How I trained for my first Ultra during COVID 19


Understand that the WHAT comes before the HOW. Choose the what and the how usually falls into place.

Julia Cameron, The Artist Way

Running through the woods, on the trails of North Somerset, June 2020.

What: To run The West Mendip Way. A 50km footpath from Wells to Weston Super Mare .

How: The how will take care of itself.

It sort of did, it fell into place.

It would be nice to say I set a date for the West Mendip Way 50km challenge. I created a plan working back, building up mileage, leg strength and stamina.

But no.

My job, as an endurance coach involes creating training plans for others: towards a marathon, a triathlon, an Ironman race. There I am methodical, I create long terms plans, create medium and short term goals, track fitness. Plan, adapt, communicate with the athletes and repeat.

For myself; currently I go on feel and intuition and it sort of happens.

The West Mendip way. A long distance footpath from Wells to Uphill

Why the West Mendip Way?

I had been training for the Madrid Marathon. Like most events it had been cancelled. While in Spain I had been running trail races at the weekend, 16- 24km events in the mountains. 2 to 3hour events. I was in decent shape. Most days I would run to and from the school I was working at. The short route there, 5km along the cycle path and then the longer route home. If I felt good. I would run the trails that edged into the mountains, or I put some efforts in. I went with the flow, no real plan, I just had to get home each evening, either the short way or a longer route.

When Covid lockdown happened, I was on a 4 day trip back to the U.K. my flight back to Spain cancelled. I found myself living with my Mum. Back where I grew up, in North Somerset. We had the local maps out on the table. The West Mendip Way jumped out at me, further than I’ve ever run before but doable. A good challenge and chance to use some of my current run fitness.

Money in the bank

Before the West Mendip Way I had logged 6 long runs.

November 2019: 30km along The High Peak Trail, Peak District with friends

December 23rd: A festive treat, 30km with Ele& Victoria running The Dales Linkway between Ilkley and Harrogate

January- March: Spanish trail races. Varying distance 16-24km

March: 32km long run in prep for Madrid marathon.

November 2019, a weekend away with friends, 30km run along the High peak Trail.

Trail races in Spain. A great way to visit new places, meet new people and experience the beautiful mountains

Every time I banked a long run, my body gained a bit more strength and stamina. Making the next long run feel that little bit easier and providing some curiosity to see how much further I could go.

From these experiences I had learnt.

I didn’t need to train long to run long. What was important was consistency.

That first long run in November 2019 came off the back of 6 months of consistent short runs. No run had been over 10km. What I had done was plenty of strength and mobility work. I had been a regular at Sudden Movements gym in Leeds. Attending the calisthestics, strength for gymnastics, in motion movement classes along with 1:1 sessions with Colin. From April 2019-November 2019 I had a re-education in training. I had fixed a hip injury, that was a result of too much triathlon training on a body that wasn’t strong enough. So I learnt how to strengthen my body.

That run in November taught me how beneficial strength work was. From 20-30km my legs were pretty tied and it was Ele encouragement that got me home. But having run no further than 10km at any one time over the previous 6 months, I was amazed my legs could do it. It gave me a real appreciation for the power of gym work and the benefit of consistent short runs. 3-4 times a week, 30-40 minutes, it all adds up. These long run's also taught me, they were fun with friends. I knew the perfect person to run the West Mendip way with.

Second to left, Alice Hector, next to myself in the middle. Here we are, 2 of the 6 strong Elite GB team for European 70.3 triathlon championships. If anyone is up for a long run, it's Alice! She also grew up in Somerset, so this was her old stomping ground.

When I say I didn’t have a training plan for the West Mendip Way 50k. That’s not strictly true.

I had a few guiding principles during April to June:

  1. Regular strength work. Using ideas Colin had taught me or online virtual classes with Sudden Movements Gym.

A few of the movements and exercises Colin has taught me over the past few months.

2. Consistent exercise. I cycled or / and ran most days during lock down, even swimming in the lake during the May heatwave. No huge days, but little and often was key.

3. I used my menstrual cycle as a guide to training. Rest days fell in line with premenstrual phase. I listened to my body, when I felt good I threw in hill reps, when tired I ignored the watch and went slow.

I was facilitating the first Train Like a Female course, so it was good to put my own advice into practice.

4. Fun. The world had ground to a halt in a global pandemic. This was a unique experience. Each day, I would have fun and go with the flow. I was teaching online to the Spanish Kids. I knew, if I had fun, they would have fun and this applied to exercise as well. This was not a time for rigid plans.

The 4 week lead up

I spoke with friend Alice Hector, she was in an ultra running mindset following our professional triathlon adventures. Fancy running The West Mendip Way? Saturday 27th June. The date was set. I had 3 weeks.

50km off-road hilly terrain (1400m elevation). I predicted 5-6 hours.

If I could get in a 3 hour run with a 1 hour walk straight after, therefore 4 hours on the legs I would be good to go.

The weeks leading up:

3 weeks out: Hot weather meant 3 lake swims, 2 run's including 13km trail run up, around and down Cheddar gorge with Alex, 3 bike rides, all easy pace as Wednesday 3rd June was Day 1 of menstrual cycle.

2 weeks out: This week included: 1 hill session, 1 grass rep session of 5x5min, 18km trail run with Alex

1 week out: The Saturday before I completed a 3 hour run (31km, 500m elevation) on part of the route with a 1 hour walk straight after.

Once running with a friend was allowed, I enjoyed some trail running with Alex. He took this photo as we ran up, around and down cheddar gorge.

So that was the training.

The key, was the consistency over the 12 weeks before. Here is a snap shot of April, May, June from my Suunto watch uploads. I was staying with my mum, living off hand luggage, that had been meant for 6 days, not 14 weeks. Therefore I was borrowing/ piecing together a working bike initially. I mainly rode a steel touring bike. Hence 90 minute rides were plenty long enough. Thanks to friends for sending me clothes, hand me downs, swim cossie and goggles. I didn't use a watch for gym work, but generally did 1 hour Yoga class 2 times a week, 2 -3 virtual gym classes with Sudden Movements Gym.

Next up: A report on the 50km West Mendip Way. The fun, the farts and the fine details!

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