Last weekend, the second Golden Ticket race of the year kicked off with a bang in the Arizona Black Canyon 100K. The day saw five runners (three men and two women) beat the previous course records, firmly establishing the race as one of the most competitive Golden Ticket races in years.
But the most intriguing aspect of the race to me as an outsider was in seeing the vastly different approaches to training from each of the men to make the podium. Anthony Costales, Tom Evans and Janosch Kowalczyk all took individualized approaches to their training in the months leading up to Black Canyon, proving once more that there is no one size fits all for training for an ultramarathon race.
This is one of the most essential reasons why having a coach and a training plan that can be tailored toward your needs and your body as a runner, is vital to the process of optimizing performance.
As runners, we are often quick to follow the advice of internet training plans that say they can get you from the couch to a three-hour marathon. But these training plans fail to consider your own unique needs as an athlete. These training plans also can’t have open dialogue with you to discuss the unique insights the training plan is trying to create within your performance. Not unless you get your training plan from ChatGPT, at least.
Take Anthony Costales for example – a Salomon sponsored athlete who recently became a Salomon unsponsored athlete. Anthony came out full tilt, ready to prove himself, and on an absolute mission to win Black Canyon and compete with the best in the business. His training leading up to the race involved a peak week of 107km, with 2,265m of elevation gain. But he hovered around 65km per week in the months leading up to the race, with about half the elevation as that peak week.
65km may not seem like a ton of running for an ultra runner who’s hungry to reclaim a sponsorship. But Anthony focused on quality. His long runs were steady but smooth, and only slightly faster than his ultramarathon pace without ever overcooking himself. His workouts meanwhile were consistently quick and efficient, all around the same pace. And while he’s not one to share it on Strava, it’s been said that he prioritized strength and mobility post-run.
Again, you might be surprised to hear that the winner of a 100k race rarely ever hit higher heights than 70km in a typical training week. But focusing on quality allowed Anthony to attain those obscene heights without worry, while giving himself time to focus on other interests in his life beyond running.
Tom Evans meanwhile ran even less! (According to his Strava at least!) If we are to assume that Tom posts everything to his Strava, his peak week was around Anthony’s average week (a mere 69km, with less than a 1,000m of elevation gain). In the other weeks leading up to the race, Tom ran between 30 and 48km. That’s not even half the total distance of the race he would go on to accumulate in a single day, at course record speed. Why? Because he prioritized quality. He ran several 30k’s at a slightly faster pace than his ultramarathon pace. He gave his body time to recover from those hard efforts. He even arrived to the States a few weeks early to become acclimatized to the course. He ran hard, fast sessions without ever reaching an overblown maximum intensity of obscene insanity, and then saved that obscene insanity for race day.
Then you have the third record breaker of the day – Janosch Kowalczyk, who on any other year, would have won the race. Living in Germany, Janosch ran a peak week of 170.7km, with 3,540m of elevation gain. That’s more than double the high point of the man who finished one place ahead of him, and significantly more than the winner. Other than a slight decline in training around Christmas, the German runner hit average highs between 85 and 110km consistently in his training, a distance that Anthony Costales only hit three out of the 10 weeks leading up to the race.
Unlike Anthony and Tom, many of Janosch’s workouts were also on the slower end. He consistently ran with friends and family rather than alone, going at their pace rather than his own. But the quality remained in place for those harder, longer efforts. Janosch even recorded many of his strength, core and mobility sessions, so we are able to see that he put in the work behind the scenes to optimize his recovery.
When you look at the training of each of these runners, they each took on an entirely different approach to training. This provides the perfect example as to why the best training is not the one that prepares you best for the race. Instead, the best training is the one that prepares your own unique individual needs and body for the race. Janosch ran a ton, Tom ran very little, and Anthony ran somewhere in between. All three focused on consistently reaching a training pace akin to their racing intentions, but only at the right moments, to ensure they were safely preparing their minds and bodies for the race. Importantly, each stayed fit, healthy and with the right recovery leading up to the race, tapered in the week leading up with almost no running at all, and then absolutely smashed the course record on race day.
Here’s the kicker – if you were to follow the training plan of Anthony, Tom or Janosch to the letter, it likely wouldn’t work for you. Yes, they are elite athletes. But that’s not the point. The point is that the training they did was outlined and optimized in a way that worked for their lives at that moment in time, their own strengths and weaknesses, and their own unique performance indicators. You will have entirely different lives, different strengths and weaknesses and entirely different performance indicators.
Growing up as a runner, I often had no choice but to compete in the cross country circuits of high school and university stardom. But I always knew that the 8km and 10km distances were not optimal for my own body. My legs have always been my strong-suit, I dominate hills, and I’m capable of running efficiently for very long distances with absolutely zero fuel in the system (even if I have since learned it may not be optimal). It’s only recently that I’ve discovered trail running and have decided to take my running to the level that I should have been focusing on years ago – trail and ultra running. Now that I can play to my strengths, I feel fully confident that I can make a splash in ways that I never accomplished in university. I can channel my inner Anthony, Tom, and Janosch, and train in a way that feels purposeful, enjoyable and optimal to my own path.
So if you want to have a coach that can optimize your training toward your own unique needs too, simply reach out.
Let’s get that quality!
Strava Profile | Rhys Desmond
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