I will not run a marathon but I will run an ultra

Of course, technically it’s necessary to run the distance of a marathon to finish an ultra. And while you could not talk me into registering for a (road) marathon, here I am training for a 50K. (Or maybe a 55K; I haven’t decided on the race yet.) I’m not lying about never running a marathon if I cover the distance during an ultramarathon….right?

The race

I have options. Maybe too many options. The race date I’m planning for as of now gives me two options, which in addition to being on the same date, are on the same trail: the Continental Divide. The 55K option is in Idaho, and the 50K is in Montana. I’ll either make a decision at some point, or wait until one of the races is full and the decision is made for me.

If training gets derailed for more than a week or two, my backup plan is a 50K in early August. That tends to be fire season, though, so I’ll stick with one of the earlier races if possible to minimize the chance of racing through smoke.

The plan

My training plan is based on Training for the Uphill Athlete: A Manual for Mountain Runners and Ski Mountaineers. This book doesn’t have detailed training plans, but it has all the details you could possibly want to know about planning and adjusting your own training. (More details than you’ll ever want, for most of us. I mean, I like details but I’m probably not going to get a lactate threshold test or run with a HR monitor.)

I’m basing my overall training on their idealized schedule for a first time 50K, which looks like this (those numbers are km):

I’m adding a recovery week so I only have one block of three weeks with increasing distance, since I already know two weeks between recovery weeks works better for me. So I have a 21-week plan instead of 20. I also started my plan a week before I theoretically need to; there will almost certainly be at least one week where not much training happens, so I built that into the plan from the start.

The letters above each column are the training phase: B = base, R = recovery, I = intensity, S = specific, and T = taper. For each phase, the book gives guidelines for what training to include in each week. I’m planning my weekly vertical gain and long run distance(s) one phase at a time, then planning the specific runs/workouts for one or two weeks at a time.

This means that so far I really only have the base phase planned out. Theoretically, base phase will get me up the highest weekly mileage I’ve ever run. So I’m really going to be feeling things out after that – peak mileage week is ideally 50 miles, which sounds absurd right now. But it’s also about 4 months away, so who knows.

The details

Everyone’s favorite part! (But we can still be friends if it’s not your favorite.) This is what my weekly planning looks like for the base phase:

The km number is straight from the book, miles-high is km converted to miles, and miles-low is about 10% lower than that. Hours is my estimate based on miles and vert – for higher intensity running, the book gives suggested amounts as % of total weekly time. The long run is about 40% of my weekly mileage.

Vert is, for now, a made up number that I threw in there to have something to aim at. The amount of elevation gain I actually get depends on trail conditions/how much time I have during the week to drive to trails. That said, none of the 50Ks I’m looking at have as much vert as the 20-mile race I did last year, so I’m not worried about it.

For each training phase, there are recommendations for what to include for recovery runs, recovery activities, strength workouts (run and gym),  aerobic runs, and high intensity workouts. Here’s an example base phase week:

Recovery runs are super easy, recovery activities are stretching, foam rolling, etc. Aerobic runs  = easy runs, including the long run. The example week has 6 days of running. The book says to spread your weekly mileage over at least five runs; I’m currently at four. I plan to add a fifth day in the next few weeks, but I don’t think six will ever happen.

The high intensity workouts for a 50K are mostly what the authors call Zone 3 effort, which is like a tempo run. Those don’t show up until the last week or two of base phase, though.

The strength workouts for base phase are the hill sprints, “core and general strength”, and ‘optional ME”. The hill sprints are…hill sprints, though the authors recommend using a hill with at least 30% grade, which is hard to find in town! ME = muscular endurance, which can either be uphill running/hiking or a gym workout.

And then there’s the core/general strength plan, which in my opinion is the weak point of the book. The strength workout – there’s only one, with 3 difficulty phases – is 6 basic exercises. Yeah, that will probably accomplish the goal of getting you strong enough to stay uninjured. But you could accomplish the same thing with way less boring workouts.

So I found a gym plan I’ve used before that incorporates plenty of the exercises I think are important for trail running. (i.e., single-leg exercises and plyo/power exercises.) I’m using that during base phase, and then will re-evaluate and see if it’s time to switch to something less intense.

In summary

…I’m mostly making it up as I go. Questions, comments, points of discussion? (I had a professor who ended every class with that. May not work as well as a blog sign-off….)

Linking up with Kim and Zenaida for Tuesday Topics

9 Comment

  1. Sounds good to me. When I did my ultra I bought Krissy Moehl’s book but I read all the normal stuff, got scared by the training plans and ignored them – they had too many miles per week for me!
    Things I found useful – well, in my case, I knew how to train for a marathon so did that, did my mara as a training run then concentrated on off-road for the 6 weeks until the ultra, so that will be different. But other stuff:
    — Get more sleep
    — Do yoga
    — If you need to do back-to-back training the important thing is to run tired on the second day. i was doing a lot of athletics officiating that summer which was hard physical work all day on the Saturday, so I’d then run long, achy and tired, the next day and that still built my resilience.

    Hope that helps and have fun!

  2. […] finally wrote the post about my training plan, which you can read here. The summary version is that I’m training for a 50K in mid-July. This is what was on the plan […]

  3. This is so exciting!!!!! At a quick glance, it looks like you got it all covered: a gradual increase in miles/intensity and some scale-backs…which is what we all need for recovery (and ease of mind LOL). And some strength-training as well other stuff. I look forward to following you on this journey 😉

  4. I’m afraid I have no advice, but will be to come along on your adventure. 🙂

    Sounds like you’re already training smart by adding in that extra recovery time — life happens & you never know when you’ll need that!
    Judy @ Chocolaterunsjudy recently posted…That Made Me Stronger: February 2020My Profile

  5. Wendy says: Reply

    So now you’ve given me an idea for a blog post…I will not run an ultra, but I will run a trail race, lol! I really get where you’re coming from, the whole trail race vibe is so appealing to me right now. No pressure to rush, take time to enjoy the ride. I’m running a 25k in the Everglades in a couple of weeks. We’ll see how I feel after that.

    Excited to follow your training!

  6. Wow I am really excited for you and looking forward to following along w your training. You have lots of hill experience and your training plan looks great. Happy training!

  7. I have a cousin who has declared she will NEVER run a road marathon but has run several ultra trail marathons! Best of luck. I love how organised you are. Don’t have much advise other than, enjoy the process and I can’t wait to follow your training!

  8. So exciting! Looks like you are off to a great start.

  9. […] First of all, I added a weekly detail page to my training spreadsheet: […]

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