In my first three years of ultrarunning, I learned many valuable lessons about the importance of keeping my training sustainable. Not only can an individual over-race, over-train, and not rest enough when training for ultras, but one can also improperly fuel the machine.
I plan to race ultras for a long time and keep running for my entire life.
The sustainable approach to training and racing takes much more patience than getting as fast as possible, as soon as possible.
My goal becomes much more realistic by applying proper rest, periodization of training, and a reasonable race schedule.
When planning a race schedule for the season/year, I first take a look at which races interest me and how they align with my full-time job. I’m a collegiate cross country and track & field coach; thus, I pick mostly summer and late fall races that fit my schedule at the university. Ultravasan, Western States, Desert Solstice, Javelina Jundred, and Comrades Marathon always fit my schedule well. Races like TNF, JFK, Spartathlon, Lake Sonoma, and other spring/fall races are a bit trickier to fit into my schedule due to my busy cross country/track schedule.
Picking a sustainable race schedule is an important part of properly fueling the machine. If an ultrarunner is picking too many races, they may not be able to perform their best at their most important “A” Races. When I pick an “A” race, I want the field to be highly competitive at a time of the year that fits well with my job. I also make sure to have at least six to eight weeks between “A” races.
My best recommendation comes from Zach Miller. When we raced a few summers ago, he essentially advised to not pick too many ultras in the same calendar year and focus on proper training and periodization in the build to an important race. For me, the magic number is four to six ultras per year.
Actual time sleeping is quite basic knowledge. When training for ultras, a minimum of eight hours of sleep per night is essential. If you can’t sleep eight hours a night, find creative ways to take naps throughout your day or move your training to a time like your lunch hour that allows you to get more sleep all at once.
Another important aspect of resting is taking your easy days easy enough. The most important tool I can suggest as an investment is a solid GPS watch with the HR Chest Strap application. Heart rate training ensures I actually take it easy on my easy days and my quality days are the proper intensity instead of just “hard.”
The third most important part of resting is not always following the schedule. A training program is designed to allow a runner to focus on long-term development and aerobic/anaerobic fitness gains. Sometimes my schedule suggests “10 miles easy recovery,” but I will instead split my run to a double: six miles in the AM and four miles in the PM. Sometimes I will just take the day off for an Epsom salt bath, foam roll, massage, and core strength training. Recovery days should be true recovery. Make sure they feel like recovery.
Periodization of Training
I’ve been working full time as a collegiate college head coach for eight years. The toughest learning curve for me was learning to periodize my athletes’ training properly so we could perform well at the most important meets of the season. Around three years into my head coaching job, my athletes and I developed a relationship that allowed us to speak openly about racing our best when it counts and not “wasting” our best races in training and less important races.
Periodization is all about applying the correct intensity, specificity, and volume at the right times in a training block to produce the results you desire at your target race.
This ideology can easily be applied to ultrarunning. As an example, let’s say I just raced at Ultravasan (a 90K trail race in Sweden) and have 10-11 weeks to train for Javelina Jundred. The gap between the races will allow me to apply another significant block of training that will allow me to train specifically for Javelina Jundred.
My training leading into Ultravasan involved a “C” race (50K) and quite a bit of specific long tempo, broken tempo, and interval training. Since I had such great leg speed from the Ultravasan training block, I was able to focus most of my specificity during my Javelina Jundred block on heat training, long runs at lower heart rates, and practicing with the hydration and cooling apparatus I planned to carry during the race.
Remember, specificity doesn’t need to involve intensity. In addition to proper intensity and volume, I view specificity in a more broad sense that involves practice with nutrition, hydration apparatus, cooling apparatus, and other gear you plan to utilize in your target race.
Fueling the Machine
Coming from a collegiate running background followed by a road marathon/half marathon race, I was quite an amateur when it came to the importance of proper nutrition and hydration while racing. In marathons, I was able to take sporadic shots of water at aid stations and survive off four to five gels.
Ultrarunning was quite a transition for me, but I have been fortunate enough to have great advisors in the sport that stressed the importance of practicing often with the foods and fluids you plan to carry in the race. Whether going out for a six to seven mile run or a 35 mile run in the mountains, I’m always carrying two handhelds—and sometimes a pack in the mountains.
For recovery, this is where Flora becomes so important. I’ve been utilizing Udo’s Oil and Omega Sport + in my regular everyday diet for two years now. After any significantly hard effort, I will make a Greek yogurt, almond, frozen fruit-based smoothie.
One or two spoonsful of each oil blend plus one or two scoops of Flora Green Blend allows me to get the healthy fats, important calories, and needed vitamins and minerals immediately after a run without having to masticate a ton of food. The simple addition of Flora oils to my diet has allowed me to up my calorie intake while ensuring joint health. These products have been essential to my everyday diet.