By Jason Koop,
Head Coach of CTS Ultrarunning

My alma matter’s Code of Conduct was “Aggies don’t lie, steal or cheat, nor do they tolerate those who do”. As we A&M Aggies are a cheeky lot, we would normally add an addendum to the Code that said: “They simply exaggerate, collaborate and borrow”. Little did I do know in my late teenagers and early 20’s that the ‘collaborate and borrow’ tongue-in-cheek piece would really turn out to be useful as I grew to become knowledgeable coach.

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A Hierarchy of Wants

In a 1943 paper, Abraham Maslow described human beings’ fundamental wants and organized them in a hierarchy, proposing that some fundamental wants (meals, water, safety) must be met earlier than “increased” wants (social relationships, ego, shallowness) are addressed. Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Wants” has been taught in psychology lessons and re-envisioned for different functions for many years. As a scholar of sports activities science, I used to be enthralled by Dr. Stephen Seiler’s software of this idea to bodily coaching. He refers back to the pyramid under because the “Hierarchy of Coaching Priorities for Endurance Athletes”.

The essential premise of Seiler’s hierarchy is that athletes must accumulate a whole lot of coaching time, and many time-at-intensity under and round lactate threshold, earlier than including extra specialised strategies. I utterly agree, and have preached the notion of “first issues first” for years: Go after the massive 20% efficiency features from hours of elementary endurance coaching earlier than you attempt to nuance a 1-2% enchancment from “marginal features”. Don’t add altitude coaching till you’ve accomplished the work to develop your cardio engine first.

As a coach, I felt we wanted to ‘collaborate and borrow’ Dr. Seiler’s hierarchy a step additional. Whereas his hierarchy describes the priorities that should be addressed to extend athletic efficiency, I believe there’s a separate hierarchy that describes the priorities wanted for ultramarathon athletes, and coaches working with them, to succeed in their full potential.

Koop’s Hierarchy of Ultramarathon Coaching Wants

Athletes will not be science experiments and they don’t seem to be machines. Human physiology will be predicted and measured utilizing varied formulation, equations, and checks, human efficiency can not. There’s no equation for psychological toughness. There’s no formulation for studying to adapt when Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C all exit the window. I’ve at all times mentioned teaching is a mixture of artwork and science, and after I view the idea of a hierarchy of wants by means of an ultramarathon teaching lens, right here’s what I provide you with: 

Whole Quantity of Workload

As with Seiler’s hierarchy, the very first thing athletes must do is put within the time. In the event you ask me what it is best to do to enhance your efficiency, I’ll virtually at all times say “prepare extra over lengthy durations of time”. The over lengthy durations of time piece is essential, as a result of it de-emphasizes the only long term or single week quantity in favor of annual quantity, which is much extra impactful and mitigates harm. From a training perspective, this implies serving to athletes discover or create extra coaching quantity all year long. We attempt to enhance the variety of periods per week, or general quantity per thirty days.

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For Time-Crunched Athletes who can’t enhance complete weekly hours or the variety of coaching periods per week, I attempt to make some runs longer. Longer runs are useful for producing a much bigger stimulus, and for individuals with tight schedules I typically scale back the variety of runs per week by consolidating two shorter coaching periods into one longer run. They get the identical variety of hours per week, however rearranged so as to add length to a person session(s).

Sufficient Relaxation

Relaxation is implicitly included in Seiler’s hierarchy as a result of it’s integral to structuring coaching, however I break it out into a definite teaching want as a result of it’s sometimes tougher to get athletes to relaxation than it’s to get them to go full fuel throughout an interval exercise. Relaxation is boring, and high-energy, pushed athletes have bother taking it simple. However after I requested a roundtable of CTS Coaches the primary factor they wished their athletes would do extra, it was relaxation.

Healthful Vitamin, principally vegetation, periodized a plus

If an athlete is placing within the time and following the plan by way of work and restoration, a coach has to ensure they’re fueling to fulfill the calls for of coaching. The foodstuff you ingest actually turns into the equipment in your physique that propels you ahead. I don’t preach any specific weight loss plan. Vegan athletes will be as profitable as Paleo, and strict Keto is the one factor I want athletes would cease doing (they at all times cease as soon as they notice it’s not working, however it wastes time). A very powerful pointers I attempt to reinforce with endurance athletes are:

  • Devour satisfactory power: What you eat solely issues when you’re assembly your power wants for coaching and restoration.
  • Eat extra vegetation and fewer animals: You don’t must be vegan or vegetarian, however including extra vegetation is an effective transfer. There’s nothing mistaken with animal protein, however you will get all you want from vegetation, too.
  • Don’t be afraid of carbohydrates. Devour extra recent fruit and greens, and save concentrated carbohydrate sources like grains for occasions when power expenditure from coaching is highest.
  • Periodize vitamin. Your coaching quantity and depth change in the course of the yr and your caloric consumption – and your meals decisions to a lesser extent – ought to change, too.

Excessive Depth Coaching and Distribution of Coaching Depth

Excessive depth coaching is a crucial part of coaching for endurance athletes – even ultraendurance athletes – however from the time-at-intensity standpoint it really accounts for possibly 20% of coaching periods and solely about 10% of complete coaching hours per yr. In the event you run 10 hours per week (600 minutes), you’d must common 60 minutes of labor above lactate threshold simply to hit 10%. Whilst a coach identified for – and typically criticized for – utilizing VO2 max interval exercises with ultramarathon runners, the precise distribution of coaching intensities is closely weighted to low depth coaching with strategic use of excessive depth exercises.

Construct a crew

There may be solely a lot an athlete can accomplish on their very own earlier than they should construct a powerful assist system. This contains some or all the following: household, buddies, coaching companions, coach, bodily therapist, therapeutic massage therapist, and doctor. Many athletes resist this step, considering they’re “not sufficient of an athlete” to warrant substantive assist. As a coach, certainly one of my roles is to assist an athlete construct a assist community, really put it to use, and acknowledge the worth it delivers. I routinely construct relationships with my athlete’s households and assist community as a result of I do know it’s all a part of the massive big wheel that retains them going. When all the pieces goes nice, it might appear pointless. However when all the pieces goes sideways, athletes with out a longtime assist system get swept method off observe.

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Prepare the Intestine

Gastrointestinal misery is the main explanation for DNFs in ultramarathon occasions, and I view that as a consequence of insufficient preparation. The intestine can and must be skilled to deal with the amount of meals and fluids an ultramarathoner must eat over a 6, 12 or 30-hour interval. In the event you’ve accomplished all the pieces proper by way of coaching, relaxation, and assist, you’ll be capable of attain the purpose in an ultraendurance occasion the place your intestine could be the weakest hyperlink. In the event you haven’t accomplished these different issues first, you received’t final lengthy sufficient within the occasion in your intestine to be a problem.

Terrain-specific coaching

Kaci Lickteig is a good instance of why terrain-specific coaching is at a comparatively superior step within the hierarchy of teaching wants. She trains in Nebraska, with out entry to huge mountains, but she’s received the Western States Endurance Run and different ultras with tens of hundreds of toes of climbing. Spending all of your time working within the mountains doesn’t mechanically make you a fantastic mountain runner, particularly in case your coaching isn’t addressing the basics first. As a coach my purpose is to place the fittest athlete on the beginning line, as a result of health is a very powerful instrument an athlete has to have the ability to adapt to the precise challenges in an occasion. If an athlete can match a purpose occasion’s elevation achieve and climbing in coaching, that’s superior, however develop the largest cardio engine you may earlier than worrying about terrain-specific coaching.

Coaching for Toughness

Elite ultramarathon runners are more and more evenly matched by way of health. You’re not going to easily run a competitor off your heels anymore. Today it’s a must to discover one thing past health that causes a separation, and toughness (oftentimes referred to a grit) will be certainly one of them. Who can take care of the situations the longest? Who can keep the main target to run tougher for longer? And who can adapt the perfect when situations change unexpectedly? Toughness has little or no to do with physiology, and quite a bit to do with sports activities psychology, and a part of a coach’s job is to design a collection of experiences that pressure a runner (safely) exterior their consolation zone. Develop toughness in coaching after which leverage it in races.

Annual and Part Periodization

In its easiest phrases, periodization is the applying of selection in coaching so as to change the stimulus. On an annual foundation this implies coaching features of health which are much less particular to your purpose occasion farther out from the occasion, after which coaching extra event-specific features of health because the occasion attracts nearer. On a part or weekly foundation, this will get all the way down to how particular person exercises are organized on days of the week. Periodization performs a job in fine-tuning an athlete’s efficiency for occasions, however coaches must watch out to not give inflexible periodization schemes extra significance than they’re due. Relating to periodization, virtually actually is sweet sufficient.

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Coaching Stimuli Enhancement

Coaching stimuli enhancement like altitude coaching and warmth acclimatization sit close to the very tippy prime of the pyramid, after all the pieces else has been accomplished. Does altitude coaching work? You wager, however provided that the athlete is wholesome, already match, and properly rested. Is warmth acclimatization essential? For races in scorching climate, sure. Nevertheless it doesn’t take that lengthy or that a lot effort to attain many of the advantages from warmth acclimatization, so it shouldn’t displace elementary coaching months earlier than your occasion. The difficulty is, chasing enhancements on this space, typically known as marginal features, is sexier than going out for one more 4x10minute TempoRun exercise. And coaches fall for the enchantment of marginal features, too, usually to their athletes’ detriment.


“Taper Tantrums” are actual and derail many athletes proper earlier than main occasions. Conserving an athlete on observe within the ultimate two weeks earlier than a significant purpose is maybe a coach’s most essential position, however not due to the potential 1-2% enchancment in efficiency which may come from an ideal taper.

The extra essential a part of the taper isn’t screwing up all the pieces the athlete labored so arduous to construct. Yearly I see runners coaching on the observe in Chamonix within the days earlier than UltraTrail du Mont Blanc. That is foolish as a result of it’s the least event-specific exercise they might do. It’s a coach’s job to forestall athletes itchy for competitors from being their very own worst enemies. In a super world, the athlete enters their taper interval assured they’ve accomplished all of the work essential to be at their greatest, and that confidence permits for leisure and stress discount in order that they go to the beginning line rested and able to flip all their preparation into motion.

Final Phrase

Athletes hardly ever obtain breakthrough performances purely due to their bodily coaching. Getting an athlete to the beginning line with the absolute best conditioning is vastly essential, however it’s not all the pieces. To appreciate your full potential it’s a must to go to the beginning line with a full toolbox of psychological, bodily, and emotional instruments so you might be as ready as attainable to take care of the unpredictable nature of endurance sports activities. Your greatest day doesn’t occur as a result of you’ve got the best VO2 max or as a result of you’ve got optimized fats oxidation; it occurs as a result of you’ve got ready your self for no matter a race can throw at you and you’ve got ready extra for the issues that matter extra.

Article courtesy of CTS –