Wednesday, September 15, 2021

What Training for an Ultramarathon Is Teaching Me

Ah, ultra running, the Golden Goose of running crazies the world over. Runners who are built more for distance than speed. Marathoners who are ready to take the next step into ultramarathoning. The ultra is any race that goes beyond the traditional 26.2 miles of a marathon. You will test your endurance like never before. 

I am signed up to run my second 50K (31/32 mile) race on Saturday, October 9, less than 4 weeks away. Here we go again, developing our mental confidence in long distance running. We will see how race day goes. It's all about embracing the challenge. That's the most important thing I've discovered in racing. It's like the old saying, "If you want something you've never had, you must do something you've never done." I am slowly building up to that distance. Today I got in 8 miles.

I felt very good afterwards. You've got to be mentally strong to go through this phase of training. I've got to remind myself not to be a desperate runner. To rest. To relax. To train not harder but smarter. You aren't going to do something magical in a race that you haven't trained for. Self-doubt is a tough demon to fight, but when you're out there hour after hour it's a good one to ponder and tackle. 

I suppose my experience is typical for beginning ultramarathoners at all levels -- steady, relaxed running over several months. This training strategy is not only enjoyable but cuts down on injuries and is the best base for competitive running. As the heart gets stronger, it will accomplish more work and your resting pulse will go down. Today I used the run-walk-run method. I ran for 5 minutes and then walked for 1 minute. I've found this to be the most effective way to conserve glycogen. You take frequent walk breaks from the beginning and slow down your pace. Gradual progress is more important than a fast time.

Today's training run took place on the High Bridge Trail that runs between Burkeville and Pamplin City, VA. This is the site of the ultra in 4 weeks.

You run east to west through the towns of Moran, Rice, Farmville, Tuggle, Prospect, and Elam. As of today, there are 72 entrants in the race. You park at the finish line in Pamplin and are bused to the starting line at Burkeville. There is one cut-off time. All runners must reach aid station #4 (19 miles) in under 6 hours. If you don't, you will be pulled from the course. 

Maybe you're thinking, "I sure wish I could get back into running." Or, "I would like to try a race." Here's my suggestion. Get something on the calendar. Put your money where your mouth is and sign up for a race, even if it's your first 5K. Five days ago I did just that with the High Bridge 50K. Now that I'm vested in the race, I feel more motivated than ever to get the job done. And by "job" I don't just mean the race itself. Rather, right now it's more important to focus my time and energy on consistency in training. And consistency requires patience, lots of it. You need to train yourself to overcome your anxieties and doubts. The only way to do that is through consistent training and recovery. 

I hope this daily blog brings you some perspective on what it takes to accomplish a major goal in life. Most runners can reach their goals by running 3 days a week. The target is several months of steady aerobic running in which the main driving muscles -- quadriceps, hamstrings, and especially calf muscles -- are strengthened. Is this work? Yes! Is it enjoyable? Absolutely! Someone has said that if the CDC announced tomorrow that running was harmful, runners would read the news with a yawn and go out on their daily run. 

For me, nothing other than Bible reading and prayer can compare with the peace and inner reflection provided by running. The more I run, the more running reveals to me who I am -- an aging widower who is stronger than he ever imagined he could be. I have learned, with my own two feet, that there will be good patches and bad patches in life, and that neither lasts forever. My first ultramarathon was one of the highlights of my life, ranking right up there with my wedding day and the birth of my first child. I savored every step of those 32 miles, amazed at how far I'd come since Becky's death. By the way, once you get your body into motion, look out! Due to the endorphin hormones that lock into your brain and produce a subtle tranquilizing effect, those who gradually introduce running to the body become life-long runners. Consider yourself forewarned.

Friend, you don't have to be a fast runner to achieve great things. Even a back-of-the-packer like me can bask in the glory of race day. What a wonderful provision of our kind God.