What does “endurance” mean to you? To write a training program that is universal to all runners aiming for to accomplish a 100 mile ultramarathon is to ignore this fundamental question. We could ask everyone to run 100 miles per week and hope that more people survive this mileage than are injured by it. We could add mileage for no specific reason without asking the critical question-what adaptation are you trying to achieve?
What happens in the body when we run at a slow pace for hours on end? Is it aerobic capacity that we are improving? Is it tendon and joint health that we are working to strengthen? Is it pure muscular endurance that we are hoping to improve?
I’ve run over a dozen ultramarathon races with vastly different mileage plans and I have a cool pile of belt buckles that I’m really proud of.
I’ve run 100 mile+ weeks and had crappy races. (I’ve also experienced the beat down on the physiology of the body which goes far beyond sore muscles and into decreased heart rate variability, depleted testosterone levels, erratic sleep patterns, and a largely catabolic (breaking down of muscle) lifestyle where every training session ate away a bit more of my vitality.
I’ve run races where one staple long run per week and several strength and conditioning sessions left me feeling strong, powerful, and fast. My top ten finish at Virgil Crest 100 was the result of a once per week long run and a short, easy run once per week, along with tons of cross training. The long run got up to 50 miles at the height of the training block, with a gradual build up similar to what I’m going to lay out below.
In this last full length installment of How to Run 100 Miles my hope is to leave you with a “choose your own adventure” roadmap that gives you agency over your own body and how you choose to adapt. Any of the approaches laid out will prepare you for a 100 mile finish, physiologically. The question is a.) how do you want to feel and perform and b.) what role does running play in your life? Is it a social outlet? Is it a dedicated timeblock to be alone with your thoughts and in love with the art of movement? Is it something that you look forward to? Is it part of your identity?
All of these things will determine which path you choose to take to the finish line. Enjoy the process-and tune in on Friday’s at 9am as me and How to Run 100 Mile participant, coach, and ultramarathon savage Kate Woodard answer questions and share experiences in our new, live, Trail Talk/Real Talk series! The live series begins on February 11th on the Physiology First University platform-link will be sent to everyone who signed up for the program.
This is the program that I will use to prepare for the next 3 months.
One long run per week, graduating in distance until I reach a mountain 50k on terrain similar to the race I’m running. A 50k mountain run in the White Mountains (this awesome report details the Pemi Loop run that many of our athletes at The Distance Project use for 100 mile training.
4 strength training and conditioning sessions per week based on my goals.
2–3 short, easy paced runs per week.
Week 1: 13 mile mountain/trail run.
Week 2: 15 mile mountain/trail run.
Week 3:18 mile mountain/trail run.
Week 4: 20 mile mountain/trail run.
Week 5: 10 mile mountain/trail run.
Week 6: 18 mile mountain/trail run.
Week 7: 20 mile mountain/trail run.
Week 8: 22 mile mountain/trail run.
Week 9:24 mile mountain/trail run.
Week 10: 26 mile mountain/trail run.
Week 11: 50k mountain run (estimated time on feet-10 hours.)
Week 12: 15 mile mountain/trail run.
Week 13: Taper/ Easy paced ten mile run
Week 14: Race Day
This is a template based on incremental graduations in mileage and deload week added after week 4 and before race day. I’ve used similar plans to run races that I’m proud of and have found the mileage to more than sufficient for a.) testing and refining gear choice. This is an often overlooked element of training. It is possible to run a 100 mile race on much less mileage but I want to trail test my gear/nutritional strategy/system’s for storing poles/first aid/extra food etc as much as possible to be totally dialed in on race day. It is more than sufficient for the development of muscular endurance. Aerobic capacity is a non issue as aerobic development is the result of breathing through the nose at increasingly higher workloads to increase oxygen consumption and utilize fat as a primary fuel source. The role that these Sunday (for me) long runs plays in my life has been extremely additive. This is a system that works for me, my goal, and my lifestyle while not placing an unnecessary amount of stress on the body that makes my endurance goals short lived. Endurance to me means playing in the mountains and trails for years-and performing better consistently as I dial in the skill of running and the requisite lifestyle components (stress management/sleep/nutrition) to assure an optimal recovery window.
Can you run more than this? Sure. Can you run less than this? Absolutely. I’ve seen athletes complete ultramarathon races on minimal mileage because they were absolute beasts in their cross training and did not have a competitive running goal. They simply wanted to feel strong, achieve the desired distance, and get back to kicking ass at other things like BJJ, weightlifting, CrossFit, or whatever got them excited to pursue .
The strength development days for me will be focused on 4 full body training days with two devoted to pure strength training on a periodized program and two incorporating higher intensity conditioning workouts. We will share ideas for creating conditioning workouts that accompany this program on the Trail Talk/Real Talk series as well as the Physiology First In Action Live Learning Labs.
If you’re interested in a more detailed program that includes revisiting concepts learned throughout this program as well as killer speed development program you can use our Endurance Redefined program.