The Ultramarathon

After reading the books, Ultramarathon Man and Born to Run, I became increasingly more interested in testing my endurance limits. Ultras held a certain mystique and I really wanted to see and experience what so many runners seemed to have conquered and enjoyed (in a twisted distance-runner sort of way :-).

In January 2010, I signed up for a July 24-hour Ultramarathon that consisted of 8.4 mile loops, was close to home, and was for a great cause (Back on My Feet)! This gave me six months to plan and train my transition to “Forrest Gump” style running. The downside of a July Ultra was that a good portion of my training would be in the winter months and the race itself would be in the heat of the summer. But all-in-all, I wouldn’t have changed a thing…it was awesome (but that’s getting ahead of myself).

Over the next several months, I changed my typical marathon training routine to longer multi-hour runs; focused on nutrition while running; tried different endurance drinks, lubes, and sunscreens, and plotted a path to my goal of “keep going for 24 hours”.

I’ve taken some time to document my planning, training, lessons learned (i.e. what I’ll do differently next time), and my race report to hopefully help those that are ‘on the fence’ with testing the waters beyond 26.2. Which brings me a good point: Hopefully you’ve run a marathon or two and have had the experience of some multi-hour long runs and eating & drinking while running. These are good introductions to what you can expect to build upon your training for an ultramarathon. Here are some examples of how your routine is about to change:

  • 8-10 hours of weekend running: With the marathons, I got in the routine of a long run every other weekend and interval workouts in between. For the ultramarathon, my training plan had back-to-back long runs that peaked at almost 50 miles for the weekend. The pace was much slower than my marathon training which meant more hours of running time. Some days, this meant getting up at 3-5 am to keep peace in the house!
  • Focus shift from Pace to Time on Feet: In marathon training, a 20-mile run’s pace was not fast enough to deplete me, but I certainly didn’t have enough in the tank to do it again the next morning. With my Ultra plan, there were multiple runs over 30 miles which would sometime take me 5+ hours and ALL of my long runs had periodic walk and eating breaks. And the next morning, I'd get up again and run half as far (i.e. 20 & 10; 30 & 15, etc..).
  • Good-bye Gels, Hello Solids!: Another big shift from 26.2 to Ultra, was nutrition and I’ll elaborate more in the pages below. When the goal is to keep going for 24 hours, your body needs much more than the sugar of energy gels. You'll need fat and protein to keep going, and you'll need to eat at a rate that your body can absorb it so you don't over-fill the tank. I experimented with every energy bar and endurance drink out there and came up with a good variety that worked for me. Race nutrition was was one of my biggest “lessons learned” and areas that I would improve upon for my next Ultra.
  • Hydration Plan – More than you can carry!: As my long runs got longer and weather got warmer, I realized that hydration was going to be logistical challenge in my training. Initially, I would carry a 70-ounce Camelbak and 20-ounce water bottle. Over time, I planned my training runs around water fountains and ran with a water bottle and drink mix pouches. Many local high schools and public parks have water fountains (and port-a-johns)…these became key factors in long runs over 3 hours for me!

If you’re still reading that means I didn’t scare you away…great! The pages below go into more detail about my preparation and experiences. Keep in mind that this was my first ultramarthon. I found some other great websites out there from Ultra veterans that had some additional insights from their experience of having run dozens of 100-milers. I’ve put links to a couple below and have other references throughout these pages.

Best of luck!!

Related Pages & Sites:

Ultra Marathon Training Plan
Race Checklist: 24-hour Ultra
Ultra Nutrition Guide
Runner Lube: Friend to Long Distance Runners!
2010 Ultramarathon Race Report
My long run with Mr. Kwon
Nathan Quickdraw Elite - Product Review
Ultramarathon Man Book Review
Born to Run Book Review
Kevin Sayers Ultra Site
Anna Hughes Ultra Site

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