Training recap for early 2016 and UTMA prerace

The first five and a half months of 2016 might not have been anything special objectively speaking, but the fact that I can say I’ll be running a mountain marathon tomorrow morning despite the month of June not even being over yet is quite uncommon for me.

The only winters I’ve manage to run through and actually get decent training out of date back to my first few years as a runner. All winters in the recent past have been plagued by injury and/or inactivity. To tell the short version of my history for the previous five winters before this last one (in reverse chronology): knee sprain from slipping on ice (while walking home from uni…), nondescript knee injury from too much running on a short indoor track, nondescript knee injury from ???, ITBS from ??? (was doing lower mileage that I had been in the fall) and failure to find enough time to run during my first harsh undergrad semester. Essentially, winters during my undergrad taught me my knees seem to wear down much faster in the cold and my attempt to run indoors two years ago proved to be a different road to the same place. Last year’s rotten luck just fueled the growing superstition I had concerning winter running. It seemed I wasn’t meant to be training through winters.

The result of all of this was that 1) my training volume was almost nil during those winters and  2) I usually could not start running as soon as the weather warmed up and the trails thawed because my injuries weren’t done healing. So my running seasons were kicking off later than they should and I wasn’t starting back at the level I was at the end of the previous fall. I was (almost) starting back where I had been the previous spring. By the time I reached the point where I had left off the previous fall, September was around and I only had a few months of quality running left to try reach higher levels and accomplish new things.

It has been very clear to me for the past couple of years that the key to actually moving forward would be finally have a decent winter. If not a winter where I train enough to actually get better and progress, at least a winter where I don’t lose what I’ve already gained so that I can start off from where I was at the end of the fall when spring time rolls around. Step 1 was not getting injured. Step 2 was keeping a sufficient training base to at least maintain my fitness. Step 3, if feasible, was to push the the training beyond just maintenance levels.

Step 1 ended up working out. Admittedly, mostly by luck since I didn’t really follow any sort of injury prevention regimen (which wisdom called for). Step 2 wasn’t really respected. December went fine. I didn’t run during the first half of January but seemed to make a comeback in the second half. However that was followed by a single run during February and the first half of March.

Although I did end up losing some cardio in that downtime, the fact that I wasn’t injured meant that I could start training seriously as soon as the weather and trails allowed it. I started running with a lot of motivation at the end of March, instead of starting rather tentatively about a month and a half later than that as I had done in previous years.

Starting off sooner and having lost less fitness than in previous years meant I’ve had a lot of hope in this current season from the start. Especially since I had ended the previous season at what I am rather certain was my lifetime peak.

The key for optimal motivation was, as always, registering for an actual race. The Skymarathon du Mont Jacques-Cartier, part of the Ultra Trail du Mont Albert (UTMA) was an obvious choice. Scheduled about three months after the start of my training, the timing was perfect. At 42 K (2000 m vertical), it was a very reasonable early season challenge. Added bonus, I had never been to Gaspésie before.

For my training, I chose to again follow this plan for 50 K’s, which got me ready for my 55 K last fall. I followed it slightly better this time, but still not perfectly. In the end, I’m rather certain I’m not in as good a shape as I was at the Bromont Ultra last October. I was starting from further back so, despite the training, I don’t think I’ll be heading to the start line with as  much potential. However, I’m confident I’ll do more than fine and heading to any starting line, let alone the starting of a mountain marathon, this early in the season is something to be very happy about.

Here are the week-by-week graphs Strava throws together:



Although the empty valleys are glaring, they are much smaller than they would have been and the past. Seeing end of fall mileages in the spring is the main thing I’m happy about.

The main thing I’m concerned about for tomorrow’s race is the vertical. The course is an out-and-back with the vast majority of the 2 vertical km’s in the first half, meaning sustained descent in the second half.

My trip to the Alps is far behind me and I didn’t really focus on vertical training leading up to this. I’m anxious to see how my climbing will be. I plan on taking it easy and trying to make good time on the way back. However, I’ve never ran descents of this magnitude. I have no clue how much continuous downhill my quads can take. Furthermore, I’ve read that this course is rather technical, so going fast downhill might not be feasible. In the end, the best strategy might be to climb harder so as to not have to rely on the downhill to make up time.

It’ll have to be a game day decision I guess. I’ll see how well the climb is going and what kind of terrain we’re facing and I’ll try to divine a proper strategy from that.

From what I saw of the Chic Choc mountains today, inspiration shouldn’t be a problem.

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