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?
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.
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.
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.
…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….)