Ultra Preparation

In just a few days I’ll give ultra-running a go once again. Next weekend we’re headed to Kansas City to run 31 miles here…



Gonna take a stab at the Psycho Wyco 50k trail race. 50 kilometers is roughly 31 miles, and an ultra is anything longer than a marathon (26.2) FYI.

Am I prepared?

Safe to say you can never be completely prepared for running over 30 miles of trails. Or for running any ultra distance for that matter. I for sure wasn’t prepared for this Cali 50mi:

Yet, I’ve tried to get my rear in gear. Here are some ways I’ve prepared… or should have.

Know my limits. I am holding this upcoming race with a very loose grip. It is not my “A” race; although I’d like to run it relatively *fast* I’ll be satisfied with a fun run through the woods. I know, too, that my main limiting factor will be my lack of preparation on actual trails. I acknowledge this and I’m completely aware that it is fine. I will be fine. Should I have run more on trails? Maybe. But could I have, not really because they don’t exist much here. Yes, my ankles could have used some more varied stimuli instead of mainly the belt of the treadmill but once again, I’ll be fine. I have good shoes to carry me. And I’ll be a cautious as anyone should running steep single-track trails. I believe honesty with yourself is key, and I know this to be one main limiting factor.

*Fast* is relative. A two hour fifty-something-something marathon really means very little when a similar effort is translated into running an ultra marathon. First of all, like most races, most runners go out too hard and then crash and burn with a third or more of the mileage to run. For each of the 50 mile races I ran, I distinctly remember something nasty happening in my legs right around mile 36. Since this race is only (right “only” – that’s a ridiculous use of the word. I realize that. I’m trying to psych myself up here!) again, it’s only 31 miles. I’m looking forward to the fact that I won’t have to get to that nasty 36 mile mark. But back to speed, my average marathon pace should be around 6:40 per mile; whereas, these miles will be on trails, snow-covered or mud-covered trails, over hills and all of that good stuff, so hitting a sub nine-minute mile would be good. In determining your ultra pace, consider all the factors: distance + terrain + weather + then add another minute or two.

Back-to-back long runs. In my two ultras I completed way back in ’07, my training included nothing out of the ordinary other than back-to-back long runs and a good deal of *recovery*. The idea is to divide the miles or approximate hours you’ll be running in half and do that amount over the course of two days. So for a 50 or 100 mile race, this is quite difficult. In training for those distances, one would need to run some serious mileage of a weekend in order to prep the body for the torture it will endure for the duration of the race. That is part of the intrigue of ultra running and what of course makes it extreme. For a 50k this is much more attainable, especially for someone just coming off of several months of high-mileage marathon training. For instance, my last month of training I averaged 65 miles per week but that included two days off per week. My back-to-back runs for four weekends straight were: (Sat/Sun) 10 miles / 15 miles, 18mi / 15mi, 21mi / 10mi, 15mi / 16mi. How does this feel? It hurts. Mostly the first few miles on the second day are quite creaky because legs are sore and tired. Also, for me, my toes are always tender after lots of miles, so they usually hurt pretty badly during day two. I’ll come back to this later in *little things*. Anyhoo, this element of training is integral and the crux of most ultra training plans I’ve perused. If you’re planning to do an ultra then be sure to set aside time over the course of two days each week to get in roughly the total mileage in your race.

*Recovery*. Running back-to-back long runs is taxing, so getting the rest necessary to let the body recoup is something to stress. This past month I’ve been taking most Mondays and Fridays off. This training technique bookends the two long run days nicely and it helps in two ways. Not only does it help to allow the body to recover but it also gives the mind a little break from the rigors of high mileage. Don’t get me wrong, running is good for stress-relief and good for the mind, but 30, 40 or 50 miles in a couple of days… your brain needs time to prepare for that and recover from that. Give yourself what you need.

The buddy system. It really helps to have accountability with any sort of training regimen. Ultra marathon training specifically requires an excessive amount of running. In fact I don’t plan to do another ultra this year because I know that I cannot devote the time as well as physical and mental energies to the sport. Marathon is tops for me right now. But the training that I have done has been possible with the support of my husband and dear friend virtual Pilates partner hours away. We are all running the same course and so we’ve been able to be sparring partners.

Take care of *little things*. This really builds on the recovery idea but more specifically just take care of yourself. After my most recent longest (21 mile) run, one toe was throbbing so bad and it sort of looked like a Blow Pop sucker. There was a blister under the nail, another beside the nail, and another just smack-dab on top of the toe. IT. HURT. I did some doctoring, some popping, etc. The nail will be biting the dust, but by keeping on top of it, I didn’t lose any training because of a bum toe. I did, however, take a couple days off because of a weird stomach something. I was sick for a couple of days which is sort of a rarity. I’ve learned that you win some and lose some when it comes to training. If you take time off for sickness or something that’s sore, it’s not the end of the world. You’ll be good. Just take care of the little things.

Mental Games. This final thought could be its own book. In short, use your training to help prepare your mind for the rigors of your race.  Your mind will play with you. But mostly your mind will try to slow you down. Sorry, but it will. Your mind isn’t so much into running as it is the people around you, the aid stations and the scenery. So use those things to your advantage when it comes to race time. Before the race, read some fun stories. I still like to read some of this guy’s stuff.

sus and dean

Dean Karnazes is a pretty cool ultramarathon man.

Also recently, two separate individuals emailed me this story. It’s a sweet story of a humble runner with a big heart. If you need a little inspiration (like I do often) read it. The mind needs encouraging words.

Ultra-marathon, here I come. #ZEROLIMITS #RethinkRunning


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