Is ultra marathon training bad for you?
Marcel is a Foundation Run member training for his first ultramarathon. He’s sharing his thoughts and tackling it one run at a time.
With 102km in our sights, Debbie and I occasionally hear people muttering that ultra- distance running is bad for our bodies, that it’s wear and tear beyond reasonable limits.
My initial response to that sentiment is: sure dude, whatever makes you feel better about sitting on the couch all day.
But actually, I get it. From the outside, you might assume that all we’ve done for the past six months has been to run foolish and irresponsible distances. You could be forgiven for fearing that our knees are aging prematurely and our hearts are stuttering to the edge of failure under the cumulative weight of all the beatings we’ve wreaked upon our poor, suffering frames.
If that’s your understanding of ultra marathon training, then it’s a valid concern. But that’s not how it is at all.
Most of our training has been built around short runs, from 45min to 1.30hrs. Each weekend we’ve done a trail run that started out around 90 minutes and only gradually increased to around 3-4 hours. We peaked a couple of weeks ago with one solid five hour run followed by a 2-3 hour run the next day.
Generally speaking, our programme covers seven different activities. They vary from week to week.
- An endurance run might require us to run gently for 40 minutes then increase our pace by 10sec/km every 20 minutes for the next hour.
- A speed session might be twelve sets of 400m sprints with a 200m jog in between each set. As your pace increases, speed and endurance runs get mashed into unholy combinations. Last week I had to run five sets of fast 2km. Ugh.
- Hill runs are exactly that, with a variety of repetitions. One of our more notorious hill runs is called the Sisyphus, named for the Greek legend who was condemned to an eternity of rolling a rock up and down a hill. Instead of a rock, we’re each given an individual race pace to push for on the uphills. In typical Foundation Run style, some of our fellow runners have started calling this run the Syphilis.
- Strength sessions are held each week at the Athlete Factory. The exercises are usually targeted specifically for runners. And there’s lots of talking about shoes.
- Recovery runs are short: 30-45 minutes max, ranging from 2/10 effort to 4/10 effort. Great for gently easing out weary muscles.
- Rest days are their own legitimate thing. Embrace the time off, it’s just as important as running hard.
- Trail runs are not about speed or distance. They’re for spending quality time on technical terrain so we get comfortable running over tree roots and rough ground. It’s amazing how confident you get over time. I leap like a gazelle now.
The sum total of all this exercise is carefully managed by Foundation Run so our bodies don’t get overloaded. The idea is to build up speed, strength and endurance, rather than just wearing ourselves out.
In fact, the hardest thing about all the running is not the running at all; it’s organising all the running. We’re a busy family so it takes some scheduling gymnastics to fit everything in.
Just getting to the start of the run is the most difficult part. Once you’re actually running, life is simple because all you have to do is run. What a relief.
Suffice to say, we couldn’t have done any of those long trails without our friends and parents who stepped in to look after the kids. So, this one goes out to our various support crews, and to our three boys who have been patient with their mum and dad’s all-consuming adventure. (They’re well sick of the running table talk.)
Solo running turns out to be a team sport. Massive gratitude to you all.
More about distance: Why that question about kilometres might be wrong
More about strength: Train like the Hulk so you can run like the Flash.