"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Time On One's Feet

I've been kicking around the idea of writing about what I've learned about running long in preparation for 100 milers, but I can't seem to put it into a logical linear order and I'm not sure if I've really learned anything or not. Here's my current thinking. If you have no interest in running 100 miles, this will all be gibberish; if you've finished a 100, you'll probably either think this is all obvious, or you'll (I expect) tell me where I've gone wrong.

First, there's a rule of thumb that every 700 feet of climb is like another mile tacked on to a race. Thus, Superior Sawtooth is like running 135 miles and Hardrock 170. The training's different for flat roads than hilly trails, but the difference is actually quite small. I think that a minimum of time running per week in training for a flat 100 is about 11 hours - 12 hours for most trails, 13 for the hardest. That's a difference of only 10-15 minutes per day. All those statements on time are assuming flat ground for training; for actual time, one has to figure out the mileage one would do on flat ground in that time and then do that mileage on trails similar to one's race... which can be as much as 50% more.

The interesting thing is what one does after the minimum. If one can race well at that amount of training, then one should train faster rather than more. But that's risky, especially if you haven't finished a 100. The more one trains, the better the odds of finishing. However, the more one trains, the greater the likelihood of injury or burnout. I'm finding that most successful 100 milers do what I suggest as a minimum, plus two two-a-day workouts, increasing the total by 20-25%. Running twice a day starts making sense when one considers that one will be racing both in the morning and evening.

Once one gets beyond 20 hours per week, it's a part-time job. One has to weigh the rest of one's life against running more miles.

Long runs

When I was training for the 2007 FANS, I ran 35 miles in 5 hours every week. Talking with others, I assumed I was in fantastic shape (I was in 2:50 marathon shape), as they weren't running long nearly as often or nearly as fast. Faster's better, right?

Others were running 30 milers every two or three weeks on trails, taking 6-8 hours to do it. While I was trying to stay specific to the race by running on flat ground, they were challenging more muscles in more ways for a much longer time. Because of the hills, they were training their bodies to run completely aerobically, burning just fat and not glycogen, under circumstances where I would be burning some glycogen. Eventually, glycogen runs out and that spells disaster in a 100 miler.

Now, several world class ultrarunners got by with long runs of 4 to 4.5 hours. That's because they're running 100 miles in 12-13 hours; they're running a third of the race distance at race pace. They also were racing frequently and the races themselves become their long runs.

It takes at least 7 weeks to recover fully from a raced 50 miler and 13-14 weeks for 100 miles. Most 100 mile runners do races far more frequently, but they aren't running all-out. They aren't RACING.

[Over the past two years, I've found most 100 mile runners aren't even familiar with the concept of racing. They've never had to decide between "running the tangents" to cut distance and running in the shade. They've never run one step behind another runner to find their weaknesses. They've never "red-lined," running a pace that they're not sure they can maintain to the end. They'd be just as much at a loss in a 5K road race as I am trying to fathom 100 miles on a trail.]

So, the question becomes: how long is long enough for a long run and how long is too long (and how much wood would a woodchuck chuck)?

First, the minimum. Marathoners tend to run out of glycogen between 2.5 and 3.5 hours, the latter if properly trained and carbo-loaded. By training to run slower, one can still run on glycogen (here, both liver and muscle, rather than just muscle in the marathon) for 5-6 hours. It's worth noting that the best 100K runners run about 6 hours. One should learn to push past that barrier, so 5-7 hours is about right.

There are other barriers that come up in 100 mile trail runs, but they're mostly circadian and not easily trainable. There's a barrier at 70-85 miles (16-19 hours for fast runners on flat ground), but one simply has to race to experience it; running that far in training is suicidal.

The maximum? If one's planning 50 miles or more, one should be racing instead. Of course, if one's going for the Minnesota records (100 miles in 16:09 [Decker. (Hi, Kurt!)] or 136.01 in 24 hours [Ripka]), one should be able to do 50 miles in under 7 hours. Here, time comes in again; more than half of the time one expects to take to race the 100 is too much.

Here's where back-to-backs come in to play. Because of the stress of running 50 miles in one run is great, many runners will do 30 on Saturday and 20 on Sunday. The races they're doing take 30-36 hours and these runs mimic the start and end of that time. Now, that's about 12 hours of running, which is what I was claiming was right for an entire week - that's why such ultralong runs should be done infrequently.

So, 4-4.5 hours for a standard long run starts looking good as a recovery run, to maintain fitness between hundreds. 4 hours, 7 hours, 10-12 hours - they all have their place.


MN Ultra Runner said...

Good post. The different training protocols are what make ultras so interesting to me. I've heard of Crossfitters that do 100 milers with virtually no 'official' run training and finish competitively, while some (me) prepare for a year and don't make it past 35 miles. Go figure.

Kurt said...

I also say good post Steve. Time on the feet is important. But I also say the quality of running is also a big deal. There are far to many ultra runners who plod all there miles. There is a time and place for all paces in training, its about a good mix.

SteveQ said...

Kurt, you're right. That's why I say once one reaches the minimum, train faster, not more. Alas, the plodders are more likely to finish.

Carilyn said...

Great post, Steve! The only way I get my "faster" running in is to run with the local group every morning - they keep me honest :) Then I go out later for the LSD.

It was great to hear from you! And I loved your comments about Emily Dickinson. I was so taken with the quote that I couldn't resist using it.

SteveQ said...

Carilyn, I'm so glad you got through a decent post of mine, rather than one of the silly ones - people always seem to visit at the worst times.