A number of people have asked for a training program or some training tips for the upcoming Klipspringer Challenge. Some of these requests have been from people who have completed the Klipspringer Lite in previous years, are upgrading to the longer Challenge this year and are looking for some guidance with how to cope with the longer distances. Some have been from road runners with limited trail experience, or from trail runners with little or no desert running experience, and some have been from runners who will be running their first multi-day stage race.
In our experience every runner is vastly different, and rather than provide a specific “program” it might be more useful to set out some higher level training tips aimed at some of the particular areas of concern or focus.
a. You can never be too fit. At the end of the day it is fitness that is the biggest determining factor influencing performance and your overall race enjoyment. Obviously this is mostly running fitness, but general fitness is also an important factor. You also have to be careful not to over train or to try and do too much too soon and risk injury, so cross-training (for example on the bike or in the pool) is a big help.
b. Don’t underestimate time in the gym, and alternative disciplines that have also been proven to have a positive impact on your running such as yoga and pilates. And stretching. Never forget to stretch.
c. It’s not all about distance. Obviously when training for a distance event there is nothing like actually doing some distance to prepare effectively. However endurance athletes often underestimate the huge benefit that shorter speedwork has in terms of overall fitness, strength and endurance performance. Speedwork is also very helpful in making the best of busy work schedules where it is often impossible to just spend hours out there running. A great and simple session for a quick hour and that you can do anywhere would be: 2km easy but steady paced warm up run. 5x400m at 80%-90% (ie you must be gasping by the end of each one) with a 60 second rest in between each one, trying to maintain similar times for all 5. 2km warm down at about the same pace as the warm-up.
While there are obviously many commonalities between running on road and trail, there are also many differences. Most road runners love their offroad experiences, and often the more extreme the better, but some roadies never take to the trail. Focusing on a couple of these tips will help ensure that you’re one of those who love it!
a. Learn to concentrate! It sounds obvious and it sounds easy but this is the thing that kills the roadies – on any level of technical trail you can NEVER just zone out and go into mental overdrive. You have to watch every step, watch the trail ahead and plan your foot-strike, watch the trail markers and generally keep thinking. This is exhausting. In fact trail-running has been identified as an effective way to avoid Early Onset Dementia because of the way it forces the brain to think on so many levels. Unfortunately the only way to do this is on the trails. Running on the road or treadmill, or smashing through some good time on the stationary bike, you WILL zone out and just focus on the sweat factor. Get out on the trails and train yourself to run and concentrate for long periods. Obviously we are limited by our fitness levels as well as our actual access to trails on a daily basis, but the upside is that when you can’t run anymore you can hike, and if the terrain is challenging enough you can achieve a similar effect. Similarly, if you are running and not walking, the terrain doesn’t have to be THAT technical to force you to concentrate – your average Parkrun is a good example. Just keep putting yourself in positions where you can’t just close your eyes and take the next step for granted.
b. Shoes! We have all seen some great runners destroy fields and smash records out on some tough trails wearing road shoes or worse, basic sneakers. Those are the exceptions. Having the correct shoes does make a big difference, and many experienced (and passionate) trail junkies will have a selection of specialist footwear for different terrain, weather conditions and sometimes even day of the week. That might be overkill, but for a start, trail shoes are built and sized differently to road shoes, and it’s strongly recommended that if you don’t already have a pair, get down to a specialist running shop, get some good advice, and make the investment.
c. Get comfortable running with weight. Almost every serious trail run will require you to carry a certain amount of your own hydration as well as some compulsory kit and equipment. You will also want to sometimes carry some of your own food and for longer races you will start thinking about communication equipment and replacement clothes etc. Get used to carrying 3kg-5kg on your training runs. This is not only for your overall running muscles but also your back, neck and shoulders – you don’t want to add to the pain that your legs will be feeling anyway. Also, get used to the fit, feel and features of your pack. Know where the zips are and how the straps work – don’t wait for Race Day to work it out.
d. Hills! A big part of trail-running is the climbing. Train for it. Not everybody has mountains (or for some of you in the Northern Cape, even hills), but stairs will do. It sounds boring (and it is) but good stairwork is actually great preparation for the climbing on the trail. And do not underestimate the value of the steepest setting on the treadmill. It can be done. Personal tip – combine stairs with weight.
3. Desert Running
a. The biggest challenges of desert running are heat and dehydration. It is hard to train for this if you don’t have the conditions around you, and we would NOT recommend putting on all your heaters and wearing winter jerseys just to replicate what it’s like. The best thing you can do here is to get used to proper regular hydration while you are running.
b. Get used to running on and in soft sand. This is not a huge feature of the Klipspringer but obviously it IS the desert and you WILL run in sand. It is worthwhile practicing this and at least working out your own preferences and techniques that you find most efficient and comfortable. It will also give you a chance to test your shoes against how much sand gets in, and decide if you want to invest in gaiters.
4. Multi-Day Stage Racing
a. This is an easy one to prepare for – if you’re not already, start training multi-day. Get used to running 2 or more days in a row. This is not about distance but about getting your body and your legs (and your mind) used to the shorter recovery periods involved in stage racing. Instead of doing 10km and then skipping a day of running, rather run 5km two days in a row. And then three. And so on. It is also useful to get yourself used to the more intense recovery periods in between runs – if you’re only running every couple of days, it is probably OK to go for a cycle or a hike after your run in the morning. However when you’ve had a big run in the morning and you have ANOTHER big run the next morning, you would do well to relax and stay off your legs as much as possible that afternoon. Maybe even train yourself in the art of the afternoon nap.
a. Also easy to prepare for…in theory. Nothing prepares one for running distances like actually running distances. Sometimes this is easier said than done for any number of reasons, but the standard approach across the world is to plan your long runs around weekends, and even better, if possible around some longer races in your area that can add an element of competition to the program.
b. Nutrition is a big factor in endurance events, and many runners have little or no experience in feeding themselves during a race. Logically if you’re going to be out there, pushing your body physically and mentally, you need to fuel the machine (think of the “calories burned” measure on your watch – those need to be replaced or you will literally run out of gas). Work out what food works for you and get used to eating while out in the heat, cold or wet. Rule of thumb #1 – start eating at about 45min into the race, whether you feel like it or not, and eat something every 30min thereafter. Rule of thumb #2 – as always with nutrition, mix it up and get a balance. Provide your body with some protein, some carbs, some sugar, some fat (for the biltong lovers), some salt etc. Rule of thumb #3 – lean towards real food rather than processed products. Some bars, such as Racefood’s (our nutrition sponsor) Farbars and Fastbars are made with whole food and no additives, but it is also sometimes good to just pack a banana, some nuts and some biltong. Find out what works for you.
6. A very rough 7-day program
a. Monday morning – 5km / 30minute easy recovery run. Lots of people traditionally take the Monday off. However this program is focused on an endurance multi-day stage event so we recommend running on a Monday, just as a warm-down recovery run from hopefully a longer harder run the Sunday before. Also, it really is a GREAT way to start the week.
b. Tuesday morning – One hour (minimum) stair work. This is not so much about learning or training to “run hills” but rather to condition quads and legs into some proper climbing. This is high cardio, low impact, quad-busting climbing. Gradually increase the weight you carry as you get stronger.
c. Tuesday afternoon – 30min-45min cross-training (cycling / swimming) at 65% effort.
d. Wednesday morning – 15km / 90minute run, if possible on trail or at least cross-country. Get some midweek distance.
e. Thursday morning – Speedwork. See session above.
f. Thursday afternoon – Alternative activity such as yoga or pilates, core strength and stretching.
g. Friday – No running. One hour of cross-training exercise such as cycling / swimming at moderate intensity.
h. Saturday – 2-hour run. If you live somewhere with a Parkrun, incorporate it into a longer route (just because Parkruns are FUN).
i. Sunday – 3hr-4hr run
i. (For your weekend running, try and incorporate events into your schedule. Trail events are optimal, failing which get some distance in with road events. If one day of the weekend your run incorporates a road running event, try and ensure that the other day involves trailwork.)
This is just intended as a very rough guideline of some overriding principles. Hopefully it helps a bit. As always feel free to contact us with any questions you may have.
The Klipspringer Challenge Team