Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sawtooth 2012 training plan - the backbone

Sawtooth 2012 is ten months away. That means it is time to start preparing for my next attempt. I need to be much better prepared than I was this year, both mentally and physically. I have spent a lot of time thinking about I can do this, and will share my plans here.
There will be several phases in my training plan, starting with a four week recovery phase that I am currently enjoying. Doing the Wild Duluth 100k and Surf the Murph 50 mile two weeks apart to a toll on my legs, and I am finding I need a bit of down time before I begin to start the more serious phases of my plan.
I will discuss the various stages of my training cycle as I go through them. However, all stages of my training will be united by the backbone of my training plan. This backbone consists of a four week rotation of different weekend runs; back to backs, thirds, long runs, and recovery.

The back to back runs are a staple of any ultra training plan. The purpose of these runs is to simulate some of the physical duress of an ultra, but to implement it in a way that is easier to recover from than if all the miles were done at once. Essentially this means doing a run of 20 - 30 miles on Saturday, and another of about the same length on Sunday. As I get closer to Sawtooth, I plan to do these runs such that the Sunday long run is actually done late Saturday night. Besides the benefit of the back to back runs, this will give me some experience with night running.

The following weekend I will do a single longish run in which I split the run into thirds and run each third 30 seconds per mile faster than the previous third, ending with a pace that is at my current marathon pace. For example, for an 18 mile run I would do the first six miles at 9 min/mile, the middle six at 8:30 min/mile, and the final six at 8:00 min/mile. I used to do these runs regularly when I used to run marathons, and found them useful for learning to run negative splits as well as for getting some fast miles done on tired legs. More than anything else, these runs will help prevent me from settling in on that ultra slow ultra pace. As such, they will be done on roads or maybe even a treadmill during January and February.

The next weekend will be my ultra run. This will be a continuous run of at least 31, but as many as 62 miles (or more). As much as possible I will try to coordinate these with races, though at least of few of them will need to be done solo. It is the solo runs that will probably help my mental preparation more than anything else. 

The four week cycle is rounded off by a rest weekend. Most runners suggest a recovery week every third of fourth week in order to give the body a chance to acclimate to the stress, but also as a way to avoid burnout. For me, this will probably mean slowish trail runs of 10-12 miles.

I have already penciled in all of my weekend runs from now until Sawtooth. Once ultra season starts, the races don't conveniently fall into a four week pattern, so the four week cycle needs to be adjusted. For example, the Kettle 100K and Black Hills 100K (both on my wish list) are only three weeks apart. The most expendable run is the thirds run, so I am planning on doing Kettle the first weekend of June, followed by a rest weekend, and then back to backs the week before Black Hills.

Even though I am currently in my recovery phase, I have already started these four week cycles, though the runs are shorter than they will normally be. Last weekend I did 15 on Sat. and another 15 on Sunday. This weekend I will do a 15 mile "thirds" run, and then 31 miles at Afton after Thanksgiving.

I am convinced that if I can stick to my planned weekend runs for the next 10 months, no matter what I do during the week, I will be in good shape for my next attempt at Sawtooth. Much better shape than my last attempt, at any rate.


  1. Looks like a good plan. There's a fatass run at Afton the Saturday after Thanksgiving; I've been invited - but haven't been told when it starts.

  2. Good luck! One thing I would caution against is to think that every run is something done to train for Sawtooth. If you get up every morning, put your feet on the floor and say "I'm training for Sawtooth this morning," that can really be a mental drag.

  3. Yeah looks like a good plan Ross. I did Sawtooth for the first time this past year and it's just a flat out tough race that can chew up and spit out a lot of great runners. Sounds like you have a good game plan though, hopefully I'll be there again this year too. Best of luck in 2012!