My Journey into Ultra-Running Begins!

For years I have wanted to dabble in the world of ultrarunners, there was just so much that appealed to me about it:

  • Long slow runs (I’ve always considered myself a Husky rather than a Greyhound)
  • Relaxed, non-competitive  atmosphere full of comradery rather than ego
  • Races on trails more than roads, I find they are SO friendly on the body, plus you really have to slow down in order to successfully traverse the terrain, so there’s less pressure to run fast
  • REAL FOOD on the course, plus you can really take your time at the stations to refuel and get a second (or sixth) wind

But then there are things about it that sort of scared me from it:

  • Blisters
  • Possible injury that would prevent me from running/training for future events
  • Losing a shoe in mud (this almost happened to me during a ten miler), plus the idea of river crossings (running in wet shoes sound horrible and very unappealing)
  • Blisters (Yes, I really have an issue with them)!

I personally approach running long distance very cautiously; I think it’s important to have experience, and if you ran a marathon…run another…and another…and ANOTHER until running a marathon is “easy” and it doesn’t take you a week to recover. I recover in usually 24-48 hours and get right back into training, but also approach it sensibly with walk/run intervals for at least a week.

I personally don’t think it’s good practice to jump from marathon distance to 50 miler. Start with a 50k or a timed endurance challenge (the ones local to me are 6-12 hours, and I know they can go to 24 but, again, NOT ready for that just yet, if ever) before trying to run a 50 miler. I will say I don’t think I will ever run a 100 miler, I think the most I would want to run is a 50 miler or 100k…but that’s probably the most I would ever want to do in my lifetime. My main reason is that I really don’t like the idea of running in the dark, during “off” hours, etc. My body is very specific as to sleep schedules, etc. and I have yet to even register for a night race (like a Halloween 10k) because I think my body will protest big-time. But my bucket list race is, by far, the JFK 50 Miler…someday!

I feel like my body is finally ready to tackle one this year, so I have several on my calendar for the fall, as well as other endurance challenges. Here is what my year is looking like, and yes, these ARE paid for so, in my mind, there’s no turning back. I’m committed! I also have friends joining me for a majority of these races, and with friends coming along for the ride, I’d never want to back out! We’re in this together!

May:

Two marathons in one week (one being a new state, Maine, and another in DE); I plan on doing the first pretty conservatively for fast recovery, like a 4:30 or 4:45 finish time. I’m hoping the second is faster, as the Maine course is a lot of downhill and is known for fast times.

I’m also hoping to do birthday run at the end of the month. My goal is a mile per year, but realistically I think a 39k is more possible for me at this point. I will see how my body fares, but I would like to finish 39 miles in 8 hours. If I feel it’s too much, I may just stick to a 39k. Another thing I may try to do is split the mileage up throughout the day, so it’s a little easier than trying to tackle all at once. THAT, I think, makes 39 miles possible for me.

June:

A full marathon on Saturday and a half marathon that Sunday. The half is a very fun local race called The ODDyssey, and a lot of people dress in costume. Since I plan on running very conservatively, I will also be in costume! I’m pretty sure dressing in my Ramona Flowers (from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) will be a pretty easy costume for running, the wig isn’t heavy and I can wear tights with shorts, etc. I’m hoping I can make a huge mallet, her weapon of choice, to run with as well! I never run in costume but I think in the spirit of the event it’s worth it. Several friends will be running this one as well, but I warned them I would be SLOW and I’d see them at the finish line to celebrate!

August:

My first timed endurance challenge, a local 6-hour trail run. I am hoping to run a 50k distance that day, but being that it’s August in PA, I have my reservations. It’s sure to be humid, but luckily will be OVER by 1 PM!

September:
A new marathon state, Iowa, for mid-month. It will be a small trail race, which is really more my thing. I think it will be fairly no frills, if the $50 registration fee is any indication.
Another timed endurance race at the end of the month, a 12-hour. My goal is 40 or 50 miles for that one. I’ll be running that one with my friend J.

There is also another timed race over Labor Day weekend that I am 50/50 decided upon, which is also a 12-hour. I think I want to see how I fare for the 6-hr in August before committing to TWO 12-hr races in one month. Plus I don’t have any running buddies that can join me for this one, and I think it would be tough to do without support on the course. But maybe it would be good to try to see how I do.

October:

A local trail 50k that is a full loop course with no repeating loops or out-and-backs. It is one that has been on my radar for YEARS and I finally think I can commit to it.

Another marathon in DE with a monster theme! I’m mainly doing it for the medal alone.

November:

Mid-month I will be doing another half/full marathon challenge weekend in PA in Bucks County, PA. The challenge is called The BUCKY challenge and you get an extra incentive for finishing both the half and full. Challenge accepted!

To summarize for 2015: 3 new states, and 10 official marathon+ races. By this point I will be at 24 states for my 50 states and DC marathon goal, and 35 marathons total (if I count the ultra races, which I think count).

January

J and I are going to do a B2B (Back to Back) challenge in Mississippi and Alabama (meaning: two marathons in two days), so a lot of my events and training from 2015 will prepare me for this. It’s something we’re both SUPER excited about!

I’m also really and truly hoping to run my first 50 miler in 2016, but I want to see how the training goes for this year. There is a local trail run that has a marathon, 50k and 50 miler in May, and I definitely would like to commit to that! I know more states will be added as well, as I think Chris and I will be touring the Badlands in the fall and I can actually knock out North and South Dakota in one week, so that would be a great way to get in some travel as well as earn some new states.

So how WILL my training look to prepare myself for these distance events?

Lots of back to back long run weekends and high mileage weeks in July and August. My ultimate goal is a 100-mile week in August. My max mileage in past years for training hovered around 70 for the week. This usually means doubles on weekdays, but it’s totally doable.

I am going to start incorporating a new BeachBody program into my training, called PiYo, which is a Pilates/Yoga hybrid that is low impact and involves no weights. I just started PiYo and  have sore abs two days later! It also looks like it will take some time to adjust to, as some of the moves are a little advanced for this extremely inflexible and uncoordinated gal, but I am determined to keep up with the program, even if for now I am spending half the workout just trying to watch and get the moves right.

Training runs with REAL food and smart hydration. I oftentimes in the past would do long runs with no fuel, and sips of water when I could find a fountain. I oftentimes felt awful and extremely tired by the end of it all. For any run 10 miles or more, I plan on eating at least 60-100 calories every 5 miles, and taking an electrolyte tablet every hour while carrying a handheld Nathan bottle with water. With summer looming, running in heat is NO JOKE, and I plan on training smart this year. Sample fuel will include:

  • Raisins
  • Dates ( I really dislike dates, but they are SO great for a fast carb shot!)
  • Sugary fruit that’s easily portable like grapes
  • Salted Onigiri (these are simply cold formed balls of rice, I ate this a LOT when I went to Tokyo, and I think these would make excellent fuel for training)
  • GoGo Squeeze applesauce pouches; other runners attest to the portable pouches of baby food, but I just can’t stomach the idea of strained sweet potatoes
  • Cold, salted, cubed potatoes (sound appetizing? LOL)
  • Trail mix made of peanuts, raisins and chocolate chips (OMG so good)
  • For longer races like my timed endurance runs I probably will have gluten-free pretzels and paleo cookies at my fuel stops, but I am trying to stick to a modified paleo diet for most training days.

Make sure I incorporate walk breaks into my runs. I know some people may think: Walk breaks? Isn’t that counter-productive? I beg to differ. For ultras, I feel it’s the only way for mere mortals such as myself to have stamina and keep going.  Ultras aren’t the same as marathons, you need to be able to keep moving, so going a little slower and allowing yourself walk breaks is a way to give yourself a little extra energy.

Believe it or not, I actually incorporate a lot of walk-breaks in my current training and can still manage sub-2 halfs and sub-4 full marathons without pushing myself super hard and I recover fast. I realize that yes, I can probably Boston qualify, but I really enjoy running a fun and conversational pace…I can still run a 3:51 full while chatting and laughing with other runners. That sort of thing is more important to me than a BQ, so to each his or her own!

So that essentially will be my approach, and if any current ultrarunners have any suggestions, please feel free to comment below! I will keep you all posted as these events happen, and I am SO incredibly excited to see how I fare for this year.

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5 thoughts on “My Journey into Ultra-Running Begins!

  1. Welcome to the world of Ultrarunning. Sounds like you have thought this through well. A couple tips from my past experiences: mental training is as important as physical. You might be alone out there for miles on the trails in funky or exhausting conditions. In that, your mind/attitude will be what gets you through, no matter how strong your body is. Also, your chocolate chips might met, depending on how you carry them. I personally don’t do chocolate, but have heard that ones with a candy shell, like M&M’s, hold up better than the chocolate chips themselves. I tend to go for more dried fruit (cranberries and banana chips are my favorites) and a wide selection of nuts (love salted toasted almonds and cashews out there!) You’ll discover other things that work for you as you see other ultrarunners trying different (and sometimes odd) things. Lastly, don’t fear the water crossings. If you have good socks/shoes, blisters are minimal. You’ll learn that many ultrarunners look at wet spots as a way to refresh and revive your feet. I fear sand way more than water out there… Good luck!

    • Thanks so much for all this great advice Jen! I definitely plan on trying new things and seeing what work for me. I wish I could enjoy the food they provide at the events but it’s too risky with the celiac. I also love nuts, didn’t realize it would be good training fuel! Really appreciate your comments, very helpful!

  2. Food issues do make it more of a challenge. I understand because I have a weird food allergy and can’t have anything with caffeine or chocolate (which rules out a LOT of stuff provided at races…) It’s nice that you can often put your own things in a drop bag area at an ultra and not have to carry everything the whole race, and still be sure you have what you need. You may be surprised, though. I volunteered last weekend at an aid station at the Indiana Trail 100/50 and we had quite the buffet set out, with things adequate for everyone ranging from normal eaters to vegan, and would have had fresh fruit and boiled potatoes that you could’ve partaken in 🙂 Always be fully prepared for yourself, and enjoy the blessing if there is something provided you can use as well!

  3. Good luck with your transition to ultra running! I’ve done a lot of marathons (35) and totally agree that you should make sure it is “easy” to recover. I remember when recovering from a marathon took weeks. Now, I can say I’ve done two in a 6 day time frame. My next goal is to do two marathons in one weekend one of these days. Is the Maine marathon you are running the Sugarloaf Marathon? I ran it last year. LOVED that race! Huge PR course if you can hold back on the downhill!

    • Hi Allison! Yes indeed, in fact, I found your review of the race on marathonguide.com! Very thorough and inspiring! Thanks so much, I am hoping I do well throughout the year so I can do the back to back successfully next year. Best of luck to you as you pursue your running goals!

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