How NOT to Train for an Ultramarathon

When Planning Fails

I signed up for my first 100 mile ultra marathon riding the high of having just finished my first 50 mile race. I knew 16 weeks was plenty of time to prepare; I would capitalize on what I learned in training for the 50 and what I experienced on race day. This 100, the belt buckle and all of the emotions of completion, was mine.

Your “Why?”, and the discipline that comes along with establishing it, is the foundation for success in any great challenge. My “Why?” was rooted in value and belief; I was ready for the 100 mile race.

I found, however, even with a value and belief system backing my “Why?”, that physical preparation mustn’t be neglected. And I don’t mean preparation in light terms. I mean training. A lifestyle adjustment.

I finished my first 100 mile race. My time was 29 hours 50 minutes and 43 seconds.

The final cutoff time was 30 hours. It was the greatest accomplishment of my life; it also contained some of the worst pain, mentally and physically, I had ever endured (read more about that: here). I did not have fun during my first 100; when you’re racing the clock for 30 miles in much pain for a goal that has already taken so much physically and mentally, enjoyment is not on the agenda.

But I finished. I accomplished what I set out to, and I earned the finisher’s belt buckle.

It was not because of my training.

I don’t blame poor training for poor performance. I blame poor discipline, poor awareness, and a little bit of ignorance to the task; these are all things within our control that contribute to training. Do not neglect discipline, awareness, and understanding of the task at hand for something as monumental as running 100 miles.

Disclaimer: Wicked Trail and the author do not advise following any of the training advice presented in this article. See a doctor before beginning any training regiment and especially before running an ultra marathon. Nothing about the physical training presented here is useful in training for an ultra marathon.

Want to know what kind of training will leave you crossing the finish line dead-last with some great stories and an indomitable will you didn’t know you had?

We’ll start 16 weeks before the 100 mile race, when I ran my first ultramarathon, the Umstead 50 in Raleigh, North Carolina.

 

My 16 Week Training Log

Week of 50-miler: 59.53 miles run (including 50 mile race)

I came out of my first ultra marathon healthy and relieved. I had trained well and the injury prevention measures were successful. A few days of recovery and I started to slowly build mileage. Very slowly. I’ve never been one to rush training, and this was no different. I did, however, quickly sign up for my first 100 mile ultra marathon. It would be 16 weeks later, on July 28, in Cleveland, Ohio.

Week 1: 5.01 miles run

This first week after the 50 I took it slow, stretched a lot, and found enjoyment in casual running. I knew this wouldn’t last as I strategized for my 100. I wouldn’t rush things but, happy to be back on my feet, I set my sights on the 100.

2: 5.01 miles

3: 9.03 miles

4: 13.32 miles

5: 23.03 miles

6: 30.06 miles

I went out for an intense, short trail run Week 5 and felt a bit of hip strain after. It remained relatively sore, but not debilitating, until the end of Week 6, when the pain told me to stop and fix it; I’ve never been one to run through injuries in training. I took Week 7 totally off of running but intensified strength training and stretching. By Week 8 my hip was as good as new.

7: 0 miles

8: 11.06 miles

9: 40.04 miles

10: 47.05 miles

11: 25.03 miles

I’m new to trail and ultrarunning and I continue to learn and adapt my preparation, training, nutrition, and recovery. Sometimes your body responds in ways that you don’t anticipate. Week 11 I developed a sore Achilles. By the end of the week, it was painful. I’d had it worse before, but there’s something dreadful about having a throbbing, aching Achilles tendon 5 weeks before a 100 mile race. What can you do? Drop out? Run through it (don’t do that)? Rest until raceday?

12: 0 miles

13: 10.02 miles

14: 6.04 miles

15: 3.02 miles

16: 5.02 miles

17: Burning River 100

These numbers are a bit terrifying in hindsight. Did I, in an anxious desire to peak near 70 miles, rush the rebuild that led to the Achilles heel issues?

Yes, as witnessed by my final six weeks.

Some other scary stats for my year leading up to July 28, when I ran my first 100 mile race:

  • I only had three runs over 20 miles in 2018. One was the Georgia Publix Marathon on March 18, 2018. Another was the Umstead 50 and the third was a 25 mile run I did on February 17.
  • My longest run between my first 50 and my first 100, a period of sixteen weeks (as seen above) was 17 miles
  • None of my seven runs in the six weeks leading up to the Burning River 100 was greater than 5.02 miles.

Some other scary stats for my year leading up to July 28, when I ran my first 100 mile race:

  • I only had three runs over 20 miles in 2018. One was the Georgia Publix Marathon on March 18, 2018. Another was the Umstead 50 and the third was a 25 mile run I did on February 17.
  • My longest run between my first 50 and my first 100, a period of sixteen weeks (as seen above) was 17 miles
  • None of my seven runs in the six weeks leading up to the Burning River 100 was greater than 5.02 miles.

“possibilities are simply choices, disguised as challenges, that we have to make.”

“possibilities are simply choices, disguised as challenges, that we have to make.”

Decisions

My new strategy, established week 12, was to stretch and strengthen in preparation for the race and in compensation for the lack of mileage. I planned to keep mileage very low and knew I wouldn’t get in any real ‘training’ runs. I stretched for about 6 hours every week and built my foundation on single-leg exercises, lunges, and core exercises.

It worked.

I toed the starting line as healthy as I’d felt in weeks and confident in my supplemental training.

Following the race, also, I had no injuries.

During the race, however, the folly of my training showed itself. I was miserable from miles 70 onward. I took over six hours to cover a technical 16 mile stretch during the night and was projected to miss the cutoff by a mind-numbing 10 minutes.

This is not a place you want to be nearly 30 hours into your first 100 mile ultra marathon.

Where do you turn when frustration sets in and others around you are dropping? When you recall your injuries in training and wonder if even starting the race was a good idea?

Don’t put yourself in this position. But know that, ultra marathon completion really is all in your head. Pain, fatigue, anxiety, and hopelessness all dissipate with decisions.

Decide in moments of “What if?” to carry on regardless of circumstances.

“What if my training wasn’t good enough?”

“What if I’m not ready?”

“What if I can’t finish?”

“Should I even show up?”

Look again at the mileage during my weeks leading up to my first 100.

Don’t imitate, don’t even refer to it for comparison, but know that possibilities are simply choices, disguised as challenges, that we have to make. Decide to finish the race. Decide to move faster. Decide to run when you don’t even want to walk.

Decide to start.

I did. And I decided to finish. Injuries, weather, illness, fatigue, bodyweight, race, religion, location, wealth, support: flush circumstances down the toilet.

Visualize the goal. Adapt the strategy. Decide to finish.

I would have done much better with a Discomfort Mindset.

Click here to read about Discomfort.

Book of the Month:

Can't Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds is a dive into the demons that plagued David Goggins -elite ultra endurance athlete and Navy SEAL- through his early life and an exploration of what it took for him to become a master of his own mind against all statistical odds. His tools for mental stimulation and growth are useful for anyone interested in venturing into endurance sports, becoming a better person, and mastering his or her mind. A must read!

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share this post

Book of the Month:

Can't Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds is a dive into the demons that plagued David Goggins -elite ultra endurance athlete and Navy SEAL- through his early life and an exploration of what it took for him to become a master of his own mind against all statistical odds. His tools for mental stimulation and growth are useful for anyone interested in venturing into endurance sports, becoming a better person, and mastering his or her mind. A must read!

Light 2 Light 50 Race Report: First Ultra Marathon Victory

Ultra marathon running isn't about winning, unless it is. Ultra marathon running is subjective; a person's journey through the darkness, down the Wicked Trail, is driven by his or her own passions, fears, and desires. This journey into pain is driven by his or her own...

Ultra Marathon Training: Crush Expectations

Most people running their first, or second, or third ultra marathon carry expectations into the race. They had training expectations; they planned the miles and hours they'd have to train, running and strengthening and stretching their way to ultra endurance. When...

Fasted Running Is Your Best Friend: 3 Reasons To Try It

For thirteen miles, I felt invincible. For the final three, I wasn't sure I'd finish. I felt like I did near the end of my first 100 mile race, although with much less lower body-body pain. It was an ultra marathon replication. I smiled during those long, arduous...

The Best Ultra Marathons: Is Yours On The List?

"What's the best ultra marathon?" Is it the most remote or adventurous like Marathon des Sables, the most challenging like Badwater or the H.U.R.T 100, or is it simply your first 100 miler, the one that breaks you into the world of ultra-endurance? Is it the race that...

Ultra Marathon DNF: Yes, You Failed. Yes, It’s Okay.

I was perusing some online ultramarathon running groups last weekend and came across a post about DNFs in ultrarunning. DNF stands for "Did Not Finish;" the participants name is not published and no belt buckle is awarded. The DNF is dreaded by many as hot-spots and...

UltraMarathon Pain Management: The Pain Cave

What is your perspective on ultramarathon running? Adventurous and exhilarating? Calming and therapeutic? Full of pain and suffering? Pain management has much to do with your perspective on running an ultramarathon. What is your perspective? Why do you run an...

share this post

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