Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Ultra Training Plans -- uncovered and reviewed (pt 1)

This is the first part in a series devoted to uncovering and discussing some of the “ultrarunning training plans” that can be found on the internet. Google doesn’t turn up a whole lot. But as I come across good plans, I’ll present them here.

The first plan I want to discuss was written by a friend of mine, Eric Grossman. Eric is a very fast and talented ultrarunner who knows how to train and is willing to share some of his ideas. Eric is also the Race Director for the Iron Mountain 50-mileTrail Run. The race takes place in the fall (October 4, 2008 this year), thus the title of Eric’s training plan.

Training for a Fall Ultramarathon

This two-page plan is well written and seems to target relatively new ultrarunners (although it has great advice for all levels of runners). It begins by encouraging the runner to “publicly commit” to a goal race. This is one of the secrets to success in anything you do – tell people your goals publicly. It makes it a lot harder to fail. So with that, we’re off to a good start.

As with most distance running plans, this one starts off with a foundation of slow, comfortable running. Eric recommends ways to develop a training regimen that will motivate you and is “self-sustaining.” Again, a thinking person’s plan: If it’s not fun, it’s too easy to quit.

This plan calls for the gradually-lengthening, weekly long run to eventually cover at least 4 hours a month before the event (for a goal race of 50 miles). I’m not sure a long run of 4 hours is enough to prepare anyone for a 50-miler, so I would suggest longer (say 60-75% of goal time). Eric suggests that the long run be used to practice eating and drinking -- great advice overlooked by many new ultrarunners. Eric also suggests doing back-to-back long runs. This has been a key to any ultrarunning success I have ever had. Some other plans call this the long run sandwich. I like to call it the “lost weekend.”

Next Eric’s plan goes where too many ultrarunners fear to tread. The fast tempo run and speed intervals. It’s a simple matter of fact that you cannot race fast without training fast. It’s the principle of specificity. I hear too many ultrarunners lament about their declining speed. LSD (long slow distance) is necessary, of course. But all LSD will turn you into an LSD runner. Tempo runs and interval training build strength, train the cardio system like nothing else, and have played a key role in all my “fast” races. Eric is wise to recommend that we not attempt these faster runs until we have a good base, and even then, not to do them more than once per week.

The next facet of Eric’s plan is the uneven run. This is another application of specificity. To run good on rough trails, you need to train on rough trails. If your goal race is not on an uneven surface, you can skip this. Although, as Eric points out, uneven running targets your core postural muscles and will improve your overall fitness. It’s also fun and most of the time, more forgiving on your joints.

Lastly, this plan reminds us to rest. For new runners, he recommends one or two days per week of no running. For the more experienced, he points out that a slow comfortable recovery run can count as rest. Eric also recommends “cycling” weeks of training with rest weeks. The example he gives is to take an easy week after six solid weeks of training.

Eric finishes by offering to help individualize a training program for runners that are registered for Iron Mountain. Now that’s an RD going the extra mile.

Thanks Eric for a sound plan that does not overlook the benefits of fast running.

1 comment:

Tungsten said...

I enjoyed both reviews in the series thus far. Hope you continue to add more.

I'm looking to run my first marathon in May - nearly 7 months away - after 3 years of solid miles doing 10K and 1/2 marathon running.

I've been looking at the ultra plans not so much because I feel there's an ultra in my future (though they are strangely compelling) but more because most of the marathon plans I've seen have just one 20 mile run.

Much like you're comments about 4 hours of training not being enough for a 9+ hour ultra is seems to me that 3 hours of training for a 4 hour race isn't enough.

Any advice?