‘The WUU2K (pronounced 'Woo-Too-Kay') or 'Wellington Urban Ultra 2K', is a trail-running endurance event around the hills that surround the capital city of New Zealand.
The race is run in Mid-Winter…with a mix of terrain including single-track, mountain-bike trails, rocky roads, and of course - many, many hills, totalling around 3km of elevation and 62km duration’.
Ultra running is something that has been a mild obsession of mine since I began running more seriously 10 years ago. An obsession that has involved compiling countless training plans and lists of races that I can see myself running and which I would like to run, but not actually having run any of them…yet. Those like the Marathon des Sables, Badwater 135 and Hardrock 100 are the types of events which I have convinced myself are achievable from the comfort of my home, but that present a challenge right from the beginning when even the entry is hard to obtain.
For a good few years, running marathons were the furthest I dared to go, and then I moved to New Zealand and discovered trail running. I’ve now run countless trails of multiple distance and elevation over many hours and days at times, but never running an official ultra. So last year I stopped procrastinating and ran my first ever ultra for real.
The WUU2k was my race of choice, and told Ali it was a good idea to enter too. I’d never been to Wellington, how hilly could it be?! We went over the course profile and youtube videos of the course, and saw that yes it was a little bit hilly, and perhaps we should include that in the training.
We then gathered together some training knowledge and my file of ultra training plans – colour coded by race type, location and distance…. and put a training plan together for a 12 week build to race day. The initial concept was a 2 week build and 1 week recovery, but with lead up races and weekends away this wasn't as regimented as it could have been.
The basics of the plan consisted of around 9 sessions per week split into:
- 4 Runs, consisting of: Long trail; Hill reps; Fartlek/Threshold; Easy/recovery
- 3 Gym based: 2 x Strength and conditioning; 1 x WOD (workout of the day)/HIIT (high intensity interval training)
- 1-2 Cross Train sessions (optional) e.g. bike, kayak, swim, pilates, yoga...
Each run session has its own rate of perceived exertion or level which corresponds to a pace/level. The different paces are as follows:
Level 1: Walking/Jog, 0-68% LTHR (Lactate Thresholds Heart Rate), 0-2 RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion)
Level 2: Easy pace, 69-83% LTHR, 2-3 RPE
Level 3: Marathon pace, 84-94% LTHR, 3-4 RPE
Level 4: Threshold pace, 95-105% LTHR, 4-5 RPE
Level 5: Interval pace, 106%< LTHR, 6-7 RPE
Level 6: Repetition pace, 106%< LTHR, 7-10 RPE
Level 7: Max Effort
To work out my paces for the levels above, I have tended towards completing the 2mile VDOT test, which, is essentially running 8 times around a 400m track as fast as possible, taking that time and putting it into the VDOT App / google search and this will give you the pace times for the levels.
The Long run should be at Level 2 pace, the Easy runs Level 1 pace. Fartlek/Threshold and the Hill reps sessions will have the levels indicated, but tend to be a mixture of paces in order to allow for some change and recovery.
Fartlek sessions involve running at a different pace throughout the session for specific periods of time. The purpose of this type of session is to stress the anaerobic and aerobic systems and to develop recovery speed.
Threshold sessions involve running at a pace that is comfortably hard, working the aerobic threshold pace and stressing the body to promote efficiency at this pace.
Gym based strength and conditioning are as per the reps/sets indicated and will have certain rest periods between. The specific reps come from our own personal experiences and knowledge regarding strength training for endurance gains, along with reading up on strength work for ultra runners. The different stages of the programme are key, and we incorportated them over the 12 weeks in order to work through each phase. The aim of this being to build the muscle with endurance, strength and power. The amount of weight I am lifting depends on the movement and the stage of the programme I am in. For example: in the 4 x 20reps phase I will start with a light weight so that I am reaching a point of difficulty on the 20th rep for each of the 4 sets. As the phases change the reps get less and as such I will increase the weight accordingly to maintain the point of difficulty for the number of reps completed.
Technique here is important. The movements I tend to complete in the session are: Barbell- Back Squat, Deadlift, Hip thrusters, and a combination of Step up or Lunges. For the upper body I mixed it up a little with: Barbell- Shoulder Press, Dumbbell- Chest Press and Lat pull downs. Some body weight press ups/pull ups were put in there and also not forgetting core exercises, flutter kicks, dead bugs and the odd sit-up to mix things up too. Consistency is key for me and I can feel strength gains as I develop the muscle through each phase and build the weight as I go.
Gym based plyometrics normally involve box squats in either up/down or with down and spring up phases, walking/jumping lunges, single leg stand to hops and jumps forwards/side, shuttles of hops/leaps/jumps. I like to include some plyometric work towards the last 4 weeks of the programme, but more specifically into the final 2 weeks to ensure my legs feel sharp and ready, rather than heavy and loaded.
The WOD (Workout Of the Day)/HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is a quick hit out to get the heart rate up and each session lasts for about 20-30mins or so high intensity with a 10min warm up/cool down and stretching. The session itself can include a fast-paced movement technique with a relatively light weight, like a Power clean, Dumbbell Snatch, Ground to Overhead, Kettle Bell work, Box Jumps, Lunge squats, Wall balls, etc, along with some cardiovascular work on the rowing machine or sprints on the treadmill/outside. These can be in any combination of 1-2 movements or however you feel within your time constraints. The main effect of the session is a short sharp high intensity cardio and strength workout. By no means should you be lifting really heavy weights with poor technique for multiple reps.
Ali and I believe that a combination of strength training with running and cross training provides the perfect combination to be efficient within an ultra running capacity. Both of us agree that building strength in the gym is key to this element, both with functional movements and key barbell movements. Some training plans will also include many more running sessions, however, I have never been able to tolerate more than 3-4 sessions of specific running per week, and I feel that with these key sessions I don’t need to include any more volume in there. I prefer to include some cycling/cross training in order to reduce the amount of continued loading through my legs and ankles. That way I still obtain the cardiovascular benefit, but I am not just adding to the load on my joints. In terms of cross training I would be looking at a steady cycle for 60mins on an easy week, and perhaps some intervals on those weeks I wanted to step it up a bit. However, I wouldn’t increase everything at the same time as this leads to over training and not being able to complete the key sessions effectively. And the key sessions for me were the running and strength work, not the cross training.
Disclaimer: When we put this programme together, we already had a relatively good base of fitness and could run comfortably at an easy pace for atleast 1.5hours. We were already training around 10 hours per week including running, cycling and some form of strength and conditioning in the gym, which, included barbell technique. This programme began the process of building up the distance we were running, intensity levels of key sessions, and focusing on the specifics of the event, such as the terrain type and elevation gain.
You should not copy this programme without having some form of base fitness due to the nature of tissue loading/overloading and relative progressions. We are not personal trainers and hold no accountability or liability for your training/physiology or results if you chose to follow it.
The race itself lived up to its description, hilly with a mix of terrain. But it also had some amazing views of Wellington, the Cook Strait and the South Island in the distance. The support along the way was really encouraging, and aid stations appeared exactly where you needed them. I felt like my training had gone well and as soon as I started I felt strong and ready for the distance, and this continued. The last few kms were tough, but not impossibly so, and yes the race was long and challenging and my legs were a little sore after, but it's 62kms and I knew I’d feel tired afterwards. However, the key element to the training plan for me were the long runs, and ensuring I didn't run these too fast, along with those days of running consecutively so my body adapted to running on tired legs. I believe it made me adapt to the load and ultimately become more efficient over the longer distance.
It's only 14 weeks until the 2020 chapter of this race, and I will begin my training again for this as the weeks roll by. My main focus currently though is our impending first attempt at the 4 Summits challenge over Easter, and as our final prep begins to take shape my excitement levels are building for the next adventure.