Strength and conditioning for runners

This will be closely related to a previous content of how to run 100 miles weeks. The final answer to that question was: you must simply need to have time on hand.

This topic was triggered by the KoopCast 117th episode. I really liked the book of Jason Koop, Training Essentials for Ultrarunning. I like thinkers, people who like to debate, communicate and discuss. I say this as I appreciate and respect Jason Koop, but I still highly disagree with many of his ideas and coaching methodology. This is true to his strength and conditioning ideas too.

So, first of all we talk about ultra running and specificity of ultra running. We talk about flatlanders preparing for an ultra, that contains a lot of elevation gain and loss. We don’t enter here the altitude debate, just the muscular one.

First of all, to be a complete human and a complete runner, we must move all our joints through full range of motion every day, but specifically to do so, to activate our muscles before running.
We have to also bring our muscles through all types of contractions too. In case of warming up, that is concentric, eccentric, isometric and ‘isokinetic’ movements. This is achieved by body weight running specific warming up drills for instance.
A very simple pre run 5 to 10 minute strength and conditioning routine will do all this for us. I would never ever recommend to just dress up, go out and run. I do not ever do that ! Practice what you preach. Even 3 minutes can make a difference, especially if we talked about a decade !

Secondly, we must be able handle weights and our body weight as runners and humans. In case of an elevated leg push up, a pull up or a dip, body weight is significant. In case of a squat, deadlift, lunge or standing back row, body weight is nothing and external load must be applied.
Some sort of daily weight training should be done either we are runners or not or we prepare for an ultra or a 10k or mountain adventures. This can be kettlebell swings, an 8 minute body sculpting gym routine, sledge push and pull, wood chopping, a crossfit drill or simply hay baling and hard daily physical labour.
Without talking about sports and specificity, to keep joint strength, joint stability, muscular balance and the function and age healthfully, I practice, coach and highly recommend 1 to 2hours of strength and conditioning a week. At least !

Ultra running specificity

There is time efficiency, but there is smart race choice too. For instance Koop says that if you had 10 hours a week while preparing for 100 miler, it would be smarter to focus on running as much as you can during that 10 hours, than engaging in “questionable” strength and conditioning routines. I am not coming from the coaching business, but from coaching ! If you had 10 hours a week, I will not engage to train you for a mountainous 100 miler. Ever ! Most likely not even for a 50 miler. Imagine that a mountainous 50 miler can take up to 8 hours for the winner. Probably 9h or more for a seasoned non pro. I am not gonna train anybody with 10hours of freetime a week to run a 9h long race. Especially that self judging free time in case of non-pro athletes is very often if not always over estimated. If a client tells me 10h, that will be mostly 6 to 8. If he tells me 20, that is more likely 10 to 13.
Training that little for that long of a race istotally against health and training principles. Though create options to have more clients and sell dreams. 10, 20 or 30 years down the line, when calcified joints and osteoporotic bones will be present, we forget to ask questions about how we completed ultra events in reality completely unprepared.

So, let’s talk about time, before we talk about strength and conditioning. For a marathon and even for an ultra we can apply some basic rules. So 20x 20milers to be done for 20 consecutive weeks, till 20 days out when taper begins. There is the 30 or for some 20% long run rule. The long run should not be longer than 30% of total weekly mileage. If the rule was 30%, this would mean max 30km for a 100km week. The thing is, that when we talked about mountain and ultra running, the weekly mileage will take up a bit more time and the 30km long run too. As the racing is done by distance – 100miles – the long run should be done by distance too.
This is where strength and conditioning comes in. Some calculations should be made again though. So the strict minimum is around 100km of running a week as a 20 week prep for a 100mile event. At the end of the base period, before the 20 week training, we should be comfortably completing the half of the elevation gain of the race during the week. UTMB has 10000m of vert, at the end of he base, we should be able to cover 5000m of gain during the week easily. That is easy running a couple of 400 and 600m days, while using specific terrain for more D+ during the midweek and weekend long run. So a 100 km week with 3500 to 6500m of gain would take up around 15hours on average. Sometimes 12 sometimes 18.

This means that when running 100km flat in 9h, we should include some specificity of 6h to create equilibrium. There are individual differences in runners, but most likely and in 90% of the runners, when unprepared for an up and down race, inner quads and calves what give in first. I find that one of the most effective way to protect inner quads is long and deep walking lunges.
To effectively perform these, you need walking poles as when you go really deep, your point of center of gravity is centered so much, that without the help of the poles, you won’t be able to effectively come up, nor perform the necessary quantities. In reality, it is not the actual lunge and quad activation what will help, but the deceleration when you achieve depth causing eccentric training and lengthening. I often start out a training plan with 4 x 8 slowly and gradually increasing up to 4 x 100 or even 4 x 150. Then decreasing back to a maintenance quantity of 4 x 40 / 4 x 60 twice a week. The goal of these sessions is to increase them so gradually and include them so smartly that they practically do not have any effect on your running.
Calves are easy, skipping roping and uphill sprints. If you had a hill of 5 seconds, that is already effective. You can also get to a running track, get a cheap pair of spikes and slowly engage in sprinting drills and repeats. You can run 2km as warming up, do 5min educatives and dynamic flexibility, then 10min run specific micro plyometrics and a ladder in spikes. 40 / 60 / 80 / 100 / 200 / 100 / 80 / 60 / 40m. Then jog it off for 10min barefoot in the inner grass field. This must all be done super gradually on a way, that it will not compromise any trail run, neither long run.

As you can see, this is why I recommend time on hand, base training and a 20 week post base training plan with 3 weeks of taper, especially for beginners. It will ensure that motivation is there and the idea is not just a sudden fluke. It will ensure that the runner really enjoys training and loves running.
Of course, if somebody is coming from a 100miler, took 2 weeks off, most likely he can get away with 10hours of weekly training till the next race and 10 to 12weeks will work as volume. However, long term it is not possible and health issues will pop up. The body likes to be very prepared, challenged and relaxed. It doesn’t like to be challenged while undertrained for the challenge, nor it likes to be pushed constantly.

What about heavy lifting ? It is great, however must be periodized. Look at on the other hand the athletes of Canova, Peter Sang, Lydiard, Keith Livingstone, Percy Cerutti. No heavy lifting is done ever. Long hill or track circuits of bouncing, hopping, leaping, jumping and schooling with sprints or even longer 200 / 300 / 400reps included, for 60 to 90minutes. Some athletes coming back from injury or initiating a base, go for hill work up to 5 times a week for months on end. For instance 5sec skipping, 10 sec acceleration, 10 sec leaping and final 30sec quality uphill run with 45sec hard downhill running. 2min walk back to start as recovery.
50 high knees, 50 high heels, 6 pushups, 30 sec plank on each side, 60m sprint, 20lunges, 2 x 10 step ups and a 60sec wall-sit. Then change into spikes and run 300m fast. Repeat all 4 times, while during the 6minute recovery in between sets, some pilates and mobility should be practiced.
(20 lunges / 2min skipping roping / 10 x 10kg kb swings / 4 diagonals in XC spikes) x 6

As you can see, I would not ever recommend only to run, when you lived on flats. I would also not recommend to over do strength and conditioning. However what I propose is a proper base training, a proper training period, 3 weeks of taper. This if planed out well, can be 26 to 30 weeks. Half a year or more for a first or big “A” hundred miler.
This simply means that you will accumulate enough fatigue and strength from the 5 to 15minutes of daily strength routines added in before during and after the runs without impacting any of your run focused sessions.

Motivation and measurements are important ! I like to include shorter distance events to the preparation. For me racing is racing. If I want to practice nutrition, hydration, shoes, pacing and so on, I go for a long run with loops and make sure I pass by my car 2 or 3 times to change up stuff. When racing, I am racing ! I want to enjoy an honest effort.
During the 20 week prep phase, 2-3-4 events can be included. Athletes who like long term 30 – 35km long run running, should go for a gradual increase in distance, like Race1 – 30km / Race2 – 40km / Race3 – 50km / Race 4 – 50miles or 100km. When including long racing like 100km into a 100mile preparation, I recommend to decrease the difficulty and elevation profile comparing to a race. For 100miler what would need 22hours, I would recommend a 100km that would not take up more than 12 to 13 hours.
Self observation is important. If you get smoked from the 40km already, something should be changed up in training or lifestyle and you should not go ahead of planned racing till figured out how to recover better and faster after long effort.
Either ways, these tune up races should show weaknesses in body and neglects in training. Should you run more ? Should you lift more ? Should you sprint more and other questions should pop up !
Than there are the athletes who prefer really to run only 20 to 25km long runs, but shock the system every 3 to 4 weeks with a long mountain adventure of 50 to 80km. Their race choices can be a bit less tactical and can go straight for the 50miler for instance or race multiple 100k events in prep for the 100miler.

Individuality. Self and coaching observation. Adaptation. Flexibly planning ahead and so on.

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