The Journey into Unknown Territory: Ultramarathon Training

Unknown Territory is a frightening thing.  

In two weeks, I'm running my first trail 50K the day after my 44th birthday.  That is Unknown Territory for me.

I've run 4 trail marathons over the last two years, and in each one, I was seriously DONE at mile 26.  The feet- hurting, hip-flexors-failing, quads-burning, hamstrings-tightening kind of DONE. Trails are HARD!! Running thirty-one miles on a trail will definitely be a challenge.

But just as 5K runners find themselves signing up for that first 10K and half marathoners sign up for their first full after they have a few races under their belt, I felt ready for the next trail distance challenge when I registered a few months ago. Unfortunately, my trail training hasn't been going great.  About 6 miles into trail runs lately, my left ankle starts aching, but it's fine on road runs. My longest trail run this month was only 10 miles (yikes!).  However, I've had a 49-mile week and a 42-mile week that included a mix of roads and trails and running and hiking.  Have I put in enough trail miles to survive the unknown territory of a trail 50K? There is only one way to find out!  Between now and the race, I plan to just run on roads and hike on trails for short distances to let that ankle heal. With just two weeks until the race, the training is in the bank or it isn't.  Starting on fresh legs with a healed ankle seems to be the smartest thing I can do right now.   I'm really starting to get excited about this challenge.  Pain is probably inevitable in a trail 50K, but as they say, "suffering is optional."

Then in 10 weeks or so, I'm running my first 50-miler.  I must admit that I feel like I'm "training scared."   It's hard to comprehend almost doubling the marathon distance!

This month, out of respect (fear?) of the 50-mile distance, I've trained pretty hard.  I've alternated high mileage (for me) weeks with moderate mileage weeks.  I've experimented with back-to-backs runs of 21/8 and 8/20 on weekends at the end of the heavy mileage weeks.  I've run when I was tired and didn't feel like it.  I've run when I was sick.  I've run on no sleep.  I've persevered in the misery of Tennessee August heat and humidity. (Somebody slap me if I try to register for another late summer/fall ultramarathon knowing what our summers are like!)  I can definitely say I know what it's like to run on tired legs.  But I've also run some WONDERFUL miles.  I've relished spending hours running and talking with friends.  I've had time to think.  I've seen some beautiful trails and even some pretty nice roads.  I've explored new places. I've come back renewed more than wrung out many times.  I ended August with 166 determined miles after 124 in July.

Despite the rather large increase in mileage, I will say I'm training GENTLY overall. With my autoimmune condition (Hashimoto's), I'm being careful not to overtrain.  I'm not running fast very often.  I'm not trying to increase endurance and speed at the same time.  I do add in some interval training or a tempo run when the mood strikes (rarely).  I had the pleasure and surprise of running a random 8:40 mile the other night (my 5K pace on a good day).

I think three weeks after the 50K, when my legs have come back to life, I will run the Southern TN Power Classic in Winchester, TN and just see what happens.  I need a 25-26 mile long run anyway.   I've had three marathons in the 4:30's and 4:40's, but the last couple of marathons have been in the 4:50's.  Will all this endurance training allow me a faster finish?  I don't know, but I'm sort of excited to find out.  I may even run it on feel, without my watch.

I think the toughest of my 50 miler training may be over, honestly.  The weather is cooling. My legs are recovering faster.  My upcoming 50K and marathon will be exciting-- full of people and in new places-- plus give me the long runs I need.  One more weekend with back-to-backs should get me there, don't you think? The weekend of Oct 25, I'd like to get in 40 miles over Fri/Sat/Sun. I'm planning 25 miles that Saturday (also my anniversary). My husband will join me for 10 or so, and my friend Michelle will finish up the last 15 with me. (What a way to celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary!)

Then I'll taper the next three weeks and start that 50-mile run into unknown territory with fresh legs, excitement, and hopefully, courage.    

After that, I will take it easy through the end of the year.  Then I hope to focus on non-ultra distances for a while.  I haven't run a 5K in a year and a half, and it's been two years since my last 10K.  I want to just have fun for a bit and maybe build some speed in the process.  A fast marathon or half marathon would be nice.   Yes, I'm already planning 2015!