One of my great fascinations with ultrarunning stems from its intrinsic uncertainty. Nobody has all the answers. While shorter distances like the 5K, the 10K, right on up to the marathon have been reduced to formulaic preparation, no one has developed the “ideal” training strategy for the 100 mile race — and quite frankly, I doubt they ever will. There are things that can be learned and planned for, but beyond ~60 miles, there’s simply too much variability in what can happen.
Ultramarathons require adaptability. One can train and train and train under every condition and circumstance, but mastery is never guaranteed. I’d wager veterans like Scott Jurek and Karl Meltzer would agree — these guys have invested more time preparing and performing than almost anybody else, and while they’ve racked up godly accomplishments, each still recorded a DNF this year (Scott at UTMB and Karl at Hardrock). In this sport, no one is immortal; and that makes it pretty darn exciting. There’s always room to improve.
This got me thinking about 2012 and how to approach my second season in the sport. Before May, I’d never before run 40 miles at one time, but now that I have confidence that yes, I actually am capable of going the distance, and no, I’m not burned out, but rather stoked for round two, how can I approach next season differently — and smarter?
While chatting with Steve on Saturday’s run up in the Elks, I realized I’m frankly quite lucky to have eked out the performances I did this year given my naive, haphazard approach to training. I most certainly have room to improve — lots of it. Thus, I’ve identified two big changes from which I believe I will benefit the most as I commence training for the 2012 season:
1. Incorporate quality and variety in my training. One trap I fell into this year was the misconception that high mileage was all I needed to do. Perhaps Boulder made it too easy to simply get out and amble lovely trails for a couple hours each day, but this type of run shouldn’t be my sole focus. As a result I plateaued in June, then bumbled along at essentially the same level of fitness (always fatigued and on the verge of overtraining) until Leadville.
I plan to add short, fast days to the long, slow ones, vary the intensity more purposefully, and take recovery more seriously. This isn’t a new approach to running, but it is one that many of us lose sight of — especially as newcomers — until we realize that ultrarunning is still just running (with a good dose of raceday uncertainty).
2. Improve my day-to-day nutrition. I’ve had an eating disorder for years, and worse yet, I’ve stubbornly done nothing about it. The only way I know how to describe it is this: I eat when I’m hungry, and I stop when I’m full — but my “full” indicator is overly-sensitive resulting in my simply not eating enough (especially for an endurance athlete). Furthermore, I subsist on a largely vegetarian diet comprised mostly of high-fiber grains, beans, and vegetables. Beans and rice, beans and quinoa, bean soup — it’s cheap, it yields a lot, it’s healthy, and I never get tired of it, but I’ve long known I’m depriving myself of nutrients that would stave off premature fatigue and ease recovery.
For nutrition, I am actively researching my options looking forward, but haven’t landed a strategy. If anybody has any advice, perhaps knows a knowledgeable sports dietician, or can recommend me some good literature, I’d love to hear from you. I’ve long felt my self-depriving eating habits have held me back, but I’ve never found a good way to address the issue.
Ultimately there will always be (at least) two sides to ultramarathon preparation. There are the skills one can hone, often lessons learned from mistakes made that are then acted upon, and then there are the instrinsic uncertainties that we’ll never be able to control. I’ll focus on the former while I allow the latter to keep it exciting.