One of the great things about living here in Dubai and the UAE is the abundance stunning desert and of course sand at my disposal, now the winter is getting closer and the temperatures are dropping its time to start utilizing this awesome training ground.
So it was good to be back at Fossil Rock my hunting ground for awesome sand dunes to train on. My Usual training routes here vary from 16km to 20km depending on the type of training I’m doing. The other morning I was there at the crack of dawn to knock out 16km of speed strength work followed by some speed endurance work.
Why the desert.. well the Principles of Endurance are simple…the limiting factor both physically and mentally will always be fatigue, so we train to develop and adapt our bodies to be as strong, fast and efficient as possible therefore extending time to fatigue both physically and neurologically …in order to do this we need to build fast yet very efficient muscles and a very efficient fiber recruitment system. To accompany that we need to increase the overall efficiency of our bodies total energy system ( how we metabolize and use all fuel, how we deal with byproduct build up from this and how we replenish fuel ), to help all this we also need to be as bio mechanically efficient as possible…. and finally the glue that holds this all this together is the neurological aspect, your bodies brain and Central Nervous System (CNS) needs to also to be incredibly efficient at dealing with and processing the bodies requirements in order for it to function correctly and efficiently during this time ..
The key word in all that as you can see is “efficiency”….
so for me training on a surface that provides me the least amount of ergonomic aid means that I have to become incredibly efficient in all aspects in order to perform well over that surface. Training on sand is hard, it works against you all the time, its uneven, constantly moving under foot…there fore forces your body to use all its stabilizing muscles ( core, hips, knees and ankles ).. it absorbs all the energy from each step and gives little back, but provides less impact and shock damage at the same time … its both physically and mentally demanding ALL the time, even just looking at my training ground knowing what is to come is daunting…8km of dunes …
But my mind is always on the finish, at what pace I need to be running at when I cross the line at the end ..so my brain now is calculating the hazard a head and already working out what needs to be done…neurological preparation !!
So this mornings session was simple :
2km warm up to the top of fossil rock taking in a 150mtr 500ft long sand dune climb to adjust and prepare the body and mind ..then :
8km of speed strength training down towards Devils plunge, taking as many of the dunes as possible at high cadence and leg speed maintaining good form .. some I run some I climb fast, paying attention to RPE ..I needed to be over threshold as many times a possible to recruit the faster fibers and utilize my glycolytic pathway making it more efficient.
Below is one of the larger dunes on the route, my target was to maintain a fast cadence climb non stop to the small peak in the right corner…
Once I finish the last climb to the top of Devils Plunge ..
I then then Finish with 6k of speed endurance work following a sandy track back to the finish.
I break it down into 2 x 3km progressive tempo runs to race pace ..1 minute walk rest in between… the aim here was to increase the endurance of the more intermediate FT fibers and the FT fibers recruited ..plus working on the neurological fatigue now taking effect .. how was I going to run progressive tempos over sand after such a tough session.? simple by holding good form, and fueling correctly throughout my previous session …my mind had already assessed what was needed fuel wise to finish this strongly because I had already focused on the finishing speed before I started ..
hence why the last 1 km I was able to run at race pace ..
16km of desert training complete !!
Now a little bit of the physical science behind why I like to train on the sand for certain workouts, for this session I wanted to work on speed strength first, so targeting recruitment of those hard to get faster twitch fibers. The reason is down to my physiology and predominant muscle fiber type, which in this case is more intermediate to fast twitch ..so I have a higher rate of fiber turn over than that of a predominately Slower Twitch runner. In order for me to be good at endurance I need a larger fiber recruitment pool to recruit from, as well as the ability to recruit the harder faster twitch fibers to help augment my system to maintain speed, ..putting it simply !! ..plus I also need the energy system and neurological pathways to deal with this, so the harder more intense environment the harder more intense I have to work.
Also training fast and hard in the desert is bio mechanically difficult therefore you need to maintain very good form all the time which is demanding on the whole body all of the time, not just the kegs …One of the key factors of being able to run fast and efficient in sand is a fast cadence, mid to full foot strike and minimum ground contact time, which promotes a natural running technique as well as forcing you to use and engage both the hamstrings and the glutes. I also stand less of a chance of over striding leading to poor mechanical form at speed which I see occurring in many athletes during intervals and track sessions, ie running to fast for their mechanics ..which leads to bio mechanical inefficiency and possibly injury.
Now this higher intensity suits my physiology, because I am predominately intermediate to fast twitch muscle fiber base .. so how I train for endurance will need to be specific otherwise I gain endurance and loose speed .. I’ve experimented with various different endurance training plans over the years, from long slow high mileage, high volume work to shorter more intense work outs while understanding the effects of each on my body and performance…and then relating all this to the science behind the effects…( I’ll go into the build up of free radicals and by products that cause fatigue, both muscular and central and why relying on fat as fuel actually leads to Central fatigue ..another time )
Would this training benefit a predominantly Slower Twitch (ST) fiber runner ..of course ..they would still gain all the benefits above strength wise and bio mechanically but they would not require such a large turn over of FT fibers due to their larger numbers of fatigue resistant ST .. so their recruitment pool would not need to be so big due to their more efficient aerobic capacity … focus on their RPE would need to be kept in and around threshold during the intense sections and climbs, recruiting the right FT fibers to support their aerobic system enough depending on speed required. Also this would allow them to deal with the by product build up (acidosis) by handling and using more lactate effectively..
Predominately FT endurance athletes need to add aerobic support training to their larger anaerobic capacity .. so more intensity above threshold and less volume to enhance their anaerobic engine and keep their speed strength then long steady training sessions, progressive temp’s etc to add in the aerobic support to increase their speed endurance…event dependent ! To much aerobic work will reduce speed strength.. and overall speed !!
Predominately ST endurance athletes need to add in anaerobic support training to compliment their larger aerobic capacity to increase speed strength.. so more volume at steady state to increase and strengthen speed endurance and then short intensity sessions in and around threshold to increase speed strength ..to much intensity will weaken their aerobic capacity and reduce speed and endurance.
This is one of the reason why it is so important to know your own physiological make up as this will define how you train and perform endurance wise…and one of the reasons I like to train with my clients so I can assess this and design workouts accordingly based on their physiology.
Your probably wondering if I use a heart rate monitor, I personally don’t or training zones, mainly because my events have to many unknown factors that any HR monitor or training zone do not have factored in. Also they don’t take into consideration environmental and external factors which can effect HR during training ..I need to know that my body and mind alone can deal with what ever is thrown at me during an event..as well as understand the feed back from my body itself. If you do use training zones and HR’s then make sure they are set up to you specifically based on your physiology ..this would mean making sure the correct max heart rate is Known as well specific heart rates at certain paces and how they relate to the zones you want to train in ..to maintain bio mechanical efficiency.. if you don’t you may well be training bio mechanically inefficient which can counteract performance and worse case cause injury. !
Remember ergonomic aids designed to help you train more efficiently may actually be counteracting your efficiency both physically and mentally .. training with equipment, running on a track or riding a bike designed to make things easier may actually be making things harder come event day if they are not used correctly… and at the right times …!!!
I never have that issue training in the desert ..sand is just not your ergonomic friend 🙂