When I started thinking about training for 100 miles in the winter, one of the things that I felt I could work on was training fairly long every day and I managed 10-12 miles per day throughout January. It was one of those things I wasn't good at and, given that I simply can't run long in winter - I'd always cringe when I'd see someone like Julie Berg doing 30 miles in -15 degree temps - it seemed like the thing to do.
Now that the temperature has finally improved, I tried adding long runs and some speedwork. That just resulted in massive failure and breaking down every few days. When forced to take time off, one has time to rethink training.
The one thing you always hear ultrarunners say is: you have to find what works for you. I hate that truism. The coach in me was saying to start with what I'm good at and work on the weaknesses. My strengths: top end speed and being able to run at 95% maximum heart rate for 90 minutes; neither of those is useful in ultras. Weaknesses? pretty much everything else. Over the past few years, as I've struggled to work on running long distances, I've lost what I'm good at, while not really gaining anything in return.
So... the plan now becomes to do very long runs, incorporating what I do well within those runs. The basic plan:
Tuesdays, get heart rate as high as possible and hold it there as long as possible. It's difficult for me to get my heart rate where I want it, having to run extremely hard for a long time, which leads me to achilles and heel injuries. The way out of that is to do the runs uphill. Tuesdays have become very hard runs up the longest hills I can find, currently Ohio Street and, when the snow melts, Brickyard.
Thursdays, work on top end speed. Only a year ago, I was able to get to 3:35 mile speed for a few seconds. In my prime, it was well under 3 (probably about 2:30). Now, 4:00 is impossible. The only way to do regain this without fancy equipment and high risk is to do downhill sprints, which forces the legs to go at a pace not possible on flat ground.
Saturdays, work on continuous speed for extended duration. I've never been good at this. Most marathon plans have people running 13-15 miles at marathon pace every once in a while and, for me, that's close to racing. It tears me apart and ruins the next two weeks of training. As it happens, in running ultras, this fortunately is not very important. What I am good at is running 20-30 minutes at a much faster pace. I think this will translate to faster times at the very long distances, by keeping me from just slogging through endless miles and occasionally throwing in a hard burst of a minute or two.
Sundays is the very long run. Once the snow clears, it'll be on the only stretch of technical trail to which I have easy access. One of the problems I have had is that running very long makes me try to become efficient by taking shuffling strides where my feet barely leave the ground. This just leads to falls when running on rocks and tree roots, especially when muscles tire form hills. I'm trying the idea of back-to-back long runs, but with the longer one being the second run; if I tried it the other way around, I either wouldn't be able to do the fast part on Saturday or I'd have to stop too early.
In the past, the amount of time that I've had to put in doing running training has left me too exhausted to keep up with supposrting strength and flexibility training, which has left me tight and with some imbalances. By putting all (or nearly all) of the running on 4 long, long runs, this opens up the other days for supplemental work and gives me extra time to recover from the runs themselves.
It's only been a few days since this plan crystallized in my mind, but so far... I like it! Maybe I've finally found what works for me.
Fisher's Big Wheel
1 week ago