My 2008 Spring Ultras and Training Program

It was -8 yesterday with a wind chill of -25 or -30. I went X-C skiing for an hour but my fingers ached when I took my gloves off for only a few seconds to start my GPS. I think I will be smarter and stay inside today, despite how fast the snow was and how empty the ski trails were. 

That bright sun today sure is deceiving!


Despite how bitterly cold it is outside, it is time for me to start thinking seriously about training for my spring ultras. My main goal for spring 2008 will be to run the Rocky Mountain Double Marathon (52.4 miles) on Memorial Day weekend. At over 8,000 feet, it will be the highest altitude ultra that will have attempted to date.  

A few weeks before that, I will do the Greenland Trail 50-k in Colorado as "training." These races still seem like they are a long way off. However, according to my training program, beginning this week I will begin increasing my mileage and become more serious about my running.

After taking a few weeks completely off from running after my fall 50 mile ultra in Chicago, I have been only running 3 or 4 days per week to maintain over the winter. During the off-season, I cut my distances and the length of time by 50% or more compared to what I normally do during the spring, summer and fall. My mid-week runs have only been in the 4 to 6 mile range and my every other week long runs only in the 12 to 14 mile range. I have rarely gone further than 20-25 miles as my weekly mileage for the last several weeks.  The off-season is a nice break from the rigors of more hard-core training during the rest of the year.

This winter, I have also been doing quite a bit of cross training by X-C skiing two or three days a week. X-C skiing is excellent for cardiovascular conditioning. Unlike running, it is low impact and thus a good way to maintain fitness while minimizing injury. It also trains a slightly different set of muscles. Perhaps someday I may attempt a X-C ski ultramarathon such as the American Birkebeiner in northern Wisconsin. However, with our upcoming move to South Dakota, this year is not a good time to think about training for a X-C ski race too.

I really like the Santa Clarita Runners Training Program  below because it allows you to put in the date and length of your race (50-k or 50-m). Then it calculates an individualized training program for you. 


However, one limitation of this program is that it does not specify which day(s) you should do your "speed" training nor what type. That's actually OK because I prefer to individualize that part of my training based on my needs. I find what works best for me is if I do one day per week  in the middle of the week of either 1/2 or 1 mile intervals or instead a moderate distance run which also includes 3 to 5 miles of tempo running. That has seemed to be adequate for me without resulting in overtraining.

Another limitation of this training program is that I have found it difficult to do back-to-back long runs every weekend without risking injury. I feel the Sunday semi-long runs are optional. I will not hesitate to cut the distance or to not run at all if I need to. Instead of doing a back-to-back, sometimes I just may do a longer run on Saturday than what is specified per the schedule and take an extra rest day on Sunday.

I also find it better to not go long every single weekend but instead go long for two out of every three or four weekends. It seems to work better for me.

Also, even though this is a mileage-based training program, later in my training I tend to focus on the number of hours on my feet instead of the actual mileage. I try to do as many of my long runs on the trails as I can. Although running on trails is a greater effort, because of the softer surface and the irregularities of the terrain, I do not get overuse injuries as often as I did when I trained entirely on the road.

Of course, you do have to be more careful and pay attention to where your feet are… once I tripped on a log and got a stress fracture! I was looking up admiring the scenery when I should have been paying attention to the trail.


When running long on a trail, I don't exactly follow the mileage as specified for the training program, Instead, I estimate about how long it would take me to go that distance if I did it on the road. Then, I run for at least that time duration on the trails. It doesn't matter to me if I only went 20 instead of 24 miles, as long as I ran for an equivalent amount of time.

I also use my long trail runs as an opportunity to experiment with new gear, energy replacement, hydration, and to perfect my ratio of run to walk breaks that I will use in my race. Never try something new or for the first time in a race is a great piece of advice that I always try to follow. 

Besides all of the potential training benefits, running on the trails is more fun and relaxing. I prefer to not breathe in the exhaust of motor vehicles and hear them rushing by at 70 miles an hour. I'd rather enjoy the peaceful quiet and aroma of the forest and listen to the birds sing! 

What's the point of running anyway, if you are not going to enjoy yourself? 

Besides all of the running, I do some resistance and strength training as well. Earlier in the season, I usually do 2 or 3 sets of 10 reps for strengthening 3 days a week. Then later I change to 3 sets of 15 reps at lower weight  once or twice a week to maintain strength endurance. I do vary my exercise program every few weeks. Some might find the early season fewer reps of higher weights to build too much muscle mass but that has never been a problem for me. I tend towards an ectomorphic rather than mesomorphic physique.

I always do single-leg squats, calf raises and some variation of lunges- all while holding dumb bells for extra weight.  Anterior toe curls with dorsiflexion using  a resistance band have worked well to treat and prevent shin splints. Lateral leg raises with ankle weights help keep away ITB problems. I do a variety of crunches and other core exercises. Strength and stability of the lower extremities and the core is essential if one is going to maintain good running form and continue to run for hour after hour.

Finally, I also do upper body strengthening exercises. When I first started running ultras I was amazed how sore and tired my upper body would become, especially my shoulders after a particularly long run.  That should not be a surprise, swinging the arms back and forth and holding water bottles all day is a lot of work. On at least one ultra, I used my arms to pull myself up a slippery trail while holding on to saplings and tree branches. With upper body conditioning, I can run more relaxed and with a better posture, even when tired.

Many of us runners don't much like strength training and I used to be one of them. We would rather just go run. However, running can result in muscle imbalances that later flare up as an injury. Before I added strength training to my schedule, I was plagued by injuries such as ITB. It was not until I religiously added strengthening to my program that I succeed in keeping these under control.   

I also try to stretch at least a 2-3 times a week but I admit that I need to be better about this. I am sure that I am not alone in being a runner who needs to stretch more. I  do a better job of remembering when I am recovering from an injury. I know that stretching is for injury prevention and not only for treatment. I just have to get more consistent at it.  

This is the training program that I do now and what has worked for me in the past. I am sure that I will make changes as I move up in distance or if I develop any injuries or new muscle imbalances. Every one of us is an individual and what works for one may not work for someone else. For that matter, what has worked for any of us in the past may not always work for us in the future.  

Best wishes to all and good luck on achieving all of your running and non-running goals for 2008.

Run on!


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5 responses

  1. Wow. And I was complaining about the 45degree weather yesterday morning.

    January 21, 2008 at 4:06 pm

  2. Great post! Thanks for providing the link to the automagic ultra training plan. While I probably will not completely rely on it's provided schedule, its certainly a great tool to get started with training plan preparation.All the best with your preparations. You seem to really have a good training system already in place.

    January 21, 2008 at 10:08 pm

  3. Greenland!?!

    January 28, 2008 at 6:07 pm

  4. Appears my first post didn't work when I joined at the same time.
    You rope me and bro into training for our first ultra and all it gets is two sentences in your spring planning!?!
    The training program site is good. As a marathoner I'm still getting my head around the walk and run slow concept. I think I'll like this. I'm following your lead in Greenland.

    January 28, 2008 at 6:36 pm

  5. Well, Haliku… I was waiting for you to join and start blogging. I didn't want to mention you without your permission. 🙂

    January 28, 2008 at 6:40 pm

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