Stories of an ultra runner and adventurer: an obsessive approach to the outdoors by Candice Burt

Sunday, November 17, 2013

12 Keys to 100 Mile Success

“Mental will is a muscle that needs exercise, just like the muscles of the body.” -Lynn Jennings

Despite all the training in the world, it really comes down to mental toughness and preparedness. This is what our training should in its essence teach us. It is too easy to quit, but the rewards of completion are worth fighting for not just on race day, but everyday we hit the trails or the gym.  Each run you do must have an intention.  Sometimes it will be recovery. Then you take it very easy or skip the run all together if your body is tired. Other times it will be to put in those extra 5 stair sprints or run the 30 miles, instead of 20, you know you need to run.  Here are my 12 keys to 100 mile Success:

1. Hit up the Hills. Too often people don't train for the kind of terrain they will encounter.  Even if your 100 miler isn't super hilly, doing hill workout will build strength and mental toughness.  This doesn't mean forcing yourself up a hill once a week, it means literally busting your butt doing multiple types of hill repeats and hilly long runs during the week. Here are the 4 key hill workouts to practice:
  • Long, Steep Hills with Lots of Vert: (1x week, can alternate with short steep hills) pick a 2 mile climb that is so steep you have to fast hike it (example: 2 miles with 1,500ft plus of climbing).  Fast hiking is key to 100 milers. As you improve, begin running the least steep sections. Really push your cardio. This should not feel good. You can do one repeat of this workout, for a total of 4 miles and really push it. As you get closer to your event, work up to 4-6 repeats (16-24 miles) and it becomes a good endurance workout with lots of vert.
  • Short, Steep Hills or Stairs: (1 x week, can alternate with long, steep hills) These are used for sprint repeats. I use a set of stairs that climbs to the top of a street in my neighborhood. It's 65 feet of climbing in less than 1/10 of a mile. It's just short enough that I can stomach 10 repeats, or more, but I'm keeled over panting by the top. Prefect torture. To make this a complete workout, pair it with a easy 4 mile warmup and 1-2 mile cool down. 
  • 2-3 minutes balls to the wall: (1x week) Pick a very steep hill and run it as fast as you can for 2-3 minutes. Use the downhill as recovery, and rest at the bottom as long as needed. Repeat. Repeat. 
  • Long Hilly Runs: (1x week) The hills don't have to be super steep, but they should be similar to the ones you will encounter in your 100 miler. This should be your long run every week. Begin with whatever distance you usually do for a long run and work up to a weekly long run of 20-30 miles with a couple of 50 milers (can be races) in the months leading up to your race.  
2. Downhill Speed/Adaptation: In addition to working on your uphill speed, you will want to work on your downhill speed. A lot of runners lose time on the downhills.  It's a shame, since it's easy to improve on the downhills. Use the workouts in #1 to focus on your downhill speed as well.  Every week make sure one of your "hill" workouts focuses on going fast on the downhills.  You will also want to get your legs ready for the downhill pounding that is a 100 mile race. Downhill specific workout:
  • Pick a steep 5 mile uphill out and back route. Run/hike the uphill easy, use it as a warmup. For the downhill really push the pace.  Make your self uncomfortable.  Work up to 2-3 repeats. If you don't have a 5 mile hill, use a shorter one and do more repeats. 
3. Practice regularly with your race gear, nutrition, and hydration: It is essential to practice with EVERY damn thing you might use during the race and make sure it works for you. Long runs and "B" races are a great time to practice.  Want to do well? You better have your nutrition and hydration dialed in. Best way to do that is during training runs or races that mimic the 100 mile course. Be sure to use the clothing, packs, food, powders, pills, socks and shoes that you plan to use. Don't start doing this 2 weeks before your race. Start 3 months before your race. Give yourself plenty of time to get ready for your run.  On another note, just because you can eat real food in training runs DOES NOT mean you can while racing. Practice your nutrition in a 50 mile or 100k race to know for sure.

4.  Long Run & Back to Back Long Runs: As mentioned above in hill workouts, you will need to add a long run and work up to 20-30 miles weekly, although it's been done on less. This is just the ideal. Your long runs should mimic the race course you are preparing for.  It is also good to have a few races in the months leading up to your 100 miler. Keep in mind that any races done less than 4 weeks before your race could hurt your race day performance and are risky.  Back to back long runs are a good way to get time on your feet but break up the impact of a one day really long run.

5. Recovery Runs: These runs help add mileage and prepare your body for the  mileage of a 100 miler. They should be VERY VERY easy. Walk if you need to. No pace is too slow. You must keep it easy or your quality runs will suffer.

6. Tempo Runs/Speed Work: Be sure to push yourself with some speed workouts. Sure, a 100 miler is slow, but if you get faster if will be that much easier. A few of my fav's for this are:
  • 1 mile repeats with 2-3 minutes rest (at 5k pace)
  • Hill Speed Workouts (see above)
  • 6-12 mile tempo runs: run at a slightly uncomfortable pace the entire time.
  • Interval: Set your watch. Begin by running for 8 minutes easy, 1 minute hard and work up to 3 minutes easy, 2minutes hard. You can vary this workout any way you see fit. 
7. Practice what you SUCK at: This may be the most important training tip yet. Are you bad at hills? Start doing hills all the time. Do so many hills they seem flat. Practicing what you suck at will make you a better and tougher runner.

8. Start a Stregth Training Program: You could do my 15 minute a day program or you could attend a class a few times a week, get a personal trainer, or join Crossfit (but don't overdue it or your running training will suffer). Increased strength will make you a much better runner.  Be sure to work on your legs too, for example if you can't do one legged squats then you better start practicing. Start small, build up. Make whatever you do, well DOABLE. Otherwise you will wimp out.

9. Cross train: I bike almost every day in addition to running. I like to use a trainer and bike indoors during the winter. I do a interval workout for 44 minutes that's 1 minute hard, 3 minutes easy. 11 reps. The key?  No impact, lots of muscle benefits.  Cross training is excellent for a recovery day or when you're feeling over trained.  Just make sure it doesn't interfere with your running and the energy you need to put into running workouts.

10. Enjoy your Workouts.  If you don't enjoy your workouts then what's the point of all this anyway?

11. Rest When You Need it: Even if your rest day is always Saturday, take a rest day when your body needs it. This is the art of training your body to rebuild into a stronger, faster runner. Without rest days, you will plateau or even back track. If you are tired for a quality workout, it won't be quality. Sure, on occasion the point of a workout is to run on tired legs, but this should not be done on a regular basis. It is the path to over training and injury. Take it from someone who is pretty good at both.  Some signs it's time to rest:
  • trouble breathing on an easy run
  • tired legs on terrain you can usually run
  • often sleepy during the day even when you get a full nights sleep
  • lethargic, irritable, agitated, dizzy, or other odd symptoms
  • soreness
  • niggles: little aches and pains that don't seem to go away
  • craving unhealthy foods
  • mental: feeling like you have to run or you will lose fitness even with just one or two days off
  • catching a cold or flu
12. Dial in your Nutrition. This means two things to me:
  • Experiment with race day nutrition as mentioned in #3. The runner who can stay fueled properly will be much more likely to do well and finish the race.  Figure out what works for you or your run will be more of a sufferfest than it needs to be.
  •  Eat healthy to train well. Everyone is different, but eating whole foods in general is a good idea. Cutting out sugar and other empty calories is a must in my book.  For most people eating only whole foods (no cheating!) will have them at a race ready weight come race day.  Extra pounds equals extra suffering and slower times.  Personally, I also choose to cut out all grains and most added salt focusing on lots of vegetables, fruit, and protein.
HURT 100, Oahu, Hawaii
Comments: what would you add to this list?

12 comments:

  1. Great training advice! Thanks, Candice!

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  2. Great article! I would add "develop a race plan/strategy." I'm surprised by the number of people that attempt long races with no plan at all.

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  3. Great article, thanks. Your last comment about vegetables, fruit and protein. What is your source for protein?

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  4. My source for protein is seafood, meat, nuts, and some edamame beans. I use Hammer Perpetuem powder for long training runs and 50mile races+

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  5. Does anyone know how long to wait after getting over the flu? I have have run 2 days since feeling better and those runs were not energetic.

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    1. It could take a week or even two to really feel better. The key is to take it easy until you feel recovered enough to have good, hard quality workouts. The amount of time will vary for everyone.

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  6. Advice/sugestion/comment please: How many days of rest/recover after a 50K trail?

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    1. Depends on your effort for the race. Was it a really hard, full on racing mode effort? Was the 50k a "training run" type race? Also, if you are new to 50k distance, it will take longer to recover. If you pushed really hard you should take 4-7 days before really testing the legs on a quality workout. You might need up to 2 week of easy, 'shake it out' kinds of runs. Best bet is to not have any expectations, but instead to listen to your body. You're body will tell you when it's ready. Get some massage, take hot epsom salt baths, and stretch. Keep runs easy until there's some oomph in those legs!

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  7. Great article. I couldn't agree more. If I were to add anything, it would be to practice night running on trails. Just enough to get comfortable with going potty, changing batteries, navigating the trail, etc.

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  8. Some people, in online surveys discuss pump, power, and intensity. I say, with this, I have experienced every last bit of them and afterward some more.

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  9. If only I could find a hill long and high enough. There is nothing near me that is over 400ft max, so a 1500ft 2mile long run uphill just won't happen

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