Over the years, people have asked me if I’d ever run an ultra-marathon. I always answered with some variation of, “Absolutely not!” My thinking began to change last fall when I watched a documentary on the Barkley Marathons. Even though I couldn’t see putting myself through that, something about the race fascinated me. I felt a similar sense of intrigue this spring while listening to a Marathon Talk episode with Elisabet Barnes describing the Marathon de Sables. It occurred to me that what was probably piquing my interest in both races was the challenge of racing an event over several days. While I still couldn’t conceptualize even trying the Barkley or MdS, a two or three day event covering 70 miles or so seems like a reasonable short-term goal. I thought a 50-miler would be a good introduction to ultra-marathons before jumping into a serious multi-day running event.
Choose a Goal Race. Where do I even start?! I visited UltraSign-Up‘s calendar page back in September and selected 50 mile races. From those results, I looked for bigger events thinking they might have more support for a first-timer. The author of a book I bought on running your first ultra-marathon suggested choosing an event that would mean something to you. However, she also recommended not traveling for your first race. I went with her first piece of advice and settled on a race in my hometown – San Diego, California.
Goal Race: The 2018 San Diego 50 and Trail Marathon on Saturday, January 13, 2018.
Creating a Plan. Unlike marathon training plans, I wasn’t finding a lot of resources on ultra-marathons. I bought “Running Your First Ultra,” by Krissy Moehl because from reading the information on Amazon, it appeared to have training schedules. When the book arrived and I started plugging workouts into a training plan on RunningAhead, the key elements seemed to be:
- After an initial build-up, weekly mileage in the 50-80 range.
- Back-to-back long runs on the weekends for a total of about 35-45 miles.
- One interval session a week featuring 5 minute repetitions with 1 minute rests.
- A recovery week consisting of only 20-35 miles every 3 weeks.
- A two-week taper.
But, wait! I’m also running the 2018 Boston Marathon in April. So, mid-way through this plan, around December 10th, I’ll edit my schedule to look more like the workouts in Advanced Marathoning, by Pete Pfitzinger. I’ll keep the weekend long runs and recovery days around them but do some medium runs during the week.
Pick a Start Date. I just finished running the 2017 New York City Marathon. I thought two weeks would be enough rest before I could start training again.
Start Date: Sunday, November 19th.
Plan Mini-Cycles. Given that I was already coming off of a taper, I thought it would alright to train fairly hard for six weeks and then taper for two. So, I only planned on two “mini-cycles” – endurance and the taper.
Endurance: 6 weeks – Sunday, November 19th to Saturday, December 30th
Taper: 2 weeks – Sunday, December 31st to Saturday, January 13th
Schedule Tune-up Races: Again, I’m coming off marathon training, so I didn’t think I needed any races before the ultra. But, there were a couple of races I wanted to do.
Thursday, November 23rd – 2017 Alexandria Turkey Trot 5 Miler. I have a 10 year running streak with this race.
Set a Race Goal. This step seemed easy… to finish! But, as a practical matter, I will need to get a rough sense for how long this endeavor might actually take me so I pace it properly. My guess based on my easy run pace is somewhere around nine hours including breaks.
Achievable Goal: Finishing.
I feel confident that if I train properly over the next eight weeks, I can cover the 50 miles. But, there a few other things weighing on my mind:
- Trails. I’ll have to go off-roading. My first trail race felt longer than the roads because I was concentrating so hard on not tripping!
- Drop Bags. These are kits runners pack before the start that are taken to certain locations on the course for use during the race. I’ll need to think very carefully about what to put in these bags. For example, a race report I read mentioned the temperature swung from 30 to 80 degrees during the day!
- Food and Hydration. This is going to be critical over the course of nine hours. I’ll do a lot of calculations to estimate calorie and fluid consumption for the race.
Over the next eight weeks, I’ll work on these non-training related aspects of the race, too.