When I was preparing for my first marathon I was a little overwhelmed with how many different marathon training plans there were. Unfortunately it's quite the opposite for ultramarathons. I found some stuff for 50 milers (here is information on the plan I used), but almost nothing for 100 milers. (With the exception of www.ultrunr.com which is loaded with very useful information. I read everything on this site multiple times.)
I think I've figured out why there is so little information about ultra training plans. 1) There just aren't as many people who blog or write about this topic since fewer people do these races. 2) Most ultrarunners I talked to are much less ridged about their training. For many, their training plan is simply "Run as much as I can" (or want to) to gradually build miles. 3) Cliche as it may sound, there is no "right" training plan for ultras. Everyone is different and a plan should be tailored to individual strengths, weaknesses, and the race course.
I found two training plans for 100 milers. THIS one seemed unreasonable knowing I'm more injury-prone with high mileage. I think that many miles would have had me on the injury reserve, and I believe it would be very challenging if you still want to have a job and family. Plus....with running, sometimes less is more. Then there is THIS one which seemed more realistic so this is what I built my training off of.
In all my searching, I never found a training history where someone said "This is what I did in the months leading up to the race and it seemed to work." I wish I had something like that. So I made my own.
Here is what my training looked like for the four months leading up to the Javelina Jundred. I did some biking occasionally on the days I didn't run. And you'll see the 26.2 miles when I ran a full marathon or 13.1 when I ran a half.
This plan isn't going to help you set a course record. But that wasn't my intent in signing up for a 100 miler. My goal wasn't to go fast, my goal was TO FINISH. This training plan helped me do just that in a race that only has a 50% finisher rate.
Running one 100 miler is far from being an expert on the art of ultramarathons, but here are some tips that I gathered along the way which I think are critical for training:
Study your target race and it's course. If the course is rocky, find some rocky trails to train on. If you're race may be hot, get lots of miles in the heat to prepare. I try to run on trails whenever possible, but at the very least, almost all your long runs should be on trails. It's important to train your feet, ankles, and knees how to adjust to different terrain and rocks. I've had lots of minor ankle rolls that were no big deal since my ankles have gotten stronger. Before running trails, these would have been major black and blue ankle sprains.
An experienced ultrarunner told me that a 100 miler isn't a race, it's a test of patience. Expect to be walking 40-50 miles. I think that's true. I have incorporated frequent walk breaks into all my training runs. What works for me is running for 5 minutes then walking for about 1 minute. Some people run for 25 minutes then walk 5. It works out to be about the same. Frequent walk breaks have completely changed my running. They help me finish runs feeling strong and I recover faster. In training and racing, start walk breaks right from the beginning. If you start doing walk breaks after you start feeling tired, you're too late. Just ask Jeff Galloway.
These were definitely the most crucial parts of training. I treat each long run as an experiment. I experiment with hydration, nutrition, calorie replacement, run/walk breaks, electrolyte replacement, etc. Long runs help teach your mind how to deal with pain. Time on your feet really is the important thing. I learned to take it very easy on long runs because when you're doing lots of training miles, your purpose for each run is to be in good enough condition to do tomorrow's run. I was careful to avoid excessive soreness so I could recover quickly. I think a training plan based on time instead of mileage could be very helpful. Go sloooooow on long runs.
I really liked doing just four days a week of running. I think that was helpful for a few reasons: 1) It cut out some of the junk miles, and 2) It built in more recovery time. Rest days are just as necessary as the long runs! Many ultra runners do back-to-back runs where they run 20 miles one day and 30 the next (mileages vary). I think those back-to-back runs are definitely helpful to train the body how to run on tired legs. But I don't train on Sundays and with a family and job I found those back-to-backs hard to fit in. You'll see that I did some shorter back-to-backs. I think some are helpful as long as you don't overdo it.
Listen To Your Body
Don't get so locked into a training plan that you ignore what your body is saying. If you feel an injury brewing take a break. I can't emphasize enough how important it is to allow yourself to adjust training as needed. My 100 miler was so physically demanding that I don't think I would have made it if I was at the starting line with nagging injuries. Keep yourself healthy.
Relentless Forward Motion
This is a mantra of ultra runners. When times get tough and their bodies are revolting and each mile is taking an eternity, everything is boiled down to one element: just make relentless forward motion. Keep fighting. Keep moving long enough for that second (or third, or fourth) wind to come. Don't worry about the 30 minute miles. As long as you are making relentless forward motion you will get to the finish line. I found this to be completely true during the race when it felt like the finish line might as well have been in Nigeria. (This is how I looked at that moment.)
Gear (none of these are sponsors)
Everyone is different but I'll tell you what works for me.
Gaiters: I got mine HERE and they work great to keep dirt and rocks out of my shoes.
Shoes: Road shoes will work okay for many trail runs, but my favorite trail shoe is the Hoka Mafate.
Hydration: I am madly in love with my Nathan HPL 020 hydration pack. I tried lots of others and this one leaves all the others in the dust. I wore it during the whole 100 miler and it didn't bother me one bit.
Body Glide: Useful for any areas that may chafe. I also rub it all over my feet before I put socks on.
Electrolytes: Get used to taking these during long distances or in heat to replace the salt and minerals you are sweating out. I bought Saltstick capsules but lots of ultrarunners use S-Caps. I take one every hour.
BUT....in extreme heat or after lots of hours this might not be enough. After I had been running for about 20 hours I started urinating A LOT every ten minutes or so. It was clear (thankfully not Coke-colored like I've heard from other runners) but it was very frequently. Lucky for me at that time my wife was pacing me who is also a nurse. She said I needed more electrolytes. I took the Saltstick caps more frequently and that fixed the problem.
Training The Mind
I think the biggest thing that got me to the finish line of the 100 miler was the fact that quitting was not an option. You have to really, REALLY want it. You have to be willing to suffer. I told my crew (wife and sister) that the only way I was dropping from the race was if I didn't meet the cutoffs and was pulled from the course by race officials. I gave my crew specific motivation points to remind me of during the race. I told them to not let me quit, no matter how much I might beg them too. (Thankfully I never reached that point where I begged to quit.)
I told myself before the race "Eventually this is going to really, really hurt. But that's okay! It's alright to hurt. It's okay to suffer. It's (probably) not going to kill you. You. Can. Do. Hard. Things!!!!
I'm not going to lie. Those last 30 miles were excruciating. I was in way more pain than I had ever experienced. Every single cell of my body was in agony. Each step hurt worse than the one before. But the feeling when crossing that finish line was indescribable and made all that suffering worth it.
So here's my point in all of this: If you want to run an ultramarathon, YOU CAN DO IT! Seriously, that is the honest truth. If you really want it, you can do it. So go find a race, get really, really brave for five minutes and click the Register button. That is the scariest part of the race is getting guts to click the Register button. You. Can. Do. Hard. Things!!!!
Is there a part of you deep inside that wants to tackle an ultra?
Is there anything I'm missing? Anything you want to know more about?