at level 5 depending on how much racing will be done. You can see that I did a better job in approaching these numbers in running than in skiing, so with the just starting skiing season I will be pumping up the level 4 sessions and adding a few more level two sessions. In running, I think that if I increase the vertical ascention, the level 4 efforts will naturally begin to dominate as I am almost always in level 4 on the climbs on the trails in the Sun valley area. A similar result obtains for the TRIMP distributions as was evident for the “time in zone” distributions. The one caveat is that in running, the ultra races and long tempo runs increase the very high TRIMP per session values almost to the point of consideration of throwing them out f the analysis. I have included them here because the remainder of the distribution is still fairly accurate. This highlights one of the issues with using TRIMP as a metric for ultra distance training. The long times associated with the ultra races and the longer training efforts seems to over value these particular efforts. However, it will still be functional to attempt to put a training program together that more closely approaches a bimodal distribution dominated by TRIMP per session values at about 200 and 350.
Looking forward and inputs for 2013 training plans
This analysis has lead me to propose the following goals for the 2013 seasons:
- increase level 4 efforts and replace level 3 efforts with true level 2 efforts
- focus on LT pacing and tempo skis (linked to increased level 4 efforts)
- increase long (3-4 hour) skis to keep endurance and fat burning capabilities up for the ultra running season
- focus on racing the races and controlling the dynamics of the pack
- increase level 4 efforts and replace level 3 efforts with true level 2 efforts
- try increasing minimum run length to 20 km/12 miles to determine if higher distance volume has a positive effect on strong race finishes
- include speed work to help with pacing on flats
- increase total vertical ascention (linked with increasing level 4 efforts)
- race more to gain experience- target 4 races including at least one 100 km race
These goals have been central input to training plan development and I have a draft plan put together for both the skiing and running seasons. Hopefully an optimal training plan will result that will require very little modification and/or revamping.