Training is one of the two major keys to completing an ultra-distance race. There is no escaping the fact that ‘you have to do the time, if you want to do the crime’. The rough guide to completion nirvana is to do regular runs, with varying intensities and distances, totaling about 70-100K per week. Certainly, if your rest and recuperative powers are good, you can indulge in longer or more frequent runs.
Note to over-40 runners: The research and practice indicates that it would be better to split a long run into two shorter ones – one in the morning, the other in the evening. Focus on intensity: intervals, tempo, hills and cross-country/trail running.
Your fitness training should include race-day simulations, and a Long Slow Distance (LSD) run should be factored in, about three-quarters of the actual distance run. For example, for my quest for the Adidas Sundown 84K medal and t-shirt, I did a 60K run on the actual race-route during training. Unfortunately, boredom overwhelmed me and I did 54K instead (and took a cab for the remaining distance back). That is a marathon-plus in training! That was a PB for me in training!
Nutrition is the other key if you want to complete an ultra-distance run. My friends laughed at me when I wore a race/fuel belt filled with Power-Gels. Little did they realize that my need for energy is higher than most; I calculated my energy expenditure during training. My coach also worked out that I need about a packet of gel every 20 minutes, and two water-bottles of water/sports drink an hour. What I loaded up early in the first marathon helped me finish my second one. The same approach goes for an Ironman-distance race: eat and drink well on your riding leg. Otherwise, you’ll hit Bonksville on the marathon. That’s when many of us walk the marathon. Although I missed the podium by a slim margin, I was happy I completed in 9:30 and learnt invaluable lessons on running long.
Now here’s the bad news: Over-distance running, or running more than you are racing may be hard on your joints. Of the dozens of ultra-runners I interviewed, about 70 percent of them claimed to experience joint-related injuries one month AFTER the race! Many of them continue to use glucosamine supplements. Although research on this nutrient is inconclusive, there is no harm in using it as a food supplement. I, too, fell prey to knee and ankle injuries. These have healed with a systematic approach of rehabilitative intervention, deep tissue massage and core-muscles training. Talk to seasoned and sustained runners on how they keep healthy when running far.
Hope this helps you. See you on the last Sunday of December at MacRitchie Reservoir! It will be a useful confidence booster for the Sundown 100K Challenge in June 2011. I hope to do six loops this year, with my trail running shoes.