New Training For Me

Fun in the Smokies

Training. That word is very divisive in the ultra world. For some athletes, that means they are getting ready for a big effort and looking forward to getting stronger and fitter for that event. Some look at it with disgust and rather not have to train and just finish ultras without trying. Then you have our community - our partners, families, and friends...maybe even coworkers who don't understand why you have to be away all the time. Through all of this your excuse is - yep, training. My stance on training has changed alot over the past 3-4 years and its because I feel that I've changed from a casual ultra runner who got in decent shape to finish an ultra to now wanting to be more competitive and take on challenges I never thought possible. My first thoughts of training for an ultra were to get out there and run as much as possible - that should suffice. Yes, this mentality will get you through an ultra, but you will also need a strong mindset becuase you will suffer, and suffer alot with this kind of training.

The first time that I had a bout with dedicated training was when I was training for my first 100 mile race, the Pinhoti 100. I felt way out of my comfort zone getting ready for this race running what I thought was a ton of miles. I think easy weeks were around 40 miles and peak weeks got up to 60 miles with very little elevation change and absolutely zero cross-training or recovery. I remember this training block because this was some of the first times I felt overtraining seeping in. I would go out for night runs and just walk parts of it not due to fatigue but because I didn't want to be running. Don't get to this point. You should always enjoy what you're doing.

The next iteration of this was when I was going for the Pinhoti Slam a few years later. At that time, the Pinhoti Slam featured 3 100 mile races in a calendar year which required you to stay fit almost the whole year. The winter and spring months consisted of training for Double Top 100 in April. Then in the summer, you needed to start getting ready for Georgia Jewel 100. Following that, only 6 weeks later was Pinhoti. At that point in my running, this was a big jump and I felt like there was little time to rest and recover. But this training cycle forced me to start cross-training and thinking about how to consistently train week in and week out without injuries and without burnout. I still had injuries that year. I still had burnout that year too. I felt like training was getting better, but I still hadn't figured out all the pieces.

Night Runs

Life Events Propelled Me
So a few things really pushed me to train better. For one thing there was a global pandemic going on that shut so many things down - so why not train more? Daily walks became a norm. Social get togethers were not happening so I felt like putting in some more runs and at home workouts. The other thing for me was that my family and I moved to Western North Carolina - home of some of the steepest and most technical trails in the southeast. When I moved here, I got my butt kicked pretty early on and felt like a rookie to trail running. All those buckles and finishes meant nothing, because they were not on these trails. I hope that you can find joy in training without life events, but sometimes new scenery is just what it takes to change your mindset.

Stomping Knob

What Does Training Look Like?
Now let's get into some training. My training fits my schedule and would be completely different if I had a different job or didn't have a family. All of this is purely anecdotal but it works for me as a being a partner in a family and a father of two kids while working as a teacher. This is kind of the run down for my week.

Each morning - walk the dog for 20 minutes, then go out for a 3 mile run. This is super easy pace, Zone 1 heartrate or conversational pace. After work - it's hill repeat time. My goal is to get in 2,000 feet of climbing and 2,000 feet of descent on trails - no roads. I'm lucky enough to live in the mountains and can get this with 2 hills that is less than 4 miles total. I focus on the climbing because I have a weekly goal for climbing to stay in mountain ultra running condition.
Each morning - walk the dog for 20 minutes, then go out for a 3 mile run. This is super easy pace, Zone 1 heartrate or conversational pace. After work - it's strength training day. I put in a 30 minute strength workout. I would say the first 20 minutes are all core excercises focusing on ab and back muscles. It's similar to a HIIT workout with planks, side planks, plank twists, scissor kicks, low boat flutters, etc. Then follow that up with a quick circuit of squats, lunges, step raises, squat jumps, and push ups. At the beginning, my abs were sore for days - which subsides after a few weeks. By the end of each of these workouts, I feel more tired than if I went for a good 90 minute Zone 1 or Zone 2 run in the mountains.
Each morning - walk the dog for 20 minutes, then go out for a 3 mile run. This is super easy pace, Zone 1 heartrate or conversational pace. After work - group run with friends. I will tend to move into the Zone 3 with my tempo and keep it under 5 miles. I only go into the Zone 3 for a run once a week. Every other run is in Zones 1 and 2. I'm trying to build base as the weeks go on.
Rest Day - I try to make these an absolute rest day. If I'm feeling antsy a 3-4 mile walk will take care of it. Now here's an exception. If I don't go to my group run on Wednesdays, then Thursday is a speed work day. I have 2 different goto workouts. The first one is hill sprints. In this workout you do 8 reps of 15 second sprint with 2 minutes rest. The sprint is on a hill as steep as I can find. 20% grade is what I usually do. The second workout is a 30 second on - 30 second off run generally on easier grade like 10 to 15 percent grade putting in the same amount of time as a speed workout. The goal of these is to go hard on the 'on' time and go super slow and easy on the 'off' or rest times. The focus is to get into the Zone 3 or even Zone 4 heart rates when going hard.
Each morning - walk the dog for 20 minutes, then go out for a 3 mile run. This is super easy pace, Zone 1 heartrate or conversational pace. After work go for a fun run. Ususally its around 6-7 miles with 2,000 ft of climbing. I have a great route called the Stingray route near me that's a good fitness test each week.
It's long run day...finally! I look forward to the weekends to get out there and go long. The distance for my long run changes each weekend. Depending on the distance and terrain I try to get in a solid 4 hour run, more if I have time for it.
This is another fun run day getting in a 2 hour run. So on a Friday-Saturday-Sunday mix I'll aim for 8 hours total of running, usually 7-10K of climbing total -- and distance, I'll take what I get with that time out in the mountains.

The Effect of Training

Since I've started training harder I have noticed some improvement in my times, but the biggest thing that I've ntoiced is how my body has reacted to longer runs. Since running Ouray 100, I've completed 3 100K unsupported efforts in the Massanutten Ring, Pitchell, and the Art Loeb Trail Double. I've only been able to do these big runs by not having to take substantial time off from running after them. Usually after a few days of rest I'm ready to roll back into a training rythm and feels good.
I'm not sure if what I do works for others, but I hope it helps inspire you to get after your goals and maybe mix things up a bit. I used to not like training that much, but now I look forward to my training blocks.

Long Run in WNC

Happy Trails Ryan

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Posted by Ryan James on 2021-12-03


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