The first baby steps on a 50-mile trail

13 Jan

It seems like I began training for my ultramarathon in earnest this weekend.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been building my mileage as I normally would. I’ve stuck to four runs a week with some speed work during the work week and a long run on the weekend. At some point, I may add another midweek run in order to build mileage even more, but it’s been better for the aches and pains to stay with four runs a week.

I have lengthened my two midweek runs further than I normally would for marathon training. This week, I did a pair of 7-milers on Tuesday and Thursday. If I’m going to tackle an ultra, I’ll need more mileage under my belt.

Getting in extra miles during an Iowa winter means not letting a little snow or ice stop you. Here, I've added 5/8th-inch sheet metal screws to the bottom of some of my older running shoes.

Getting in extra miles during an Iowa winter means not letting a little snow or ice stop you. Here, I’ve added 5/8th-inch sheet metal screws to the bottom of some of my older running shoes.

But the biggest change from my usual training plan came on my weekend runs. I have made two key changes: 1) I’ve lengthened the pair of runs, and 2) I’ve moderated the pace.

I actually ran my longest run on Saturday instead of Sunday, but that change had more to do with the weather. The forecast called for the temperatures to drop all weekend, so I did a 15-miler in the mid-30s on Saturday and a 6-miler on Sunday with temps in the teens.

I’ll continue to combine back-to-back long runs on Saturdays and Sundays, working up to a 3-hour run on Saturday and a 4-hour run on Sunday. I may need to go further than that, but for now, those are the times/distances I have planned.

My second change was in my approach to the longest run. Instead of running at a constant pace for the entire run, I alternated 5-minute run segments with 1-minute walk segments. This keeps the body fresher longer. And that certainly seemed to be the case Saturday, when I still felt pretty darn good at the end of the 15 miles.

The run-walk method is used by some marathoners, and promoter Jeff Galloway says many runners can finish faster with this approach instead of the steady state approach. But for ultramarathoners, the key is to feel good for as long as you can. Many runners will use the run-walk method and walk up any hill. After all, unless you are an elite runner, the goal is to survive and keep moving forward.

The run-walk will test my patience. On Saturday, I just wanted to keep going, make some progress, get that much closer to done. I had to keep telling myself to be patient. But that will be key for a 10- or 12-hour ultramarathon effort.

I still haven’t totally committed to an ultra. My mileage is a bit behind where it should be, and I’m always wary of reaggravating my hamstring. If I have to rest that for any length of time, my timing will be shot.

There aren’t many ultras around, and I’ve found one only a couple hours away in Illinois in early April. The Potawatomi Trail Run 50 looks like a fun race, so even if my planning isn’t perfect, that’s the race I’m aiming for. I wish it was a bit later, but it is what it is.

And the new challenge has me jazzed. I’m looking at my training from a new perspective and learning all kinds of new things. So I’ll hope for steady progress over the next weeks.

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