Going Long. The topic of the day, thus the focus for this week’s tip of the week.
Unlike short distances like 5 or 10K runs, you don’t always get to run the actual race distance during training. It is more important to train being on your feet for a longer period of time than actually doing the distance.
Do note though, that elite runners are able to train for a 50K much like they do for a regular marathon, which will include fast intervals and pace runs at a high pace. The majority of runners though, should just practice being on the trail for several hours. Long trail runs between 4-6 hours in similar terrain to what the race will be held on will be your best chance of preparing for the longer distance.
Be aware, that not all your training runs should be this long, as you increase the risk of running into over-training. There are several signs of overtraining, and it will take a long article to go into details, but one obvious one is being constantly tired and not being able to sleep well. Variation in the training when training for long distance is key, in that way you will keep your training fresh and interesting.
As you stay longer on the trail and gradually become more tired and less focused, you will also increase the likelihood of making mistakes. This includes not being aware of where you are stepping and this in turn can increase your risk of twisting your ankle or create other injuries. Being able to react quickly and switch your weight over to the other foot if you feel you are about to twist your ankle is important. Drills on hills will help you increase the strength in your ankle and your general strength.
Study the course, figure out what the surface is, and train on something similar. Study the elevation so that you don’t get surprised over a sudden hill or even a mountain, although in XTERRA it is most common that the participants do not know the course, and in that case, just be prepared for the unexpected : )
When you are running a marathon it has become a routine to use gels and fuel belts, and so should it be on a 50K trail run. During your long training runs you should start practicing what works for you.
For some people the regular gels will work totally fine, for me personally, when I ran Run to the Sun on Maui, I survived on a mix of raisins and gummy bears while one of my friends preferred to bring honey on his runs, and that worked for him. A lot of the gels contain a lot of concentrated ingredients, so it is important that you take these while also drinking water.
Most long races have aid stations with a lot of refreshments. It is important that you pace yourself while consuming all these refreshments, remember you have to get back out on the trail and continue your run. Practice during your training runs what your stomach can handle and what you can run on immediately after having eaten it.
Some races gives you the opportunity to change clothing, either if it is a loop course, or if they transport a change bag out on the course for you. If it is a muddy run, then there is nothing better than getting a pair of dry socks and new shoes on with about 10-12 miles to go. Same goes for a dry shirt if you are soaked through, although, if you are running for time or a placement, you might consider running on without any change of clothes as every minute will count towards the end if you are in a close race. Making sure that you get no blisters or chafing is one of the most important things when it comes to ultra running. The use of Vaseline, nip guards and band aids is of utmost importance.
After the Race
After you have finished your first ultra remember to celebrate yourself with a good meal. Most important, your body will need some rest after what you have put it through. Your training the following week should be minimal, but it is important that you still exercise so that you loosen up in your legs during the next couple of days. After about 10-14 days you can start thinking about some serious training again.
Good luck out there!
This XTERRA Training Tip is brought to you by Christian Friis, who has participated in every XTERRA Trail Run World Championship race since its inception in 2008 with a couple of top 10 placings to his credit. Friis got his trail skills fine-tuned on the island of Oahu, but before that, he participated in the World Cross Country Championships in 1992 for his native Denmark, and was also a NCAA Regional Champion and NCAA Championship participant for Hawaii Pacific University, where he later coached the Cross Country teams for eight years.