Sunday, January 27, 2008

How to Peak or Prepare for an Ultra

Hey, a lot of people have been asking me about how to prepare for an ultra. So, here it goes.

Assuming you already have a good running base, getting ready for an ultra means gaining the appropriate fitness for the specific event.  What this means is that peaking for a flat-land road marathon and peaking for a trail 50k up in the mountains will take completely different training. The more specific training you do that's appropriate for your event, the better prepared you will be. The body grows by adaptation; your fitness gains will come through stress-recovery cycles.

For running ultras, usually this means a lot of hill running. Many people don't like running hills because they are hard.  But, people make it hard because they try to run at their normal speed up the hills as they do on flat terrain. Try this next time you run a long hill that's more than a mile. Start at fast walking pace, then start running just above your walking pace.  To many of you, this will feel extremely slow. Then, gradually increase speed until you feel you can sustain your pace and run to the top without walking.  The goal is to run the whole climb at a pace that you can keep.  The speed will come as you gain climbing fitness.  The more regularly you do this, allowing rest in between, the quicker you will adapt to hill running. 

Hill running is easy if you can take the above mental attitude. In many ultra races, the course winds its way up the mountain for 15+ miles; so, in these cases, a steady pace should always be faster than running too fast in the beginning and then having to walk the last few miles. 

Practically, the preparation means at least one of your weekend long runs should be done on hills. And, it should include, at least one, if not two, shorter but faster hill runs during the week. The training plans you find on ultra-running related websites sometimes will just list mileage, but what they really means is that those mileage should be done on hills. 

You will love hills!  Just keep this in mind: "hills are not your enemy, they are just different." Over time, they will become your friend. :)

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