I had an awful weekend the one before last where I just self-sabotaged by getting far too drunk on Friday night and then having to work all day Sunday. I am still not quite over quite how pissed off I was at myself as a result. Plus working long hours all week, I generally just felt exhausted and annoyed at myself and life in general. So I missed a week of recapping – the good news is that I feel much better now!
Instead I’m going to talk about what its like to train for an ultra marathon.
I’ve been training now, with a proper coach and everything, for over three months, and I have less than three months to go until the big day, so I thought now was as good a time as any to recap.
And actually – setting it out like that has already made me feel slightly better. When I look through the calendar it makes me think that its almost May and wonder how on earth I am going to find time to get all the training in. How on earth am I going to get fit enough, strong enough, to run a whole 50 miles?! But I have almost three months – I am not almost there, I am only a little over half way. Immediately, before even writing the rest of this post, I feel slightly calmer.
So – to backtrack. What is it like training for an ultra marathon? To be honest, at this point, I feel I couldn’t tell you. I could tell you what it is like to train really hard for a half marathon – to reduce your 10km time by almost 5 minutes and feel you could potentially reduce your half marathon time by 15 minutes… But an ultra? I don’t know.
The longest run I have done so far has been in the region of 13-14 miles. And I have done that a lot. Actually, for the last 2 months I have been playing with the half marathon distance. A long slow run over the South Downs at Christmas (still my favourite run of this training cycle). Two hour runs with fast sections, increasing the length and speed of the efforts. 13 miles with solid paced miles in the middle, or at the end.
And my mid-week runs – so many of them! I am used to running just three times a week, now I am aiming for five times (although admittedly I rarely manage that….). So three mid-week runs, all of which are around 50 minutes to an hour long. One will involve a short, sharp interval, the others will be variations on tempo runs – 40 minutes at an effort, 10 minute repeats, for example.
I am getting faster. Actually – I am getting so much faster. Its perhaps not surprising what the body can do once you start running more regularly and putting some real effort in (although I miss cycling! I miss cycling so much!). But my fastest half marathon before was just a few minutes above two hours and now I am regularly running sub 2-hour halves in training even with slow warm-ups and cool-downs. I feel I’m getting closer to the pace of a “good” average runner. A sub-4 hour marathon is probably not far off.
But with all my fast running, I haven’t done any long runs. And no trail runs since Christmas, when I had a few gorgeous runs over the South Downs. Until I started writing this post, I felt slightly stressed about that. Now I feel a lot less stressed as I’ve realised there is still a lot of time until mid-May.
So here are my five key takeaways from the first half of ultra marathon training:
Don’t expect it to be all long slow runs
Base strength and speed is important – get the body used to running faster and it will find running slowly easier, so you can run longer (or at least that’s the plan! I’ll let you know once I start running longer :D)
Strength work is important
My mouth dropped open when I saw my coach’s suggestions for strength training. I am nowhere near there even now, let alone when I began training – I did a lot of body weight exercises but very little with actual weights. Now I am deadlifting, squatting, bridging (is that a word?), lunging, standing on my tiptoes – all with progressively heavier weights. I made use of my gym’s offer of a free monthly programme set by a trainer who works with you for the first one. Most gyms offer this and I would really recommend it.
I miss swimming and cycling. If I wasn’t so busy at work I would be able to swim more, but I run on both days of the weekend and into work most mornings which has taken out my cycling time. I am sure it would be possible to train for an ultra on less than 5 runs a week but as this is my first one, I really want to maximise the running and do what my coach tells me! But a small part of me is looking forward to it being late May, the weather being gorgeous, and going out for a long cycle.
People will think you’ve lost your mind
People know I compete in events and spend a lot of time exercising so I am quite regularly asked at work “what are you training for at the moment?”. When I say I’m training for an ultra marathon, the most common response is “what’s that?” followed by shock and incomprehension when I actually tell them! Actually, ultra running is so outside of most people’s boundaries of what is normal that they are not even that impressed, they just don’t understand it!
It’s an (ultra) marathon, not a sprint.
Given the length of the race and the fact I wanted to do it justice, I gave myself six months to train, six months with a coach. So while at this point I would often be heading into my goal race, here I am only just getting started. I need to work on hitting all my workouts but avoiding burn-out, both physical and mental!
Getting better at something is awesome
Training for an ultra clearly involves doing a lot more running than I am used to. Something that should not really be surprising, but is so surprising, is just how much faster I am getting, how much easier running short distances feels. I ran a half marathon today, a really hilly half, with a new PB and a huge smile on my face both during and after. I LOVE running. I love how much faster and stronger I am getting. I am enjoying the process.