The 2021 Virginia 24 Hour Run for Cancer: Race Preparation

Keys that Set Up Success for My Second Attempt

In Fall 2020, I decided I wanted to train for the 2021 Virginia 24 Hour Run for Cancer as a goal to work towards with the added downtime provided by Covid. I developed a training program that had me officially starting training in mid November. Over the next six months, I’d transform myself into a running/walking machine, ultimately setting myself up for a first place overall finish at the race. This blog post gives an overview of the most important components of my race preparation, saving the strategy/experience from the race itself for a separate one.

Ultramarathon Training

Ultra fitness is not the same as marathon fitness and therefore, ultra training should be approached much differently than marathon training – and that’s especially true for longer races like 24 hour runs. Ultramarathons are not necessarily harder, but they are definitely more time-consuming to properly prepare for.

24 Hour RaceMarathon
Pace13:00 min/mi7:00 min/mi
Mileage100+ miles26.2 miles
Duration24 hours3 hours
My target pace, mileage, and duration for a 24 hour race vs. marathon. Totally different races that require totally different fitness & training!

I was time crunched while training for my first ultra attempt at the 2019 24 Hour Race. I basically trained for a marathon that took place a month or so earlier and then crammed in a few long training runs afterwards. This time around, I was determined to set aside more time for training and put in significantly more mileage so I could prepare specifically for the unique challenges of the race. Below are some of the main keys of my training approach for hitting high mileage, staying injury free, and preparing mentally for the 2021 24 hour race.

My Five Keys for Ultra Training for the 2021 Race

1) Slow & Steady Mileage Progression

A well-programmed training plan with proper mileage progression is the key to successfully preparing for any endurance race. Below is a look at my total weekly mileage over the course of six months of training for the 24 Hour Race:

Without giving away too much of the secret sauce in my endurance programming 🤓, here are some of the highlights of my progression:

Grand finale 50 miler training run
  • Maintained a base of 30 miles per week for 2 months prior to starting the “official” training program showed above
  • Used a slow & steady progression from 30 to 70 miles per week roughly following the “10% rule” for mileage increases
  • Dropped from a standard “3 up 1 down” (i.e. three weeks of increasing mileage followed by one recovery week) training cycle to a more conservative “2 up 1 down” progression to give my body more time to adapt to mileage with more recovery weeks
  • Programmed a 25 week training plan! This gave me plenty of time to ramp up mileage slowly & safely

In that same time, I ramped up my long run from a starting point of 13 miles to a grande finale 50 miler that I did three weeks prior to the race. I ultimately put in over 1000 miles to prepare for the race, spending on average 10+ hours per week working out (running + cross training), not including cool downs and recovery. That’s like a part time job!

2) Emphasis on Recovery!

Training = Work + Recovery! This key principle should always be kept in mind for any race prep. I knew I’d be putting in record high mileage for the work part, so I had to really emphasize recovery to stay injury free during training.

Recovery for me started with weekly rest & active recovery days. I’d typically schedule long runs for Saturday, a rest day for Sunday, and an active recovery day for Monday, featuring a slow, short walk/jog and yoga before ramping back up the intensity and duration on Tuesday.

I also stayed disciplined about my post-run recovery practices. Below is a video of a quick foam roll & stretch routine I tacked onto the end of most run workouts to give all of my primary run muscles a little TLC.

3) Focused Strength Training

I’m a huge proponent of strength training for runners and other endurance athletes in general – both for injury prevention during training and staying strong & maintaining form deep into races. So even though I was dedicating a ton of time to running for my race preparation, I still prioritized getting in 1-2 strength workouts per week.

Since time was at a premium, those strength workouts were relatively short and needed to be focused. I spent a majority of that time on lower body and core exercises to build and maintain a solid foundation for the wear and tear of high mileage. I also focused on any weak areas that had given me issues in the past, for example – targeting my hips and hip flexors with the exercises below:

I also really like balance exercises as an effective way to build stability and strength for distance running. Here are some of my go-to’s:

4) Mental Preparation

Every long training run is an opportunity to do a dress rehearsal for the race. These long runs aren’t just for physical preparation, they’re a chance to practice the mental/logistics side of racing. By the time race day comes, your routine – from the morning hours beforehand to the strategies used during the race itself – should be well-practiced and set in stone.

Early morning long training runs at Sandy Bottom Nature Park to practice on the race course.
The command station in my backseat – practicing race-day nutrition/hydration during long training runs.

I think the mental/logistics side of racing gets more important as the distance/duration of the race increases. So I used all of my long training runs to practice my strategies for nutrition/hydration and pacing. I experimented with different combinations and amounts of Tailwind sports drink, energy gummies, and PBJs to find what gave me the right amount of energy without causing stomach issues. I also tested out different run/walk time intervals to land on one that kept my legs the freshest for longest. I made it a point to do as many long runs as I could at the race course to familiarize myself with the trail and also practice fueling/hydrating between 3.75mi laps.

5) Embracing Walking

Let’s face it – walking as part of endurance training isn’t very glamorous. Walking or walking/jogging workouts might not make for the most flashy social media posts. But walking is a critical part of proper ultramarathon training – especially for a longer distance like a 24 hour race where the large majority of competitors spend much more time walking than running.

I knew walking had it’s place in training in my 1st ultra attempt, but I fully embraced walking in my second go-around, eventually learning to love the slower paced and longer training runs. I got to the point where 3 out of 4 of my main weekly “run” workouts had significant amounts of walking. Ultimately by race day, I felt like I could keep moving forever – provided enough of that moving was done by walking. Slow & steady wins the race.

Stay Tuned…

These were the keys to my ultra training 2021 Virginia 24 Hour Run for Cancer. I’ve never felt more prepared for a race than I did for this one. Having more time for training (thanks Covid) played a big role, but the knowledge I gained from my first attempt was a huge factor as well. Stay tuned for the next blog post where I detail my race strategies and talk about the experience of winning first place overall in the race.

Published by

Jim Warner Fitness & Endurance Training

*USA Triathlon Certified Coach *ACE Certified Personal Trainer *NPTI Kettlebell Certification *NPTI TRX Suspension Training Certification *Conditioning Coach at Jungle Gym Strength & Conditioning, Newport News, VA *Amateur Endurance Athlete -Boston Marathon Qualifier -Ironman Triathlete -Cross-country Cyclist

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