I'd been very ill for a few weeks and unable to do much of anything, so I thought a lot about training for 100 mile races. What I realized is that a lot of what's been published has the same taint as marathon training plans: they tell you what to do to increase the likelihood of finishing, not what to do to run it well. Finishing a hundo is never a given, but the ideas being thrown around start to border on the crazed.
The most popular plan comes from the "Ultraladies" site, which builds to a 75 mile week.
T 4 tempo
Sa 30 on terrain like the race
S 20 on terrain like the race
The back-to-backs do in fact teach one how to run when tired, but the program has several problems. The average run is too long, so one never recovers. 30 miles for a top runner might be 4.5 hours, but could be at least 10 for someone trying to finish the Superior 100 in 38 hours; for the slower runner, it's too close to being a race. The Sunday run just compounds the problem.
I noted that there was some similarity to a 3 hour marathon plus 100 miler plan I once drew up:
T 12 with 6x1 in 6 - 3/8 in 4
Th 12 w/ 16x400 in 85 - 400 in 2
Sa firstname.lastname@example.org, 10@7 (20 in 2:45)
S 18@8, email@example.com (30 in 4:15)
If one's running at that pace, the 30 miler falls into place, but it makes no sense for a 4:30 marathoner.
An alternate theory states that what is important for endurance are runs of 1.5-2.5 hours. To have adequate rest and variability, the plan becomes (again, for a 3:00 marathoner):
T 150 minutes (13-17.5 miles)
Sa 150 hard
The problems with this are that the average run is too long (and too hard, at about 85% effort) and the longest run is not long enough.
This was an idea I had and published last year, which still stands, but which I never liked :
[Three week rotation]
W 9 (mar. pace or hills)
Sa 1: 20
S 1: 9
Sa 2: 12 hard
S 2: 9
Sa 3: 31
S 3: 12
At 11-12 min/mile, this is about 12 hours per week.
At 8 minutes per mile, it's 9 hours per week, so add a second 6 mile run on M,T,Th&F and do 14 of the 31 miler hard.
At 7 min/mile, run the last 10 of the 20 hard, last 11 of the 31 hard and add 6 on W, S (total=100 miles/week).
Race a 50K every 9 weeks, dropping the hard 9 before and the hard 9 after (run the miles, but not hard). If closer to 4:30 marathon than 3:00, also drop the hard 12 prior to the race (if 3:45, run 6 hard of the 12). Alternately, for Superior, do 34 miles of hills [300 feet of climb per mile] in 1/4th predicted finish time.
This plan doesn't have any real problems other than that it feels way too rigid. What I came up with recently is
M 90 min. run, 30 hike
T 2 hours hills: 60@50K heart rate, 60@100mile heart rate (hike uphill in 2nd half)
W 30 run, 15 hike
Th 30 run, 15 hike
F 30 run, 15 hike
Sa 4 hours trail: 2.5@HR_100 (hike uphill), 90@HR_50K
S 90 min run, 30 hike
[For me, the heart rates are 155-158 and 126-130. The latter actually matches Maffetone!]
This follows a sort of carb-depleting/carb-loading plan with three easy days to recover. It has runs of correct average length, correct long run length, correct variability; the two hard workouts correspond well with Jack Daniels' marathon training plan ("One Size Fits All" 2001). The hiking works as cross-training.
It compensates for ability, for terrain and for weather. Mostly, it's doable and not too complicated.
Top ultrarunners don't keep running their long runs longer and longer, but increase the incline, making them tougher, while keeping the relative length reasonable.
The heart rates I give above come from a study I did while racing with a heart rate monitor in 2008. I found the following equation held for all-out efforts
10.9 - log (min.) = 4.381 log (HR - 70)
Whether this would hold for me now is debatable and I doubt it would be applicable to others, though it corresponds to "Oxygen Power" by Jack Daniels, perhaps coincidentally.
Progress would be measured not only by the average length and pace of runs improving, but the pace at specific heart rates should converge, whether at the start or finish of workouts. The 50K challenge is running hard after having run for hours; the 100 mile challenge is maintaining a pace above a slow walk after an exhausting effort.
I'd also plan to add 3x20 seconds all-out strength workouts (squats, lunges) with minimal recovery, three times per week to incorporate HIIT benefits without interfering with running workouts.
Sorry about the disjointed, almost stream-of-conscious structure of this post. I'm still not well.
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