Experience From - Ed Furtaw#1, Jay Hodde, Eric Robinson, Red Fisher, Karl King#1, Matt Mahoney#1, Dana Roueche#1, Dana Roueche#2, Howie Breinan, Marvin Skagerberg, Karl King#2, Ed Furtaw#2 , Matt Mahoney#2 , Pete Ireland , Pete Unknown , Tony Howes
If you run about 20 miles per week (mpw) that makes you another one of us recreational, low-training-mileage runners. There are others of us who claim to run weekly averages of 6.5 to 30 mpw. This defies the previously common understanding among most ultrarunners that 50 miles per week or more was necessary to be able to complete ultras. Fortunately for several of us, that myth has been disproved, and it is now recognized that there are at least a few of us who can do up to several ultras a year on training bases under 30 mpw. So, we'll be watching for results from you to see if we have a new member to the low-mileage ultrarunner coalition.
As for some suggestions for "an ultra training schedule that includes, running, beer drinking, and maybe some golf", here are several suggestions (from a 25 mpw runner who has completed over 50 ultras).
Well, I'm not as experienced as others, but I have completed 3-100 milers out of the 5 that I've entered. My mileage base is about 60 per week, with 70 being pretty much the upper limit. That mileage has worked well enough to earn me a 21:13 at Arkansas (11th overall), a 21:46 at Mohican (7th), and 28:02 at Angeles Crest (33rd). I'm happy with the way I've performed so far. . .
I have built up my "base" to where I can run 50 miles very comfortably. The "specific" training you mention, for me anyway, consists in racing at the 50 mile distance (or something similar) every 4 weeks or so. As you already know, I'm not a high-mileage training run type of guy.
A typical training week before a 50 miler: 30-35 miles between Sunday and Wednesday, 30 minute swim and 30 minute StairMaster on Thursday, and 30 minute swim on Friday. Race on Saturday. (Before a 100-miler, the running is reduced to 20-25 miles).
Typical recovery week: Sunday - no running. Monday, 30 minute swim and 30 minute StairMaster. Tuesday, swim and light 4-5 mile run. Wednesday swim and 5-6 mile run. Thursday -- resume normal training program. Total running mileage in the week following a 50 miler: 30-35, at most. (After a 100-miler, repeat Monday on Tuesday, then take Tuesday's recovery run and move it to Wed/Thurs. Relax on Friday, and resume a normal schedule on Saturday. Total miles after a 100-miler: 15).
How to train for a 100-miler: Run. Forget the cross training. Get used to the pounding. The only way you can train your body for the rigors of running 100 miles is to place an increased amount of stress on it week after week after week. It takes time. I got comfortable with 50 miles/week, then went to 60-70. And I raced at 50K and 50 miles quite often.
The "experts" say that you should be able to race a distance 3 times that of your normal long run. For 100-milers, that means a 50K+ training run (approximately). Use a 50K race to do these training runs if you abhor doing it on your own.
My training now hasn't changed too much from my first 100. If anything, it's more intense (meaning faster paced). The mileage has increased a bit, but not much. The difference is that I can race at 50M or 50K, recover quickly, and be back out for a long run relatively soon. This is the major difference.
Training the mind: It only takes experience. Know that you will have pain. Know that it won't be comfortable. Know that you will want to quit. Know that you will get tired. Know that you will get injured. Know that you will get confused. Know that you will meet physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual challenges that you have never even dreamed existed. And know that the true challenge of the 100 mile distance lies in overcoming your innermost fears. After 50K, the physical pain gets no worse.
When most people talk about base, they are employing a particular model/metaphor which I find useful to call into question. According to this model, a base is a level of low-intensity training (usually expressed in weekly mileage) from which one then proceeds to peak (i.e. increase mileage and intensity).
The model assumes that as a runner progresses up the slope towards the peak, he or she gets progressively stronger. I find that often, the exact opposite occurs. I find myself getting progressively weaker as a result of overtraining. The model also tends to assume that peaking is a monolithic occurrence in which mileage, intensity, and the length of your long run should all reach their maximum in a relatively short time frame -- perhaps even the same week. Obviously this conception can really exacerbate the problem of overtraining.
The sort of training program I have found myself gravitating towards rejects these assumptions. My overall mileage does NOT start low and then gradually build over a period of x weeks. Instead, my average mileage tends to remain fairly constant at 15 mpw running and 15 mpw walking for 30 mpw altogether. I did say average mileage. What I actually tend to do is mix light mileage weeks (under 15 miles total) with moderate (16-45) and heavy mileage weeks (46-100). Roughly one third of my weeks fall in each category, and they are distributed fairly randomly.
I like to run my maximally long run about 7-13 weeks before the targeted event (62-100 miles). This gives enough time for long-term adaptations to tendons and fascia to occur. I like to maximize intensity by racing some shorter ultras around 3-7 weeks before the targeted event. This seems to help with both speed and stamina (muscles). Last of all, I tend to maximize number of runs and ratio of running mileage to walking mileage -- which is normally 1:1 but rises as high as 3:1 -- just 1-3 weeks before the main event. This gives a last minute boost to cardiovascular conditioning (which seems to respond very rapidly to training).
So instead of moving from a base of general conditioning towards a peak of specific conditioning, my training regime is void of peaks and moves from specific training towards general conditioning. I believe this allows me to get more out of my miles than a conventional training schedule (who knows, the same principles might even work for a high mileage trainer).
Incidentally, I have a theory that it is lot easier to get away with low-mileage training if you are naturally a good downhill runner and/or a fast walker... or can develop these abilities -- a process that has less to do with mileage and conditioning than just plain focus and learning.
If averaging 40 miles a week for 6 months prior to a 100 is "low" ...
During the summer of 1996 I prepared to run the first Eagle 100 miler in British Columbia. This was to be my 9th start at 100 miles (counting 2 100+ efforts on a 1/4 mile track). My training is two parts:
(PART 1) "Base" running for many months, 20 to 40 miles per week, usually running 3 or maybe 4 times a week. A typical week was 9 miles on Tuesday and Thursday, and then 18 miles on Sunday. I do no other exercise. (biking, rowing, weights, etc.)
(PART 2) Specific training for the 100 miler. For the 3 or 4 months prior to the 100 miler, I train after studying the course. If the 100 miler has lots of rocks, downhill, trail, etc, I look for similar terrain for my weekend runs. Weekly mileage for this period is about 50 miles, an 'easy' week and then a 'hard' week. An easy week is 3 runs of 9 and 9 and then 14 miles. a hard week is 3 (or 4) runs, 9 and 12 (and sometimes 10 more) and then 32 miles. I run off-road whenever possible, it is easier on my body. I think the crucial portion of my training is the "every other weekend" or "3 out of 4 weekend" long difficult trail runs.
From June 1 until mid-August I ran with Randy Stillman about every other weekend. He has great experience in trail 100's and also designing trail training runs for the weekend. Randy was preparing for Wasatch 1996, so our training needs were similar. The 6 or 7 training runs that Randy guided in the Cascade range were all similar: 5 to 9 hours, trail, significant climbs and descents, (5000 to 9000 feet up and down, each). These runs were not very fast, hours counted more than mileage. We experimented with food, drink, equipment, etc, to prepare for our 100's. An added attraction to these training runs was the company, Ultra-related conversation, beautiful and varied scenery and terrain, other runners who joined us, and the general knowledge and sharing of ultra trail ideas.
Many runners I know talk about back-to-back training runs. I very rarely do that, usually by accident and not specifically to train for a 100 miler. I'd rather train HARD 1 day, than sluff off and run 2 in a row. This started when I didn't want running to interfere with 'life', and has continued.
The above training ideas are essentially the same from day 1, when I trained during the spring of 1981 for Western States. I still follow them. Perhaps if I followed some other plan, I'd have run all these 100 milers faster or felt better when done. This training method gave me 9 100 mile finishes in 9 starts.
Credit: 'Way back in 1980 I began training with Mark Clement, and his ideas are the basis for the success of many Ultra runners in the Portland area. I don't know who taught Mark, but my success at ultras is his doing. This past summer of 1996 is not much different, except now we have: water bottles, power bars, fanny packs, GU, etc.
I train my mind, or mentally prepare, by focusing on 1 race. Altitude profiles on the refrigerator, entry form posted at work, photo of the race course in my car, etc. I'd prefer to run fewer ultras in a year, and do my best.
Eric Robinson's theory that being good at downhill running and at walking fast helps if you train with low mileage fits in my case. My 1994 logbook shows the following for the 6 months prior to Vermont 100
Average miles/week - 23.7
Most miles/week - 40
# of marathons - 2 ( Lake Geneva, Grandma's )
Longest run - 34
# at 20 or greater - 7
# of runs - 77
# of weight sessions - 40
# of bike sessions - 23
# of training days - 127
# of rest days - 74
The hardest training was done May and early June, NOT the few weeks before Vermont. The idea was to begin the taper process early so my body would get some recovery during the last few weeks. In the week before the 100 I only ran 3 miles. The 100 was a great experience. Was this a great training program? Probably not. One CAN do a 100 on not much training, but it would probably be easier with a deeper base.
Mentally, the toughest part is to get past the desire to bag it when you are tired. It helps to have a good nutrition plan for the run so that you are not suffering from low energy late in the run when you are most vulnerable. You have to BELIEVE that you will finish. It also helps to have a crew person who can sound convincing late in the run when you feel exhausted to tell you that you're looking great and doing fine.
Such a minimalist program can be used to finish a 100, but would not be suitable for racing a 100. However, for someone doing their first 100, racing should not be part of the picture. Most 100s allow for a very slow average pace ( 17 minutes/mile ). Take advantage of that and forget about racing or going out hard. Relax and enjoy it. You've got all day and then some.
I have been averaging 15 miles/week or less since 1989. Last year I finished 3 100 mile trail races, all without a crew or pacer. This year I finished Leadville for the second time, one week after running the Pikes Peak ascent and marathon.
Coincidentally, I am also a good downhill runner, or maybe a poor uphill runner. At any rate my ascent time at Pikes Peak is in the slowest 20% and my descent is in the fastest 20%. I live in Florida, where there are no hills, so I run fartlek and intervals instead on one of the two days a week that I run. The other run is usually a race, anywhere from 5K to an ultra. I also ride a bike (50-75 mi/wk), lift weights and occasionally swim.
I believe the best training you can do for a 100 mile trail race is a 100 mile trail race. More practically, you should gradually increase your long run by doing successively longer ultras. Don't be afraid to enter a race that's longer than your ready for. You can always drop out. I did on my first three 100 mile attempts and learned a whole lot in the process. Your most important skills have nothing to do with mileage: race walking, running with a pack, running on a full stomach, conditioning your feet against blisters (I sometime walk and run barefoot and always without socks), and learning how to cope with sleep deprivation.
My strategy for 100 miles is to not let it interfere with my normal routine any more than necessary. I eat my usual meals at the regular times. I carry caffeine and aspirin but use only as much as necessary. I try for even splits and use all of the available time. That means walking all up hills and flats and running down hills steeper than 1-2% grade. The first 20 miles will seem much too slow, but it will pay off in the last 20. The task seems much less daunting when you think about how many hours you have to go, instead of how many miles.
A few thoughts on low mileage training for 100 milers. Warning: I am a high mileage type so don't take me too literally, I just like to explore running philosophy once in awhile.
Each of us has to determine the right quantity of training that best fits our needs. I'll use quantity not to get hung up on the time vs distance discussion. But what is the right quantity? Assuming you like to run, is it just enough to avoid becoming injured? Is it just enough to avoid alienating friends, family, spouse and all other social contacts? Is it just enough to maintain a productive job? Or, is it just enough to avoid burnout and getting sick of running all together? The right quantity is the result of all of these forces that dictate a balance in your life.
Now what about the runner who wants the excitement and experience of a 100 miler but has a life balance of minimal or no running on a day to day basis. To begin, there are so many variables that come into play that you can forget about a magic number that you need to be above in order to complete a 100 miler. I'm sure there are people who can finish a 100 without any traditional training at all. But what is the probability of finishing if you grabbed someone off the street and had them try to run 100 miles? I would suspect not very high. What is the probability of you personally finishing a 100 miler without any training? For me, not very high. As my quantity of training increases, the probability of finishing increases. After a certain point, when overtraining is reached, adding more training will decrease the probability of finishing.
It really comes down to the level of training that an individual is comfortable with and is able to complete and remain healthy. There are many who run 15 or 20 miles/week to avoid injury or because that is what works for them. What goes with that level of training whether by choice or not, is a higher level of risk in being able to finish.
If you have a choice in the quantity of training you can do, assuming you are running a hundred primarily to finish, the amount of training should be determined by the level of risk, pain and discomfort you are willing to accept during the run. If it is very important for you to finish, then, if you can, higher quantities of training are in order. If you don't care if you finish, how far you make it or how much pain you may need to endure, then any amount will do.
I have also been of the opinion at least as it relates to me, that the amount of fun, enjoyment and pleasure I get from running on trails in the mountains is directly related to my fitness level. My fitness level is a function of how much training I do. If I really want to have fun without being overburdened by pain and fatigue, then I need to prepare to handle the demands of a 100 mile run. How do I prepare? I run my buns off in training year around.
Fortunately, I enjoy the training I do on 360 days as much as the few days of racing I do. Again, a balance between the pleasure or displeasure of training and of racing. If you want to get away with low quantity training, the right amount is what you personally think is just enough to be able to push your body through a grueling experience of survival in order to finish. If that is the case, I need to ask, why would you want to do that?
In an earlier post, I wrote:
" If you want to get away with low quantity training, the right amount is what you personally think is just enough to be able to push your body through a grueling experience of survival in order to finish. If that is the case, I need to ask, why would you want to do that?"In response Matt Mahoney wrote:
"Because it's not so. I found Leadville difficult but enjoyable, certainly not grueling. No nausea, soreness, or cramping, only minor blisters, no injuries, and a quick recovery. I bet a lot of people who run higher mileage and finished ahead of me (or not at all) still found it grueling. Running is as hard as you want to make it."Matt may have missed my point so I'd like to clarify. It's not about mileage, it is about training. Matt doesn't TRAIN just enough to push his body through a grueling survival. Matt trains a lot MORE than that, he trains enough to run Leadville as he stated, "enjoyably". That was exactly my point, TRAIN enough to enjoy it. What did that entitle for Matt? Two weeks before Leadville, he covered over 60 miles of the Hardrock course, then did the Pikes Peak ascent followed by the Pikes Peak marathon. Hardly a low quantity of training, maybe not much running though. During the year Matt competes often, possibly once a week or more. His training not only involves competing and RUNNING but walking, weight lifting, biking and swimming. Matt may not run a lot, but he trains a lot. He only counts the actual running miles for some reason, even when in competition. Matt is a clear example of the point I'm trying to make, he trains enough to enjoy it. In spite of all of Matt's training, even he was risking a DNF finishing with only 9 minutes to spare with cutoffs haunting him for the last 50 miles. If you don't want to take that big of a risk, as mentioned earlier, more training will help.
"Quantity will make you faster, but the high mileage people I know are often addicted to exercise and can't miss a day. I know people who run the same route every day at the same pace, but they usually don't do well even in 5K's, if they race at all. My average works out to 2 miles a day, but in the form of hard but infrequent runs; hard because it forces an adaptive response, and infrequent because adaptation takes time."
Matt I'm sorry, I just want to make sure that for new members on the list and those who haven't run a 100 miler yet, that they understand what you mean when you say 2 miles per day. If you plan on running a 100 on a training program of 2 miles per day, expect to add a lot of other training to it like Matt does. Hopefully you will also have as much raw talent as Matt has. Otherwise, you'll probably not have an enjoyable run or I guess you'll need to go out and run more like the rest of us. Not a bad alternative in my mind.
While everyone is different, there are many instances of people finishing 100's on very little training. There are many factors involved, but your BRAIN is by far the most important. It must be determined, focused, and intelligent for you to make it. A certain level of physical conditioning is needed, but I guarantee you it is MUCH, MUCH, less than most of us think. What is likely to stop you?: (1) lack of will; (2) things that are difficult (but not impossible) to control (like blisters or a rebellious stomach) or (3) mistakes
Long runs become very important only if you convince yourself that you need to have XX hour runs or you won't finish. If you believe that XX hour runs are enough to get you through, they probably will. Does anyone remember a guy who did AC100 last year on virtually no training (I think to get a 10th finish)? Granted this guy has a long-standing ultra base, but he took nearly a YEAR OFF and still finished.
Ones body has within it much more than most people think it does, especially here in the US where we are used to living in such comfort and having people or machines do things for us all the time. This makes our bodies a LITTLE soft, but our minds a LOT soft.
If you want it, just believe in yourself and go out and get it. Long runs do give you valuable experience, chances to try out strategies and equipment, sample foods, etc. However, if you are smart (which usually means listening to people who have more experience than you), confident, healthy (no injuries or physical ills- but not necessarily highly trained), and disciplined, you can substitute these qualities for extra training and do just fine.
Lack of training will definitely make the run HARDER (physically and mentally), but I think 100 miles is well within the physical reach of most marathon runners, even if they have not ever run past 26.2 mi. When I ran my first 100 in '94, my longest run in the 11 months before the race was 31 miles. In the 7 months before the race, I did two runs of 26 miles or more and spent about 3-1/2 months injured doing NO running, only cross-training. I, like the AC runner, have been running ultras for many years, but I had run only one 50 mile race in the past 9 years and had never done a 100 before. I attributed my strong run to running a very smart race, much of it based on advice from Shawn McDonald. I also had a mental edge on the hypothetical marathon runner, having completed 62 miles (10 years earlier) and 50 miles (eleven months ago). However, at that point, I was in far inferior shape to a year earlier when I had only been training for marathons. While I may have some natural tendency to run longer distances, I think that advantage is slight. I cannot see why other marathon runners, properly prepared, mentally focused, lucky enough to avoid blisters and have a good stomach, and following my race plan cannot easily do the same.
For people who have not run as far as a marathon, the task becomes tougher, but I still think a surprising number could finish a 100 miler with a long run of 20 miles. 15 miles? 10 miles? Who knows what powers lie within the human mind.
The conventional wisdom used to be that ultra and marathon training were about the same, except that the ultrarunner would generally do 1 or 2 long runs a week, something like 14-16 midweek and 35 or so weekends. Quality was primarily a matter of racing quality. If you raced at top level, you trained faster with more speed work. If you raced recreationally, you could train all the junk miles you wanted, and walk as much of the long run as you wanted. The long runs would give you 1 or even 2 day a week off.
I have been curious over the last several years if the movement in marathon training to lower mileage would influence quality ultra-racing.
Now here's the interesting thing. There has not been enough quality racing in the U.S. the past several years for any analysis of training mileage, hi or lo. There are two obvious areas of exception: (1) trail racing, which tends to be specific to individual races and (2) 100k racing, which is where US quality racing has been superb.
If you look at US 50 mile performances today and 15 years ago, you won't care how anyone trains today, you'll want to know what they were doing then. Ditto for 24 hours, 48 hours, and longer.
Frankly, I blame the decline in US ultra racing on the very high percentage of recreational racers. Now I'm not mad at all the people who race recreationally, I was one from about 1986 to a couple of years ago. But, I do think that younger runners, potential world class runners are now discovering ultrarunning as a recreational, not a serious competitive sport.
Nothing wrong with that either, but I think it's a pity that finishing a pretty easy trail 100 in around 24 hours or longer is seen by young runners as a serious goal or rather, an ultimate goal. Likewise, 100 miles on the track in 24 hours is an admirable goal for a first 24 hour, but it is a recreational goal after that.
(Until age makes it a little tougher, or, as Dick Collins has said "you don't assume you're going to get a 100 anymore.")
When 24 hour performances were much better than today, 100 miles was considered by most to be a face-saver at the end of a bad race. Back to the start of these thoughts.
There have always been a group of ultrarunners who have trained little, or even no mileage. Examples are John Kenul with something like 400 ultras under his belt, and myself when I was averaging 10-12 ultras plus maybe 4 marathons a year. If you race nearly weekly, including 10k's, etc. it is probably counter-productive to train anything but recovery running at all. Training plans are useless, resting pulse methods are about all that is reliable.
Conclusion of my thoughts.
All of the current conversation about very low-mileage training is relevant only to recreational ultrarunning in my opinion. It is dangerous for those who might ever think of reaching for record performances to take this sort of training as legitimate. But, there may be low-mileage, especially cross-training programs that work. I would like to hear training details from our best, the 100k racers of the last few years, then I would like to consider if those programs can be relevant, or can be adapted to 100 mile, 24 hour, and multi-day programs.
Other than the obviously important 100k training programs of the last few years, the programs I would like to know about would be Brain Purcell's for his AR 48 hours, and Roy Pirrung's for his Spartathlon medal.
Marvin Skagerberg asked about Roy Pirrung's training when he was doing the Spartathlon Races in Greece ( 27 hours for 155 miles ).
Were Roy on this list, I'm sure he would answer for himself. Since he is not I'll pass on the information. At the time he was running those, I sponsored him with sport drink so we were in regular communication.
For 8 weeks his core training would be:
Monday 20 miles
Tuesday 25 miles
Wed 30 miles
Thur 10 miles ( rest day )
Fri 20 miles
Sat 25 miles
Sun 30 miles
Those runs were done on trails for the most part. Roy also biked a fair amount, and would race regularly at 5 to 20 K. It is not unusual for Roy to run a 10K race and then go out for 15 to 20 miles afterward.
One favorite story: Roy got to the finish line of a marathon but before the finisher's medal could be put round his neck, he said, "Save that for me, I have to go back and run in with a friend. Remember me!" They replied, "Oh we'll remember you all right."
Roy holds more personal records than any other athlete in Wisconsin history, among them the Master's course record at Ice Age, where he will be running again this year.
Ed Furtaw #2
There are several of us in the ultrarunning community who run numerous ultras every year on low (less than 30 miles per week) training mileage. You can do it too. Your training for a 50-mile doesn't have to be any different that for the 50Ks you have run. If you routinely do 20+ mile training runs, that is adequate to complete a 50-miler, based on the experience of several of us, who even run 100-milers on 15-30 miles per week.
During the 50-miler, it is important to pace yourself conservatively, and to intake adequate amounts of fluids, electrolytes, and calories. Given those few requirements, ultrarunning becomes a predominantly mental/psychological challenge. Determination to keep going through some inevitable lousy-feeling periods is the key. Just resolve to keep making "relentless forward progress", one aid station or one mile or one minute at a time. Try to stay focused on keeping going at whatever pace is possible, and as long as you are not seriously injured or dehydrated or hyponatremic, you will soon get over the bad spell and find yourself in endorphin euphoria! It helps to be on a beautiful forested trail, and when feeling lousy, just try to enjoy the scenery. Running with and talking to others during the down periods can also be helpful.
Check the label of the XLR8 for sodium. In my experience, it is important to get at least about 500mg of sodium per liter of fluid during the run. That is just over half of what you probably lose in a liter of sweat. If the XLR8 has less than that, consider supplementing with table salt, rock salt, electrolyte capsules, or salty foods.
Be sure to post your experiences to the ultra list after the event, to let us know how it went, and what your next planned ultra is.
Eric Steen writes:
have been unable to find the time to get any running in. Perhaps 6 runs of under 6 miles in the past 2 months. Some friends have talked me into trying the JFK 50 in Nov. That's only about 8-9 weeks away.Uh oh. You are screwed big time. Since you already sent in your money, I suggest you just show up at the starting line and take your medicine.
On the other hand, given your long running base of 35-40 mi/wk, you might still have a glimmer of a chance of actually finishing. Here is what you should do:
Today, go out and run 20 miles. Do not delay this important training run anylonger. If you can't run all 20 miles, then walk the rest. You will hurt like hell afterwards, so do no running for at least 4 days or until all soreness is gone. Ride a bike or something to stay in shape. Limit your runs to 2 a week. Your biggest risk now is overtraining and injuring yourself before the race.
In 2 weeks, run 30 miles, part road and part trail to simulate race conditions. Be sure to eat during your run. If you can't run 30, then walk the rest, but you must cover the entire distance. No excuses.
In 2 more weeks, you will run and walk 40 miles, your last long run before the race. During the 4 weeks remaining before your race, you should do very little running, no more than twice a week for short distances. It is OK to run fast, however. Ride a bike or do some other low impact exercise to stay in shape on off days.
After your last run, figure out how many miles you actually ran, and plan to run no more than that during your 50. If your 40 mile training run consisted of 15 miles running and 25 miles walking, then your race will consist of 15 miles running and 35 miles walking. Do not run more than half of your alloted distance in the first 25. I don't care how easy it feels now. Break it up so that you walk all uphills and some of the flat parts. It will hurt a lot less if you save it for the end.
Remember, you do not have to actually run very much of a 50 to finish under the cutoffs. Figure it out. 12 hours is about 4 MPH, a brisk walk. The only reason for running at all is that after 50 miles your walk won't be very brisk any more.
WARNING: The preceeding advice was from someone who runs 100 milers on 15 mi/wk. Your mileage (and others' opinions) may vary.
"Some friends have talked me into trying the JFK 50 in Nov. That's only about 8-9 weeks away. I still won't have much time to put into training. I can probably finish it even if I have to walk the entire distance, but would prefer to do a bit better than that."I have to agree totally with the response from Michael. As another low mileage runner (60-90 miles per MONTH - my weeks are too irregular to count by the week) who emphasizes the long training run (15 - 24 miles one to three times a month if I am lucky), I have completed numerous 50Ks, three 50M (tho' slower than Michael's 50M) and two 100 milers (out of three starts with a 77 mile DNF due to injury). Long runs are the key.
"Would I be better off with a few short (3-6 mile runs) each week, or should I try to fit in one longer (10-20mile) run? I suppose my real question is, What would be my best course of training for something like this, considering the time available(next to none)?"
I think Matt Mahoney's schedule is a little extreme (but he is a whole lot younger than I am). He is correct that you need to get in a long run very quickly. Ideally, you need 3 to 4 runs of 20 miles or longer. You can get by on a longest run of no more than 23-25 miles. At least it works for me. You do need to be careful to avoid injury if you have not been doing long runs for quite a while.
As Matt says, you definitely want to include some walking breaks - take all you need to cover the distance. Eat and drink as you go. I also agree that you need to cut back on your other runs during the week - take a couple of days off after the long run - three if you legs hurt, or do some biking if you can. But, if you throw in enough walking breaks it will ease the stress on the legs and reduce soreness. Time on feet is more important than speed on the long runs Some trail running is desirable as the first part of the JFK is on rough trail.
Under the circumstances I would avoid or minimize an increase in your total weekly mileage. Just redistribute it. Spread the long runs as far apart as possible, with the last long one at least 2 weeks prior to the JFK. Run two (three if you are compulsive) short runs (3-6 miles) each week on the weeks you do the long runs, with one of them a tempo run of 20-25 minutes to help keep up your speed - a 5K race would do also but not at 100 percent effort). Start cutting back 2 weeks before the race, and cut way back the last week. Pace yourself early on in the race and you should do OK. Good luck.
Rod Dalitz responds:
"In my opinion and experience, you risk injury any time you go further than twice what you are used to doing at least occasionally. If you want to run 50 miles, you should run 25 often enough to not suffer from it."I certainly cannot argue with Rod's point as a very good (and wise) long term strategy. However, with only 8-9 weeks until the race, the focus is on the short term. There is not a lot of time to gradually build up to really long runs. With apparently few recent long runs, the advantages of pushing a long training run much further than 23 - 25 miles (in addition 2 or 3 other 20 - 22 mile runs) must be balanced against the risk of injury in doing those runs compared to the risk of going 50 off the slightly more conservative training.
You want to be sure to get to the starting line healthy and fresh.
We lack sufficient specifics on Eric's recent long runs, age, injury history, etc. Obviously, if he can make a rapid jump to 25+ miles, and do it a couple of times (along with another couple of 20 milers) in the few weeks available without getting hurt, he will be better off. The operative word is "if." The risk of doing so is somewhat greater than the risk of being a bit more conservative. There are others who will feel differently. Age, past experience, and other factors will influence our opinion. Certainly, even a single longer effort of 25-27+ miles would be worthwhile in addition to some 20-22 milers. (My best 50M actually came off a period of almost 5 months recovering from tendinitis where I had only two runs longer than 15 miles, one of which was a slow 50K 10 weeks prior to the 50M - so, you never know.).
In any case, back to the initial question Eric raised, long runs vs short runs - I think we will all generally agree that long runs are the key to success. How long is long enough? Well, ... each of us is different. Longer is better. But, again, it is a matter of balancing the relative risks.
Here are some comments from an Ultra novice on the recent discussions on low-mileage training. My first ultra is tomorrow, a 58km trail run, and I thought that I should post this today as my thoughts may become clouded after the run! (I'll send a report on the run as soon as I can - there is a 100 miler on in conjunction with my shorter run)
I started running again in May this year (after a three year total layoff) with the aims of running a standard marathon (start of July) and the 58k trail run.
In retrospect, the most important 'training' I did for the marathon was to do my first two Rogaines - one 8 hour and the other 6 hour. These were not only great fun, but we did them at a steady (hard) walk and towards the end of both of these, I started feeling in the tops of my legs that particular tiredness/soreness that I noticed very strongly towards the end of the marathon and the two long runs that I have done subsequently. My guess is that getting your legs used to this sort of tiredness will be useful for an ultra - and also that this would represent some form of training benefit.
While there are other training reasons for doing a long run, in my opinion the risk of injury from the long run (unless you have gradually worked up in length) is such that I would suggest to any novice who is working on a short (less 6 month) build up to start with some long walks in the hills and ease into the longer runs from 3months to 1month before the ultra.
From personal experience, the two long runs (3hour and 4.5 hour) that I have done to prepare for the ultra have been fantastic fun but have left me with little aches and pains which have both stopped me from running as much as I would have liked during the week.