In a lot of the training for ultrarunning books I have read – and there are a few on that list now – one of the standard pieces of advice has been to train for a race in segments or blocks. You start off by building a base, you add in some speed work or some strength work, maybe some tempo or threshold running, and then as the target race approaches you build in training specific to the course you’ll be running on. This final part is what I have tried to capture in the last couple of weeks as the Ultra Boucle de la Sarra has edged closer on the calendar and, to my mind, it is working out.

Two things I have noticed by focusing on the hills and climbing stairs these last two weeks.

First, I am getting more comfortable setting a steady rhythm heading uphill. Part of this is because I am taking it easier on myself and not forcing myself to sprint up stairs two at a time at the bottom of a long staircase only to fall into a painful, winded hole closer to the top. Instead, I have been moving steadily and smoothly uphill, not taking it easy but not losing my breath, either, and I’m able to run as I kick off the top of the staircase which, I think, will help me come the race.

Second, I seem to have found some additional form when running the flats after climbing the hill or mounting the stairs. I can’t explain why this is the case and I was trading emails with a buddy this week where, best as we could conclude, it was most likely just an indicator of general fitness rather than a real adaptation to running the flats. However, this last week in particular, it has been clear that when my climbing is done for the day, I am turning in sub-5:00 kilometer splits without an issue and more than a few around the 4:30 mark, too.

Last week I managed to record 2270 meters of vertical gain for the week and I noted this was my biggest week of climbing ever as a runner, even including the week of ups and downs of the Saintelyon (2045 meters) and, indeed, the 6 hour version of the Ultra Boucle de la Sarra (2147 meters) last year. With today’s run left to close out the week and only a couple of flat shakeout runs to go Monday and Tuesday before I start resting for the race, I wanted to see if I could put up a number just a little bigger than this 2270.

Checking on Strava this morning, I noted that I had already banked 1950 meters of vertical gain for the week. My goal for all the running in this two week long climbing specific block of training had been to add 200 meters of vertical gain per run. If I did that this morning then I would record 2150 meters, or about 120 meters short of my record week.

120 meters? Yeah, I’m not going to leave that on the table…

The goal, then, for this last real climbing and staircase-focused run was to step over that personal 2270 meter record and record at least 321 meters of vertical gain. There was no distance goal and, indeed, I didn’t really want to be out for a really long time as I really should be concentrating on tapering right now. Hence, as I left the Place des Jacobins and headed into the Old City of Lyon, my only goal was to grab at least 321 meters of vertical gain, set a new personal record for climbing in a week, and get home to a nice hot shower and a long cool drink.

With only elevation in mind, I set the Garmin to the data screen showing ascent and descent and headed into Saint Georges. I’d start with a couple of circuits of the staircase near the park there before moving a little further into the Old City to find the next staircase and the next climb. It occurred to me that, far from the pleasant looking Strava Art I had created running in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago, this run was going to appear on Strava as a mess of overlapping loops, backtracking, and spaghetti-style wanderings. No matter – I’m in this one for the elevation, not the art.

I went up and down staircases, ran half ascents and half descents, too, and really made a tourist of myself in the Old City. I do love the old parts of Lyon and, even if the cobblestones are not the easiest to run on at times, on a nice spring morning like today it can be a wonderful place to exercise as the city itself wakes up and the tourists begin to emerge from their hotels in search of a late breakfast or an early brunch.

Finally, when I noticed I was getting close to my target, I headed for what I had bookmarked in my mind as my final climb for the day: from Saint Paul to Fourviere via the Montee Nicolas de Lange. Come Friday evening I’ll be starting out a twenty-four hour period where I’ll be facing these steps a couple of times every hour and I thought it was fitting that they be the final staircase I mount before heading for home. From yesterday’s run I knew that from the bottom at Saint Paul to the top at the Metallic Tower I would capture about 90 meters of elevation and so, steeling myself for the final climb, I got my head in the right place and started up the first flight of stairs from Saint Paul to take me to the Nicolas de Lange, and so begin the 563 stairs that would put me over the top in my morning quest.

As I climbed the staircase I couldn’t help but think about the race that is really just five days away. I honestly think I am as well prepared for the race as I could be right now. Sure, losing most of a week of training with stomach issues in San Francisco was not really part of the plan but I have had a couple of solid weeks of training since then and I’m feeling good. Last year in the three weeks before the 6 hour version of the Ultra Boucle de la Sarra I ran only 10 times for a total of about 130 kilometers and recorded only about 1200 meters of vertical gain that whole time. This year in the same three week block I will have run more than 200 kilometers and climbed in excess of 5500 meters. I survived the six hours of racing last year and I think my preparation this year will have me ready for the longer, mentally tougher twenty-four hour race when it kicks off on Friday night.

Finally arriving at the top and with my 321 meters of elevation safely in hand, I ran on to the nearby basilica at Fourviere to catch my breath for half a second before heading back down the hill. A short descent back into the Old City, across the footbridge that spans the Saone and then I was done.

The new personal best for climbing in a week is set at 2298 meters.

And the fact that I’ll be beating it handily in a single race come Friday night has me smiling in anticipation.

Distance: 6.2km

Elevation: 348m

Time: 46:11


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