Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ultramarathon Training

I finally sat down and typed up my training play for the Little Su 50k in February (at the expense of something else I should have been working on.)  As I was not entirely sure the best method to train for an ultra, and wanting more tips in a centralized location, I picked up Bryan Powell's book Relentless Forward Progress, he runs the website IRunFar, if you have not been there I highly recommend you check it out.  In his book he dedicates a chapter entirely to training plans. Based on what I know about what I am capable of and my schedule, I have chosen a 50k training plan based on 50 miles per week.  I won't post the plan out of respect for his book, but I will share some thoughts on it.

Having never run anything farther than a marathon, and having only run 6 marathons, I purposely chose a training plan that mirrors a marathon plan.  As a marathoner I wanted something that was close to what I am comfortable with but still filled my need.  The biggest change with this training plan from that of a marathon plan is the B2B runs, that is back-to-back runs.  For instance, 6 weeks out from the race has a 20 miler followed by a 14 miler the next day, this is unheard of in most marathon plans as the day after is strictly for rest.  Basically the plan puts the emphases on the long run and subsequent recover run (B2B).  

However the mileage is not what I am worried about, I have run 40-50 miles a week since April, so my body can handle that.  What I am worried about is that I am running 31 miles, in February, in Alaska.  This means that in addition to the distance I have to deal with the cold.  What if my water freezes?  How do I keep my fuel warm?  How do I properly manage the cold for 6+ hours?  What if race day is windy?  How do I navigate the trail if it is snowing and covering the tracks?   These questions have been running through my mind since I signed up for the race. However, just like any training plan, this is what your long runs are for, to answer as many of these questions as you can.

As someones who has runs marathons one of the big struggles I have is to convince myself that a 50k isn't "just 6 miles more than a marathon", which is a very normal thought for someone moving from the marathon to a 50k.  Generally most people are fried at the end of a marathon as they run hard for 26 miles, but during a 50k the strategy changes (or at least that is what I am reading).  The plan for me is to finish. Sure I would like a strong time just like anyone else, however, the winter variable of this race and the added difficulty of running that winter ads makes simply finishing for a first timer like me an admirable goal.  With that said, my initial strategy is to take it easy, feel free to take walk breaks early (but be disciplined about the time), and not to let myself get too tired.  My strategy will most likely change as I realize what I have gotten myself into when I start to head out on 4 hour plus training runs in the middle of an Alaska winter.

One of the keys to training for an ultra (in addition to the mileage of course) is to run in the conditions and on surfaces that most closely mimic that of the race.  For me this will be pretty easy.  The Little Su takes place on groomed snow machine trails, so granted there is not a large dumping of snow the night before, the trail should be in pretty good shape.  I will train almost entirely on the coast trail which will have almost he same surface.  As for the conditions, the race takes place only about 40 miles north as the crow flies, so just running outside will be good enough.  The race has no significant hills so again, the topography of the trails by my house will work just fine.

With all that said, I strained my calf last week so I still have not officially started training, but it has only been 2 weeks and 2 days since NY so I am not in panic mode just yet.  I hope to be able to log a 14 miler on Saturday which will be the first test of my pack and how my water does/ The water will probably freeze but I need to get an idea of what my current system is capable of before looking at insulation options.

I also hope to have a posting about my 2012 race schedule and some thoughts about gear and specifics about this race in the next few weeks, until then enjoy some pictures I snapped while we were back east.

The driveway of the relatives house in southern GA.

Found about 1/4 mile stretch of dirt close the house.
Leaves on the ground make for some ankle busting terrain. 


  1. Thanks for sending me the link for your blog, good stuff. BTW a little late notice but great job on the NYC Marathon. I forgot you did that earlier this month. Great post too.

  2. SU 50k is a sweet race. Just run a lot of miles and you will do great.

    -someone that won the SU 50k and a lot of other ultras.