Our Running Goals for 2020

Man running along a rocky coastline in Sweden.

(We wrote this piece right before the COVID-19 outbreak swept in over Europe. Even though a lot is likely to change – or has already changed – it seemed a waste to not share this anyway. At the end of the day, things could be back to semi-normal this summer, and some races might still happen. Anyway – just keep it in the back of your heads that this was put together during what literally feels like a different time. But escaping into the world running for a bit can’t hurt, can it?)

It’s nice to have goals, no? Whatever they are, having something to work towards is such a helpful tool in keeping motivation high. An important thing is of course to not compare your goals with others’ – something that’s notoriously difficult for a lot of people – and set yours based on what’s actually doable and will serve you, and not what you think you should be doing or accomplishing at a certain time and place.

Obviously, these are all thoughts very much on my (Sophia’s) mind right now. This won’t turn into a comeback-post-pregnancy post (don’t worry), but it’s of course something I ponder a lot. When I got pregnant, my immediate thought was “great, I’ll have three months to get back in shape and then I’ll run Ultravasan 90 as my comeback race”. Then my stress fracture happened (read more about that ordeal here: Everything I Wish I Knew: My Stress Fracture Story), and as the recovery ended up taking a really long time, my conviction that Ultravasan 90 was the given comeback race started to weaken. Or, in all honesty, I think it was the lengthy healing process very much in combination with an onset of… a kinder, more humble attitude towards myself that made me start to think maybe running 90k three months post-partum isn’t a great idea. But boy, these are challenging thought processes for me and my high-achieving brain. Would I love to be the one who does indeed run 90k three months post-partum? Most definitely. Would I love the satisfaction and validation I would get from pulling it off? Absolutely. Would this serve my well-being? Ouch, now it got questionable. Very questionable.

I started asking myself some questions, when pondering all of this. For example, would the thought of having a race coming up cause me stress? The answer inside my head: an immediate yes. Does the idea of being signed up and then dropping out make me feel uncomfortable? For sure. Do I know how I’ll feel – both mentally and physically – after a full pregnancy and labor? No, I have no clue. This all has lead me to the following conclusion: I won’t have any plans or goals at all this year, besides doing my very best to provide our little baby with the finest possible start in life as well as finding my way back to my body and my sport in as sustainable of a fashion as I can. There will be no stress, no performance anxiety and no comparisons between me and other athletic new mothers allowed – and this might prove my biggest challenge of them all. And for that reason alone, it’s what I’ll do.

My plan until the baby is due – which is mid-May – is to simply stay as active as I can. Running has started to feel a little painful and uncomfortable, but spinning/biking works perfectly. I’ll try to stick to my 10 hrs per week for as long as I can, but I’ll be humble about letting some of those hours turn into for example yoga instead of sweating on a spinning bike. And that’s all I can plan for. I can’t wait to feel light and nimble again, and I can’t wait to run far and (somewhat) fast, but that will come back eventually. In the meantime, we’re waiting for our own little miracle and I don’t want this precious time to be tainted by stress about stuff I cannot even remotely control.

Races

That’s me. Luckily, there’s another one of us, and one whose running goals for 2020 will prove a whole lot more interesting 🙂 Mike has, after some head-scratching and weighing things back and forth, settled for two main racing goals this season: EcoTrail 80 km in June in Stockholm, and Icebug Xperience Ultra (50 miles, or ~80k) on the west coast in September. Trust me – when he finally decided what he wanted to do, I was quite surprised. I’ve always been the one to push for the really long races, and I know Mike has more of that shorter distance speed in him than I do. With this in mind, I was convinced he would grab this “opportunity” of racing by himself this year and focus on those speedy 20-42k races instead, and leave ultras for our joint racing future. But no, he didn’t! Personally, I think it’s awesome. I know how much Mike’s personality and character grow from setting out and succeeding in doing these things he doubts he’ll be able to pull off beforehand, and I wholeheartedly support him going for two big ultras by himself. I think it’s so cool, to be honest, and provided everything goes according to plan with our family life, I’ll of course be crewing him along the way.

Before Mike hits up those two big ones though, he’ll return to Aros Marathon 50 km for an excellent tune-up race in the beginning of May*. We ran this together last year, also as a tune-up, and our goal was to just keep a steady 5 min/k all the way and not worry about positions at all. We managed an average pace right under that and came in as 1st female and 9th male, and had a really great time. We really couldn’t recommend this race more – it’s for free (!!) and runs along the old trackbed between Uppsala and Enköping, where it takes you through beautiful farmland and pristine birch forests, and the atmosphere is one of the friendliest we’ve come across in race contexts. If you’d like to read more about Aros and see some pictures, you’re more than welcome to check out our Aros Marathon 50k Race Report.

*Due to the current situation with COVID-19, Aros Marathon has been canceled.

Ecotrail 80 km – Photo: Pierre Mangez Photography

Ecotrail 80 km

Moving on, EcoTrail 80k is a trail race with about 1400 meters of elevation that starts and ends in the city of Stockholm. We ran the 45k edition in 2018, and find ourselves returning to parts of that course for long runs whenever we’re in the city nowadays. The access to beautiful trails so close to the city is amazing! The 80k will include sections of the 45k course, but adds on a 35k extension farther north of the city. It’s organized by Team Nordic Trail, and the whole day really offers up a fun running-centered atmosphere. The finish line right in Galärparken, by the Vasa museum in Djurgården, makes for a great vibe. There are multiple race distances (8, 16, 32 and 45k) going on at the same time, and the total number of participants is usually quite high. For the 80k distance, the maximum number of runners is set to 200.

In other words, Mike knows 45k of the course more or less by heart. The task that remains will be running the new section at least once before race time, simply because it gives self-confidence knowing what it’ll all look like out there. It’ll be a perfect long run sometime in the spring – great.

Icebug Xperiene Ultra – Photo: Thanner/Elmrin

Icebug Xperience Ultra

The second big goal – Icebug Xperience Ultra – will instead mean completely unexplored territory. The entire west coast (or really, all of Sweden south of Stockholm) is more or less off the beaten track in our world, as we’ve spent most of our time traveling here heading north for the mountains, so it’ll be such a fun adventure for many reasons. The course is supposed to be beautiful, and will trace the actual coast for some parts. The elevation is similar to EcoTrail – 1500 meters – and the terrain is supposed to be quite technical in some sections. It really sounds/looks like there will be a downright beautiful course waiting, with a mix of granite slabs, rocks, woodsy trails and open coastal vistas. All in all, this should prove to be a great experience all together.

Training

So, with these two ultras as the main goals (and Aros Marathon 50k as a tune-up) – what will the training look like? Well, the word volume would summarize things nicely. In many ways, it’ll look very similar to what our 2019 training year looked like. The weekly long run of 30-40k will be a staple, as will back-to-back long runs of 30k + 30k every so often (perhaps every other week). The overall training approach will be blocks of 3 + 1 weeks, where the first three focus on volume and high quality, and the last one acts as a recovery week. A typical outline for one of these blocks could be: 100k + 110k + 120k, followed by 50-60k. By designing our training like this, we feel like we set ourselves up for success. We picked it up years ago, from listening to a podcast with former cross country-skiing star Kikkan Randall, and have stuck with it since. Motivation is far easier to keep up if you have that one recovery week to work towards, and when you do rack up some good volume, some aches and pains are inevitable – but these get an excellent opportunity to fade away during the easier fifth week. And as the next block approaches, you’ll have high motivation to get going again, and your body will be feeling fresh and injury-free. In other words, we find this concept great for both body and mind, short term as well as long term. One rest day a week is also non-negotiable, and a wise investment for most runners/athletes.

Besides the long runs and the overall high volume, focus will be on some hill endurance and also longer type of intervals/threshold sessions, to work towards essentially being able to run a little faster for a little longer. For speedier sessions, we like:

  • 5×8 min
  • 5x2000m
  • 10x1000m
  • Pyramids (200m + 400m + 600m + 800m + 1000m + 800m + 600m + 400m + 200m)

We also try to bake in tempo runs (such as 2k warm up, 5-10k threshold pace, 2k cool down), tempo sections on long runs (last 5-10k of a 30k at threshold pace) and staggered runs, where we go for example 5k at 5:30 min/k, 5k at 5 min/k, 5k at 4:30 min/k, 3k at 4-4:15 min/k and 2k cool down. (All paces are approximate – we run a mix of trails and gravel roads so the terrain changes, so view the paces as effort references). Another favorite is to go “every other kilometer”, as we call it. Here, we pick a more comfortable and a faster pace (let’s say 5-5:30 and 4-4:30 min/k) and then we alternate between the two every other kilometer, over a total of 10-20k.

Alright, that’s what the plan looks like! A little different from last year in some ways, and not so much in others. We hope we’ve inspired some of you to set your own goals for this year, and provided you with some fun sessions to try out and perhaps incorporate. If you have any questions or would like to share something about your own running 2020, we’d love to hear! Good luck and train safe!

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– Sophia & Michael

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