A Hard-Complex training session plan

Last updated: 23-Aug-18

By Andy Mouncey

An appetite and ability to embrace something challenging and do it well over and over again while continually balancing your input against the output needed for the task, is a fundamental requirement of success at this silly long distance stuff. In conditioning circles, we call this your ‘Work Capacity’ and the good tests for it are brutally simplistic in their design.

‘So we get the ‘Easy-Fast’ thing,’ said RunUltra about my Lean In 15 article last January.

‘But what’s this ‘Hard-Complex’ thing? What does that look like, then?’

Alrighty then.

To re-cap…

I think that a training program that is truly lean should have three features:

  • Sessions that are designated EASY – this is your ‘go all day pace’.
  • Sessions that are FAST – where you are really blowing out of your ass.
  • Sessions that are HARD-COMPLEX – where you are challenged physically, mentally & emotionally.

So what follows, dear reader, are some examples of Hard-Complex training sessions I have developed for some of my ultra running clientele by combining ingredients from the worlds of physical conditioning and running and adding a brutal twist or six of my own.

And just to be clear, yes I do test this stuff out on me before I give it out to my folks.
That’s because I’m wired that way, I’m well aware that I could break a client if I’m blasé with it and I want to know what it FEELS like at that load and beyond, at that duration, holding that level of effort – and over time to experience the benefits and to measure the cost.

Simple & Brutal

Dive straight into these examples if you want to put yourself in a box for a week. Or two.

I mean, I can do sick and twisted perfectly well but that tends to be an under-the-counter service. As a professional and responsible coach, my clients will have gone through a progressive conditioning program with me until they are ready for this kind of stuff – and even then the level is tailored. (Not that you’re ever ready, of course – you just get more used to the outrageous discomfort).

It’s just that these really REALLY work on lots of levels – I would include a list to show you but it’s so flippin’ long I’d need another page.

And your attention span is apparently shorter, remember?

So drop me a line if you’re vaguely curious and want to pimp your preparation.

Hard & Complex Made Real

These sessions are done as continually as possible at best pace holding good form. You may need to fuel. Breaks are absolutely allowed – and you will need them.


(or pack your kit in the car and drive to your hill)

The Bombproofing Bonanza:

  • Run steady uphill 10 min / fast down.
  • Get ups 3 min (lie flat on your back and get up to stand tall without using your hands. Repeat for 3 min).
  • Run flat steady-sustained out 8 min / hard-sustained back.
  • In-place loaded lunge alternate leg lead 90-60-30 seconds continuous with recovery using weight vest, pack, dumbbells, water carriers or paint pots.
  • Run/ fast hike uphill 10 mins / over-stride down.
  • Get ups 5 min.


Park Run Fun:

  • Run: 5km Park Run race effort.
  • Power hike with heavy loaded pack reverse Park Run route.
  • Run: 5km Park Run at best pace target.

and so on if you are so inclined…


Climbing Capacity:

  • Loaded step up x 500 @ 10-20kg weight vest or pack.
  • Run 6 minutes out & back negative split road or treadmill.
  • Loaded step up x 300 @ 10-20kg load.
  • Run 9 minutes treadmill max incline best pace.
  • Loaded step up x 100 @10-20kg load.

And there’s more.

Training mental FITNESS is something that can be done anytime anywhere with a bit of imagination and planning – even from the comfort of your own home.

We just set about removing some of those comforts.

The Spartan Sleep-In

This is a way of getting even more from your back-to-back sessions and/or to practice your overnight routine for a multi-stage event without having to get your tent out in the back garden in the middle of winter. You will need:

  • A house and permission to use one room and the toilet.
  • Your race kit.
  • Your race food.
  • Agreement for a total ban on all social contact during the sleep-in.

The idea is that you reduce the amenities available to you right down to the basics and a drop bag if you choose, sleep on the floor, no shower, no contact with others etc. – just come in late after Session 1, do your ‘between stage’ routine, get your head down and depart at first light for Session 2.

Simple and Spartan, you might say.

Hard and complex, simple and brutal: This is absolutely not the world of ‘marginal gains’. Marginal gains are no good whatsoever unless you’ve done the maximal gains first and this is a sport where first and foremost you have to do the work.

This is just a way of ensuring that you put the MAX in maximal and prepare with the goal in mind.

It’s not for the faint-hearted.

You can’t dive straight in.

And you probably won’t learn to love it.

But then if you wanted easy and straightforward you’d be fishing, right?

About the writer: Andy does the training stuff for us. He is author of three books including ‘So You Want To Run An Ultra’ He runs long for the challenge and fun of it and has been a professional coach since 2000 working across business-education-sport-lifestyle. He lives with his family in North Yorkshire, UK.

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Date Range

Global - Virtual


A virtual race which can be run at any time shown on the dates shown, on any type of terrain in any country.

Suitable for

For runners from beginners to experienced as you choose your own course and challenge based on the guidelines and options set by the virtual race organiser.

Endurance - Multi-activity


An ultra distance race including at least two of the following activities such as running, swimming, cycling, kayaking, skiing and climbing. It may also include different climatic conditions (eg ice, snow, humidity, cold water, mud or heat).

Suitable for

Experienced multi-skilled athletes who have trained for the different activities included in this event. Admission to these races may be subject to receipt of a recent medical examination certificate. Check with the race organiser regarding entry requirements and any specialist equipment required such as a wetsuit, skis or a mountain bike.



Increase of up to 2000 metres with very challenging climatic conditions (e.g. ice, snow, humidity, heat or at high altitude)

Suitable for

Very experienced long distance ultra runners (min 3 years’ experience) or are doing regular long distance running (>50 miles) with elevation and conditions shown (where possible). Admission to these races is often subject to receipt of a recent medical examination certificate. Purchase of specialist kit is often recommended for these races.



Increase of up to 2000 metres with some challenging climatic conditions (e.g. ice, snow, humidity or heat)

Suitable for

Experienced runners who have completed at least 4 ultras in last 12 months, or are doing regular long distance running (>50 miles) with elevation and conditions shown (where possible). Admission to these races may be subject to receipt of a recent medical examination certificate. Check with the race organiser regarding entry requirements.



Increase of up to 1500 metres

Suitable for

Runners who have completed several ultra distances or similar events, or are doing long distance running regularly, with elevation shown.



Increase of up to 1000 metres

Suitable for

Runners who have completed at least one ultra in last 6 months or are doing long distance running (>26 miles) regularly, with elevation shown.



Very little change < 500 metres

Suitable for

First ultra event. Runners completing a marathon or doing regular long distance running (>26 miles) in the last 6 months.