Mountain running prep – B races versus training camp

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  • #31947
    Bond
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    I’m interested in folks’ thoughts on the relative merits of doing B races versus a “training camp” week in the ~6 weeks before a goal race or event.

    My next goal race is in mid-April, a 50k with 9400 feet of elevation gain. It’s probably one of the harder 50ks in the US. I’ve completed it twice before but both times the course broke me and I dragged myself across the finish line. The first time I ran it I was in decent shape and was surprised how hard it was, second time I was undertrained and the smarter decision would have been to drop to the 25k. My goal for 2020 is a run of it “I can be proud of” which is kind of a nebulous thing, but basically I want to PR. I know what I’m going into now and that it’ll require more training than I did before, and I want to make it happen.

    I’m thinking about the March-ish training period of more specific training before I start tapering in early April. Some of the races I’m looking at as potential B races to run are opening for registration soon so I want to get a general idea sooner rather than later of what my plan should be.

    I see two main possible plans for March – B races which I’m a bit more used to doing, or a “training camp” type big week or two that seems to be a lot more popular among some of the more traditional endurance sports like cycling:

    Emphasize B races – I sign up for an easier trail marathon and 50k, both in March, and treat them as my two biggest training runs to final test gear/nutrition, get used to the time on feet, and etc. These would be long efforts in the 4-5 hour range, probably 5:30 for the 50k. With these, I’d be able to do at least two big hard long runs with aid station support, and focus my training around building up to these (along with other appropriate weekend long runs along the way) then go into the taper. The efforts would be big enough for these B races that I’d probably only be able to fit in one other hard effort per week around them, for a medium-long hill run or an ME session, then some easy days too.

    Training camp – plan to take some hours off work and do a 9 day weekend-to-weekend period where I train hard all week with extra medium-long runs and hill workouts, plus plenty of sleep. Accumulate a ton of work, then go into the taper off of that. The focus would be more on getting in a solid effort each day rather than any one workout being super long and demanding, I might not do a run longer than 3 hours in there but I would be able to do more medium-long runs on hilly trails, ME work, back-to-backs, etc.

    I’m not sure I can do both the races and a camp together – even as B races where I’m not going max effort, the races may still be hard enough that I wouldn’t be able to train big hours mid-week between them without risking injury or overreaching. Maybe I could do it if I just pick smaller B races, but then I’m not getting the same “long run” effect if I’m doing a half marathon instead of a marathon. Or I could do a single long B race to cap off the end of the training camp week? If you did want to blend these, how might those weeks look?

    From my reading of Training for the Uphill Athlete, the UA recommendation seems to be that upping the total volume is more valuable than emphasizing a couple really big long run/B races except for athletes with the base to recover super fast from them, but I thought I would ask about it specifically for any thoughts anyways. I’ve always included a couple really long runs in my ultra training in the past, I can’t say they necessarily work but I also just get paranoid about going into an ultra without a couple 5-6 hour recent efforts under my belt. 

    I certainly recognize that building the biggest base possible from now through race day is really what will make the biggest difference but I am interested in doing this specific period as best I can. Thank you!

  • Keymaster
    Scott Johnston on #32209

    Bond:

    Sorry to be slow responding to your great question. You’re thinking about your preparation in the right way. Having to clear paths to choose from will make the decision easier. Thanks for articulating them so clearly.

    I’ve had more athletes do well coming off a heavy training block into a taper than I have coming off B races into a taper for the main event. However, the B race option has real value and I understand the appeal. As you mention you can hone strategy, fueling, hydration, self care etc in a supported race better than in an unsupported training run. That’s a big plus and needs to be weighed heavily.

    Why I lean toward the training block/training camp approach is that there is less pressure and the training can be better controlled. I also feel that it is better to spread the training load out for several days allowing your body more time to absorb and adapt to the training stress, rather than slam it with a hard race effort. However, I’m not sure I’d go for a 9 day concentrated block unless there a couple of rest days built in.

    If you decide to do the B race approach what about doing only one B race and a shorter training camp? If you go with the B race approach then I think you really need to run this race as a training run not pushing into the red zone during it. It would be very easy to leave your race on the training ground. I’ve seen this happen all too often. A concentrated effort like a 50km race is going to take many days to absorb and benefit from before you are ready to get back to actual building training.

    I believe having the confidence of knowing that your training has been spot on leading into the race will be as valuable as doing the B race (I’m quite dubious of trying to fit 2 into March for an April A race0.

    For a races with this much vert I have had great luck implementing a protracted ME block during the “Base” phase. I’ve had great using exactly our gym ME progression described in TftUA 1x/week. I’ve done this block for up to 16 weeks. During this the emphasis is on maintain aerobic base with medium volume abut ALL of it easy. Lots of Z1 and recovery work with very little Z2 unless you have ADS. Then the focus shifts to more event specific training during a final “Specific” phase. In this phase we use conventional interval training methods, usually also only 1x/week and the volume begins to build. My favorite way of doing this is with back to back long runs on weekends.

    Both the Training Camp model and the B-race model rely on the “Over Reaching” principle. Over reaching is a valuable training tool for advanced athletes who have a lot of experience and are good at judging when ‘enough is enough’. In a race you may not have the presence of mind when you have stepped over the line and enough becomes too much. In the Training Camp model you must be careful to not become a slave to an overly ambitious plan. Over “over reaching” in either of these scenarios can spell disaster. I’d much rather have an athlete undertrained than overtrained going into a race any day.

    I know there is nothing concrete here but I hope my musings help your thinking.
    Scott

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