The Torn Dera Val d’Aran is a 161km ultra marathon in the Pyrenees, traversing some of Spain, France and Andorra’s most difficult terrain and highest peaks. With a cumulative 10,200m of elevation over the course you are expected to climb 63.5m for every 1km you move forward (and descend the same amount to finish back at the start!), the course is steeper than the famed UTMB race in France. At the first edition last year, the winner finished in just shy of 24h, whilst less than 50% of participants made it from start to finish.
Regardless of this, I have signed up. Here is how I plan to train.
The image below is my actual training plan that I am using, written at the end of 2021 after copious amounts of research and drawing on my experience in previous races and training blocks. Before I go any further I must stress, I am not a qualified running coach (whatever that is) and whilst I have undertaken a large amount of study on physical performance and running, this study has primarily been self-supervised and I do therefore not hold any formal coaching qualifications.
A large portion of this plan has been based on the learnings from two key books, Training for the Uphill Athlete (House, Johnstone & Journet) and Training Essential for UltraRunning (Koop). These are two of the most insightful and science based ultra books you can get your hands on and I wholeheartedly recommend studying them both in detail.
With that being said, I am quite happy to draw on my own knowledge and have used it to build the following plan:
First off, definitions:
RR -> Rest and Recovery, AKA super easy run (zone 1, 130bpm and below, 4/5 relative effort)
ER -> Endurance Run, AKA easy long runs (zone 1/2, 130-145bpm, 5/6 relative effort)
TR -> Tempo Run, AKA lactate threshold (zone 3/4, 160ish bpm, 7/8 relative effort)
RI -> Running Intervals, AKA VO2 max runs (zone 5, 175+ bpm, 9/10 relative effort)
Steady State -> zone 2/3 easy runs, slightly faster than endurance pace
So. There are a few key principles that I have used to design this plan. They are:
- Consistency is key, so keep the intensity very low outside of key workouts so you can recover and go again.
- I will train speed regardless of the fact I am running 100 miles.
- More specific training the closer I get to the event. Intervals in Jan, Mountains in June.
- You have to both build the engine and push up the top speed. That means raising my VO2 max and bringing lactate threshold higher.
Reviewing the plan you can notice the following things very easily. I am running 6 times a week over the course of 6 months, with a 2 week taper just before race day. Monday is rest day, non-negociable. Rest is vital for recovery and super composition of muscles and training.
My training blocks are generally 3/4 weeks long with a recovery week in between. This enables me to push hard in the specific discipline I am doing whilst getting the rest required to be ready for another block at full intensity. Within these blocks I have also taken a note from Jason Koop and decided to both front load the blocks (aka hardest week is the first one right after the previous rest block when I am freshest) and to do back to back workouts (some evidence that your training response to back to back workouts, especially on tired legs, will give greater adaption to the workouts).
I have decided to batch together the same types of training rather than continue doing mixed weeks throughout the plan. This is for several reasons. Firstly, I want to increase my VO2 max first. that means getting used to maintaining a higher top end speed, and therefore when I go back to slower running I am using a smaller percentage of my overall capacity. Secondly, with that higher top end, I am able to move my lactate threshold higher. You can’t make your LT higher than your VO2 max, and so the first thing you need to do is the interval training before tempo. Thirdly, more specific workouts closer to the event. During intervals I am hitting paces close to 3 mins per km, whilst in my goal race I am unlikely to drop below 5 mins per km at any point. Elevation training, strengthening legs on the downhills, time on feet and gut training are all far more important for the race, therefore they will be trained in depth before the event.
Endurance runs get the largest block as they are the most specific and likely to be the key to success in the race. Whilst I am starting with building the engine, learning to be on my feet for a long time is crucial. With that, especially in the later mountain blocks will also come hiking. Lets be clear on one thing, I am not Kilian or Jim Walmsley, I am not going to win this race, and therefore I will need to learn to hike (I did see Francios hike a lot of UTMB last year even whilst winning). Learning to spend long days (and nights) in the mountain are going to be key.
On top of all of these considerations I will also be listening to my body. Whilst it is great to have a plan, being injured makes it useless, so I will be flexing the plan as necessary depending on the needs of my body.
If you decide to try this plan for your own races please do adapt it to suit your needs. It is, at this point in time, untested and is clearly not suitable for everyone. I have gone into this plan off the back of a 2h50 marathon, a 1h18 half and a 35min 10k, so whilst I am not a top class athlete neither am I a complete slouch.
Alongside these considerations, take into account that there are many other things you need to do to train for such races. Scouting the routes, testing foods and kit, prepping you crew and learning to run in the dark to name a few. I am excited for the challenge that I am facing here and will aim to give updates as I progress through the plan.
Any question about this plan then feel free to let me know!