Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Where Do You Start?

I am going to make a couple of assumptions here.  First, your first ultra will be a 50K and second, the race will be on a trail.  There are a few ultras on pavement, but you will not catch me running one.  Well, maybe Badwater!

Step 1.  Are you ready to run an ultra?
Step 2.  Select the right first 50K.
Step 3.  Train
Step 4.  Evaluate you progress
Step 5.  Do it!

1.  Are you ready?
As stated before, I will assume that your first ultra will be a 50K.  This is not a requirement, just common sense.  Running an ultra can be very complicated and there is a lot to learn.  Attempting a longer first ultra could prove to be very frustrating and demoralizing.  Start slow and build.  Every person I know that runs 100 milers runs a lot of 50Ks on a regular basis.  I only run one 100 mile race each year (that is, so far) but I try to  run five or six 50Ks each year.  They are great training and there are some awesome events around. 

The general rule is that anyone attempting their first 50K should have run at least three marathons.  This seems like a reasonable measure of your preparedness and if you have (recently), you should have little trouble going for an additional 5 miles, especially at a reduced pace.  If you have never run a marathon I really don't think it is that important.  The key to all ultras is "time on the trail."  If you can complete three or four long runs (4 hours or so) on consecutive weekends, several weeks before you first 50K, you will most likely be able to finish the race with no trouble.

So go out a do a trail run.  See how long you can run without overdoing it.  That first evaluation run should be comfortable.  You will note I always talk about time not distance.  Distance is irrelevant in training runs.  I will sometimes spend 4 hours running at my local state park and probably run no more than 17 miles.  That is because I am doing hill repeats and all I do is going up and down a very steep 3/4 mile climb.  The workout is much harder than if I had run a marathon in 4 hours. 

Lets say you run for one hour on that first run.  So what next?  I will give you an example of how I build up my run time.  I will use the 1 hour run as my basis for my long weekend runs.  I will then plan on running one hour for each of the next three weekends.  I would also try to get in two short runs (maybe 30 minutes) during the week.  On the fourth weekend I would up the distance so the run lasts 1.5 hours and again repeat the two runs during the week.  After three weeks of 1.5 hour runs take a break and on the fourth weekend just do a 1 hour run or maybe some other type workout like biking.  Now, on the 9th weekend of your training you should feel refreshed so go out and do a 2 hour trail run.  By the way, the long weekend runs should be hard.  Even though I suggested doing the first run at a comfortable pace, the actual training runs should leave you tired.  Or maybe just plain worn out!

What you are doing is training in a 4 week cycle.  For three consecutive weekends you did three hard runs approximately the same length.   Then, on the 4th weekend you did a little easier workout.  Now, repeat the cycle, increasing the length of you weekend run to 2.5 hours, and so on.  By the time you reach the 4 hour goal for three consecutive runs, you should be ready.  Actually, it would hurt nothing to build to 5 hours or more, before the first 50K.  The longer the training runs you are doing the more prepared you will be.  Before each 100 mile race I have done, I build my weekend runs up to 8 hours.  That will leave you zapped!

I need to say one more thing about using my training program to increase your mileage. This system works for me. It may not work for you. Depending on where you are starting, you may find it better to use another system. The critical component is that you gradually increase the duration of your runs and train consistantly. Look on the internet under any of the major running magazines such as Runner's World, Trail Runner and Ultrarunner. They will all have articles on training. You may find one you like better. You may decide to create you own plan.  Just decide on one and use it.

I actually use a modified version of the above plan. Because I never allow my training runs to drop below three hours, I often will jump from , for example, 3 1/2 hours to as much as 5 hours from week to week. While training for the Wasatch 100 this summer, by the time I had done a couple of 5 hour runs I jumped right to 7 ½ hours. I have been running so many years I can easily adjust my pace a little and run a much longer workout, but the principal is the same.

Step 2 and 3 actually are interdependent.  I will discuss them next.

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