Jonkershoek Mountain Challenge 24km Training Report – Renata Bossi
About 8 weeks ago now, a friend of mine contacted me with a very specific question, “would you be willing to train me for the final 6 weeks leading up to Jonkershoek Mountain Challenge (JMC)?” she asked. I love a challenge – so how could I say no? So off we shot, right away I asked her my three questions, the three questions:
- What have you done?
- How much time do you have available to train?
- What are your goals?
Yes in that order. Always in that order. Her answers were simple:
- Check my Polar Flow account, here are my login details (clients always want me to do the hard work!).
- Very flexible time wise – but like to get my long runs or double sessions on Mondays – Wednesdays.
- I want to run a 3h20min JMC 24k, in 2017 I ran 4h05min.
Wow! 45min off her previous time in one year – hectic! And here I have 6 weeks to make sure she achieves her goal – pressure is seriously on. Now before I go further, let me describe the JMC 24k race. It’s a mountain run made up mostly of single track and it’s got approximately 1100m of vertical ascent thrown in for good measure. A seriously tough race, with one seriously tough climb about 8km in for 750m climb over just less than 3km.
In further discussions we establish a few more things. Renata does the following:
- Gyms twice a week and would like to increase to 3 times a week.
- Pretty much never does speed work.
- Has done a couple of hills sessions in 2018.
- Wants to run a half marathon during the 6 week program as well as a 10km trail run the week before JMC.
So queue week 1 and the first thing I always have a client do is…? Yes – Joe Friel’s functional threshold test (check out blog post here)! I cannot stress how important it is to get an idea of your running capability before embarking on a training program. Regular testing will help you determine how much you are improving (or not) throughout the training process, with the added benefit of understanding the training process more. I established that Renata had been doing an average of 4.5 runs, 2 gym sessions, and 41.2km over the previous 4 weeks with an average long run of 10.3km. I also had Renata fill out a google form after every single session so that I could track her; sleep, rating of perceived exertion (RPE), and general thoughts after each session. Additionally, Renata completed a series of strength tests and I have put all the testing results in Table 1 below:
Table 1: Baseline Testing (Renata Bossi) 09 – 15 April
|Functional Threshold Heart Rate||203 (beats per minute)|
|Functional Threshold Speed||5min40sec / km|
|Stork Balance Test (Right Leg)||20sec|
|Stork Balance Test (Left Leg)||33sec|
|Single Leg Rise (Squat) L/R||Both 30 reps|
|Side Plank (Right)||1min15sec|
|Side Plank (Left)||1min20sec|
|Hip Lift (Right)||25|
|Hip Lift (Left)||30|
The testing battery above gives me a good idea of whether there are any discrepancies between left and right, and what the clients current strength levels are. The only concern I had was the seemingly moderate discrepancy between left and right leg – and as such I made sure to include several single leg exercises in Renata’s gym sessions. When someone has a leg strength discrepancy, they tend to compensate when doing bilateral (two legged) exercises. I.e. if someone has a stronger quadriceps/glutes complex on their right side, their right hand side will do more of the work when doing a weighted back squat. What you can do to iron out any imbalances is prescribe single leg exercises that are weighted equally each side to make sure each side is performing the same total work (but more on this another day).
Immediately after Renata completed her testing, as well as the information I had gathered from conversation with her, I knew how to go about designing her program. I wanted to get a few things right in her program:
- Introduce consistent tempo and hill work into her program.
- Maintain 2 strength sessions per week.
- Get her long runs in on Mondays.
The FTHR and FTSPD zones in Table 2 below aid me in putting together a training plan for every client I take on. These are obviously the results for Renata based on her the FT Test she did with me in her first week:
Table 2: Renata’s Pre-program FT Test Zones
|Heart Rate Zones||Pace Zones|
|FTHR (bpm):||203||FTSPD (sec/min):||5min40sec/km|
By now you’ll know that I’m a firm believe in the concept that change is a good thing. And so I knew that introducing sessions and strength exercises that she hasn’t done before will automatically induce a positive training effect – as long as it is done correctly. As such, the following 6 week programme was developed for Renata (Table 3):
Table 3: Renata’s planned 6 week programme leading up to JMC
|Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4||Week 5||Week 6|
|Monday||Rest||12k easy||12k easy||Hike||Rest||Rest|
|Tuesday||FT Test||Hills: 3 x 6min @ HR Zone 4||Hills: 4 x 6min @ HR Zone 4||16k Easy||Strength / 40min: easy||30min: easy|
|Wednesday||30min: Easy / Strength Tests||Strength||30min easy / Strength||30min easy / Strength||Hills: 8 x 30sex @ HR Zone 5a||Rest|
|Thursday||30min Easy||Rest||Rest||Rest||Rest||Pickups: 8 x 30sec|
|Friday||Rest||Tempo: 2 x 10min @ Spd Zone 3||Tempo: 2 x 15min @ Spd Zone 3||Tempo: 3 x 8min @ Spd Zone 4||Tempo: 3 x 12min @ Spd Zone 4||Rest|
|Saturday||21.1km Race||10k easy||6k easy||8k easy||Pickups: 6 x 30sec||24k Race (JMC)|
|Sunday||Strength||Strength||Strength / 30min easy||Strength / 30min easy||10k Race||Rest|
The plan was simple – get Renata on to a Pyramid type training model (check out my next post summarizing How to Train), where the majority of her training time (>70%) was spent at low intensity (HR Zone 1 / 2 or RPE <6), with 20 – 30% training time at HR Zone 3 / 4 (RPE 6 – 7), and 0 – 10% at HR Zone 5+ (RPE 8 – 10). Something like what you see in the graphic below:
The proof however, is in the pudding and so in a review of Renata’s training I can tell you the following:
- Renata completed 8 out of 9 planned gym sessions over the 6 weeks.
- Renata’s average RPE over the 23 (out of 28 planned) training runs (excluding JMC) was 6.9 ± 1.95.
- Renata’s average HR over the 23 training runs was 178 ± 11 bpm.
- Renata’s average training run was 66min (± 34) and 9.3km (± 4) long.
In general, I was quite happy with Renata’s training (see detailed training log/responses at the end of this post). I was, however interested to see that there was a slight discrepancy between her perceived effort (RPE), and her actual effort (heart rate response). Her average perceived effort bordered on zone 4 (estimated heart rate of about 190bpm), while her actual HR response was 178bpm on average. Therefore, and I refer back to the pyramidal training model that I had planned for her of the 23 training sessions she completed, I expected her to respond as follows: 14 easy (RPE <6), 6 intermediate (RPE 6 – 7), and 3 high (RPE >7) intensity sessions – her perceived (RPE) response to training was actually 7, 4, and 12 sessions in those respective intensity brackets. This means that my predicted RPE model would’ve followed a 61%, 26%, 13% (Zone 1, 2, and 3) pyramidal model as seen above – however her response in terms of perceived effort actually indicates a model more like; 31%, 17%, 52% (Zone 1, 2, and 3). As a coach this is obviously worrying, as an athlete performing 52% of her training in a high intensity zone is at risk of burning out, over training or getting injured – so I delved a bit deeper.
That initial note I picked up with the RPE and HR discrepancy is actually quite significant. If you look at Renata’s HR response (Table 5 below), you will notice that for some of her sessions where her RPE is high, her average heart rate is still within a low intensity or medium intensity zone. As such, her HR response actually reflects a more pyramidal model as I had planned, one of; 65%, 30%, 5% (Zone 1, 2, and 3) while her RPE response is totally different. This is particularly interesting to me as a coach, because the accuracy of these measures drives my decisions to change Renata’s program. While there was significant reason to worry about the intensity of Renata’s training based on her RPE, I was comfortable with the fact that the bulk of her training was at low intensities – and this is why it is so crucial to have communication with your athletes as a coach. The Google Form that I set up allowed Renata to make post session comments, and if anything flagged as worrying, I could send her a whatsapp/email immediately to look into it. At no point during the six weeks was I worried about overtraining with Renata – I believe her perception of effort might just be slightly inflated in terms of her physical response to training – and that may well be due to her not having used an RPE scale before. The alternative is that Renata’s perception of each training session was based on the high intensity portions (or work intervals) during the workout, and that her warm-up and cooldown portions were skewing her heart rate data towards a lower average. An example of this phenomenon is how a runner could run two sessions, both of 60min, but in session 1 he/she runs 10min intervals of very high intensity interspersed with 10min intervals of very low intensity, while in session 2 he/she runs 60min at medium intensity. Both scenarios will yield a medium average heart rate over the 60min, but the perceived effort of the interval session will be slightly different to the perceived effort of the medium pace session – hence the discrepancy in Renata’s RPE and average HR.
In summary, I was extremely happy with Renata’s training over the 6 weeks. She is one of those clients who takes extra effort in giving me feedback which helps guide the training plan really well. She is also the type of client who sticks mostly to the training plan which makes it easier to measure progress over time. Speaking of progress, I had Renata complete the same tests as she did in the first week of training with me in the week after her JMC attempt (see table 4 below). I was extremely pleased to see that she improved in every single test she did, and quite significantly in some. While I expected her strength tests to improve just with being more familiar with the tests, I feel affirmed that the strength exercises we did with her (about twice a week) had a positive effect on her overall leg strength. I was even more thrilled with her FT test results where after 6 weeks she managed to shave 25sec/km for 30minutes off of her previous attempt – absolutely amazing effort – which I believe is largely due to the added stimulus of high intensity sessions which she admitted she never incorporated into her training before this programme began. In terms of her goals for JMC, she wanted to run a 3h20min JMC after having run a 4h05min effort in 2017. I am glad to say that she did manage a PB at JMC by almost 30min, although the 45min improvement goal was not achieved. By no means do I try and claim that this significant improvement is due to just 6 weeks of training – because the reality is that the other 46 weeks between 2017 JMC and 2018 JMC had a way bigger impact on her improvement. This however, is why it is important for me to do the FT test so I can get a measure of improvement over shorter periods of time.
Table 4: Renata’s Training Effect after 6 weeks preparing for JMC
|Test:||Before 6 weeks:||After 6 weeks:|
|Functional Threshold Heart Rate||203 (beats per minute)||207 (beats per minute)|
|Functional Threshold Speed||5min40sec / km||5min15sec/km|
|Stork Balance Test (Right Leg)||20sec||39sec|
|Stork Balance Test (Left Leg)||33sec||40sec|
|Single Leg Rise (Squat) Left||30 reps||35 reps|
|Single Leg Rise (Squat) Right||30 reps||40 reps|
|Side Plank (Right)||1min15sec||1min22sec|
|Side Plank (Left)||1min20sec||1min23sec|
|Hip Lift (Right)||25||40|
|Hip Lift (Left)||30||40|
All in all, well done Renata – and for those of you with a similar training program to what Renata had, and with a similar training background – don’t be afraid to mix up your training with some tempo and hills work. This is only the start for Renata who still has a lot of space to progress – and I hope that you’ve taken some positive insight from this post as to how you can too. For Renata’s response to training, check out Table 5 below. Cheers!
Table 5: Renata’s Training Response (HR as average bpm):
|Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4||Week 5||Week 6|
|Time: 73min RPE: 5 Gym / Time: 40min
|Time: 41min RPE: 3 Gym / Time: 33min
|Time: 77min RPE: 6 Gym||Time: 80min RPE: 5 Gym||Time: 30min
|Time: 80min RPE: 4 Gym||Rest||Rest|
RPE: 9 / Time: 56
|Hike: Time: 420min RPE: 8||Rest||Time: 32min