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

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Steve's Rule for Ultrarunning

No, not "try to stay upright."

Yesterday I went out and ran 30 miles. It was slow, it was uncomfortable, it was difficult, but I did it. In the blur of the 5+ hours, I thought a couple of things, like: you sometimes end up being the person people tell you you are - when people start saying things to me that begin with "You ultrarunners...," I've always demurred and said I'm a 5K guy who just happens to be screwing around on the trails. Well, I've finished 20 ultras, so I guess that makes me an ultrarunner, like it or not. And that means people expect I've learned something in the process.

Here's the song stuck in my head all that time. "Take the hands off the clock, we're gonna be here a while..."

Each time it ran in my head, the number of "nickels of cocaine" changed. About one fewer each hour, which seems to be a nasty habit.

I remember looking at the 100 mile race and wondering how one prepares for it; after all, one never runs anything close to that in training, so how could you know you can do it?

I've come up with one good rule: run 1/3 of the distance, with 1/2 of the climb in 1/4 of the time. Do that and you can finish. Do it comfortably and you'll finish comfortably. Do it often and your chances of finishing improve.

Say you want to run 100 miles at FANS. Then, in training, you'd run 33 miles in 6 hours on the roads. That's pretty reasonable. If you want to break Henze's record and do 150 miles, you'd need to run 50 miles in 6 hours (Henze did the hilly Ice Age in 6 1/2). Want to break Kouros' world record... that'd be a world record 100K in training! If you want to do 100 miles in 16 hours and break Kurt's record, you'd have to do the 33 in 4 hours (about 7:15/mile).

The Superior 100 (actually 102.6) mile has 20200 feet of climb, so one would run 34 miles with 10000 feet of climb in 9.5 hours to beat the 38 hour cut-off. 10000 feet would be like doing Buck Hill 30 times, which is precisely what Paul Hasse recommended to me, before they closed the hill to runners. Last year, Julie Berg did the Hyland ski hill (140 ft) 70 times, which is 10000 feet, but only 20 miles total. My favorite hill, Brickyard, would require 42 times up - last year I managed 30 in 6.5 hours and I might've been able to do another 12 times in another 3 hours; the Brickyard happens to be the right length as well, as 42 trips would be 34 miles.

How about the crazy Barkley? That 33 miles would have to be on a 33% grade (19 degrees); plus, if you could find a hill that steep, it'd have to be brushy and you'd have to do it carrying all your food and water.

The Arrowhead and Badwater 135's would require 45 mile training runs, and so on. The rule works pretty well for the long races, but not well for "short" races like the 50K.

One "simple" rule, but not so simple to follow!


GeorgiaSnail said...

I stumbled upon Matt Mahoney's website a month or two ago and have become facinated by Barkley..I am about to read "Tales From Out There"

Have you ever run/or thought about running this one?

SteveQ said...

GeorgiaSnail: NO!!!!!! A friend of mine's tried it repeatedly and I've told people to shoot me if I enter, because that's the way to treat rabid dogs.

Xenia said...

That. Is. Awful. I have all the respect in the world for you and other ultrarunners, but no way in hell will I ever attempt it. I much prefer sitting on my lazy butt and watching the world pass me by. :)

Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...

Any sentence I ever type that starts out "You ultrarunners ..." and does not end with the word "insane" (or "certifiable") was obviously a typo on my part.

All sentences I type that start out "SteveQ ..." should end the same way.

Oops! I should have started this comment out with the words: SPOILER ALERT!1!

JojaJogger said...

I'm going to give your rule a test this weekend at FANS, we'll see how accurate it is for a newbie like me.

R Carter said...

Steve, your 1/3 distance, 1/2 climb, 1/4 time thing sounds like it makes a lot of sense. If ever I train seriously for an event again I'll follow it. Thinking of Massanutten in the spring.

RBR said...

Funny, you would balk at the ultrarunner title.

I tend to follow the "try to stay upright" rule and would like you to do the same. (Shut up, G)

RE: your comment - You are right. I find it HIDEOUS! I squawked and huff and puffed, yet there it is on the goddamn internet.

For the record, he prefers to shoot these pictures using a wide angle lens (again shut up, G)giving me the oh so flattering, garden gnome appearance.

sea legs girl said...


Cool song. But the most important part about your rule is that one can NOT start too fast. And I would tend to say one should optimally run half of the distance beforehand, though I'm not sure what pace would be required...

Psyche said...

OK, so I had to go to Matt Mahoney's site, and I clicked on Barkley, started reading, got goosebumps and immediately left the site. This is a race that I can't even allow in my consciousness. It was only yesterday that I stumbled upon Stump Jump. Ever since, I can't stop turning the phrase, "If you get up one more time than you fall down, you're a winner" out of my head..

Steve, I really like the rule you describe here. It means I'm good to go on the Hundred in November:) Wheee...!

SteveQ said...

SLG: Yes, running half the distance is a good idea - there's a lot of stuff one SHOULD do; this is just one handy test.