TRAINING FOR WHALE OF TRAIL 2021 (January edition)

Whether you’re a Whale virgin or you’re back for more of the fantastic WoT experience, some direction with your preparation should always be welcome. We asked Rockhoppin’ Trail coach Linda Doke for tips on where you should be training-wise in the final few weeks before race day, what to expect of the course, and how best to prepare during your build-up so you can make the most of your race experience on 16 Jan. Linda completed the inaugural Whale of Trail in May 2014.

The Whale route is a mixed bag of varying degrees of technical terrain, from flowing single track to rough, rocky climbs, and from jagged headland hauls to long stretches of beach sand that, if the tide isn’t perfect, can be soft enough to sink you ankle-deep. The first half of the course deals with all the major climbs – as you follow a series of ridgelines eastwards, there’re practically no flat stretches, and if you’re not slogging UP, you’re loving gravity doing the work on the downs. By the time you reach CP2 (23.5km), you’ll have 1051m vert under the belt and you’ll be feeling pretty relieved about that. But don’t be fooled into thinking the hard work is over – it’s really only just begun: the final 30km of the route are why you need to train hard for this race. Don’t under-estimate this Whale, it’s tough!

12 Dec = 5 weeks to go

Solid hill sessions at least once a week should be the norm by this stage in your prep for Whale. Whether doing hill repeats, pyramids, or simply running rolling hills, tackle your hill work with determination – if done right, hills not only make us strong, they double up as a form of speedwork, because your hill bursts are done at intensity. Make strong & steady your mantra, it’s what works for hill running!

Run your second last LSD run this weekend (5 weeks to before race day) to continue to build your endurance. Make it about 35-38km. Now, here’s the thing about the term LSD… it’s more a road running term, but applicable to any type of running. and many road runners get excited at the thought of running an LSD – it’s officially an acronym for “long slow distance”, but which effectively is just an excuse for a long slow chat-to-your-mates plod. That’s no good for real training. Running slowly for hour after hour only teaches us to do exactly that: to run slowly, hour after hour. That’s not going to score you a strong Whale of Trail, believe me! Besides, plodding is monotonous, boring, and hurts body and brain! I prefer to give LSD a different acronym: long steady distance. Do your long runs at a comfortable steady pace, not a slow plod pace.

Running-related strength exercises are a must for stamina, injury prevention and to prepare you well for the ardours of an ultra. Good basics you should at least be covering are lunges, squats and deadlifts to activate your glutes, bridges and hamstring curls to strengthen your hammies, and various planks and crunches to make sure your core is strong. Do your strength sessions regularly, twice a week.

Exercises to strengthen the muscles and ligaments that keep your ankles safe are also critical, particularly for trail running – the basic exercise of standing on one foot for 1 min, per leg, three times a day, is a good habit to get into (and is easily done when brushing your teeth, watching Netflix or stirring the pasta – there’s no excuse!) And when you’ve mastered balancing on one foot, ramp things up a notch by doing the same but with your eyes closed..!

19 Dec = 4 weeks to go

Four weeks before any ultra, I run my longest training run. With Whale being 53km, make this run 38-40km. Try to simulate the race route as best as possible – aim for decent rolling climbs and descents, a good mixture of varied terrain. Don’t stress about training on beach though, considering so few of us live at or near the sea – consistent leg strengthening exercises will set you in good stead to not tire on the sand sections.

Use this long run to try out anything new – don’t wait until race day! This is the opportunity to test your race nutrition, your kit, your choice of sunblock, and pretty much everything you have control of on race day, so that you know what you can expect, guard against and prepare for. Learn where you chafe when conditions heat up and know what products work best for you. Long runs are really the only time to put your race nutrition to the test, as often what works during shorter training runs is not what makes our gut happy during ultra distances.

Check the condition of your trail shoes. If they’re looking even slightly worn, now is the time to invest in a replacement pair. Any closer to race day than three weeks, you’re not only risking not having properly tested your new shoes but also not wearing them in.

2 Jan = 2 weeks to go

Two weeks til race day means your hard work is done and it’s now time to taper. But tapering doesn’t mean ditching your quality sessions and hitting the couch. Instead, it’s a gradual reduction in training volume (ie. shorter sessions, but no change in intensity), so that come race day we’re fully rested and able to race to our full potential.

The general rule with tapering is that the longer the race, the longer the taper. For example, the taper for a 20km race need only be about 5-6 days, while for a 42-55km race it’s around 12-14 days. That said, not everyone is the same, and different sorts of tapers suit different athletes. As a rule, less experienced runners need longer tapers than more seasoned runners.

9 Jan = 7 days to go

You’re now counting down in single figures! This week is all about keeping healthy, nourishing your body with the best food you can find, and ensuring you get in solid nights of sleep so you’re well rested. We’re not able to control everything on race day, but what we can do is make sure we’re in the best physical shape we can be for when we toe the start line on 16 January!

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