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From Marathon to Ultra

This article was written by a guest blogger – Robert Henning. It explores his experience in moving from standard road distances to Ultra Marathons. Robert is an ultra-runner and coach and can be found here.

I remember glaring up at the unforgiving South African sun. ‘Isn’t it meant to still be winter?”, I thought. The clouds decided to clear to make the mercury hit 40 degrees Celsius on this August afternoon in Cape Saint Francis – a sleepy holiday town on South Africa’s South Coast. We were running through what is called the Sand River – an old river bed that is now just soft sand dunes stretching 10km long. After 30 km of coastline single track and farm roads, we hit the dunes. I was in 4th position and feeling strong. My longest race had been a road marathon almost two years prior, but I thought “How hard can this be?”. This was the Chokka Trail Ultra: a 62 km foot race through the beach paths and coastline.  After the dunes, at 42km, my legs decided they no longer felt like functioning. The cramps – likely from a combination of the heat, my running out of water half way through the dunes, and the soft sand making it nearly impossible to walk – made this unbearable. I hit the 44km aid station and lifted up the iced cooler with a drink in, opened the tap and just poured it in my mouth. Feeling slightly better, I managed to run/walk the last 18km to the finish. I still managed a 9th place finish, though, but just made it through the finish line, beer in hand.

Since then, I have run 4 ultra trail races ranging from 44 to 76 km, one Two Oceans Ultra 56km road run, and a few marathons. 

So what did I learn from shifting from the marathon distance to ultra? To answer that, I came up with some rules: 

Rule 1

You can not train for an ultra the way you do for a marathon. The extra few kilometers make a HUGE difference. You should focus less on speed, and more on spending long hours on your feet. Long, slow runs should be your weekend runs. Learn to run spending hours and hours on the road or trail alone.

Rule 2

Double training days and back to back long runs on the weekends should be a regular staple in your program. This will allow you to develop the physical and mental strength to keep running when your body is tired.  Your weekly mileage should also increase at a gradual rate, and you will likely be running a higher load than if you were training for a marathon. 

Rule 3

Learn to eat on the run. Most times, you will need to eat while moving. Practice this during your training runs to see what you are able to chew and stomach while on the move.

Rule 4

Take in calories and drink fluids consistently, and early! For anything over 2-3 hours, getting good nutrients in within the first hour become critical. This will prevent a crash later on. The rule is: if you are hungry or thirsty, it is already too late. The digestive tract slows down considerably during an ultra, so making sure you get calories and fluids in early on are vital. Research shows that 500-600ml of water, and 50-60 grams of carbohydrates should be consumed every hour, starting from the first hour.

Rule 5

Be fine with walking! Strategic periods of walking will allow you to save the energy required to finish the race. This becomes even more vital the longer the race is. Also, you can walk the hills. Walking the hills saves crucial energy and prevents much of the muscle fatigue and breakdown, and actually doesn’t allow you to lose much time, if any at all.

Rule 6

Learn pacing strategies during your long runs, as starting too fast during an ultra can lead to serious issues of burning out during an ultra.

Rule 7

Get the correct gear, such as shoes to handle the distance, socks, lubricants, and clothes. Trust me when I say this – you DO NOT want to be 40km in to a 100km run and start chafing because your shorts are not right, or you don’t have lube. 

Rule 8

Learn to master the elements by keeping out the sun or keeping warm with the clothing you wear. A good cap, UV arm sleeves, neck shield, and proper t-shirt can keep you cool in the sun. Alternatively, a proper thermal top, rain jacket, or gloves can be the difference between hypothermia or finishing the race.

Rule 9

Lastly, manage your expectations. Your first ultra has a massive chance of being a disaster. That’s fine! You are in unknown territory, and you don’t know how your body will handle the extra distance. The good news? It get’s better as you learn.

When I first made that jump in distance I was honestly nervous. How did I know how my body would react? But looking back at it now, it was honestly one of my best memories. I discovered things about myself that I never knew,  and made some great friends and memories during that race. The reward of pushing your body to distances previously seeming impossible is priceless. However, I must warn you: once you run your first ultra, you only want to run another, and another, and further and further. 

A note from Tom:

We’d like to thank Robert for helping us out and giving us a great article to share with you. If you need an ultra running coach, fancy a webinar or other online content visit Robert’s Website. If you’re not quite ready to step up to Ultra running yet have a look here for the best value custom training plans on the internet!

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Why, sometimes, you should ignore your watch.

Wearable fitness tech has become a pretty normal part of life. Even non sporty people often have a wearable watch that counts their steps and measures their resting heart rate and all of this has a whole world of integration with your smartphone and I don’t think the suggestion that this tech is here to stay is a particularly bold proclamation. These watches are, generally speaking, quite good. There’s plenty of evidence that suggests those who wear them are more likely to make long term changes of habit towards being more active – which is obviously good for everyone, except maybe runners?

As I write this I do so with a Garmin watch on my wrist, on which I track all of my runs, I look at all sorts of statistics such as the fact that I’ve burned 864 calories this morning, have a resting heart rate of 48bpm and slept for 8 hours and 4 minutes last night. All of these metrics are useful to me as a means of evaluating why I feel like I do on any given day. However, it also has a bunch of other performance metrics which it calculates from my heart rate and pace while I’m training. The one I’m going to talk about in this article is VO2 max as it’s the one talked about mostly.

It’s just wrong, a lot. My watch thinks my VO2 max is 57, my actual VO2 max is closer to 75. Obviously this is a huge under estimation which could really damage the confidence of a runner which is also an important factor in performance. Imagine being judged as 24% slower than you actually were without the knowledge that this judgement isn’t accurate. This also goes the other way, sometimes people’s performance metrics are over estimated. It’s the same when it judges your ‘performance condition’ or ‘training productivity’. Ignore it. The problem this tech has is the age old problem. Crap data in gives you crap data out.

Watches measure your heart rate using an optical sensor which, in short, doesn’t work very well when you exercise. This is because you sweat, it moves around, it could be on too tight or not tight enough. There’s a series of factors which essentially ruin this calculation. They work ok, but still not amazingly, at rest. You could wear a heart rate strap while you train which yields a better quality of measurement but the easiest solution is focus on performance. If you’re getting faster then you’re getting fitter, even if your watch calls you unproductive.

In summary, focus on performance. Don’t allow the numbers, which are often wrong, on your watch to dictate how you feel about yourself. Your watch isn’t useless though, the data it does give you, especially sleep, can explain why you feel good (or bad) in training. If you want to get faster at running then focus on race results and paces hit in training, not a badly calculated VO2 max number. The best way to improve is through a well structured training plan that allows you to achieve consistency over time.

Happy running!

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Getting fit on 3 runs a week

I’d like to start with a disclaimer. This will not turn you into an olympian unless you have an obscene amount of talent but even then, as a general rule most people will improve just by running more so if you have time to run more – you probably should. However, if you only have time to run 3 times a week, perhaps you’re a triathlete, are busy with the kids or couple running with five a side football, then this is the article for you.

The key to improving on limited time is figuring out what your limiting factors to going faster are and addressing them directly with as little decline as possible in, and ideally maintaining, your strengths. Generally runners struggle to go faster because their legs hurt or they run out of breath. So, that decline in speed at the end of a race is either due to weaknesses in aerobic conditioning or weaknesses in muscular conditioning. Most runners experience both of these at some point but these can be addressed on 3 runs per week. Again, I would say, this isn’t an optimal way to train, there are no shortcuts and there’s a reason Farah and Kipchoge run twice most days but you can still improve on less.

We’ll start with aerobic conditioning. The long run is the way to fix this. There are a thousand benefits to completing a long run. In short, it’ll make you more efficient at the end of a race. The best way to do a long run is find a hilly route and keep it at a steady pace, gradually build the distance you run in these each week.

Muscular conditioning is addressed by running hard. Getting your tendons, ligaments and muscles used to the impacts of running fast is best achieved by running hard alongside regular strength and conditioning exercises to keep you robust. An example session of this might be a warm up, 10 lots of 400m at 3k pace with 60s rest between each rep, then a cool down. There are, however, thousands of ways you can do these reps which are best implemented as part of a well structured training plan.

Finally, the tempo run. This really is a golden training session and completed correctly and regularly will lead to improvements. There are a lot of different ways to complete tempo runs and they’re all useful when completed at various times of the season. Tempo runs work as they make your body better at clearing lactic acid, the stuff that gives your legs that dead feeling, while still running at a reasonable pace. A great tempo session is a 10 minute warm up jog, 15 minutes at a pace you could sustain for an hour then a two minute walk repeated twice and then a 10 minute cool down.

There’s no secrets to running. It’s a sport that rewards hard work and consistency and has less respect for talent. Hard work without talent usually beats talent that won’t work. If you can run consistently for a few years you will see big improvements but the key is to stay consistent and patient. Improvement is rarely linear and you’ll have some periods where you really struggle and others where you feel on top of the world but stick at it. You can get fit on 3 runs per week, the main key is consistency over long periods of time.

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How to train when you’re pushed for time!

Balancing running with the rest of your life is a cross we all must bear. It can be tough to squeeze in training sometimes so this article will help you be as efficient as possible with the time that you do have. We will stick to efficient training techniques although general time management skills also help such as getting kit out the night before and planning training in advance.

The first thing we’d mention is make sure every run has a goal, say you’re running between 1-3 times per week then you won’t want any of those runs to be wasted. The goal of each run should fit in to your overall training plan, so if your run is a recovery run the goal might be to come home with your legs feeling fresher than when you left, if it’s a tempo run then your goal might be related to your heart rate or if it’s a steady long run then your goal might be to keep your pace in zone 2 for the whole run. Whatever the aim of the run, keep that in mind the whole time you run so you’re able to get the most out of your limited time.

If you only have time for two runs in a given week make one a long run and the other a tempo run. These two types of runs give you the most ‘bang for buck’ when training and provide physiological adaptations that will help you over all distances from 800m to the marathon.

Really focus on each interval. If you only have a limited time then make sure you’re running each interval at the prescribed effort level or pace. Each time you complete an interval as prescribed you bring yourself a little bit closer to that PB.

Finally, keep a big picture view in mind. Never get caught up in missing one session, it’s ok and it happens. Remember what your goal is and how far you’ve come. This will allow you to remain motivated for each run and complete each run as it is prescribed. If you’d like a training plan from The Running Algorithm to help you get the most out of your time, click here.

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Our top tips for new runners!

Since coronavirus took hold of the UK thousands of people took to the streets and began running! Whether you’re a jogger, a racer or somewhere in between we would like to welcome you to the wonderful world of running! It really is a fantastic sport, nothing rivals the sense of achievement you get from smashing PBs, finishing big races or (dare to dream) winning! We thought it’d be a good idea to hand down some advice for these runners to stop them making the same mistakes we did!

Tip number 1: Join a club. There are thousands of running clubs available in the UK and our experience is that they’re friendly, welcoming and the best way to meet other runners whatever your level. Do shop around though!

Tip number 2: Do cross-country! Long gone are the days of running around a rugby field in your pants while the PE teacher hurls abuse. Cross-country is cheap, great fun and a real team effort. I can’t tell you how many great friends I’ve made through cross-country it really is the beating heart of our sport.

Tip number 3: Take the risk of injury seriously. Running can be the most frustrating sport known to man but injury risk can be mitigated. No one wants 8 weeks off their favourite past time but by following a well structured training plan and doing some strength and conditioning exercises regularly injury can be avoided.

Tip number 4: Take part! Racing is the best way to enjoy running and it helps you get the most out of the sport. Everything from Parkrun to The London Marathon and in between is great. For a list of really great events in the UK for 2021 check out our partners Racebest!

Tip number 5: Enjoy it!!! This is by far the most important tip. Make running fun by training in a group, hitting the trails or smashing the track but do what you love because without fun there’s not a lot of point. There’s a reason Mo Farah and Eliud Kipchoge are always smiling, it’s because of how much fun running is (or all the olympic gold medals they have).

If you have any other tips for new runners then let us know by email or a comment in the comments section! It is a truly wonderful sport and we hope you become veteran runners some day!

If you’d like a free 6 week semi custom training plan then check out our plan builder. If you’d like a fully customised training plan for £10 or less to help you smash your next PB then click here!

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What to do when you get shin splints?

Recently, our CEO, Tom has been having a little bit of trouble with his shins. Here he is talking about some of our experience. Disclaimer – this advice is based on the experience of one athlete, if you experience any pain you should see a qualified professional to obtain a diagnosis and a treatment plan. The best way to avoid injury is a well structured training plan which avoids mileage jumps, sleeping and eating well and a well structured strength and conditioning programme. Here’s what he had to say…

It all started with a bit of tightness down the inside of my right shin, I ignored it for a while and it gradually turned into pain. The pain wasn’t unmanageable though and I continued to run, eventually this progressed into serious pain which prevented me from running. It was at this point I decided to see a physio…

  • Lesson 1 – see a physio as soon as you get pain! It’ll decrease the amount of time you spend away from running and also decrease the amount of money you spend at the physio. Earlier intervention is always better.

The physiotherapist told me I was suffering from shin splints and that I’d need 4-8 weeks off running. This length of time away from running could’ve been reduced or avoided had I gone earlier. I was able to keep swimming and cycling although I had one week of very limited activity to let the initial inflammation go down.

  • Lesson 2 – don’t panic about fitness! Fitness comes and goes, professional athletes have forced (and optional) time away from running and still come back and win. When the physio says x number of weeks, listen!

I had a series of rehabilitation exercises that I’ve been religious about. Twice a day every day and I passed my hop test after 4 weeks (I hopped 12 times pain free) which means I can now consider a graded return to running. I was tempted to head straight out the door and run but I decided to give it another week and two more hop tests. Patience is key here and will be rewarded long term.

  • Lesson 3 – DO YOUR REHAB! This is the most important one, if you don’t do your rehab then you won’t get better. Plan time to do the exercises. Physios know what they’re talking about and you should do what they say.

So, now I’m ready to return to running. I will do this slowly starting out with a 5 minute jog and won’t do any speed work for at least 6 weeks. I don’t want to undo all my hard work. Injuries happen to everyone and are part of being a runner. Most injuries are avoidable though which leads us to our final lesson.

  • Lesson 4 – Learn from your mistakes! Injuries happen due to a series of contributing factors which can be increasing mileage too quickly, lack of sleep, lack of attention to strength and conditioning – all sorts. Figure out what contributed to you injury and develop better habits.
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Is it time to start preparing for a race?

At the moment it’s impossible to say with certainty what restrictions will allow next week, but what about in 16-24 weeks? Well, that’s possibly slightly easier to predict. We can use a number of factors to decide if we want to or should begin preparing for a race. If you’re already decided and you know you want that personal best – CLICK HERE

Firstly, do you want to? It’s the reason we run, train and race. It’s what we like to do – usually. But there’s a lot happening right now in the world and it’s completely normal to want to do different things or not want to do things you normally do. However, if you decide you do want to race then keep reading. 

Are you fit? Having some discomfort or a slight injury is not where you want to start a training block from. You need to be firing on all cylinders and ready to go! Are you? If you’re not, then hold off from starting to train hard, see a physio and focus on that injury. Fast times are run on healthy legs. If you’re ready to race, keep reading! 

How much running have you been doing? There’s no right or wrong answer to how you should or shouldn’t have been training during lockdown. Some people opted to just do lots of easy running, others went full training camp while many also decided to cut back on running or take a break entirely. None of these options mean you can’t race but depending on what you’ve been doing might change the way you want to approach training. 


If you want to race, decided on a lockdown training camp and you’re feeling healthy then you’re ready to go – CLICK HERE. If you’ve cut back on the running then you could start a race specific training plan but to get the most out of yourself we recommend a ‘base builder’ plan first. We have a custom base fitness plan HERE

Whatever you decide to do – train with us by downloading a custom plan! 

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How should I be training right now?

As any military general will tell you, a large base is always important. Well, that’s also quite appropriate for running and it’s where the analogy ends. “Base fitness” or the “base phase” is something you hear quite a lot in the running world but no one ever seems to actually explain what it means. Normally, it refers to your aerobic base which is a key performance indicator for how you’ll race over any given distance. If you want to improve your base fitness with a custom plan designed to do just that, click here!

Right now we are used to seeing the Kenyan athletes dominate over all distances from 800m to the marathon but back in the 1960s it was New Zealand and, oddly enough, pretty much all the athletes that won all the medals had the same coach and were from the same town… Their coach was a revolutionary in distance running, Arthur Lydiard.

Prior to Lydiard’s intervention the majority of distance running training was hundreds (not an exaggeration) of intervals each week with athletes completing more than 50 400m repetitions using heart rate to check for recovery with very little else in the way of ‘base miles’. Now, there were some pretty quick times run with this method of doing intervals 7 days a week, sometimes twice a day but it doesn’t come as recommended practice from us.

Lydiard essentially invented periodisation. The idea that you should train differently based on how long it is until your race and the first step on that ladder is the ‘base building phase’ – where you do lots of long, steady and easy, running in order to focus on building endurance. The idea is that this creates a foundation on top of which you build your fitness with shorter intervals, hill reps and tempo runs. Lydiard’s methods aren’t without criticism but one component of his method remains in place today and that’s the base phase.

This is the phase of training we are in right now, with no big races on the horizon until at least October (here in the UK) now is the perfect time to be improving your aerobic base. If you would like a plan specifically designed to improve your base fitness then click here!

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Benefits of “The Long Run”

Everyone should be doing a long run, most weeks, most of the year. The physiological benefits of running long are huge and provide gains for athletes of all levels. During this article the benefits of a long run will be explained, how to complete a long run will be explained and who should be doing a long run will also be explained – although the answer to that last bit is essentially anyone who races for longer than a minute. All of our custom training plans include a weekly long run alongside a series of other sessions each week to maximise your running potential and help you achieve your goals, if you’d like a custom training plan – click here.

So, what are the benefits to a weekly long run? Well, simply put these are…

  • Increased efficiency
  • Improved running economy
  • Stronger heart
  • Improved endurance
  • Stronger muscles and ligaments
  • Improved confidence

All of these factors will improve your times from 1 mile to 26.2 and beyond, but the way you do your long run should change depending on what distance you’re racing. For distances of 5 and 10k and below the long run should be steady and it’s not really necessary to run more than 2 hours. For half marathon training it’s quite athlete dependent, if you’re a faster athlete you should run up to 2 hours but for beginners or more moderately paced runners then completing a long run of up to and around race distance would be sufficient. This individuality is reflected in our training plans.

It’s clear to us though, anyone wanting to improve their times should be completing a weekly long run as a part of a balanced training week. If you would like to get a custom training plan which includes a weekly long run – click here!

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10k PB Training Diary

One of our cofounders, Tom, back in December ran a PB. He ran 33:09 down from 35:40 and there was 6 months between these races. This is a diary of the main features of training in between these runs. Tom is one of our developers too and writes some of the code that builds your training plans when you sign up, if you want a new PB – click here. This article will analyse the key features of his training during the buildup to this race. Tom is a triathlete so he completes lots of cross training during the course of this block, which is worth remembering if you are a pure runner.

Replicating this training will not get you the same results, if you’d like a fully personalised training plan to get a PB you can get one at app.therunningalgorithm.com/signup.

Tom’s Training Diary

This training block was supposed to start on the 23rd of September 2019 (with the race in early December) but was set back a week due to a big bike crash. Also, early on in this plan I completed 3 gym sessions per week and this was reduced to 1 as my running increased. I didn’t get injured but did get ill twice!

I started easy, the first week had only 29.4km of running, with no intervals and a longest run of 12km at a pace of 5:04/km. I did three gym sessions and completed heavy (for me) deadlifts as the main focus of these gym sessions, as well as a focus on core strength and hamstring flexibility. I completed 4 weeks of running like this (no intervals and lots of gym work), gradually increasing my mileage each week. In the 4th week I ran 37km with a longest run of 11km.

In the 5th week (6 weeks out from race day) I began intervals. I did 2 x 2km repetitions on a hilly cross country loop with my friend. I like to do intervals on a ‘slow’ course as it makes race day feel easier to me. The first repetition was done at 3:20/km pace and the second at 3:23/km. There was only 4km of hard running but it was my first set of intervals for a few months. On the Saturday of that week I also did a 5km time trial in order to see what sort of shape I was in, I completed it in 16:42. I ran 38.7km for that week at an average pace of 5:09/km.

The following week was similar, I did longer repetitions and then a 9km cross country race at the weekend. I ran well at that cross country race and made sure to pace myself conservatively. Overall that week I ran 44.4km.

The week after that I ran 50.5km with my intervals of the week being a 14km run with 3 x 2km of intervals. The pace of these were 3:32/km, 3:25/km and 3:13/km, this was a really good marker of fitness for me. That same week I ran a long run of only 14km at a pace of 5:33/km.

The following week I got ill, unfortunately this is a risk as I was around a busy university campus in November. I did get my interval sessions done this week but my overall volume was reduced to 28km as I had 2 days off training. The main interval session was 1 mile hard, then 4 x 400m. The paces for this run was 4:36 for the mile and the 400m reps were around 60s. My longest run was 15km at an average pace of 4:11/km, this was a bit faster than my usual long run pace.

We are now at the “week before the race”. I did my main interval session this week of 7 x 1km with a total of 50km again. I did a long run of 90 minutes easy too. The times for these km reps were 3:10, 3:11, 3:14, 3:17, 3:21, 3:18, and 3:18 with 60s rest in between. The pacing obviously wasn’t brilliant (it was wind affected) but I feel this workout went well.

Race Week: I cut my volume down to 33km (including race day) with only a few short runs. On Monday I did 5 x 2 mins at 10k race pace. On race day I ran 33:09 which was a massive PB but also quite frustrating as I ran a huge 5k PB in the first half of 15:54 (a 32s PB) and slowed down in the second half. I think I would’ve broken 33 minutes if I had paced it better but I was still very pleased.

This is a testament to how fit you can get in 10 weeks though and by following a sensible structured plan and focussing on consistency massive gains can be made. If you would like a custom training plan to smash a PB click here to grab yours!