Ultra-Training 101: Back to Back Long Runs – Weekly Recap – 7.26.20

This week, I started prepping for my 100 mile week .  On Monday the 3rd, I’ll be starting my 100 miles for 100 Women project.  I’m using my running as a way of honoring and bringing more awareness to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.  I’m still looking for more sponsors (I’d love to have one for every mile in an ideal world), so if you’d like to join me in supporting the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, please consider donating (any amount welcome) to the GoFundMe campaign that I have set up.  Every day next week, I’ll be sharing one MMIW for every mile I complete on my Instagram.  So if you’d like to follow along, please head that way.

Most of our week was a pretty standard combination of working, working out, and running lots of miles.  I ordered a fresh pair of trail shoes that I’m hoping arrive before my long run next week!  On Friday, after work, the boys and I drove out to Marble Falls, which is a small town out in the Texas hill country.  My dad lives out there, and Reveille Peak Ranch is only about 25 miles from him.  I’d been wanting to go explore the trails out there, and the scheduling finally worked in our favor.  We spent the night in Marble Falls Friday, and I made the drive out to Reveille Peak Ranch Saturday morning.  Early.  Painfully early.  After a few miles and some coffee, I was excited to get out and explore the trails at the ranch.

They did not disappoint at all. Saturday was such an adventure. The views were incredible, with a mix of black and red rock, caliche dirt, and huge rock cliffs. Right after I turned into the ranch, I was welcomed by a pack of wild boars. The trails are completely unsupported, meaning there is no water once you leave the entrance. My 50 miler is considered a minimally supported race (very limited aid stations that are a little more spread out than traditional ultramarathons), so carrying everything I needed was good practice for me.

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The run was a very interesting experience.  I heard a rattlesnake from a pretty good distance, but never saw it face to face.  Missed connection!  But I did see a whole lot of cows that cared 0% about me being on the trails with them.  In fact, quite a few just stared right at me while I ran towards them, and I don’t think any of them moved out of the way.  They could not have cared less about my presence, and it was pretty comical for me to have to swerve around them every couple of miles.  A few hours later, I left the ranch and the boys and I met up with my dad at a small local brewery for lunch.  I ate pretty much everything in site after 15+ mile long runs, and I very much enjoyed my carne asada fries and some of Henry’s burger.

We drove back home Saturday afternoon, and I spent the rest of the day feeling like I had been cooked.  Small price to pay for a good running adventure, though!

Back to Back Long Runs

When I first started running, the most intimidating part of my training plans were the long runs.  I had no clue how my legs could keep moving for 6 miles and beyond.  Over the years, the distances have changed, but long runs are still somewhat scary.  You’re on your feet for a long time, you have to figure out fueling, you get tired, you start thinking about all the food you want to eat, and you usually feel pretty sore afterwards.  Long runs take a lot out of you.

But they’re once a week, so they’re manageable.  Unless you’re training for an ultra-marathon, though!  Once you cross that 26.2 mile race threshold, everything changes.  And the cornerstone of ultra-marathon training is the back to back long runs.  Which is exactly what it sounds like.  Two long runs.  On two consecutive days.  So instead of resting and recovering from your long run, you set out and do another one!  It’s insane, I’ll give you that.  But there is definitely a purpose and a method to the madness.

So what would convince any rational human being to run back to back long runs? Well, let’s first address the fact that ultra-marathon runners are NOT rational human beings, so regular rules do not apply. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the actual purpose of programming two long runs consecutively. For any race distance over a 10k, most training plans are going to schedule long runs that build up to just a little less than the race distance. This is good, solid training, and fairly reasonable, until you hit races that are 30+ miles.

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Because most of us don’t have the ability to run 25-80 miles on any given weekend to prepare for a 30-100 mile race.  So what do you do to prepare your body to keep moving that far?  Back to back long runs.  They help your body learn to adjust to the realities of running on tired legs, and help you learn how to keep moving long after your sanity has left you.  Trying to run 30 miles on Saturday would leave most people recovering for a week, if not injured.  But running 20 miles on Saturday and 10 miles on Sunday can give a runner a similar training experience, without completely annihilating their body and spirit (as long as they have trained and acclimated to this overall mileage).

Similar to how the long run is a good dress rehearsal for a race, the back to back long runs give runners the opportunity to practice the ultra-marathon race strategy.  Keep moving forward, no matter how slowly, no matter how tired, and without much attention to the fact that your brain has kindly reminded you that running 30-50 miles in one weekend is ridiculous at least 7 times.  You learn how to keep pushing forward with exhausted and swollen feet, chaffed legs, and muscles that have seen better days.  Sounds appealing, right?!

Well, it’s not easy, but it is effective.  But you do have to survive.  Which honestly, takes a little more work than running a more reasonable distance does.  Here’s a few strategies I’ve picked up to help keep me from taking a mid-run dirt nap during these big weekend adventures.

Tips for Surviving Double Long Runs

Keep Run #1 Slow
Most long runs should be done on the slower end of the spectrum, since you get more benefit from time on feet than anything else.  But when you have to follow up your long run with ANOTHER long run, the last thing you want to do is build up lactic acid in your legs.  Trust me when I say that running on tired legs is tough, but running on tired, stiff legs will make you feel and look like a freaking zombie.  In order to make sure you can comfortably bend at the knees, which is somewhat useful in running, intentionally manage your pace on the first day.  You won’t feel fresh for long run #2, but you’ll feel less dead.

Focus on Recovery
You’d think this should go without saying.  You obviously need to dedicate some time to recovery after a long run.  However, knowledge and practice are two different things.  And let me be the first to acknowledge that sometimes all you want to do after a long run is eat all of the hidden chocolate in the house.  Running is exhausting, and true recovery requires a little bit of effort, but you will pay serious consequences if you skip it.  I try to make sure I lay down and put my legs up on a wall for at least a couple of minutes as soon as I get back. This helps the blood circulate and start the healing process.  Make sure you spend some time foam rolling, do a little stretching, and massage if possible (love my Hypervolt for this).  Break out the compression gear if you’re so inclined, and consider an ice dunk to help ward off soreness.

Fuel & Hydrate More
By the time you are done with a long run, it’s likely you are fairly dehydrated and in a caloric deficit. If you don’t intentionally refuel and rehydrate, you will be in a world of pain on long run #2. Long runs are hard enough when you start off well; they are soul crushing if you start off dehydrated and under-fueled. Not eating enough protein will also slow recovery from long run #1, making you more sore and stiff on run #2. Try to get some protein in your system within 30 minutes if you can, and drink water and electrolytes like Nuun or Liquid IV throughout the day. If you need some help with hydration pointers, check out my Running Hydration post where I cover supplements, hydration system recommendations, and helpful information on intake.

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A little tip that I recommend to help manage calories is to fuel a little more than you typically would for long run #1.  If you have a 20 mile run, and you’d normally take in four gels, grab an extra one or two.  Even if you have to take the last one after your run, it can help your body to not feel quite so depleted when you start your second long run.  If you feel like you struggle with your fueling strategy for long runs, take a peek at my Complete Guide to Running Fuel, which has so much information on different sources and strategies to help you fuel successfully.

Early Bed Times & Naps
Your body repairs itself once your workout is over, as long as you maintain proper nutrition.  But the secret sauce for long run recovery is sleep.  And trust me when I tell you, catching in a few extra z’s is not exactly tricky after a long run.  Physically, anyway.  Now, if you have a home situation like mine, finding the time to get some extra sleeps may be more difficult.  But if all you can get away with is an extra 30 minute nap, take advantage!  And if you can manage to get to bed just a little earlier, make that a priority!  Even if you don’t fall asleep any earlier, every minute that you are supine is a another minute of recovery!

Decrease Inflammation
Body soreness is equal parts lactic acid and inflammation.  Luckily, there are a couple of things you can do to help reduce inflammation.  Supplements like tumeric can help lower inflammation, and so can certain foods like berries, broccoli, and avocados.  And as difficult as it may be, avoiding foods that are high in added sugar can help as well.  Make sure to move around a little throughout the day, a couple of walks around the block is sufficient, to reduce inflammation and prevent muscle stiffness.

This Weeks Workouts

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Total Miles: 72
Total Workouts: 4
50 Mile Training, Week 10
How the Runs Felt
This week felt pretty standard and solid for me.  My body was pretty beat up after 18 trail miles on Sat, so I decided to stick to the green way for my long run on Sunday.  It helped to not be on my feet for 3 hours, and gave my brain a little bit of a break.  I talked last week about how I’m realizing that as much as I love the trails, my body is just not really ready to run big mileage exclusively on trails.  So this week I kept up with my plan of splitting my miles between roads and trails, and it worked really well.

I had some early meetings Monday, so I only had time for 8 miles before work.  I did 1 warm up and cool down, and the other 6 were powerline hill miles.  After work, I finished up my last 2 miles of the day on the roads.  Wednesday was my speed workout, so I decided to opt for flat miles out at the Leon Creek Greenway.  Getting the turn over going felt a whole lot easier this week than it did last.  It’s incredible how much more efficiently the body remembers than learns.  I feel like that’s part of the reason that once you have a decent base and training background, increasing mileage feels hard for a much shorter period of time than the first couple of training blocks.  Fitness comes back quick-ish!

Thursday and Friday were easy trail morning runs, and then Saturday I got to run out at Reveille Peak Ranch. The trails were much less technical than some of the trails by my home, but they were gorgeous and fun. There was so much scenery out there, and it was nice to run somewhere new again. I’m still somewhat intimidated when it comes to running new trails on my own, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get lost on more than one occasion. But with 20 miles to log, backtracking doesn’t have devastating impacts. Trail navigation is definitely a skill I want to keep improving.

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The hardest part of both my long runs this week was the sun exposure. It was brutal! Heat is tough, but feeling the sun on my skin for hours just drains the life right out of me. Like I can feel my soul departing from my body with every mile. The trails I typically run have a lot of tree shade, and it is straight from heaven. Reveille Peak was a very different story. It was probably 90% exposed, and I left quite a few shades tanner than when I arrived, despite a healthy amount of sun screen. I definitely paid the price for all the sun exposure on my second long run the next day, but I’ll share more about that next week.

Overall, I’m doing well with the high mileage, and I’m liking the split between roads and trails for now.  Next week might be a complete shit show for me trying to get 100 miles done, but I know it’s for a worthy cause, and hopefully that will get me through!  Wish me luck with all that running in August heat please!

What I’ve Been Listening To
This week I started a new investigative journalism series called The Sneak.  It’s an incredible story about a man who pulled off a massive jewel heist, was involved in a murder, and is now a free man.  So far, it’s a wild ride.  I also binge listened to a short series called It Was Simple.  This was a podcast version of the Betty Broadrick story, which was featured on the last series of Dirty John.  Again, just incredibly wild.  It included interviews with her daughter and herself, and it was so interesting to listen to her thought process (which is bananas).

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How the WODs felt
My workouts this week felt solid. I ended up with two snatch strength pieces, which was unintentional but fine. My legs were pretty dead after last week, and I’m not very consistent with improving my upper body strength. So this was a good week for that. I also really liked having WODs that were broken up into different little workouts. It felt like it made the workouts more manageable mentally.

What Went Well
I actually felt really good this week.  I got a lot of sleep, which was definitely necessary.  I felt tired in the evenings, and definitely ready for bed at a very grannylike hour, but I didn’t feel that all day fatigue after Sunday.  My trail runs felt smooth and easy, without any big falls, and my road runs gave me a good opportunity to get back a little turn over in my legs.  As much as I am loving being on the trails, I think it does my body some good to mix things up.

What Went Shitty
I had a whole lot going on at work this week.  I found myself mapping things out in my brain at 3am, semi-consciously, and that’s always a sign for me that I’m thinking way too much about work.

Plans to Improve Next Week  
Next week, I’m running 100 miles ya’ll!  I’m also taking a half day off Mon-Thurs, and a full day off on Friday.  Hopefully this helps me detach a little from work!

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