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Conquering the Diagonale des Fous: An Agile Approach to Ultra-Trail Training

Embodying the core value at Valiantys of “never standing still” and well known to friends, family and colleagues for his ultra-marathon exploits, Sundaresen Rungasamy (Head of the Agile at Scale Practice, Valiantys South EMEA) has this insightful and unique perspective to share, linking his training for ultra-trail running with key Agile concepts.

 

From Strategy to Execution

Designing a strategy for training and successfully completing the “Diagonale des Fous”, one of the most challenging ultra-trail races in the world, requires a holistic approach that encompasses both physical and mental preparation, as well as the use of effective tools and techniques.

After developing a robust strategy for training, it’s important to focus on execution. Translating your strategy into action requires a clear plan and a commitment to putting in the necessary work. To execute your strategy, start by creating a detailed action plan that outlines the specific tasks and activities you will undertake to achieve your goal. This should include specific training schedules, diet and nutrition plans, and any other relevant details. It’s also important to be accountable for your progress, establish a system of regular check-ins, and track your progress against your milestones and goals. This will allow you to make adjustments to your strategy as needed, and ensure that you stay on track.

Effective communication and collaboration with your stakeholders, including medical professionals, coaches, and running partners, are key to the successful execution of your strategy. Keep them informed of your progress and seek feedback regularly to ensure that you stay on track and that any issues are addressed in a timely manner. Additionally, it’s important to stay focused and motivated throughout the process. Break your goal into smaller, more manageable chunks and reward yourself for achieving them. Celebrate your successes along the way and stay positive even when things don’t go as planned.

Agility as a Natural Fit

Linking my experience in training for the Diagonale des Fous to the concept of agility is a natural fit.

Agile organizations prioritize flexibility, adaptability, and the ability to pivot when faced with obstacles. In my experience, my approach to training had to be agile in order to overcome the various setbacks and injuries that I encountered.

One key aspect of agility is being able to identify and act on opportunities for improvement. For me, this meant seeking out the advice of medical professionals, such as my physiotherapist, nutritionist and podiatrist, to address my injuries and optimize my training plan. Furthermore, my decision to participate in shorter mountain races, in addition to the Diagonale des Fous, allowed me to gauge my readiness and make adjustments to my training as needed.

Another aspect of agility is the ability to be responsive to change. In my experience, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and resulting requirements made it necessary for me to pivot my plans and adapt my training schedule. Instead of becoming discouraged, I viewed these changes as opportunities to make modifications and improvements to my approach.

Finally, embracing failures as opportunities to learn is also important in Agile methodology, as I was able to accept my injuries, adapt and persevere by failing fast and experimenting with new training methods which improved my overall performance.

Overall, my experience in training for the Diagonale des Fous was a prime example of how agility can be applied to an individual’s personal goals and help you reach them even when facing multiple challenges and obstacles.

Let’s recap the similarities with Agile principles:

  • “Fail Fast”: Agile organizations value the principle of freely experimenting and learning while trying to reach a desired result. By quickly identifying and addressing my injuries early on, I was able to make adjustments to my training plan and avoid prolonged setbacks.
  • “Agile Organization” : Agile organizations prioritize close collaboration with all stakeholders, including customers and team members, to define and validate ideas and assumptions. I collaborated closely with my medical professionals and running partners to develop and refine my training plan.
  • “Cadence”: Agile organizations value the ability to respond and adapt to change, which was demonstrated by my use of the RuPER technique to conserve energy and finish strong in the race.
  • “Embracing failures”: Agile organizations accept and embrace failures as opportunities for learning and improvement. By accepting my injuries and seeking out alternative methods for healing, I was able to improve my performance and reach my goal of completing the Diagonale des Fous.
  • “Seeking Feedback”: Agile organizations recognize the importance of constantly seeking feedback and improvement. I sought out the help of medical professionals, running partners and constantly experiment with different training methods to improve.

Overall, my experience in training for the Diagonale des Fous can be seen as a real-life application of Agile principles, with a focus on flexibility, adaptability, and continuous improvement.

What is the RuPER Technique?

The RuPER technique, short for Run-Pause-Evaluate-Run, is a pacing strategy that can be used in ultra-trail racing. The basic idea is to conserve energy by running at a steady pace, taking short pauses, and pushing harder during certain segments of the race.

 

Here’s how you can develop the RuPER technique:

  1. Identify your steady pace: Before the race, try to determine your steady pace, which should be a pace that you can sustain for the majority of the race without feeling overly fatigued. Experiment with different paces during training to determine your ideal steady pace.
  2. Plan your pauses: During the race, plan to take regular pauses, which can be as short as a few seconds or as long as a minute or two. These pauses can be used to catch your breath, drink water, or take a gel.
  3. Identify key effort segments: Identify segments of the race, such as steep uphill sections or technical downhills, where you will need to push harder to maintain your pace.
  4. Train to develop endurance: Practice the RuPER technique in training, and work on building your endurance by training at your steady pace for longer periods of time.
  5. Practice the technique: Practice the RuPER technique during your training runs, so you can get comfortable with it and fine-tune it before the big race.
  6. Pay attention to your body : Monitor your body and pay attention to any signs of fatigue or discomfort, and adjust your pacing as needed.
  7. Reflect and adapt: After the race, reflect on how you used the RuPER technique, and make any necessary adjustments based on your experience.

 

The RuPER technique is a way to conserve energy by running at a steady pace, taking short pauses and focusing effort on specific sections of the race where it’s needed the most. By practicing this technique and adapting it to your specific needs, you can improve your performance and help you reach your goal. Thus, you have determined your cadence.

Tracking your Performance

In ultra-trail racing, flexibility, continuous improvement, collaboration, testing and experimentation and embracing failures are all key principles that can lead to improved performance, which align with the statement made by Peter Drucker, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”

Measuring performance and having the right equipment are crucial to effectively managing and improving performance in ultra-trail racing. But it’s not only about the equipment, it’s also about knowing how to use it effectively and continuously improve. As Peter Drucker pointed out, the ability to measure and track performance is an essential aspect of effective management and improvement.

Flexibility is important when it comes to selecting and using equipment, as well as adapting to unexpected situations on the trail. Continuous improvement is also essential, as runners must continually monitor and evaluate their performance, and make adjustments to their strategy and training. Collaboration with experts, such as coaches or medical professionals, can provide valuable feedback and advice, while testing and experimentation allows runners to try new techniques and find what works best for them.

Embracing failures, either of equipment or performance, is crucial in ultra-trail racing. For example, if a runner experiences an injury or equipment failure, they can use it as an opportunity to learn and make adjustments to prevent similar issues in the future.

By linking these principles to agility and Peter Drucker’s perspective, we see how they work together to help runners effectively manage and improve performance in ultra-trail racing. This includes responding to change and unforeseen circumstances, continuously monitoring and improving performance, seeking feedback and collaborating with experts, experimenting and trying new techniques, and learning from failures to prevent them from happening again. All of this aligns with Peter Drucker’s statement that you need to measure to manage and improve.

In conclusion, ultra-trail racing is a demanding sport that requires a combination of physical and mental preparation, having the right equipment and monitoring key performance indicators.

Be objective about the results

OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) is a framework that can be used to set specific, measurable and time-bound goals and track progress towards them. OKRs are commonly used in organizations, but they can be applied to individuals and teams as well.

I acknowledge that I was a bit crazy and took my training a bit far. For your ultra-trail race training and preparation, some example OKRs could include:

Objective: Improve overall fitness and stamina

  • Key Result 1: Increase running distance by 50% within the next 6 months
  • Key Result 2: Reduce resting heart rate by 5 bpm within the next 6 months
  • Key Result 3: Complete a 100km race within the next 6 months

Objective: Address and prevent injuries

  • Key Result 1: Establish and consistently follow a stretching routine that helps improve flexibility
  • Key Result 2: Incorporate strength and conditioning exercises into the training routine 3 times a week
  • Key Result 3: Regularly assess and update your training plan to ensure it is appropriate for your current fitness level and injury history

Objective: Improve pacing and endurance

  • Key Result 1: Implement the RuPER technique for pacing during training
  • Key Result 2: Increase endurance by running for 3 hours straight
  • Key Result 3: Run at least 15km of the Diagonale des Fous at a steady pace

By setting clear, measurable, and time-bound OKRs, you can track progress and make adjustments as necessary to stay on track to achieve your goal of successfully completing the Diagonale des Fous.
Remember to be flexible and adaptable, as you may need to adjust your OKRs as you progress through your training.

My next challenge is coming soon! What about yours?

 

Find out how Valiantys can help you achieve the results you need at: valiantys.com

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