Surviving Ultramarathon Training

My last week of 75+ miles is finally in the rear view! As much as I love high mileage training, going from 50 mile training to 100k back to back has really drained my energy reserves. Surviving ultramarathon training has been a lot more challenging than I thought it would be, but I’ve learned so much about trail running and racing that I’m excited to share. Sunday morning, the boys and I went to church, and then I set out for an afternoon half-marathon that felt like slogging through quicksand. Fortunately for me, my husband is excellent in the kitchen and made some amazing fall creations that have helped me come back to life a little in the evenings.

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I had a week full of Zoom holiday “parties” at work, which was also pretty draining if I’m honest.  I’ve really embraced the whole hot mess express look when I’m working from home over the past couple of years, and having to turn on my camera, smile, and look like a human being takes more effort than it probably should.  Fortunately, I had some PTO that I needed to use up before the end of the year, so I took off this past Friday and next Monday.  I didn’t do anything too exciting with my day off, other than enjoyed a little more morning sleep before my run.  I did manage to wrap up some presents in the afternoon, and my 7 year old was very excited to see a few presents under the tree when he got home from school.

Saturday morning, I met up with my little group for a long run on the powerlines, which has apparently become a “thing” since we are all training for a race in the Bandera series. The loose rocks and steep climbs on the powerlines are very similar to the harder sections of the course out in Bandera, so I guess it’s “good for me,” which I had to remind myself of a lot on Saturday. Especially when it was raining and warm and my back wasn’t thrilled about 19 miles in. All this work had better make the 100k feel like NBD, or I’m going to be very cranky about it later. Hehe.

I was essentially a zombie for the rest of the day Saturday. I picked up a burger on my way home, ate it as fast as I could, and then spent the better part of the rest of the day on the couch. My husband and I made some instant pot tomato-basil pasta (we added some grilled chicken) that tasted like heaven, and then we decided to drive around and look at Christmas lights for a little while in the evening. When we got back, I made some s’mores with my son. He doesn’t have enough of a refined palate to appreciate the fact that I broke out the sea salt Godiva chocolate, but honestly it’s so much better than Hershey’s. Exactly one Shiner Cheer later, I was right back in bed for the night.

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Overall, not a bad week, but I am absolutely looking forward to a little taper and a few more short work weeks to close out the year.

Related Post: 10 Habits of Fast, Strong Runners

Surviving UltraMarathon Training

When I originally started training for ultramarathons, I thought that just bumping up my weekly mileage and spending more time on the trails would probably be sufficient.  I was incorrect.  There’s a whole lot more that goes into running these life-drainingly long races than just running more miles.  Over the last year, I’ve spent most of my “free” time figuring out how to survive these high mileage weeks and hours out in the woods.  Here’s my best tips for making sure that your ultramarathon training plan doesn’t kill you (it will try, let me tell you).

  • Hold Plans Loosely – I’ve read the books and the blogs. I thumbed through endless training plans and consulted with other runners. I sat down and created the outlines of a general training plan and compared it with Chrissy Moehls suggested plans in her cult classic “Running Your First Ultra.” Most weeks, I managed to stick pretty closely to what I had planned, but other weeks I had to move runs around to fit in other plans. Some weeks, I just couldn’t mentally tackle the task of heading back out the door to finish out my miles that I didn’t have time to get in before work. Have a general training plan that increases your overall volume and weekly long runs, but don’t be surprised when you have to make adjustments.
  • Embrace Back to Back Longs – The cornerstone of all ultramarathon training plans is the back to back long runs. They help you simulate running on tired legs, and don’t require you to spend an entire day trying to run 30 miles in one go. While I would much rather run 20 miles one day and then 10 miles the next, it’s still not easy to cover 30+ miles in the course of one weekend. Towards the end of your training plan, you’re probably going to feel like the better part of your entire weekend is spent running. And you won’t be incorrect. But in full transparency, it’s just hard to get your body ready to run 30+ miles without the back to back long runs. Try alternating which day you run your longer run (first day one week, second day the next) to shake things up and help your body learn to run far on tired legs.
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  • Prioritize Rest, Recovery, & Nutrition – Are there ultrarunners who survive on pizza, beer, and 5 hours of sleep? Yes, there are. Do they feel good on race day? I have no clue. But I do know that anytime I don’t respect the effort my body is putting into training, it generally revolts and enacts some pretty impressive revenge. From running injuries to stomach issues, a lot of the ailments that some runners think are just an unfortunate part of the training program might be prevented or at least decreased with some decent rest, recovery, and nutrition. Walking around in compression socks and doing 20 minutes of stretching isn’t exciting, but it’s gone a long way to help me feel like ultramarathon training is somewhat sustainable.

Related Post: Trail Running Gear Essentials

  • Have a Support Crew – And I’m not just talking about for the race (though you definitely need people on race day).  Living life without any help is hard enough, and when you toss in hours of training, it’s just not feasible.  Maybe I’m spoiled or blessed or some other hash tagable adjective, but I’ve found it really crucial to talk to my family and tell them what I need.  During higher mileage weeks, my husband really steps up the game with taking care of our family (and feeding me).  My friends and family have spent mornings hanging out with my kid while I finish up my long run if my husband has to work.  And my people have come out to races to make sure I don’t forget my Pringles and give me something to look forward to.  Find good people, ask for help when you need it, and return the favor.  It makes life (and training) a whole lot easier.
  • Incorporate Races – When I was training for my 50 mile ultramarathon, I ran a 25k virtual trail race and the Sky Island 50k race as part of my training plan.  When I decided to race the Bandera 100k, I basically made my Cactus Rose 50 mile race a part of my training plan in hindsight.  Training for an ultramarathon isn’t (usually) an 8 week commitment.  For most of us, it takes the better part of a season.  And running for weeks on end can get boring, especially if you’re running the same trails.  Working in some shorter distance races can help make long runs feel exciting, provide an opportunity to test out fueling plans, and keep runners motivated during long training programs.  No one starts training for ultramarathons because they don’t enjoy trail racing, so make sure to look for opportunities to incorporate a few into your overall training calendar.
  • Plan Your Race & Recovery – Your training plan shouldn’t end with the taper.  You’ve spent months building your mileage and planning your weekend activities around long runs.  If you want to have the best running experience possible on race day, it’s worthwhile to take some time to create some sort of plan.  Especially since there’s a lot of logistics when it comes to ultramarathon races.  During your taper, when you have a little extra time, figure out how many drop bags you plan to use, what you plan to take, who is going to crew you, and what you need from them.  Preparing for an ultramarathon isn’t something that happens in a couple of hours, so don’t procrastinate.  You also need to make sure you’re ready to tackle ultramarathon recovery before the race.  Get your epsom salt, foam roller, and yoga mat ready, and don’t let yourself come home to an empty fridge or pantry.  Bonus tip: have a fresh set of recently washed sheets set up so that when you get home your bed is extra comfy (you’ll be there a while).

This Weeks Workouts

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Total Miles: 75.1
Total Workouts: 4
100k Training, Week 6
How the Runs Felt
Mileage wasn’t quite as high this week, but I am definitely feeling the accumulated mileage from the past several months.  I set out for an afternoon run on Sunday on the roads. I was really happy that my stomach was cooperative, but man was my energy level just in the trash.  I couldn’t wait for the run to be over, and I basically ate everything in sight and then flopped onto the floor.  I decided to keep the mileage a little lower, since I was just feeling so depleted.  I made it out to the trails on Tuesday and Friday, and had my speed workout on Wednesday.

I wish I could say that my workout felt stronger than some of my other runs this week, but that would be a big fat lie. My legs felt so sore and heavy from all of the squat snatches and back squates that were programmed on Monday. Instead or 5 minutes fast, I settled for 5 minute pushes (with paces about 3o seconds faster than a normal pace), and called it a day. The weather this week was also a little unpredictable.

On Friday, I set out for a run a little later in the morning, since I took the day off work. Even though I didn’t get started until it was light out, it was still freezing, which is not the usual temperate here in South Texas. Even in the middle of December. I love running in the cold, but it does make running with sore muscles a little more challenging. On Saturday, the weather had warmed way up to the mid-60’s, and there were intermittent rain showers for a good portion of our morning. I felt my energy drop pretty substantially around mile 19, and unfortunately, it never really game back up. Fortunately, I managed to stay stubborn and finish out my goal. Ultrarunning is really a mental game, and these runs where I struggle are the what gets me to the finish on race day, in my opinion.

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How the WODs Felt
Holy cow. This was the first week of the new strength training program, and I uttered every single expletive I think I’m aware exists. It’s been a very long time (like 9 months) since I’ve done a strength-focused progression. Doing all olypmic lifting means all of the squats. Which my legs were absolutely not ready for. I think I was sore from Monday’s workout until my rest day on Thursday. I do honestly love the feeling of doing hard workouts, and knowing what those workouts mean for my strength and health. The past year I’ve focused on trying to hold on to as much of my strength as possible while working out alone and often working out at home. I knew I wouldn’t be walking back into CrossFit as strong as I was when left, but it feels great (and exhausting) to finally be working on moving the needle in a very structured way.

What I’ve Been Listening To

This week I was back on my true crime bullshit, in all honesty.  I started a new series called Red Collar, which focuses on crimes where someone is murdered after discovering the lies that a white collar criminal is attempting to hide.  It’s so crazy to hear about people committing murder to try and keep up their false persona, all in the pursuit of money and greed. 

What Went Well
I finally stuck with my plan of prioritizing mobility, and even though I was sore for the majority of the week, I did not have the same experience of not being able to run efficiently because of mobility limitations.

What Went Shitty
My energy levels this whole week were just in the toilet.  My mileage will slowly decrease over the next couple of weeks, and I’m hopeful that I’ll start feeling a little more pep in my step.

Plans to Improve Next Week
Next week, I’m going to focus on my nutrition.  I know a big part of getting to the starting line healthy is fueling your body in a beneficial way.  I won’t be turning down Christmas cookies or hot chocolate, but I do want to make sure I’m getting in some good, nourishing foods.

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