Ultra Marathon Training
Well I never thought I would be writing a post on ultra marathon training but I suppose there is a first time for everything.
I ran my fastest 20-mile long run for the first time in 1:50:02 and wondered afterward
How on earth did I hold a 5:30 per mile average at a heart rate of 160-63BPM?
I never envisioned ever running past the marathon distance and since ultra marathon training and racing encompasses distances past the marathon distance I do have some pull in this area.
That being said, I do not envision myself ever competing in an ultra marathon.
I think the marathon in and of itself is long enough.
Truth be told, the farthest I have ever run at one time was a 30-mile run in Land Between The Lakes, Kentucky.
I was training for the 2011 Monumental Indianapolis Marathon focusing on earning the 2012 Olympic Trials standard time of 2:19:00.
I held that 30-mile run at an average of 6:05 per mile pace over hilly terrain and was very fit leading into that race.
I will also add that I could barely walk 50 meters to the jeep that I had at that time when I was done and was covered in salt (dried sweat).
The race conditions were perfect in Indianapolis on race morning that day but it wasn’t to be as I finished in 5th place with a time of 2:26:42 with an emergency bathroom break at mile 10 that we passed in 53:12.
It was the most inadequate time to have to jump in a porta-john.
I was running in 2nd place at the time!
I spent the remainder of the race trying to catch up to the other three guys I was running with, all of which beat me that day thanks to that stop.
It was the second fastest marathon I have ever run aside from the 2:19:35 at I ran to place 4th at the 2007 California International Marathon and am sure would have been somewhere under 2:23:00 had I not had to stop.
I hope I do not ruffle any ultra marathoners feathers in internet land writing this post but ultra marathon racing, to my knowledge, isn’t quite at the same pace as competitive marathoning.
This isn’t to say ultra marathon running is any less difficult.
It simply means and according to what goals you have in mind ultra’s can be run much slower (if that is the goal) then competitive marathon running (if that is your goal as well).
I have seen races like the Badwater-100 and Comrades Marathon in South Africa where paces are, obviously, much slower but can also be extremely competitive as well.
It depends on what your goals are, to finish or to run at a much faster pace for the entire distance.
The Leadville 100 miler is a long race as well but to make matters worse, it is run at over 10,000ft elevation in Colorado.
I lived and trained in Colorado springs for almost 8 years and have been to Leadville.
Anyone who runs that race is a complete nut but has my respect.
Ultra marathon running is about grit, determination and having the sense of accomplishment that comes from any distance but especially races over the marathon distance.
Are there any perks to ultra marathon racing?
Runners can stop for food, take walk recoveries and get back into the race.
Sure, this can be done in 10K to marathon distances as well.
It all depends on what your racing goals are.
I would think most ultra marathon runner’s goals are to complete the distance but some, like my wife Laura, are highly competitive and want a specific time.
How many people can say they have competed in a 100-mile race?
I sure haven’t.
As stated above, 30 miles is the farthest I have ever run for a training run.
The focus more in ultra marathon training is time on your feet and really hardening the body’s energy systems to withstand running for several hours, even days, rather then 2 to 5 hours that most marathoners are accustomed to.
That being said, just because you are running slower paces doesn’t mean jack squat.
You are running farther!
The key is training to clear lactic acid faster then it is building up in the blood and ultimately miming the hydrogen ion within lactic acid from shutting down your muscle and ATP capacity.
In laymen’s terms, slowing down less then your competition and training the body properly to do just that.
You have to also take into account rest and that you will always get more benefit in the rest then in the workout itself.
Take some time away from running every once in awhile.
Training takes a ton of time and patience so you have to be willing to rest and take a break every once in awhile too.
What I would Recommend For Ultra Marathon Training
Have a game plan.
Make a commitment, in writing, to yourself that you are going to ensure you do the work in order to train properly for the ultra marathon distance.
If running a marathon was climbing the stairs of a 20-story building, ultra marathon training and racing is like taking the stairs to the top of the Empire State Building and back down
….and then walking on your hands a few blocks to the One World Trade Center and working your way to the top of that one and back down.
You will then get to experience what it is like to take your body farther than the marathon distance.
Hey, Nate…I thought you never ran in an ultra marathon event.
I did, 30 miles over hills at a 6:05 per mile average pace.
There are other ultra marathoners on the web and elsewhere you can seek out but I am writing about my own experience of how I would go about it.
I am certain I could do a 100-miler if I committed to doing so and now that I am writing about ultra marathon races perhaps I’ll try one but I have to think that one over.
I am training to better my marathon best in 2016 and that has to be marked off my bucket list first.
As a 50:54 10-mile, 1:07:06 half-marathon and holder of a 2:19:35 marathon best I like to think I know a thing or two about how to prepare for races.
Ultra’s are no different the any other distance.
It comes down to mindset, thinking and your willingness to put in the work necessary.
No one is a master at any distance.
Not me, you or anyone else.
We all can get better at running but here are a few key take aways I will leave you with that I would focus on if the ultra marathon was the race distance I was focusing on.
1. Get used to running for long periods of time.
An ultra marathon can be anywhere from 26.3 miles to 100 miles or longer.
You have to get your body accustomed to burning fat as economically and effectively as possible.
The good thing is running for long periods of time will force your body to burn more fat and conserve carbohydrates.
You are not going to prepare for a 100-miler properly by running 3 days a week running 6 to 8 miles each time.
You have to operate under big boy or big girl rules and that means setting some demanding workouts and truly devoting yourself to the mission at hand.
2. Conduct some 15-20 mile runs at your goal marathon pace.
This adds in a bit of anaerobic work to strengthen that ultra marathon training foundation laid in step one.
You have to spend some time training at speeds that far exceed your planned ultra marathon race goals.
Do you just want to finish?
Good, this will work for you too.
3. Time manage
You will have to spend more time running and several times per week.
You may have to adjust your weekly schedule to accommodate preparing for the ultra marathon.
Focus on getting 15 to 20 miles in the early AM and another 15 to 20 miles in the afternoon after work.
I am not going to lie to you.
This is not going to be easy.
When I was preparing for the 2011 Monumental Indianapolis Marathon I don’t think I had ever trained as hard for a race in my life.
I had done several long runs surpassing the marathon distance in training.
A few 27-milers, one-28 miler and a 30-mile long run were part of that build up.
To add insult to inure, I was also in the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell and was in a combat line unit working some silly hours.
My friends Fernando Cabada, Ryan Hall and Meb Khaflezghi would not understand this style of training very well.
These guys are great runners but they train full time and don’t deal with what those of us who actually work jobs and juggle other responsibilities.
That being said, I tried the ‘full-time’ athlete thing and it didn’t get me any closer to my goal although I did set a new half marathon (1:07:06) PR during that time.
I ran my marathon PR working full-time though.
We had a Field Training Exercise (called an FTX in the military) where we were out in the field for a week.
I remember having a tent duty that I was to report to at 0500hrs (5am for you non-military types) and had to get up at 0200hrs because my long run was planned for that day which was an 18-miler, which I did at a 5:28 per mile pace.
It was pitch black dark out and the only thing I remember was the black pavement of the road in the middle of nowhere and the light of the moon keeping me on it.
It was extremely difficult training and I had no other way to prepare.
The 2:26:42 that I ran in Indianapolis I still consider superior to the 2:19:35 I ran in Sacramento at the California International Marathon
The distance itself is longer then any marathoner in the world cares to run and with that takes a great deal of time.
You have to be hungry, determined and focused – Nathan Pennington, founder of RunDreamAchieve.com
4. Practice fluid intake and food breaks
You will most likely, especially if training for a 100-miler, be doing long runs of upwards of 30-60 miles in length.
Ensure you are sitting out water bottles every 5 miles and taking gels every 10 miles.
The distances and energy intake can be adjusted as needed but if I were training for an ultra marathon these are the types of fundamentals I would be following.
5. Longer Intervals
If I were training for an ultra marathon one of the key workouts I would probably do would be a 30 to 40-mile run with 3 to 4 10-mile segments built in at or around 85-88% max heart rate.
This is high quality running but much faster than, I am sure, you are planning on running your ultra in.
Don’t take this as the Gospel.
This is only what I would do.
You want to get accustomed to running long but also training in such a way that you have spent some time practicing at paces you have no intention of holding for 50 to 100 miles.
You do want to know that you have trained to hold that distance and when the others are slowing you are maintaining.
You will create that training effect by way of workouts like this.
As an ultra marathoner by way of having done several runs farther then the marathon distance, a core aspect of my overall marathon build ups in the past encompassed runs conducted at paces much faster than goal pace.
I went from 2:40:02 to 2:19:35 for a reason and it wasn’t performance enhancing drugs.
It was obsession.
Obsession isn’t a bad thing.
Obsession is termed not normal, being unrealistic or too devoted to one area of ones life by average thinkers and people who truly don’t want to support or understand what you do so they’ll label you that for their own selfish reasons.
You must be obsessed with your goals, especially if they are tough, aggressive and ‘unrealistic’.
The world is filled with average, don’t walk in the path.
You were born for greatness and the fact you have even read this far tells me you are winner and overcomer.
6. Shorter but still somewhat long intervals
Examples of workouts I would do would be 12×6 miles at half-marathon goal race pace or 8×8 miles at 10-15 seconds slower then 10K pace.
These would be very high-level, aggressive workouts that would be that extra firepower you would need to continue to hold on in the latter stages of a long ultra marathon battle on the roads.
Workout, of course, can and should be adjusted to fit your needs.
These are only examples of workouts I would conduct
Prior to running 2:19:35 for the marathon my personal best for the distance was 2:40:02.
I always visualized myself as a sub 2:22:00 marathoner.
This was my goal coming in as a ‘conditional’ athlete into the Army World Class Athlete Program.
My bests entering that unit on conditional status were ‘only’ 51:54 for 10-miles, 1:10 for the half-marathon and 2:43:36 for the marathon.
Not quite world-class eh?
You have to visualize where you want to go as if what you dream about has already occurred.
Whatever you ask for in prayer (thoughts), believe that you have received it and it will be yours – Mark 10:27
Remember, your thoughts run your life.
What you think about you become – Earl Nightengale
Ancient scholars from Christ, Mohammad to Buddah all were giving hints of the importance of guarding our thoughts.
Ensure you are doing so and visualize what you want as if what you want is already a reality.
I am living proof this is true.
Now, this doesn’t mean just visualizing all day about running your goal ultra marathon race time or any race distance for that matter and do nothing else.
It means focusing on what you want constantly on borderline obsession, if need be, accompanied by strenuous, un-ending hard work.
Work that most people will not be willing to put in.
That is what makes you an ultra marathon specialist and not them.
You are no different or better then them, just someone who is willing to commit and not just merely interested.
I surpassed not only 2:22:00 but broke 2:20:00 for the marathon distance.
I also dropped 3 minutes off my half-marathon from 1:10:33 to 1:07:06 and cut an additional minute off my 10-mile best from 51:54 to 50:54.
The 50:54 10-mile was actually my ten-mile split in my fastest half marathon (1:07:06).
Visualization was at the heart of creating that reality in my life.
In closing, ultra marathon training encompasses many different areas you have to focus on in order to complete such long distances.
I am not even scratching the surface on the extent of work that needs to be done
There are other areas such as nutrition to proper sleep to the right equipment needed to make your ultra marathon training and racing successful.
This is just a brief 2500+ word synopsis of just a few of the many things I would do and suggest to anyone crazy enough to want to compete in a race longer than the marathon.
I literally could write another 20,000 words in-depth about this subject but will end here for sanity sake on your part.
I highly recommend my wife who has run and won some 50-mile races and holds a 3:23:11 marathon best from the Boston Marathon as an ultra marathon resource as well.
You can find her nutritional recipes, crafts at pinning junkie.
My hats off to you for making this commitment.
I am proud to know an ultra marathon runner came to my site and was willing to even read some of my thoughts.