Ultra & Trail Running Training Philosophies: Matt Carpenter & Speed

MAtt Carpenter
Matt Carpenter …. on a ski lift

2005 was a magical year for Matt Carpenter … not only did he seek out his revenge at the Leadville 100mi trail run but post race he championed quite possibly the most epic picture of any elite runner … not running (see image to the right).  I came across the following write-up by ultra & trail running hero Matt Carpenter regarding training philosophies when transitioning from shorter road-racing to the ultra and longer trail running distances.  A great read and confirmation of some of the principles I want to practice while experimenting with the longer stuff.  It’s easy to get carried away, read all the blogs & others’ training logs, and feel as though you have to basically double your volume and/or long run to even consider running past 50-ish miles.  First off, people usually only post about their peak (highest) mileage for a build-up and we must remember that bragging rights (if any) after a race result far out-weigh any kind of mileage written (or typed) in a training log.  Other huge factors in comparing effective training are people’s background and objectives – some run to run, some run to race, and both are fine in their own right.  Matt is speaking from a purely competitive background – an already established elite road racer in his day, he cared about crushing the competition on the trails (and earning money to feed his family) … if the answer is to simply run 3-6 hours a day (while not getting injured), he would do it – but it wasn’t, so he didn’t.

72 miles into the 2005 Leadville Trail 100 miler getting ready to exchange CamelBaks

His 2004-2005 experiences prove the same core principles of road racing directly correlate to hitting the trail and longer distances.  While some modifications will be inevitable – such as gradually extending the long run (or just putting two back-to-back) and dialing in a good fuel strategy (with a plan B & plan C if things turn sour) – the fact remains that running is an aerobic activity.  Aerobic capacity is maximized in many different ways – keeping intervals, tempo runs, hill workouts, and uptempo work is essential when trying to do more with less (more quality running, more increases in aerobic capacity, more fitness gains, less volume, less recovery / sleep, less time away from family, etc).

This perspective excites me as I see Matt was training to run the 10km national trail championships only 2-3 months before the Leadville 100 miler.  Granted this guy has a Vo2-max greater than 90 and some recorded resting heart rates ~33 bpm, but we can all learn from the differences in his 2004 and 2005 approaches …. 2004 – monster miles, pounding out multiple ultras lead to a crash-and-burn 30 mile death march VS 2005 – fewer miles (minutes), high quality (over quantity), good recovery lead to a ridiculous new 90+ minute course record.  Not to mention, for me anyway, when approaching a long term goal running 70-90 miles/week with some variety (a couple up-tempo efforts + long run) is going to fit into my schedule better and be WAY more attainable mentally than slogging 100+ miles/week.  Not everybody is a super-elite like he was (and still is as a master), but scale your training accordingly and learn from his 30+mile death march 🙂

Click here > Matt’s (long but very worthwhile) 2005 article

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