Train hard – event easy

It’s been a long road
It really is amazing what you can find on YouTube these days, if you want to train for a particular event then there will be a video on there telling you how to do it, so why this blog? Having just completed Tough Mudder in Yorkshire it struck me that my different experiences over a variety of challenges helped me cope on the day and also that the diversity of challenges may be of some help to you. With that simple idea in mind here are my thoughts – taken from my marathon days of my 20’s up to the present day.

Things change as you get older
The most intriguing part to me is that my belief system has changed continually along the path, for example, in my 40’s I believed that my long distance running days were far behind me until I heard of the barefoot running revolution as spearheaded by Chris McDougall and his book ‘Born to Run’. That inspired me to start running longer distances again and to enjoy the process. Without that mindset I’d have never have attempted Tough Mudder. This has basically been the progression I have been on: 20’s – marathons and other distance running; 30’s – stick-fighting – 2 world silver medals and competing for Great Britain at 5 international championships; 40’s – hills and long distance walking; 50’s – full circle with long distance running with the addition of obstacles. I did also do a parachute jump earlier this year, but the training for that was ‘remove brain, leave on the ground, pick up again once back on the ground’.

The three keys
There are a number of keys to being successful in a challenge and they are as follows:
1 – do the planning, the planning makes the event easy.
2 – get your mind right – this makes the final phase the easiest part.
3 – do the right training for the right event. It sounds really simple doesn’t it, but all too often people don’t do the thinking which makes the event the easiest part. Every type of challenge I’ve done requires specific training to be successful – the toughest of all was the stick-fighting because there you are at the mercy of the judges as well as your own endeavours. Lets move to training specifics all based on my personal experience.

Marathon training – build the miles up gradually, 3 months would be the optimum time, although it is possible to complete a marathon in 8-10 weeks of training. I used to run between 35-40 miles a week with my longest run of 20 miles two weeks before the event and then taper down to an easy last week. I would also encourage weight training (light weights) to build upper body endurance and I was still training in martial arts three times a week when I ran marathons from 1983 until 1986 – I did 5 with a best time of 3hrs 29 mins.

Stick-fighting – road work is still essential, but much shorter distances of 3 to 5 miles combined with hill work and sprint training in the peak training weeks. Drills are important as is bag work, tyre work and sparring. I never sparred more than 20 rounds (one minute rounds), but would keep up the quality and the intensity ie get good sparring partners and push each other very hard.

3 Peaks Challenge and Hadrian’s Wall – this is an easy one. Walk – a lot. It gets your feet ready and your mind for being on your feet for many hours at a time. Hill work is also essential – when I was training for the 3 Peaks I knew I was ready when I could do 8-10 circuits of Rockingham Hill, a local very steep hill which would leave your butt cheeks aching for a couple of days after. When I did the Para’s 10 the addition of a 35lb (16kg) pack was added to understand the feel of the challenge.

Tough Mudder – this was a combination of many of the facets of the above challenges. Foremost was running – it is an 11.5 mile challenge after all. I also worked hard on weight training leading up to the event in preparation for the ‘Hero Carry’, ‘Monkey Bars’ and ‘Log Carry’ obstacles. I ran 5 days of week with distances from 3 to 12 miles and weight trained 3 days a week. With hindsight I would reduce running by one day and replace it with swimming once a week. When you fall or jump in the water it won’t be such a shock to your system as it was to mine. I didn’t have any problems, but wished that I’d had some swimming practice. I would also seek a children’s play area and practice for the monkey bars. All the wide grip chins didn’t make much difference when you have to wing from one arm to another. The mind is by far the most important area to conquer on any challenge. Accepting the distance, the pain, the discomfort, the obstacles, the mud, being wet, any of it can be achieved once you accept it is going to happen then its a case of having trusted your training and completing the course.

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