Transitioning to Ultras -> Tips from an Ultra Runner

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I periodically receive questions about ultra running – how to make the transition into longer distances, nutrition, training, etc. I’ve run a big ‘ole one ultra – a 60k a couple of years ago and while I loved it and definitely plan to run more ultras in the future, I know I am not the person that should be offering advice on races more than 26.2 miles.

I think there is the misperception that you need to run a ton of miles more each week to transition to ultras. Or that you need to walk away from road races and marathons completely…you can easily transition to longer distances by piggybacking on your marathon training and can mix both into your racing calendar for the year. And so while most readers here are probably running the marathon distance {or less}, I thought it might be beneficial to have an post on longer distances in case you were toying with the idea of giving it a try.

I reached out to my friend, Claire, to see if she would be willing to provide some information.  I shared Claire’s story about 18 months ago – right after she became the youngest female (EVER) to finish Badwater – a 135 mile race through the desert and mountains in California.

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    #Lucky13 Fitness Goals

    Run this Year Challenge

    Happy New Year!!

    I love the start of the New Year.  There is something so exciting and invigorating about setting goals for the next 365 days and hearing about all the goals others have set.

    13 has always been a lucky number for me (it was my high school basketball number for a few years), I decided to create my #Lucky13 Fitness Goals.  Some of them are the same goals as I had for 2012…I found out I was pregnant only a few weeks into 2012 and so almost all of my fitness-related goals had to be postponed until post-baby.

    1. Complete 50 miler: JFK 50 miler (Nov 16)  This was one of my 2012 goals but pregnancy put it on hold.  The JFK 50 miler is the largest 50 miler in the world (over 1,000 finishers) and I have heard nothing but amazing things about the entire race experience. I ran my first ultra distance in 2010 and my first ultra race in 2011 and have been itching to do another one.  Current distance PR: 60k (37.2 miles) in 5:41 (Knickerbocker 60k, 2011)

    2. Sub-3:10 MarathonNJ Marathon (May 5)  I was able to defer this race last year when I found out I was pregnant.  Taking 11 minutes off my previous PR may seem a bit of a stretch – but I haven’t actually “raced” a marathon since 2009 – between training for my first ultra, two pregnancies/childbirths, and the Foot Locker 5 Borough Challenge, racing a marathon never seemed to be in the cards for me.  Current PR: 3:21:32 (Boston, 2009)

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      How to Run Back to Back Marathons

      Breaking the tape at the 2011 NYC Marathon

      In the fall of 2011, I ran a 30 miler, the NYC Marathon, and the Knickerbocker 60k within a 5 week window.  I showed up to the start line of each race feeling rested, energized, and ready to run.

      It seems like running back to back marathons in a short period of time (~2 weeks) is becoming more and more popular.   Here are some of the things I did to ensure I was ready for each:

      Let your body dictate when to run again.  There is no golden window for when you should return to running post-marathon.  There are so many outside variables that go into how long your body needs to recover – How hard did you run?  Was the course hilly?  How is your body reacting to the 26.2 miles?

      I found that I needed almost no time to recover from the 30 miler.  Why?  It was a long, slow run – not a race.  I ran a steady pace for the whole 30 miles (8:34) and didn’t push myself like I normally would in a race.  I even felt okay enough to run a bit that afternoon during a photo/film shoot for the NYC Marathon (this is me a few hours after the 30 miler).  I took two full days off from the 30 miler and returned with a easy, slow 5 miler (8:45 pace).

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        Meet Claire: Youngest Female Badwater Finisher

        Running along the white lines to prevent her shoes from melting from the hot pavement

        Claire Heid at the finish of the 2012 Badwater Ultramarathon!

        I first heard about Claire Heid (now Dieterich) a week before the 2012 Badwater Ultramarathon (aka “the world’s toughest foot race”).  *For those not familiar with Badwater (the 135-mile trek through the desert), check out the race website or the post I recently did.  Claire was attempting Badwater at age 23, and if successful, would be the youngest female EVER to finish the grueling road race.

        I couldn’t believe that such a petite, pretty, sweet young woman could accomplish what she did – she not only finished – but she finished FAST in a time of 41:15:47 (yes, that is 41 hours!) and now holds the title of Youngest Female Finisher.  Pretty freaking unbelievable.

        Here is her story – how she got into running ultras, what Badwater was really like, and what the future holds for her:

        Despite receiving a full ROTC scholarship to Notre Dame, Claire decided to attend the US. Military Academy at West Point (my alma mater!).

        For my whole life I had been drawn to the military and when my older brother (Class of 2008) was there, I fell in love with everything West Point had to offer when I visited him.

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          What’s Your Everest?

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          I think we all have our own version of Everest – that one seemingly insurmountable race or adventure we want to do one day…

          It’s likely that you don’t go around broadcasting this lifetime goal.  Maybe you feel that it would be as crazy as saying “I want to go to the moon”.   Maybe you don’t feel qualified.  Maybe you are like me and are constantly worried about telling everyone and then failing to accomplish it.  Maybe you don’t have a timeline of when it is going to happen.  Maybe vocalizing it would finally make seem “real”.

          But as I’ve learned from previous experiences, vocalizing these dreams is the first step that is necessary to make it become more than just a thought and finally become a reality.

          I decided to share with you MY Everest.  It is all I’ve been reading, thinking, and dreaming about for the last week – not too hard to do since the 35th anniversary of the race was earlier this week.

          My dream is to race the Badwater Ultramarathon (BW), aka The Challenge of Champions…aka The World’s Toughest Foot Race one day. 

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            What are your goals?

            I have a long list of races that I want to complete.  Certain times that I want to run the marathon and half-marathon in.  Distances I want to run. 

            Yet, I have never told them to anyone – including my husband, family and closest friends. 

            Why have I not shared these lifetime goals with anyone?
              
            I think the answer is that I am scared of failing and not living up to the expectations I create if they are said aloud.  If I don’t say them, then I’m not accountable to anyone.  And if I don’t meet them, I could easily convince myself I never was serious about them – so I didn’t actual fail. 

            On this morning’s run, I realized I can’t go through life worried that I may not reach a certain goal.  I’ll never reach them if I don’t at least try. 

            Saying my goals aloud not only makes them real, but it will gain me support from friends and family.  For me, having support is necessary – whether it’s a call or text from a friend, a reply on a blog, my mom watching my son so I can go on a 3 hour run, or my husband rearranging his work schedule for the day so he can run with me the last few miles of a long run.  But how can I expect support in reaching my goals if nobody knows what I’m after?

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