Training Hard or Training Smart

Get Smart !


A recent discussion on an internet forum got me thinking about whether I train hard enough, or perhaps more precisely put, if I trained ‘well enough’. There was a time when all I needed was a number. If I knew the number of miles that I had covered during any given week, then I believed that I knew how well my training was going. As far as I could see back then it was a simple equation of ‘miles in’ and ‘results out’. Perhaps I should also have born in mind another maxim which I’m familiar from the world of computer programming, that being “garbage in, garbage out”.   


For many years my simplistic view of, the more miles the better held true. As my weekly milages increased my race times decreased. When it was no longer possible to increase milage I then varied my training to include tempo runs, hill running and the like. This worked for me as well, for a while and my race times crept ever downwards. Of course it didn’t take long for this strategy to exhaust itself and I was seemingly snookered. There are only so many miles a week you can run before you’re injured, divorced, bored or all three.  It was only then, having boxed myself into a ‘hard-ass corner’, that I realised that it might be necessary to apply touches of subtlety here and there and that more is not necessarily better in all cases.   

I look through my recent training logs now and realise that in the twelve weeks prior to my recent 100 miler that I averaged less miles per week that for almost any other ultra in recent years and yet I’d count the result as being perhaps my best. How come? In the main I believe that I benefitted from a programme of strength training that I’ve been following since the end of 2009. Having previously cast aspersions liberally on the potential benefits for runners of working with weights this was a fairly big change for me to make and until the Connemara 100 I wasn’t completely convinced. obviously, now I’m a convert and you may expect me to drone on in this blog about the ‘obvious’ benefits of partial squats and deadlifts for many months into the future.    

The larger point here is I suppose that we shouldn’t ever over simplify our training – that we should always allow for the possibility that we have it all at least slightly wrong. Despite knowing our bodies well and knowing how we respond to various types of training we should always know that we probably don’t know it all.   

If this year has taught me anything it’s that I probably know a lot less about training myself to run ultramarathons now than I did five years ago.   

Onwards through the fog.


6 thoughts on “Training Hard or Training Smart

  1. I think the human body needs shocking with different training day by day, do the same 12 x 400 or the same 2 hour steady run week after week and the body knows whats coming!
    hit it with something it’s never done before and the body will try and adapt by overcompensating-getting stronger!

    1. Thanks Rick.

      It would be interesting to work out if Lydiard’s methods intersect with training for the longer ultramarathons at any point. I can certainly see how the Lydiard approach would contribute to a good 50km time, or even a good 100km, but am less sure about 100 miles or 24 hours where raw speed has little bearing on performance.

      In the run up to my recent 100 miler, as the intensity of my training increased, my 10km race times disimproved markedly, yet when it came time to run the ultra I felt I was well prepared. For me this suggests a fundamental difference in terms of preparing for a 10k and a 100 miler. Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

    1. Thomas,

      There are two core elements. The first of these is a fairly standard weight training programme for runners that focusses on lower body strength development. We’re talking about squats of various types, variations on deadlifts, ‘good-mornings’, power-cleans, calf raises, leg extensions and, to a lesser degree, some upper body work. The second key element is the targeted use of a weighted vest when running. Email me and I can go into more detail.

      Good Luck in Dingle,


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