Monday, April 14, 2008

Ultra Training Plans -- uncovered and reviewed (pt 2)

In February I reviewed one of the ultra training plans that I found online. This is the second installment of the series.

Runner's World: The Ultimate Ultramarathon Training Plan (by Doug Rennie).

"You don't have to be crazy to run an ultramarathon. You just have to be ready." Amen to that. At first glance, I was not impressed with this plan, possibly due to its claim to be "the ultimate." But after a more careful review, I like it. Despite what I see as a few flaws, this short-but-simple plan will help you get ready for a 50-miler without requiring you to train for hours every day.

A couple key points:

  • Your long run should be up to about 15-18 miles before starting this 16-week schedule. That makes this schedule perfect for the half or full marathon runner looking to move up to ultras.
  • "Ultra training is not about speed... but rather time on your feet." To accomplish this they recommend the long run sandwich (not long enough, in my opinion -- more on that later), with a day of rest before and after.
  • They add in some interval work to keep us from "settling into a semipermanent slow slog." I am a firm believer in that.

They list 8 "rules of the road," only one of which I really disagree with. They recommend picking the flattest race possible to avoid the "added stress of steep hills..." Some of my favorite things about ultrarunning involve steep hills (walk breaks, beautiful climbs, the relief of reaching the top, blasting down the other side). Plus, most ultrarunners I know prefer a mix of terrain to keep from working the same muscles.

Key "rules" that I do agree with are: train on the terrain that you are going to race on, take walking breaks, and eat/drink whatever worked for you in training -- even if it means bringing your own aid.

The Schedule

Their schedule includes 2 days of rest on either side of the weekend long run "sandwich." The long runs are expressed in terms of minutes and hours, which makes it easy to just get out there and move -- without thinking of pace or distance.

  • Monday -- rest.
  • Tuesday runs are always 10 miles or less, with some 1-mile intervals at 10-miler pace. This keeps speed in the legs.
  • Wednesday is always an easy 5-mile jog. I think this could be turned into an off day or a fast day, depending on how you feel. Training plans have to be flexible.
  • Thursday is a less-than-10 mile run.
  • Friday -- rest up for the long runs ahead.
  • Saturday starts at 1.5 hours, and works up to 4 hours. They don't recommend a pace here, but when I do a long run sandwich, I prefer to run faster on the first day. I think it produces a greater benefit and gets me used to running on tired legs (the second day).
  • Sunday is usually a bit longer than Saturday. A couple of the weeks call for marathon pace in the last hour. Again, I prefer to run harder on the first day of the sandwich. Or both (or neither). Again, train for how you feel.
(Note on their long run days: Their longest sandwich is a 4 hour Saturday followed by a 5-hour Sunday (which they estimate to be 27 miles). In my experience, that is not long enough to prepare you for what will most likely be a 8 or 9 hour 50-miler. I would prefer to see one of those days stretch into 6 hours or more.)

I think this basic plan is almost perfect for the middle-distance runner (10-miles to marathon) looking to step up to ultra distances. The key to any plan is flexibility, which this plan does not specifically allow for. So it is up to you to train according to how you feel. Try to stay at the challenging end of your comfort zone without risking injury. If in doubt, take an easy or off day. If you feel like running a few more intervals or running faster or longer, do it.

I don't visit much, so I was surprised to see that they do have a good bit of ultra content. I especially enjoyed the interview with Tim Twietmeyer (who contributed a chapter to "Running Through the Wall").

Run hard out there.

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