Race To The Stones Training Plan

Sport Walk’s Roger Burlinson explains his training plan for Race To The Stones, the 100k trail race he’s planning to Sport Walk non-stop in 18 hours

In October 2016 I wrote about my outline training plan for Race To The Stones.  Now, in January 2017 all the ruminating, theorising and experimentation is done and it’s just down to good old fashioned structured work, so I thought I’d share my program in detail in case it helps anyone out there figure out how to approach their own Sport Walk challenge.

Incidentally, I keep seeing promoted posts for ‘charity challenge walks’ on social media and at least two talk of completing 100k in 30 hours as a team and how this is “pushing yourself beyond your limits”.  Well that knocked me back a bit!  Here I am aiming to complete 100k in 18-20 hours or even under 18 if all goes well.  Have I got it completely wrong?  Am I just being stupid?

I completed 82k in 17 hours on the inaugural Sport Walk New Forest 80 last year, with 10kg of weight, decent lunch stops and also down time for buying supplies along the way, so in my mind I know what I’m aiming for is doable. But reading that another 10 hours is a “challenge”… well, you can’t help but wonder!  Anyway, working on the assumption that I’m not nuts, here’s the run down on how I plan to get myself into the best shape possible to have a pop at it.

First of all, I should stress that I’m coming into this year with about 18 months maximum of ‘recreational’ running in my tank.  Before that I’ve always been active – walking, cycling, canoeing but nothing at a high standard.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m starting this final six month prep period not as some kind of elite athlete but as a reasonably fit 50 something who just happens to be able to endure ultra walking at a good speed more than ultra anything else at any kind of speed.

Kicking back in my sea kayak in the Croatian waters near my family’s home

For instance, in my other key sport – canoeing – I have done a couple of very low division races and enjoyed them but I found the going hard and doubt I’ve got what it takes ever to compete in the Devizes to Westminster, which is kind of an equivalent to Race To The Stones or other Ultras of 100k or more.  It’s 125 miles non stop with a two person crew and most complete it in around 24 hours or less.  For some reason I’m able to put myself through the mill over a long distance Sport Walking but not cycling, running or canoeing.

So, to me, my program is wholly achievable for anyone and there are probably many who would actually be more advanced at this point and who would therefore make stronger, faster progress than I will.  It’s all about focussing on your own individual strengths and blocking out others and then training yourself to achieve what you believe you’re capable of.

I’m breaking the six months up into two parts, where at the beginning of the year I’m training for a half marathon run and then I’ll bank that progress and convert it into Sport Walking for the run into Race To The Stones in July.  I need to work on my leg strength a lot, both for the half and the 100k, mainly because I have some weakness around the knees that causes pain over distance, so I need to sort that before anything else.  Then I want to get myself into a position where I can comfortably run my home road race – the Southampton Half Marathon – and to do it in a not embarrassing time (I need to make sure that this race is just a milestone along the route to 100k, so keeping it steady and coming out smiling is really important).

The Training Routine

I’ve set up a training plan that cycles over a four week period.  For me, this is important as I can build over the month and also schedule targeted harder and easier days.  I’m busy with work, so I need to fit everything in around the 9-5, just as most people do but I am lucky in working for myself, so the exception to this is to build my gym sessions into a mid morning slot and then on these days I’ll catch up with work in the evening.

Trail running’s forming a big part of my early training

From January to April I’ll be running two to three times a week, doing strength work in the gym two mornings and then there’s a big trail run or ride on the Saturday.  Sundays are rest days, although I might take the kayak out for a paddle.  I’ll be starting steady each month and gradually increasing distances and loads as the month progresses, with week three being the biggest week.  Also on week three I’ll do a long Sport Walk of maybe three to five hours and this is the only Sport Walking I’m doing at this point.

Because I’m planning for the Half Marathon to be a kind of staging post, I’m focussing mainly on running and weights but this will bring aerobic and strength benefits into play when I switch to more Sport Walking from May to July.

In the second part of the schedule, I’ll keep running but this time I’ll be focussing more on speed and hill work rather than distance, so I’ll effectively use my running for fitness rather than endurance.  I’ll then do much more Sport Walking and go further and longer each week until I max out at I guess around 60k. I’ll continue with the strength work in the gym but I’ll only do one session and I’ll then do some free weights at home – deadlifts, Bulgarian squats etc.

This second period for me is all about conditioning my body to go long and building resilience. The other key factor for me is to train specifically for climbing, as I’ll really need to attack the climbs to stay on track with my target time.  In fact, attacking the climbs and basically ‘fast cruising’ on the flats is the best approach really, as you can calculate flat speed and times far easier than working out the nuances of speed reduction on the uphills.  So, I’m working on the principle that I’ll estimate an overall pace that is viable, go a bit faster than target pace but stay comfortable on the flat and then push hard on the climbs, recovering when it flattens out or descends.

This means that I’ll also be doing quite a bit of dedicated climbing work.  I’ll put in some interval sessions on the stair climber in the gym, which is brilliant and then I’ll also be going to some big hills to put in some fast ascent sessions.  Pen y Fan in South Wales for instance will be one such location, as will the lumps around Sidmouth in Devon.

Now, while this might all sound quite targeted to me alone, this is still the kind of program that anyone could adapt and follow six months out from a challenge, to get ready to put in a good time.  OK, so I’ve got some specific aims and also some specific issues I need to address but the basic underlying principle is exactly what you’ll find in any marathon running article or other such advice – do your ‘base training’ in the early months – go slower than you might be capable of and go longer, to build endurance.  Then, as you get closer to the event, start to work on those elements that you’ll bring into play in your challenge.  For me, it’s putting in the very long distance miles while specifically training to attack the climbs.  When I make this shift, I’ve already built the strength and endurance.  If your challenge is maybe shorter or over multiple days, work out what will be the key factors and train accordingly.

One thing is certain though, regardless of what your challenge or goal is.  Set yourself a target, enter a race and get it fixed in the diary!  Once you have an immovable challenge lying ahead of you, you can create the structure needed to reach your goal.  Until there’s a deadline it’s too easy to just drift with your training and not implement the targeted work that can make all the difference on the day.

So, time will tell if I’m delusional in my aim to complete 100k in under 18 hours but at least I know that when I line up on that start line, in my head I’ll know I can do it.


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