13 December 2022

“ZONE ZERO” For the Ultra Distance Runner

One of the greatest challenges for an ultra trail runner is to able to move well in the mountains, with the lowest possible degree of effort, to be able to last in the longer ultra trail races, 100 Miles plus…

After many years of coaching of ultra distance runners, our coach Fernando has gathered some great experience within this area, and in this blog post he will tell you about some new findings about “Zone Zero”.

Blog by Fernando Armisén, Arduua Head Coach…

Fernando Armisén, Arduua Head Coach

One of the greatest challenges, if not the greatest, in the training of a long or very long distance trail runner is to develop his cardiovascular aerobic capacity to the maximum so that he is able to run in the mountains at very low intensity and with the lowest possible stress factor both physiologically and mechanically, which will allow the runner to sustain this level of effort for many hours avoiding the cardiovascular, metabolic and arthro muscular fatigue that higher intensities entail.

The truth is that this huge challenge sounds like a great experience in the form of an exciting life journey during a training process with a long-term perspective view, but it is not easy to assess or quantify how developed we have this ancestral capacity to move far…

Do you know how developed your aerobic capacity is for these great journeys?

Are you able to run or move at an intensity much lower than your aerobic threshold?

At what pace?

…. these are just some of the questions I seek answers to when I begin working with a new athlete in this modality.

Fatigue, an inseparable travelling companion, somehow traps us and we have to live with it, but it can destroy us…

For some time now, and having some years of experience in training very long distance trail runners, I have been thinking about the need to create a new dimension of work in the training of these athletes who take on very long competitions. These are truly rare and very special athletes who are looking for performance in a discipline that is totally different from any other type of mountain running: ultra-distance running.

A discipline totally conditioned by a highly individual, multifactorial and above all complex phenomenon, an exciting and unknown phenomenon, fatigue, which attacks the athlete not only on a physical level but also on a global level and even in a way that is often decisive on a psychological level.

I have defined this new dimension or training intensity zone as the “zero” zone and the idea is that it complements the 5 training zones with which I usually work with mountain runners (Zones 1-2 mainly aerobic, zones 3-4 tempo zones between thresholds and zone 5 anaerobic). This new intensity zone will help us to assess and quantify how developed the athlete’s aerobic capacity is and how much volume he/she is able to assimilate in his/her specific intensity during training for these big challenges.

It will therefore be a zone well below the first physiological threshold (aerobic) that will cover an intensity range between 70 and 90% of the aerobic threshold. A range of intensities in which not only is lactate not produced (which starts to be produced at the aerobic threshold intensity), but therefore sustaining the level of effort will depend entirely on aerobic pathways in energy production, i.e. fats and carbohydrates as fuels in the presence of oxygen.

A zone of intensity in which the cardiac muscle, normally already fatigued, works at a very limited frequency but which should allow the trained athlete to move and continue to progress at a good pace in his competition.

This zero zone will help us to include and quantify not only the specific training for competitions or main challenges but also a lot of volume throughout the whole sport season not only in the form of running but also with cross training and even strength and varied and complementary activities of the athlete’s day to day life.

Throughout the season we will have to make great progress in the ability to move and generate volume in this zone zero to find highly efficient individuals capable of tackling with health and the best performance the long journeys of this sporting discipline.

Key factors for an ultra-distance runner: health, strength and nutrition.

On a metabolic level, we are, as we have said, faced with an aerobic form of energy production, a large percentage of which comes from the oxidation of fats, that reserve that we can consider “unlimited” in a healthy human body. But in which we must nevertheless take into account a series of complementary factors that will be fundamental for the complete development of this capacity: levels of mobility and strength of the athlete, achieving good metabolic flexibility based on good nutrition and hydration guidelines and exhaustive training of the gut … guidelines that together with the more purely cardiovascular training demonstrate the importance of this long-term vision to build a good ultra-distance runner and add years of training and experiences avoiding injuries to grow and develop all the potential we have inside us. It is for this reason, among others, that this sport represents a whole lifestyle for those who are in the pursuit of performance and enjoy even at advanced ages..

Mandatory ultra distance training content…anything goes to develop endurance to fatigue.

But how can we prepare athletes for events of this magnitude? This is the kit of the question …. and it is certainly not easy.

The first thing, as we said before, is to get athletes in good health, without injuries and with whom to grow year by year in a global way in terms of experience, specific strength and volumes of training and competitions, which is probably the most complicated part and the one that generates the great filter and scarce athletes. Once past this first phase (which we can be talking about several seasons or years of training) would come a specific stage that would only make sense having gone through the previous ones and in which now if the zero zone would take on all its importance in training.

Here, training sessions with controlled pre-fatigue situations or simply training that completely takes the athlete out of his or her comfort zone at one or more levels will be a great compliment. Combined strategies in terms of nutrition, psychology, training schedules and frequency-periodization-types of training … anything goes to find those conditions of “controlled” physical and/or mental pre-fatigue and that “discomfort” of the athlete typical of this type of challenge. This is nothing new, it is still fatigue resistance training and we hope to make a lot of progress this season in understanding and analyzing it.

What strategies do you use to train fatigue resistance?

Have you known/suffered the dark side of ultra-distance running? Who has never had to deal with a breakdown and the impossibility of barely being able to increase intensity or even walk during a competition?

Is it possible to train to better assimilate these conditions or even to detect and reverse such a situation as soon as possible?

/Fernando Armisén, Arduua Head Coach

Learn more about How we train? and the Arduua training methodology, and if you are interested in taking part in our training please check out Arduua Coaching Plans>>.

Like and share this blog post