A lot of people ask me to explain training for an ultra. Luckily for me it’s pretty easy to explain. You run. Of course there is more than that but “you run” really tells it all. Much like any other sport training, it really helps to know what the goal is. Ultra running seems different. Many of the folks you meet on race day just run. When you ask them to explain how they prepare for a race. They simply say, “I run enough it doesn’t really matter”. Well let me try to explain it for anyone who might want to try their first ultra.
The first thing to keep in mind is that the goal is going to seem impossible. It isn’t impossible but you’ll be tested every step of the way. You may not have a good race the first time or second time or third. Maybe you eventually will. The only for sure bet is that at some point you’ll tell yourself you can’t go on. It’s a lie.
That’s the thing about the human body. You can push it until you think it isn’t possible to go any further and from there, you push it even more. That’ basically the definition of endurance sports. Just the thought of training so much in one day and having to turn around and do it again tomorrow makes most people judge your sanity.
You should really have a good running base before you go out and run a 50 miler. A marathon background would be excellent! I came from a triathlon background and had trained for Ironman three years in a row. Basically, you’ll need a good base to get going. That absolutely doesn’t mean you can’t make the jump from a 10K to a 50 miler but it’s a pretty crazy idea (says the guy who signed up for Ironman before ever doing a triathlon).
You should expect two to three, hour to hour and a half runs during a typical “work week”. For those of you in areas that have long winters, this can be challenging as motivation dips during those short winter days. Saturday and Sunday are always changing. Basically just expect a metric crap ton of miles and you’ll be set mentally for the challenge. Some Saturdays and Sundays have equal distance (or time) runs, and other weekends you can expect the days to vary greatly. Last weekend for example I had a four hour run Saturday and a one and a half hour run Sunday. This coming weekend, both days I need to be out for three hours. The point being, that the time and distance are always changing but it’s common to put in 30-50 miles on a weekend.
Those who have trained for a marathon know the stress it puts in your body. After all, running is a high impact activity that takes a toll over the years. Recovery becomes extremely difficult, even when compared to a marathon. You need to be able to run a marathon and right away the next day, be able to go out and do it all over again. Getting use to this isn’t easy. You never really do. You discover ways to put it out of mind. No matter how hard you try to hydrate or foam roll, your body just never feels fully ready the following day.
So how am I feeling? I started training around the first of the year, so we are looking at a full eight months of training at this point. Training in one sport, not three, like triathlon. One sport that uses the same muscles and pounds the ground in the same exact way, thousands of times on a single run. I’m surprisingly fine. The first day or two of the week always starts out the same. You wake up sore and go to bed sore. Walking to the bathroom hurts but so does sitting. By Wednesday you are finally hydrated and walking normal. Just to get a run in the next day and have one day off before the weekend, were you will do it all over again. But I love it!