It seems that everyone is looking for the least possible amount of work they have to do to finish a race, so there's an unending supply of training schedules out there that cut out various things. The book "Run Less, Run Faster" sold really well to people who thought the title meant "How to run faster by running less" rather than "Train less, but train much harder." I thought it was time to explain the Standard Model for training to run 100 miles in detail, as it's not easy to find anywhere.
The Long Run: Rule number 1
"Once per week, most weeks, run 24-30 miles in 4-6 hours on a course as difficult as you can manage."
The first thing that I wondered about training for a hundo was probably the same as everyone else: "How do you train for what will happen after 15 hours, if you never run that long?" If 30 miles is good, wouldn't 50 be better? As it happens, the longer you run, the greater the stress and the longer it takes to recover. So, if you run too long in your long runs, you can't run them often enough. You also shouldn't try to do one every single week, but rather 2 out of 3 weeks, or 3 out of 4. Giving yourself the option of skipping one occasionally keeps it from becoming drudgery (and decreases long-term fatigue). If you have a favorite course that's 50 km. or 32 miles, you shouldn't think that 30 miles as a limit is set in stone; 35 won't help and 40 will hurt.
The time frame of 4-6 hours is important. 24 miles in 6 hours is 15 minutes per mile. If you can't do that on flat ground, chances are that you're going to not make some time cut-offs in your race, so you won't finish. If you can run 30 miles in 4 hours, first you're undoubtedly a sub-3 marathoner, second you should be running on a more difficult course. Adding hills will slow you down and will get you into that 4-6 hour time frame. If you look at the Superior (Sawtooth) 100 Mile, everyone who finishes runs the first 20-30 miles in 4-6 hours. This long run should feel like the start of a 100 mile race.
This run should be done as you would do a race. You should carry whatever you need, eat regularly (200-300 calories per hour, about 1200 total) and dress as you would for the race. Walk when you need to and rest when you have to, but keep the watch running.
It's common to feel a "collapse point," which marathoners call "hitting the wall;" this happens when your muscles run out of glycogen. When it happens, you suddenly feel very fatigued and want to quit. It's important to keep going past this feeling - it actually gets better! Note when it happens and you can measure progress by how much later it occurs when you get in better shape; it also becomes less sharp of a transition and may eventually go away altogether. Many ultrarunners never experience this sensation (they're the lucky "naturals" of the sport), but it's good to know about it before you start, rather than getting surprised by it.
How you make an adjustment for getting used to running for longer than 6 hours is the back-to-back run, the next installment in this series.
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