Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Ultra Running: Should runners go there...?

Running is an interesting and healthy sport for just about anybody, providing they train correctly and follow recommended methods. One of the recent trends in distance running today is ultra running. Technically, anything over 26 miles and 385 yards is considered an ultra. One of the entry endurance races for ultra runners is the 50K, or 31 miles. Then, there are fairly standard events at the 50 mile distance, 100k (62.14 miles), and 100 miles. There are also 24 hour, 48 hour and 72 hour running events usually held on tracks, trails, or enclosed areas in parks and other places. One hundred mile races are becoming extremely popular in the U.S. with more events being held each year. Should runners decide to begin running ultras, there are a few strategies, and some information they must be familiar with before embarking on such an adventure. Running the 50k is a great place to start for beginning ultra runners, and a main focus of this blog over the next couple of seasons, so lets take a look at how to get ready for a 50K race:

50k races are extremely popular, and most people can train for these races by following a good, steady marathon training schedule. Hal Higdon's marathon training programs are an excellent model to follow and are available online. The only exception would be to run a little farther for your long run when training for a 50k. As Alberto Salazar puts it, "running a 50k is only another 5 miles, but they are very tough miles." If you can imagine hitting the wall at 20 miles during a marathon, your training must be such that you will be able to endure another 11 miles. You don't have to put in a hundred miles a week to run a decent 50k, but you do need to ramp up the mileage intelligently and consistently. One method of accomplishing this is to follow either, or both of the following training methods:

In addition to your weekly mileage, which should include at least two other medium to hard training runs, here are two methods of gaining the endurance needed for running ultras:

1. Run back to back long runs: try adding extra endurance miles by running a long run on either saturday or sunday, and another long run the next day. Example: 20 miles on Saturday and another 10-15 miles on Sunday. Or you can switch those around as you see fit. This method should be used toward the end cycle of your peak training, not each week.

2. Run twice a day: Running twice a day helps to adapt your legs to spending a great deal of time on your feet. This would be a particularly good method of training for going longer, such as the 50k.

One word of caution, though: don't start out doing either method in the beginning of your training program. Both of thse methods are time consuming and can wear you down over an extended period of time. Wait until you have developed a good solid base of mileage before attempting either of these training modules. Expect to spend about 18-24 total weeks of training for your first 50K. If you have never run a full marathon, you should run a couple to get an idea of how much mileage is necessary for your comfortable finish. This blog is for those who want to "finish," not race. If you are a faster runner, looking to run a rather strong race, you should include some speed training in form of intervals, tempo running, or fartleks. Also, for the more advanced runner, your total mileage would amp up as well, maybe even as high as 70-90 miles a week for a top finishing time. Otherwise, to finish a 50k should not take up much more training than a regular marathon training schedule for most first timers who just want to go the distance.

Eating

You must also learn to eat and drink more on the run. Aid stations during 50k races have what is called "standard fare," which means they will usually offer a variety of food to keep your calories intake to about 200-300 calories an hour. Most aid stations will carry carbohydrate type of foods, to include orange slices, bananas, gatorade, Heed, or other type of sports drink, along with other items such as potatos that you can dip into salt, potato chips, candy, cokes, and other items that will keep your energy levels up. So, you must learn to eat in training before you enter your first 50k.

Hydration

Ultra runners must also pay more attention to hydration and electrolyte replacement. Most ultra runners will eventually learn to carry their own water/hydration source with them and fill them up at the aid stations. Electrolytes will keep you healthy during your run. Most aid stations will have a variety of electrolytes you can use, or you should learn to carry your own for use out on the trail.

Are Ultras healthy?

Much has been written lately about the negative effects of ultra distance sports in general, including heart attacks, which some studies have revealed are possible during ultra events. Most of the ultra runners I know are extremely healthy, however, and have worked and trained their bodies to handle the extra miles, and are among the healthiest athletes around. However, if one attempts ultras without the proper preparation, or rush their mileage too quickly, they could be looking for trouble along these lines in a race or even in training:

1. blisters
2. cramps
3. excessive soreness, body aches and pains
4. long recovery times
5. breakdown of the immune system, which could leave you ill (sleepless nights, colds, flu, increased resting pulse rate, and exhaustion and fatigue, and/or agitation or irritability)
6. Heat exhaustion (if it's hot or humid)or heat stroke, which can be fatal
7. Hyponatremia: drinking too much water without proper electrolyte replacement means you have washed out all the electrolytes from your body (can be fatal)
8. Injuries (IT band problems, plantar fascitis, or other runners woes)
9. Lack of motivation to run another...

The caution here again, is to take training seriously, and allow yourself plenty of time to train, increase mileage safely, and take care of your body. You must also ensure you are taking in enough calories, including carbohydrates to fuel your running, and enough protein to repair the muscle tissue broken down with such heavy training.

Train for the Course

Learn as much as you can about the course you are going to race on, including elevation, altitude, technical sections, hills, terrain, and other important features. You should try to train on a similar course, if possible. If not, you must be inventive to adapt your training to the expected terrain. A lot of trails contain some hills, so some time spent running on hills would be an excellent idea, as well.

Wear Good Shoes

Trail shoes are different from shoes worn in road races. Some more experienced trail runners may get away with wearing minimal protection, but in the beginning, trail shoes might be a reasonable investment. Some trail shoes come equipped with toe bumpers for running on difficult terain with roots, rocks, or other impediments. They will save you from stubbing your toes, or otherwise damaging your feet, spraining your ankles, and protect your feet over a technical terrain. Trail shoes come with various other features, including more tread for steady gripping of loose terrain.

Does Everybody Run the whole way?

Not everybody runs the entire distance. There is nothing wrong with walking, in fact, run/walking is actually advised. Some run/walk methods that have been employed by many runners is the 9/1 method. You can make up your own ratio, for whatever is comfortable for you. The 9/1 method employs a 10 minute run, followed by a 1 minute walk, followed by another 9 minutes of running. You might also employ a method that includes walking the hills and running the downhills.

With some common sense training techniques, almost anyone can run a succesfull ultra race. a 50k is a good entry into the sport of ultra running, and you will experience a new sense of accomplishment and a new world of running. You will meet new people, and will probably see them at other similar events, as the world of ultra running is a very closeknit community.

For more information, you can e-mail me at jerryhollingsworth@hotmail.com.

Until next time, happy running everybody....see you on the trail!


Dr. Jerry W. Hollingsworth

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I appreciate your comments. Yes, sometimes, people comment and leave advertisements, some good, some bad. It's pretty interesting. I enjoyed your comments, though. I also administer an ultra runners facebook group you might enjoy.

https://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/135265149978052/

it's an open group, so feel free to check it out.

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