I’ve faced a lot of difference challenges in 10+ years of endurance training and racing, but the 24 hour ultra run coming up in April will be a totally unique experience.
I’ve always said that I wasn’t interested in ever running a distance beyond a marathon. So I’ve never participated in an ultra-marathon before. But something about the Virginia 24 Hour Run/Walk for Cancer, giving runners a set amount of time to run rather than distance, lured me in. The race takes place at a local park, Sandy Bottom Nature Park, and the goal is to complete as many four mile loops as possible within the 24 hour time period. I think the idea of having an open-ended distance is what appeals to me (technically I could stop after just a marathon and call it a day…).
I’ve trained for a variety of endurance challenges in the last decade or so, but this will be a unique event. I’ve competed as a collegiate rower, where we prepared as a team for races that typically required 5-25 minutes of highly intense effort; trained for my fair share of marathons and intermediate-distance triathlons, where the focus is prepping your body to move at a submaximal, but relatively intense effort for anywhere between one and six hours; and I’ve biked across the country, which is totally on the opposite side of the duration spectrum – keeping your legs moving day after day, at low intensities, for weeks on end. The event that I’ve trained for that was probably the most similar to the upcoming ultra was the Ironman Triathlon I completed in 2013, which took me about 12 hours to complete. With double the duration, the 24 hour ultra run will be all about a slow and steady walk/jog/rest combination, keeping my body adequately fueled and my mind engaged as I move around the clock.
As far as my preparation for the race goes, there’s the good news and the not-so-good news…
The good news: I’m currently in marathon-shape, with eight weeks between the marathon I just completed two weeks ago and the 24 hour race in six weeks.
The not-as-good news: it’ll be a pretty busy eight weeks…
Out of the 7 weekends between races, I spent 1 recovering from the marathon, one will be spent tapering for the ultra, and 3 I’m already booked with traveling or other plans, leaving just 2 weekends available for long workouts. Since I usually base my training programming around a weekly longgg effort for races similar to this, I’ll need to think outside the box with my training strategy, and use the time that I do have wisely.
Here are a few of my points of emphasis as I prepare for the race…
- Put in (lots of) time on my feet
- Speed is irrelevant in my training for this race. The more time spent jogging slowly, walking, or even standing, the better. Thankfully, my part-time job (trainer) has me on my feet, and at my full-time job (researcher), I’ve got a standing desk. There, I’ve written myself a little program that builds up my standing time to the point where I’m standing at my desk for the entire work day within a couple weeks of the race.
- Focus on my running efficiency
- Form-wise, I’ll be thinking about shortening my stride length slightly and bumping up my cadence a little bit to reduce impact and save energy for the long haul.
- Build muscular endurance
- With the heart rate-based style of training I practice, I’m relatively confident in my level of cardiovascular endurance heading into the 24 hour ultra, so I’ll be tipping the balance a bit in my training towards muscular endurance. I’ll be incorporating more low weight, high rep strength training into my routine. Plus a new, go-to weekly workout I’ve set my mind on: the long duration, relatively slow paced, continuous stair climb. A way to maintain an aerobic effort while getting a solid leg workout.
- Research. Read. Learn.
- This is a learning experience. Period. And I’m excited about the opportunity to try something new and expand my background. I’ve started reading ultra marathon blogs for training/racing strategies, and I’ll be reaching out to a couple ultra runners I know for some tips. What’s the best way to run at night? Prevent blisters? Keep your body fueled and hydrated for 24 hours of continuous exercise? Stay awake and alert for that long period? When I signed up for this race, I wasn’t sure about many of the nuances that come along with such a long race. But by the time I walk up to the starting line, you better believe I’ll have a much better idea.
Just like training for any endurance race, the fundamental component of my training will still be the (weekly??) long duration workout, time permitting. I have two free weekends before the race, and you bet I’ll be spending each Saturday there with an epic walk/jog journey, where I ideally spend 5+ hours moving throughout the day. Besides that, I’ll be getting creative – I’ll be choosing a weekday each week where I run before work, run on my lunch break, and eventually, run after work as well, while I’m also focused on spending a lot of the time at my desk standing throughout the day. It won’t be an easy workday, but I’ve gotta get the time in when I can with my busy upcoming schedule.
I’m pumped for this race. I embrace and genuinely enjoy taking on new challenges in my own training. But beyond that, I ultimately aspire to be the go-to guy for anything and everything endurance related in my professional role as a coach. And part of that is being able to deliver advice from firsthand experience in addition to knowledge I’ve acquired from research, certifications, etc. I had no idea what I was getting into when I committed to ride my bike across the country. But after reading about it a lot and jumping into the deep end to learn by doing, I feel like I could give someone some really solid advice for taking on that challenge. The 24 hour race on April 27-28 will be another opportunity to learn and accumulate that experience.
Check back in after to find out how it went and the lessons I learned!