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Can you cross-train your way to completing a 95mi trail running ultramarathon?

Updated: Mar 23, 2023

RUN3SIXTY is broken. Or more accurately...its humble ultramarathon-running owner, and your faithful narrator, is broken.

It started with a back problem, the right hip thought it was too hip to be cool and joined in, and not wanting to miss out on the action the adductors and hip flexors completed the party. The net result? My running is now reduced to a bare minimum...which is not ideal with 95miles of the West Highland Way Challenge Race looming on the horizon. May 27th, exactly 12 weeks out from today.

Injury and running is common. Very common. Currently with 984,000,000 Google search results as proof, it's inevitable at some point for a runner. I've been pretty lucky to date (and done a lot of things right) to avoid it. But it's caught me up! Or maybe I caught it up when I hit 50 last year - running stronger than ever, but recovery taking that little bit longer.

Either way we're having to get along with one another, work things out, make concessions and seek professional help together. Just as I'd advise my clients to do; I took some rest, cut the intensity and volume way back and sought out the support of a good physiotherapist. I'm doing the rehab exercises daily, following advice to keep the running easy and limited whilst cross-training to make up the shortfall in training volume.

In previous years, 12 weeks out from a race, I'd want the modality to be as specific as possible; spending most of my time running the trails, not on a bike. I would therefore treat any cross-training as a nice extra - a training stimulus that sits on top of the running volume BUT without the same deleterious impact on the muscles, tendons and joints.

Now, this takes me to the point of this article. It's becoming increasingly apparent to me that normal service will not resume in time to safely progress to the necessary running volume and avoid reinjury. So I've decided to go all in on cross-training and undergo my own little experiment in the name of sports science. OK, sample size of one...but we've got to start somewhere!

In the process I hope that a) I learn a thing or two and can benefit those runners I coach, and b) anyone reading this, and subsequent posts, can find some hope and direction if they ever find themselves in a similar situation.

Hence the title of this post; can you cross-train your way to completing a 95mi trail running ultramarathon? I intend to answer that question by spending hours going literally nowhere! On a stationary bike and SkiErg. I'll follow the same training block strategy, style of workouts and training load volumes I'd normally apply from this point in my training. I will still maintain a low level of running, c.3hrs in the week (all recovery runs), to maintain some resilience to the specific demands of running. The balance however, and fitness build, will come from cross-training 5hrs to 11hrs a week over the period. So, 60-80% of my training will not be running. That really hurts for a runner to say!

'Tune in' for further instalments to see how the training plan unfolds, learn from my experiences, mistakes and triumphs as the race inches closer. Indeed, if you've any advice or wisdom you can share please comment in the post.


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