Ultra Trail running is the most extreme discipline in running: with distances far beyond the classic marathon, often in high alpine terrain, ultra trails place extreme demands on the body. Without proper preparation, it’s impossible to compete successfully. But how do you train properly to prepare for such stresses?
GORE RUNNING WEAR athlete Daniel Jung, who finished 2nd in the Hong Kong 100 at the World Ultra Trail Running Championship, has a surprising answer: don’t train at all!
At first, this sounds crazy, but Daniel has a valid point, „The term training makes me feel like I have to complete specific sessions with very narrowly defined goals. This just isn’t the focus for me. I like to run in the mountains and experience my limits there, which is my main motivation. If I run with my friends through the South Tyrolean mountains, it’s not training; it’s enjoyment. We do what we feel like, and sometimes that’s the best preparation”.
Quality is more important than quantity
Professional marathoners complete 12 to 14 sessions per week, covering upwards of 200 km over the seven day span. With ultra-runners covering vastly larger distances in racing, it would make sense to assume that they also run more in training, but that’s not always the case. Daniel usually runs just three times a week, for a total of 7-10 hours. There are always bigger weeks scattered through the year, but these are rare. Of Daniel’s three runs, one is a longer run (4-8 hours), the second is shorter at 2-4 hours, and the final workout is a faster paced effort for an hour or two. The quality of the workout is more important than the length of his runs. That means that he regularly pushes himself to the very limit in training,
I can deal with a lot of suffering! It’s only when you push yourself through that kind of pain in training that you can be optimally prepared for the same thing in a race
Flexibility and feeling determine Daniels training
When asked if he creates a long-term plan for the season, Daniel replies: “I have a spreadsheet where I lay out an approximate version of the coming weeks, but this isn’t a rigid plan. If I fancy doing something else, then I’ll switch it up.” After many years competing in mountain bike racing, you can quickly tell Daniel has a good feeling for how to train. It’s also this feeling that he follows during competitions, dispensing with the technology that other runners use to stay on pace. Rather than GPS and heart rate data, Daniel relies on feel alone.
I only have my watch, so I know what time to be home so I won’t get in trouble with my girlfriend!
Interval training yes. Track training no!
Daniel does most of his training in the local mountains of South Tyrol. The sun-drenched region has many snow-free southern slopes that allow him to get above 2000m, even in the winter. Daniel rarely runs on flat ground, but sometimes uses the smooth bike paths to fit intervals into his runs. Rather than heading out and doing just intervals, he incorporates these into longer workouts. In doing so, Daniel can use the terrain he has available to match his mood and effort. When asked whether training on the track would be more efficient, Daniel is pretty clear.
I’ve run on a track just once in my life so far, and it’s going to stay that way! South Tyrol is a beautiful landscape that starts at my front door. There is really no reason to run circles on a track.
Stability force, and coordination – important keys to success
Although strength and stability training has only gained prominence in recent years for road runners, Daniel is certain this kind of training is absolutely essential for trail running. The long distances and the constant ups and downs in technical terrain strain muscles, tendons and ligaments enormously – this requires appropriate preparation. Daniel is just as disciplined with his stability work as the running, investing time in 3-4 strength sessions each week.
Every three weeks Daniel heads to the physiotherapist for a thorough check over and analysis to identify any imbalances or vulnerabilities. The physio can then recommend any specific exercises that are needed. Exercises for strengthening the core and leg muscles, and improving coordination, are often part of the program. Daniel only does bodyweight exercises, which he performs on unstable ground, for example a bosu ball. Daniel is also able to work on his coordination – important for the downhills. With regular heel and toe dips, he also tries to prepare tendons and muscles for the often insanely fast and heavily loaded downhill sections. The success of these workouts is regularly demonstrated in Daniel’s competitions. As soon as he goes into technically difficult downhills, he is one of the absolute masters of his discipline, even in elite circles, and regularly makes significant ground on the competition.
Daniel’s alternative training is rounded off with pilates and yoga. For a year he has been attending a guided yoga course once a week. In addition to the positive effects yoga has on mobility and coordination, Daniel particularly appreciates the mental training yoga can offer, as well as breathing techniques that help him to focus and overcome low points.
Taking time away from running: weekends with the family.
Daniel is a family man. He makes sure that his weekends are generally “run free”. With family and friends off work on the weekends, this is the time Daniel chooses to spend with them, rather than running alone in the mountains. Rather than solo efforts, Daniel heads out on huge alpine mountain tours instead, mostly with his girlfriend. “There’s no reason to push the pace on the weekends. I let the pace be determined by my companion. I can give it some gas when I’m alone, so I want to enjoy the moment instead. Nevertheless, these days out are ideal for building my basic stamina because of the length and the time you spend in the high altitude, and at the same time they serve as mental and physical regeneration.”
Rest – the often-overlooked success factor.
Two days of Daniel’s week are set aside solely for rest. This gives his body the opportunity to recover from very hard runs, and to adapt to the training stimulus, thus increasing performance
I think that many runners simply train too much. If I am not recovered, it makes no sense to train. The training never reaches the quality that is important for further development. For me, rest is at least as important as the load!
Tips from Daniel
1. Push it to the limit!
Only those who have experienced stress and pain in training can deal with it in competition.
2. Trail Running is not just running!
Without regular strength, stabilization and co-ordination training, you will have a lot of difficulty in becoming a good trail runner. Be disciplined and stay tuned even if it is difficult.
3) Run only if you really want to!
If you’re an avid runner, you shouldn’t force yourself to train on days when motivation is low. Instead, take a step back and decide whether the low motivation is a signal from your body saying that it needs more time to rest.