Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Little Review for the New Running Year

There are no Myths when it comes to running 50 or 100 miles. 
You just have to be too stubborn to quit.  And, you have to put in some very long training runs.

In the last article we discussed training for and running your first 50K.  The step from a marathon to a 50K is pretty easy.  Now I am going to talk about how to take the next step,  how to train and run your first “long” ultra, a 50 miler.  There are three keys to successfully running a 50 mile race.
1.  Train long and hard.
2.    Prepare correctly.
3.   Run intelligently.

The step from a 50K to a 50 mile trail race is huge.  There are five major differences or maybe I should say difficulties that the  “average” runner will encounter in their first 50 mile race. 
These are:
1.    Time on the trail - Dealing with the highs and lows and fatigue associated with very long runs.
2.    Hydration over a long period of time
3.    Staying fueled
4.    Night running (for many runners)
5.    Staying Focused
The average trail runner will need between 8 and 11 hours to run an easy 50 mile race.  A hard 50, like Lookout Mountain 50, the times will jump to between 10 to 13 hours or more.  That is a long time to keep everything in balance.  It is also a long time to stay focused on what you are doing.  Lose your focus and things begin to unravel in a hurry.

So how does someone deal with running for 10 or 12 hours or more? 

Step one is simple.  Long training runs.  I train for a 50 Mile race about the same way I train for a 100.  Below I have inserted a training schedule that I use to progress for a 50K race, or from my “holding pattern,” to a 50 or 100 mile race.  My holding pattern (the  level of fitness I like to maintain when there are no races coming up in the next few months) is usually alternating between 3 and 4 hour runs with varying numbers of hill repeats.

Remember, this schedule works for me.  Each run must be VERY hard or 3 days a week just will not get it. I do recommend running 4 days a week if you have time.  You will be in better condition and able to run faster.  I also recommend cross training on some days when you do not run. 

The week after completing a marathon or a 50K I would run an easy hour on Tuesday and Thursday followed by an easy two hour run over the weekend.  On Tuesday of the next week I would ease into the schedule above at week one if I planned to run my next 50 or 100 miler in 25 to 28 weeks.  This schedule will allow you to build mileage slowly and hit your training peak six or seven weeks before the race.  Stay at the peak mileage for three or four weeks and start the taper to race day.  If you are training using this or a similar plan pay close attention to how your body is doing about week 11 or 12.  It is easy to overdo the training as your weekend runs get into the 6 to 8 hour range.  Back off if you need to for a week or so then jump right back in.  Those 6, 7 and 8 hour training runs are the key.  This is where you learn how to stay hydrated, stay fueled and cope with the serious lows all ultrarunners must deal with from time to time.  They are also where you find out that you can recover from those lows and feel great again. 

At the Leadville 100 in 2009 I ran out of water on the way up Hope Pass outbound, (about mile 42) the 12,600 ft high point of Leadville.  I was so dehydrated by the time I reached the summit of the pass I had to walk all the way down the other side of the pass and the 4 miles to the Winfield turnaround at mile 50.  I was sure my race was over.  I would never make the cutoff at Twin Lakes some 10 miles away and back over Hope Pass.  I had to walk from Winfield all the way back to the start of the climb (4 miles downhill) and of course, walk all the way up to the top again.  After reaching the summit, I still had to walk down to the Hopeless Aid Station located at timberline at about 11,800 ft.  As I left the aid station I began to feel better.  I ended up being able to run most of the way back to Twin Lakes with time to spare before the cutoff.  I was able to recover and finish one hour before the 30 hour cutoff and actually felt good most of the rest of the race.

How did I manage to go from about as low as I have ever felt in a race to finishing strong.  I managed to get everything back in balance.  Marye Jo, my wife, was waiting for me at Winfield.  She made me sit down, take my time, eat and drink for about 20 minutes.  I didn't feel any better when I left the aid station but by the time I reached timberline on the way back over Hope Pass, the toughest climb of the race, I began to feel better.  It still took a while, but I eventually recovered.

Those long training runs are where you and your body learn to deal with the difficulties  you will encounter in a 50 or 100 mile race.  Your body will become accustomed to the punishment of the long runs and you will learn how to keep you body going. 

If you anticipate still being on the trail after dark in your first 50 mile race, get a good headlamp like the Black Diamond Storm.  It has a maximum output of 100 lumens and will last all night on 4 AAA batteries.  I also carry a flashlight like the Fenix LD22 with a maximum light output of 200 lumens and almost 6 hour burn time at 95 lumens.  In any race I will be be running after dark I always start the race with a Fenix flashlight in my backpack.  That way I always have a backup, Just in Case.
Storm Headlamp   

 Fenix LED Flashlight

How to Actually Run the “Long” Ultra.
My personal rule in a 50K is to walk up the steep hills, run down all the hills and run the flats and reasonable hills.  You will learn the definition of a “reasonable hill” in your training runs.  In a 50 or 100 mile races everything changes.  In a 50 I still walk up all steep hills but my definition of a reasonable hill changes.  I still run up easy hills, especially early in the run.  In 100 milers I walk up almost all hills, run down all hills unless they are 4 to 8 miles long like the hills in the Rockies and alternate on the flats.  In ultras it is perfectly acceptable to walk when you need to, even downhill. 

In 100 mile runs a lot of very fast people use a two minute "run-walk" plan.  That is, they run two minutes and walk two minutes on flat or very gentle up hill sections.  They will walk up all steeper hills and run down just about all hills.  I find I am most comfortable running 2/3 to 3/4 of the flats very slowly, walking all up hill sections and running all downhill sections, to a point.  Ultras in the Rockies (I have run races in Colorado Rockies, Sierra Nevada Range in Nevada and Wasatch Range in Utah) and in the Shenandoah Mountain Range in Virginia and all have some very long descents ranging from 3 to as much as 10 miles.  Here I will again alternate running and walking, usually running the reasonable grades and walking the steep sections.  You can blow out your quads in a hurry running for miles down a steep grade. 

Don't go out too fast.  A fast pace early can lead to serious problems late in the run.  In a typical road marathon or 10K, you probably try run every mile as close  to the same pace as you can.  This does not work in trail ultras.  There is so much variation in the trails on an average 50K, a steady pace is simply not possible. (Not to mention there are no mile marks in ultras, only aid stations every 4 to 13 miles.) You have to go by "feel."  Instead of trying to maintain a constant pace, try to maintain a constant effort.  You should start at a  pace quite a bit slower than your marathon pace, especially in the first half of the race.  BEWARE:  Just like in a marathon, those last 4 or 5 miles can be killers.  If you ran your last marathon at a 4 hour pace you might consider starting at a 5 hour marathon pace for a 50K.  So here are my rules for how to run a 50K: 
    1. Walk up all steep hills.
   2. Walk up gentle hills if you need to.
   3. Walk if you are struggling.  But Don't Stop!
   4. Your pace early in the race should feel comfortable.

My Rules for 50 and 100 miler:
  1.   Walk up all hills
  2.   Run down all hills that are not too steep or long
  3.   Alternate walking and running on the flats
  4.  Start at a pace that feels like you are crawling
  5.   Do Not Stop!  Do not sit down Unless you are going through your drop bag.  Keep moving, even when eating.

Hydration  and Electrolytes:
One of the biggest problems ultrarunners have is staying fueled and hydrated during long hours of running.  The longer the race the harder this becomes.  You are burning calories faster than you can replace them and your body does not absorb water as fast as you are losing it.  It is critical to begin drinking a lot of liquid (NO ALCOHOL) several days prior to the race.  The day before the race drink even more.  I drink so much water the day before a race I end up hopping out of bed every 2 hours to run the the bathroom.

One of the major causes of stomach distress during a run is too much in your stomach.  If you are drinking as you are supposed to, the "too much" will likely be water.  So how do you avoid too much water sitting in your stomach?  Usually the issue is not drinking too much water, the problem is the water is not being absorbed fast enough.  If you are not taking enough electrolytes the water will not be absorbed fast enough and will start sloshing around in there.  That is when you start feeling really sick at your stomach.  Of course, if you're taking too much salt (electrolytes) that will make you sick too.  That is a major part of the balance you learn to maintain in those 8 hour training runs.

My rules for staying hydrated: Racing and Training.
            1.  Drink a lot of water for several days before the race.
            2.  Drink even more water the day before.
            3.  No Alcohol for at least 2 days prior to the race.
            4.  Do all training runs using electrolyte supplements.  (Follow the directions for each product)
            5.  Use electrolytes before, during and immediately after the run or race.
            6.  Increase electrolyte intake in hot weather.

Fueling During the Race:
In this section I am talking about "Long” races, that is, races that will take at least 8 to 10 hours to complete.  In these longer races, it is necessary to eat and drink all during the event.  This is a foreign concept to most road runners.  Just about everyone uses GUs and gels these days and if you are not, you should start.  They really work.  Most runners can tolerate them for a several hours and you probably can run a 50K eating nothing else.  At some point in a Long race, the thought of another GU will make you sick.  I suggest you start trying various other foods during your training runs.  Here is a list of things you will typically find at aid stations in 50K to 100 mile races:
            Peanut butter and Jelly sandwiches
            Other types of sandwiches and roll-ups (100 mile races)
            M&M, and other types of candy
            Potato Chips
            Soup or Broth  (Usually over night in 100 mile races and during the day in cold weather)
            Cooked Potatoes and a bowl of Salt to dip them in.
            Cokes, Sprite, Gatorade, etc.
            Several types of Cookies and Crackers.
            Bananas and other fruit.
            Coffee  (Overnight in long races only)

You will need to figure out what you like and what you are able to eat while running. Start practicing.  When I started training for the Pinhoti 100 in 2008, I would take an assortment of food in my car to Oak Mountain for all my long training runs.  After several hours of running I would stop by my car to refill water bottles and try a few new snacks.  I also carry various snacks with me on the run.  Every two to three hours I would have a quick bite to eat.  I treated my car like an aid station.  I stopped just long enough to resupply and keep on running or at least walking while I ate.  What I have found out is that I can eat anything that looks good at the time.  If it doesn't look good I just don't eat it.  At Grindstone last year I actually ate a barbecue sandwich at about mile 65 and it was great.  Over a period of about 1.5 hours near the turnaround I ate 2 entire grilled cheese sandwiches.  They were awesome.

Sometime during every long race most runners will will have a few  stomach issues and starts to feel a little queasy.  One trick I have learned is to always carry Ginger Chews candy.  You eat one and a few minutes later you feel fine.  I do not know of any local stores that have them, but Zombie Runner ( sells Ginger Chews and they are cheap.  A product called Enlyten strips also do a good job of settling you stomach.  You just eat a couple of strips like candy and in a few minutes the stomach problem is gone.  Find these on the internet.

One very critical issue regarding food is what to eat, or more importantly, what NOT to eat the night before an ultra, especially long ultra.  Everyone that ever slipped on a pair of running shoes knows to eat carbs the night before a race and this is important.  Running ultras creates new issues, however.  Because you will be running for many hours you do not want to have heavy, slow digesting food sitting in your gut that might come back to haunt you in later hours of an ultra.  Stay away from any type of roughage.  A grilled chicken or salmon salad might be a great healthy meal any other time, but don't eat it the night before an ultra.  Some people go as far as suggesting runners eat nothing more than soup or even a drink like "Ensure."  Just eat light and eat what can be easily digested for a pre-race dinner.

Managing all the STUFF in an ultra.
Running a 50K is pretty simple.  I grab one or two of my Nathan “Quickdraw” 20 oz hand-held water bottle and a few Thermolyte Caps,  my “Speed Belt” with three or four 10 oz bottles, each containing 2 scoops of “Carbo Pro” and head out the door.  Once I arrive at the race I will take out the three 10 oz bottles and add water to ONE.  I then put all the bottles in slots on the “Speed” belt.  I will fill the next bottle when the first runs out.  (No extra weight.)  I will already have estimated how long it will take to get to the first aid station and add just enough water to the Quickdraw “hand-held” bottle to be sure to get there.  A few minutes before the start I eat a “Honey Stinger” gel and head to the start line.  Remember, this is for a 50K.

Next, a 50 miler.  Now you add an additional dimension, Drop Bags.  A few days before the race you will need to estimate what time you will arrive at each aid station.  Then figure out what supplies you will need at each AS.  For example, in the Lookout Mountain 50 the first drop bag aid station is at Covenant College (also the start & finish) at about 22.5 miles.  There are two interim aid stations along the way but they are not drop-bag aid station.  I estimated it would take me about 5.5 hours to get back to CC.  I will have to start the race with enough Carbo Pro and Salt Caps to get that far.  In the drop bag at Covenant College I will need enough supplies to get me to the Long Branch aid station at mile 34.  In the Long Branch drop bag I will need enough supplies to run the 4.5 mile loop back to Long Branch at mile 38.  From there it is 12 miles to the finish.  At my pace it will be dark long before I reach the finish so I know I will need my headlamp in the Long Branch bag.  I will need an extra jacket and gloves because it will be getting cold by then.  The Lookout Mountain race is mid December.  I will need several more Nathan 10 oz bottles with Carbo Pro, enough for the 4.5 mile loop back to Long Branch and for the 12 miles to the finish.  I will have more salt caps and enough of my snacks to cover the distance too.  I also throw in an extra pair of socks.

Before you even consider running a 100 mile race you should run at least one or two 50 milers and perhaps a 100K.  You may just find out some of the things you are doing in training runs and 50K just don't work in long races.  The 50 milers really are the steeping stones to the 100s.

Other Tips I have Learned along the way: 
1.  If you run trails very often you know every few miles you have to stop and dump the sticks and rocks out of your shoes. I have run 100 miles and never removed a shoe.  How?  I have a pair of gaiters, but not just any gaiters, Dirty Girl Gaiters.  They are simple, weigh absolutely nothing and Cheap!  Actually, I have three pair.  Go to their web site and pick out a style.  (They must have 60 or 70 patterns.)  You will never get on a trail again without your “dirty girls.”  And you get some really interesting comments when your not around trail runners.

2.  If there will be night running in your race start the race with a backup flashlight.  One that you never intend to use.  It is possible that your drop bag doesn't make it to the aid station.  (If it doesn't, you probably put it in the wrong place to start with.)  Your light could have accidentally been turned on and the batteries are now dead.  The light might just decide not to work.  It is a good idea to put extra batteries in the night time dropbags too.

 3.  Create a checklist.  There is so much stuff to remember for long ultras it's easy to forget something.  This could be a disaster in a 100 mile race.  Ken Sayers has a helpful website and has a check list you might want to copy at

There are a few other very important things to remember:
1.    Sunscreen
2.     Sun Glasses
3.     A Hat
4.    White or light colored wicking top in  hot weather.
5.    Cooler with your drinks for after the race or run.
6.   Your Drop Bags!
7.   If you have a problem with chafing, apply GLIDE or similar product.
8.    Place Band-Aids on sensitive places.
9.   Don't forget to bring your bib number.
My Disclaimer:  What I have presented in this article works for me.  It is exactly what I have done for the last 5 years of trail running and races and it is exactly how I train, or at least how I always plan to train.  It may not all work for you but I think there is a pretty good chance most of it will.  You just have to be committed and stick with it.  OK, now get out on the trail and start trying this stuff.

Core Strength, An Important Component to Ultra Success

I am sure everyone knows strength training is an important addition to every runners training regimen. It is especially important to trail runners and absolutely critical for ultrarunners. Just about anyone can go out and run a flat 5K or 10K without your “core” giving out. I have written articles on how you can run an ultra if you only run three times a week and do no other training. This is true, you can, and I have done just that for years. The key word here is “Can.” You will not do your best and your runs will be more difficult, but it can be done.

I am running a race this summer with over 33,000 feet of elevation gain. I have resolved to start strength training, specifically leg and core strengthening. There is little or no chance I could complete the race if I don’t. I joined the new Lifetime Fitness facility literally 1000 yards from my house (2 miles by road) and started training just before Christmas. I have worked out two or three times each week up until last week when I took it easy while tapering for the Mountain Mist 50K on January 25. I was amazed at how much stronger my legs felt and how much stronger I ran after only three weeks of working out. The run felt much better than in any ultra I have run recently. I did have a major problem with cramps the last 10 miles but that was because I was just not drinking enough and became dehydrated.

You may be wondering why core strength is so important to a runner. Here is a quote from Ultrarunning Magazine. “Your core muscles function to support the hips and spine in correct alignment from front to back, side to side, and up and down. Trunk muscle groups include hips abductors, adductors, and flexors; gluteals, various abdominals, the psoas, pectoralis, and lower and upper back muscles. The core groups have key roles in a fluid running stride. They stabilize the center of your body, allowing for efficient generation of force by the legs, arms, and torso. They also provide balance so you can maintain your center of gravity (located just behind and below your belly button) when running on uneven or hilly terrain. With strong core muscles, your spine is kept in a neutral position (s-shaped), lowering pressure on discs in the back and even helping to relieve back pain if you have had that problem in the past.” Yes, maintaining a good posture while running really is important in all forms of distance running. Your running is more relaxed and more efficient thus using less energy per hour of running. The longer the run the more important this all becomes especially when you consider an average 50K takes most runners 5 to 7 hours to complete. The average 100 mile race takes 25 to as much as 48 hours to complete. Your core had better be strong for that!

Fatigue during those long runs will usually results in poor form. It is not just your legs that go; it’s also your arms, shoulders, hips and back. I can’t tell you how many times I have returned to the car after a long run and barely had enough strength to remove my hydration pack. Having a strong core will make you a better runner no matter what you run. One downside of trail running is falling. If your core is strong you also have a better chance to regain your balance when you stumble and avoid a fall. Another benefit of a strong core combined with strong legs, especially the quads, is having the ability to “power up hills” like the Yellow/White Connector at Oak Mountain. A strong core forms the platform from which your arms and legs work to help you run more efficiently.

So how do you strengthen your core? One of the simplest and core exercises is a sit-up. Another is the “back extension” or, as I refer to it, a reverse sit-up. Here is how Shawn McDonald, who wrote the Ultrarunning article mentioned above, recommends that you strengthen your core muscles. He suggests 2 or 3 core workouts a week, each lasting 20 to 30 minutes. “The core work can be combined with a short, easy run or short bout of aerobic cross-training, either of which should be performed before the core exercises to act as a warm-up. Then you should stretch your back, trunk, and limbs for about ten minutes prior to the start of the core work. Be sure to perform the core exercises with proper form, in a controlled manner and cadence. Finish the core workout with about ten minutes of additional stretching as a cool down.”
Here is the workout routine suggested by Shawn.

Below are examples of a “Plank” and “Back Plank” and on the second row, a “crunch” and a “Side Bridge”

According to, sprints are one of the best core workouts for runners. They recommend 100 meter intervals. For distance runners, 200 meters is great. I rarely run intervals these days but this the best way I know of to improve speed at any distance. A very effective way to run 200 meter sprints is go to your local track and pick a logical starting point. I always like to start at the end of the straightaway. Sprint as hard as you can for 200 meters then slow to an easy jog. Continue jogging to your start point and sprint another 200 meters. Continue sprinting and jogging until you have completed 10 sprints. After the last sprint continue running as an easy pace for another mile or so to cool down. Ten sprints is a tough workout and if you really run as hard as you can for ten 200 meter sprints and the next day every muscle in the upper half of your body isn't sore I will buy you a cup of Coffee*. (For anyone that regularly runs intervals this offer is not valid.)  If you are training for a 10K, personally I like 400 meter intervals and for marathons and ultras give 1 mile intervals a try.

There is one other great solution to building core strength and improving all your running skills. Go talk to Alex Morrow and Resolute Running in Homewood, Alabama. He will take the guesswork out of your training.