Hal Koerner's Training Advice for 50Ks and Beyond - Page 5
Easy runs are the key to building your core and foundation, and your training plan will include a lot of them. In fact, the majority of the runs in the plans are easy runs. Easy runs are done at a comfortable pace that allows you to carry on a conversation with ease, at an approximately 60 to 70 percent exertion level. It’s not a time to worry about pace, to check your watch frequently, or to push yourself; in fact, it’s a good time to put all of that aside.
Rather, during an easy run you have the time and space to listen to your body and feel out how it is bouncing back from your prior week’s training or racing. These runs are by nature more relaxed and more fun, giving you time to socialize if you wish or to be alone and reflective or to think about nothing at all. And while easy runs can be very routine, in the best sort of comfortable way, that doesn’t mean you have to do the same run over and over: Easy runs give you the flexibility to decide where to run, on what terrain, and for what mileage. They are a great time to run with different running partners, perhaps someone who doesn’t necessarily push you as in a tempo run or a long run, but someone you simply enjoy getting outside with.
Too, while you may feel that easy runs are simply junk miles or a waste of time that takes away from “real” training, in reality they are anything but a waste. You are adding to your foundation, not to mention building strength and muscle memory. In addition, these runs keep you in a routine and, when preceded by a hard tempo or speed workout or race, remind you what “easy” feels like.
Many people get into ultras specifically for the long run; these are the folks who crave mileage and may already spend one or both weekend days out running long whether they are training or not.
A long run is by definition, well, long. Specifically, it may make up about 30 percent of your weekly mileage. Or, if you are doing back-to-back long runs, these could total about 50 percent of your weekly mileage.
What’s especially useful about the long run is that it requires a significant effort and a lot of time on your feet, but it is not the race; thus, you have the luxury of being able to practice for your race, experimenting with nutrition and seeing how your body reacts to long miles and hours on your feet. Physiological benefits aside, the long run will give you confidence that you can handle what is to come.
Whether you go with a group or prefer some uninterrupted solo time is an individual decision. Approach the long run in the way that will allow you to get through it best. After all, it should be enjoyable—anything you do for 4 to 5 hours electively should be fun!
How long is long?
While you need time on your feet and miles on your legs to prepare for an ultra, in deciding on your mileage, the sky it not the limit. At some point, if you run too far, you reach a point of diminishing returns, where you are simply getting overtired and not productive. In a marathon, 18- to 20-mile long runs are appropriate. For ultra training, the longest long run should be about 60 to 70 percent of the distance you will race. However, a training run of that magnitude for, say, a 100-miler is a lot to bite off. As the training week progresses, you can do back-to-backs, logging two long runs in a row.
These “BTBs,” as we call them, are as much about time on the feet and time being out there as they are about mileage. You will learn what it takes to muster mental as well as physical energy when you think you have none left. You will also experience the caloric demands of hours of exercise and figure out how to eat and drink on the run when that might be the furthest thing from your mind. These runs will build massive amounts of confidence and a physical strength that is unparalleled.
MILEAGE—QUANTITY VS. QUALITY
In a perfect world, you would have both quantity and quality. But when it comes to training for an ultra, quantity has the edge over quality. There, I said it. Time on your feet is crucial. The miles do not all have to be pretty, but you must be out running for an extended time to replicate and prepare for the massive challenge your event will entail. Can you get away with doing fewer miles? Maybe, but chances are high you will pay for it in the end with fatigue, possible injury, and a slimmer chance of performing consistently well in your race.
One of the best ways to combine quantity and quality is by adding a prep race to your training schedule. A race event forces you to get on your game and push yourself during the miles rather than slogging along unmotivated and unfocused.
Injecting supplemental races in your calendar as part of the buildup to your goal race is a good idea for several reasons. One, these are in a sense supported training runs, where you have aid stations to supply you with food and drink, and therefore you can go farther and push yourself longer than you might be able to if you are going it alone. Two, a race will familiarize you with the feeling of running on different trails than you’re used to. That not only is good practice for your upcoming race but also can be quite rejuvenating.
During a preparatory race, you can also practice what you are going to do on race day—what you will wear, what you’ll put in your drop bag, what you will eat—all without the pressure of it being the real thing. Prep races may also help you to deal with pre-race nerves so that you are calmer going into your goal event. Finally, a race adds a fun, competitive aspect to training that you won’t get doing the miles by yourself.