Monday, April 11, 2016

How to Train & Mentally Prepare for a 200 Mile Foot Race

“If we all did the things we are capable of doing, 
we would literally astound ourselves.” — Thomas Alva Edison
Bigfoot 200, 2015, by Howie Stern
200s Are the New 100
I want to start by saying this is meant to be a guide to the types of workouts (both mental and physical) to include in your training for a 200. It is by no means exhaustive and it is purposefully not super detailed. You need to do the hard work (or your coach) to determine what mileage is best for you as well as exactly which workouts to include and which to leave out each week. It's an art and it's also intuitive. Trust your body, your intuition and your innate ability to be a runner.

As much as running 200 miles may blow your mind, it's really not as crazy or extreme as you think. In fact, it's attainable even for those who have completed a small fraction of the distance. Take Ken Dam's story. Ken helped at the inaugural Tahoe 200 in 2014. Shortly after the race he got very sick and had to have a large portion of his intestines taken out. Even by early 2015 he was still recovering from surgery he had to have in December. Even though the longest run he had ever completed was just 35 miles (pacing for the Bigfoot 200) and he barely just recovered from major surgery, he decided to run the 2015 Tahoe 200. Then this happened, amazingly:
As race director for the Tahoe 200 & Bigfoot 200 as well as someone who runs and fastpacks long distances, I've wanted to write a post on how to train for this new thing we call "2's" or 200 milers. As many of you have noticed, since the explosive introduction of the Tahoe 200 in late 2013 (we had almost 200 lottery applicants for 90 spots that first year!) 200s have been popping up everywhere. 200s had been around before the Tahoe 200, they just hadn't really gotten much media attention. The Tahoe 200 in its introduction in 2013/2014 seemed to inspire many runners to attempt (or bucket list) the distance with it's non-repetitive, adventurous route in a stunning and iconic location.

Without further ado, here are some of the training guidelines that will help any runner complete this massive, but life changing distance as well as some essential gear suggestions and resources for further study.
Skyler Mills, training smart for upcoming Tahoe 200
during his crew/pacing duties at Bigfoot 200 (Aug 2015). Photo by Howie Stern
Train Smart, Not Necessarily More
What I mean here is that there is a limit to how much the human body can handle before it begins to break down MORE than it can build up. This is likely one of the most important lessons that you don't want to learn the hard way. It's good news for most of us because we don't have much time for training in the day between family obligations, work, and other activities we enjoy. Also consider counting your training in hours not miles because hours levels the playing field between slower and faster runners. If a slow runner is trying to do 100 miles a week, it may take them 25-30hrs a week while a faster runner may accomplish that in 15 hours. The following also influences how fast/far you can run in training per week: altitude, whether you are on trail or on roads, flat vs. hilly routes, technicality of routes... not to mention your personal life.

Each person has their own mileage/ "time devoted to training" limit, but for most humans it seems like keeping the mileage under 100 miles a week is a good idea, at least for most weeks. You're going to want to have some high mileage / lots of time on your feet training weeks to do your best, but what is considered "high" will depend on your overall training and the time you have to devote to it. You're going to have to find your own sweet spot. For some it's 40-60 miles a week with cross training, for others it's 70-90, and for fewer it's 90+. Those who do 50 miles a week aren't necessarily any less fit for a 200 - especially if they include the following guidelines in their training. So do what works for you and train smart by getting in the Back to back long runs, fastpacking, and other race specific training runs.

Go Fastpacking
In case you don't know what fastpacking is, it's like backpacking but going more minimal and running when you can. Usually it's a mix or running and hiking over several days with a heavier pack than you'd use for a race or one-day excursion. I love using fastpacking for training for tough 100s and 200s. Here's why: it toughens your body up by carrying a heavier pack and it gives you invaluable feedback on what gear will/won't work for your 200 mile race. It also strengthens your hiking muscles and increases your endurance more than any 1 day run could. Mentally, fastpacking mimics a 200 miler and will make you tougher as you run/hike through the night, or if you're camping out at night, it will get you used to sleeping with less comfortable gear. After all, you're traveling light, so no kitchen sink allowed.

To create a good fastpacking adventure for training, choose a route that is 75-200 miles, go for less mileage if you haven't done much fastpacking as it is a learned skill. I recommend getting the route you want to do on a GPS device and carrying all the essentials you may need for safety. I don't personally bring a camp stove or sleeping pad (unless it's going to be cold), but I always bring lots of food, GPS, maps, extra batteries, at least 2 headlamps, rain jacket, rain pants (even if it isn't supposed to rain), and extra clothing in case of emergency. I may need to do another post just on how to fastpack, it's such an important skill.  Try to fit in 1-4 fastpacking excursions before your big event. Fastpacking usually lasts 2-4 continuous days, and can be done over a weekend. It's up to you! Channel your inner race director and create a route!
Fastpacking on the Bigfoot 200 course
LSD is Your Best Friend
Not the drug silly, but rather Long, Slow Distance runs (although to each their own...). Try to fit in a long run of 15-50 miles every 1-2 weeks. I say 15-50 because I know that it doesn't always work to get in a 50 miler or even 30 miler, and honestly you really don't need to. Some weeks you may get in a day with 15 miles (try to back it up with a 10 or 15 miler the next day if possible) and some weeks you may race a 50 miler. Both are good because you need the experience of time on your feet (25-50 mile runs/races are perfect for this) but you need lighter weeks just as much for rest and recovery. Remember, it's about training smart and rest is smart!
Photo by Scott Rokis, Tahoe 200, 2014
Race Long Ultras
Of course you can do all your training without racing, but I think races offer invaluable information on how your gear works as well as give you the opportunity to push harder than you would in a training run. They also give you a mental edge, it takes a lot to put yourself and your training out there! I don't recommend doing a 100 miler within a month of your 200 because I don't think that it gives you enough rest, UNLESS you take it easy. Keep yourself from pushing hard and then it may be ok for the more experienced ultra runners. The race should feel super easy and relaxed and if you feel any injuries then I recommend dropping out. I'd like to add that some people who run 200s do a lot of races--all the time--and I think because of this their bodies can handle the stress, but most runners are not able to handle the stress of lots of racing. It also comes down to differences in body types and training. If you get injured easily, a lot of racing is probably a bad idea. Racing recommendations: 1x month to 1x every 2 to 3 months, depending on the distance you want to race, how hard you race, your experience level in ultras and your ability to handle mileage.

Back-To-Back Long Runs
Running two or three long runs in a row is an excellent way of training for 200s without putting as much stress on your body as doing one really long run would. This could mean 15mi-15mi-15mi back to back runs or maybe 25mi-25mi or 20-15-10, really whatever works for your schedule. These runs will serve to toughen up your legs, enhance your endurance, and teach you to mentally accept and even enjoy going out day after day on runs. Do 1x a month or 1x every 2 months. Those who can handle higher mileage may do it more often. 

Do Race-Specific Training Runs
This concept is key to racing well in any event. What I mean by train race specific is choose training runs that will mimic the terrain, technicality, elevation gains and losses, altitude (if possible), weather and other conditions and mental challenges you will face during your 200 miler. Some of this you will not know until race day, but get as much information about the route that you can from previous year's finishers, runner's manuals, and race reports. The workouts outlined in this article will help you prepare for a tough 200 miler, but there will be specifics about your race that you will want to learn in advance.
Is your race exposed terrain? In a hot climate location? Cold? Will it be technical or smooth?
Is it hilly or flat? Photo by Scott Rokis, Tahoe 200, 2014.  
Cross Training
For me cross training has always been key to succeeding in ultras because I have many outdoor passions and I tend to burn out when I maintain higher mileage for long periods of time. Plus I love yoga and would never want to give it up for achieving super high running mileage. I also feel that 200s are so much more strength based than other race distances and so cross training that works your entire body is key to dealing with the fatigue that you will feel after that first 100 miles. The stronger your body is overall the easier it will be to keep moving for up to 4 days! Jim Trout, winner of the 2015 Tahoe 200 echoes these sentiments as well as doing the cross training that works best for you, individually:

"I did LOTS of cross-training: mt. biking, adventure racing, hiking, kayaking, bicycle commuting 6 miles every day, frisbee with the kids, etc. Tried some Yoga for a few weeks, then just wanted to get outside...Over the years I've tried to follow plans and day-to-day schedules but I never have lived up to them and consequently feel disappointed with myself. Working errands into runs helped me scrape every last minute I had to spare with getting out the hokas. "I'll meet you at the grocery store" or "I'll run back home from my parents house" became common requests." 

I highly, highly recommend the following sports based on my own success with the following modalities: yoga, cycling, weight lifting, swimming, backcountry skiing, bodyweight exercises, anything core based, and even crossfit-type workouts (don't overdue it though!). Really whatever you love to do. Don't do it if you don't love it, after all there are just too many fun things to do to waste your time on things you don't enjoy. Key with successful cross training is to do it regularly. A daily or weekly strength routine is a really good idea. Try my 200/100 workout to get in killer shape! Do cross training 1x a day to 1x week, depending on the cross training and your schedule. Easy days can be cross training days, just make sure to take it easy! 
I'd recommend regular yoga, cycling, and strength training as my top 3 cross training suggestions.
I personally prefer power vinyasa yoga. Yoga will keep you flexible while making you very strong from the core outward.  
Include Long Hill Repeats, Hill Workouts, & Hilly Long Runs
Hill workouts of any type will make you a stronger runner. Hills are the strength training of the running world. Try this workout for more endurance-based strength work: Steep Uphill Continuous Run. Also consider adding some shorter hill repeats, like 1/4mi uphill (80% intensity) with 1/4 mile easy/rest. Begin with fewer reps (4-6 reps) and work up to more reps (6-15 reps). Another good hill workout is to choose a hilly route for your long run. A hilly long run is a relatively easy way to get in the benefits of a hill workout without psyching yourself out, and a great way to mix it up. Hill workouts will make you mentally and physically tough. They are the bread and butter of any runner's weekly workouts. Do a hill based workout at least 1x week. If you live in the flatlands, find stairs or revert to the dreaded treadmill. Whatever it takes!

Train Regularly with Your Gear and Nutrition
You need to have all systems dialed for a 200 miler and training with the gear and nutrition will help you determine what you want to use during the race including what works and what doesn't. I really believe in the saying, "Don't use anything new race day", although there are always exceptions and I have broken this rule many a times! Ideally you will have a good idea of what works for you on your longer runs through regular and methodical practice. Don't wait until a month before the race to think about what gear & food you might need. Keep in mind that nutrition wise during a 200 you will likely eat a lot more real food than in any other race of shorter distance. I've noticed that the body just needs more nutritious foods after 100 miles and because 200 mile pace is slower you can also digest more substantive foods. Do a gear/nutrition workout at least 1x week. That means take everything you plan to use for your 200 on a long run. This will prepare your body for the added pack weight and give you a chance to practice for your big day. 
Kerry Ward enjoys the tough volcano rock sections during the Bigfoot 200, photo by Howie Stern, 2015.
Train Like You're Focusing on a Tough 100 Miler
I love this idea because honestly if you think about training for 200 miles you are likely to overdue it or give up. Anyone who is well trained for a 100 will be ready for a 200 as long as they maintain confidence and mental toughness. On forums on Facebook the following point came up regularly: Kent Dozier (aka Bull Dozier) wrote that, "Just train like a 100 but make the long runs a little longer. Make sure to train for hiking up long hills. I like Victor's recommendation of doing 25 miles every other day for 2 weeks, about 3-4 weeks out from the race." 

Make Hiking Part of Your Training
Let's face it, even the front runners are going to be hiking a lot in a 200 miler. If you only train running then your legs will actually get sore from hiking so much! Make sure to include training runs that are "hiking heavy" like fastpacking, long runs with lots of steep hills, and one of my personal favorites:

Find a long, steep hill that's 1/2mile- 3miles long. Generally it's best if it climbs 600-1300ft per mile (the more the better) Do repeats on this hill by hiking at 80% max on the uphill and jogging easy on the downhill for recovery repeat 2-4x. 

If a 100 miler is 80% mental, a 200 is 99% Mental
Don't forget that so much of racing and training comes down to your attitude and how much you fucking want IT. Don't allow yourself to blame anyone or thing. Don't fall trap to the existential crisis of making the adventure meaningless. Take responsibility for your journey, your emotions, your physical state and everything that comes your way. A strong, positive mental state will carry you though almost anything. I love the quote,

  "Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal. " --Henry Ford 

Use your training runs, cross training, challenges in life, and remind yourself of all that you have sacrificed to get to where you are on race day. These things will remind you that you can get through anything. A 200 is nothing compared to what you have been through in your life to date, I'm sure of this. Remember too that finishing the 200 will give you courage to face other challenges in your life. It will break you apart and help you rebuild stronger.

Rest Like a Champ
Get lots of sleep, taper, and keep all races easy in that last month of preparation for a 200 miler. In other words, treat your recovery like it's just as important as your training. Some would argue that a taper is not necessary, but I'm not of that camp. I feel that a taper is important. Start about a month before the race. At this point you will still want to be running long runs but don't run yourself into the ground intensity wise. Gradually taper your mileage so that you feel rested before your big event. I think it's worth saying that some people do not seem to need a taper. If you know yourself well then you will know what to do that last month before the race. If you're not sure then it's probably not worth pushing really hard that last month only to enter the race fatigued. The final 2 weeks before the race will be an important time to get extra rest at night. Sleep deprivation can be tough on even the most rested! Rest and caring for one's self can also come in the form of getting regular massage, physical therapy, and other healing modalities.
A runner grabs some sleep during the Bigfoot 200, Photo by Howie Stern, 2015
Relax
Just because 200 miles is likely 2x (or longer!) than you've ever run doesn't mean you should freak out and overtrain or make yourself miserable worrying about this and that. Truth is you could probably cover the distance tomorrow if you wanted to. Generally cut offs are generous enough to allow for plenty of hiking. Plus, it's supposed to be fun! One step at a time! You got this. It's going to be a spectacular journey, stay positive. To become better at relaxing, try meditating every day. I love the following quote to remind me of these facts:
“The true miracle is not walking on water or walking in air, but simply walking on this earth.”― Thích Nhất Hạnh 
Start of the Tahoe 200 by Scott Rokis, 2014.
Training That is Totally Unnecessary for 200s 
But if you enjoy any of the following workouts go ahead and do them, just don't get injured! Remember that everyone is an individual and enjoys certain workouts so just because it's on this list doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. You probably just don't need to do it. 
  • Track workouts
  • Speed Workouts
  • High Intensity Workouts: for cross training it can be helpful, but for running it can just get you injured
  • High Mileage (over 90 miles a week)
  • Lots of 100 mile races: works for some, but not necessary

Gear that 200 Mile Graduates Just Won't Go Without
I asked my 200 mile finishers what gear they thought was essential for running a 200 miler and here's what they said, keep in mind as Will Fortin stated on our Facebook forum, "I really don't think it is gear that makes a successful 200," but I think we would all agree it can help!
  • First off check out Kerry Ward's video: How to Pack for an Ultramarathon (in this case for the Bigfoot 200). I think you can go lighter than he did, but it's a helpful video. 
  • Hiking Poles: Go with carbon fiber if you can afford it. You can get cheaper poles, but the carbon ones are oh-so-wonderfully light! The overall favorite seems to be the Black Diamond Carbon Fiber Z Poles. Be sure to check with your race of choice to see if they are allowed (they are allowed at Bigfoot 200 & Tahoe 200).
  • Comfortable Pack with lots of front storage. I prefer (and am sponsored by) Ultimate Direction. I love their packs and not just because they give me their awesome gear, but because I chose them. Back in 2012 when I ran for a competing company, I realized I just couldn't ever again run for a company just because they agreed to pay me and give me free gear. I had to love their product, so I messaged some of the folks at UD and said that I wanted to run for them because their products were so cutting edge, light, and well IMHO they were and are the best. Check out the UD Fastpack 20 (most space, you'll never be cramming stuff in), the PB Vest (lots of space), and the Ultra Vesta (less space but good for those who have everything dialed and like going light). 
  • Lightweight Jacket at all times, see "Rain Gear". Save space by getting an ultralight rain jacket, but keep in mind that the lighter the jacket the less likely it is to be waterproof. Ultimate Direction had a great new lightweight rain jacket!
  • High Quality Headlamp, and an extra headlamp in case one dies. Yes, sometimes headlamps inexplicably stop working. Have extras. My favorite? Petzl Nao. Get extra rechargeable batteries! I also use regular headlamp around my waist.
  • Water Purification Method: you won't need this for multi loop urban courses, but for mountain 200s you will want a way to filter water since some aid stations are spaced far apart. I personally like the Sawyer Filter or SteriPen. 
  • Changes of Clothing & Shoes: Especially shoes and socks. Many runners find that their feet swell up so having larger sized shoes for the latter stages of a 200 is a good idea. Ask the RD where water crossings are and try to place extra shoes in drop bags after these sections. Some races have so many water crossings that this is sort of pointless. For the Bigfoot & Tahoe races you can get around just about every water crossing without getting wet unless it's a high snow year. 
  • Plenty of Extra Food: It's going to start taking you longer to get from aid station to aid station in the latter stages of a 200, plus at 200 mile pace you should be able to eat more real food! Check with the race to see what will be at aid stations. Always care "emergency calories" in case you get lost, injured or if a section takes longer than expected. 
  • Foot Care: When runners have medical problems it's 90% of the time foot/ankle issues. Learn how to deal with blisters, foot chaffing, ankle sprains and more. Consider using gaiters even if you've never used them before. they will keep the micro sand, dirt, and pebbles out of your shoes, the first step toward keeping your feet free from problems. Some use duct tape to cover blisters (use a bandage over it first, others use moleskin or KT tape/sports tape/Leukotape. Covering blister-prone areas of your feet is great insurance before you even set off on the trail. Read Fixing Your Feet., you can purchase it here.  It's the best damn book on the subject and far too many people quit ultras each year because of preventable and fixable issues with their feet. 
  • Anti-chaffing product: You're going to want something to put in those chaffing prone areas before you even set out on the trail. I really like 2Toms, but there are lots of great products out there to choose from. I've heard great things about RunGoo and Trail Toes.
  • Change of Clothing in Drop Bags: You're gonna need to freshen up, let's face it. It's 200 freaking badass stinky, sweaty fun miles. Put socks in all drop bags. Non- negotiable. 
  • Socks: As mentioned above, put a fresh pair of socks in every drop bag. It feels amazing on tired feet to have new socks. On that note, I know that Paul Romero (2nd overall Tahoe 200, 2015) ran with NO socks! But for most of us that just isn't gonna happen. A lot of 200 mile runners prefer injinji socks. They are the "toe" socks you have seen. I love them because regular socks can get a bit tighter and more constrictive after washing and injinji socks will keep all your toes separated which cuts back on chaffing and keeps your toes cooler in hot weather. 
  • Rain Gear: This is a important safety consideration. Have a lightweight waterproof jacket at all times. Consider having lightweight waterproof pants as well. 
  • Warm clothes for sleep stations. I actually always carry a light down jacket at all times. I'd rather carry that little bit of extra weight than freeze on the trail. Think: gloves, hat/buff, puffy jacket, pants (wool, synthetic).
  • GPS & Maps: A lot of runners really liked using the Gaia app on their phones, it was minimal cost and can be used while phone is on battery saving airplane mode. If you have more money to invest consider getting a higher powered device that runs off of batteries. I mapped all the courses with a Garmin 64st. There are better and flashier models now - so go to your local retailer and check them out if you can invest several hundred dollars. Always, I repeat ALWAYS carry a hard copy map for mountain 100s.
  • Ziplock Baggies: I love this one because it's totally how I keep my stuff dry and separated inside my pack. Put extra in drop bags. use gallon size for clothing. 
  • Ability to Carry Water: Depends on the race, but for hotter races with long stretches between aid make sure you have high capacity bladder and/or bottles. 
  • Cheat Sheet: List of aid stations, mileages, and possibly the race profile
  • Sunscreen/chapstick: if I don't want to carry a lot of sunscreen I put it in a ziplock. Works pretty well. Double ziplock for added security
  • Buff: Can work as a hat, scarf, sweat wicker (on wrist) and more! 
  • Pills: A lot of runners stated that they used salt caps. I don't use them personally, but you might find them and other pills like TUMS, caffeine etc, are helpful, just be cautious when using anything as some medications can be dangerous when doing endurance events. 

Gaiters are highly recommended!
200 Mile Resources
Bigfoot 200 Facebook Forum Ask questions and learn about other's training & more!
Tahoe 200 Facebook Forum Ask questions and learn about other's training & more!
Why 200 Mile Athletes Do Not Quit
Kerry Ward's video: How to Pack for an Ultramarathon (Here he shows what he packed for the Bigfoot 200)
Run 200s: Dustin Smith, finisher of the Triple Crown of 2's last year goes in depth on lists of 200s, foot care, training, and other essential info
How to Win Two 200 Mile Races with Gia Madole- podcast
Tahoe 200 - But What If I Can?- podcast
Talk Ultra Episode 104 Talk Ultra and I discuss the appeal of 200s, podcast
How to be Tough as Nails Mentally for Your 100 Miler
Weekly Workout Challenges

Get Inspired 
Race Trailer for Bigfoot 200
Race Trailer for Tahoe 200
Bigfoot 200: Toughest Ultra in USA?
Tahoe 200 by Kerry Ward
Tattoo Tom Runs 200 Miles For 200 Children with Childhood Cancer
200 Mile Races with Victor Ballesteros, Journey Film
Tahoe 200 course: one single loop around iconic Lake Tahoe! 
Nighttime can be some of the most peaceful and beautiful moments, especially in
Tahoe where you're likely to enjoy beautiful clear starry nights! Photo by Scott Rokis, 2014

Good luck training!
Please add any training suggestions, inspirational articles/posts, essential gear you may have in the comment section!

Want More?

9 comments:

  1. Great stuff! Preparation in time will always beat miles and it evens the training field to ability. elevation and fast pak in combo blood work and lung work and light feet and light pak on race day perfect. core work and upper body to pull us long when tired seems to help.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Awesome Candice! Thank you. We've been waiting for this and you didn't disappoint. I am stoked to run my first 200 and now you have really added to my confidence that I WILL do this. Thank you also to Bull Dozier. 200 is a new inspiring adventure. Thanks for your support.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Nice article - thanks! As a T200 finisher I have a few small notes to add: If you plan to use poles be sure to do a good bit of training with poles. If you don't - your arms will be in for a surprise. And gloves are a good idea unless you like hand blisters.

    Enjoy!

    ReplyDelete
  4. thanks. I think this can help Martine who start "transpyrénéa 900 kms" 19 juillet (from mer méditerranée to océan atlantique with 53 000m +).

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great info, Candice! As a way of mentally preparing for our first 200, Diann and I looked at it as four 50 mile runs! We rested, put our feet up, iced, ate, and rehydrated as best as we could in about 2-3 hours. Then headed out for the next 50. We trained, as you suggested, by doing back to back to back long runs. Can't do this in a 100 miler, but lots of time in a 200!!! Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thanks a lot for this beautiful and inspiring post. Actually I am planning my first miler (after some 100 kms) and discovering the 200 options is mesmerizing and fascinating very much!! Cheers from the Italian Dolomites!!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I enjoyed your article. A 200 mile race is so intriguing.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Great article and one written from experience !

    ReplyDelete
  9. Any training plans for 200 miles? Have a 55 hour race in December and like to tackle the 200 mile mark.

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for commenting on WildDefined!