By Rob Krar and Alicia Shay – The Run Smart Project
Training and running TRR will most likely be like nothing you’ve experienced before—ditch the GPS and forget what you read in Ultramarathon Man, this one is a different kind of beast! Following a few tips and guidelines will help assure you the greatest opportunity to arrive on the starting line fit and healthy and to finish the experience with incredible memories that will last a lifetime.
Running 120 miles in only 6 days will require a commitment to healthy and consistent training. Every person is different and the ideal number of weekly miles will vary tremendously from one person to the next. Strive to find a balance between respecting the nature of the race without attempting more than the body and mind are ready for. Increase miles slowly yet steadily as your fitness progresses and always be conscious of signs or symptoms of injury and overtraining. Start early—the winter months are perfect for establishing a consistent routine and building a solid aerobic foundation that will help prepare you for the more demanding months of training approaching TRR. Begin to decrease weekly mileage and effort in the weeks approaching the run. A few extra days of rest will likely be more beneficial than squeezing in one last hard effort or long run.
Adapting the body to the unique nature of stage racing can be achieved by incorporating back-to-back long runs as part of your training plan. Completing these every 2-3 weeks will prove invaluable to your fitness and confidence heading into TRR.
Prepare for the Descents
The long and sustained descents of stage two and four present a unique challenge within the TRR. A common aftermath of these stages is to have “blown out” quadriceps making for difficult days to follow. Try to run a number of long descents in training if you have appropriate mountains close to you. If your surroundings don’t offer you this opportunity, harder efforts on the descents of hill repeats can suffice. Specific quadriceps exercises can provide extra insurance that your muscles will stand up to the pounding of the descents during TRR. Squats and lunges are excellent exercises to complete after a couple of runs each week.
With all but a few miles above 8000’ and topping out at 12,600’ the effects of altitude will likely be felt during TRR. These effects will vary greatly from one to the other. Training at altitude can help acclimatize the body to these effects but unfortunately not all of us have mountains in our backyard to train on. Regardless, all runners should understand that it’s natural to find yourself running at a slower pace and with a higher effort at the higher elevations. Forget any pace goals and focus on effort instead. Stay hydrated over the high passes, take your time and soak in the incredible views.
Proper race fueling begins long before you get to the starting line in Buena Vista. The most important nutritional component of your training will be consistent dietary habits that nourish and fuel your body throughout the demanding training build up. Many runners believe that when they are putting in a lot of miles they can take liberties to eat whatever and however much they want. Conversely, the opposite is true and it is imperative to supplement training with a nutrient rich diet that aids in recovery, helps you reach your ideal body weigh, decreases risk of injury, illness or fatigue and provides your body with an abundance of nutrients.
More specifically, an optimal nutrition plan would be a plant-based diet consisting of an abundance of vegetables and fruit, moderate amounts of whole grain carbohydrates, and a modest amount of healthy fats (nuts, seeds, avocado, etc.) and protein (beans, legumes, fish, lean meat, etc).
Just like other components of your TRR training plan, race fueling is something that needs to be practiced for weeks in advance. Long runs and workouts should be dress rehearsals for the big show in August. Everyone’s race fueling and hydration needs are slightly different so it‘s important to nail down what works best for your body before arriving on the starting line.
For stage racing, proper fueling becomes even more imperative in order to allow your body the greatest opportunity to recover between each stage. That process begins with: Eating a breakfast rich in carbohydrates and adequate fluids. Constant hydration and fueling while racing (around 200-300 calories of carbohydrates per hour). Eating a snack within 30 minutes after finishing (around 30-40 grams of carbohydrate and 10-20 grams of protein) and begin replacing fluid losses. Small and nutrient rich meals throughout the rest of the day (vegetables and fruit, whole grain carbohydrates, healthy fat and lean protein). Practice, practice, practice! Don’t leave this component of TRR up to chance. Determine what works best for yourself ahead of time so you can focus more of your energy on the challenge ahead.
You can’t race if you can‘t run. Prehab is always more efficient and cost effective than rehab. Make an effort to stay ahead of injuries so you can train consistently and maximize your TRR buildup. Don’t wait to feel pain before taking action. Plan ahead so that you don’t have to do damage control to put your body back together. Consistently visit the weight room or incorporate an at-home strength routine. It doesn’t need to be too involved but some basic exercises can help ward off injuries, correct imbalances and increase muscle strength, efficiency and power. If possible, seek frequent care from a physical therapist, chiropractor or massage therapist that is familiar with working with athletes. Also, incorporate Active Isolated Stretching and Trigger Point Therapy (foam rolling) into your daily routine. If an injury presents itself, take time to assess its severity and never attempt to run through an injury if it alters your normal running stride as compensatory injuries will likely result. Find a knowledgeable doctor or therapist to diagnose the injury and help you formulate a plan to get back to healthy training.
Form a Plan
Forming a training plan will improve the quality and consistency of your training and allow you to progress at a healthy and appropriate rate. Whether it’s private coaching or one of your own design, do your best to follow the plan while maintaining a certain degree of flexibility for illness, injury or fatigue. Progress slowly but steadily over the winter, spring and summer months. Training too hard too early can be detrimental to your health and fitness for TRR. Start modestly, build conservatively and stay consistent.