Last night I held a information night on "ultra running" at Valhalla Pure Outfitters. It was the first time I have offered a 'specific' night like this and I was really nervous. Sometimes just putting yourself out there can be a bit stressful and I have to admit that I struggled with how to fit so much information into 1hr. I ended up going with a generalized overview and choose topics that I felt would give people the most considerations when deciding whether to run a 50k or when in choosing what 50k to run. It also helped that each athlete shared one area they wanted information on before the lecture started, which helped me cater it a bit more as I went.
At the end of the hour, I felt like I didn't have enough time to fit in all that I wanted. Especially with respect to the training aspects, so I thought I would blog about some areas in further detail for a point of reference for those interested. I appreciate those people that were taking notes and have already sent me positive feedback on the session.
I am going to use Chuckanut for my example as it seems many of the people attending last night have this on their bucket list for next year.
Chuckanut is a good choice for a spring ultra, as it is considered one of the faster courses where ultras are concerned. This is a positive choice for those living in areas such as Kelowna where our winters are cold, snow is a factor in the hills which makes our traditional bread and butter runs more challenging and it is harder to get motivated to run in these conditions. It does take a bit more creativity when designing a training plan, though.
The other benefits to the Chuckanut is that the total elevation is less than many other ultras and comes in at approx. 5000 feet ascent, 5000 feet descent, it has a nice gradual start on greenway like trails for 9km before starting the first climb and the next 32km of trails (and there might be a little climb called 'chinscraper' that I promise will leave an unforgettable memory whether you have the legs to run it or a forced to a humble hike, at this point in the race). It is not a race I would consider technical, in comparison to many others I have ran, although does have some sections that will require some extra attention and advanced technique to blaze through... or otherwise slow your pace and proceed with caution. The post race pot-luck is awesome and the setting in Fairhaven Park is spectacular. And what I noticed last year was more top ultra runners than I have ever through imaginable at one event. If you subscribe to Trail Runner Magazine, you would recognize the many cover shot athletes... which is pretty inspiring.
Your training plans should be created as specifically as it can to resemble the race you are preparing for. So knowing the race profile is important, In this case: Flat'sh 9km. 32km with approx. 4500 fee. Flat'sh 9km. ) you go back on the same trail you started out on)
16 weeks is often a safe amount of time to prepare a beginner for an ultra. And depending on other goals, fitness base, running base etc... doing some cross training can can be a great way to build your engine and work on your aerobic capacity. In order to increase endurance and your overall preparedness, however, running 3 to 5 days per week is necessary. Anything less than 3 times per week will not build sports specific muscles or provide the aerobic adaptation required for over distance training. As your event gets closer, however it is wise to hone in on the specificity of running and focus on fine-tuning that sport in a gradual, safe periodized manner.
For a beginner runner, you should run no less than 7hrs over 3-4 days per week as you prepare for your ultra. This complimented with other aerobic building activities or strength training will be enough to ensure you finish the ultra and remain injury free. Depending on your base and experience, however running upwards of 20+hrs is not uncommon. Just remember that these hours don't have to be accumulated with consequitive days of running and for a beginner or someone prone to overuse injuries, they would benefit from spacing their runs out.
As mentioned last night, there are many different ways to train the many different systems required while running an ultra. We went over speed, up/vertical intervals, race pace workout, strength, endurance, intervals (more pertaining to flats), and over distance which is typically the bulk of the training, especially for beginner ultra runners. An important consideration to remember is the longer your runs are, typically the more time you need to recover. And when it come to 'racing', for every mile you race, you should take one day for recovery. Again, this is a loose recommendation and it becomes difficult to 'generalize' specifics when every'body' is different. Rate of recovery, fitness base, experience, genetics, age, goals (to win vrs. to finish) etc... many factors play into building the right training recipe for each individual. Which is why I explained I don't offer cookie cutter programs.
So while I can't offer necessarily a sample training program that will work for everyone, I can provide a rough example for a beginner who is running 3x's per week to prepare for Chuckanut:
1x tempo runrepeated work efforts ranging from 1 to 10min of moderate to high intensity with rest intervals built also built in. Used on varying terrain. (although often flat is best) Goal to improve you anaerobic threshold. ( so you can work for longer periods of time at higher effort without lactate building in muscles) After the first few months, this can also be replaced with some weeks of up/vertical intervals which can vary depending on your goal outcome from 5sec intervals to 20min or longer.
1x endurance run 30min to 1hr of low intensity running. This should be performed off-road with varying terrain. And again, depending on the builds in your program you can benefit largely by making this run a middle distance run of 1.5-2hrs but this would depend on you base and allowing a gradual overall build in each specific week.
1x over-distance run where your minimum time is 1hr and upwards of 5hrs. This run needs to have a gradual, periodized build with applicable rest weeks formatted into the equation. Taking into consideration elevation gain is key and time is more important than distance. (as discussed in more detail last night) Your over-distance runs are done at an easy effort as building time on your feet and building your aerobic capacity is more important than speed. It doesn't really matter how fast you are if you can't finish the race. Enduring is always the number 1 goal.
It is also a good idea for beginner ultra runners to take the day off, after their longest run of the week. While back to back runs can be a useful tool for the experienced ultra runner, even with back to back runs, you need to ensure that you "back" off your training every 3rd week (depending on your periodized program) to ensure rest. For those more experienced runners and those who have built a solid base, running back to back is a useful tool for getting used to running on tired legs and can be a positive way to reduce total time out per run.
So as you likely see, it isn't as easy as it sounds to prescribe a training plan to group of individuals who are at different fitness levels and experience. I hope some of these guidelines further benefit some of you when trying to put together your weekly/monthly workout plans. No matter how awesome your training plan is, however it takes motivation and a commitment to follow through and prepare for an ultra. There is no faking it and choosing one ultra from the next can make a big difference, as not all ultras are created equal. So research your race and ensure you know what you're getting into before you choose a particular one. Use the profile to get creative with your workouts and try to simulate the race as much as possible. And email me if you have any specific questions, as I am happy to help where I can.