This is the entire text of the lecture given by my coach at the Post-Race Ultrarun Clinic after the Night of Flanders 1991.

Training program of Jean-Paul Praet, the world's best 100 km runner

Patrick Deschepper
trainer Jean-Paul Praet

1. General
2. Year Program
3. Nutrition

1. General

I am supposed to make clear to you, this morning, the training method of Jean-Paul Praet.
First of all I want to state very clearly it should not be considered as the ideal training, as the only way that leads to success in a 100 km race. And this for a number of reasons. I am convinced of the fact that the training of an athlete is only one small aspect in the whole range of elements that lead to success in whatever sports he practices.
There's also his natural disposition, his way of living, his perseverance, his courage to keep training.
There's also his nourishment, I'll tell you more about later on, his mental guidance and, and last but not least his environment. How much talent hasn't been wasted where the environment didn't support the athlete! Environment must be a permanent stimulus for the athlete. Private problems can also have a disastrous effect on the performance of an athlete.
I think that mainly these so-called trivial things are always underestimated by the people.

Most people think that only the training schedule is important.
Training is of course a very essential part of the final result that is called top-performance . But I'm convinced there are several training methods that lead to success. I'm not boasting that only I know the only method to achieve a world record in a 100 km race, no trainer of top- athlete should ever do that. That's why it's senseless some people copy the training schedule of a great athlete. Without results of course.

The only thing that matters is that a number of BASIC RULES is respected
Basic rules: endurance, resistance and speed are important elements in a conditional build-up. The purpose is to put the right accents on the right parts, dependent on the discipline.

For a 100 km it's evident that ENDURANCE TRAINING is of essential importance. One should have trained a sufficient number of kilometers. Endurance forms the basis. This basis should be solid before you start with quality training. No solid construction without solid foundations. That is the most important rule a lot of people forget because they have no patience to build up the foundations.
That's logic because people are too eager to see quick results of their training. No results, however without a solid basis.

How long and how many kilometers you should have trained before you can start thorough quality training depends from person to person.
As endurance is concerned, I'm in favor of gradual building-up to distance and converting the endurance speed also gradually into PERSONAL optimal speed. The speed with which you stay in a steady state and approximate the endurance limit as close as possible, differs from person to person.
On the one hand it's important to approximate that limit regularly during training to improve the quality of training. During these trainings you shouldn't try to keep up with the athlete. On the other hand it's important the athlete also has quiet relaxed endurance runs accompanied by fellow athletes, so that the monotony of long distances is broken. Generally some variation is preferable as there are: normal endurance run, interval endurance run, light fartlek etc. Variation in the circuit is also important; not always the same lap in the same park. Running should also involve a bit of adventure.

Speaking of endurance, I want to point out that there are quite a lot of stories about the number of training kilometers of ultra distance runners. To my opinion an ultra distance athlete should NOT NECESSARILY TRAIN MORE KILOMETERS A WEEK than a marathon runner. I know marathon runners that average 250 km/week and in their top weeks run 100 km more.
J.P. Praet trains averagely 150 to 160 km/week and during a few top weeks maximum 240 km. So you see, such things also differ from person to person.
It's logical that endurance training is the leading thread through the entire schedule.
Now and then a longer endurance run is programmed but it isn't the case, like many people think, that a 100 km must be run every week.

In the preparation period , we regularly build in SPEED RUNS and RESISTANCE TRAINING SESSIONS.
Speed runs can be both alternate speed runs as parts of an endurance run and well-determined relatively longer distances, run at a fixed speed. Again a lot of variations are possible.
Also in the resistance training sessions where distances from 400m to 1000m interchange. One single time even 100 m's are run in training, in such a way that the relative SPEED of the ultrarunner isn't neglected. The purpose of all this is partially to bring some variation in both form of training and running pace.

A form of training I haven't mentioned yet, but that is equally important in the training program is HILL WORK. Primarily, hill work is a natural endurance training variety and secondly, it strengthens the muscles.

Generally, as training is concerned: the INTENSITY INCREASES towards the principal aim of the season. For the last years, J.P. peaks towards the Night of Flanders in Torhout.
It goes without saying that preparatory races are also preceded by a specific preparation phase. This phase is of course reduced and fits into the total training program. All these preparatory things must be seen in function of the principal aim.
The greatest number of kilometers is run during the 3rd and 4th week before the race. These weeks contain a number of very hard training sessions with a.o. an endurance run of 60 to 65 km. The last but one week contains a TEST RUN. This run is considered to be the ultimate test, during which most of the circumstances of the real race are simulated. And then of course, the next thing to follow is the race itself.

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2. Year Program

Now I'll show you J.P. Preat's YEAR PROGRAM  in a chronological order. A year program in which 2 main races ,i.e. 2 100 km races, are run; one in June and another one in autumn.

In January and February there is an interchange of endurance runs, relaxed footings and other varieties of endurance training. Now and then there's a speed run and once in a while there's a light resistance training. This resistance training is important because in that period cross country races are run, for the pleasure that is taken in competition and for the general physical condition.
During that winter period hill sessions are held frequently; they're good for the condition and strengthen the muscles.
I want ton point out that Jean-Paul has a training-session three times a week, twice a day. It is better to have a greater number of training sessions than putting the same amount of kilometers in less sessions. Once a month a long endurance run (35 kin) is scheduled.

The FIRST HALF OF MARCH is relatively quiet; only quiet endurance runs are planned. In fact this is the breaking-point between winter and summer season.

During the SECOND HALF OF MARCH we have in turns endurance runs of one hour and a half, speed runs and resistance training.
In that period one or two 21 km races are run, a whole marathon is planned in the second half of April.

Then there's again a week of recuperation with quiet endurance runs After that comes 2 weeks of a bit longer and more intensive endurance runs with at the end a 50 km race.

During the FIRST HALF OF MAY, the specific training for the Torhout ultra distance race starts. Again alternately there are endurance runs, speed runs (frequently at race speed) and resistance training sessions. If possible there's a marathon in that period.
As I already said, one long endurance run of 60 to 65 kin is scheduled. That means, and I like to repeat it, no huge amount of endurance runs is required to prepare for a good 100 km race.

Naturally, the WEEK BEFORE the race is a week of rest and relaxed endurance runs. The preparation should have been finished BEFORE the last week.

AFTER THE MAJOR RACE, of course there is a period of rest. A period of rest full of celebrations of a possible victory. And celebrating is necessary for an athlete; the bow cannot always be stretched, and when he has feasted enough, his eager to train is even bigger. The period of rest can also be necessary to overcome a loss, a set-back. In that case some time should be spent to motivate the athlete and to convince him to start his further training-program with the same amount of courage.
That RESTING PERIOD LASTS FOR APPROXIMATELY 3 WEEKS, in which now and then a quiet endurance run is programmed.
From the 4TH WEEK onward we switch to the normal training average with longer endurance runs.
From the 5TH WEEK we begin with the combination of endurance, speed and resistance training.
In SEPTEMBER comes the second race preceded by a shortened specific preparation. The second race is again followed by a short period of rest. Afterwards training is gradually built up; so the rhythm of endurance runs, forest runs and power training can start again. Now and then there's a cross country race.

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3. Nutrition

I'd like to say something about the NUTRITION of an ultra distance runner because this can also contribute to a good sport performance. For an ultra runner, as for each endurance sports athlete the basis of nutrition is formed by complex carbohydrates in the form of grains and cereals in their natural form: rice, whole grain bread, muesli ... Contrary to the empty calories of sugar and related products these articles of food are slowly absorbed by our organism and give a long-lasting energy supply, which makes them extremely appropriate to fill up the glycogen stores. They can even make up 50 to 70% of our total nourishment and can be completed by vegetables and to a lesser degree fruit.
For the necessary proteins you can eat fish and pulse. Meat should be restricted because it charges our body needlessly with waste products, i.e. purines. It should also be mentioned that an endurance runner needs much less proteins than is sometimes claimed, unless training is resumed after a resting or an injury period.

It's obvious that you have to DRINK enough to prevent from drying out, both during training and races. In a race it's also important to drink enough already from the start onwards, that means before you feel thirsty. You should try to drink regularly, throughout the whole race, e.g. each 5 km.
The use of glucose or ordinary sugar immediately before the race is totally advised against. These sugars are absorbed too quickly and cause a quick rise of glycaemia. To lower this the body will produce insulin.
When at the same instance an effort begins, also the muscles will consume glycaemia, which results in a reactional hypoglycemia. This involves a fall of the performance level and sometimes even with a total collapse.
During the race you can use a thirst-quencher with fructose and sodium to fill up the loss of liquid and minerals. Since an ultrarunner makes a very long lasting effort, he should also have a drink with an extra high concentration of carbohydrates.

For the last years J.P. Praet has applied the so-called carbohydrates diet. This starts at the end of the last but one week before an important race and lasts for a few days. The purpose of such a diet is to keep the carbohydrates in the food as low as possible for a certain period. During those days, training sessions are continued normally. It's obvious that these are very hard training days.
During the days immediately preceding the race, you have to eat as much carbohydrates as possible, which results in a super compensation of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates that are substantial in a 100 km race. It goes without saying that you shouldn't venture this diet in a race before it has thoroughly been tested during training. Not every athlete feels good with a carbohydrates diet, you should choose the diet that you feel fit with. It's also very demanding, both physically and mentally, to follow such a strict diet.
You can also apply this diet only partially. In this case, you restrict yourself to a carbohydrates build-up during the last 3 days before a race, which also gives a pretty good result.
Other people are convinced a good performance can also be achieved in another way. I know somebody who believes in a so-called fruit diet on the day of the race. This implies the athlete eats nothing but a different piece of fruit each hour of the day. He is convinced this leads to the best performance.
The psychological aspect plays also an important part. When you are convinced that you can achieve the best result by means of certain habits, rituals or ways of nutrition, when executing them you can influence your performance.

This applies also for training habits.
J.P. Praet has a five year old tradition: 3 months before Torhout he copies the training schedule (from day to day) of 1986, the year in which he smashed the world record.

To end with, I'd like to say something about the material of an ultra distance runner.
The basic part of which are the running shoes.
An athlete should have his running pattern biomechanically checked by an orthopedian. So when he buys his shoes, possible pronation or supination can be taken into account. It's obvious that you are provided with a pair of running shoes of good quality, that are shock absorbing and give sufficient stability.

Finally, I would again emphasize that beyond the natural gift, the training program of the athlete and a number of other elements, it's especially his temperament and perseverance that enable him to achieve consecutive eminent performances.

Patrick Deschepper  

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