Ultramarathon Training: What I’ve Learned in the First 9 Weeks

It’s hard to believe that I’m halfway done with training for The San Diego 50. It’s been challenging, time-consuming and exhaustive, but most importantly … it’s been worth it.

While the longest weeks of training are fast approaching, I figured this would be a good time to reflect on what I’ve already learned, as well as what is (and isn’t) working for me personally. That said, below are my “Top Five Takeaways” from the first 9 weeks:

Find your own groove

The first thing I noticed when planning to run an ultra was how little information seemed to be out there regarding training plans. Internet searches turned up a wide, wide … wide variety of plans that had (and hadn’t) worked for others. There was however, one constant message in all the plans I looked up: no matter what plan you decide to “work off of” you need to understand and modify the plan to do what works for you.

Although there’s no “cookie cutter approach” to training for an ultra, I have had great success working off this plan, modifying as needed to meet my own abilities and goals. Who knows, I could be singing a completely different tune after the next 9 weeks, but for now I’m sticking with it.

It’s all about finding a rhythm in your training. Something that works for you.
It’s all about finding a rhythm in your training. Something that works for you.

Plan to go mental

Oddly enough—after nine weeks—this has become one of my favorite parts of the training process. Pushing my mind to new limits. Learning about myself. Discovering not only what I’m capable of, but about what I want out of life itself.

If that sounds a bit crazy or “far out” it’s probably because it is. My mind seems to take off to some pretty wild places on those 2-, 3- … 4-hour long trail runs, but it always comes back. And it always seems to come back happier, clearer … stronger, than it was before.

Exercising the mind is equally as important as logging miles on the road.
Exercising the mind is equally as important as logging miles on the road.

Keep fuel in the tank

I thought I had a pretty good grasp on what it took to “fuel” during a race. After 9 weeks I can safely say that I’ve thrown all that knowledge out the window, as it’s proved useless in training for an ultra.

By the time I’ve hit the 3- and 4-hour mark, no amount of gels, powders or chomps is going to keep me moving. I need food. Though it’s largely been through trial and error, I’m starting to find certain things that will nourish me, agree with my stomach and, most importantly, keep me moving forward.

Oh, and I also believe I now really understand the importance of hydration. Like, really understand the importance of hydration. I’ll just leave it at that.

Hydrate and eat long before you’ll think you need it. It’ll help you from “running” on empty.
Hydrate and eat long before you’ll think you need it. It’ll help you from “running” on empty.

Listen to your body

NEWSFLASH! Running 40, 50, 60+ miles in a week is going to beat you up physically. If that comes as news to you, well … that’s really impressive.

I made the mistake of not truly listening to my body during the first few weeks. “Damn my knee is bothering me … but the plan says I’ve got to get in 8 tonight. I can’t push it to tomorrow … I need those miles!”  Not only would my run suffer, but I’d be in worse shape than when I started and would often have to take an additional day or two off to recover.

If your body says rest, then rest. If your mind says rest, then rest.

I’m not saying skip on runs because you “feel” tired – I’m saying skip on runs where it would be detrimental to your training to try and complete it.

Pay close attention to what your body is telling you and adjust accordingly.
Pay close attention to what your body is telling you and adjust accordingly.

Train to improve yourself and your life, not to escape it

I must say, committing to run this has been the biggest challenge of my life to date. I’ve never worked harder, never been more focused, and never been more committed to seeing something through. While I know I’m only halfway there, I feel like I’m a different person than just 9 weeks ago. The trick has been finding the balance.

I knew the training would be demanding, but I also knew I have a (absolutely fantastic) life with C outside of it. Now, don’t get me wrong, if you want to run an ultra you’d better get ready to commit some serious, serious time to that goal … but don’t let all that time spent on training negatively affect your life or take away from your relationships.

The trick is knowing how to balance running an ultra with your life outside of the sport – and never sacrificing too much of either.

Be conscious of your life away from the trail, keep it balanced.
Be conscious of your life away from the trail, keep it balanced.

Words don’t seem to do it justice, just how much this is changing me for the better. I wake up every day and am excited to work closer to my goal. I wake up every day and talk to C about how much of better person it’s making me. And she couldn’t agree more.

Well, there you have it … my “Top Five Takeaways” from the first 9 weeks. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about them as much as I’ve enjoyed experiencing them.

Take care,

-G

How about you?

What’s your next big race, challenge or goal?

9 thoughts on “Ultramarathon Training: What I’ve Learned in the First 9 Weeks

  1. I’m just starting the training for my first 50-miler and it’s definitely changing everything I thought I knew too! I sometimes take two rest days – in a row! I used to take one or none! It’s a whole new way of thinking, fueling and living! I love it!

    And I eat real food too – but I’ve always done that!

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  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I agree about the amount of info out there on ultra training schedules… Personalizing the schedules is HUGE. Good luck on the rest of your training! Sounds like it’s been going well so far.

    Like

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