For some runners, it’s the challenge of pushing new boundaries. For others, it’s the allure of a week of touristic running. Either way, stage race preparation requires a different strategy and focus than single-day events.
Ready to tackle your first stage race?
Here are some training tips to maximize your multi-day racing and help you avoid injury:
BE STRATEGIC ABOUT RUNNING VOLUME: Training for an event is all about harnessing muscle adaptation. When you train for a single-day event, you want your legs to run as hard and fast as possible in one go. If it is your season A race, you will show up to the race with tapered, rested legs. For a stage race, you will be running each subsequent stage on fatigued legs. You can teach your legs to run hard on back-to-back days using a [this] systematic approach.
Calculate your current weekly mileage, how many miles you will race in your event, how many weeks you have to prepare for the event, and how many days a week you can realistically run. Once you have a clear baseline, apply the conservative 10% weekly running mileage increase rule to your stage race running program. Aim to complete your peak mileage week two or three weeks prior to your event, at 80-85% of total race mileage. For instance, let’s say you have four months to prepare for a four-day 100k (62 mile) event, four days a week to run and your current weekly running mileage is 20 miles per week. Using the 10% rule, you could potentially reach total race volume in 12 weeks. This gives you an extra four weeks of your total 16-week training time to reach total race volume, so you could easily schedule in a few “recovery” weeks as well as your taper.
Structure your training program so that you are building your runs to match the event stages, both in distance and terrain. For example, if your particular stage race has a marathon leg with a few significant climbs, then build your longest runs to match 80% of that distance and add in focused hill or stair climbs. During the first month of your stage race training program, space out your runs so that you alternate running days with non-running (rest or cross-training) days. Progressively push the running days together in subsequent weeks so that you are running back-to-back days with increasing volume and varied intensity. Run with purpose; avoid junk mileage. Insert a “recovery” week into your program every fourth week to maximize muscle recovery and adaptation. (My general recommendation for these recovery weeks is to decrease running volume by 20-25% and to decrease the intensity of speed workouts)
Be realistic about your running baseline, how much time you have to reach peak volume and your body’s individual response to training. If you are starting with lower mileage or do not have enough time to reach 80-85% of total race running volume, you need to consider implementing a run/walk strategy using the same volume-building philosophies.
VARY YOUR RUN INTENSITIES:
This will not only make your running life more interesting, it will help you avoid injury: Incorporate running drills into your program, especially before speed workouts or runs with intense climbs. Always get in a solid warm-up before you start drills. If you are short on time, prioritize hip-opening drills and plyometric-derived drills. Have fun with it! Find a grassy hill or dirt trail for drills—this will reinforce the neuromuscular aspect of your off-road running. Consider hitting the track for shorter intervals and speed-work once a week. For medium-distance and long training runs, it’s a good idea to maintain an ‘aerobic’ intensity to promote cardiovascular and muscular endurance. Using heart rate to find training zones is not an exact science, but can be used a guide to find a target range for aerobic runs.
Endurance running is a delicate balance between pushing your body to create positive muscular adaptation and avoiding the negative effects of training. Good self-awareness and structured recovery time can help you avoid the pitfalls of overtraining: injury, decreased running performance or exhaustion/burnout.
Early recognition of overtraining will help you stop it in its tracks. Watch out for these classic signs: 1) feeling consistently tired throughout the day, 2) elevated average resting heart rate for more than a few days, 3) frequent colds or infections, 4) persistent aches and pains, 5) normal pace or even warm-up pace feels exhausting
Be Proactive about Recovery: Structure in one week of decreased running volume/intensity training per month. Back off the overall mileage by 20-25%, decrease speed work intensity and/or replace a few running workouts with cross-training activities.
Take care of your soft tissue: Running is physically demanding and the majority of running injuries are related to mechanical friction leading to acute or chronic inflammation. Be proactive about inflammation management: schedule in regular massage, stretch regularly, stretch dynamically, befriend your foam roller, and maintain good sleep quality.
STRENGTH TRAIN FOR MUSCLE STABILITY AND ADAPTABILITY: GET ECCENTRIC
Pump up the Plyometrics: Working plyometrics will improve efficiency in muscular shifts from concentric-eccentric-concentric action. Add in some double and single-leg jumps for height, distance and speed a few times a week when you are in the thick of your training.
Anchor your Upright with Ankle Strengthening: Single-leg heel raises, jumprope, and single-leg disc balances exercises will make you foot-strong and more adept at handling unstable terrain.
Clean up your Abdominal Activation: Working your core with endurance planks and lower abdominal exercises will keep your posture solid so that your legs can do their job of locomoting you forward.
Get Eccentric: Working your legs (especially quads and calves) in an eccentric (muscle-lengthening) fashion will help prevent muscle injury and make concentric-eccentric muscle activation transfers more efficient. ([f you want pictures of this, I can provide]
Do Drills on Hills: Incorporate plyometric drills with hill intervals to improve your off-road technique: maintain forward body position, solid fore-foot push-off and engaged arms in reciprocal action with leg bounds uphill. Alternate straight bounds with zig-zag bounds.
STRATEGIZE TERRAIN: While some races come with terrain surprises, most organizations are forthcoming about the ground you will cover in each stage. Study the race website and contact race organizers or country representatives for clarification. Get creative about simulating race environments in your training surroundings. If you are training for a sandy race during the winter and lack beach access, try to find snowy terrain to run on. If your stage race holds some steep, mountainous climbs, incorporate hill repeats or focused stair-climbing workouts into your program.
GET SAVVY ABOUT YOUR GEAR
Determine the gear you need to meet the climate and terrain demands of your stage race. Then start training with it!
Elemental Dress: Many stage races take place in desert climates, which will be marked with extreme temperatures, ranging from 37 to 0 degrees Celsius (100 to 31F). Prepare with the right gear to dress for success. This may include light, breathable material that moves away water for running in the heat and polypropylene layers, fleece and hat for cold nights. For races with shifting climates such as in Iceland, get a light windbreaker and make sure you can stash it in your hydration pack easily while on the run.
Shoe Up the Right Way No matter what type of terrain we are running or trekking around on, the joints in our feet serve as the initial reactors to ground reaction force. Make sure you find a shoe that properly supports your foot structure (e.g. pronator, neutral, supinator). Many stores now use force plates to analyze structure and help you find the right shoe. Find the right shoe for you and buy two pairs: one for training, one for racing. Make sure your racing shoes are broken in at least 3 weeks prior to your race start.
Train with hydration packs: On your longer training runs, experiment with various camelbacks or waist hydration packs to determine the best fit and function for you.
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED: Off-road stage races are adventure races with inherent elements of unknown. For some, unexpected terrain changes or race mishaps can derail mental focus. For others, the adventure fuels greater physical capacity. Mental endurance and adaptability are just as important as physical, if not more. The beauty of adventure racing is that it can deepen self-awareness and allow us to see a side of ourselves we have never seen before. Be honest with yourself about your own personal response to change. You may want to start rehearsing mantras in training that will help you focus when the going gets tough.
ENJOY THE JOURNEY: “The best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today”