I am not a runner. Let’s make that perfectly clear from the beginning. I did not grow up running, come from a running family, or ever really understand its appeal. Unless you’re chasing something, like a soccer ball (or more importantly, being chased by something), why run? Things started to change for me when I became involved in the running community by passing on my nutrition knowledge to help others fuel their runs, something I had a lot of knowledge of, but no real experience with. Out of curiosity, I signed up for a 10K in the spring of 2013. Several half marathons, trail races, relays and a semi-successful marathon later, I’m not much closer to figuring out exactly what makes running so appealing. Why do we put our body and mind through such rigorous training? Why do we fight through fartlek’s and hill repeats, spend hours every weekend on long runs, and then happily dish out relatively large sums of money to run in an organized race? In my quest for answers, the only logical next step would be to sign up for and train for an ultramarathon.
Don’t take ultra-training lightly
Going from running 10K to 50K in under 18 months with inconsistent training is not something I would necessarily recommend. I’m notorious for not properly preparing for races, fighting my way through, and spending the next week or so recovering from the damage my body was unprepared to handle. Not a strategy recommended in any of the running books or training programs I have come across. While it’s possible, albeit not wise, to do this for a 10K and possibly a half marathon, I was warned that an ultramarathon is not to be taken lightly.
As a relatively new runner, I was told that to accomplish my goal I would need to increase my “time on feet.” This seemed to be simple enough training plan: to run an ultramarathon I would need to run more often, and for longer distances. Pretty straight forward, at first. Of course training for an ultramarathon involves far more planning than this as I realized. I needed to know how often, how fast, and how far I would need to travel to get enough “time on feet.” There was another burning question I needed to address: how do I avoid overtraining?
Avoiding overtraining even with high mileage
One of the first decisions I made after signing up for the ultramarathon, and possibly one of my more rational decisions in recent years, was to hire a running coach. Finding the right coach for any activity is of the utmost importance, and by selecting decorated, record-holding professional ultra-runner Gary Robbins to guide me to the promised land (or more accurately the finish line), I feel confident in the advice I’m receiving. It also doesn’t hurt that Gary is the race director for the Squamish 50, my ultramarathon of choice.
Resting to avoid overtraining
One of the first things my coach made sure I fully appreciated was the importance of rest days. In the early stages of any training program, most athletes will experience an insatiable urge to train as much as possible. While hard work and regular training are necessary for obvious reasons, not properly recovering can lead to a host of problems, from mental fatigue and a loss of motivation, to more serious problems like adrenal fatigue and injury. Having regularly scheduled rest days will prove as important as the regularly scheduled long runs, hill repeats and tempo runs to give me a fighting chance to achieve my lofty goal or running 50K, much of which appears to be straight uphill. This is certainly one instance when doing less will lead to achieving more.
Fueling my better ultramarathon
As a sports nutritionist and plant-based athlete I fully understand the impact that good quality nutrition will have to help me complete the necessary training and get me through race day. More importantly, I understand all too well the impact that eating the wrong foods, and sometimes even the right foods at the wrong time, can have on athletic performance. Nutrition is often what separates the elite from the rest of the pack, or at the very least, the successful from those spending too much energy racing from toilet to toilet on race day. Beyond a dietary foundation of clean, whole foods, having access to clean and easily accessible bars, shakes and gels will no doubt play a large role in my pre, mid, and post-workout training plan.
As I start my journey into ultra-running, one thing has become increasingly apparent: I cannot do this alone. I need expert advice from a proven coach, a training plan that I trust to give me direction, strong training partners to push me when I fatigue, and clean, natural nutrition to help my body deal with the demands I will be placing on it. When I’m out on the road, or more likely on the trails, it will be important to remember that much of the reward I will receive from achieving this goal will be earned on the months leading up to the race. I must remember to enjoy the journey, even when much of it is uphill.