Monday, January 9, 2012

How Exactely Does One "Train" For an Ultra??

I don't know, but I've been reading...a lot. Brian and I both analyze things to the extreme. We like to be as informed as possible, to know various opinions, options, training plans, statistics, recommendations, hear peoples prior experiences, both successes and failures....and then we morph it all into something that works for us.

A few things I have consistently been coming across are:

1. Your long runs should mimic your ultra course as much as possible.

2. Unless you are an elite athlete and in it to win it, throw time out the window, your goal is to finish. (be aware of making your cut-offs however)

3. Get your mind around the fact that you will be walking. Train your body to get used to taking walking breaks, and then returning to running.

4. Know your course beforehand (study course map/carry it with you/ run sections pre race day if possible.)

Those seem to be 4 commonly recommended things I keep reading. I will say #1 won't be happening for us. We can't haul the 3 kids out onto single track w/ steep climbs and descents for 15 - 20 miles. It's just not going to happen. I have talked about how we train before, but for those who are new around here, we do it as a family. Our 9 and 7 year olds ride their bikes, while we push our youngest in a jogger stroller. This limits our trail access. : ) So while #1 wont happen, I've been doing #3 for about 3.5 years now. It would seem at first glance that stopping to take a walk break and then starting to run again would be no big deal....but it is hard. When you stop and walk you realize quickly how tired you are, how much things hurt, and from realize how much farther you have to go, how much you'd really like to stop walking...maybe sit down on the curb...or log...just for a minute. More than once I have stopped to walk at mile 23 or 24 of a marathon and seriously not known if I'd finish. It can take more strength to make your body start running again than it did to run the previous 23 miles. Trail running (especially w/significantly elevation climbs) involves a lot of run/walk/running and your body has to get used to making those transitions.

#2 - time expectations...well we normally train for our marathons w/time goals as one of our main motivations. It's an easy marker to use in training, and to set goals by....for road races and shorter distance trail runs, or really any course you've run previously, given similar conditions. When it comes to "firsts", our number one goal is always to finish. We will be facing a cut off, and an overall time limit, so of course those will be on our minds. Honestly, making the cut off will be my number one goal, until we make it. (You have to reach the mile 15.6 aid station in 5 hours) So we have to make the half way point in half our total time limit. Then my goal will be to finish. While that cut off may sound ridiculously easy....there are some massive, massive climbs between the start and that point. Last year it was cold, raining, and extremely muddy. There was over a 25% DNF (did not finish) rate that day. That's really a high rate, and I know for a fact that many of the people in that 25% are much stronger trail runners w/much more experience than Brian or there are really no guarantees going into this thing. Maybe that is why I want to do anything and everything I possibly can to be ready for this. In the end, that is all I can control. Come race day, things will play out as they will....but I really want to know that I have tried hard to be as prepared as possible while maintaining life/workout/running balance.

Training wise, we are 6 weeks in, with 8 weeks to go until Napa Valley Marathon. Initially, this was our big race. However, now it has become a fun, long, training run for Diablo 50k. On Jan 28th we have the Steep Ravine 30k. We chose this because distance wise it fit into our training for Napa, and more importantly, elevation wise it fit into our training for Diablo. We have not missed any long runs. In fact, last week we did 13 on Monday, and 15 on Sunday. The week also involved 6 hilly miles, some hill repeats, and some flat miles, for a total of 41 miles for the week.

We have been doing more than the usual amount of hilly hikes, following that up the next day with runs and workouts. Not being able to do our long runs on hills has left me feeling a bit desperate to get hills under my legs at any and every opportunity, whether that's hiking, running hill repeats, running hilly 6 mile runs....I mean I have to think that getting whatever I can is better than nothing, right?? I've also been following up hilly runs the next day with treadmill/bike circuits - 10 minute intervals on each, 3 circuits for an hour total, varying pace w/in the 10 minutes. Especially on the bike, the more resistance, the more time I'm up out of the saddle pushing, the better. The goal being to burn my legs out on the bike, and then immediately getting on the treadmill and start running on wasted legs, gradually increasing the tm pace over the 10 minutes until they feel wasted from running, then repeat this cycle for 2 more times, for a total of an hour workout. Why?? Because I want my legs to get used to being fatigued and still functioning. I know over time it's building endurance, but the immediate pay off is that they are tired, and I'm still making them work. Mentally, I know that even when they feel done, they can still go.

Coming off what was, for me, a heavy mile week and a long run yesterday, today would normally be an off day....but I found myself thinking it was a perfect run day because me legs were tired and I could push them today. My fear of an overuse injury won out and instead I did 1.5 hours of lifting. Mainly shoulders, back, chest, and abs....but I couldn't' resist doing some weighted squats and lunges and some jumping of both. Followed that up with the bike.

And of course, I am still repeating the last 4 weeks of Insanity....probably forever. I love it. I wont' rave about it now, I've done that enough before, but I still love it, and am still doing it. does one train for an ultra?? I have no idea. I think we are doing "it" in a way that fits our lives, obligations, responsibilities, and abilities. One thing is for sure, it's not as simple as going to and printing out a schedule that you keep on the fridge and make sure your weekly miles match up. (although I am still doing that...cuz it wouldn't' be marathon training if I didn't' : )

I will do a post on what we have been eating these days later in the week, but anyone reading w/ultra experience, please get ready to give me advise on things like....will we need salt tabs?? If we are out there close to 10 hours, should be pack a picnic?? Do you carry toilet paper w/you??

Here is a short part of the article I was reading this morning that got me thinking about all this....

How To Run an Ultramarathon Race

Running & Finishing Races Longer than the 26 Mile Marathon Distance

Running an <span class=Ultramarathon in the Bighorn Mountains - Wikimedia User Robeter" title="Running an Ultramarathon in the Bighorn Mountains - Wikimedia User Robeter">
Running an Ultramarathon in the Bighorn Mountains - Wikimedia User Robeter
Running an ultramarathon requires preparation, planning, and perseverance. Train properly. Take walking breaks. Eat and drink on the run. Keep moving.

Most runners regard the marathon as the ultimate long distance running challenge. However some runners seek even longer distances. These runners will want to try an ultramarathon race.

Ultramarathon Distances

An ultramarathon is any distance longer than the standard 26.2 mile marathon. The shortest common ultramarathon distance is 50 kilometers (31 miles). Because it is only a little longer than a marathon runners can transition from the marathon to 50K relatively easily.

Other popular ultramarathon distances are 50 miles, 100 kilometers (62 miles), and 100 miles. There are also 40 mile races and races over 100 miles.

Read more at Suite101: How To Run an Ultramarathon Race: Running & Finishing Races Longer than the 26 Mile Marathon Distance |


  1. You are doing fantastic! If you can keep this training pace up you will be AWESOME out there! (I do worry you will break down or wear out, but you've been through a lot of this before and know yourself, so I don't worry much. Plus you are still just a kid, compared to us anyway!)

    Salt is a huge deal, and has been my undoing. If you have a type of electrolyte that you like and use, try to be set up to make it during the run. The aid stations will have some, but it's likely not the brand you use, and even if it is, it will be made at varying strengths. (I no longer drink electrolytes, and instead just regularly take salt caps during the race. I don't know how good of an idea this is, but I haven't had another issue since I started doing this.)

    You also need to get used to eating more than you are used to. And as you get tired, you will want to eat less, and a GU packet will not sound good at all. So you need to eat early when you might not really feel hungry. (PB&J and potato wedges are great, and should be at the aid stations.)

    Steep Ravine will be an excellent test for you, and I suspect you are going to do great there.

    You are doing fantastic - I'm deeply envious of your commitment to this (Napa Marathon is a training run! Love it!). The one thing that could make it tough is the weather. Last year I was one of the DNF, but just barely (although I likely would have voluntarily stopped even if I had had the option to go on - I was shivering and hugely miserable). That kind of weather changes everything, although if you can keep moving, you can get through it.

    You are going to do fine! Just don't eat all the BBQ before I finally get to the finish line (likely hours after you do).

  2. Thanks, NTL. We both value your input! We have never used salt before, but have also not had to deal w/cramps during a run. Is there a certain brand of caps you prefer, and should we start using them now on long runs or just have them on race day in case needed? What about regular old salt packets from a restaurant?
    I will admit to being a sweater and being pretty crusty after our long that is why I am wondering how much I need to be concerned w/salt and how to best address it. Is it a case of if you wait till you cramp it's too late?

    And, dont' forget you came from behind and skunked me on the uphills at I think your BBQ will be safe, I imagine we'll be passing each other up and down the hills.