The 22km event at Ultra-Trail Australia might be one of the shortest on offer over the weekend, but it sure packs a punch. At just over a half marathon in distance, the hills and stairs mean you can expect to spend about 50% longer on the course than you would if you were competing in a flat road 21km. Across the journey you’ll encounter long descents, steep ups, single track and stairs. This diversity in terrain means you have to cover a lot of bases in training. So we’ve put together a checklist of sessions you should regularly include in your regime over the months leading up to race day.
The final haul up the legendary Furber Steps can make or break you! They’re daunting at the best of times, let alone when you’ve got a stack of hard kilometres already in your legs. So to prepare for this beast of an ascent you need to do stair reps. Now, finding a continuous set of stairs as long as Furber is probably not likely, unless you live in the mountains. So find the longest set you can and start racking them up. Begin with doing single steps and spending 30 minutes going up and down. Then as you get stronger, alternate between sets of singles and doubles. Once you feel up to it, you can increase the time, gradually adding 5 minutes every week until you’re spending an hour doing repeats. This session can be done once a week for the first month, and then add it in a second time after that.
The climbs at UTA are long and steep, and there’s very little flat ground. You’re either going up or down and it’s the ascents that will work your engine the hardest. So including a weekly hill session is a must and there are two variations we recommend. The first one is short repeats. Find yourself a climb that’s about 400-500m in length and not overly steep. You want to be able to run the full length of it. Start by doing 6 reps of it, with a jog back down as recovery. Then every fortnight add an extra rep until you’re doing 10 repeats. The second hill session is long reps. This is a little trickier to do as it requires a big climb. The idea is to start by running 2 x 10minutes uphill, with a 5minute jog down recovery. Once you’ve done this session a few ties, add in a third rep.
What goes up, must come down, and while the inclines work your engine, the declines smash your quads! So to prepare for the impending pounding you really need to practice descending. The good thing is, at UTA the downhill isn’t technical, as the trail is pretty good underfoot and wide. As with the uphill reps, there are two variations we suggest. Firstly, find a short and steep decline of about 500m. It needs to be steep enough that you feel like you have to put the breaks on to prevent falling…you essentially need to feel slightly out of control! Our goal is to run down with good form, maintaining a high cadence, short strides and with our arms out wide to help stabilise things. You run down the hill fast, and then jog or walk slowly back up. Do this 6 times. The second variation is the long descent, which requires a big climb. Find a downhill that’s about 20minutes long and run down it, focusing on great technique, similar to the short downhill reps. The first few times you do this you only need to do one rep, then as confidence builds add a second 10minute rep in. Both these sessions should be alternated, so each one is done once a fortnight. Keep in mind that the first few times you do it you’ll feel pretty sore the following day. However, once you’ve got plenty of downhill miles in the pins, you’ll absorb it much better.
One of the best ways to build your engine and condition yourself to suffering for an extended period is by doing tempo runs. This session is pretty simple and can be done on any terrain, because it’s all about the perceived effort. Essentially, start by doing 2 x 10minutes tempos with a 5 minute jog as the recovery. The pace of the tempo should be about your half marathon race pace. As the weeks go by, gradually increase the duration by 5minutes at a time, maxing out at 2 x 30mins. Once you get beyond 20min reps the recoveries should grow to 10minutes of jogging.
When it comes to steep climbs, sometimes running them is slower than hiking. So as odd as it might sound, you need to practice walking. We’re not talking about dawdling, but power hiking. This is where you really focus on maintaining a fast paced uphill hike, pushing down on your knees with your hands and striding out. If you’ve ever seen an elite trail runner power hiking, you’ll know what we mean when we say they’re bloody fast compared to the average Joe. An experienced power hiker can move uphill as fast as most of us run! Being good at it requires practice, hence we recommend you plan to do some power hiking on a regular basis. You can either do it as specific sessions on the same steep hill you do your running reps up, or make it a part of your weekly long run. Here’s an article we previously wrote on the subject: http://www.thelongrun.com.au/the-art-of-power-hiking/