Training on the Verbier St Bernard race route

On July 7th I'm running the Trail Verbier St Bernard race. I've been out on the trail learning the route over the past two months and I love everything about this route! It's spectacular, brutally tough, and traverses multiple trails and areas that I've run before.

I can't wait to run the race and see all of these trails in one day. Here are some pictures collected during my training on the route over the last few months.

Looking down into the valley from near the start in Verbier.

Looking back towards Verbier from the trail out of the village.

At the top of the first climb of the race neat Château.

On the way up from Sembrancher to Alpage Catogne.

Alpage Catogne.

Just above Alpage Catogne and on the way to Le Catogne.

Looking back into the valley from Alpage Catogne.

Ridges and steep climbs.

Le Catogne in the background and the race trail to the left towards Champex Lac.

A very steep and loose descent from the summit of Le Catogne.

Champex Lac seems far down below.

The top of the skilift"au point 1986m".

The ibex statue outside Cabane d'Orny.

The high mountains are spectacular - this is definitely a "mountain" route!

Crossing la prise d'eau de Saleina.

Looking up the valley from La Fouly towards Lac Fenêtre.

Lac de Fenêtre.

A descent down into Italy close to Col St Bernard.

Lac des Toules on the way down from Col St Bernard.

Looking back towards Champex Lac and Sembrancher from Bourg St Pierre.

On the way to Cabane Mille.

I love this route!

Looking across the valley towards Cabane Mille.

Half way up the last (very steep) climb of the race.

The view from La Chaux before descending down to the finish.

Training for Transgrancanaria - part 2

The second five weeks of my training towards Transgrancanaria was a continuation of the first phase of work with high volume and high vertical gain leading into a taper period. I planned to do two more big weeks of training volume (to complete a period of four high volume weeks) and then start a four-week gradual taper. I've usually followed a two week taper protocol, but in the past I've felt like that wasn't enough and I wanted to increase the taper period for this race. I also shifted my high intensity training days towards steady state and race pace work rather than the shorter intervals of the first phase of training.

Focus for the block
  • maintain weekly mileage, vertical gain and training hours
  • transition quality training days towards race specific and steady state work
  • taper gradually over a four week period towards the race

Training statistics
  • Time: 92hrs
  • Distance: 790km
  • Vertical gain: 30 600m

Training log

Green bubbles = normal training
Yellow bubbles = workout
Red bubbles = race
XT = cross training

Review of the block
I've had another five great weeks of training and I'm really looking forward to seeing how these come together in the race. I did one full high-volume week and then cut the second one short by two days as I was right on the edge of doing too much. Effectively I achieved three full weeks and five days of ~200km/week volume which was a solid period of training. I feel like I've done some of my best training ever.

In the taper I felt ok in the first week, terrible in the second week and by the end of the third week I was feeling strong and ready to race. I'm hoping that one more week (which includes travel) will be just right to peak for the race. At the very least I confirmed that three weeks are better than two for me in a taper. Let's hope I've got the taper formula exactly right!

Home sweet home. I think it's supposed to be winter, but it doesn't look like it.

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Training for Transgrancanaria - part 1

The first race in my 2018 calendar is the Transgrancanaria Advanced (TGC) at the end of February. The race is very similar in distance to UTCT at 65km and the climbing is the same with the big difference being a long descent to the finish. Based on my form after UTCT and the time available to prepare for TGC, I wanted to take the opportunity to increase my training volume and build up a good base. The first part of preparing for TGC - these last five weeks - aimed to set me up for the race as well as building a good base for the whole year.

Focus for the block
  • building up weekly mileage, vertical gain and training hours
  • increasing my long run from shorter pre-UTCT training
  • short intervals every three days to work on speed and turnover

Training statistics
  • Time: 102hrs 03min
  • Distance: 878km
  • Vertical gain: 29 600m

Training log

Green bubbles = normal training
Yellow bubbles = workout
Red bubbles = race
XT = cross training

Review of the block
I've had a great block of work and I'm very pleased with how it has come together over the last five weeks. I feel like I can handle the mileage and vertical and that it has set me up for a good five week run into the race. I'm looking forward to keeping this momentum and doing some more specific training as I lead into TGC.

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My 2018 race calendar

I have put together my race schedule for 2018 and I'm excited about the individual races and the progression through the year. In the past I have taken different approaches at different times with varying levels of success. In 2018 I'm planning to use those lessons and build on what has worked well for me.

When I started with stage racing I trained on a race-by-race basis refocusing on the specific demands and characteristics of each race in my preparations. This worked very well as the races were not limited to a summer season and I had some good success at the Atacama, KAEM and in the Jungle. In 2018 I'm planning to follow that approach where possible focusing on five key races and training towards each of those races through the year rather than trying to prepare for a summer season of races.

Transitioning from stage racing to mountain ultras has been a mixed bag of results. I love running in the mountains and I will continue to pursue that. The races that I have done best at are shorter (50-70km) races that are close to home and on familiar trails. Humani'Trail, Brevon and UTCT all went well and I was able to race hard at those distances. Based on that, I have chosen races that are not a "default" to the longest version available and for my two longest races I've chosen races that are close to home where I can learn the routes and become very familiar with their challenges.

In addition to what worked well before, I have also learned from a number of mistakes. I have struggled with races at altitude when I have not had time to acclimatise appropriately. Lavaredo and Eiger are races where I have made this mistake and unfortunately multiple times at each race. This year my races outside of the European summer start at sea level and I plan to go to altitude to prepare for the two big mountain ultras in the summer. Another area that I have not been very successful at is becoming a good climber and I am working to address in my training.

Given all those considerations, here is what my race calendar looks like:

24/02 - Transgrancanaria Advanced; 64km; 3200m
08/04 - Trails des Reculees; 46km; 1700m
28/04 - Madeira Island Ultra; 85km; 4700m
09/06 - Pierre a Voir; 34km; 2400m
07/07 - Trail Verbier St Bernard; 111km; 8400m
28/07 - Montreux MXAlp; 60km; 3900m
31/08 - CCC; 101km; 6100m
22/09 - Humani'Trail Les Diablerets; 54km; 3600m
01/12 - Ultra Trail Cape Town; 65km; 3100m

The races in bold are the top priority with the other races either for training or because I want to run them! The structure of the year is a few races early in the year at sea level - TGC and MIUT - then summer races in the Swiss Alps - TVSB and CCC - and finally a return to run in Cape Town at the end of the year.

I'm looking forward to all these races and I'm already deep in preparation for the first goal of the year!