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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Ad Hoc Ultramarathon Training

I started reading Run Like a Mother: How to Get Moving--and Not Lose Your Family, Job, or Sanity by Sarah Bowen Shea and Dimity McDowell.  I will be doing a full review soon.  Quickly, I have to say it may be the best beginner running book I've read.  I'll save details for the full review, but it is really good.

Anyway, Sarah and Dimity discuss training plans at some point.  This discussion lead me to a self-evaluation of my own training regimen, or lack thereof.  My training could best be described as chaotic.  There appears to be little rhyme or reason for any individual element, nor does there appear to be any forethought or logic to the design.

The haphazard organization is really a function of two circumstances- my schedule and my personality.  With three children under the age of five, I do not have the luxury of regular training times.  Work, appointments, swimming lessons, soccer practice, and this barefoot running thing keep me pretty busy.  Etching out reliable training times can be difficult if not impossible.

In regards to my personality, I am a bit lazy at times.  Specifically, I do not like to run in the cold.  Or in the evening.  And I am easily bored with the same routes.  Oh, and I struggle with "forcing" myself to run... if I am not into it, I have little problem stopping.  

All of this adds up to what can best be described as an ad hoc training plan.  I identify my goal race. This year, that race is Burning River.  I identify the specific needs for the goal race:
  • This is a 100 miler, so I will need a few very long runs.
  • I will be running at night, so I will need to have some long runs in the very late evening and very early morning. 
  • It has a variety of terrain... asphalt, rocky trails, dirt trails, very technical trails, crushed limestone, and stairs.  I will have to train on all those surfaces. 
  • I will be running it sans shoes.  I will have to do most of my training barefoot.
  • The race is run in NE Ohio in July... it may be very hot and humid.  I will have to do some heat acclimation.
  • I will need to be relatively fast to avoid the cutoffs.  I will need some speed work.
  • The course has some fairly significant hills (for the Midwest.)  I will need to do hill work and weight training.
  • I will need to be as efficient as possible.  To accomplish this, I need to lose about 10 pounds.
Once I identify what is needed, I start training.  I try to address each of these training needs at least once per week.   The long run is easy, I just pick a day when Shelly is okay with spending quality time with the kids.  This is typically the time I practice night running by either starting at about 8pm and running into the night, or starting at about 2am and running into the day.  

During the summer, we visit the gym almost daily.  This allows me to do some speed work and a lot of weight training.  Since the gym has daycare, it is very easy to schedule.  It is the most regular element of my training.

Everything else is thrown together.  If I have 30 minutes of free time, I will squeeze in a three mile tempo run.  If I have an extra hour or two, I will do some hill repeats.  Occasionally I will have about three hours... I will run an intermediate run at a relatively fast pace.  Sometimes Shelly and I will run together.  These runs are simply more time on my feet... a critical skill in ultras.  The key- there's no real plan... only a vague idea of what is needed.

As I progress towards the goal race, I engage in constant testing and experimentation.  The idea is to optimize as much as possible.  I will try different clothing, different sleeping patterns, different food combination, etc.  One of the goals is to artificially recreate every possible variable I will face in the race.  
Most runners scoff at my training regimen.  Most of my peers keep incredibly detailed logs that track their progress.  They will follow intricate plans for months.  Some have even been known to abstain from alcohol.  I've tried that route.  I tried to channel my inner-OCD.  I thought it was a necessity, even though it removed some of the fun of running.  it took awhile, but I finally reached a place where I am comfortable with my ad hoc training plans.

Note- this is not a program designed to win races.  Generally, my goals for any race depends on distance.  In sub-marathon races, my goal is usually a top 20% finish.  In sub-100 mile ultras, my goal is to finish in the top 50%.  In 100s, my goal is to simply finish the race.

What are your training plans?  Do you follow a pre-designed program?  Do you design you own?  Or do you do what I do... just make it up as you go?


  1. Jason, I'm with you in terms of finding time to train the way I need to for ultra's. But I have found that once I have a fairly solid base, I can run 15-20 miles per week most weeks. Then, once a month, I try to run 2 hours, and every other month, I try to run 4 or more hours. That seems to work in terms of participating in an ultra, but certainly not reaching my potential.

  2. i make it up but am very consistent. i am not a "good" runner, just a consistent one. running is part of my anti-depressant/ anti-psychotic regime. it is good for my brain and good for my body, and the only way i'll improve is if i stick to the plan. that's not to say that if i am having a bad run i don't bag it, or if i'm exhausted i don't skip a day, because i do. i have found that this is what works for me. consistently store hay in the barn, and come race day i know i've done the work and am capable of the task at hand.

  3. Awesome! I JUST THOUGHT I COULDN'T GET MY ---- TOGETHER! Thanks for sharing, I have just finished my second marathon in prep for an (small) Ultra in October. If I can get in 3 runs a week I feel great, more than that I find it totally fantastic. My running partner finds it hard as well. Our only consistency is the long runs. I feel relieved that it just isn't us out here trying to get it together around families and activities. You are doing ultras! So there is hope!! Thank you.

  4. "In regards to my personality, I am a bit lazy at times. Specifically, I do not like to run in the cold. Or in the evening. And I am easily bored with the same routes. Oh, and I struggle with "forcing" myself to run... if I am not into it, I have little problem stopping."

    You just described me exactly in this statement! I tried logging my info and also "channeling my inner OCD" (which I am OCD in other areas, but not my running) and found it became a burden. I have a training plan, but it is simply a guide/tool.

    You say you visit the gym daily during the way to get in a bit of a simulated hill workout is to start on a treadmill at a 0 incline and add in increments of 2 every 2 minutes till you get to the max incline and then head back down at the same rate. Not perfect, but it helps.