How I Became an Ultrarunner

photo by Tim Hubbard

I ran my first ultramarathon, The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile held in Eagle, Wisconsin, at the Kettle Morraine State Park. But, my ultrarunning journey started long before that day. I started contemplating the idea of running an ultramarathon last year, but the timing never seemed right, and my fear kept me from committing. 

I love to become lost in the miles of a long run, totally captivated by the nature around me on the trails; this is what lured me to ultrarunning. Though daunting in length and epic mental challenges, I declared a 50-mile race as my goal, and moved forward one day at a time with a renewed heart and passion for running.

More: Are You Ready to Run an Ultra?

How to Train Without Injury

I started training in early summer for my September race. I contacted Erin Henderson to be my coach; it's important to have faith in what you're doing and guidance from someone with experience. I passed the planning to her, and focused on my runs and recovery.

Prior to training for this ultra, my highest mileage week totaled 45 miles. I wanted to become well trained and confident but wanted to be careful about building my mileage. Erin coordinated my training to where I was running two high-mileage weeks followed by a drop-back week. I never increased my miles by more than 10 percent per week. A typical high-mileage week included:

  • One mid-distance run (8 to 10 miles)
  • One speed day (4 to 5 miles)
  • One easy day (5 to 7 miles) 
  • Back-to-back long run days (day 1: 13 to 16 miles; day 2: 20 to 30 miles) 

My job was to listen to my body, focus on recovery between each run, and be honest about my experience. The training plan was flexible—if I was tired, the speed day became an easy day, or if I felt pain or excessive soreness, I would cut out one or more weekday runs in favor of resting for long runs. 

I learned my recovery was best when I slowed down all running other than speed work, and experimented with various run/walk ratios on long runs. I had to change my thinking from "how quickly can I cover this distance" to "how can I cover this distance smartly." I learned to appreciate spending time on my feet. 

More: How to Transition to Ultrarunning

I eventually settled on a ratio of 15:1 minutes of running to walking. I set my Garmin 310XT to beep every 15 minutes; I ran until the beep and walked for 1 minute before running again. This ratio worked well for me because I made fueling every 30 to 45 minutes a priority. 

Throughout my training I experimented with different types of fuel including bananas, peanut butter and jelly sandwich squares, trail mix, Clif bars, Fig Newtons, gels and dried fruit. I also put GU Brew electrolyte tabs in my water, and took a salt pill prior to my run and every 60 to 90 minutes during my run. 

More: Ultrarunning Hydration Gear

Experimenting with various fuels during my training was important for race day because I discovered what my stomach could handle. Also, I would be spending a lot of time on my feet on race day, and wanted to feel comfortable with a variety of options for fuel. 

More: Ultrarunning Fueling Tips

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