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jerrylam

Training and Preparing For Ultra Marathons

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When i was doing my 15 loops deep into the night at the 50 Hour Non Stop Run last weekend, a lot of things went through my mind with regards to my participation at ultra races. After crossing the 10th loop which is about 43km, i started to doubt the rationality of pushing one's body beyond a FM distance which is already very punishing. And then i had to complete another HM distance beyond that...my mind totally went bonkers. 

I told myself, "I'm already having so much pain, discomfort and feeling so dead trying to finish 64.5km, i don't think i'll wanna attempt another 101km or take on the much dreaded 100 miles at Craze Ultra this year." At that point, the aim was only to take the run 1km at a time and finish it as fast as possible within my physical limits so that i can go home to sleep and end the torture. 

The thing about pain is that it does hurts. But after feeling the pain and fatigue for a prolonged duration, it gradually got more bearable. The body somehow got used to it. It was then that i got my second wind, and finished the run with a more positive mindset. 

In summary, a lot of it is in the mind. It sets a target, and wills the body to complete it. The body will adapt to the pain and discomfort with the mind's help. It's exactly the same thing that i went through during my last 2 Craze Ultras. 43km, 74k, 101km or even 100 miles, are doable. Been there, done that, i survived. It's a lot about training and preparing for it.

As i start my training towards my ultimate goal for 2017, completing my maiden 100 miles at Craze Ultra 2017 on 12 Aug, i will be sharing all my thoughts, experiences, tips and links on training, preparing and running an ultra here. I'm also asking for everyone to share here whatever tips or experience you have on training or running ultra marathons. Feel free to also ask questions, so that the more experience ultra runners, sifus and moderators can guide us along. Everyone at Sgrunners who are planning to take part at an upcoming ultra or are already taking part in one will grow and learn together. Let the fun begins....

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This is a good move Jerry... so that this can form some kind of training sharing for everyone...

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Thanks @AutumnRunner! Hope everyone who aims to attempt an ultra will find it useful. Maybe not now, but the references might come in handy one day. 

First of all, i'm sharing this article about ultra-marathon which i saw from the Internet. It's from the UK, so not everything is applicable to our local context. But i still find a lot of relevance to what is means to run an ultra here.

9 things no one tells you before you run an ultra-marathon (the 10th not relevant to our local context)

You'll laugh, you'll cry, and you'll probably do a fair bit of walking. 

An ultra-marathon is any race longer than the classic marathon distance of 42.195km. Growing ever more popular, you can do an event almost every weekend in Britain at the moment. What's more, most of the races are on trails, in spectacular places.

They vary in length drastically. Some are hundreds of miles long, and best attempted by the seriously committed. But plenty of ultra-marathons are in the 50-80 km spectrum and infinitely more achievable than most people think.

Ultra runners have discovered something very special: if you slow down just a bit from marathon pace, and keep stuffing your face, you can go on ... and on ... and on. And as the endorphin highs triggered by running make it as addictive as heroin, it's an unspeakably amazing, even transcendental, experience. Many – myself included – get hopelessly addicted to seeing how far they can go.

Most ultra runners aren't super men and wonder women (and there are plenty of women, including grandmothers). Most have simply discovered the joy of running in trees rather than traffic, around national parks rather than around in circles, and up mountains rather than speed bumps.

Sound appealing? Well, it really should. Ultra-marathon running is a wonderful pursuit. But even if you do vow to get up from the couch and start running long-distances, there are some things you should know before tying your laces for the first time.

1. Ultra-marathons are easier and better for you than marathons

OK, you might not agree when you're looking at the things you used to call feet after your first 100-miler. But a 50-km ultra-marathon on undulating, soft terrain at a gentle pace won't batter your body – especially joints – in the same repetitive way as 42 km on flat, brutal tarmac (the surface that's harshest on your body).

Also, varied terrain gives your body more of an all-over workout, recruiting and strengthening more muscles. And there's the mental side. Numerous studies show how incredibly good for us nature is and exercising in natural surroundings feeds into our biophilia effect – our innate desire to be connected to nature and its ability to lift us psychologically.

You're likely to feel better after your first ultra-marathon than you did after your first marathon. In fact, I promise you will.

2. They're just eating contests really 

Ultra-marathons are "eating and drinking contests with a little exercise and scenery thrown in", says Christopher McDougall in the Fever Pitch of running, Born To Run. As you'll be exercising for six hours or so, your body will need plenty of fuel, which simply means you can stuff your cakes and candies all day long.

Events try to outdo each other with lavishness of the aid station buffets. Expect cakes, flapjacks, crisps, sweets, soup, pasta, pizza, stews, curry, pork pies, rice puddings, fruit, ham sandwiches, pancakes (hungry yet?), more cakes, teas, coffees – even, sometimes, beer.

3. You can run really slowly

In ultra-marathons the tortoise beats the hare. The key to covering 100 km without collapsing in a heap is taking your time. As no one in your office knows what a good time is for a 100 km, clock-watching and PBs are largely forgotten. Though people race hard at the front, most just relax, enjoy the views, socialise, and eat a lot of food. It's amazing what your body can do given half a chance.

4. Walking is basically encouraged

Here's the secret: most ultra-marathon runners walk a lot. Uphills tend to be walked to preserve leg muscles. Plus it can all get a bit tiring, so after six hours of running, a walking break is not only understandable but advisable. As you'll be up in the hills somewhere, there's no crowd to mock you for taking a breather.

5. You can even use trekking poles (for trail ultras only)

It's a bit controversial and some races don't allow them, but poles can help your posture and muscle preservation. Every race also has a mandatory kit list, usually including a map, compass, phone, first aid, spare clothes, food and drink, lights so while you may feel a bit like you're back in Boy Scouts, it's heaven for kit collectors.

6. You don't need to train all that hard

For shorter races you can get by on running 50 - 60 km a week, with two or three weeks nearer 70 - 80 km. Most ultra runners train much as they would for a marathon, but make the long run a little longer, or run some back-to-backs (a longer run, followed by another the next day).

7. It's mental (Yes, after a certain distance, it's all mind over matters!)

Some say completing an ultra-marathon is 50 per cent in the mind, others say it's as much as 90 per cent. Either way, it's much more about your levels of determination than about the size of your muscles.

8. You'll probably cry though (I've seen real tears of joy and pain at ultras)

Over several events, you'll probably experience chafing (Vass those nips! And maybe your bathing suit area), tummy trouble, hallucinations and lose a few toe nails (badges of honour). It's not uncommon for ultra runners to cry – although not because of the pain they're in. Going without sleep can run emotions raw; couple this with the euphoria of completing a challenge you didn't know you were capable of, and it's easy to trigger the waterworks.

9. You'll make lots of friends (Most of my new friends over the last 2 years were acquainted at ultras)

Being on the ultra circuit can be a bit like travelling the world solo. You're out there all alone, having a brilliant time, but it's a shame not to share the best bits with someone. And while it may seem like a solitary pursuit, long distance running actually makes you feel very social. You have to concentrate on the terrain underfoot so much that you spent more time in the moment than usual, which has the effect of making you happier and more talkative.

Making new friends is inevitable and you'll be swapping life stories before you know it. Just try to befriend runners with good navigation skills.

Original article as below:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/active/10956220/10-things-no-one-tells-you-before-you-run-an-ultra-marathon.html

 

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Thanks Jerry for sharing the article, sums up ultra running nicely!! Haha!!

I'm probably more of a GEI GEI borderline ultra runner... venturing just beyond the marathon distance, completing couple of trail races up to 50k. Still not able to convince myself to run beyond that...very big mental block.

Will be nice to peek into the thoughts of runners who are routinely running beyond 70k.. How to motivate yourself to push on when in pain? How to continue running for more than 12 hrs? What to eat on the run? How to train? 

Looking forward to hearing from so many experienced runners here! Will be glad to share my limited experiences too!

 

 

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Thanks @jerrylam for the informative article... I don't really agree with items 1, 3, 6... running Ultras is like another monster in the making and definitely not for the weak hearted... 

1) how can ultra be easier than running a marathon in the perspective of the pressure/stress of the joints and legs? hahha... one's legs and body have a certain threshold limit where it will stay without aching feel.. even after running a full marathon will send most of us struggling to walk the next day, needless to say an ultra... hahah...

3) can run slowly la, as compared to 5k, 10k, HM and FM pace... haha... BUT I am sure for those seasoned Ultra runners, you would have a timing to beat and can't really go slow right? haha.....

6) for this, I agree 50% of it only... I still think that to run a successful Ultra, need to put in the miles and a bit of speedwork as well and the LSD is going to be crazy... so total mileage would be more than a FM training total mileage.. of course this differs from person to person so I meant comparing with the exact same person or self...

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Great thread on tackling ultra run events here by jerrylam and hopefully this can becomes a sticky thread here, storing good resources on handling ultra events. :) 

One good resource is the Lore of Running book by Dr Timothy Noakes. (see the book link and read chapter 11 at http://www.humankinetics.com/products/all-products/lore-of-running-4th-edition ). Dr Noakes shared a systematic approach to tackling ultra run events with sample training programs, even using elite runners as examples finishing Comrades Marathon within 6 hours which we will find it super impressive by standard! :o 

If you want to get the Lore of Running book which I do highly recommend for serious runners though it can be tough to read due to the amount of sports science knowledge needed, Kinokuniya Singapore stores have it. 

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I am a caveman runner so my only thought is that if the objective is to complete ultras with minimal pains then just train for that distance over and over again. Repeat until you are good at it - that is the fundamentals of getting good at tasks.

Of course it is not possible to run 100km every weekend to get your body accustomed to the distance. So the only way is to just train as close to that distance within our means. 

I am sure picking up tips on how to better train at running ultras will help heaps, but since I am no expert at that subject matter I will follow  this thread and learn from others that are good at that haha.

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14 hours ago, Lexham said:

Thanks Jerry for sharing the article, sums up ultra running nicely!! Haha!!

I'm probably more of a GEI GEI borderline ultra runner... venturing just beyond the marathon distance, completing couple of trail races up to 50k. Still not able to convince myself to run beyond that...very big mental block.

Will be nice to peek into the thoughts of runners who are routinely running beyond 70k.. How to motivate yourself to push on when in pain? How to continue running for more than 12 hrs? What to eat on the run? How to train? 

Looking forward to hearing from so many experienced runners here! Will be glad to share my limited experiences too!

 

 

You're most welcome buddy! Actually with your few 50km trail runs, you're already way ahead of many runners in terms of attempting an ultra. If you have already pushed yourself beyond 42km to hit 50km, you can actually take a gradual step-up approach by maybe trying a 60km or a 74km ultra next.

You're so right with the mental block thingy. The unknown is scary for all of us, because of our current and past experiences. I'm sure all of us can recall how bad we've suffered during and at the end of every FM. But when we go for a 50km, our mind and body will actually adapt to this increase in distance. For example, you wouldn't run a FM the same way you would run a HM, because you're reserving your energy to last another 21km. You'll adapt your pace and strategy accordingly to ensure you'll finish the FM.

In my opinion, the same thing applies in ultra as well. When running a 50km, i'll not push as hard as i'd be pushing for a sub-5 FM. And likewise, i'll also not be running at the same pace of a 50km when i'm trying to complete a 100km. I'll definitely go at an easier and a more comfortable pace, knowing there's a much longer way to go.  

They key thing here is just to go and try it out. Once you've signed up, you'll find ways and means to train and prepare yourself both mentally and physically for one (barring injury, illness or hectic life schedule). 

 

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5 hours ago, AutumnRunner said:

Thanks @jerrylam for the informative article... I don't really agree with items 1, 3, 6... running Ultras is like another monster in the making and definitely not for the weak hearted... 

1) how can ultra be easier than running a marathon in the perspective of the pressure/stress of the joints and legs? hahha... one's legs and body have a certain threshold limit where it will stay without aching feel.. even after running a full marathon will send most of us struggling to walk the next day, needless to say an ultra... hahah...

3) can run slowly la, as compared to 5k, 10k, HM and FM pace... haha... BUT I am sure for those seasoned Ultra runners, you would have a timing to beat and can't really go slow right? haha.....

6) for this, I agree 50% of it only... I still think that to run a successful Ultra, need to put in the miles and a bit of speedwork as well and the LSD is going to be crazy... so total mileage would be more than a FM training total mileage.. of course this differs from person to person so I meant comparing with the exact same person or self...

In my opinion, the article is actually meant for those that are probably experienced marathoners. And you, my friend, fall firmly within this category. An ultra is a monster and not for the weak hearted indeed. Tell a 10 km beginner to run a FM, they'll tell you the same thing....a FM is a monster!! It's still a monster, don't get me wrong, but its one that you've already tamed time and time again ;)

The 'easier' to run an ultra comparison was meant more for a trail ultra in the article. But in my opinion, it also applies for road ultra as well. For sure you won't push yourself as hard in a 100km as compared to a 42km, when you're chasing for PB. At an ultra, you'll walk a lot, sit down for lunch, buy snacks, enjoy ice cream, take a lot of pics, talk to people, make new friends to make the journey as comfortable as possible. We don't do this during a FM most of the time. 

As for pace, unless one is an elite, otherwise most will still go at a relatively easy pace. Just look at the finishing time for the 101km runners at Craze Ultra last year. There were 125 finishers. Except for the top 18 runners, the rest all finished beyond 17 hours, which means most of us were going at a comfortable average pace of 10 minutes/km and above. 10 min/km is not running pace, its not even jogging pace. It's just brisk walking.  https://www.racematix.com/site/#results:rac/Craze-Ultra-101km-2016

And finally for training. I think you'll train for an ultra just as you'll train for a FM. First of all, not many can do a 50km LSD training at one go. My longest LSD for my last 101km was 34km. Like what Beast said, it's impossible to run a 100km every weekend to get your body accustomed to it. You only need to train as much as your body can take, and not get injured before race day. Beyond that, it's all mind over matters. That's why the strongest muscle you'll need to complete an ultra is not your calves or quads, it's the brain :spiteful:

Are you ready for an ultra? Anytime. 

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5 hours ago, trailblazer said:

Great thread on tackling ultra run events here by jerrylam and hopefully this can becomes a sticky thread here, storing good resources on handling ultra events. :) 

One good resource is the Lore of Running book by Dr Timothy Noakes. (see the book link and read chapter 11 at http://www.humankinetics.com/products/all-products/lore-of-running-4th-edition ). Dr Noakes shared a systematic approach to tackling ultra run events with sample training programs, even using elite runners as examples finishing Comrades Marathon within 6 hours which we will find it super impressive by standard! :o 

If you want to get the Lore of Running book which I do highly recommend for serious runners though it can be tough to read due to the amount of sports science knowledge needed, Kinokuniya Singapore stores have it. 

Thanks trailblazer, appreciate the kind words and support. There are a lot of articles and experience sharing here on training for a HM or FM, but not many for ultra yet. I'm hoping this will start a resource library for ultra training and running. 

I'll check out the Lore of Running asap, sounds interesting!

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25 minutes ago, jerrylam said:

 You only need to train as much as your body can take, and not get injured before race day. Beyond that, it's all mind over matters. That's why the strongest muscle you'll need to complete an ultra is not your calves or quads, it's the brain :spiteful:

Are you ready for an ultra? Anytime. 

wow... the above got stucked in my mind after reading. I think training the brain is the hardest. I have always been telling myself that it have to be my last FM whenever I am at the 30+km in my FM. So I really cannot imagine how I would curse and swear at myself for doing an Ultra...wahahah

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Just now, AutumnRunner said:

wow... the above got stucked in my mind after reading. I think training the brain is the hardest. I have always been telling myself that it have to be my last FM whenever I am at the 30+km in my FM. So I really cannot imagine how I would curse and swear at myself for doing an Ultra...wahahah

Trust me, you'll go through the exact same thing you've experienced during a FM at an ultra. You'll curse and swear at yourself for putting your body through such torment. But at the end, you'll still finish the race. And once the pain subsides over the next few days, you know your body has pushed its limits and triumphed, you'll reflect on that you've done right and what not, and you'll be ready for the next one. 

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5 hours ago, beast said:

I am a caveman runner so my only thought is that if the objective is to complete ultras with minimal pains then just train for that distance over and over again. Repeat until you are good at it - that is the fundamentals of getting good at tasks.

Of course it is not possible to run 100km every weekend to get your body accustomed to the distance. So the only way is to just train as close to that distance within our means. 

I am sure picking up tips on how to better train at running ultras will help heaps, but since I am no expert at that subject matter I will follow  this thread and learn from others that are good at that haha.

In my opinion, you're far from a caveman. But you're probably one of the truest minimalist runner i've met. Minimal gear, minimal prep, minimal fuss and minimal training but yet finishing race after race with a zero DNF rate so far. You sure have a strong mind. As you pick up on how to train and prep the body from the rest, we'll learn on how to train the mind from you hahaha

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Posted (edited)

58 minutes ago, jerrylam said:

Trust me, you'll go through the exact same thing you've experienced during a FM at an ultra. You'll curse and swear at yourself for putting your body through such torment. But at the end, you'll still finish the race. And once the pain subsides over the next few days, you know your body has pushed its limits and triumphed, you'll reflect on that you've done right and what not, and you'll be ready for the next one. 

sounds familiar scene... ok, learn from gurus first and consider... more undone things in the list...

Edited by AutumnRunner

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18 minutes ago, AutumnRunner said:

sounds familiar scene... ok, learn from gurus first and consider... more undone things in the list...

Don't worry. This thread is for here to stay for as long as Sgrunners exists. Check back when your time comes.

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Must learn from all the elite ultra here... Salute... I only can take part in hump ultra... Oops s... But even that, been falling sick n unable to perform sometimes.recently. Oops... Hahahaha 

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I will start the contribution from posting two pages of the Lore of Running book that I have here. This is a beginner 22 weeks ultra marathon running program, assuming one can finish a full marathon comfortably.

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Source: Noakes, T. (2003). Lore of Running. 4th ed. Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics, pp.642-643.

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On 4/21/2017 at 8:31 PM, Lexham said:

How fast or slow should we go in ultras??

http://www.rockcreekrunner.com/trail-and-ultramarathon-pacing/

 

 

Thanks for sharing the article! I totally agree with the statement below:

You’re going to slow down at times, maybe even decreasing in pace by 3, 5, 10 minutes per mile. And that’s OK. As long as you’re continuing to move at a sustainable effort that will get you to the finish line.

As you approach a big climb, downshift to the appropriate speed, even if it means power hiking instead of running. Once you hit the peak and start coming back down? Don’t be afraid to step off the brakes and make up time on that downhill.

It's all about keep on moving forward at the most comfortable pace at any point of the race. 

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Thanks @trailblazer for sharing the 2 pages from The Lore Of Running. The book pointed out correctly that the major difference between training for a marathon and an ultra is the long run at the weekend. The long run is the most important training for an ultra to get both the body and mind ready. When i trained for my 101km previously, the furthest LSD i did is 34km. Of course the further the better, but it's not easy for me to train solo and do a 40-50km LSD.

The best is if a FM or 50km race can fall within a month or two before race day. The race can be used as part of the LSD towards the ultra. 

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23 hours ago, jerrylam said:

Thanks @trailblazer for sharing the 2 pages from The Lore Of Running. The book pointed out correctly that the major difference between training for a marathon and an ultra is the long run at the weekend. The long run is the most important training for an ultra to get both the body and mind ready. When i trained for my 101km previously, the furthest LSD i did is 34km. Of course the further the better, but it's not easy for me to train solo and do a 40-50km LSD.

The best is if a FM or 50km race can fall within a month or two before race day. The race can be used as part of the LSD towards the ultra. 

Indeed. If the person really has time constraints and can only do one type of run, the long run is the must do for any ultra event. Having said that, using training duration as the focus instead of distance goals will be less stressful as it simulates the run/walk approach used to complete an ultra run event.

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Another quick question... is it still important to train for speed, meaning intervals and tempo runs at HM pace to train for Ultras?

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38 minutes ago, AutumnRunner said:

Another quick question... is it still important to train for speed, meaning intervals and tempo runs at HM pace to train for Ultras?

In my opinion, interval training are not as crucial for an ultra as compared to a FM or below distances. But interval training is still important to generally improve endurance and trains the body on energy efficiency. If one has incorporated interval training as part of a regular training regime, i would recommend sticking to it regardless if one is training for ultra or not. 

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1 hour ago, jerrylam said:

In my opinion, interval training are not as crucial for an ultra as compared to a FM or below distances. But interval training is still important to generally improve endurance and trains the body on energy efficiency. If one has incorporated interval training as part of a regular training regime, i would recommend sticking to it regardless if one is training for ultra or not. 

One painful lesson I learned very quickly from trail ultras is you should incorporate hill repeats or stairs training in your training regime so that your legs can get used to all the climbing. 

Always study the elevation profile of your race and tailor your training accordingly. It is not enough to just clock mileage.. if possible, must try to run on the same terrain. 

 

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