This article was originally published in the September/October 2022 issue of UltraRunning Magazine. Subscribe today for similar features on ultra training, racing and more.
While summer is gone and the days are getting shorter, it’s never a bad time to think about your next ultra adventure run. After all, you are an endurance athlete. And I bet more than a few nickels that by simple virtue of you reading this and your humble subscription to UltraRunning Magazine, that you are a darn good one. You are an athlete that’s capable of locomoting across plains, mountains and desert with just a good pair of shoes, a pack and the fuel of your choice. Regardless of if your next adventure run is the infamous 48-mile Zion Traverse in southern Utah or the rugged Ptarmigan Traverse in Washington state (both are highly recommended) or simply an unplanned and uncharted route of unknown distance, these types of runs add excitement and can serve as a training catalyst for future races. Below is a guide on how to leverage these adventure runs and adapt them into your training.
ALL TRAINING MATTERS
“But won’t this mess up my training?” Almost inevitably, the infamous adventure run is not what was drawn up in the original training plan. In my experience, it unironically falls on the day of some track workout or a series of hill intervals that the athlete loathes. I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that the impeccable timing is a subconscious cry for relief from whatever weekly workout the athlete loathes most, but I digress. The fact of the matter is that nearly 100% of the time when an athlete asks if they can substitute a planned workout for an adventure run, my answer is yes. Here’s why that hit rate is nearly 100%: all training matters. Some of your training is going to have more of an impact than others, but make no mistake—each and every single second you spend doing some type of aerobic activity will result in a positive benefit, so long as you have an adequate amount of recovery and nutrition baked into your plan. So, fret not. Regardless of if your chosen adventure run is master-planned or just so happens to crop up at the last minute (insert coach’s eye roll here), the run can be productive.
PLAN IN ADVANCE
If you happen to be following a training plan under the guidance of a coach or a static schedule, you can and should adjust for your adventure run. Adventure runs that are pre-planned far enough in advance offer the opportunity to craft your training around them in a way that allows you to take advantage and not deviate too much from the intended training phase. When this is the case, I usually let the adventure run be the anchor of the week and revolve the rest of the runs and workouts around it. This is because most adventure runs will be longer and contain more training stress than whatever you normally plan. That being said, if you happen to miss a workout, don’t sweat it and try to shoehorn the workout somewhere else in the calendar. Let the adventure run take care of the training load and get back on track with the program once you’ve recovered. If you have done a good job with your training over long periods of time, the effect will be negligible.
ADJUST IN ARREARS
Let’s face it, many of these adventure runs are spur-of-the-moment opportunities. One minute you are having a casual beer with some of your training partners and the next, you’ve planned out a 50-mile line over uncharted terrain that you all are going to tackle in five days. Oh, and it just so happens to fall on the same day as that tempo run you weren’t particularly looking forward to (funny how that always happens). If you find yourself in this predicament, you will likely need to make some adjustment to your training. Most of these adjustments can come after the adventure run and over long periods of time. Here’s how I do it for the athletes I work with:
- If the adventure run is <4x your normal daily run volume or <2x your longest long run of the year, you can keep the entirety of the adjustments after the adventure run. For example, if you think your adventure run is going to take 6 hours and your normal weekday runs are 90 minutes and your longest long run of the year is 4 hours, you can adjust your training for your chosen adventure run completely after the fact. This is because the adventure is not so much of a deviation from your day-to-day training that any rest needs to be banked in advance. So, to adjust for this flavor of adventure run, all you need to do is to look at the volume increase or decrease that was planned compared to the adventure run and make up for that over the course of the next 10 days. Remember training stress accumulates over long periods of time. So, you can take your time in counterbalancing whatever training load you missed or are in excess of. In the previous example, if your long run was 4 hours and your adventure run was 6 hours, you would remove 2 hours of volume in some combination from the next 10 days. Take your pick on how to remove the volume (spread out or in 1-2 runs) and if you are working with a coach, you can find the most ideal way for you.
- For any adventure runs >4x your normal daily run volume or >2x your longest long run, your counterbalancing window is 10 days before and 10 days after the adventure run. Same procedure as before—you can take the entirety of the before/after window and add/subtract a little from each day or counterbalance all in 2-3 shots, it’s up to you. If you really did come up with your adventure run with only a couple of days’ notice and fall into this category, just take the days before the run off. Don’t get pretentious about the consistency of your schedule—you’ll be fine. Remember the run itself is the overload, no need to add anything else to it.
Training for ultras can be a serious business. The events are hard, and you spend a lot of time out on the trails to better prepare for them. That does not mean that you can’t deviate from the plan every now and again. Adventure can fuel your goals, physically and emotionally. So, when these opportunities arise, regardless of if they are meticulous or haphazardly planned, take advantage of them. Your training and your fitness will be better off, and you will definitely have some fun along the way.