William’s Training

My current training has developed since 1992 when I recommenced running after a 10 year lay-off. 

It’s important to understand that I have tried a number of different ways of training over the years, in an attempt to find out which types of training produce the best results in races.

One of the biggest mistakes made by ultra runners is that they stop or reduce ‘speed work’ when they become ultra runners.  The training programme for the marathon is the blue-print for all long distance athletes.  Train for the marathon and race at ultra distance. 

Never forget that, whatever the race distance/duration, it’s always the runner with the fastest average speed that wins!!

The basic training programme is that of a marathon/100km runner. 

I have been influenced by many people and their writings over the years but the following have been particularly influential.  In no particular order:

1) US Coach, Owen Anderson – former US Editor of the UK publication Peak Performance.  Also former editor of Running Research News.

2) Gordon Pirie, a great runner from the 1950’s to the 1960’s.  I discovered his book “Running Fast & Injury Free” in 1999 and it taught me how to run – the technique that is.  I am indebted to Dr John S. Gilbody (who worked for 5 years getting Gordon’s book ready for publication after Gordon died in 1991) for permission to allow the book to be downloaded free of charge from here.  The book is highly controversial and full of radical ideas but has hardly dated as it relates to basic facts about the human body which, let’s face it, hasn’t changed much lately.  A great read.

3) The series of articles by Frank Horwill (founder of the British Milers Club) I have found to be of great value.

4) My coach David Murrie has been an objective, steadying and reflective influence on my development since 1996. 

5) Since 2005 I have had a growing training relationship with Sanday resident and martial arts expert Shaun Brassfield-Thorpe who is now my training advisor as well as my physical therapist.

6) I have also found the book “Brain Training for Runners” by Matt Fitzgerald of immense interest.  He has taken Tim Noakes’ Central Govenor Theory of Fatigue and brilliantly applied it to runners’ training methods.

7) Stu Mittleman’s “Slow Burn” is also a great read, especially for those who struggle with high carbohydrate intake during races and in life in general. Stu turns conventional thinking on its head and explains how one can exploit the human bodies amazing ability to burn fat.

Whilst the main motive is ‘love of running’ the aim of the training is to compete well and ultimately to reach my full potential. If the training doesn’t produce the hoped for or expected race performances then the training is changed. On the other hand if the training works – I don’t change it too much although I’m always on the lookout for small changes and improvements I can make to my program. I believe that if you ‘train the same’ you ‘stay the same’!  I have a continuous audit of training and performance.

The aims of each training session are based on the best scientific knowledge currently available and the running speeds chosen are those best suited to improving the physiological variable targeted and to train my brain to accept higher levels of performance. 

These running speed have nothing to do with ‘ultra race pace’, so are relevant to any runner, no matter what his/her chosen race distance. ‘Ultra race pace’ sessions are something different and have an importance in their own right usually being confined to the warming up and warming down phases of a training session and to the Specific Race Preparation phase before a race.

I feel that too many runners forget this reality, and base all their training around ‘ultra race pace’ sessions which are almost certainly NOT the running speeds needed to boost the limiting physiological variables to best performance (see below).

I’m training for the last ¼ – third of the race – too many runners are training for the first two thirds of the race and then fall apart with the stresses of the last and most important section of the event.

What are the limitations to ultra performance? Click here to see what I think.

William’s Training

By Shaun Brassfield-Thorpe, Training Advisor to William Sichel

For the past few years I have been acting as William’s training advisor, overseeing his training and working to improve his race performances. This is the first in an on-going series of short articles looking at various aspects of the training methods we have developed. Initially I will give a brief overview of William’s training – later articles will address different aspects in more detail.

Whenever I discuss William’s training with others perhaps the one thing that comes as a surprise to most people is that William has a relatively low weekly mileage. However, William’s total number of hours spent in training each week is pretty high (around 18 hours a week depending on training phase). Most people assume that a runner runs, and that’s about all there is to it – right?


The first thing to realise is that William’s training isn’t focused on trying to get him to run as far as possible in training , it is keyed to being able to run as far and as fast as possible during an ultra-event. Often the best way for a runner to improve endurance, speed, stride length (etc) is not simply to spend more time running, rather it is necessary to increase strength, power, flexibility, plyometric ability, endurance (etc) through other forms of exercise.

William’s training features a lot of methods not normally associated with long-distance running. In fact each week William spends more time using other forms of exercise than in running. This includes weight training, stretching, plyometrics, core conditioning, breath and posture exercises, pool training (and a whole lot more). When William is running (which is not every day) he doesn’t simply try to clock up as many miles as possible. Rather he runs carrying extra-load in a weight vest, drags a weighted sled, runs at speed uphill (and so on). One of our key concepts is to make training harder than the event itself. For this our motto is “Train hard, run easy.” I’ll outline a few of the corner-stones of our approach.

We believe in increasing the intensity of training not the duration. Most training sessions take no more than 1hr (with some exceptions e.g. once-weekly longer runs; weight training due to rest intervals between sets). I advocate that flexibility and strength should be developed alongside each other, so William spends a lot of time in the weight room using extremely heavy weights (with exercises such as squats and deadlifts) and he also spends a lot of time on dynamic and static stretching. We believe firmly that good posture is vital in both training and competition. No exercise can be properly performed with poor posture – and this applies both to training and to competing in events. Likewise no exercise can be performed well without proper use of breath. For this reason all training sessions are performed with a focus on using “perfect” form – proper spinal alignment, joint position, breath control (etc). This applies to all aspects of training (running, weight lifting, stretching etc). The way one trains is the way one performs during an event – so if one trains with good form one will competewith good form.

Running may be primarily a lower-body exercise but the whole body is used and therefore needs to be trained e.g. the core for stability, lower back, arms (etc) for assisted muscle actions. Developing the whole musculature (upper as well as lower body) creates a better / fitter athlete.

William’s training is extremely varied – but there are only so-many hours in a day and so his training is periodised to allow greater variety of development, to target specific goals at key periods etc e.g. raw strength / maximum load during “off season,” sport-specific exercises while preparing for an event (etc.). At different times, full range motion is trained with lighter weights, often lifting to tempo. Partial range motion is trained using far heavier load. Static holds are employed with above maximum weight. Supersets are used in race preparation training. Neurological adaptation is at least as important as physical (e.g. muscular) development.

Extra-Load training is used to increase the body’s capacity for output andendurance. We hold firm to the belief that muscular endurance can best be enhanced through increasing the maximum strength/power of the muscle . Generally we use compound exercises and those which develop “applicable strength” as these are more useful in athletics than isolation exercises. Where isolation exercises are used this is in addition and generally with less priority than compound exercises.

To be at the very top of a sport such as ultra-distance running we firmly believe that the whole body must be developed; this means not only the muscular, cardio-vascular and respiratory systems but also the skeletal system, the joints, ligaments and tendons as well as the body’s capacity to e.g. burn fat for fuel, cope with high energy output with low calorific intake (during endurance events) etc.

Flexibility training is important both to decrease the risk of injury and to help promote recovery. Rest and recovery are at least as important as hard training. It is often possible to make great improvements with minimal training time but in the long term it is impossible to improve without sufficient rest and recovery, so William has heavy and light days during the week, and uses both active and passive recovery between sessions. Good nutrition is essential. Supplements are used in addition to, not in place of, a good diet.

This brief overview should serve to give an idea of William’s training regime. We’ll look more closely at the differing aspects of this in future articles.