Running Ultra Marathons and the Year of Endurance.
2012 was all about speed and running PRs. 2013 is going to be about slowing down, endurance and ultra marathons. For the past few weeks I’ve been planning my goals for 2013 and while the list isn’t finalized yet there is one goal that will definitely be included, run my first 50 mile event.
After running the Hawthorn Half Day Relay (a 12-hour 2-person relay), that ended up being my first 50K, I knew I wanted to run an ultra marathon on my own. I wanted the challenge of not only the distance but also the challenge of committing to the training.
What is an ultra marathon?
A marathon is 26.2 miles long and an ultra marathon is any event longer. 30 miles, 50 miles, and 100 miles seem to be the most popular. An ultra can also be a timed event: 12 hours, 24 hours, 48 hours, and even multi day-races. Some are run on roads, some on trails, and some (mainly timed events) on a track.
Why run an ultra marathon?
It’s the challenge of going even longer and the challenge of discovering personal limits, then breaking them.
How do you train for an ultra marathon?
Training for a 50-miler is much like marathon training, but with fewer and slower intervals, and somewhat longer (and slower) long runs spiced with walking breaks.
Ultra training is not about speed, or even distance, but rather time on your feet.
After looking at a variety of training plans the key element in being ready seems to be the long run “sandwich”, back-to-back long, slowish runs on successive days (likely Saturday and Sunday) bookended by two days of total rest.
Top 5 Tips for Training to Run Your First Ultra Marathon
- Get familiar. Train on the terrain you’re going to race on: trails, asphalt, or–as is common in many 50-mile events–a mix of the two. My challenge: not being able to start a run at my front door which means adding drive time to my weekly running. And, as much as I enjoy trail running, my comfort zone is street running.
- Pack a bag. Most 50-mile events will drop your race bag near the 35-mile point (some also will make a drop around 20 miles). Your drop bag(s) should include solid fuel (your favorite energy bars, candy bars, or gels), sunscreen, long-sleeve T-shirt and/or nylon windbreaker, clean socks and an alternate pair of shoes, and Vaseline or skin lube. My challenge: knowing what I need to pack.
- Start slowly, then back off. Because when it comes to 50-milers, pacing errors no longer penalize just your finishing time, but the possibility of finishing at all. My challenge: changing my mindset. After years of training to run faster, the concept of intentionally running slower feels foreign.
- Eat, drink, and (try to) be merry. During the race, eat whatever worked for you during your training runs: cookies, raisins, figs, crackers, pretzels, energy bars. Whatever. And drink continuously: eight ounces or so every 15 to 20 minutes, including electrolyte-loaded sports drinks. Consider high-caffeine drinks over the last 15 miles. My challenge: finding what works that doesn’t include an abundance of sweets.
- Find a rhythm. Take breaks. Stopping briefly for walk breaks in both training and racing is the key to being able to move forward at all times. One popular run/walk pattern is to run 20 minutes, walk five minutes. Do this from the outset, or after you’ve run the first 15 or 20 miles, or whatever pattern has worked best for you in your training. Some prefer a shorter mix of running five minutes, then walking one, believing that this is less stressful than the 20:5 pattern. Note: Walk all uphills, even the small ones. My challenge: changing my mindset. I’ve have to become okay with walking when I feel like I should be running.
I’ve decided on the goal. Now, I just need to pick a goal race. Chad will be running with me and, as of now, we have it narrowed down to 2 options:
Finger Lakes Fifties Trail Runs in July. This would be a 20th anniversary trip for Chad and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate! Or
With a 50 mile race being my big goal of 2013, I’ve finally decided that for my 13 in 2013 goal I’m going to run 13 trail races. A little push to get me out of my comfort zone of street running and onto the trails.
The challenge of running beyond 26.2 miles is a given. Which of the 5 training tips would be the most challenging for you? What is your “big” goal for 2013?