Marathon to Ultra-Marathon
For some of us it’s the challenge of going longer. For others it’s the challenge of discovering personal limits. And for others they need to move on from the marathon to smaller and more challenging events. Whatever the reason, the challenge presented by an Ultra-Marathon is a big one and a personal one. There are probably as many reasons as there are Ultra-Marathoners.
What ever your reason for doing an Ultra-Marathon you are certain to discover two things about your self – your level of commitment to running and you personal limits, both physical and mental. Oh, you can discover your commitment and physical limits training for a 10 Km or a marathon. But, if you truly want to find out how mentally tough you are, enter, train for and complete and Ultra-Marathon.
- Improved Running Economy.
- Increased VO2max.
- Improved vVO2max (running speed at VO2max).
- Increased Lactate Threshold (the ability of muscles to clear lactate from the blood).
Find a hill that is reasonably steep – around 6% grade is fine. It should take you at least two minutes to run up the hill. You should focus on your body position going up the hill and going down the hill. On the way up: shorten your stride slightly, increase your knee lift and arm action and run up on you toes – getting a good push from your hips, knees and especially your ankles and toes. On the way down the hill: lengthen your stride slightly by increasing your follow through (high foot in the back of your stride), drop your hands so they are near your hips/waist, lean down the hill, focus on landing on the mid-foot or forefoot, not on you heel (which will cause a braking action and tremendously increase the impact as you run down the hill).
Run the hill emphasizing lift off the ground. It is not as important to run fast up the hills as it is to run with good form and a powerful stride. Your heart rate should be at or near maximum when you reach the top of the hill.
After running up the hill, turn around and run down the hill. This is your recovery period, so run relaxed and allow your legs to stretch out. Allow gravity to carry you down the hill, do not accelerate when running down the hill, and remember this is your recovery.
- Build muscular strength.
- Increase capillary beds,
- build mitochondria,
- improve Lactate enzyme response.
- Raise Lactate Threshold.
- Maintain Aerobic Fitness.
- Maintain and increase VO2max.
- Maintain cardiovascular and muscular endurance.
- Maintain base mileage and distance of long workouts.
Only experienced ultra-marathoners should attempt a Speed Building Phase. Even experienced ultra-marathoners that are not attempting to “race” an ultra-marathon, including those that are looking to improve their time, would do well to skip the Speed Building Phase.
If you do use this phase, maintain your long runs, reduce your weekly mileage slightly and add time trials and races as speed work. Conventional speed work is inappropriate for ultra-marathoners. Instead, on weeks you do not do a long run, run a race – 10 Km or longer – or do a time trial – again 10 km or longer. Your longest race or time trial, will depend on two factors. First, your ability do a race at less than maximum effort. If you are capable of doing a race at 85% to 90% maximum effort, they will help you. If you do them at a greater effort they will hurt you, by limiting your ability to train after the race. the second factor is your ability to recover after a hard effort. If you need to take two or three days off (or easy) after a race, do NOT race. You will loose too much training time and jeopardize your goal race. (See Nutrition and Fueling below for advice of speeding up recovery from hard efforts.)
The following information is based on the best data I could locate, advice from experts and my personal experience. Everything I suggest here is recommended by scientific research and experts. I’ve also tried and use everything I recommend here.
A few cautions – don’t try ANYTHING new in a race! Try these suggestions and find the combination that works best for you. Finally, hydration and electrolyte balance are CRITICAL issues. Don’t neglect either.
There are two parts of Pre Workout - Race nutrition. The first is the two weeks prior to a race and the second is the morning of the race.
Two weeks prior:
- Avoid caffeine, diet sodas and alcohol.
- Electrolytes – don’t let it fall below normal.
- Increase fluid intake. Be sure that urine is a light yellow.
- Slightly increase Carbohydrates – just don’t let it drop off. Maintain a 60% carbohydrate – 40% protein ratio. There is no need for a depletion – loading cycle.
- Protein – again, keep it at your normal levels, 40%.
- Don’t do anything new.
- Be well rested. Getting a good nights sleep two nights before the race is more important that the night before the race.
Morning of the race:
- Have your last meal 3 hours prior to the start. 75 – 100 grams of carbohydrates (complex carbohydrates / maltodextrins).
- Fat is a key fuel source, but high levels of insulin inhibit your body use of it. The presence of simple sugars inhibits your body’s use of fat as a fuel source.
- Drink 10 – 12 ounces of fluid each hour for 2-3 hours before your race, up to 30 minutes prior to the start.
- 15 minutes after you start – begin fueling. This is so that your blood sugar and insulin levels have adjusted to your exercise.
- Fluids – start taking fluids, keep up the intake throughout the race. Your body can absorb no more than 28 ounces per hour. Remember it is critical to supplement with electrolytes to avoid hyponatremia.
- Your body can only take up a maximum of 240 – 280 carbohydrate calories an hour into the energy cycle!
- Carbohydrates – complex sugars, Maltodextrin (18-24% solution), are preferred because more calories pass into the blood faster than simple sugars (6-8% solution). Studies have shown that simple sugars result in blood sugar levels below even fasting levels!
- Protein – for events longer than 1 hour (2 hours and up) supplement with protein along with carbohydrates. Use a 1:4 ratio (Protein : Carbohydrates) to increase energy levels and decrease muscle breakdown.
- Electrolytes – keep supplementing, especially during hot and/or humid weather. You should use a buffered electrolyte supplement containing sodium, potassium and magnesium. You will loose 1 to 3 liters of fluid per hour with 1,200 mg of sodium per liter of sweat per hour!
- Fluids – replenish!
- Protein – within 30 minutes of finishing consume 10-20 grams of protein.
- Carbohydrates – within 30 minutes of finishing consume 250-350 calories of carbohydrates (or more). Research has shown there is a 2 hour window during which your body will absorb the protein and carbohydrates lost during exercise. The first 30 minutes of this window are the most critical. You body will absorb 100% of the carbohydrates and proteins it needs during the first 30 minutes. The level of absorption decreases as the 2 hour window progresses.
Take a cold shower – from your hips down – after every hard workout, long run or race. This will reduce intra-muscular fluids and swelling and closes down capillaries. This reduces post exercise soreness and eliminates Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.