This Autumn I concentrated on running a fast 5k, a goal that I was only moderately successful at (given the times that I wanted to run versus the times that I did run.) At the beginning of October, I switched my training over to get ready for my first 50 mile race which was at the beginning of January.
My first week was a recovery week from my Summer and Autumn training schedule, and I only ran a couple of times that week. Then I began to build up my mileage in preparation for the race. I did very little speed work outside of a few tempo runs. You can see my weekly mileage for the latter quarter of 2008 here:
After one good week of training (53 miles, about on par with what I had been doing in my 5k training) I got pretty sick and took 5 days off in the third week. I felt really good from there though and built my mileage up into the 60s and 70s for the bulk of my training.
There were a few races thrown in, but none of them were at full effort. I ran the Windham Lions 5k in the middle of a 15 mile run, I ran the Wicked Creepy Halloween Trail Run on an unfamiliar trail in the dark, and I mostly just ran with my camera filming the Blackstrap Hell Trail Challenge. I still got official times for them all, though.
My general philosophy was to get a mid-week long run in as often as possible and to run back to back medium/long to long runs on the weekends, building up as the weeks wore on. I did really well with my mid-week runs, with a lot of double workouts to get mileage in on some weeks (including one triple) and with a straight up 12-15 miler on the other weeks.
On the weekends, I didn’t do so well. I wanted to get at least one 30-35 mile run in, but my longest run wound up being just over 24 miles. I also never got any back-to-back 20+ mile runs in. I think that having those would have helped me in the 50 miler.
I did try to get as many hills into my workouts as possible. The race looked like it was relatively hilly when I first checked out the elevation profile:
There is 4,277 total feet of ascent (with a net of zero as it was an out and back) over the 50 miles. It looks intimidating, until I realized that some of my long runs at Pineland Farms were getting me around 2300-2500 feet of total ascent over less than half that distance. The actual grades of the road were only about 6-8%, so it’s actually a pretty easy course in terms of the climbing. I still tried to integrate as many hills into my long runs as possible, though, especially my mid-week runs on the roads that were 12-15 miles and anything that I did on the trails that was over 10 miles.
I had 2 weeks that I think were the cornerstone of my training. The first 7 weeks were basically training for these 2 weeks worth of workouts, building up a good enough base that I was able to accomplish them.
The first cornerstone week was reaching 100 miles in a single week for the first time since I graduated from college. That week I just had a huge volume of mileage with 4 individual runs over 10 miles and only 2 days during that week where I (barely) didn’t run at least 10 miles.
The week following that was scheduled as a cutback week, where I intended to run about 50 miles, but between Thanksgiving and some sore legs I only ran a little over 20. That let me rest up and recover from some of the damage of putting in a 100 mile week.
The second cornerstone week was actually a 5 day span of workouts that started at the end of week 10 and ran into week 11, where I ran 3 runs over 20 miles.
- Saturday: 20 miles on trails followed by a 150 minute nap.
- Sunday: A 90 minute nap followed by 7 miles on roads.
- Monday: 21 miles on roads.
- Tuesday: 5½ miles on trails after working a full day.
- Wednesday: 24 miles on the roads (my longest run leading into the race.)
So in 5 days I ran 77 miles, 65 of them in 3 of the runs. Individually, none of the runs were particularly difficult, but that last long run certainly had my legs feeling pretty similar to what I could expect around 35 to 40 miles into the 50 miler.
From that point forward, I was concentrating on recovering from as much of the damage that I had done to my legs as possible. The Monday following that 5 day streak I did a short 5 mile tempo run, which felt nice for stretching my legs out. From there my mileage dropped off pretty fast. I only ran about 45 miles the week before Christmas and about 30 miles the week of.
As my friend Ian reminded me, you aren’t going to improve in the last few weeks before an ultramarathon, you can only sabotage your race by doing more work than you need to.