Step 2: Increase Your Mileage
Now that you've developed the structural readiness to increase your training, the next step is to build your mileage methodically to develop your aerobic system and prepare your legs to handle running for increasing lengths of time. But, how should you go about this increase?
Most running books will tell you that you shouldn't increase your mileage by more than 10 percent in any given week. Unfortunately, science doesn't support that the 10 percent rule decreases injury risk. In 2007, a group of researches set out to test the effectiveness of the 10 percent rule. The researchers studied 532 novice runners training for a local 4-mile race by assigning half of the runners to a training program that followed the 10 percent rule and the other half to a more aggressive training regimen. Each runner followed the same warm-up process and the overall structure of the training was the same—minus the training volumes. The results? The two groups had the same injury rate—about 1 in 5 runners.
I prefer to follow a "3 week up, 1 week down" philosophy. You increase mileage slowly for three weeks and on the fourth week take a step back and bring the mileage total back to the number at week 1. For example, your mileage totals might look like this: 50, 55, 60, 50, 60, 65, 70, 60 until you build to the maximum mileage you want to hold.
You don't have to follow this formula exactly. This is just one example of how you can uniquely structure your mileage build-up. Some runners respond well to down weeks every five weeks, while some runners need them every three weeks to stay healthy. The beauty of the system isn't in the exact formula, rather the notion that mileage progression doesn't have to follow strict linear increases.
My suggestion is to aim for a mileage total of about 30 to 50 percent higher than your highest marathon-training week. Once you've reached that mileage level, you can start implementing the back-to-back long runs outlined below.
Keep Workout Intensity Lower
While building your mileage, keep the intensity of your workouts moderate. Increasing two stimuli or stresses at the same time (in this case speed and volume) increases injury risk. Because you're training for such a long race, you don't need to be ripping off 400-meter or even mile repeats. Keep your workouts in the marathon-pace range, which is fast enough to elicit training gains, but not enough to stress your legs significantly.
Step 3: Implement Some Back-to-Back Long Runs
After you've run a few weeks at your peak mileage and developed a strong structural and aerobic foundation, you're ready to introduce the final stimulus to prepare for the ultra: back-to-back long runs. Like running-specific workouts for common distances like the 10K and half marathon, back-to-back long runs are a specific workout you can perform to prepare optimally for the ultra distance. Running 30 or more miles in training is extremely difficult unless you're a very high mileage runner. Even then, it's not something you should do very often. Rather than trying to get in multiple super long runs, elite ultrarunners, like 2012 USA mountain running champion Sage Canaday, simulate the demands of the extreme distance by performing back-to-back long runs.
Start by running 60 percent of your normal long-run distance the day before your scheduled long run. For example, if you normally run 16 miles for your long run on Sunday, you'd run 10 miles on Saturday. The next week, increase the mileage the day before the long run by two miles, and keep your long run the same. The next week, increase your long run by two miles, and keep the day before the same.
I prefer to stop increasing the long run at 22 to 24 miles and only increasing the day-before distance until 20 miles. Depending on your experience level and how your body adapts to the workload, you may find a more optimal balance. However, this should be a good starting guide.
Follow this simple step-by-step process and you'll be running your first ultra in no time. You may even get hooked!ultra race.