I hear this question at least once a week:
How did you train for your first ultramarathon (the Patagonia International Marathon 60K), and aren’t you so relieved to be done training for that?
The short answer:
I trained using a 16 week plan published by Hal Koerner in his book Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to UltraRunning. It worked so well, I was the first woman to finish the 60K. And though that ultra is behind me, I’m still putting in the base weekly miles prescribed in his plan. Essentially, I am still training, because my legs are used to it, and my mind craves it.
The less-short answer:
For years, I clocked in an average of 15-20 miles/week, a base which allowed me to effectively scale race prep for the 5K/10K/half marathon distances that had become routine. That base mileage even made marathon training achievable without feeling like too much of a stretch physically. In those days, every time I’d complete a training goal and finish a race, I’d allow myself a period of rest, then resume my regular weekly mileage. Yoga was a large part of my routine then, and I did little else to cross train.
In an endorphin-induced haze after a strong finish at my first marathon, I decided to train for and run the 2015 Patagonia International Marathon 60K. At 45-61 miles along with 3-4 CrossFit sessions each week, the training plan completely changed my routine - first pushing my limits, then, once I’d acclimated, forever raising my standards for what’s possible with focus and determination.
When 4 months of training had passed, and my first ultra had come and gone, I knew my reality had changed. Running was no longer a workout - it was a state of being. Training was no longer so much about the end goal as it was about building and maintaining mental and physical endurance, day in and day out.
I knew there was no way I could go back to the obligatory style of “workout” running I’d used prior to my ultra, but I wasn’t sure how to move forward. What weekly base should I maintain when not prepping for a race? And, what kind of cross training might be ideal during this ‘off season’?
So I asked around. I talked to trainers at the gym, other runners, and athletic friends. All had their own opinions on the amount of rest they felt I needed, and the total miles that were probably ‘safe’ for me to run each week now that the ultra was complete. All were quite conservative and convincing, leaving me worried that my goal of maintaining the ultra lifestyle may be unreasonable.
Troubled by the answers I was getting, yet unsure of the right direction, I consulted the only expert I’m aware of, and the author of my training bible, Hal Koerner. Amazingly and kindly, he took the time to respond.
I’m curious how you maintain (fitness) between races.. Is there a certain weekly mileage or cross training plan you stick to?
I try to periodize my training for big events so I’m not compelled to run 100 mile weeks all the time, or get down on myself if other things happen, that type of consistency is hard. I would like to run 80-100 miles a week though…If I really liked biking or rowing, etc., I would cross train, but I know that I just like running. I would cross train if you find it enjoyable. Keep at it!
Hal’s response gave me some perspective and a lot of relief. Yes, he’s a professional athlete and leagues beyond me in terms of experience and accomplishments, but the guy’s ideal “down” weeks are 80 -100 miles! And here I was, worrying about the implications of running half that amount.
Hal’s closing words to me: “Keep at it!” have been my downtime mantra. And generally, my weekly non-training-mode mileage looks something like this: Rest | 6 | 6 | 6 | 4 | 15 | 7
The numbers are arbitrary, but it’s a base mileage that leaves my body and brain happy, with energy to spare. My first ultra was over two months ago, and I haven’t quite decided what my next will be, but in the meantime, I am still running strong.